In this new book from Dr. Charles Stanley, he looks his readers in the eye and says, This is how my faith has worked for me at the most challenging times of my life and how it has led me to the victories God had in store for me. As Dr. Stanley looks back over his long life of ministry, he is now ready to share how his personal faith choices directed his every step. He shares how God walked with him through his most difficult days as a pastor when he faced internal conflict in a church he’d led for years. He gently shares painful family issues that brought him to his knees and taught him to look to God for answers when life wasn’t simple and trite answers didn’t work. Dr. Stanley reminds us that choosing to follow and obey God when life is hard can be both the toughest and best thing we’ll ever do. As Dr. Stanley reflects on the biblical teachings that have led him through his difficulties and joys, he always comes back to this principle: Do what God says is right and leave the consequences to Him—no matter what that means.
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About the Author
Dr. Charles F. Stanley is a New York Times bestselling author who has written more than fifty-five books, with sales of more than 9 million copies. He has been senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, since 1971. Dr. Stanley’s outreach ministry—In Touch—reaches more than 2,800 radio and television outlets in more than fifty languages. He was inducted into the National Religious Broadcaster’s (NRB) Hall of Fame in 1988. Dr. Stanley’s goal is best represented by In Touch Ministries’ mission statement: to lead people worldwide into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and to strengthen the local church. This is because, as he says, “It is the Word of God and the work of God that changes people’s lives.”
Read an Excerpt
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
—JOHN NEWTON, 1779
“All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.”
—JAMES HUDSON TAYLOR
Do you believe that God is really good? That is, do you truly have confidence that the Lord has your best interests at heart? That He has a purpose for your life and truly cares about you?
We all struggle with these questions at one point or another throughout our lifetimes because they strike at the heart of what it means to be alive and enjoy a worthwhile existence full of significance, contentment, and meaning.
Through the years, I’ve found a great deal of comfort and assurance from the stories of men of faith such as Charles Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Oswald Chambers, Hudson Taylor, and Leonard Ravenhill. Time and again, the Father showed each of these men that He is indeed good, that He has a plan for each of us, and that He cares deeply for every one of us as His children. Our lives definitely have a discoverable purpose and can make a difference in the world.
I believe God has shown me these truths as well, and that is why I am following in their footsteps and sharing my story with you. Because the Father has shown Himself to be so loving, so strong, so faithful, and so wise, I cannot be quiet about it—just like the disciples said in Acts 4:20, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” And my prayer is that the following pages will encourage you—not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is and what He can do in and through your life.
PURPOSED FROM THE START
Of course, you may be thinking, You don’t know where I’ve come from. I’m not sure God could do anything through someone who came from such a rough start as I did.
Oh yes, He can. In fact, He even chose the place of your birth for a purpose. Acts 17:26–27 says, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation that they would seek God.”
In other words, the Father chose when, where, and to whom you and I would be born for His eternal reasons. The location and circumstances in which we began our lives are part of His special plan for us—not to limit where we would end up but as the unique backdrop for the awesome things He can do through a life devoted to Him.
I certainly did not come into the world under the most optimal circumstances. I was born to Charley and Rebecca Stanley on September 25, 1932, in the small farming town of Dry Fork, Virginia, in the same room where my mother had been born. That was just three years after the devastating stock market crash of October 1929 that initiated the Great Depression, the longest and most profound economic downturn in our nation’s history. We were grateful that my father had stable employment at the local textile mill.
Unfortunately, just three months after I was born, in January of 1933, my father became deathly ill of a kidney condition called Bright’s disease, an illness that would claim his life an agonizing six months later when I was only nine months old. The reality of our situation shook my young mother to the core in a manner that would affect her for the rest of her life. The Sunday before my father passed away, Mother asked him, “What will I do if you die?” She realized we would be on our own during a time when a fourth of the nation’s labor force was unemployed and in desperate need, and nearly half of the country’s banks had failed.1 How would she provide for us and take care of me, a small infant who couldn’t yet fend for himself?
My father had no choice but to reply, “You’ll just have to do the best you can.” I cannot imagine how it must have broken his heart to say those words to her. But in 1933, during the terrible depths of the Great Depression, they had already been living hand to mouth like so many other Americans. There was no backup plan, no safety net, no insurance, and no hidden store of funds. There weren’t any options he could offer her.
So when my father went to be with Jesus, my mother had no choice but to immediately find a job and go to work.
