Getting Right With God

(The James Petzold Story)

Jesus Did It!

BEGINNINGS... (Before I got right with God)

In November 1972, I was twenty-two, and would have never imagined how events would change me over the following two years. It is these events which I am about to describe in detail.

At the beginning of the month, my girlfriend decided she wanted to go out with someone else. The relationship was only a few months old and I had stopped drinking as a result. I did not feel the need for it any more. Although my girlfriend never intended the relationship to get too serious, I still had to take two weeks holiday from work and stay with an aunt to recover from the emotional pain and feeling of rejection. I was surprised at the way it took all my energy as I was normally a very active person. In spite of this, I did not take up drinking again but resolved to find a replacement for my girlfriend – along with some backups to dampen the emotional consequences of another possible rejection.


At that time, I was also on a sort of personal spiritual quest and had read about and tried different forms of spiritual experience other than those of the Christian faith. From the religious education at the different schools, I understood God to be a sort of father figure. I had no doubt that Jesus Christ was His son, miraculously conceived and born from a virgin. Nor did I ever doubt that Jesus rose from the dead after He had been crucified. I had no trouble in accepting the first four books of the New Testament as fact, but that was the limit of my beliefs. I used to recite the Lord's Prayer (slightly altered) and read three chapters of the Bible every night, even when I was ‘blind’ drunk and the words were swimming before my eyes. I somehow thought this would do me good, although I didn't understand a lot of what I read. So, I had some religious inclinations. However, my beliefs had no impact on my life and my behavior was no different to anyone else's of my age – except that it was somewhat more eccentric. Twenty years later, I discovered that my eccentricities were due to nature rather than nurture – we are more hard-wired than I had at first realized. However, as far as God is concerned: my mild eccentricities have never been an issue.

At that time, I was attending a so-called day-release course from work. (As a young person, you were allowed one day a week at college to obtain some qualifications which were relevant to the job.) After the two-week break at my aunt’s in November, I attended the technical college on the Tuesday as usual and fell into conversation with a Christian girl who was attending the same course. Then, I did not see that there was anything special about being a Christian and considered myself to be one anyway. I told her that I was embarking on experiments with transcendental meditation and that I was about to be baptized (the Anglican custom is to dab a cross in water on your forehead) by the local vicar on that Thursday morning before carrying out my spiritual experiments. She said that she would pray for me – which seemed a very odd thing to say at the time – and that I should leave the transcendental meditation well alone. I invited her out to dinner. She accepted, providing I would attend church with her that Sunday.


According to plan, I took a couple of hours off work to be baptized on a Thursday morning. The service was taken by the vicar witnessed by the verger (a sort of caretaker and administrator of the church building). Part of the service involved declaring the following statements, which I did in all sincerity, addressing them to God and the spiritual world (which I believed to be present all around me). The words I was asked to say were taken from the baptism and confirmation services in the Anglican book of common prayer. Since I was an adult, and the Anglican tradition is to baptize infants, I think the vicar tailor-made the service for my particular situation. One of the statements I made was as follows: “I will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God's holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments and live as a soldier of Christ.” As I left the church, I definitely felt that something profound but very subtle had changed in my life and that my action had not gone unnoticed. Although I did not understand this at the time, God had taken what I had said during the baptism service seriously.

I took my new friend out to dinner on Saturday evening as arranged. Among the many things we talked about, I outlined what I would be looking for in a wife. (She tells me that she wondered whether it was a date or an interview for that position!) However, she made it clear that, since she was only twenty years old, she was not looking for a husband. Anyway, I kept my promise and attended her church that Sunday. It was a Baptist church. I had no idea what a Baptist church was before then and knew very little about the various Christian denominations or their history.

During my discussions with the Anglican vicar before he baptized me, I had remarked that the New Testament did not appear to agree with the arrangements in the Anglican Church and in some cases seemed to contradict them. For example, why was there an altar in the church when the altar was supposed to have been dispensed with after the crucifixion, since Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice and the previous animal sacrifices were simply an illustration to the Jews of what was really going to be necessary to reconcile them to God? Rather, why wasn't there a communion table instead with the congregation sitting round it like the last supper described in the New Testament, etc?

