Today’s message is an excerpt of Dale’s NEW book, Visiting Heaven, soon to be released, about his journey to heaven following a fatal airplane crash, and the extraordinary life that he lived in response to that experience. This story will build your faith and increase your ability to persevere to victory.
Dying To Self
I was only nineteen when I awoke up from a three-day coma following the airplane crash. I quickly realized my memory was a disaster—most of it was missing. Despite the void of my past, new revelations became evident and proved far more important than my missing history.
For starters, I understood that the Bible contained supernatural information about God and how He works. I knew I could trust Him completely. I realized God’s Word is the structure that holds all things in place. God and His Word had become my new foundation for living. How did I know these things? I still wasn’t sure, but I knew it was connected to the airplane crash and I knew it was true.
Following the crash, my life largely revolved around my extensive injuries. My body had suffered physical trauma and there was a long list of the injuries. Both legs, both ankles, both arms, and my back were broken. My left side had absorbed much of the impact of either the monument or the ground, causing tremendous injury to my left shoulder and my left ankle—in fact, according to my doctor, both had been “destroyed.” I had sustained multiple lacerations from aircraft debris, with my head and face taking the most serious damage.
Over time, through many surgeries and other treatments, much of my body had been healing and I was out of the hospital. However, as a young man with my future still ahead, it was my left ankle that concerned me most. Although I had been in a leg and ankle cast, and using crutches for months, the ankle was still not healing. I was surprised. I had seen my body recover so quickly, with what others proclaimed as miracles, but my ankle wasn’t getting any better. Would I have to remain in a cast forever? Dr. Graham hadn’t spoken much about my ankle. It seemed there had been too many other issues to focus on. But during this particular doctor’s visit, he had difficult news for me regarding my ankle.
“Your ankle isn’t healing, Dale. Can you see that?” We both looked at the x-rays up on the screen. “The blood has quit circulating through the bone. The bone is dying. It’s called avascular necrosis, and it‘s serious. If you ever want to put weight on your left leg, we need to do another surgery and fuse bone from your hip into your ankle. With this type of surgery, you’ll lose all lateral mobility, but you’ll probably be able to put weight on it and walk.”
I was trying to take in the information, but could only hear one thing: I would never play football or baseball, run, or fly again. I could feel my heart beating in my chest—faster and harder. That can’t be God’s will for me!
Dr. Graham continued, “You need surgery before the bone is completely dead!” he stressed. “We don’t have much time, Dale.”
“What if I don’t do the surgery? What would happen?” I held my breath.
A frown formed on the doctor’s face. “That’s not a good option,” he responded. “The bone would die. The ankle would become brittle and eventually collapse. At that point, there would be nothing we could do to fix it. You’d be a cripple.”
My thoughts were spinning. I needed to figure things out. At that moment all I wanted was to leave Dr. Graham’s office as fast as possible. Grabbing my crutches, I headed for the door, dismissing the doctor with my words. “I’ll pray about it, Doc. I’ll get back to you.”
The last words I heard before the door closed were, “This can’t wait, Dale. I’m trying to help you. Let me know . . . soon!”
What kind of answer is this? I wondered. I tried to make sense of what I had just heard. I had been reading the scriptures about Jesus being my Healer. Isaiah 53:5 says, “By His stripes I am healed.” The Lord had healed everything else I had prayed for. Why not my ankle? I had a serious decision to make. And right now, I needed answers, so I headed toward my grandfather’s office in Long Beach, California.
Looking at him from across his desk, I spilled out my questions, concerns, and fears. I also shared what the doctor had told me. Barely giving him time to grasp my challenge, I leaned forward. “What should I do, Gramps?”
“Dale, the Bible says in Hebrews 11, that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. That means that what you see, feel, or hear isn’t the final word. Don’t be moved by your physical senses or the circumstances of your situation. I’m not telling you to ignore what the doctors say. But above all else, believe what God has said. Do what God’s Word and your heart are telling you to do.”
Gramps continued. “God cannot fail. And it is impossible for God to lie. Dale, your faith must be in God and in His Word.” Grandpa looked into my eyes to see if I understood what he had told me.
Then he continued. “First of all, pray. Pray by yourself and then pray with others who have faith in God and His Word according to James 5:14. Just make sure that those you are praying with really believe God will answer your prayer.”
