This is post 5 of 10 in the series “HOW TO …”
- How To Rise Above Resentment!
- How To Quit Worrying About Worry!
- How To Fly Like Eagles When You’re Surrounded By Turkeys!
- How To Look Smart When You Do Dumb Things!
- How To Do Right When Everything Goes Wrong!
- How To Turn Short-Term Losses Into Long-Term Gains!
- How To Get Out Of Death Alive!
- How To Put A Lid On Your Anger
- How To Stay Calm In The Midst Of Storm!
- How To Rekindle The Spark Of The Spirit!
How To Do Right When Everything Goes Wrong!
Three little boys were arguing among themselves as to which of their fathers was the richest. The first said, “My daddy is a farmer, and he’s the richest because he owns all the land around here.” The second said, “My dad is a banker and he is the richest because he owns all the money around here.” The third boy said, “My dad is a preacher and he is the richest because he owns hell.” The other boy said, “What makes you think that your father owns hell?” The boy replied, “Well, the other night he came home from the Session meeting at the church and told my mother that the elders gave it to him!”
There are times in life when we feel like that—times when we feel that everything is going wrong. Your business is going well, and suddenly a competing product appears on the market, and you find yourself awash in red ink. Your family is progressing along nicely and then you discover that one of your kids is on drugs. Or that your spouse has announced intentions of divorce. You’re feeling relatively well and you go to the doctor’s for a check-up and suddenly you are told that you have the beginnings of a serious illness. You are fighting against some temptation and doing fairly well when suddenly everything seems to tumble in and all of your sense of victory vanishes in some terrible defeat. So what do you do when everything goes wrong? On the basis of my study of the Scriptures I would suggest two strategies:
The first I would call the defensive strategy.
I could state it in two words: keep cool. When there is a great deal of upset outside of you it is important that you do not let the upset outside of you get inside of you. Most people make the mistake of reacting to difficult situations emotionally and an emotional response only magnifies the difficulty which confronts you. Here are two men who are sent to jail—both unjustly. One ends up hanging himself, the other calmly sits down and begins to write. His name is John Bunyan and what he wrote is one of the classic works of Christian literature, Pilgrim’s Progress. Now the difference between those two men in the same circumstances was their inner attitudes. One was cool, calm and collected. The other was not.
Make no mistake, please. I am not speaking here of submission. We are not supposed to simply assume that everything that happens to us in life happens because of God’s will. We are not supposed to lie down and let events roll over us. The hurts and hardships of life are not willed by God. They are the bitter fruit of human wickedness and behavior in the world. They are not God’s will. When someone swindles you out of some money, they are not swindling you to fulfill the will of God. So we are not to submit to all the difficulties that come our way. We are to fight against them. The most essential thing in a fight is to remain calm at the center. That’s why the Scriptures say to us, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Hope thou in God…” “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Or think of the words written by Paul in Romans 8, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Do you remember Harold Medina? Medina was a judge a number of years ago who had eleven communists on trial at the same time in his courtroom. The prosecution charged the eleven with trying to overthrow the U.S. Government. Now the strategy of those communists was to try to get Judge Medina, to misspeak himself or to make some technical error in the trial which would enable them to have the whole trial declared a mistrial. So they set out deliberately to try to unnerve the judge. They called him at all hours of the day and night, they sent letters, they harassed members of his family and then they began to chant in the courtroom these words, “Medina will fall like Forrestal.” You see, they had learned somehow that Harold Medina suffered from acrophobia, the fear of heights. Not long before this, our Secretary of the Navy, a man named Forrestal, had tragically committee suicide by leaping out of his hospital window. So in an effort to upset Judge Medina, these communists chanted over and over again, “Medina will fall like Forrestal.” However, what those communists did not know was that Judge Medina was a Christian. As a result, during the trial he would regularly retire to his chambers and give himself what he called “faith infusions.” He would lie down on a couch and repeat the words, “What then shall I say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Over and over again he would repeat the words. And in the strength of that defensive principle, he remained cool and strong. That’s why today that trial is looked back upon as one of the model trials in modern American jurisprudence.
Or let me give you another example. I’ve always been fascinated with the character of Benjamin Franklin. Of course, there are a number of scholarly biographies of Franklin available for study, however, I’ve always liked the short biography of Franklin written by a fourth-grade boy. Given the assignment of writing about Franklin, the boy sat down, squirmed a bit, chewed on the end of his pencil, and finally wrote, “Benjamin Franklin. He was born in Boston, he got tired of it and went to Philadelphia. He got hungry and so he bought a loaf of bread. He was walking up the street with the loaf of bread under his arm when he saw a woman. She smiled at him. They got married and he discovered electricity.”
Well, I don’t know that you can improve on that. Of course, Franklin was a most remarkable man. He came from a poor family. Although he did not call himself a Calvinist Christian, he was raised in a sound, Calvinist tradition. He came to be the most educated man in the colonies. He invented bifocals and the Franklin stove and did much research with electricity. Many of the words we use today associated with electricity—words like armature, battery, condenser—all were coined by Benjamin Franklin. He established the first fire company in America, the first hospital was started at his instigation. He is the only American to have signed the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution of the United States. He talked the British people into giving up four more degrees of land when they separated America from Canada and as a result we got northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and the state of Washington. He was a remarkable man! Now, if you look at the principles of his life stated in his autobiography, you will find there first and foremost this principle by which he lived: “Be calm in all circumstances.”
