Monday, April 29, 2013

Hanging Onto Hope

Dear Friends,

We need to hang on to hope.  It has been said, “You can’t be optimistic with misty optics; seeing what will be with the eyes of faith requires clear inner vision.”

Helen Keller, a woman who was both blind and deaf, was asked, “What can be worse than a person with no sight?”

She replied, “A person with sight but no vision.”

Hope is ridiculously optimistic.  It has vision, insight into what should be and what will be one day.  It refuses to be intimidated by a relationship that looks like Humpty-Dumpty who sat on a wall, fell off, and lay shattered in little pieces on the ground.  It sees things no one else seems to see.  It sees a miracle.  It sees Humpty-Dumpty mended and sitting on the wall again!

Helen Keller’s teacher was ridiculously hopeful when, humanly speaking, there was so little hope at all in the situation.  She believed Helen could become a productive human being.  She believed it, she got Helen to believe it because she knew God believed it, and she set out to do her part to make it happen.
We need a lot more teachers like that in the church of Jesus Christ.  There are many blind and deaf people who need someone to believe them into usefulness.  Many Christians just need someone to say to them, “You can do it!  Even if you tried and failed, you can try again.  I’m behind you.”

Maybe some of you are wrestling with children who, unlike Helen Keller, have all their faculties, have everything going for them, and yet are a real disappointment to you.  Will they ever become what you long for them to be in the Lord?  Can you lovingly trust them to become the people they were created to be before Satan got his sticky little fingers on them?

This has nothing to do with our personality either.  Some of us are more naturally inclined to be hopeful and trusting of other people.  Others are more cynical.  God’s Spirit transcends all our foibles and personality traits.  The most negative thinker among us can become optimistic in the Lord.  This is what faith, hope, and love do.  In the end it depends not on my performance but on God’s promises.
Perhaps you are beating yourself up because you feel your kid would have been a better Christian if you had been a better mother.  That is not necessarily so.

I was teaching Proverbs 31 to a class of young mothers.  I began by explaining that this “bionic Christian lady” who lurks rather accusingly in these pages didn’t really exist except in the imagination of the writer, perhaps King Lemuel, writer of the first nine verses of chapter 31.  It was, he says, something “that his mother taught him” (Proverbs 31:1).

I asked the young moms how many of them thought this concept was hard to grasp.  Most of them were in the tough child-rearing years, when the idea that their children would ever sit down and lovingly write a poem about their wonderful advice blew their minds!  It was too much to hope for, even for the most optimistic of parents.  Yet parents need to look past their children’s present behavior and with biblical hope, trust their kids to come through.  Not because they are bionic Christian parents, but because we have a bionic God!

It’s all right to dream, and we should.  Dream that our kids grow up to love Jesus to distraction and give themselves sacrificially for a lost and broken world.  But we can do more than dream. We can instruct them in the ways of God and make sure they are well versed in Scripture.  We can determine to give them as many chances to try and fail as it takes.  We can certainly explain that we are only models of growth and learning, not models of perfection. We can point them to God, the perfect parent, who trusts them to be all He wants them to be down here.

Agape love moves us to hope for and believe the best about our kids when they are at their worst. God wants us to reckon on the fact that the incorrigible little liar is of great worth and that through prayer and trust “this too shall pass.”  Love is the will to believe more than the evidence demands.

Who are you worried about?  A husband you are trying to forgive and trust again?  A friend who has hurt you?  A child who looks as though she will never follow the Lord as you long for her to do?  A loved one who is an unbeliever and laughs at your faith?  A family of siblings who seem to hate each other?  A spouse who has told you the love has run out in your marriage and he wants out?  Love them with agape love.  And, of course, for this you need Jesus, but for this you have Jesus!

Hope is overwhelming confidence in the God who can do anything with anyone at any time in any place.

In His Love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Monday, April 22, 2013

God's Secondary Calling

Dear Friends,

The primary call of God in our lives is our relationship with Him.  But there is also a secondary call on our lives.  As Os Guinness has noted in his book The Call, this secondary call is to tasks or vocations – the work God has appointed us to do.  This includes both career plans and the minor daily tasks that come as part of everyday life.  We can experience a sense of calling every day as God sets our agendas.  Part of God’s plan for all His people is to put His work in our hands, and part of being spiritually mature is this sense of calling to this work.

God doesn’t leave us guessing what our job is, either.  When He called Jeremiah, he had very specific instructions for him that included what He wanted Jeremiah to do, where He wanted him to do it, and what the results would be.  God also gave Jeremiah a small glimpse into the big picture.

God told Jeremiah, “Before you were born I set you apart [consecrated you for my special use]; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).  God commissioned, appointed, or ordained Jeremiah as his spokesman before the foundation of the world.  And one day, Jeremiah became aware of his divine appointment.

Are you aware of your divine appointment?  Are you convinced about God’s truth concerning His lost world and what He wants you to do about it?  Your appointment and my appointment will be different from Jeremiah’s appointment, but all will be just as important as others in the bigger scheme of things.
Again, in his book The Call, Os Guinness says:

Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.  First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia).  Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.  We can therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history. But these and other things are always the secondary, never the primary calling.  They are “callings” rather than the “calling.”  They are our personal answer to God’s address, our response to God’s summons. Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary calling matters most.

So often we can get thoroughly fed up with the callings, or tasks, that we do for God in Christian service.  If we don’t have our primary calling overruling and overshadowing our secondary callings, we quit or at least lose all joy in the journey.  We also need to sense the huge importance of our secondary callings.  These callings have been as much in the mind of God for us as was our primary calling.  Knowing this changes our attitude toward everything we do.

You need to ask yourself, What is driving my ministry activity? Are you running the church nursery because someone at church asked you to or because you believe that God (who is calling the shots) nudged that person to ask you to?  Are you convinced that this activity you are engaged in is the reason God made you in the first place?

A cartoon in a Christian magazine showed an old lady sitting in the church nursery in a rocking chair.  She had been there a long time.  The caption underneath the cartoon said, “I only came in here 30 years ago because Hilda wanted to go to the bathroom!”  You can laugh at this, unless you are the one who has been stuck in that same rocking chair and are not sure you should have been there.

If you find yourself in a similar dilemma, let me ask you this: What has kept you at your post? If God has kept you there because you discerned that this was one of your secondary callings, then you will be confident, happy, and satisfied to be there.  If, on the other hand, you are there because Hilda asked you to be there or because no one else would take a turn, or just out of sheer habit, you will have no joy in the doing.  You run the risk of looking back and asking yourself, What could I have done with all those hours spent in that rocking chair?

A missionary in the Caribbean once told me, “I have served at this post for thirty-six years.  I have been a missionary wife and full-time pastor’s wife all this time.  If I have one regret, it’s that I have been in the pew every time the church door was open.  I have not missed one wedding or funeral.  Looking back, I question why. I think of many, many times I did not need to be there. I realize that I could have accomplished so much if I had allowed God to tell me where He wanted me and what He wanted me to do and not let others’ expectations drive my actions.”

How do you know if you are truly in God’s secondary calling on your life?  Listen to God’s still small voice.  He will tell you.  And then, with some strange internal knowledge, you’ll say, Yes, this is the particular secondary calling He had in mind for me before He made me.

In His Love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Praying When You've Run Out of Prayers

Dear Friends,

The first thing to do when you arrive under the broom tree is to quit everything.  That’s right, give yourself permission to collapse.  Elijah didn’t pretend or remonstrate: he didn’t sulk or pout. He simply said, “God, I’ve had it!”  Elijah was experiencing serious burnout: “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4).  Listen to him, and then be encouraged to be this honest yourself when your turn comes.  God wants us to say whatever we want to say.  He doesn’t care what we say as long as we keep talking.  “Talk to me,” He says.  “Yell if you want, you won’t faze me.”

Think of the parent dealing with a child who is thoroughly upset.  There is nothing worse than being subjected to the silent treatment.  If only we can get the child talking, we can do something toward resolving the issue.  God feels like that about His children.  It is not that He needs information, just dialogue.  It is for our sake, not His, that we should try to tell Him exactly how we feel.

The Lord Jesus never tired of inviting, encouraging, prompting, exhorting, even commanding people – especially His disciples – to pray.  He said that they “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).  But when you are under the broom tree, that is very hard to do; it’s hard to even believe He hears us.  It’s hard to come to Him “just as I am,” isn’t it?  Something inside of us tells us that we have to be in the right frame of mind before we talk to God.  How then can we tell God that we have “had it”?

If we are talking about intercession, then, yes, we must believe that God is a rewarder of “those who sincerely seek Him.”  But here we are not talking about intercession.  When you’re under the broom tree, your prayers are not intercessory prayers but rather prayers of desperation.  We are thinking about the dark night of the soul, when we can’t hang onto our faith any longer.  Yet Hallesby encourages us to pray on, even when we are driving through a blizzard of unbelief!  He says,

Many have had most remarkable answers to prayer when they had no clear or definite assurance that they would be hear, either before they prayed, while praying, or after they prayed.  It has seemed to them that God has given the most remarkable answers to prayer at times when they had no faith whatsoever!

So keep talking to the Lord even if you are mad at Him or doubting His very existence.

Where was God in Elijah’s situation?  God was right there in the person of the angel of the Lord.

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree.  But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!”  He looked around and saw some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water!  So he ate and drank and lay down again.  Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, for there is a long journey ahead of you.” (1 Kings 19:5-7)

God Himself is always present and waiting to help His exhausted servants.  Jesus promised that a sparrow would never all without the Father knowing it.  Note, he never promised that a sparrow would not fall, but He did promise the sparrow would not fall without the Father’s knowledge of it.  God is never surprised by our visits to the broom tree.  In fact, He waits to strengthen us by the appropriate means.

Who is the angel who baked the loaves and then provided the jar of water?  None other than God Himself.  The Angel of the Lord is called different things in different parts of Scripture: the Angel of His Presence, the Angel of the Covenant, or the Captain of the Lord of Hosts.  This is one of those places where God manifests Himself as an angel and where the person He appears to is immediately aware of who He is.  Elijah addresses Him with familiarity.  He knows that the angel is God indeed.

Who wouldn’t want an opportunity to talk to the Angel of the Lord of Hosts?  Imagine being face-to-face with God.  Yet every time you and I pray, He, the Angel of His Presence, is as much with us as He was with Elijah!  He is the precious Angel of the Lord to us in the person of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, He dwells within us.  We take Him with us under every broom tree we visit!

The broom tree experiences in our lives introduce us to a new way of praying.  It’s not verbal praying but rather a total abandonment of ourselves in despair at God’s feet.  It is a wordless praying, a silent scream for help.  Sometimes we cannot even shout at God.  We are spent.

When you run out of prayers, God can still hear you!  Even though no words are formed or spoken, God looks at you and reads the language of your longing.  At that moment, you see, you are the prayer!  So be content to just be a desperate prayer under your particular broom tree, and wait and see what happens!

With love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Gift of Frustration

Dear Friends,

It is important to recognize that any frustrating situation that requires patience is God’s gift to you. A gift that, if received with the right attitude, will present the opportunity to spend some time in God’s waiting room practicing patience. Hey, that’s not all bad! Frustration is often God’s way of driving us to Him.

I was standing at a ticket counter in a large American city presenting my tickets for a missions trip to Europe. “There is a problem,” the agent said. We then began a long irritating talk about all the things that were wrong with the itinerary, the tickets, and everything else, it seemed.

In vain I pointed out that I had spent six months making sure everything was right so that there would not be a problem. I could see that I was going to miss the plane and the first leg of the trip. Then who knew what would happen to the rest of the tickets? I felt my anxiety level rising. I prayed (briefly) and resumed the argument. How could this situation be a gift to me from God? Was it not rather from the devil? As if I was having a side conversation with God, I began to debate this with the Almighty while I argued with the girl.

“Lord,” I said petulantly, “why is this happening? This girl is so irritated with me, and I am so irritated with her. Sort her out, Lord!”

You sort her out, Jill,” I distinctly heard Him say! “And do it with grace, sweetness, and patience!” I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted to have the girl’s superior rebuke her, show her how right I was the whole time, and get me on that plane! Suddenly, I recognized what was happening. This situation was God’s gift to me. It was a mini-workshop at the start of my day. For this I needed Jesus, but for this I had Jesus!

Perhaps I was the only Christian this girl had ever met. (Now that was a scary thought!) Drawing on the Spirit for grace and patience, I smiled at the girl. She looked at me in amazement. “Look,” I said. “I’m sorry for my impatience. This is a very important trip, and I am getting really anxious. But I know you need to do your job. Is there some way we can find a quick solution?”

Without a word, she beckoned me through the door into her supervisor’s office. The problem was solved, and I caught my plane!

You win half the battle already when you recognize the problem as a gift. It is a gift because these types of situations enable you to experience the love of God in a special way. People are receptive when they are struggling with frustration. If they are expecting others to act with frustration, they cave in if you exhibit kindness. If you can go beyond sounding kind to being kind and doing an outrageous act of kindness, this speaks louder than a thousand words. IT can open people up to hear about the Lord. Think of Mother Teresa and how her practical acts of love on the streets of Calcutta spoke about the love of Christ to the dying and destitute.

The parable of the Good Samaritan gives us a picture of kindness. The Jews hated the Samaritans, but when a Samaritan found a Jew robbed and beaten and left for dead in a ditch, he got off his donkey to help him. He was amazingly kind to the man. That is the picture Jesus gives us of loving others with agape love.

Kindness is the active part of patience. Patience is being good and kindness is doing good. The helpful thing about doing good is that you don’t’ have to wait till you feel like doing good to do it. Try doing it when you don’t feel like it. Like the Samaritan, get off your high horse (or donkey), get down in the ditch, and bind up someone’s broken heart with a practical act of kindness – doing things you don’t need to do, things that no one expects you to do, the things that go far beyond the call of duty.
Think on God’s infinite kindness to you. Then go and find someone to be patient and kind to!

With love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine