Charles Stanley - Our Burning Bushes
When is the last time you've felt God speak to your heart? Very specifically about something you asked Him about? Maybe never, but maybe often? Our text is about how God spoke to Moses, and so, He spoke through a burning bush. And so, I titled this message "Our Burning Bushes", and here's the reason. I think about in my own life how God has spoken to get my attention, oftentimes. It has come in times unexpectedly and personally to me about something in my life. Challenged me to trust Him in an area, maybe, that was a little difficult. Each has had a powerful and lasting impact on my life.
So, I want you to turn to Exodus chapter three and look at the burning bush and how God spoke to Moses in this third chapter of Exodus. "Now, Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he'd led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God", which we call Sinai. "The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So, Moses said, 'I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.' When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you're standing is holy ground.' He said also, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.' Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God".
Now, I want you to think about something. I want you to think about the fact that God still speaks to us today. Now, He speaks primarily through His Word, but that's not the only way. And so, what I want to do is to give you a few examples of how God has spoken in my own life, which I call burning bushes for me. Everybody's not the same. He doesn't have the same message. But these are life-changing situations and circumstances and I call them burning bushes for the simple reason they came unexpectedly to me; I did not ask for them. Secondly, they challenged me to fully trust the Lord and obey Him in a given situation. And thirdly, each has had a powerful and lasting effect on my life, not only my life but also people around the world.
So, when we think about burning bushes, think about those times when God has specifically said something to you. Maybe you ignored it; maybe you said, "Well, that couldn't possibly be God". Or maybe you said, "Well, yes, that is". But if you've felt God had spoken to you, what did you say to Him? How did you respond? So, remember this, I'm not expecting everybody to have the same kind of experiences I've had, but these are burning bushes in my life because they were moments that made a very distinct difference that has lasted all these years.
And so, when I begin, I want to begin with this story. First of all, it was in my second year in seminary and I was doing pretty good. And so, I was thinking about the future and what God wanted, and so forth. And I was down praying one night, and we had a living room in just a small apartment, and I had a place to pray over in the corner. And I had a mat that my mother made me to pray on. And so, that's where I prayed. And one night I was praying, and God spoke to my heart very clearly and here's what He said. "Whatever you accomplish in life, you'll have to accomplish on your knees, not by your preaching; not by your positions. Everything you ever accomplish in the ministry you'll accomplish on your knees. That's My pattern for you".
And I can look back over these years and realize time after time after time, when I faced very, very difficult situations, that's where I went, to my prayer mat, asking God to give me direction. And I could think of a lot of things to tell you about, they were very difficult situations in my life, very difficult, but I never forgot that. Whatever you accomplish in life, you'll accomplish on your knees. That was just as telling to me as what God said to Moses. God is still speaking today. Sometimes He speaks strictly through His Word. Sometimes he speaks in other ways.
I was in Bartow, Florida. I moved from Fruitland to Ohio to Miami, and then to a little town of Bartow in Florida. And I was just happy as a lark there. And it was just a fantastic place. And so, I was happy there. I was up in Alexandria, Virginia, preaching a revival and I came home each night from the meeting. And we were having a good meeting and people were being saved and lives are being changed. And I came home every night and I was troubled in my heart. So, I said, "What's this all about, Lord? I mean, You are blessing and You're doing what I've asked You to do and what's this all about"?
Well, three nights I went to prayer asking God, kneeling down before the Word, by the bed and saying, "Lord, what are You saying to me? Why am I so troubled? What's going on that I don't know about"? The fourth night I came back, knelt down by the bed and began to pray. And I said, "Lord, what are You saying to me"? It's like God said to me, "I'm going to move you". I thought, "Well, I've only been in Bartow eleven months". Eleven months. And then I asked the question, "When"? I can see this as good as I can see you. This big screen in front of me, lower left-hand corner to the top right corner in big, bold black letters, "September". This was April.
