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Stuck in ReverseHow to Let God Change Your Direction
By CHARLES STANLEY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Charles F. Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow Did You Get Here?
It was a beautiful day—the kind that seemed perfect in every way. The weather was fantastic, the scenery was beautiful, and the temperature was just right. I had traveled to Oregon on a photography trip. A few days into the venture, I found myself driving on a road built alongside a rambling river with numerous waterfalls. I had gotten up before dawn to have the correct light for the photographs I wanted to take. However, after stopping beside the river I realized something was not right. The lighting was wrong, and I knew it would be later in the day before it would be exactly what I needed for my photographs.
Since I had plenty of time, I decided to look over the map to see what other points of interest were close by. I remembered that Mount Hood was only a few miles away, but could I drive there before the sun was too high? Early in the morning and late in the evening are some of the best times to photograph. This is when the colors are the richest and most inviting.
As I suspected, Mount Hood was only a short drive away. However, I needed to get away from the cloister of the river and find a road that would lead me to an area that overlooked the mountain. I also noticed on the map that there was a small lake near the mountain, and I began to imagine taking a photograph of the mountain's reflection in the small glasslike lake. The scene would be quiet, thought provoking, and most of all, one that would portray the glory of God's majesty. So I started my car and headed in Mount Hood's direction.
I continued along the road until—just as I had imagined—a small mirrorlike lake appeared in the distance. Looming in the background was the image of Mount Hood in all its inescapable wonder. I pulled the car over and parked in a place where I could unload my equipment and set it up. After taking several photos, I walked back to the car, climbed in, and thought that since the lighting had changed, I would return to the river and finish photographing the stream that had appeared so relaxing earlier.
At that moment, a thought passed through my mind urging me to check the gas gauge. To my shock, it was close to empty. I had been completely absorbed in what I was doing—photographing the beautiful scenery and enjoying my surroundings—but now my mind raced to retrace the route I had taken an hour earlier. Suddenly I remembered that I had not passed a gas station. Quickly I grabbed the map and confirmed what I already had thought: the nearest town was miles away, and I did not have enough gas to get there.
It appeared I was stuck!
God Always Has the Answer We Need
Many people spend a great part of their lives living out over and over again what I have just described. They start out living for the Lord—walking step-by-step beside Him—and then suddenly they are off running in a different direction, never thinking about the consequences of their actions or their choices.
I was miles away from where I was staying, and I realized I needed help. Daylight in a mountainous area can disappear quickly, and I did not want to spend the night in the shadow of Mount Hood.
What do you do when you realize you are in the wrong place—stuck in reverse when you should be moving forward? Many people panic or simply collapse and give up. But God never wants us to do that. His desire is for us to learn to trust Him at all times in all kinds of situations.
Immediately I prayed, "Lord, You know my circumstances. You know how far the next gas station is from where I am located. You are totally in control, and I am asking You to send me the help I need." In faith, I turned the key over in the ignition. However, before I could put the car into drive, I heard something that sounded like a very large truck coming in my direction. To my amazement, it was a power company truck. The man driving it pulled into a space right in front of my car. He got out and climbed a nearby utility pole, adjusted something, and came back down.
I got out of the car and waited for him, believing that he was the answer to my prayer. Then I walked over to him and asked, "Can you tell me where I can find a gas station?"
The man smiled and said, "Sure!" He pointed down the road and said, "Go up this road about another quarter of a mile, turn left, and you will see one on your right." Then he said good-bye, climbed back into his truck, and drove away.
I got back into my car and thought about what I would have done had he not stopped. More than likely, I would have driven back the way I had come and run out of gas. When we do realize we are in trouble, we want to rush back to a point of safety. God, however, knows the beginning and the end. He knows the right route for us to travel from one point to another. The shortest and safest way for us to travel is the route He chooses. God has always provided exactly what I needed—when I needed it.
The Right Direction
The one thing we must remember is that God is waiting for us to call out to Him so He can work in our circumstances and straighten out the problems we are facing. When our hearts are turned toward Him in sincere devotion, He will speak to us and show us the right way to go every time. After filling my gas tank, I headed back in the direction of the river I had driven beside earlier and took some terrific photographs.
You may feel as though you are totally out of fuel. Or you may feel as though you are traveling backward. Instead of going forward in life, you are either stuck on the side of the road or in reverse. What do you do? How do you pick up the pieces of your shattered life after suffering a deep blow of discouragement? Is there a way out of the storm that seems to have broken over your life? The answer is yes. God knows the surest route for you to take to the closest fueling station.
In fact, the distance is usually no more than about twelve to sixteen inches or whatever distance it is for you to fall to your knees in prayer. When we cry out to God, He always listens and never fails to answer.
You may have spent many years living out what you thought were your dreams. What you have found is that they are broken dreams and you are far, far from home. Through Jesus Christ, there is hope for the future, love enough to last an eternity, and grace enough to cover every sin you have committed. Even if you feel as though your gas tank is completely empty and there is no hope for your future, God still has a plan, and because He loves you with an everlasting love, there is always hope through Jesus Christ. He is the source of your every need.
Chapter TwoMaking a Wrong Turn
The teenager driving his parent's car began to think about what it would feel like to be able to shift gears. Even though the car had an automatic transmission, he imagined shifting into first gear, then into second, and up into third. Because the gearshift was located on the floorboard between the two front seats, the temptation to continue his game seemed all the more fun.
With the radio turned up, he reached down, placed his hand on the gearshift, and gave it another quick pull. However, this time instead of dropping into a lower forward gear, his hand slipped and he accidentally put the car into reverse.
Even before he could step on the brake, he knew there was a major problem. The lights across the dashboard lit up, and just as the car came to a screeching halt, a loud grinding noise emerged from the area where the transmission was located. As he stepped out of the automobile, the only thing that appeared to be working was the bell-like noise telling him the key was still in the ignition!
Not a Laughing Matter
Some of us may smile and shake our heads in disbelief over a story like this one. However, for some, the scenario is all too real. Traveling through life, they barely give God a second thought. Their lives are focused on achieving the things they believe will give them a sense of self-importance, status, and recognition. They feel as though they are moving forward; that is, until they decide to shift into a higher gear and actually drop back into reverse. They find that they can barely make it through a day without fighting thoughts of failure. "What went wrong?" a young man once asked me. "How did life turn out like this? I was sure I was going to be promoted. Why did God allow me to lose my job?"
Before we go any further, I want to assure you that no matter what your circumstances, God is aware of your greatest need. He knows the disappointment you are facing. He also knows the frustration that could be headed your way if you fail to set the focus of your heart on Him instead of the things of this world.
The prophet Isaiah writes, "The LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail" (58:11). God also knows your potential, and if you will allow Him, He will show you how to live each day in the light of His success and victory over all defeat. It does not matter what you are facing—financial ruin, scattered dreams, a broken relationship, or some other serious disappointment.
The truth is we do not have to go far to find people struggling to gain some sense of hope for the future. Over the past few years, many have faced disappointments professionally, as well as heartaches in the home. No one enjoys traveling in reverse, and no one has to live this way.
If you feel as though you have downshifted from drive into another gear, you can turn your life around—go in a different direction and begin to live again. While there may be consequences to some decisions you have made in the past, you can start where you are right now and live the life you were created to live. However, you must be willing to open up your heart to God and the plans He has for you. This means being willing to trust Him, to allow Him to lead you each day, and then to give yourself to Him knowing He will take care of all that concerns you.
When We Overlook God
On the other hand, many people, without thinking, shift their lives into overdrive. They never consider the Lord or what good plans He has for them. They are speeding through life never stopping to consider His eternal love and concern until something terrible happens. Then, alone with their fears, they wonder how they will ever be able to live life fully. There is a way, but it is God's way and not the way of this world.
Others have fallen behind because they are trapped in situations they cannot change. God understands their plight. He knows when the burdens we are carrying become too heavy. This is the reason He promises to bear them for us (Ps. 68:19).
Instead of looking through the windshield of hope and possibility and moving forward, far too many people have purposefully placed their lives in reverse and are moving backward. They have believed lies—words spoken that are simply not true, statements that have lowered their self-esteem or changed the focus of their hearts so that they now feel as though they will never move past this point in time. None of this is true. They notice their peers and friends moving forward, but they fail to believe in God's ability to change the direction of their own lives. Therefore, they become stuck in feelings of defeat and disillusionment. If either of these words describes your life, then I want to assure you that you are not alone.
All of us have struggled with feelings of self-doubt and discouragement. Even the godly men and women in God's Word battled many fears and temptations. However, they learned that resignation and disobedience only lead to further disappointment and defeat. God has not designed you for failure. He created you for success—not success from the world's perspective, but success His way—which glorifies and honors Him and also brings many blessings.
