Charles Stanley - Confidence in the Midst of Distress
The year was nineteen hundred and forty-four and I was in the eighth grade. We were in a war and we were fighting in the Pacific and also in Europe. It was a time of great distress and turmoil in this country. Many things were rationed: food and some clothes and automobiles and tires and all those kind of things. It was a time of great distress because many American young men were dying on foreign shores. It was a time of great stress because people did not know what was going to happen because of all the things we were hearing about the war and how it was going on. And oftentimes people would sit in the evening and listen to the news while they were eating dinner.
And it was a troublesome time because oftentimes they'd give reports of where this particular division was and what was going on in the fighting. One morning my social studies teacher walked into class and laid her books down and picked up a Bible and she said, "We're going to do something different this morning". And she began to read. And I remembered thinking, "She's about to cry". And then she told us that, listening the night before, she'd heard the news, and her husband was in a particular division which they talked about. They were in a very bloody battle and she was afraid. And you know, I don't remember my teacher's name. But I have never forgotten that Psalm. And how many times I've turned to it when I was going through some difficulty or some fearful time, I remembered Psalm forty-six.
So I want you to turn to it, if you will, because this is a wonderful Psalm of encouragement. And I want to talk about confidence in the midst of our stressful times in life, going through distressful times. And this is a word of encouragement, and the psalmist says, beginning in verse one, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains should slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, and though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Come, behold the works of the Lord, who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. 'Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold".
What a wonderful word of encouragement to us. Now, all of us experience stress in our life. And all of us go through situations and circumstances when we think the stress is more than we can handle. And so, we will do one of two things when we face stressful periods in our life. And so, what I want to talk about in this message today is how to confidently walk through those difficult times that are so stressful, so distressing to us. And there are two ways that you and I can walk through them. And I, first of all, want to talk about the most natural way. That is, what is the natural way to respond to stressful, difficult, troublesome times in our life? Well, the most prominent way that we choose is to strive against them, and I want to define two or three terms, if I might.
First of all, when we think in terms of stress, stress is pressure that we feel. It is either pressure that we feel sort of against us or we are being tugged and pulled in two different ways. And then there is what we call distress, which is sorta the same thing except when I think about distress, I think about the fact that that stress has brought me to a place of real deep anxiety and anxiousness in my soul and pain in my feeling. When we think in terms of striving, striving means to contend with. Striving means to fight against. Striving means to put forth strong effort toward something. And so when we think in terms of striving, the scripture says here, "Cease striving and know that I am God".
Now, it's interesting in this passage that he gives us and uses nature as an example to describe what happens when there's great turmoil. And he says, if you'll notice in verse two, "Therefore, we will not fear though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. And though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride". What he's referring to here is this. The stressful times that come when there are earthquakes. He says the whole mountains begins to slide into the sea. When there are tidal waves, he said the foam of the sea. And as it hits the mountains, he says the mountains even quake at that. Then he moves on past the blessing that he's going to take care of his own kingdom.
If you'll notice in verse six, he says, "The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered. And then God raised His voice and the earth melted". That is, either in troublesome natural calamities, in times of war and bloodshed and violence and all the rest. And then there are those stresses, stressful periods that you and I have in our life. We wake up on Monday morning. We see what the schedule is. We know the situations and circumstances that maybe we're gonna have to face. Sometimes those stressful situations are the result of finances, trouble in the home, trouble with the children, for example, trouble on the job. And sometimes the pressure may be so strong, stronger than you'd think you could possibly bear.
But when you and I learn this lesson, when we put it to the test, when we practice it, not saying that you'll do it the first time just right. When we begin to understand the way He intended for us to live, you know what? It doesn't make any difference what the devil throws at you. It doesn't make any difference how heavy the burdens may appear to be. It doesn't make any difference what appears to be the cause of that stress. God Almighty will enable you to triumphantly, victoriously, quietly, peacefully, walk through that stress so that stress does not become distress but it turns into an absolutely, listen, indescribable, immeasurable peace and inner quietness that you won't be able to understand, you won't even be able to explain it. You just know that when Almighty God says He is our refuge, He is exactly what He promised.
Now, what in the world's this all about? Look at what he says. He says here that we are to know God. If I should ask you today: How many of you know God? More than likely, probably ninety-five or ninety-nine percent of the people here could raise their hand. Because what you mean by that is that you have trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and therefore as a result of that, you know God. Well, no question about it, that is the way you begin to know Him. You begin to know Him by placing your trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, as your Savior.