I thought, "Well, what's that all about? I've only been here, Lord, You wouldn't bring me all the way from Miami to Bartow and tell me to leave in September". So, I just tried to pray my way through that. Next night I came home; came back to the hotel. Got down to pray, and it was like God was a thousand miles away. I couldn't pray. I tried to pray and there's nothing. Where was God? So, I came home on a Saturday morning and I told my wife about it. And so, we didn't think much more about it.
Monday morning at nine o'clock, Felix Snipes, who was a member of First Baptist, this church. He passed away few, two or three years ago. He was on the phone, he said, "Charles, this is Felix". And we talked because I'd been in revivals with him when he led the music and so forth, he was great at that. And in the course of our conversation, he said, "I want to talk to you about something you never thought about". I said, "Well, what's that, Felix"? He said, "We need an associate pastor at First Baptist Atlanta". I said, "Forget it. I have no interest in going to Atlanta, and especially do I not have any interest in going to the First Baptist Church". I said, "I wouldn't fit, don't even talk about it". He said, "Would you pray"? We talked on, he said, "Well, would you pray about it"? And I said, "Yes, I'll pray about it". So, finally, we hung up the phone.
When I hung up the phone, I broke out crying. And to make a long story short, September the 30th, I moved to Atlanta. Now, does God speak to everybody the same way? No, He doesn't. And I, certainly, I understand that and no question in my mind about that. And then, for example, probably one of the biggest challenges in my life. I had come to Atlanta to be the associate pastor. And I began to preach the only way I knew to preach, and God began to bless, and He blessed and He blessed. My only responsibility was to preach on Sunday night, that was my responsibility. Well, the pastor was gone most of the time on Sunday morning.
So, I ended up preaching Sunday morning and Sunday night. So, these seven men ran everything, and they had a meeting and I was sitting with them and had no say. In one of those meetings, this is what they said. They were trying to figure out something and couldn't decide what to do. Finally, I said, "Well, why don't we pray about it"? I can still see this man. He was an attorney. He was sitting to my right. He said, "This is business, leave God out of this". When he said that, the hammer came down for me. I didn't say a word. I just started praying, "Well, Lord, I know why You sent me".
For the next year, people began to join the church and the church began to grow and then after a little while the war started. They decided they had to get rid of me because I did not adhere to what these seven men who ran everything did. They controlled everything. Then we were going to have a business meeting to vote to fire me. And that Sunday morning was probably one of those bushes that I'm talking about, because they were going to vote on Wednesday, and so, I had to preach on that Sunday morning.
That Sunday morning, I had no sermon. And it's probably the most trying moment in my life. Here sat a whole bunch of people who were getting ready to vote against me on Wednesday and I had to preach on Sunday morning, but I didn't have a message. And I kept thinking, "Lord, surely", and I would thumb through the Scriptures thinking about maybe I would find something, and nothing ever happened, nothing ever came up. And I'm sitting there thinking, "The choir's getting ready to sing and I don't have a sermon". And here sitting all my enemies, and I don't have a sermon, so they're going to say, "See, he can't preach".
And so, the choir sang. They sat down. I opened up, walked up and opened up the Bible and it flipped open to this verse, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He'll make your path straight". And then I just exploded with the Word of God for about thirty-five minutes. People started getting up, coming down the aisle, want to join the church. People getting up, leaving because they didn't like what I said. And there was just all of this going on and on and on.
Well, they were very upset. And so, they had the meeting. And so, I slipped in the side, oh, under the balcony in the dark, where nobody knew I was there. And so, I turned to a passage of Scripture and I just sat; and I thought, "Lord, naturally, I'm not going to say anything. I'm just going to watch how this happens". Because they said, you know, "It's all against you. There's no way in the world you to win". And I sat there, and I kept thumbing through the Scripture, and then praying, "Okay, Lord, You speak to my heart". I came to this verse. "'No weapon formed against you will prosper; every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,' declares the Lord". Isaiah fifty-four, verse seventeen. "No weapon formed against you shall prosper".