When I entered the Baptist church that Sunday, I was amazed to see a communion table in the centre of the church with the congregation seated in a semicircle around it – instead of candles, there was a cup and a plate placed in the centre of it, almost as I had imagined how it should be!

After that Sunday, my Christian friend and I started to see each other. She then set about correcting some of the misconceptions I had about the Christian faith. As I saw the way she and her friends prayed and expected to see and saw their prayers answered, I decided that all of the accounts in the New Testament should have direct impact on my life also. Most importantly, I realized Jesus' command to become like small children in our approach towards God was crucial. He said that we would see nothing of the 'kingdom of heaven' unless we did. I therefore took this approach since I reasoned that I could not expect anything from God unless I followed his instructions precisely (except where it was a clear case of exaggeration to get the point across – there is no record of a Christian cutting off his hand to avoid temptation, for example).

At this point, my new girlfriend gave me a book which was written for people who were learning about the Christian faith. This book dealt with the subject of being 'right with God' – in its simplest terms, this is a piece of jargon used to describe the state of having a clear and open relationship with God and following His instructions. From reading this book, I understood that if I really wanted to enter into a relationship with God, that relationship would have to be entirely on His terms. I reasoned that since he is a God of love and wisdom, I should have nothing to fear from entering into a relationship with Him on that basis, although I was still dogged with a sort of irrational fear about the whole business.

BORN AGAIN... (By the Spirit of God)

One evening towards the end of November, with a feeling of apprehension and embarrassment, I got down on my knees in my bedroom and surrendered my life to Jesus. I admitted to Him that I could see no good thing in me to recommend me to Him nor anything that I had done that I could point to in order to justify myself in any way, rather, that many things that I had done had made me His enemy rather than His friend – I fully acknowledged that I was a sinner, through and through. I asked Him to forgive me for all the things I had done. I accepted that He had come into the world, which he had made, as a baby miraculously conceived and born of a virgin, had lived as a man on the earth and was brutalized and executed on my behalf. I understood that God cannot have anything to do with sin, so it had to be paid for. I asked Him to take full control of my life and be my Lord and Saviour (means rescuer). (The old fashioned word for all of this is repentance which, strictly speaking, must include my renouncing all evil, which I had already done in the Anglican baptism service described in the previous paragraphs.) I also asked Him to spare me of some things about which I was fearful, but this was not conditional on my part. I had decided to trust Him implicitly. And I asked Him for a wife, a woman to share my life with and to love and care for. That was the sum of my prayer.

What happened next was totally unexpected. Immediately after my prayer, I felt the powerful presence of someone who seemed to be of great age, older than time itself and who was full of profound wisdom and had great power. It seemed He was standing about three or four feet away in front of me although I could not see Him with my eyes. Although I did not know Him, He knew me. I could feel Him looking right into my soul as if it were a block of clear glass and I could sense that He knew and understood me and my motives to an immense depth, far more than I understood them myself. He showed me that He knew me before I was born and from before He had made the world. Words are insufficient to describe what happened, it was extremely powerful, frightening and wonderful all at the same time. He did five things for me: He totally forgave me for all the sins I had ever committed. He filled my inner being with light – where previously I felt I was in total darkness. He showed me that I now had an eternal existence from before the world came into being and would continue into infinity. He took away the fear of death which had plagued me from childhood, (this fear has never returned since). He opened my understanding of the Bible – when I looked at the New Testament which was lying on my bed in front of me, I found that I was able to understand it as if every word was clearly and personally addressed to me. Even the print appeared clearer!

From then on, I spent time studying the New Testament and praying every evening – this was no chore, it was food to my soul. Because of this experience and because He promises in the New Testament to answer prayers, I prayed with a great sense of expectancy. I saw very many of my prayers answered, and answered in unexpected ways. The experience of forgiveness was very strong. On one occasion, it was so profound that I had the sense that I had never sinned in my life; my sins and wrong-doings had been completely washed away. I was talking to another Christian about this at the time who had experienced exactly the same thing.