I pulled out some paper and started writing a checklist. “Okay, Gramps. Pray. Got it. I should pray and then ask someone I trust, someone who has faith, to pray with me.” I decided right then that these instructions would become my ANSWERED PRAYER CHECKLIST.
Grandpa continued, “Okay, Dale. Second, read your Bible.”
“Read where?” I asked.
“God will show you. Just start reading.” Grandpa elaborated, “Something in the Bible will jump out at you and speak directly to your heart. God’s Spirit will lead you to find what you need. Just ask Him to lead you . . . and then expect to find it. Don’t stop looking until you do.”
Being young and spiritually underdeveloped, I thought all of this sounded pretty strange. But I committed to do everything on my new checklist. I trusted my grandpa. Therefore, I trusted what he was telling me.
Grandpa hesitated, waiting for me to finish writing. Then he continued. “Third, Dale, do exactly what God reveals to you. But be prepared and ready for your faith to be tested. In my experience, God will always allow a test, to strengthen your faith. Understand, it is not God testing your faith, but He allows the enemy to test it to determine whether you really believe in your heart what He has promised. And remember this, Dale. God’s will is what you’re looking for. And His will is found in His Word. He’ll never violate His Word. Once He reveals His will to you, you must come into agreement with it and stay in agreement.”
Grandpa’s words burned into my heart. I was sure I would never forget a single thing he had told me. Nevertheless, after writing it all down, I carefully folded my checklist, tucking it securely into my shirt pocket. I was determined to follow every step to the letter.
Arriving home, I decided to hop into the house on my strong right leg. The skin under my arms was overdue for a break from the constant rubbing and pressure of my crutches. Without a moment’s hesitation, I made my way to my room and picked up my Bible. I held it in my hands for a few minutes, wondering where to turn and what to read.
I prayed. “God, You have something special to say to me through Your word, right? Please tell me where to read.”
I waited for a moment. Then the number seven, followed by Matthew, chapter seven, entered my mind as if it were a photograph. At first, I assumed this was just my imagination, but the mental picture did not fade. “Okay. Matthew, chapter seven,” I mumbled.
Somewhat skeptically, I turned the pages until I found the seventh chapter of Matthew. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged.” What does this have to do with my ankle? Maybe I misunderstood.
Verse by verse, I kept reading. And then it happened, just as Grandpa had said it would. My eyes fixed on verses 7 and 8, and they leapt out at me as if they had my name printed all over them. The words seemed to grab me by the neck and shake me. My heart burned as I read.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7–8.
God had led me to this simple yet profound statement of faith. Words that had challenged His people for centuries. I prayed, “God, you said that everyone who asks, receives, and he who seeks, finds. That means me! Right now, I ask You to heal my ankle so I can walk and run someday. Thank you, Father. I believe you are answering this prayer even now.”
In that very moment, the decision was made in my heart. “Lord, I’m making a choice. I’m deciding to believe You are answering my prayer to heal my ankle. I am asking in faith that You do what is impossible in the natural, but possible for You.”
“God, if I’m ever going to walk again, if I’m ever going to play sports again . . .” Tears ran down my face as my prayer continued. “God, if I’m ever going to fly again . . . it will be because You healed me according to Your Word. I trust You, Lord, and I believe Your Word is true! And You will receive all the glory.”
Standing up, I boldly declared, “God, I believe that it is not Your will for me to have this bone fusion operation! I respect Dr. Graham, but You will be the one to perform this operation in Your way. And I believe someday I will have normal use of my ankle.”
“Thank You, Father . . . thank You,” I whispered, wiping the streaming tears from my eyes. It was settled in my heart. From that moment on, the course was set . . . the flight plan had been filed. Under His wings, I would be carried to the destination of His choosing.
The next day I phoned Grandpa. He was pleased to hear my decisions but reminded me, “Don’t take your eyes off of God’s Word, Dale. His promise doesn’t change just because circumstances do.” I thanked him for his counsel, thinking I understood exactly what he meant with his words of caution.
Then I phoned Dr. Graham. I wasn’t braced sufficiently for the response he gave me.
“Dale, you’re making a serious mistake! You’re gambling with your ability to ever walk again.” I could tell by his reaction that I would not receive any support from him for my decision. “If the circulation in your ankle remains as it is, your ankle bone will collapse, and there will be nothing we can do. You’ll be unable to walk on it. Arthritis will set in and you’ll be in severe pain for the rest of your life. Dale, there’s no cure when that happens. Are you understanding me? Do you realize how serious this is?”
The words were difficult to hear. Dr. Graham’s tone was even harder to bear. He genuinely cared about me and my future. I told him how much I respected him, how much I appreciated all he had done for me. But this was something I needed to do. “Doc, this is my decision. I’ve made it, and it’s final, sir!”
I believed God was going to let me fly again. And if I was ever to do that, I knew it would not happen with a fused ankle. I had made my decision in faith. I’m sure Dr. Graham thought I had made it in foolish arrogance. Regardless, I was the one who had to live with the consequences of my choice.
Determined to follow Grandfather’s checklist to the letter, I dialed the Ferguson’s number.
“Hello, Mrs. Ferguson? This is Dale Black. I wanted to ask you and Howard to pray about something for me.” Howard was an elder in our church and a man I knew I could trust. They were also close family friends who knew all about the airplane crash and had been praying for me ever since.
Without hesitation, she responded. “Of course, we will Dale. What is it?”
Quickly recounting the first item on Grandpa’s checklist, I shared what was needed. “In James chapter 5, the Bible says that if anyone is sick to ask the elders of the church to pray. I’m asking God to heal my ankle. It started healing, but then the healing stopped. I don’t understand it but now I believe God is allowing my faith to be tested. He is going to restore my ankle 100 percent. I need some believers to pray in agreement with me. Would you and Howard pray for God to restore the blood circulation in my left ankle?”
Excited to have step one taken care of, I went outside to catch some fresh air and think about my next task. My neighbor, young Terry Smith, was outside in the yard and asked, “How are you getting along, Dale?” Terry’s father was a retired airline pilot whom I had spoken to many times about my dream of following in his footsteps.
Terry’s question provided me an opportunity to speak about my faith in God’s Word regarding my ankle. And I took it. “Well, Terry, I’m getting along great! God is completely healing my ankle, and I’m very grateful. How’s it going with you?”
Within two hours of reading the seventh chapter of Matthew, I had decided not to have the operation to fuse bone from my hip into my ankle. Other people were now praying in faith for my ankle to be restored. And now I had spoken words from my own mouth about my belief in what God had already done in response to my prayer.
Soon I realized that the first person who needed to be convinced that God’s Word was true was the person in the mirror—me. I didn’t completely understand it all at first. But as I repeated promises from the Bible and spoke aloud about them to others and myself, something wonderful was happening inside my heart. Those Bible promises were taking root, and I could tell my faith was growing stronger.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,” I reminded myself, “the evidence of things not seen.”
There was a kind of exhilaration to this new experiment in obeying God’s Word. I was just nineteen. Because of my inexperience, I had not prepared for the “push-back” the enemy had in store—discouraging words, disappointing circumstances, and devastating medical reports.
My first unexpected detour came when my father heard that I had decided not to have the bone fusion surgery recommended by Dr. Graham. He strongly weighed in on the situation. “Dale, you’re being unrealistic and making a big mistake.”
It was difficult to disagree with my dad. He was a strong individual—the president of his own successful company. He had also seen me through the aftermath of the crash without a complaint. But now Dr. Graham and the specialists were urgently suggesting an operation that I was rejecting, and Dad didn’t understand why. I stood my newfound ground. “I’ve made up my mind, Dad. I’ve asked God to heal my ankle completely, and I’m going to believe He is doing that. How can He do that if I have it fused?”
Sometimes it seemed everyone in my life thought I was making a huge mistake. When I returned to the college campus, there were dozens of opportunities to express my faith—that God was healing my ankle. I was always on crutches with my left leg and ankle in a cast. Every time a friend would ask how I was doing, I had a chance to respond in faith. “God has healed me. Praise the Lord! As soon as I have new x-rays taken at my next doctor’s appointment, I’ll prove it! You watch. You wait. You’ll see.”
As the time of my next doctor’s appointment came around, eight friends—each eager to see a miracle—accompanied me. We crowded into a friend’s old green Cadillac and headed for Burbank. As we drove, I reminded them of our purpose, “You guys are going to be eyewitnesses to an awesome miracle.”
