Dr. Charles Stanley, 81-year-old pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, knows a thing or two about anxiety and the fear of rejection. When he was just starting out over 40 years ago as pastor of the Georgia megachurch, he was scared to death he would end up looking like a failure and being severely criticized.
Although he dealt with that issue throughout most of his ministry, Stanley says he finally found freedom when he confronted those fears and turned them over to God.
"I want you to find liberty from your apprehensions as well," the In Touch Ministries leader writes in his latest book, Emotions: Confront the Lies. Conquer with Truth. The megachurch pastor and former two-term Southern Baptist Convention president writes in the new book that everyone grapples with deep and seemingly overwhelming emotions in life, and gives examples of King David, the apostle Paul and even Jesus Christ experiencing such moments.
Stanley, a New York Times bestselling author who has penned more than 50 titles, told The Christian Post on Monday that his underlying message in Emotions is that it is possible to overcome, what is for some people, the most crippling negative emotions and live a fuller life, not only for themselves but also in service to others.
"There is deliverance and victory and peace and joy over whatever these emotions may be in their life," he told CP. "They can experience it if they choose to."
In an exclusive Q&A conducted via phone, the First Baptist Atlanta pastor shared what he believes is God's purpose for human emotion and his take on the devil's most-used tactic to keep Christians from experiencing the love and peace of God.
Below is a transcript of CP's interview with Stanley, followed by a previously unpublished email exchange CP conducted with the Christian leader in September 2012, when he marked his 55th year in ministry and the 35th anniversary of In Touch Ministries.
CP: You write in Emotions that emotions are a gift from God. Do you mean all emotions, ranging the spectrum from joy and peace to anger and anguish? And if so, what is there purpose?
Stanley: The capacity to have an emotion all comes from God. Bad emotions are coming from our conduct, or from those things that have happened early in our life and we wonder where they came from and oftentimes they're handed down to us by parents who reject us, for example, or who are bitter toward us or who didn't really want us to begin with. So there's a whole range of emotions that are good, emotions of love and joy and peace and all the rest. But it's those that devastate us that oftentimes we don't even know where they come from or why we feel them.
CP: How is God glorified through human emotion?
Stanley: God is glorified, for example, by the fact that we can love Him, that we obey Him, we cherish Him, we serve Him. We live our lives for Him because of who He is, so its really in our emotions that we express our true feelings toward God. We love Him and so we sing that, we pray to Him because we believe in Him. So He gave us emotions to enjoy life and to be able to express ourselves toward Him and toward others. It's when these emotions get bent out of shape, it's when they get off track and we begin to feel guilty or we begin to feel rejected and bitter in our life, that everything turns sad.
CP: In the Emotions you highlight anxiety or fear, and rejection as perhaps two of the most devastating human emotions. Why do you believe that?
Stanley: If you'll think about it, if your life's full of fear, you can't have any peace and be afraid at the same time. You can't have any joy and be afraid at the same time. If you feel rejected, you can't have any real good relationships in life, you can't feel good about yourself, you can't feel good about other people, you can't feel that they feel good about you — devastating emotions.
CP: This is a common question, which you state in Emotions: "Why would our gracious Father allow grief and suffering?" What's your answer to that, Dr. Stanley?
Stanley: If somebody I love very very much passed away or was killed in an accident, naturally I would grieve. That's my capacity to express my regret, and my hurt and pain over someone. All emotions are permitted by God. The emotions that are profitable are those emotions of peace and joy and happiness and contentment and forgiveness and concern. Those emotions that result in my being willing to give myself away in order to help someone else.
CP: What do you consider as one of the go-tos of Scripture for a reminder of God's truth for those who are dealing with some of those heavy emotions, such as grief and suffering?
Stanley: I think if you read for example in the Book of Philippians, which is all about joy, primarily. I think that and ... Second Corinthians is one of the primary ones when it comes to understanding why God allows suffering in our lives. He says, for example, very clearly in that first chapter of 2 Corinthians, he talks about how God allows us to go through these problems in order to be a help and to lead others who likewise are suffering the same thing, he makes it very clear.
CP: In a few chapters you have a series of "the enemy's lies" answered by statements of "God's truth." What would you say is perhaps one of the enemy's most common or crippling lies?
Stanley: One of his most crippling lies I think is that 'you're no good, you don't count, you're a nobody...no matter who you are or what you've done, but you, but you, but you…' I think it's one of the most crippling lies of all. God loves and has accepted us, yet the devil does his best to deprive us of that.
CP: You also close out several of the chapters in Emotions with a prayer. Why is that?