A Promise of Hope
Abraham, the one person who is called God's friend in the Bible, would understand our confusing circumstances (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23). He grew up in a pagan culture—one that involved the worship of false gods—which is similar to our culture that worships a long list of idols. We usually do not think of his life as being stuck in reverse because he is the patriarch of God's people. However, he did not begin to move forward until the Lord called to him and brought him into a relationship with Him, teaching him how to worship the one true living God. And when God called, Abraham obeyed by answering His call. He was seventy-five years old when God instructed him to leave his home and go to the land the Lord had planned to give him.
Age is not a factor in God's plan. Abraham's obedience was the key that unlocked God's promise, and the same is true for you. When Abraham took his wife, Sarah, and left his home to go to Canaan, he began a journey of faith and obedience that continued for the rest of his life. In fact, by reading the story of his life in Genesis, you can learn exactly what godly obedience looks like.
Over the years, there were times when Abraham took a wrong turn, made a bad decision, or fell into disobedience. However, God did not abandon him or remove His love from him. The Lord is forever faithful. His care and concern for Abraham never shifted or changed, and the same is true for you and me. Whenever we get off track, take a wrong turn, or shift into the wrong gear, God is patient with us. He disciplines us to get us back on track and to a point of restoration in our relationship with Him.
The principles I share with you in this book are designed to help you shift out of reverse and back into drive and into God's plan for your life. If this is to happen, you must be willing to submit your life to Him and take the following steps:
Admit your need for a change. God saw something within Abraham's heart that drew Him close. God had called Abraham to be the father of an entire nation; however, He also recognized that Abraham had a limited free will. This means he could choose to heed the call of God or not. The same is true of our lives. We can do what God instructs us to do, or we can stop and be captured by sin, complacency, and feelings of hopelessness. When we are stuck—boxed in on all sides—and feel as though there is no place left to turn, we quickly become willing to call out to God. Abraham did not wait for life to become difficult before he did what the Lord had created him to do. He responded to God's call with obedience.
Many people fail to realize God has designed them for a specific purpose. He does not call everyone into ministry, but He certainly calls each one of us to worship and live our lives for Him. He has plans and goals He longs for us to reach so that we might experience His blessings as we glorify Him. When we live our lives for Him, we gain a new sense of security, freedom, and hope unlike anything we have known. We also shift into a different gear. This time, though, it is a shift out of reverse and into an eternal forward drive.
There is always a sense of emptiness within the heart of a person who does not know the Savior. But Jesus tells us in John 8:32 that God's truth—the knowledge of His expressed will and purpose for our lives—sets us free from the bondage of sin, sorrow, defeat, anger, and anything else that causes us to live life in reverse. The truth He is talking about in this Scripture is not a worldly truth based on a philosophical argument. It is a truth based on the Word of God—written out for us as a reflection of His unconditional love and grace.
It is the gift of His salvation for all who turn to Him seeking forgiveness for their sins and restoration for their weary souls. When we come to Him, He opens His arms of love and gathers us close. No one is ever turned away. The power of sin is broken, and the bondage we once felt is released. Driving in reverse becomes a thing of the past.
Take a step of faith. Until you give your life and heart to Jesus Christ, you will spend most of your life running in reverse. From the world's point of view, there may seem to be many successful men and women. However, at the end of their lives, they do not have anything of eternal value to show for their efforts.
Their hope was in their money, material possessions, and lifestyle. People can be very successful, but until they know Jesus Christ as Savior and loving Lord, they will be rushing around and feeling anxiety and stress over how to sustain the success they have achieved.
There was something about meeting God and hearing His voice that changed Abraham's life view. One day he was going in one direction, but after God spoke to him, he changed course—just that quickly. There were no questions asked. He just obeyed God by faith. Many times we want to know everything there is to know about a situation before we take the first step. The danger, however, comes when we fail to keep our hearts open and sensitive to the voice of God.
Questioning, doubting, and guessing what could or could not happen in the future erode one's faith. Remember when Jesus told the disciples to allow the children to come to Him (Matt. 19:14)? Children are open to learning and they trust easily. The innocence of a child is powerful because generally it has not been shaped or molded by the heartache, greed, and disappointments of this world. The principle that Jesus was teaching His disciples was a very simple one: all of us need to come to Him as children who long to experience and know the depth of His love and goodness (Mark 10:14). Those who come to the Savior with a childlike heart and sense of trust spend very little time driving in reverse.
Excerpted from Stuck in Reverse by CHARLES STANLEY Copyright © 2008 by Charles F. Stanley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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