Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Where is the God of Charles Stanley?

Every one of us have a small handful of people who made a giant impact on our life. Dr. Charles Stanley was one of mine.

I first tuned into his ministry as a freshman in college, listening to the InTouch radio broadcast on Greenville, South Carolina’s WLFJ or Black Mountain, North Carolina’s WMIT. During those years I probably heard his sermons three of four times weekly. Attending a liberal religious college, which jettisoned the authority of Scripture and basic evangelical theology, his preaching helped anchor me in eternal truths.

My first year of school, I picked up his book, How to Listen to God, which had a shaping influence on my nineteen-year-old life. The first of more than two dozen of his books I would eventually read, I experienced his practical teaching that drew deeply from the Bible but also was illustrated with personal experiences. In that book I would find what was one of his constant exhortations: develop a lifestyle of meditating on the Word of God, expecting Him to guide you.

The next year, Thomas Nelson released Stanley’s The Wonderful, Spirit-Filled Life, and he preached a four-part sermon series about the Holy Spirit on his radio and television broadcast that coincided with the release of the book. It was my first practical introduction to the Spirit-filled life as a young adult. I devoured the book and messages, pouring over the material as he step by step explained what the Bible says about the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

My senior year of college, he released the book and series, The Source of My Strength: Relying on the Life-Changing Power of Jesus Christ to Heal Our Wounded Hearts. Sharing openly from his own struggles, including the inferiority he developed growing up in poverty without a father, Stanley explained how to trust God with problems in our lives such as loneliness, fear, abuse, and guilt. At the time, I was dealing with an array of hurts and problems stemming from my own father’s poor choices. I vividly remember Stanley’s teaching being a balm to my wounded spirit, helping me learn to lean on the Lord as my healer and restorer. To this day, I think I’ve given more copies of The Source of My Strength away to people than any other book.

His Preaching

I first learned how to preach from listening to radio preachers like Stanley. His winsome, conversational style combined with practical exhortations and challenges to trust God marked his teaching. He regularly said, like Jesus, “Now listen!”

To this day, I hear teaching from the InTouch app weekly. Having listened to him regularly for more than thirty years, I recall some of the great themes of his preaching and books:

Intimacy with the Lord

Stanley told listeners that God wants a close relationship with them. Through sermons like “Favorites vs. Intimates,” he explained how the Lord desires to reveal Himself to them in ever-deepening dimensions. I once heard him say, “Far more important than As in the classroom is your intimacy with God in your dorm room.”

I only met Dr. Stanley once quickly at a book signing at the 1999 Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta. After waiting in line, when I got to him, I handed him a book to sign and said, “Dr. Stanley, thank you for teaching me about intimacy with God.” He stopped, lowered his pen, and stared directly into my eyes. Then he emphatically said, “That is the most important thing!”

Obedience to God

When his grandfather, George Washington Stanley, shared with young Charles that if God told him to run straight into a brick wall, he should duck his head and trust God to remove the wall, a deep rudder formed in his life.

Charles’ most familiar phrase, “Obey God and leave all of the consequences to Him,” is written in large letters along the wall of InTouch Ministries in Atlanta. He taught that obedience is a joy and privilege – and a necessity for those who will experience God’s best.

The Empowerment of the Spirit

I heard him say numerous times that if he were Satan, he wouldn’t try to make good people bad. He would simply try to convince Christians and churches they could do God’s work in their own strength. After going through a deep struggle in his thirties, Stanley learned what it means to abide in Jesus. He wrote in his book, The Spirit-Filled Life, “To abide in Christ is to draw upon His life. . . . The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit is the life of Christ in us.”

In the 1990s I got a cassette tape of Stanley preaching at Dallas Theological Seminary - a sermon entitled “Spirit-Anointed Preaching.” He told preachers they must learn to move between time at their desk studying to time on their knees, stretched out on the floor talking to God, listening to Him, and asking for the anointing of the Holy Spirit on their life, ministry, and preaching.

Fight Your Battles on Your Knees

Stanley’s mother first taught him the importance of prayer, and throughout his life he became a man of prayer. In his book, Living the Extraordinary Life, he wrote, “Is your prayer life pitiful or powerful? No one else can put on your spiritual armor for you. If you want God’s best in your life, get on your knees. Divine, supernatural power is available if you will cry out to God and claim it by faith.”