Well, what about the unbeliever? When you say to him: Do you know God? More than likely the unbeliever would say, "Yes, I know God". And they would begin to tell you that they pray and that God answers their prayer and they would tell you that they believe the Bible, which they do not know and most of 'em don't really believe. And so they would tell you all the reasons they know God, which you know that's not true. Now, I understand, listen, I understand why a person who has never trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior, I understand why they don't know God. Now, they think they do. Well, they've read the Bible and they think, "Well, you know, I believe God's the Creator. I believe He started all this stuff. And yes, I believe that His Son died on the cross, and yeah, I believe all these things that I hear Christians say about God. Yeah, I believe all that". But they don't know Him.
You see, listen, believing some things about Him does not make you know God. But I don't want to deal necessarily with the person who does not know Him, who's an unbeliever. I want to deal just for a moment with a person who says, "Yes, I've trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior". But the issue is not have you trusted Him as your Savior, but do you know Him? Listen, He didn't say, "Cease striving and trust Him as your Savior". He said, "Cease striving," listen, He says, "Cease striving," and do what? He says, "And know that I am God".
Now, let me ask you a question. More than likely, most people here and, more than likely, you may be a believer. You've trusted Jesus as your Savior. You know that you're a Christian. If I should ask you, "Tell me, what do you know about God? Do you know Him personally, having trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior"? Here's what people do. They say, "Well, I've trusted Him as my Savior. I know He's my Savior". And most Christians, I'm afraid, know Jesus Christ as their Savior, the forgiveness of their sin. They're going to heaven when they die and that He will help them in time of trouble and that He answers prayer.
Did you know that God isn't satisfied with you just knowing that much about Him? If you love someone, you want to know them. And if you love someone and you want them to love you, do you want them to know you? God wants us to know Him because He knows that is the heart and the core, that is the real, listen, that's the bottom line of being able to walk through all kinds of difficulty and stressful situations, no matter what form it may take, no matter what source it may be. The key, listen, to be able to walk through it victoriously, with peace in your heart, is to know this God. So what I have to ask is this. If I should say to you, "Do you know Him"? "Yes, I do". If I gave you a piece of paper and a pencil and said to you, "Write on this sheet of paper everything you know about God that you could defend with the Word of God". That's how I know that you know it.
You see, if I say, "Well, write on here what you know," and you say, "Well, listen, I heard him say this and I heard her say that, and I believe this and I believe that". But what do you know? What do you know? How much do you know God? Do you know Him personally as an intimate friend? Do you, listen, He wants us to know Him not only as our Savior but the Lord and Master of our life. And most people just want to know Him as Savior. They don't want to know Him as Lord. They, you see, most Christians, they're not interested in knowing Him as Lord. They want to know Him as Savior and provider and protector. And if they need to know anything else, they'll let Him know.
That's not the way God wants us to know Him. He says, "Cease striving and know that I am God. Know that I'm not only your Savior but your Master and your Lord. Know that I love you unconditionally. Know that the forgiveness of your sin cost Me My only begotten Son. Know that I have attributes beyond mercy, but I'm a just God, that I am omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent, that I'm a loving heavenly Father, and that I see you as one of My children. I have a will and a plan for your life. I want the best for your life at every situation. I will chastise you when you disobey Me. I want you to understand My ways and how I operate, what motivates Me. I want you to know that I have the best in mind for you. I want you to know that when you're hurting in pain and suffering and difficulty, that if you'll allow Me, I will turn that into something good for your life. I want you to understand the principles of the scripture. I want you to understand My Word. I want you to know those men and women in the Bible and how I worked in their lives. I want you to be observant of Me. I want you to absorb Me. I want you to be absorbed by My Word. I want you to think the way I think. I want you to know what I think".
That's what He means when He says, "Cease striving and know that I am God". Well, that brings me to this question, when he says, "Cease striving and know that I am God," well, who is this God? Listen to what he says. He says here's the God you can trust in. Watch this. Verse one. He is our refuge. He's a place to which I can run. He is my strength when I am very weak. He is a present help. Thank God He said "present". And notice what he says, "in trouble," that means, the Hebrew means "in tight places". When I get in a tight place and I feel the pressure and I feel the stress, he says what? He says He is a very present help when I'm in a tight place. Then if you'll notice what he says. Not only that, but he says in verse seven, He is our stronghold. And if you'll notice twice He says, verse eleven and verse seven, He is with us.
Now, I want you to turn back to Psalm eighteen for a moment, and I want you to notice something here. The psalmist begins here in a little different light. But notice what he says in the first verse, "I love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold". What are these Psalms saying? Here's what they are saying, that when you and I come to very stressful and distressing times in our life, look who we have. Look who this is.
This, listen, this is Elohim, infinite in power. This is Jehovah God, absolute in His faithfulness. This is the Lord of the universe. He is the Master of all things. And this is the God who says, "I will be your strength. I will be your refuge. I am your stronghold. I'm your rock, I'm your horn, I'm your shield, I'm your salvation. I'm everything you need. You don't have to strive. You don't have to fight. You don't have to contend. You don't have to struggle. Trust Me! Rest in Me"! That is the message. I have two choices, I can either strive with life or I can rest in the Lord Jesus Christ, my blessed Savior, to be everything I need no matter what the issue is. This is the God. He says, "I'll", He says, "I want you to know Me". He says, "Cease your striving because this is the God I am".
Now, what we have to ask is this. What do we mean by knowing Him? We say, listen, not just to know about Him, but to know Him in a personal way. Now listen, if you know someone personally, you have a relationship with them. And, listen, the better that relationship, the better you know them. Which brings us, when He says, "Cease striving and know that I'm God," the next question is: All right, how do I get to know Him? Well, let me ask you this. How do you get to know anybody? How do you get to know someone? Number one, you spend time with them. You spend time with them. That's the way you get to know someone. He says, "Be still and know that I am God. The God you serve, I want you to know that I am God. I want you to know Me as God".
You spend time with Him. And you know what? No one knows what He knows. No one can do for us what He can do. There is no one who can quieten my spirit like He can. There's no one who can lift me out of a distressful moment just like that, like He can. Talking to someone else at times may help. No one, listen, no one can enable you to rest in the midst of difficulty that's not gonna go away. You can't shake it, you can't run away from it, you can't loose yourself from it, you're stuck in it!
How do I live, but peace and contentment and joy and, listen, indescribable joy when it appears to be that we're stuck in something. I'll tell you how: when you know Him, you can live in anything, believe me you can. Listen, I want to make this statement very clear. I'm not saying that you should live in a situation where you are being physically abused in such a fashion that it is dangerous. I'd never say that. I'm talking about those things other than that. Just because something's tough and hard and difficult. Neither am I saying that you should never walk away from something. If God tells you to walk away, you better get out. God's not gonna ever tell you to violate His Word. That's the key. He will never tell you to do something that violates the Word of the Living God.
How do I know Him? You spend time with Him. How do I know Him? Here's how I know Him. I find out what He thinks. I will never know you till I find out what you're thinking, because that's who you really are. So how do I find out what God's thinking? I get in this book that tells me what He's thinking. Or I listen to a message or read another book or something that tells me how God is thinking. How does God think? How do I know Him? I observe what God does in other people's lives. I observe also what God does in my own life. Because you see, one of the ways that we discover what God's like is to watch what He does in our life. And then, some time will go by, we'll turn around and we will say, "God, what are You doing in my life? Help me understand what's going on".
You see, if I become observant of what God is doing in other people's lives, I will learn some things, some powerful lessons. I will learn how God thinks. I will learn what God means when God says, "This is what I want you to do". Well, why would You ask me to do that? You see, I will understand who He is and what He's like when I begin to understand how God thinks. My friend, listen, you will never understand how God thinks until this Word becomes something that you don't just read to say you read through the Bible but that you began to absorb, you began to look between the lines and say, "God, what were You saying? What were they feeling? How did You work in Abraham's life and Moses's life and David's life and Daniel's life? How did You work in Paul's life? How did Your Son operate"?
He certainly was not striving. Jesus could walk through the most awesome hardship and difficulty and trial in life and, what? There was this overwhelming sense of inner peace and quietness. You know why? Because Jesus was never striving with His Father. He knew Him. He says, "If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father. I and the Father are one". No strife, no contention, no war, no conflict, no striving. He had an absolute perfect relationship. If I'm gonna get to know Him, I've got to spend time with Him. I've gotta find out how He thinks. And then you know what, if I'm gonna know Him, I've got to be able to tell Him how I think. "Lord, this is what I'm thinking. This is the way I see it. This is what's going on in my life".
I've got to be open and transparent. Then you know what, if I'm gonna know Him, I've got to be able, listen, not just tell Him what I think, then I've gotta take time to listen, to hear Him respond to what I think and how I feel. And you say, "Well, now, God never spoke to me audibly". He doesn't have to. He's greater than that. Listen, don't limit God to speaking audibly. God knows how to speak, listen, straight from His Spirit straight to your spirit and bypass anything that is audible. He is an infinite God. We, listen, you listen to each other with your ears. You listen to each other, as we say, with our heart, with our spirit. We listen to God, listen, we listen to Him Spirit to spirit.
Listen, there's nothing tangible. It's so perfectly intangible, so absolutely perfect, goes straight from His Spirit to your spirit. We know God has spoken to us. You have prayed and cried out and asked God, "Lord, what shall I do"? You know what He says. From Spirit to spirit. We begin to understand, we begin to know what this God is like. We go through difficulty, we get thrown into stressful situations. How do we learn who God is? When we watch how He maneuvered the circumstances of our life at that moment to bring us out and to give us victory. How do we know Him? When we understand what He's doing, when we are suffering the chastising hand of God. What is He doing? He's teaching us something about Himself.
You say, "Well, He's teaching us something I don't like". He's teaching us how much He loves us. He's teaching us that He loves us so much He will not allow us to get by with sin. He loves us so much He's gonna crowd me right back into the center of His will. "Be still," He says, "and know that I am God". Well, how do I know which is the right God? The God, listen, the God that fits the description of the Word of God is the right God. There are lots of people today who will tell you they believe in God because they've got their own gods. The only problem with their gods is their gods can't think, can't speak, can't work, not infinite, not anything.
Clay, they're figure, listen, they're figures of a person's mind, some dream they have of some god that, listen, manmade gods fit manmade theology. Manmade theology always, listen, always, without exception, manmade theology always indulges the flesh in some fashion. God's theology, that is, the truth of God is that which is holy and righteous and good, that which lifts me up, not allows me to pull myself down. To know this God is to know, listen, the most important thing I will ever know is to know the God of the Bible. And therefore, listen, if that is the most precious of all knowledge, then I should spend more time learning something about who He is than wasting time, wasting precious, valuable time.
Listen, when you and I die, we're gonna leave this world and everything that's in it. Everything I've learned that applies to this world won't make a bit of difference. When you and I stand in the presence of God, everything we have learned about Him, everything we have learned in our personal experience with Him, it will all be important for all eternity. What is this life but a, listen, it is a brief period of schooling to discover who this God is we're gonna spend eternity with! Think about it, eternity we're gonna spend with Him.
If you love someone, love your husband or your wife or someone you love dearly, you could probably say, "You know what? I'd like to spend eternity with this person because I love them so much". Well, I'll tell you something, you're gonna spend eternity with God. And this is the time to get to know Him. The truth is, if I'm gonna live with peace, if I'm gonna live without striving, I am going to have to learn, listen, who is this God? What is He about in my life?
As I think about, for example, the people in the scriptures, and this is where we learn a lot about God. Think about this for a moment. Think about where do you find Moses? You find him in the wilderness. Where do you find David? Up on the hillside with his sheep. Where do you find Elijah? Down by the brook. Where do you find Isaiah? In the temple receiving a vision from God. Where do you find Ezekiel? Down by the river. Where did you find Jesus so often? Up in the mountains, talking to the Father. Where did you find the Apostle Paul? In Arabia alone, listening to God.
John on the Isle of Patmos, banished by the Roman Emperor, banished to the Isle of Patmos alone to be with God. My friend, listen carefully, I cannot tell you, I can tell you, but I cannot tell you effectively enough the most important moments in your life and my life, the moments that not only help me to understand who God is and what He's like but the moments that most quieten my spirit, the moments that can cause all the rush and the hurry and the stress and the distress and the frustrations and the fears and the anxieties that absolutely dwindle into nothing are those moments in stillness, in quietness, and allowing my trust level to reach its pinnacle to be able to say, "Father, I lay that down. Thank You, dear God, I don't have to handle that".
Thank You that You said You're my refuge, You're my strength, You are my ever-present help in trouble, You are my stronghold, You're the one to whom I can run. You're my horn of plenty, You're the rock upon which I stand, absolutely immovable. You're the shield to protect me, You're my deliverer in every single battle of life. You know when you and I'll get our best glimpses of Him? When we get quiet and we get alone with Him and we just say, "Father, I want You to show me Yourself". And even when you've been through a very difficult storm, then listen, when you find yourself in great distress and turmoil, if you want to step out of that quickly, here's what you do.
You remind yourself: don't strive against this, just get still, rest it in Him, trust Him to handle this for you. Our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who says, listen, He is my ever-present help in time of trouble. He will enable me to face this confidently, courageously, victoriously, in such a fashion that I will come out knowing Him better, deeper in my love for Him and my relationship to Him, and with a perfect peace that is absolutely beyond comprehension.