Monday, January 28, 2013

God Has a Plan for You


Dear Friends,

Even after becoming a Christian, I still had difficulty grasping the “plan” idea.  The reason for this was that I had a very beautiful sister.  I have always adored her and never felt bad about her being the center of attention.  It was no problem to me at all that the boys wanted to get to know me so they could get to know her!  But even though I was more than grateful to bask in her glory, the inevitable happened, and I developed a very low self-image.

I didn’t know there are no ugly sisters in God’s sight.  I had to learn that He is a purposeful God who had sweet reasons for making me just as I am.  It’s hard to understand that God likes me when I don’t like myself.  I found it difficult to believe that He had a special plan for me.

If we don’t think very highly of ourselves, it’s hard to believe that God planned for us as thoroughly as He planned for Jeremiah, Moses, Abraham, David, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  Of course, it’s easy to believe God had a plan for those Bible people or for great Christian leaders such as Augustine, Billy Graham, Dwight L. Moody, or Mother Teresa!  But then we say to ourselves, I’m just plain ordinary me.  Why would God think I’m special?  Or we think we are too old or too young, too black, or too white, too rich or too poor, too uneducated or too disadvantaged.  Well, if we feel like this, we are in good company.  Jeremiah felt just like that, and he told God so.

“I am only a child,” he protested, only to hear God say, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:6-7).  God thinks highly enough of each of us to have been thinking and planning for us for all eternity!  Now if that doesn’t make us feel significant, I don’t know what will.

Of course, there are other reasons that we may find it difficult to consider God’s plan for our lives.   Perhaps our own plans are perfectly satisfying and we are so busy at work or play or even in church affairs that we don’t take the time to “star gaze.”

Have you ever called a child in from play because you have plans for him?  Maybe you are going shopping for clothes for him, and you have planned to stop and have ice cream afterwards at a favorite place.  Have you ever had to insist that your plans are more important than his plans and that he should curtail the playing and come and get ready?  “You must come in now,” you insist.  “I have plans.”  You have thought the plan out, and now it is time to invite the child to participate, but he is too busy with his own activity to think that your plans are even better than his!

Who of us in this situation has not had to listen to Jeremiah-like protests, such as “I’m too busy,” or, “I’m having too much fun,” or, “I don’t feel like eating ice cream today.”  And who of us had not replied, “But you must come, and you must come now.”

The calling of God has a “mustness” about it.  He knows how much better His ways are than our ways.  No matter how busy we are with other things or how much fun we think we are having, our heavenly Father’s will for us needs to be done.  His plans for us are the most important plans and are certainly the ones that will bring us the most joy.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine


Monday, January 21, 2013

Pray When Trouble Troubles You


Dear Friends,

There should be no excuse for any of us.  It’s not as if we have nothing to pray about!  God has allowed enough trouble in all of our lives to keep us on our knees.  And yet, for some this could be the sticking point.  It’s hard to pray when trouble troubles us.  Yet James sets his remarks about prayer in the context of trouble.  “Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray,” he says (James 5:13).  We should, but do we?  It has been my experience that my prayer life seizes up as soon as trouble pokes its ugly head into my life.  But in the end I look back and recognize that without the trouble there would have been very little praying at all.  If we are desperate enough, trouble forces us to spend time with God.

When we first came to live in America, our children were thrilled with the music programs in the public schools.  All of them wanted to play an instrument.  “I want to play the drums,” seven-year-old Pete announced!  I was aghast and hastily signed him up for clarinet!  This was a serious mistake.  The net result of all this was that he never practiced because he didn’t want to play the clarinet; he wanted to play the drums.  One day he came whistling into the carrying his clarinet.  “Pray for me, Mom,” he said.  “It’s try outs at school for band, and I want first chair clarinet!”

“I can’t pray that for you, Pete.  You haven’t practiced in months.”

“If I’d practiced, I wouldn’t need you to pray,” he retorted!  Many of us are like Pete.  We never practice prayer, but when urgent business arises, we expect to know exactly what to say and how to say it.  Trouble gives us the grand opportunity to practice for the concert.

What sort of trouble was James talking about?  All sorts.  Little troubles and big ones.  He mentions relational troubles: “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16); and he deals with sin troubles: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20).  Is any among you hurting?  Has your spouse left you?  Has someone mistreated you at work?  Have you been passed over or gotten the bad part of a deal?  Is there someone out there friendless, loveless, childless, cashless, jobless, powerless, clueless?  “Is anyone in trouble?  He should pray!”

Trouble is a great growth hormone.  It takes us from being spiritual dwarfs to spiritual giants – if we respond rightly to it, that is.  A few years ago, our family moved into crisis mode.  I listened to myself praying.  I was shocked.  I heard myself praying like an unbeliever.  I was praying panic prayers, indulging in angry tirades, and using bargaining language.  “Where is my prayer life just when I need it the most?”  I asked God.  Hard on the heels of that thought came the realization that this trouble was going to do wonders for my prayer life!  And it had.  Trouble can, in fact, jump-start our prayer life.  If we respond to divinely permitted trouble instead of reacting against it, we will find that the situation does two things for us.  It will show us that our devotional life isn’t working, and it will show us how to work on making it work!