Stanley faced many battles in his life, including a fierce one before becoming Senior Pastor of First Baptist Atlanta. During that time a senior lady in the congregation taught him a vital lesson. Showing him a painting of Daniel in the lions’ den, she told him to notice that Daniel’s eyes were not on the lions but on the Lord. Stanley later became President of the Southern Baptist Convention during some critical years of the Conservative Resurgence, presiding over the largest-ever-attended meeting of more than 45,000 messengers in 1985 in Dallas, Texas.

Guidance from the Lord

Stanley believed God could and would speak to and guide every believer who seeks Him. He wrote in How to Listen to God, “I believe one of the most valuable lessons we can ever learn is how to listen to God. In the midst of our complex and hectic lives, nothing is more urgent, nothing more necessary, nothing more rewarding than hearing what God has to say. . . . His voice waits to be heard, and having heard it, we are launched into the greatest, most exciting adventure we could ever imagine.”

To the Ends of the Earth

Dr. Stanley preached, taught, and wrote about the God of Abraham, David, Daniel, Ruth, Peter, and Paul. But, as a young man, Charles wanted to know and experience that God. And he was motivated his entire ministry to help people all over the globe learn to walk with that same Lord. The God of the Bible is not limited to olden times. He is alive and real today, desiring an intimate relationship with men and women.

That living God put His hand on this young man, raising him up to be one of the most influential preachers of the Gospel in his generation. Decades before podcasting, Facebook live, and webcasting, a few faithful preachers like Charles Stanley had the vision to maximize modern technology to spread God’s Word.

Stanley and InTouch Ministries never stopped pursuing ways to keep sharing the message in every way possible. His obituary shares, “At the time of his death, Stanley’s messages were heard in more than 127 languages around the world via radio, shortwave, the Messenger Lab project, or TV broadcasts. Stanley was the country’s longest-serving pastor with a continuous weekly broadcast program.”

Stanley represented a generation of stalwart Bible preachers and pastors like Adrian Rogers, Jerry Falwell, Jack Hayford, Charles Swindoll, and others who are finishing their tasks and moving on to heaven. These giants leave incredible Gospel legacies.

As our world seems to turn further away from the God of the Bible, may the Lord raise up others to take their place. As we see our Elijahs taken away and their mantles fall, may we stand on the bank of our Jordans and cry out, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah - or Charles Stanley?” And may we walk forward in His presence and anointing.

Some of Stanley's contemporaries respond to his death:

“There are few places in the world where Charles Stanley cannot be heard and seen through In Touch ministries. He was truly the world’s pastor. It was my privilege to serve with him, preach for him and walk through some crucial times with him. He was a consistent proclaimer of God’s Word and touched millions of lives.”—Jimmy Draper, former SBC president

“Much will be written and spoken about the incredible, global and timeless impact of Charles Stanley’s life and ministry. My thoughts today are filled with gratitude for the impact of Charles’ warm, personable and welcoming spirit. Thank God for unleashing His powerful truth through Charles Stanley.”—Tom Elliff, former SBC president

“Charles Stanley was a reluctant president of the SBC. He responded to the need of the hour and the requests of God’s people. Characterized by his gracious actions toward all, Dr. Stanley modeled the life of Christ. His fervency in prayer, alone with his Lord was profoundly experienced by all who knew him well. Who will take the place of my friend Charles on his prayer rug before God?”—Paige Patterson, former SBC president

“Charles Stanley was a giant among us. Faithful pastor. Courageous SBC leader. Minister to the world. Well done, good and faithful servant.”— Jerry Vines, former SBC president

“We lost a warrior for the faith. He was God’s man at a critical juncture of Southern Baptist and evangelical Christianity’s struggle for biblical integrity. His television ministry became an incredible entree for many of us to share the gospel with seekers. We are diminished by his absence but enlarged by his life and ministry.” — Jim Henry, former SBC president

“I don’t know of any Southern Baptist pastor whose sermons have helped to build up believers and reach people for Christ more than Charles Stanley.”—Bryant Wright, former SBC president

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