My new girlfriend and I were engaged within six weeks.


Jesus says in the New Testament that His followers must confess their allegiance to Him publicly and be prepared to give a reason for their faith whenever challenged. If they denied Him, He would deny them. Everywhere I went, I wore a badge which said ‘Smile, Jesus loves you'. I was also given the opportunity on numerous occasions to describe publicly how Jesus had fundamentally changed my life. I truly nailed my colors to the mast in every respect, in public life, in my father’s home and at the workplace – with some interesting but predictable consequences!


In January/February 1973, I decided that, now I had become a Christian, I should expect to experience some of the supernatural events described in the Bible in my own life. Having read about the sudden ability to speak in a language other than your mother tongue mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and some of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, I got down on my knees in my room as usual and gave Jesus three reasons why I wanted to experience this ability for myself. I can only remember one of the reasons I gave Him: I wanted the ability to speak in tongues as a daily physical reminder that He had acknowledged my faith. As soon as I had finished asking Jesus for this ability, I distinctly heard the whispering of what sounded like a crowd of hundreds of voices speaking all at once from about thirty yards behind and to the right of me.  My room was on the first floor of the house and they seemed to come from some point at the same level of my room but from outside in the garden. It was as if there were no walls to the house to impede the sound.

With astonishment, combined with a feeling of excited expectancy, I waited there on my knees with my eyes closed as the voices came nearer and grew louder. Within about five seconds, I was completely surrounded by the voices. I felt that I was in the middle of a small crowd of people all whispering loudly simultaneously. I opened my mouth to speak and immediately found that I was speaking fluently in a language which was completely unknown to me. I was able to start and stop speaking in this new language at will, just like deciding whether to get up and walk or sit down. This ability has stayed with me ever since and I use it in prayer. The way in which I received the ability to speak in tongues was really quite unusual – so far, I have never met anyone who has had a similar experience.


So, after having received this ability, I suggested to the Lord that it would be a good idea if He also enabled me to speak German in the same way and that if I were to go down to my father (who spoke the language fluently) in his study and start speaking German, he would have to believe in God! I asked the Lord for this ability and, without waiting for an answer, went straight downstairs to my father. When he looked up to see what I wanted, I opened my mouth to speak my new language expecting God to have answered my prayer. What came out was my new prayer language that the Lord had originally given me and not German! “What’s that?” said my father “gobbledygook!?” “It’s supposed to be German” I replied. I was then given a lecture about how much hard work I would have to put in to learn a language etc. etc. Retreating back to my room and feeling about an inch tall, I considered my first lesson in presumption. It was another seventeen years before I attempted to learn German in the conventional way. As with everything I attempt, I prayed for and received a great deal of help. The timing was such as to provide me with a means of earning a living after losing my position as an industrial scientist.


Another supernatural event involved my car. In this case, I needed to attend an interview for a new job but could not get my Austin mini van to start. I had drained the battery trying to start it, left it for half an hour to recover a little and asked God to help me get it started. I tried and tried again. The engine turned over a couple of times until it became completely lifeless. The battery was now definitely flat. I then hid in the porch of the house where no one could see me and started to get rather irrate with God since He promised in the Bible that He would answer anything that we asked in Jesus’ name and anything, as far as I understood, included my car! I went out another two times to try the starter. There was still no life – there might as well have been no battery in the car at all. After returning to the porch and closing the door, I pleaded with God again. I came out and tried starting the engine once more. This time, as I turned the ignition key, it was as if the engine had been connected to a power station – it spun at great speed for about three seconds and then started. I can think of no practical explanation why my car should have behaved in this way other than that God had answered my prayer. (I am familiar with the chemistry of batteries.) The fact that I was too late for my interview was an indication to me that, according to God’s intentions, this was not the right job for me.