When I think about her courage during that time, it moves me deeply. Caring for a small baby is difficult enough for any first-time parent. And losing the love of your life can devastate even the strongest person. Yet at the young age of twenty-four, my mother, Becca, did both—during an economic crisis that almost crippled the nation and with little help from other family members.
In fact, she didn’t even have her mother and father to help her. Her mother, Flora Jane Hardy, had passed away in 1926 when Becca was only seventeen. The school bus had just pulled up and Mother looked out the window and saw her mother drawing water from the well. All of a sudden, Flora let the rope go, grabbed her head, and fell backward—a fatal stroke ending her life instantaneously. My mother got off the bus and never went to school again because she had to take care of her brothers and sisters. Likewise, her father, George Lee Hardy, had gone to be with Jesus in the spring of 1932, just four months before I was born. So she did not even have them to rely upon.
How did Becca survive it all? With prayer and faith in God. My mother always believed that we could trust the Lord for all of our needs.
Did God make a mistake bringing me into the world when it was in such chaos and my father would soon pass away? Of course not. First, through those circumstances, God showed me that we cannot rely on money for our security—we must depend on Him and Him alone. Second, the Lord taught me to look to Him as my heavenly Father and to rely on Him for guidance and provision.
And third, God gave me such a godly example through my mother, who had a tremendous impact on my life. Even before I was born, she dedicated me to the Father for His purposes. She went down behind the house, sat on an old tree stump, and asked God to use me for His glory. That was her heart—fully set on serving Him.
And the way she responded to the adversity she faced—well, watching her deal with all the pressure with such grace affected me profoundly. What were the things she did that influenced my walk with the Lord in such a positive way? They’re not as complicated as you might think.
FIRST, MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME to love God’s word. She didn’t do this by creating a reading and memorization plan. Rather, she read the Bible to me and explained how important it is to obey the principles that the Father commanded us to live by.
Mother had no formal biblical training and probably didn’t even know what the word theology meant, but she did the best she could. She demonstrated how to love and apply Scripture by the way she walked with the Lord daily. I remember how we would turn to the index in her well-worn, thick black Bible—which was the only book she owned—and looked up subjects together. Those are times children just don’t forget.
When I was a little older, Mother gave me my first study Bible. She wanted me to have exactly what I wanted, so she gave me money and I went to the store to pick it out. I asked the gentleman there what would be a good Bible for me, since I felt called into the ministry. He said if I was going to preach, there was only one Bible I could use—a Thompson Chain-Reference. Of course, I knew he had to be right, because that was the exact same Bible my grandfather, George Washington Stanley, had preached from throughout his life. Interestingly, the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible was not on display in that store. Like a rare treasure, it was wrapped in brown paper and kept in a secret place under the counter. It cost fifteen dollars—almost two weeks’ wages for my mother—but to me it was worth a million.
SECOND, MOTHER TAUGHT ME TO pray. She didn’t do so by saying, “Go listen to the pastor.” Instead, she showed me how to get on my knees before the Father by praying with me beside my bed every night. Why did we have to be on our knees? Because this was the way we showed the Lord our reverence for Him, that we recognized our need to humble ourselves before Him. From early on, Mother showed me the importance of respecting His authority and obeying Him. Sometimes we opened the Bible during our prayer times to receive His direction, which showed me that listening to God is crucial to our walk as believers.
At the time, I didn’t realize how much closer this brought us. I would open up to her concerning all the troubles that I wanted her to pray about. Then she would call my name to the Lord regarding those things, building a wonderful hedge of protection around me. I can still remember how she would pray, “Father, please bless Charles and take care of him.” Sometimes she would even weep as she prayed, which was difficult for me to hear. I never had a doubt that my mother loved me. Her sweet prayers are etched on my mind, even so many years after she’s gone home to heaven. They’ve stayed with me and have encouraged me through some very difficult times.
THIRD, MOTHER CREATED WITHIN ME a desire to know God and to depend upon him for every aspect of life. For years, she worked at the Dan River Mill, which was about sixteen miles from where we lived. I can still recall her showing me her paycheck—she brought home just $9.10 a week and that had to cover all of our needs: food, clothing, rent, and everything else. Of course, the first thing Mother did was to tithe the little money she brought home—no matter what. There were many times that I would look at all our expenses and think, That just isn’t going to be enough. But she would say, “We’re going to trust God, and He will provide. He has always been good to us, and He will be faithful no matter what.” Repeatedly, I watched her faith become reality—seeing the Lord supply every need we had.
So when I got my first job and began earning $4 a week, I never questioned whether or not to tithe. Mother had vividly demonstrated that God assumes full responsibility for our needs when we obey Him.
