Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2007
Dear Friend in Christ:
Moses had the Red Sea before him and the Egyptian army coming up behind him. What to do? The disciples were out on a raging sea; Jesus was asleep in the boat. What to do?
We are all faced with situations that seem to have no answer. It would be a mistake to believe that Moses or the disciples were different from us. They were just like us_human. And the Bible is full of occasions where people were led into seemingly impossible situations. One such time is when Moses prayed, “Why have you afflicted your servant?” He went on to ask, “If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now.” (See Numbers 11:11, 15.)
Moses was very frustrated with his lot in life and his calling. He saw no answer but death. Of course the Lord didn’t kill him; He gave Moses direction. He showed Moses what to do, when Moses didn’t know what to do.
The world has changed dramatically since the days of Moses or the days of the disciples, but we still find ourselves in impossible situations. Maybe you are there now_if not, you probably will be at some time. What will you do?
Our first response is often to become extremely anxious, stressed, and frustrated. It may also tempt us to place blame or get angry. Who caused this?Some might even blame God, as Moses did. None of those responses help us to escape. Even if God Himself led us to that place, He didn’t do so to destroy us.
Bad responses to bad situations indicate several things. One is that we believe that we are in control, and because we have no answer, we become frustrated. Another indication is that we have given up on miracles. If there is no “logical” answer, then we think there is no answer at all. But faith is not real until it is tested. I am not speaking academically or even theologically; I am remembering times when I was there with all my bad responses.
I was 27 years old, had a wife and baby, it was Christmas, and I was about to be fired from my pastorate. Why? I had admitted to the deacon board that I had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and had spoken in tongues. Yes, I was going to be fired for being “too spiritual”. All but two of the nine deacons resigned, and the church was going to vote. I knew of no other Southern Baptist pastor, as I was, who had survived such a vote. And I saw no other job opportunities. What to do?
Fortunately, I had been raised to believe the Bible and trust God. But that seemed to bring little initial comfort. I knew other pastors who had been fired for the same reason. But as I sought the Lord, He led me to Psalm 37. It began with the very words that addressed my situation: “Do not fret.…” The theme develops over the course of the next few verses: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass”(see Psalm 37:3-5).
Then, in Psalm 37:8, it says, “Cease from anger, do not fret, it only causes harm.” Verses 12 and 13 say, “The wicked plots but the Lord laughs.” In my situation then, for me to see God laughing was not easy. But as I realized that I could not lose, even if fired, I was finally able to laugh with Him. Yes, literally laugh.
As my wife, Carolyn, and I waited in my office for the congregation to vote, we read. I read a book, Thirty Five Thousand Precious Promises. She read a religious joke book. We both began laughing, and were laughing when the moderator came to get us. The final vote showed that I was retained by a large margin. It was unbelievable! But, had I been fired, the Lord would have still helped us. But I had to get to a place of peace, trust and rest. I had to stop fretting.
In addition, someone we did not even know gave us a house full of furniture, with drapes and pictures for the walls of our house. We laughed then also.
WHAT TO DO?
I am not suggesting that I know what you should do to resolve the impossible. What I am saying is that the Lord knows what you should do. What to do is_seek the Lord, read His Word, and believe that He will bring it to pass.
After my experience of God’s deliverance, I began reading a chapter of Proverbs each day, finishing the entire book each month. On the third day, I arrived at a very instructive place.
Proverbs was written by Solomon to pass on the wisdom that his father, David, and others had given to him. Proverbs is written to and for young people especially, but extremely useful to us all. A primary purpose for all fathers is pass on the collected wisdom of their fathers (see Psalm 78 and Proverbs 4). So when I read Proverbs, I was getting the wisdom of many generations inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom is more than knowledge; it is the ability to use knowledge appropriately, in a timely manner -something that I have at times failed to do. I’ll get back to what I learned on the third day of reading Proverbs, but first let me tell you about an example of my lack of wisdom.
I was 17 years old and resisting the call of God on my life. For reasons I will not explain here, I entered a public speaking contest – actually on a dare from a friend. Eventually I found myself in the state-wide finals. Our family got up early in the morning and drove to Auburn University where the contest would be. There was me and three others competing. I was the youngest.
It would be well after 9:00 p.m. before I spoke, and by that time I was tired and nervous. Money and honor were riding on the outcome. As we drove to the auditorium where a thousand people would gather, Dad handed me a Bible_a gift and said, “Charles, your mother and I want to give you this Bible and tell you that we are proud of you.” He also noted that they had marked several passages in Proverbs.
I am embarrassed to say that I was not very interested in the Bible at that moment, nor interested in Proverbs. I should have been, for what occurred later could have been prevented.
After I spoke in the competition, a judge stood from out of the crowd and asked me a question. I had been instructed to repeat the question and answer it. The judge had a manuscript of my speech before him. The answer to his question was plainly stated in the manuscript. Instead of repeating the question, I said, “If you will look on page one, paragraph three, the answer is….” It sounded like I was pointing out that the judge had overlooked the obvious. The audience groaned. The judge had not erred_I had. I went home with third place_and less money_and then I read Proverbs.
As we look at Proverbs 3:5-7, we see: “Trust in the Lord with all you heart, and lean not to your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.”
What to do? Trust the Lord_don’t trust yourself. Of course we should prepare for every eventuality, be competent as possible. But what do you do when you do not know what to do? Humble yourself before God and ask Him to direct your path.
Isaiah was an amazing prophet who lived in extremely difficult times. He counseled the king during a siege that would seem to destroy Jerusalem. The siege was conducted by Assyrians, the same people who had destroyed the Northern Tribes. Isaiah’s counsel saved the nation in desperate times. But beyond that he saw the time when Jerusalem would be sacked and looted_a hundred years later.
Isaiah had a long view. He saw the coming Messiah, 700 years after Isaiah’s life. Isaiah even prophesied the cruelty of the Cross of Jesus_the world’s most desperate and crucial event (see Isaiah 53).
Isaiah also had a clear and more immediate view. He said in Isaiah 30 that there will be a time when you cannot run and hide. “Those who pursue you will be swift” (see Isaiah 30:16). Then he says, “Blessed are those who wait for Him” (see verse 18). In other words, when the worst happens, don’t run; wait on the Lord.”
Then in verse 21, he gives this promise:“Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”It is hard to hear when we are running. But when we wait, the Lord can speak to us and show us the way to walk. The long view gives us perspective. The immediate view gives us direction. The Holy Spirit can show us both views of life, and we need both views.
There is a lot of “self-help” teaching today. Much of it is valid and useful. I listen to those who would help me help myself. But I also know that there are times when my strength, knowledge, and wisdom are not enough. I am shut up to God by the impossible. That is when I need to know that I am not adequate and my inadequacy is the occasion to see the hand of God. All of the Bible and history are there to teach us that lesson. My favorite stories are those that reveal the hand of God.
We have been publishing since 1969. Almost every year has presented us with a “don’t know what to do.” In 1986, Integrity Music came out of such a time. It has touched many millions of people around the world testifying to the presence of Jesus. Other crossroads produced The Covenant & the Kingdom Bible Study curriculum, outreach to Costa Rica, and our emphasis on one-to-one evangelism.
Our Lord Jesus Himself was born miraculously in difficult times. He came to earth and He comes to us in such seasons. What we seek to do is encourage others to trust the Lord in their weaknesses. We encourage them to believe His Word, seek His face, be filled with His Spirit, and tell of His wonderful works. He is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations_including ours.
If you are in one of those “don’t know what to do” moments, humble yourself in the sight of God and He will lift you up, plant your feet upon a rock, and anoint your head with oil until your cup runs over. When He does, let us know so that we can rejoice with you. And please keep us in your prayers and in your giving this month. If you would like information on our April 25-27 “Mission or Position” conference in Gatlinburg, please contact us at (251) 633-7900 or visit csmpublishing.org.
Scripture Reference: Numbers, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah