Let me begin our time today with a story. This is story which many of you, over the years, have heard, but even if you I think it is worth hearing again. On November 22, 1873, Anna Spafford stood on the deck of the French ocean liner, the S.S. Ville du Havre. As she stood there, her four daughters clung desperately to her side. This was a tragic moment for them - because the ship was sinking. History records that 226 lives were lost in this tragedy. That number included Anna's four daughters.
As they stood there, Annie, the oldest, helped her mother support Tanetta, the youngest, who had her arms wrapped around her mother's neck. Bessie, the second youngest, clutched her mother's knees. Maggie, the second oldest, calmly stood beside her mother and said, "God will take care of us. Don't be afraid. The sea is His and He made it." Then the water engulfed them.
Anna Spafford records that her last memory was of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. A wooden plank floated beneath Anna's unconscious body and propelled her upward. But Her daughters were gone. Her first reaction to her loss was complete despair. Then she heard an inner voice speak to her, "You were spared for a purpose." Immediately she recalled the comment of a friend, "It's easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God."
Anna was rescued and nine days later she reached Cardiff, Wales. From there she cabled her husband in Chicago two fateful words: "Saved alone." Horatio Spafford immediately boarded a ship to join his wife in Europe. One night the captain called Mr. Spafford to his private cabin. He said to Mr. Spafford, "a careful reckoning has been made, and I believe we are now passing the place where the du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep." Horatio Spafford went back to his cabin. No doubt his heart was torn by a thousand griefs. Yet, before that dark night had ended, near the place where his children had perished, he penned these unforgettable words.
"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrow like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul."
None of us will go through life untouched by disappointments, hurts, frustrations or pains. We know better. Probably in all of our lives we have at times been face to face with great difficulties. And what we want to know is whether there is a refuge that will help us face trying times with confidence.
It is not at all difficult when we read the Psalms of David, that he often went through life and death situations. We sense his anguish in what he wrote. I heard someone say, "Life is a rat race, and the rats are winning."
Beginning with Psalm 3, and over and over again until Psalm 149, we find the psalmist crying out to the Lord in various dire circumstances.
o "How many are my foes?"
o "Give me relief from my distress."
o "Listen to my cry for help."
o "Away from me, all you who do evil."
o "Save and deliver me from all who pursue me."
On September 11, 2001, America faced one of these days. On that day, the terrorist brought the nation to its knees. In specially called prayer meetings, people all over the nation prayed for the relatives of the victims, for our nation's security, and for our government leaders. In times of crisis, praying comes almost naturally. We all know the saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole. And which one of us, on September 11, 2001, didn't find ourselves voicing prayers as we watched the gruesome scenes unfold? During that week, prayer services sprung up everywhere and people felt a sense of solace in being able to do something. The power of prayer was felt intensely. Amid a world gone mad, we could feel some semblance of sanity when we together entreated the God who listens to prayer. President Bush designated Friday, September 14, as a Day of Prayer and Remembrance. He and other dignitaries attended a service in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.
Dire circumstances point to our need for divine help. Crises, whether national or individual, reveal our human weaknesses and prompt us to turn to God. It is during times of crises that we recognize more fully than ever how desperately we need God's help. When our own stability is shattered, we turn to Him who is always a solid anchor.
That's what the nation of Israel did in the wilderness. Psalm 107:6 tells us, "They cried out to the Lord in their trouble." And in King Asa's day, we learn that "in their distress they turned to the Lord." (2 Chron. 15:4). And that is exactly what God wants us to do. He longs to hear from us, for "the prayer of the upright pleases him." (Proverbs 15:8)
Our English language has its roots in many other languages. Our English word CRISIS comes from the Greek word KRISIS. That Greek word literally mean "decision". It connotes a time when we have come to a juncture in our lives, which we call critical. It is a turning point, a time when the "bottom falls out" or everything seems "turned upside down."
We have all experienced crises moments in our lives. They are often destabilizing and maybe even confusing. We knew we were face-to-face with a situation that threatened to overwhelm us. But there probably have been many times in our lives where we have experienced life and death, or a crisis moment, but didn't know anything about it. Somehow we were spared from becoming a victim of some calamity, and even spared from the moment of anxious feeling and fearful emotions, simply because we were not aware of what was happening at that moment. Or maybe, after it was all over, we have been told, or otherwise became aware of our close call, and now that it is all done and over, we are petrified and scared to death and shaken, over just the thought of what might have happened.
I can remember a time in the Air Force like this. This took place back in the Cold War era. We had just finished flying a reconnaissance mission along the eastern borders of the Soviet Union. We landed in Japan after being in the air for some 25 hours, and when we touched down on the runway, we audibly heard a loud crack, followed by several clangs. We looked at each other with questioning faces. The plane came quickly to a stop and we disembarked to find, a short distance behind our plane, the flaps from one of our wings. They had come loose in flight, and the slight jolt of the touchdown was enough to break it off completely. Of course, our thoughts were: "What if we had encountered sufficient turbulence, in flight, to break it loose?" Even though, now that we were safe on the ground, there were some anxious feelings.
But, there are also those times when we know without a doubt we are in the middle of a potential catastrophe. Those times that test all the resolve you have to stay calm.