There is no question but that Franklin drew that principle from the pages of the Bible. The Bible says, “He that does not rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.” The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The Bible says, “In quietness and in confidence you will find your strength.”
So, when we confront those times when everything is going wrong all around us, we need to repeat the words Paul gave us, “What shall we say to all this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” That promotes inner calm. And that ought to be our defensive strategy: keep cool and calm.
Now I would also set before us what I call the offensive strategy.
This strategy can be stated in one word: attack. There was a time in the Second World War when our military forces were in great peril in Europe. We refer to it today as the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans, led by their Panzer divisions, managed to drive a strategic wedge into the Allied forces. All of the Allied troops were then in retreat except the portion commanded by General George S. Patton. Patton said at the time, “Always attack. It will confuse the enemy.” And that spirit of his turned the tide in the Battle of the Bulge.
You see, when you confront upsetting situations there are really only two alternatives before you. The first one is to be controlled by the situation. The other is to control the situation—to make it move the way you want it to move. That cannot happen if you are in a retreat. What you need, you see, is enough of the defensive spirit to remain calm inside and enough of the offensive spirit to attack and to change the circumstances for good. You’ve got to have both the defensive and offensive strategies at work. These are twin principles. They must always be held in tandem.
I love what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do the things that you fear and the death of fear is certain.” In other words, attack it! I have that experience every Sunday. I have shared with you before that my personal reserve renders me terrified of speaking in public. In addition to that, it is an awesome and frightening thing to stand here and to know that in this sanctuary and via television thousands of people will hear what I say. How can I begin to grasp all the attitudes, the fears, the hopes, the frustrations, the anxieties and the doubts, the tensions, that all of those people bring? I step into this pulpit Sunday after Sunday caught in the chilling grip of fear. But I have learned that the way to deal with that is to seize the power of the Holy Spirit and attack. I don’t turn and run, although frankly I would like to! Rather, I step up into this place knowing that God will strengthen me for the attack. “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” That’s worth writing into your memory bank!
I know it sounds like a simplistic approach to the bad times in life but it is still true. Stay cool on the inside but on the outside, attack the problem. That’s what Paul was driving at when he said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Notice the context of those words. Paul says, “The God who did not spare His own Son, but who gave Him up for us all, will He not give us all things through Him?” When Paul said that, he was echoing a verse in Genesis 22 when after Abraham demonstrated that he was willing to offer his son Isaac as an act of obedience to God, God then said to Abraham, “You were willing not to spare your own son for my sake.” In other words, Abraham was the greatest example of faith that we know. The proof is to be seen in that he was willing to offer his own son for the love of God. Of course, as it turned out, Abraham did not have to offer his son. But Paul says, “God did offer His son. He gave Him up to die on the cross.” And anyone who offers so much for us can be depended upon for anything. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
I read about a woman named Phyllis Zamoki. She is from the midwest but she frequently travels to New York city on business. One night she and her friend went to the theatre, had a late dinner and talked at the restaurant until well after midnight. As they left the restaurant, Phyllis said to her friend, “I’m going to take the subway back to my hotel.” The friend said, “I don’t know if you ought to do that. A taxi would be better.” But Phyllis said, “No,” and headed down into the subway station. She was immediately anxious because there was not another soul there. Finally the train came and she got on. There was no one else in the car. When she reached her destination she got off and once again there was no one there. Fear and tension began to grow in her. At that point, five tough looking young men stepped out of the shadows and across the steps she was to go up. She thought to herself as she walked toward them, “Should I run? No, they’re younger and faster. Should I scream? No one would hear me. Should I try to fight them off? No chance.” Suddenly one of the young men spoke, “Hey, sister. Out kind of late, aren’t you?” Another one said, “Maybe you’d like to have a little company.” She felt terror sweep over her. So she stopped, and as she did she remembered that her pastor in his sermon the Sunday before had quoted Paul, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” She decided to claim the power of that word. So she walked right straight toward those men. When she got to the steps, she said, “Let me pass.” The young man in the middle, obviously the leader of the group, just smiled. She said to him, “Please, let me pass.” He looked at her and said, “O.K., lady. Walk on.” And he stepped aside. All the way back to her hotel she kept saying to herself, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
My friends, here’s what I want you to remember. If you face the thing you fear, the thing you fear will die. There may be wounds in the battle but the wounds can become battle ribbons. Yes, there will be delays, sometimes hard ones, but eventually those delays can become winged sandals for faith. Yes, there are worries and fears but if you attack them and work at them they can be forged into spears of righteousness. Yes, sometimes there will be losses and sometimes you will be assailed by doubt, but those things then become stepping stones to the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes you will be short of breath in the conflict, but you will always have enough wind to sound the horn of battle again. Why? Because, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who spared not His own Son, Jesus, but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things in Jesus Christ?”
My friends, if you will remember that and act accordingly, then you will be doing right, even when things go wrong.