It was about this time that I needed to carry out a repair on my car. The work involved compressing a powerful spring which was retained by a cast iron washer. The washer was cracked and needed replacing. I used two cramps to compress the spring so that I could remove the washer. Placing the cramps on the spring, a suggestion came into my mind that I should oil the cramps. I ignored this advice and continued to tighten the screws until one of the cramps slipped off allowing the spring to shoot the washer straight through my glasses, filling my eye with glass. Dropping the starter motor I had been working on, I ran to the front door, struggled with the latchkey, fought off the family dog who wanted to greet me as if she had not seen me for a whole year and finally made it to the bathroom upstairs to wash the glass out of my eye. On asking the Lord why He had let that happen, His immediate answer was quite simply “because I love you”. When I had finished working on my car, I went to the hospital to have my eye inspected by a nurse. There was no glass in it. So I thank the Lord for preserving my eye. I believe Jesus was showing me how important it is for me to heed His voice.


The remainder of 1973 was spent working, spending my free time with my fiancée, attending Christian meetings and taking part in Christian work. Each night, I spent some time reading my Bible and praying before going to bed. I was discovering new things all the time and I felt that I was on a supernatural adventure where literally anything could happen at any moment.


The New Testament also describes baptism as a declaration of faith which is accompanied by full immersion in water to symbolize death to the ‘old life’ and resurrection into the ‘new life in Christ’, which I was now experiencing. This was not represented by the Anglican baptism I received and I was determined to do it right, as described in the New Testament – understanding the full implications was not enough, compliance was what was called for. I did not want to miss out on anything that God was offering by being careless with His instructions. Since I could not claim to be an expert on spiritual matters, I was not in a position to compromise on anything which I was fully able to carry out. But first of all, I had to wait until they had rebuilt the baptistery (a sort of tank let into the floor) at the church I was attending. I was baptized in the autumn of 1973. However, reading the Book of Acts, which describes the experiences of the first Christians, I believe that baptism should normally take place as soon after receiving Jesus as Saviour as soon as possible.


It would seem thatthings were quite straightforward from the time I handed over my life to God. This was not altogether true. On many occasions, I woke up in the middle of the night in absolute terror and with a strong sense of an evil presence close by me in the room. Just speaking the words ‘Jesus Christ’ caused the presence to retreat immediately. This happened a number of times.

One night during my prayers before getting into bed, I asked Jesus if there was some passage of scripture that I should read to deal with this problem. (I have to say that in spite of my having read the Bible, I was still largely ignorant of what was written in it – in the Old Testament in particular.) As I prayed this prayer, the answer that came to me straight away was ‘Psalm 91’. This Psalm contains the verse ‘neither shall I fear the terror that stalks by night’ and although I still had the problem after reading the Psalm, I now had a promise that I should have no reason to fear it. Two or three weeks later, I woke up in a cold sweat and out of mind with terror as I felt I was in the presence of the very Devil himself. I was too frightened even to open my eyes. I called to Jesus and as I mentioned His name, I heard an audible scream of extreme terror from this presence as it rapidly retreated from my room. Mentioning the name of Jesus had obviously scared the wits out of what had come to trouble me. At the same time, I felt Jesus speak the question into my heart ‘what's the matter child?’ with the implication that there was nothing for me to be afraid of now that I belonged to Him – fear, when you think about it, is a lack of faith in God's ability or will to care for us. It is quite clear that Jesus expects us to use our faith. I never had a visit of this nature from an evil presence again.

I would like to emphasize that these experiences were not vague but extremely powerful and very frightening. I have seen two people testify that they had attacks at night after they had surrendered their lives to Jesus. In both cases, they had practiced astrology – (as had I) before they became Christians. (I had also used Tarot cards for fortune telling before I became a Christian. When I disposed of the cards in an industrial paper shredder, the temperature in the room suddenly dropped and left me shivering with cold. I did not expect this to happen and had used the machine for shredding other documents just previously without any such effects.)


Some months passed as I continued with my new faith, attending meetings, Bible studies, prayer meetings and taking part in an 'outreach' in a small town in the South of England. My fiancée sang in a gospel group and I often went along as well and described what had happened to me in front of the congregation. I brought one person to faith and encouraged others – nothing spectacular.

My fiancée and I decided to take our honeymoon in North Wales as we wanted to meet some Christians we had heard about in the region who were similar to us in our beliefs. Like most honeymoons I have heard about, ours had its fair share of minor irritations (the hotel, for example, had not taken any notice of my reservation because I had made it by phone!).

I had been told by one religious person I knew quite well that marriage was second best and that, as a Christian, one should really live a celibate life. Although I had disregarded this as ‘superspiritual’ and considered that it may have been alright for him but I was not made that way, the idea had sown a doubt in my conscience which came back to me from time to time. The doubt was unreasonable but no argument would shift it. One such time was on the first evening of our honeymoon. For obvious reasons, I did not discuss the problem with my wife but, as with everything that bothered me in a very personal way, I asked the Lord. On opening my Bible at random, my eye immediately fell on a verse in the Old Testament as if it were highlighted: He who finds a wife, finds a good thing – and I knew the Lord was answering me. This problem has never occurred since and after more than 30 years of marriage, I can still say that apart from surrendering to Jesus, marrying my wife was the very best decision I ever made.

My wife and I visited the small Christian fellowship on the Tuesday after the first weekend to introduce ourselves to the people there. The next day, as we were walking through the village, the pastor drew up in his car and told us that he felt that the Lord was prompting him to invite us to dinner the following day. We accepted the invitation and duly turned up for lunch on the Thursday. We sat at a large table with about a dozen other people. For some reason I ended up describing all my spiritual activities before I had become a Christian, how I had been telling fortunes using Tarot cards and astrology. They gave me their full attention as they listened in silence while eating their meal. After the meal, the pastor gently tapped me on the shoulder and invited me to come in the next room across the hall (we were in a large Victorian house on the side of a hill with a splendid view of the bay) and describe my experiences again to him in detail. We were accompanied by our wives and a single lady and everyone listened attentively while I went through the whole story again. The pastor then told me that I should be prayed for by a Christian who was living a godly life. I believed that he was such a person and asked him to pray for me then and there. While he prayed for me and laid his hand on my head, I felt as if something which had been weighing me down for a long time left me immediately. Not a very dramatic event but I have included it for completeness. (I have since seen people screaming, shouting, speaking as different objectionable personalities, going into twisted contortions, squirming like snakes and behaving like animals as demons leave them. Thankfully, this has never happened to me.)

That night, I was telling my wife of my concern that I had not really demonstrated that I had surrendered everything in my life to God. I was really anxious because I thought that God required me literally to give up everything, including my marriage, and become a tramp to show there was nothing left in my life that I was holding on to. She said to me that that was not what God meant by being fully surrendered to Him and then she drifted off to sleep. However, I was fully awake and casting about in my mind what more God wanted from me. Suddenly, I was confronted by a person dressed in white at the end of our bed. This person stood about six feet tall and was clothed in a white garment which was radiant like lightning. I could see His face and beard but could not make out His features because of the brilliance of the light. Although the light was so bright, I was not blinded and could still look at Him without having to squint. What was more terrifying was that this person was awesomely powerful and searingly pure, holy (like a sort of spiritual bleach) – words are inadequate to describe the experience properly.

I realized what a disgusting and selfish creature I really was. I wondered how I could hide from this Holy Being, disappear or somehow simply cease to exist in order to get away since there was nothing in me that I could find that could tolerate His presence. As I was still filled with these thoughts with a feeling of utter consternation, I then began to sense complete forgiveness for my filthy, selfish nature. Whereas previously, I had been thoroughly forgiven for all the selfish and unclean things I had done in my life, this time I was forgiven for what I was as a person. I was now shown that I had a right to exist simply because He decided that He wanted me to exist. It had nothing to do with me.