We cruised along excitedly, parked, and descended on the doctor’s office like a troop of zealous soldiers. Upon entering, I figured I’d take one more opportunity to make a declaration of faith to Dr. Graham. As the nine of us walked into the exam room together, I confidently explained to the doctor, “They’re here to see proof that God has healed my ankle.”
The x-rays were taken. We waited in anticipation. A few minutes later Dr. Graham came back into the room with the x-rays in hand.
“Wait, Doc. Before you show us the x-rays, we’d like to pray and thank God for the miracle.” Doctor Graham stopped and respectfully crossed his hands, still holding the x-rays. He waited as we thanked the Lord for healing my ankle. After we said amen, he placed the negatives on the screen to begin his analysis. We all gathered around waiting to hear the good news.
He paused for several anxious minutes before speaking. Then he broke the news. “There is absolutely no progress. I’m sorry, Dale. The blood is not circulating in your ankle.”
The war I was fighting was far from over, and that unexpected news showed me how ill-equipped I was for spiritual battle. I was vulnerable and untrained—and only starting to understand how important it was to put on the armor of God. I was at the beginning of spiritual boot camp and had no idea what was waiting for me.
No one knew quite what to say. My group of friends were stunned. “Don’t worry, Dale. God’s not finished yet!” Dave tried to encourage as we walked toward the car. The others offered their own cautious sympathies. Looking back, I realize that none of us understood what had just happened or why.
Telling my friends I’d rather not talk, I kept my gaze focused out the Cadillac’s side window. No one knew what to say to me anyway. I needed some answers from God . . . and I needed them now. I was entering into conflict with the very One who embodied all my hope. Don’t give me all those neat little clichés. It’s my life, not yours. I’m the one who can’t walk.
My shock was quickly turning into anger. I thought about the cold facts. God did not do what He promised me He would do. God let me down. He blew it, and I don’t like it at all! I’ve acted like a fool by trusting Him. My mind considered the possibility that Dr. Graham was right. Maybe I had made a choice that would leave me more crippled than I dared believe. If that were true, then what was I going to do now?
Suddenly, I remembered the checklist! Was this all a test? Was God allowing my faith to be tested? I recalled Grandpa warning me that once I put a stand of faith in action, my faith would be tested. I had already told a countless number of people that my ankle was healed. But what had I done when the x-rays came back with a negative report? I had believed the report more than God’s Word!
Feeling ashamed and frustrated with myself, I got back into God’s Word and planted it in my heart. Gradually, my faith overcame the fear and doubt.
Within days I was giving my testimony again at the college chapel service. I shared my renewed faith in God and His Word as I explained what I had learned about the importance of patience and long-suffering when standing in faith. Following my update, Chaplain Welsh anointed me with oil and led many in prayer for the bones in my ankle to be healed.
With my faith rebuilt, two weeks later I invited any who were interested to go with me to Dr. Graham’s office for another opportunity to see a miracle. “My faith was tested,” I explained. “Now we’ll see the miracle God promised.” Just as before, the well-worn, green Cadillac made its way toward the doctor’s office in Burbank, filled with friends excited to see a miracle.
Thinking that I finally understood what had happened, I was confident that the keys of faith and healing were in place in my mind and heart. Little did I know that the most important lessons about God and His will were just ahead of me. What I was about to learn would not only shock me but also transform me forever.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Click the following link to read the conclusion – “Losing Life To Find It” We pray this story will build your faith and inspire your trust in the Lord.
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View More Messages From Heaven Blogs:
“Paul and Dale Black and not like other pastors; they tell it like it is and do not soften the message like most pastors do.” Bru
“Wow!! This came at the perfect time, just what I needed. Christine
“Dale, thank you so much for your teaching. Thirty years ago I set aside the ingrained pre-trib teaching after searching scripture for the truth. What I found aliegns nearly perfectly with your end-times timeline. I’m now convinced most Christians are so deluded in thinking we will be removed beforehand that when it becomes obvious the Great Tribulation is upon us, they will fall away.” David
“Excellent advice on Bible study time. This structure is so much needed in the life of believers now a days. I believe many will benefit from it. God bless you brother Dale.” Sophie