FOURTH, MOTHER TAUGHT ME HOW important it is to obey the Lord. And her reason was so simple but so profound: We must obey God because He is GOD. She didn’t have to give me some big theological explanation. She simply had such a profound respect for the Father that it impacted me deeply. Likewise, she modeled the consequences of disobedience by how she corrected me. It was always a proportional response—the degree to which she disciplined me was always contingent upon how seriously I had defied her.
Mother had two basic strategies for setting me straight. The first was that she would send me out to get a switch. She never struck me with her hand because she was wise enough to know it might have felt like rejection to my young heart. So she always used a switch to chasten me. But every once in a while, she sensed that I didn’t need a switch; rather, my actions required something much more profoundly life altering: a motherly lecture. I would think to myself, Oh God, help me. By the time she finished, I would be in tears and in full repentance.
Regardless of which strategy she chose, I always knew my mother disciplined me because she loved me and wanted the best for me. Of course, the same is true for God. As Hebrews 12:9–10 reminds us, “We had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.”
There are so many ways my mother influenced me that I could go on and on. She taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated and to have a servant’s spirit. She exhibited forgiveness, even in circumstances that were terribly unfair. She showed me that when we know the right thing to do, we must complete the task faithfully, be persistent, and never quit. And she always encouraged me to look my best, do my best, and be my best. These weren’t lessons she merely told me about—these were principles that she demonstrated with her own life.
ON YOUR OWN?
Of course, you may be thinking, I didn’t have a godly mother like that. My home life was unstable. I was alone.
Yes, I had a faithful, godly mother, but also one with the burden of supporting us. Sadly, that meant that I was often alone, even as a very small boy, because she had to work in order for us to survive. In fact, she was usually gone by the time I woke up in the morning and couldn’t come home until long after my school day was done. Although when she could, my mother arranged for different people to take care of me while she was away, it seemed as if I was by myself more often than not.
In fact, one of my earliest memories is of being only two or three years old, sitting on the bed with a terrible earache. I don’t know why that experience made such a profound impression on me, but it obviously affected me deeply because I remember it clearly. I was so miserable and felt so utterly alone because there was no one to take care of me, no one to alleviate the pain, and no one to comfort me. Mother was at work, so I sat alone in our little house with the wooden walls, crying with only a dim kerosene lamp to light the darkness. I remember wondering if my mother had left me forever because her absence that day was so overwhelming and seemed so permanent.
I imagine that part of it was the not knowing when or if I would ever see her again. That’s how loneliness works, of course: you begin to think no one will ever understand, accept, or care for you again. And in those early years, all we had was each other. If I lost her, I would be losing the most important person in my life. One time, my mother went somewhere on an errand and was gone all day, but she didn’t tell me where she was going or when she would be back. I didn’t know how to reach her or how long I would be by myself—alone in that quiet, sparse little house. I just kept thinking, What if she never comes home to me? Who will love me? Who will help me? Why doesn’t she stay with me? It affected me so deeply that I cried until she returned. My fears had been unfounded, of course, but that sense of loss and isolation continued to assault my young heart. Another early memory is of coming home to an empty house after school because Mother worked until about five o’clock. I was in first grade, and like a photograph in my mind, I can still see the long black key that we hid under a brick outside. Only Mother and I knew where it was. But each afternoon as I walked up to the door, I would wonder if the key would be there. What if it was missing? What would I do? After all, it was an extremely important key to my six-year-old mind—the key to where my mother and I lived together, where our belongings were, and where my needs were met. It represented my one place of safety, where I felt my mother’s love and care for me. What would become of me if I couldn’t get into my home? I always felt relieved when I moved the rock and saw the key was there.
But that relief was only momentary. I would put that big, imposing key in the lock, hear the bolt turn over with a clang, and open the door, thinking all the while, There’s no one here. I’m going to be by myself. I would dread going inside, not knowing what I would encounter there and loathing the loneliness.
I would try to make the best of it, of course. I became an expert at playing by myself—pretending I was a cowboy by riding a broomstick horse or imagining winning great battles with my hollow-cast metal toy soldiers. As I got older, I collected stamps, built all sorts of model airplanes, and paid close attention to the news, especially world events. I also went to the movies on Saturdays. It cost only nine cents to see a show and five cents for popcorn—and if there happened to be a double feature, that was a big deal. I could sit there all day, enjoying the adventures of Errol Flynn, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Bob Hope—along with the newsreels and cartoons they played in between—for only fourteen cents.