So, I sat over there and listened to them. Over and over and over they got up and told why they needed to have a new pastor. But here's the interesting thing. Not one person who stood up said one negative thing about me. And I'm sitting out there thinking, "Well, Lord, if I was trying to get rid of me, here's what I'd say". Ha, ha, ha! Not a one of them, what did God say? "No weapon formed against you will prosper". So, we voted and of course, God gave me the position which I'm grateful for, for all these years.
So, the question: does God speak? He speaks in His own ways. And He doesn't speak to us all the same way. But listen, He's willing to speak to you if you're willing to listen. And if you're willing to be, listen, He'll give you a little bit and give you the opportunity to obey Him. Or He'll give you the full story if you're willing to obey Him. And have I always been willing to obey Him? Not at first. Then I would mention one other Sunday. God knows how to get my attention. One other Sunday, no sermon. Monday, worked Tuesday, Wednesday, by Thursday I sort of know where I'm going and I'm pretty well into it.
And I thought, and I'm the pastor now. And no sermon. So, Saturday morning, no sermon. At noon, no sermon. Two o'clock, no sermon. Now, I'm praying and asking, I'm not doing something else. I'm in the study praying and asking God to show me what this is all about. Six o'clock in the evening, no message. And so, I said, "God, what in the world are You doing? Tomorrow, I don't have anything. You've shut my mouth". I fell on the floor and I stretched out and I thought, "God, whatever it is, please tell me".
Here's what He said to me. And we were just beginning at that time. "You must never ask for one penny on television or radio. You must trust Me to decide how far and wide this ministry goes. You're never to ask for money". I said, "Okay, God, You have my commitment. I never will". I never have. We're all over the world, God kept His promise.
Then I'll give you one other illustration. The Southern Baptist Convention was in great turmoil. And so, they wanted to put me up as president, I said no. Absolutely not. Had no interest in it. To begin with, don't know how, don't even know how to be a president at convention. So, a group of us met, and we prayed and prayed and prayed, and there was a little lady there who was a missionary. She was eighty-three years of age, so we met together and she and the rest of us were pastors, there were about seven or eight of us, and she was sitting right beside me.
And so, we were going to pray, and she said, ha-ha-ha, she said, "Charles Stanley, get on your knees and repent of your sins". Ha-ha-ha! I can still remember that. It wasn't funny then because we all got down to pray. And we prayed and she prayed for me. I still remember her calling me Charles Stanley. And so, we all left and went back to our hotel room. And I was just thinking about all and saying, "Thank You, Lord, that's over, praise God. I don't have to do this no matter what they think".
The next morning, I got up. I can still see this in my mind. I got dressed, walked toward the door, reached for the doorknob, it's like God said, "Do not touch that doorknob until you're willing to obey Me". I knelt at the end of the bed and began to weep. I wept a while because number one, I was afraid. I didn't know how to be the president of the convention. I didn't want to be, and I had many, many, many, many people who were absolutely against me. And so, I had legitimate reasons for saying no. But in God's eyes, He didn't accept that. I went back to that same group and finally they said, "Stanley, are you going to be obedient or not"? I said, "Yes, I am". And I told them why. I won the election.
And so, I was simply being obedient to God. Was I still afraid? Yes, I was. I'm simply saying this. If you listen to God, He will do things that you don't expect. And He'll do things you don't want Him to do. But you have to decide whether you're going to be obedient or not. So, I could give you illustration after illustration of things, but what I wanted you to see, is each time I got direction, I'm listening to God.
Now, here's what I want you to understand. I want you to understand this: God is just as willing to speak to you as He is me. You, listen, God has a plan for you just He does for me. And sometimes we think, "Well, God wouldn't speak to me". Yes, He will. He will if you'll listen to Him. And probably most of the people in here have something they're talking to God about, some decision you're willing to talk to God about. Watch this carefully: You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you who is just as willing to speak and make clear to you His voice as He is to anybody else. A burning bush does not have to be something with literal fire. The burning bush is a crucial, critical decision you're trying to make in your life. You want to make the right one, and so, you ask God until He gives you clear direction.