Times of crisis are very important times to turn to God. Sometimes we cry "Help me!" or "Please!" or "Save me!" God wants to be there for us. God wants us to turn and ask for intimacy, comfort and help.
It is during these times that once again we are made aware that it is still true what we read in Ephesians 3:20, which says that God is "able to do exceeding, abundantly beyond what we ask or think."
But, for many of us, our prayers were not answered the way we had asked. And because of that, we find it difficult to pray when in a crisis. We don't exactly know what to ask for. We feel like asking for a miracle, but past experience might have shown us that asking for miracles has left us disappointed. We may even have become cynical about God. We, perhaps, prayed that our grandmother would recover from her illness and she didn't. Maybe we prayed that our biopsy would come back negative, but it didn't. Or we might have asked for the restoration of a deteriorating relationship, which didn't happen.
Let's look at the Scripture and see what we can do in times of Crisis.
Psalms 34:15, 17-19 NKJV
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry.
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
Sometimes crisis reminds us that life itself is an unspeakable gift of God.
We cannot prepare for a crisis after the crisis strikes. We must prepare ourselves before they happen. God wants us to have such an intimate relationship with Him, that we will have no doubts as to his care for us. We must have confidence in Him that He knows what is best for you. He knows what you are going through. And what you are experiencing did not catch God by surprise.
Possibly one of the greatest potential benefits of a crisis is that it can strengthen our relationship with Christ. We are driven in our brokenness to seek his comfort and in our helplessness, we seek his help and direction.
Of course, a crisis may do just the opposite. It may ignite our anger at God for tearing from our life something we treasured.
Let me relate a story of two people. On one side we see a person who is visited with unexpected tragedy. It bowls him over. He turns bitter and sour. He complains and blames God for his troubles. He hardens his heart to those around him, and to God. What this person is doing is allowing the tragedy to do irreparable damage in his life. It is not just the crisis that happened to him. It is also the way that he reacts to what has happened. For Him, his reaction is hurting him far more than the actual crisis.
Another person's life is invaded, very suddenly, with great tragedy. He does not understand why these things happened the way they did and when they did. The whole thing doesn't make sense to him. But, this man softens his heart toward God. He believes that God is able to take the tragedy and turn it into victory in his life. Instead of turning bitter and hardened, he matures and turns sweet.
What is the difference between these two men? The bottom line is not the tragedies they each went through, but the choices each made when the crisis struck. Each decides how he is going to let trouble affect his life.
Here is an important thing to remember. No matter how a man or woman reacts to trouble, they do not change the fact of trouble. Getting bitter and hard and sour does not alter the fact that trouble has come. Neither will it be altered by softening one's heart to God. BUT, how a person takes what happens to them determines whether that thing will make them or break them. Each time the choice is up to us.
That is why it is essential that we take our problems to the Lord in prayer. He delights in us coming into His presence. He really is concerned about the things that concern us.
Gene Jackson was a pastor in Tennessee. He spoke at our church once, and relayed to us this story. He tells us of a time when he tried to call the president of the United States. He makes a call only to be sent on to another person, which also sent him to another department. He went through 10-12 people and ended up not ever reaching the White House. After much time spent on the phone, he finally came to the conclusion that the president just did not have the time to talk to Gene Jackson. But, later that very day, Gene walks out of his church office into the church sanctuary and kneels down to pray at the altar. In an instant he had the ear of the Creator of the Universe. And the sovereign God, over all kings and presidents welcomed him with open arms. Then Gene Jackson said, "you count where it really counts."
You may not be able to have the ear of the President, but you always have a God who will listen to you. And He doesn't have call waiting. You don't have to get in line. And He doesn't have office hours, where you can call on Him only at certain times.
1 Peter 5:7 (NIV) says:
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
He really has your best interest at heart.
Hebrews 4:16 (NIV) adds:
16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
But remember that God's options are not limited. He may answer differently than the way we might expect. He is never forced to answer our petitions in only one way. And His decisions are always the best.
Unknown Confederate Soldier
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for
But everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
Peter Marshall was once the chaplain of the U.S. Senate. Before the Senate he prayed this prayer.
"Our Father, when we long for life without trials and work, without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under much pressure. With stout hearts may we see in every calamity an opportunity and not give way to the pessimist that sees in every opportunity a calamity."
If the psalms teach us anything, it's how to turn to God in times of trouble and distress. Here's a brief synopsis with specific examples from various psalms.
Call out to the Lord...
"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer!" (Psalm 61:1, GNT)
Ask for help!
"Save me, O God! LORD, help me now!" (Psalm 70:1, GNT)
Tell God about your troubles...
"Our God, foreign nations have taken your land, disgraced your temple, and left Jerusalem in ruins. They have fed the bodies of your servants to flesh-eating birds; your loyal people are food for savage animals. All Jerusalem is covered with their blood, and there is no one left to bury them. Every nation around us sneers and makes fun." (Psalm 79:1-4, CEV)
Moses prayed and God spared Israel from judgment.
Joshua prayed and God caused the sun to stand still.
Hannah prayed and God gave her a baby boy.
Solomon prayed and God gave him wisdom.
Elijah prayed and God sent fire down from Heaven.
Jonah prayed and God brought him out of the belly of the whale.
Peter prayed and God raised Dorcas from the dead.
The thief on the cross prayed and God gave him eternal life.
Christians prayed and God set Peter free from prison.