Andy Stanley - Becoming Better Through A Crisis
Here's something I bet we all have in common, I'm kind of ready for things to get back to normal, aren't you? I mean, it's kinda been fun, it's sort of been a break. I say fun, for some people it's been fun to have a break for other people it's just 100% stress and we're all somewhere on that continuum. But for the most part, I think we're all ready for things to get back to normal. But in light of what we've experienced and in light of what we've learned, it would probably be a shame for us to just go back to the normal normal.
So right now there are a lot of people talking about the new normal. In fact, I bet you've talked about the new normal. Now, as you know, some of the new normal may be forced on us, but here's the thing and here's what we're gonna talk about for the next three weeks, if we're wise, we will pause and ask the question, what have I learned? What have we learned? And what do we wanna carry forward? We'll pause and ask the question, what have I learned? What have we learned? And what do we want to carry forward?
Now here's something I've learned, in fact, here's something I think we've all learned that the producers of the "Mad Max" movies you remember from the late 70s and 80s and early 90s, the "Mad Max" movies, the producers had it wrong. The producers had it wrong because here's what we've all learned, the most valuable commodity, the most valuable commodity during an apocalypse is not oil. It's what? It's toilet paper. And I think somebody should make a movie about that. And of course the perfect title would be "Game of Thrones", but that's taken.
So the question we're gonna ask for the next few weeks is how can we take what we've learned and carry it into the future or to the title of this series, How Can We Be Better For It? How can we be better as a result of what we've all just experienced? It was forced on us, but we're coming through this, how can we be better for what we've just experienced? And if we don't stop and ask this question, we will forget. And it would be a shame because pain without gain, you know this, pain without any gain is a shame. Now I realize for some of you, you are not ready to ask this question because your response to me so far is Andy I can't think about how to be better for it because I'm still in it. In fact, I'm just beginning to suffer the consequences of what we've just been through.
So, hey, thanks. Maybe later I'll check back in, but I can't begin asking the question how can I be better for it, because I'm right in the middle of it. But I just wanna push back on that just a little bit. And I realize I'm stepping out because I don't know your circumstances. I don't know your pain. I don't know what you're going through right now. I don't know how this has affected you and your family specifically. But here's what I do know, if we don't pay attention, we will not benefit from it. And our tendency will be to rush back to the old normal and miss the lessons learned in this new season or this new normal.
Now to help us understand this just a little bit better, C.S. Lewis many years ago in his little book "The Problem of Pain" explores this very tension of what should we learn and when is it too early to begin learning? Here's what he wrote in "The Problem of Pain", he said, "My own experience is something like this, I'm progressing along the path of life, in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or perhaps a headline in the newspaper that threatens all of us with destruction sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down".
And at first he says, "At first I'm overwhelmed that all my little happinesses look like broken toys, but then slowly and reluctantly bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. And perhaps by God's grace, I succeed". "And for a day or two", isn't that our experience? "And for a day or two, I become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn", and you already know what comes next, right?
And the reason you know, and the reason I know is because it's our story, we've been there. For some of you, your story went like this two or three years ago, maybe five years ago, your husband or wife came to you and said, "Okay, if you don't change, I'm done, I'm out of here. We've talked and talked and counseled and counseled, and I don't see any permanent change". And suddenly he or she had your attention. You sat up straight and you began making changes. You began coming home earlier. You started listening better. You paid more attention to the kids. You paid more attention to what he asked and what she asked. And suddenly you became a better husband, you became a better wife and the marriage got better for a while.
But the moment the threat was withdrawn, you began to retreat to your old ways, your old normal, your normal normal. Or maybe you're a single woman and maybe your story was something like this that you discovered, or you at least thought that you were pregnant and it scared you to death. And suddenly your religious past came crashing down on top of you and maybe you prayed for the first time in a long time. And you begged God and you promised God and you promised change and then you discovered that you weren't pregnant, and you were so relieved and you were a different person, and you behaved yourself and you stepped back into the standards that you had always embraced growing up, for a while, but once the threat was withdrawn, you began to drift back into those normal normal ways.