But I was still by myself.
And that underlying sense of being alone in the world permeated my life.
That’s not to imply I was neglected; it was simply our reality. I knew my mother was doing her very best to provide for me, and I was well aware of the sacrifices she made on my behalf. Even though we were very poor, Mother wanted me to look my best, so every night she washed and ironed my bib overalls for me to wear to school the next morning. I had only two pairs, so they were truly wash-and-wear pants. But she always made sure that my shoes were shined and that I had a handkerchief in my pocket.
During the summer months, Mother would pay Mrs. Cole, a lady with a boardinghouse across the street, to feed me lunch. She wanted to make sure I ate right. Also, if her shift changed and she had to work in the evening, she always left a place set on the table and a meal I could heat up. And I did what I could to help her by washing my dishes when I finished eating.
Mother also did what she could to find people to look after me. For a short time, we lived in a house with Mother’s two sisters, Dura and Evelyn, and their husbands. I was very small, but I can remember that big empty house with its long stairwell. Everyone had to work, so they pooled their meager funds and hired a maid named Ada, who took care of everything in the household. This was before I went to school and before I had cousins, so I was home alone with Ada all day long. She cooked for me and took care of my basic needs. Even so, she was not there to have a relationship with me—her focus was to take care of the housework. So more often than not I was admonished to go play by myself and not be underfoot. Still, I thank God for Ada, who took care of me at such a young age.
I also recall that in the first grade, my dear uncle Jack would help me get ready for school—combing my hair and cooking my breakfast. Of course, he had his own job driving a truck for a produce company, so eventually he taught me how to get myself ready for the day and make my own breakfast—usually an egg, a piece of toast, and sometimes even a strip of bacon.
But we moved so many times—seventeen in my first sixteen years—that it was almost impossible to have a sense of stability. North Main Street. Bellevue Street. West Thomas Street. Washington Street. Myrtle Avenue. Campbell Street. Carter Street. Girard Street. With so many different neighbors, friends left behind, and changes in schools, it is no wonder that I felt an underlying sense of loneliness and insecurity.
One Saturday afternoon, my friends Rob and Jimmy came over to visit me. We were having a wonderful time playing games and laughing when one of the boys’ fathers came to pick them up in his car. I pleaded with them, “Please don’t go,” then watched heartbroken as the three of them drove away without me. The sinking feeling of abandonment hit me deep in the pit of my stomach. I clearly remember thinking, I have absolutely no one. In that moment, the loneliness weighed on me like a ton of bricks. I felt crushed under the feelings of alienation and rejection, as if there was no one in the world I could count on or rely upon.
It is in recollecting times like this that I realize the ineffective ways I tried to fill my needs for companionship. When I was five years old, my friends and I took an apple off the tree of a neighbor who lived down the street. I knew better than to take something that wasn’t mine, of course, but I wanted to play with the other boys. Well, I learned my lesson. That neighbor called the police and an officer came and parked his patrol car right outside my house! He stayed there all morning. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a kid to be found—everyone went into hiding and disappeared for the rest of the day. I was so scared that I’ve never been tempted to take anything without permission since that day.
Another time, I went to the grocery store and charged candy to my mother’s account. I threw it up in the air so that my friends would come over and talk to me—I knew they would be excited about getting some candy. I didn’t care that I would get in trouble for being wasteful. I just wanted so badly to get them to stay with me longer. That’s how intensely I felt the loneliness.
As naïve as my actions might seem now, I can’t help but think how adults do the very same things. People rely on wealth, power, beauty, intelligence, or skill to try to attract others and fill their deepest needs.
All of this to say that you may have felt very alone when you were a child, as if there was no one to love or defend you. I had a loving mother, but I certainly understand your loneliness. There were times I felt I had no one. But regardless of whether you were an orphan or had a full and happy family, understand that we all try to find earthly anchors to give stability and meaning to our lives. We crave the visible, tangible reminders that we are worthwhile, loved, respected, and accepted. But any of it can be lost or taken away. And when the world crumbles around us, we realize there is only one Person we can really count on who will never leave us for any reason.
WHO IS WITH YOU?
I wanted to have Jesus in my life at an early age. In fact, I can still remember I was attending a Vacation Bible School at King Street Baptist Church when I was a small boy and I went forward to ask how I could know God. Unfortunately, they just sat me down, gave me a white card to fill out, and then sent me on my way—never telling me how I could have a relationship with the One who sacrificed His life on the cross for me. I knew that wasn’t right, so I never went back.
