Saturday, February 27, 2010

Being All Things to All People

Dear Friends,

Down through the years I have wrestled more with the fear of other Christians’ disapproval that with anything else, leading me to attempt to be all things to all people. Some people are so quick to know it all and tell others how they should be living the Christian life, ordering their family relationships, bringing up their children, and conducting their ministries that they forget Jesus told us not to judge – that we should cast out the plank in our own eye before we start scratching out the speck in our brother’s!

How often have I heard Christians waxing eloquent about clergy and missionary parents who “ruin” their children by neglect – by sending them off to boarding school or not spending any time with them. Now, I know some children of couples in full-time ministry don’t make it, but then some children of car salesmen and lawyers don’t make it either! I would want to know the dynamics of the relationship of a particular troubled family before I would even dare voice a suggestion as to what may have gone wrong.

Missionaries and ministry workers are ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances – called to do extraordinary tasks with very little help and less than adequate resources. By and large they do a wonderful job, but they would be much more effective if we who support them (and therefore think we have the inalienable right to criticize them) would pray more and try to think of practical ways to unload their boats for them once in awhile! It is a very heavy burden to be told continually, “Your children will never make it – they will grow up to reject the Lord!” Sometimes I used to get the feeling that those giving us this “loving counsel” would almost be glad if that did happen to our kids – because then their opinions would be vindicated.

Even now, with our three children grown and in ministry, I have on occasion been told, “Well it was obviously the grace of God, despite what you did to them, that brought them through!” Now undoubtedly there is a lot of truth in that; it was certainly by the grace of God that they turned out so well. But I have come to realize that no one does it all right – and no one does it all wrong, either. We mustn’t demand that all Christian families live according to this formula or that, but try and encourage each family to find out their formula from Him and fulfill it. The important thing is to place and please God first – then you’ll know what He wants you to do.

In His Joy,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Breaking the Worry Habit

See how trusting God breaks the worry habit

I am a worrier. Yes, I know. I’m a Christian and Christians aren’t supposed to worry. To give you an idea of how long this has been going on, our eldest son’s first words were, “Oh dear!” That was well over 40 years ago. I’d been a Christian worker for many years when he said that, and I was a missionary to boot!

I can understand perfectly why people who don’t know Jesus worry. They have no anchor for their soul or anyone to hush their fears to sleep. They have no one to pray for them, support them in their darkest hour, or assure them that there is a heaven to go to, a Christ to take them there, and a Holy Spirit to permeate their souls with a peace that passes understanding like believers in Jesus do. Even though I became a Christian, I found to my great disappointment that I simply had a whole set of new things to worry about!

At first, I worried I would lose my friends if I told them about the Lord. Would I have the courage to stand for Christ at my university? How would my newfound faith affect my relationship with my boyfriend? Later, when married and in full-time Christian work, I worried my kids would grow up to reject God. I was hoping that knowing Him, reading the Bible, and praying would stop the things I worried about.

I searched the Bible to see if it would promise me a trouble-free life. Sadly, I found no guarantees. In fact, Jesus said to His disciples:

“You will have trouble” (John 16:33). And Paul reminded believers having a hard time, “To you it is given on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His Name” (Phil. 1:29).

So I have fought a lifelong battle with worry. What do I worry about now that I have been a Christian all these years? All the things I worried about at the beginning: family, relationships, church, and the world!

I still worry about the past I can do nothing about and, likewise, the future. I worry about the present that I can do something about, that I won’t be able to do anything about it! I worry about my family and their families, too; and because we have 13 grandchildren, you can see I have plenty of worry practice!

I worry about the talks I have to get ready for. I worry that I won’t have enough time to prepare, or material to teach, or that the talks won’t be interesting and keep people’s attention. I worry about the world in turmoil, the travel we do, and whether terrorism will win the day. I worry about our friends around the world who live in dangerous situations for Jesus’ sake.