Or maybe your story is this, you had that scary physical, and your doctor looked at you and said, "Look, we've talked about this before and if you don't make changes, you will not be around to play with your grandchildren. You certainly won't be around to play with your great grandchildren". And he or she got your attention. And you went home and you got serious and you dieted and you exercised and people began to say, hey, you're looking better. And you felt better, everything was better. And for a while, you stuck with it. But then what happened? Well, once the threat was withdrawn, you drifted back to normal normal. And all of these scenarios, and there are more, you've got your own story, all of these scenarios make me think what is wrong with us? Why do we have to be led to the brink of disaster before we are willing to make the changes that we've known all along, we need to make?
Back to C.S Lewis, here's how he finishes this idea. "But the moment that threat is withdrawn my whole nature", and look at this verb, this is great, "my whole nature leaps back to the toys. God has had me for but 48 hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from him. But let Him sheathe that sword for a moment". And here's what I want us to avoid, and this is why we're gonna talk about this for the next few weeks. Because in order for us to gain through this pain, we have to be intentional. Otherwise, we will all drift back to the normal that we used to have and never learn anything from it. And that's why I wanted to poke and prod just a little bit for the next few weeks.
Listen to how he finishes this idea, "But let Him sheathe that sword for a moment, and I behave like a puppy that when the hated bath is over", if you have dogs, you know exactly where this is going, "I behave like a puppy that when the hated bath is over, I shake myself as dry as I can and I race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed".
Now here's the thing, and you know this, this is true of all of us, it is human nature to return to bad habits once the pain associated with those bad habits is gone. It's human nature to return to our bad habits once the pain associated with those bad habits is gone. In other words, it's human nature to wanna get back to whatever normal was. But here's the thing, and you know this, aspiring to normal, c'mon, that's not very inspiring.
So here's the question we're gonna wrestle to the ground for the next three weeks, how can we, how can you, how can we be better for it? In other words, you've heard, don't let a good thing go to waste, that's true. Well, don't let a bad thing go to waste. In fact, in this situation, it would be worse to allow a bad thing to go to waste. And it is not too soon, and again, I don't know your circumstances, but my hunch is this, it is not too soon to begin asking this question. It's not too soon to begin this discussion. It's not too soon to begin taking inventory. And to ask the question, what have I been doing that almost led to my undoing? What have I been doing that almost led to my undoing? Or the flip side is simply this, what should I begin doing now? What should I begin doing that I should have been doing all along?
So today what I wanna do to get the discussion kicked off, I wanna talk about three specific areas. And honestly the first two are gonna be a little bit painful. The first two, you may feel like I'm being a little bit insensitive that I'm doing more meddling than speaking or preaching, but I want you to hang in there with me. And the reason it's gonna be uncomfortable, it feels like it's too soon to talk about this, but it is not too soon. While the pressure is on, this is the time when we learn the most. This is the time when we gain the most perspective and what a shame it would be to lose these lessons, to lose these learnings and to lose this perspective.
So I wanna talk about three areas today and the next week I'm gonna come back and I'm gonna talk about your superpower. You have a super power. You have a special ability that empowers you to be better for anything you face in life. So next week, we're gonna come back and talk about your superpower. So don't miss next week. But to sort of get us started, let's jump in here.
How can you be, this is number one of three, how can you be better for it financially? How can you be better for what we just went through? How can you be better for it financially? What have you been doing that almost led to your undoing financially? Or perhaps what have you been doing that actually led to your undoing financially? What financial habit caught up with you in this difficult season? Or ask it this way, what do you wish you'd been doing financially that would have set you up to be in a better place now? And whatever comes to mind and you have an answer to this question, here's my challenge, begin now.
Now is the time to face up to two financial realities. In fact, there are several financial realities we need to face up to, but if you will use the pressure you're feeling right now, even perhaps the chaos that are in your finances right now to begin asking these important questions, you will be better for it later. And I just wanna talk about two financial realities that are looming large for many of us.