I then felt His utterly selfless love coming over me in powerful waves and envelope me with greater and greater power and intensity. I could see that He was looking directly at me and His whole attention was entirely focused on me and me alone. The power of His love increased so much that I felt as though I would be absorbed and consumed out of existence. I then began to feel anxious and a little alarmed – I was not used to unconditional love, and certainly not with this power. I was not even used to ordinary love; it had taken some time for me to learn to tell my wife that I loved her and I was completely out of my depth here. I started to pull away from His love. He gently drew away and gradually withdrew from the room.

The whole experience is impossible to express in words – it was too powerful and inexpressible. I really felt as though I was going to be completely taken out of this world into Him. The Jesus I saw was much greater, more full of complete selfless love, purity and power than the descriptions in the New Testament. I am not saying that my experience was greater than those described in the New Testament, simply that human language is inadequate to describe Him, there is nothing in this world to use for comparison, so the writers of the New Testament were experiencing the same limitations in expressing what they saw. You have to look at the devotion of some of His disciples to get some idea of the effect of His personality on people. It is no wonder that the writers of the New Testament had to adopt a new word for God’s love. When I say selfless, I mean without any consideration for self at all – literally 100%.

It is now clear to me why His concern at the trial and crucifixion was focused on Pilate, His interrogator, the people who mistreated Him, the women who wept for Him, the thief on the cross beside Him and Mary His mother but absolutely not on Himself, in spite of His body being wracked with searing pain from head to foot. While in the Garden of Gethsemane, once He had come to terms with what He was about to go through, His concern from then on was solely focused on those around Him. This is His nature.


A few days later as my wife and I were traveling home on the train, God again unexpectedly spoke into my heart. This time, He showed me that I was His son and that He was my true father. My natural father was there simply to care for my physical needs.


As the train was cruising into the station, I stood up and put on my greatcoat. When my wife asked me why I was putting on ‘that heavy greatcoat’ with the sun shining outside, I replied jokingly, “this is England, anything could happen with the weather; it could rain or hail or even snow!” As soon as we got off the train, we were greeted with rain, snow and hail – all within a couple of minutes and all in brilliant sunshine!


Again, as I was puzzling over what is it meant to be “led by the Spirit”, I got on my knees and asked Jesus what He expected me to do about a certain issue. He answered by flooding me with His love and with the assurance that it did not matter what I did. (Obviously, this was not a license to returning to a life of sin.) This may seem trivial but, since I had pulled myself away from Him when He appeared to me because I could not cope with the power of His love, I had somehow felt that I had rejected Christ. God was now showing me quite clearly that He had not interpreted my response as my rejecting Him in any way.


Since that time, my experiences of God have been less frequent and certainly not of that intensity. We are, after all, called to live our life by faith and not to depend on signs and wonders. However, I believe that He gave me enough to get through testing times over the last thirty years and I still look forward to being in His presence in the future. There are many times when I experience answered prayer and, from time to time, I have been given unmistakable assurances from the Lord Jesus during difficult times. There was a time when I was considered to be unintelligent, even by those close to me. Jesus has unlocked the abilities I was born with and enabled me to achieve much, not to mention the grace that I have received from Him in the form of provision and opportunities. I can honestly say that ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  He has provided me with inner resources beyond what I would normally have to cope with difficult circumstances and achieve objectives  – I have experienced this over and over and over again. From time to time, my wife and I work together encouraging others in their faith. I work full time as a technical translator and my wife supports my work (keeps me in business!) by proofreading.


I believe that Jesus is interested in revealing Himself to everyone and what I myself have experienced, achieved and seen is only a little of what is really available from God. I can honestly say that deciding to invite Jesus into my life and submit myself fully to Him was the most important decision in my life and I have never regretted making that decision for a moment since that time. I have put this down in writing to persuade you the reader to consider seriously where your life is going and encourage you to consider Jesus and what He has for you.


"And this gospel of the kingdom [Jesus died for sinners] shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." (Quote from Jesus Himself: Matthew 24:14).

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