You say, "Well, I've prayed and prayed, and prayed". Here's what I've discovered. If I pray and pray and pray about something either I'm not listening. Secondly, either I'm hearing something I do not want to hear, and so, I don't want to hear what He says do. And when I think about the fact that the God who created this universe is willing to make Himself known to you and to me as individuals no matter where we come from. He's willing to make clear to us the next decision we need to make.
So, the reason I call it a burning bush is because it was a life-changer for Moses, and most of these were life-changers for me. And there may be life changes for you, if you will ask Him, watch this carefully, if you ask Him, and don't just back off and let Him do the speaking. You may not hear anything for a few days or a few weeks, but as long as you're praying, you're linked up with, listen, you're linked up with omniscience. The God who knows everything and who knows the best. And every single one of us would have to admit if we were honest, God always chooses the best, amen? That's pretty weak. God always chooses the best, amen?
Now, remember this, when He's talking, He sees the beginning to the end. When we're praying, we just see right here. But remember this: The reason we can trust Him is because we know that Who's doing the talking sees the end result already. He would never tell you to do something that is not best for you. That's the way God operates. And when I think about how blessed we are, now we have Jesus, now we have the Holy Spirit. I don't know what you're facing in life, but this I know, you have a God who loves you, has a plan for your life. You're not, listen, you're not one of a bunch, you're not one of a group, you're not a nobody, you're somebody. You're somebody for whom God has a plan. A God who is willing to show you the plan, willing to guide you step-by-step. He's not going to give you the full story. He's going to lead you step-by-step because watch this, that's the way He operates.
We obey Him today, we obey Him today and today, and today, and today, and today, and you know what? Little by little, He'll get us to exactly where He wants us. Sometimes quickly, sometimes not so quickly. What is there in your life that you're troubled about? What is there in your life that you feel a need for that you don't have? What is there in your life that keeps waking you up at night? What is there in your life that you know you need some sense of joy and peace? What is it that troubles you? What is that big question mark?
You say, "Well, how am I going to find out the answer"? I can guarantee you on the basis of the Word of God and experience has nothing to do with being a pastor, it has to do with the nature of God. He loves you enough to show you exactly what to do next. If you're willing to ask Him, trust Him, and wait for His timing. That's how good God is.
Listen, if you will do what you've heard this morning, maybe in a few weeks, a few months, it may be a year or so, whatever it might be. You've got some question. You're going to see how God's going to work in your life. He doesn't work in everybody's life the same, but He'll work in your life. You don't have to say, "Well, but I'm not this and I'm not that". That has nothing to do with it. What has to do with it is this: He's God, you're one of His children, He created you, He has a plan for your life, He wants to direct your life because when He directs your life and you obey Him, you'll bring Him glory and honor. You become a testimony to people who need to know that God is a personal God and willing to answer the petition of their heart.
You say, "Well, I'm not even a Christian". I can tell you the next thing He wants you to do. He wants you to confess your sins to Him, ask Him to forgive you of your sin. Surrender your life to Him and watch Him work. Wait for Him to speak to your heart, which He will certainly do. Because the moment you receive Christ as your Savior, the Holy Spirit comes into your life to dwell, and to live, and to give guidance and direction for your life. You'll never be the same again. He's willing, you ought to do it. I challenge you, surrender your life to Him, and watch Him work. Amen?
Father, we love You and praise You, and thank You that You're so ready to be a blessing to Your children. Willing to give us instruction and divine guidance. Willing to meet our need. I pray that any person who hears this message, and every person who hears it who is not a follower of Jesus will immediately, right now, confess their sinfulness, surrender their life to You, and watch You work. Thank You for loving us with a love we'll never fully understand 'til we get to heaven. And we pray this in Jesus's name, amen.