Number one, I want is better than I owe. If you have been a part of this broadcast or part of one of our churches for very long, you've heard us talk about this before, I want is better than I owe. In other words, it is better to go without things you don't need, than to owe money on things you don't need. It is better to go without things you don't need, there's a tension there, than to owe money on things you don't need, there's a tension there. There's a tension either way you go. But the tension of I owe is far worse than the tension of I want.
The second financial reality that looms large right now that serves as a reminder and perhaps sets you up to be better for it is this, a financial hole, and you're gonna hate me for this, but a financial hole is always due in part to a lack of self control. That a financial hole, and I made it rhyme so you remember it, a financial hole is usually maybe always, but let's just say usually due to a lack of self control.
Let me illustrate it this way, before this crisis, you had this thought, if only I had more money, if only I had more money, if only I made more money. During the crisis you had this thought, if only I'd saved more money, if only I had saved more money, which is the same thing as saying if only in the past, I had exercised better self control. That a financial hole is usually due in part to a lack of self control. And if you are facing the consequences of a lack of self control financially now is the time to write that down, to learn this lesson and never ever do what you did in the past again, so that you would be ready for the future.
The writer of Proverbs states it this way, and he gives us a word picture that is really not very relevant to our current situation, or certainly irrelevant to our current culture. But it's a powerful word picture from ancient times. Here's what he wrote, he said, "Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self control. Like a city whose walls are broken through..."
Again for us, this is meaningless, but in ancient times, the walls around a city represented security and peace and prosperity and safety. And when an enemy would come, they would pick the weakest part of the wall and they would use weapons of siege warfare to eventually break through or create a breach or a break in the wall and the enemy would pour through the wall. And here's what the writer is saying, that a city, when the walls are broken through the people within the city, they lose their security, they lose their safety and they lose their autonomy. They lose their ability to control their own lives. And here's his point, that a lack of self control, and this is true for any area of life, a lack of self control leads to a loss of control. That a lack of self control in any area of life ultimately leads to a loss of control.
And let me ask you this, what do you want pretty much more than anything in life? You want control of your life. The key to having control of your life is to exercise self control. And consequently, because of what we've just been through, you may be learning this lesson the hard way financially. I want you to be better for it. You wanna be better for it. Now is the time to take some of these simple ideas, these common sense ideas and elevate them so that you don't pass this way again if in fact something like this were ever to happen again. A lack of self control always leads to a loss of control.
Now here's something you've heard before, I bet somewhere in the past, somebody either gave you this advice, or you heard someone talking about having been given this advice. And the advice was to have three to six months of savings set aside in case of an emergency. Have you ever heard that before? Everybody's nodding. Yes, you've heard that before. And here's my hunch, when you heard that for the first time, or maybe you read that in a book for the first time you thought to yourself, that's a really good idea, I should set aside three to six months of living expenses, just in case there's an emergency. And if you took that advice, advice which requires extraordinary self control, then you are better for what we've just been through. If you didn't take that advice, you're wishing you had.
Now is the time. Now is the time to create a plan to set money aside in case there's a financial bump. That is wisdom. That way, when your walls are attacked, they will not be broken through because your self control in creating an emergency fund has prepared you for the future. But an emergency fund requires what? It requires extraordinary self control. So decide now to start now. How can you be better? How can you be better for it financially? Simple, you've heard it 1,000 times, save more, spend less, get out and stay out of debt, save more, spend less, get out and stay out of debt.
One more thing on the financial piece, if this particular season has hit you particularly hard, your tendency will be to blame the virus and your boss and perhaps the economy. And that's a mistake. Certainly the virus contributed to it. Certainly your working situation contributed to it. Certainly the economy has contributed to it, but here's what I wanna say, and this is hard, perhaps you contributed to your situation as well, and you must own that slice of the pie and now is the time to own it, and now is the time to make decisions so that you never face this situation again. Take responsibility for your finances, embrace all that common sense you've heard your whole life, exercise self control and prepare for the future. Take notes, make a plan, decide to be better for it.
Next up, number two, how can you be better for it relationally? How can you be better for it relationally? What have you experienced these past few months relationally that you wanna carry forward into the future? I think one of the things that we've all experienced is the value of friendship and the value of our friends. But there may be a negative side to all this for you.
And if so, I want you to pay attention. Perhaps you've noticed, or you've experienced some unaddressed cracks in your marriage. Things that you had decided to put to the periphery, things that came up from time to time but you were busy and the old normal allowed you to ignore what was right there in front of you. Perhaps what you've noticed is a lack of common ground with one of your kids, maybe a lack of common ground with all of your kids. You're spending so much time with your family and you recognize I've never really developed a actual relationship with one or all of my kids, because I've been so busy. I mean, isn't it true that quarantining has highlighted the good and the not so good relationally?
So here's the opportunity I don't want you to miss, this is so important, COVID-19 may actually serve as a wake up call to you relationally if you wake up, so wake up. If there are cracks in your relationships at home, now is the time to address them. Rushing back to normal is going to empower you to continue to ignore them. You know this, relationship problems don't fix themselves. So now is the time to address these relationship issues. Right now you have a little bit of extra time, but more importantly, you've got a little bit more pressure because of what's going on or what's not going on at home.
And before you begin pointing fingers, it's the same with your finances, own your slice of the conflict pie, own your slice of the conflict pie. In fact, if you get this right, your story of COVID-19 and eventually this is just a story we tell, your story of COVID-19 may be this, that it was actually the catalyst that saved our marriage. If you pay attention to this attention, and if you do the difficult work that faces you right now. Rushing back to normal will only allow what's bad to get worse.
Right now what we're facing is forcing us to face perhaps what we've neglected. Perhaps your story will be this, COVID-19 was the catalyst for repairing my relationship with my son. Perhaps your story will be COVID-19 was the catalyst for repairing my relationship with my daughter. Relationally speaking, and I don't think we can exaggerate this, all of this pain with no gain would certainly be an extraordinary extraordinary shame.
Last thing, number three, how can you be better for it personally? How can you be better for it personally? And when I say personally, I'm talking about internally. Let me ask it this way, how has, or how is your world view holding up? How is your worldview holding up? You know what your worldview is. It's the way that you see and interpret and explain how the world works. And when difficult time comes, sometimes our foundations are rocked. And if your foundation, your worldview has been rocked, you should pay attention to that.
Do you find yourself asking questions that you've never before? If you're not a particularly religious person, have you found yourself praying for the first time in a long time? Maybe you went and found a Bible for the first time in a long time. If you are a particularly religious person, has your faith been rattled? Did you perhaps discover that your faith was more fragile than you imagined? Did you find yourself asking questions or do you find yourself asking questions you've never asked before? Questions like where's God? How could God or I thought God?
So here's my point, regardless of which side of the faith aisle you're on, regardless of which side of the faith aisle you're on, if this current season has created tension on the inside, pay attention to that tension, it means you are on the verge of learning something new or being reminded of something that you've forgotten. It could lead somewhere good and it could certainly lead somewhere better.
My friend, Kate Bowler said this, and I wasn't sure if I'd heard her say it or actually had read it in her book, but here's her quote and I'll tell you how I found it just a second. Here's what Kate bowler wrote. She says this, "There's a little prosperity gospel in all of us". And the prosperity gospel is this gospel that says basically good things come to good people and bad things come to bad people. That just kind of what goes around, comes around and what comes around, goes around. That you sort of earn your way through life and that God favors certain kinds of people because of their behavior.
And in spite of the fact that you may reject that kind of theology, I think she's right. There is a little bit of that thinking in all of us, that God owes me, or if you don't believe in God that life owes me or karma owes me or somebody owes me because I have been a good person and I have lived a good life. Now, Kate is actually a professor at Duke Divinity School. She's also a cancer survivor and she has written from her pain and she's basically put her life and her pain out there for the whole world to see and to examine in an effort to help people understand what it means to navigate difficult times.
In fact, she wrote a little book that Sandra and I both read. It's entitled, "Everything Happens for a Reason". And I love the subtitle, "And Other Lies I've Loved". So, as I mentioned, I actually texted Kate to make sure I got her quote right, and make sure it was either something she said or something from her book. And as we texted back and forth and I told her what we were gonna talk about, here's what she communicated to me in her text. She wrote this, she said, "Each of us through the accidental narcissism of wanting to be happy".
Don't you wanna be happy? I wanna be happy. And in wanting to be happy, she says, we kind of find ourselves tripped up in this accidental narcissism. What an insight. We get confused about what we actually deserve. And then she wrote this, "The world cannot help us know the difference between who is righteous and who is just plain lucky".
Now here's my point, if this season has kind of rocked your world in terms of your internal world, if this season has rocked your worldview, if this season has rocked your faith, pay attention to that tension, you may be on the verge of learning something new, or you may be on the verge of being reminded of something old. If current events have left you wrestling with God questions and you're not a religious person, and you just assumed you left that wrestling ring years ago, but now you find yourself wrestling with God questions, pay attention to that.
And if you're a Christian, pay attention to this tension as well, you may discover a different kind of faith. You may discover a better faith. You may discover a different version of faith. And perhaps in this season, you will finally give up your faith in the nonexistent God who doesn't allow bad things to happen to good people. And in this season, you may come face to face with the God who allowed the worst possible thing to happen to the best possible person, his son. And he did that on your behalf.
So the point is simply this we're going to get through this. Things are going to become more normal, but let's make sure we are better for it. Let's make sure that we're better for it financially. Let's make sure that we're better for it relationally. And let's make sure that we are better for it personally. Because, and you know this, all this pain without any gain would certainly be a shame. So let's face and embrace the lessons we've learned and let's for sure face and embrace the perspective we've gained. Let's all decide, and it begins today, let's all decide that we are going to be better for it.
Let's not do what C.S Lewis referred to when he said, "Let's not behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over". And this hated season will come to an end. This hated bath will be over, but let's not race off to the nearest flower bed. And let's certainly not roll around in the nearest manure heap. Let's not forget what we've learned. Let's not lose this perspective. And to help you do that, I wanna make a suggestion.
Now, some of you aren't gonna like this and that's okay. We're gonna talk about it for three weeks. Some of you are gonna love this. But because it's so easy for us to forget, because it's so easy and because we're so prone to just move on, I wanna encourage you as you think about what you wanna carry forward from this season, I wanna encourage you to come up with a way to remember. I want you to actually create a reminder to find a physical object or perhaps make or craft a physical object, or maybe it's something you already own, and I want you to attach a memory to this object, something that will remind you of this season and what you wanna carry forward from it.
And I want you to take this object, whatever it might be, and I want you to place it somewhere prominent in your life so that you see it and you're reminded. Maybe it will be simply a reminder to slow down. Maybe it'll be a reminder of the value of friendships that you've neglected. Maybe it will be a reminder to kinda dig in and deal with the crack in your relationships at home. Maybe a reminder to invest in that son or that daughter that is not like you and consequently, you've just had a hard time connecting with. Perhaps it's a reminder of who or what's most important. Perhaps it's simply a reminder of something we've all learned that we have far more in common with people than not. But I want you to come up with a reminder and place it somewhere where you can be reminded and you have two or three weeks to do this because we're gonna talk about this for the next couple of weeks.
Basically, what I want us to all do is because of what we've learned and the perspective we've gained, I want us to begin writing a better story as we all move forward. Because as I said earlier, eventually COVID-19, this whole season is simply gonna be a story we tell. So this week two questions, how can I be better for it? And what will help me remember? How can I be better for it? And what will help me remember? Normal or even the new normal is right around the corner. I can't wait for us to get there. I think we're all looking forward to it. And I'll just be honest, I'm even looking forward, I know you're not gonna believe me, I'm actually looking forward to us being together, and I'm actually even looking forward to being interrupted by crying babies and obnoxious ringtones.
So I am looking forward to normal, even the new normal. And we'll get there soon enough, but let's not miss this unprecedented, and hopefully once in a lifetime opportunity to learn everything we can and to gain the perspective that will serve us well in the future. Let's not merely settle for getting through this. Let's decide to be better for it. Now, next week, as I said, I'm gonna come back and talk about your superpower. You actually have a superpower. You have an ability to ensure that everything that comes your way makes you better. You can be better for it. I don't want you to miss that so don't miss next week.