Stanley: Because talking to God about our circumstances is the key to getting delivered. In other words, if I go to His Word and see what He says, then I got o Him in prayer and thank Him for what He says. 'Lord, here's what you said, you said if I confess my sin or my failure...' or 'Lord, I don't understand this, I'm trusting You to give me understanding because You promised to do it.' That is the way to nail down the victory over whatever you're going through in life.
CP: In terms of dealing with our emotions, for some folks prayer and right thinking are enough. However, others need counseling and in specific cases, medication, as you mention in the book. Would you like to clarify your view on holistic emotional healing when some of these factors might be involved?
Stanley: I think we have to be careful when it comes to suggesting that people take a particular medicine. I think we have to primarily deal with their relationship with Jesus Christ first. Because many people are addicted to all kinds of drugs trying to deal with their emotional problems. Drugs don't heal emotional problems. A personal relationship with Jesus and understanding his acceptance and his forgiveness and his kindness and his salvation and all the rest and that he loves us, that's where the healing comes. I think many people easily become addicted because it makes them feel less painful for the time, but it does not heal.
CP: You share some of your own personal emotional issues in the book as well, obviously showing that pastors and ministry leaders don't always necessarily have it together. Why did you include that information about yourself?
Stanley: I want people to realize that I've been there. I'm not just telling them something that I think. I know what each one of those emotions feels like, and how God delivered me from every single one of them.
CP: Speaking of a personal emotional issue, last November CNN ran a story on its website about your relationship with your son, Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga. How did you feel about opening up so personally about your relationship? Did it have any kind of impact with your congregation?
Stanley: I have no problem with that because it was never a secret. When somebody has that kind of a situation, which he and I worked through, it was really very very helpful to many people who saw us being willing to deal with it and willing to be open about it and honest about it, it encouraged them to do the same thing.
CP: Some of the wisdom you share in Emotions isn't just meant for the reader's own personal encouragement. You also take some time out to give examples of ways Christians should and ought to "perform loving acts that meet the spiritual and practical needs of those who cross our paths." Why is that important?
Stanley: Whatever God teaches us, He teaches us in order to apply to our life to make changes necessary, but He also does the same thing in order to help other people. Paul makes that crystal clear in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. He says that God blesses us in order that we might also bless others.
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Editor's Note: Below is CP's previously unpublished exchange with Dr. Stanley conducted via email in September 2012.
CP: Congratulations on turning 80 and sustaining In Touch Ministries for 35 years. How long have you been in ministry altogether?
Stanley: I was ordained on August 19, 1956 at Moffett Memorial Baptist Church in Danville, Va., and I have been preaching a little more than 55 years.
CP: What do you consider some of your proudest achievements?
Stanley: When I think about achievements, I don't think about one particular event or moment. Instead, I am awed by all that God has done and still is doing. I never had any expectations of what ministry would look like or be, so as the Lord continues to open up doors to spread the gospel, I am more and more humbled to be a part of what is happening.
CP: What would you say were some of your low points?
Stanley: Again, no one moment comes to mind. The truth is, when a person asks the Lord to use him to spread the gospel, Satan is going to come after him to try and stop him from speaking the truth. What I do know is that, during difficult times, I learned the only way to get through these situations was to fight all my battles through prayer. When I came to the Father and sought Him continually, I always saw His hand at work in my life. To be honest, I would say there were times I wasn't as quick to seek Him as I should have been. However, once I did, I knew I was facing an obstacle with the right spirit.
CP: What are some of your hopes for the future of your church and ministry?
Stanley: First Baptist Atlanta will continue carry out its calling — to be a church that strengthens families, reaches the city of Atlanta, and trains up disciples of Christ.
In Touch will also continue in its mission to get the gospel out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and as clearly as possible to the glory of God. We've never wavered from that goal, and the Father has been with us, supporting us and making everything possible.
CP: What kind of legacy do you hope to leave once you retire? Have you seriously considered retirement and potential successors?
Stanley: I honestly don't think too much about it. When I take a look around and see all of the ways ministries can deliver the gospel and disciple people all around the world, I'm encouraged to keep on working for the kingdom. I have learned that the awareness of God's presences energizes us for the work He has prepared for us. That's why I wake up each day with an eager anticipation for what the Lord is going to do.
CP: What advice would you give to ministers beginning their pastoral work?
Stanley: I would say that prayer should be a priority for every servant of God. It is life's greatest time-saver and is essential to a ministry leader's personal life, leadership, teaching, and relationships. If we don't spend time on our knees before the Lord, we will find our ministries fail to have a lasting impact for the kingdom of God. This is true for any believer because everything he or she does flows out of a personal relationship with the Father.
More details about Emotions: Confront the Lies. Conquer with Truth. (Howard Books), as well as a free chapter excerpt, can be found online at In Touch Ministries' website: www.intouch.org/emotions/index.html.