Thankfully, God never gave up on me—just as He doesn’t give up on you. Crystal clear in my mind is that life-changing Sunday morning in June 1944 when Jesus finally got a hold of me. I was almost twelve years old, and Mother and I were living on Campbell Street. I took my place at the end of the second row at the Pentecostal Holiness Church of Danville, Virginia. As usual, my Sunday school friends Clyde, James, Tig, and Nelson were right there beside me.
We had a special guest that day—a kind-looking, middle-aged lady named Mrs. Wilson who was preaching revival. Something about the way she delivered that message of salvation struck me to the core. I don’t recall everything she said, but I did realize how far I was from the Father because of my sin. She explained that my sin created a chasm between me and the Father, and I could not bridge the gap by my own efforts. But, she said, Jesus had spanned the great divide for me through His death on the cross and resurrection. If I would just ask Him to be my Savior, I would have a real, eternal relationship with my heavenly Father and Creator—the Lord God Almighty.
I knew I did not want to be separated from God for one more minute. When she gave the invitation, I was the first one down the aisle and on my knees. All my Sunday school buddies came up to the altar, knelt down around me in a circle, and prayed, “Dear Lord, please save Charles.”
Almost immediately, the heavy weight of my sin and guilt was gone. I had a living, personal, love relationship with God—one “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate” me from (Rom. 8:38–39). It was so profoundly impactful that I was convinced that everyone needed to do the same—I wanted everyone I knew to have the joy and assurance that I’d received.
I especially want you to have it. I do not know how you grew up or what challenges you’ve had in your life, but there is one thing I understand for certain: God loves you and wants you to experience the wonderful plans He has for your life.
Your heavenly Father sees more in you than you can ever perceive in yourself. From the time you were in your mother’s womb, He had full knowledge of your potential (Ps. 139:13–16) and engineered the circumstances of your life so you could know Him and experience the purposes for which you were created (Acts 17:26–27). Encumbered by seemingly insurmountable obstacles or even falling apart, your life may be less than what you expected. Perhaps you have terrible fears about the future or about what you are worth. But the Lord is here for you through it all. He will never leave you or forsake you. And He gives you the wonderful assurance that you are indeed accepted, loved, respected, and worthwhile in His sight. Take it from me, you can overcome anything that happens in your life—regardless of how devastating or hopeless it may seem—by having faith in God. All that is necessary is that you embrace the way He has provided for you to know Him and trust Him to lead you.
What is the way He has provided? It all starts with accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You see, you and I are separated from God by our sins—the acts we’ve committed in our lives that are contrary to what He has commanded. I don’t need to tell you what your sins are—you know what it is that causes feelings of guilt to rise up within you and makes you doubt your worth. Those sins create a gulf between you and the Lord that is impossible for you to overcome on your own.
This is why we cannot know God without first recognizing what Jesus has done for us. Romans 5:10 tells us, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” Only God’s Son, Jesus Christ, could pay the penalty of our sin on the cross, forever spanning that great divide between us and the Lord. It is through His sacrifice that we can have an eternal relationship with the Father that no one can ever take from us.
So how do you take hold of what Jesus has done for you? Romans 10:9 explains, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is that easy. You say with your mouth what you believe in your heart.
If you’ve never entered into a personal relationship with God, I encourage you to do so now. Tell Jesus in your own words that you trust Him for salvation. You can also use this simple prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe that Your death on the cross was enough to forgive all of my sin and restore my relationship with God. I also believe that Your resurrection was undeniable proof that You have triumphed over sin and that You are the only way to have eternal life. I ask You to forgive my sin and be my Savior. Thank You for hearing my prayer and providing the way for me to have a growing relationship with my heavenly Father. Thank You for giving me everlasting life and a home with You in heaven. Help me to walk in a way that is worthy of You and that helps other people to know You as Savior as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you have just received Christ as your Savior, congratulations! You’ve made the very best decision you could ever make because there is nothing more important in this life or the next than having a personal relationship with God.
As I said, the Father will never abandon or reject you. And if you follow Jesus in faith, certainly you will overcome every obstacle He allows you to experience. You’ll discover, as I have, that He is good, kind, wise, that He cares deeply for you, and that there is nothing so wonderful as discovering and living out the awesome plan He has for you.
Table of Contents
Foreword Andy Stanley xi
1 Beginnings 1
2 Finding Purpose 19
3 Foundational Influences 43
4 Unexpected Intervention 69
5 Fields of Service 91
6 Battles 145
7 Struggling with Loss 199
8 Until the Day of Christ Jesus 219