If I worry enough, a little voice tells me, maybe God will see all that worry and be pleased with me for being so concerned that He won’t let anything I’m worrying about happen! Wrong! I have come to realize bad things happen to good people, even God’s people - or especially God’s people! However, I have also learned that worry concerns Him. It’s not His will for His children to worry their lives away. He has something so much better in mind for all of us. In fact, He explicitly forbids us to worry! “Do not worry,” He tells us in Matthew 6.

In my care for Christian women, I see worry as a universal dilemma. Seeing I am an expert worrier, let me share a few of my life lessons with you.

Worry is one of the devil’s gifts.

The devil wants me to worry. In fact, just as God is concerned when I worry, Satan worries when I don’t! Fear and worry are the tools of his trade. He stands by day and night to help us worry about something. Anything! He is sick with worry if we aren’t sick with worry. He knows if we worry we don’t trust, and He can’t stand us depending on God. That drives him crazy! God has not given us the spirit of fear, “but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). If the devil’s gift is a spirit of fear, since when have we accepted gifts from the devil? God wants us to win the worry war and deal with our fears. He wants us to trust and rely wholly on Him.

As I read the story of the disciples paralyzed with fear in the storm at sea, I realize that “the mother of all storms is allowed by the Father of all comfort” in order to reduce us to size, show us our need for God, and send us running into His saving arms.

Author Information: Jill Briscoe is the executive editor of Just Between Us magazine, and it is her heart to care for Christian women. She has served on the board of directors for World Relief and Christianity Today, Inc., and is a popular speaker around the world. Jill and her husband, Stuart, have three grown children and 13 grandchildren.

Smiling at God in the Darkness

What do you do when you wake up one day to find all of your spiritual feelings gone? You pray, but nothing happens. You read your Bible and there is no light. There is an inner emptiness that won’t subside. There’s no sign of God. You go to Bible studies, but still there is no response in your heart - just a deadness, a coldness that chills your soul. When everyone around you seems to be feeling something, you feel nothing. You frantically search for answers to your inner anguish, but you are left without any.

“I feel myself slipping into the blackness again – even despairing and the darkness is ever present. My heart is so full of anguish, so full of sorrow. I feel like I have been abandoned by You; like you have removed your presence from my life…tears flood my pillow; it is excruciating to feel your absence. I have never felt so alone. Help me out of this desolate pit,” read thoughts from my journal through five of the darkest years of my spiritual life. I pleaded with God for a touch, a whisper, even a glimpse of light, but there was nothing. Have you ever been there – perhaps you are there now?

The Dark Night of the Soul

St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul.” Charles Spurgeon preached about “the child of light walking in darkness,” and A. W. Tozer called it “the ministry of the night.” It is not a darkness resulting from guilt or sin, rather it is a withdrawal of the presence of God – resulting in a divine darkness. Young believers are rarely tested with this type of darkness. But as we mature in Christ, we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight, feelings, or human wisdom.

Not a New Experience

What you are experiencing is not new. It came to every major servant in Scripture. Job is the first to come to mind. In Job 23:17 he spoke about, “the thick darkness that covers my face.” It also came to a recent servant. For almost 50 years, Mother Teresa lived her life without sensing the presence of God.

Fifty years! Here was this great woman of God – giving her life away to serve the poor, giving up earthly pleasures and treasures - and in the middle of it she felt abandoned by God. This revelation has shocked the Christian community. Who would have ever thought by observing her life, faith, and ministry that just below the surface was a tormented soul? Just recently her struggles were released in, Come Be My Light chronicling her spiritual anguish - an anguish so deep and so unspeakable that she asked the few she confided in to keep it a secret. She lived in a state of deep, abiding spiritual pain. Though she loved Christ passionately, she was tortured by the reality that even as she served Him, she could not feel Him.

As I read one of her journal entries, “There is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead….When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” it jumped off the page and resonated with my spirit, resembling the feelings of my own “dark night of the soul.”

Author Information: Shelly Esser is editor of Just Between Us. Additionally, she serves on the board of the Pastoral Leadership Institute. She and her husband live in Menomonee Falls, Wis., with their four daughters.