God is such a God of grace.  Sometimes He must feel very like the father whose son was in college and who only got in touch when he wanted money!  Does the Lord hear from you and me only when we want something?  The amazing thing about the Lord is His patient love.  He will hear us out whenever we get around to approaching Him.

So when trouble comes, don’t resist it as if it is an enemy; rather, welcome it as a friend.  Let it drive you to your knees.  Think about it.  If trials persist, it just may be that you will persist in prayer.  One day I may write a book about the prayers God didn’t answer at once.  Looking back, I can see how constant pressure kept me in the Lord’s presence, and for that I am grateful.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine


Monday, January 14, 2013

Holy Substitutes


Dear Friends,
At most places I speak, I am asked to address leaders and followers alike about the present urgent need of personal reality that sustains and empowers us to live well in sometimes impossible situations.

 On Christian campuses (one of the hardest places to live in the present reality of the living God) I will say something like: “This wonderful Christian school is one of the hardest places to stay in vital touch with the Lord.  We have so many holy substitutes.  It’s so easy to be friends with Jesus’ friends rather than friends with Jesus!”  I see acknowledgement in the eyes of the students or in their body language as they quit being bored and sit up a little bit straighter!

We all do it, of course – teacher and student alike. We substitute aids to spiritual reality for the reality itself.  Here in the West we are drowning in holy substitutes.  There are devotionals, computer courses, CDs, DVDs, and radio messages meant to be aids to a deeper relationship with God, and yet, there is a danger that they are taking the very place of that relationship! Being an author myself, I hate to think I am contributing to this problem!  Does what I write leave readers knowing how to connect with the Lord themselves?  Does what we record for radio lead people to dare to wrestle with concepts and be alone with God to a deeper and greater degree than ever before?

“How should I pray?” one will ask.  “I’ve forgotten, settling for a few words from a devotional or a fix from my favorite radio preacher.”  Others have said to me: “I can’t wait to meet with my Christian mentor in the morning.”  No, “I can’t wait to meet with Christ!”  Often, I have had people ask me, “Would you mentor me, Jill?”  I usually answer, “No, Jesus will mentor you, but I will meet with you a few times to show you how to let Him do that.  And once in a while, we can meet to share the lessons He is teaching us both.”  We must not become holy substitutes for the Holy Spirit!  Or people will lean on us instead of on Him!

I am aware that I may well be working myself out of a job. In fact, I present messages about how to go deeper with God, how to read the Bible, and how to hear His voice.  Please, God, let my efforts to encourage people to connect with the dynamic of the Spirit never become a holy substitute for the real thing.

As we look to another year of ministry in the New Year, we must first personally substitute all our own great resources for the real deal.  I need to do the work I need to do in order that He can do the work He needs to do within me.  I want to help people toward a moment-by-moment conscious awareness of His hand on our shoulder, His love in our life, His breath in our spirit, and His grace in our soul.  “God and God alone,” as the song says it.  I must make sure that all our God-inspired resources lead people to take the responsibility to nourish their own interior life.

So this coming year, walk into the throne room early in the morning, all by yourself, and just talk!  Learn to listen, too…to discern the still small voice of God above the cacophony of noise around you.  Don’t just watch others do it – you do it!

Happy New Year,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us



Monday, January 7, 2013

Appreciating Your Husband's Differences


Dear Friends,

Marriage reveals that we are very different people.  It takes God to help us handle – even appreciate – our differences.  It’s not easy to have a very different person living in our lives, up close and personal!

Stuart and I are very different.  You can tell just how different we are by looking at the titles of our books! Stuart is very positive by nature.  He is an optimist, so he gives his books grand titles such as, What Works When Life Doesn’t or Eight Ways to Get a Life.

 My work, on the other hand, reflects my natural tendency toward introspection, a sober spirit, and morbid thought patterns!  So I have written books on Job, Jeremiah, and Lamentations, as well as a children’s book about suffering called Harrow Sparrow, which is a harrowing tale indeed!  We are different in temperament and work habits; in fact, we are direct opposites.  He always assumes the best; I always anticipate the worst.

Not long ago, Stuart and I were in a hotel in Chicago.  In the middle of the night, the fire alarm went off.  I leapt out of bed, threw myself into my best suit, grabbed my purse, computer, Bible, and notes and took off down the fire escape.  Stuart followed leisurely in his shorts and T-shirt and didn’t even bring his wallet!  He was sure it was a false alarm.  Actually, it was a false alarm, but the incident highlighted our differences.  As he joined me outside, he looked at me knowingly, and we both laughed.

We have not, however, allowed our differences to irritate but rather have learned with God’s help to celebrate and delight in them.  For this we have needed Jesus, but for this we have had Jesus!   Love always accepts the differences in others as a challenge and delight.  Self always imagines everyone should be like it.  Love thinks differently and allows others to do the same.

Paul talks about “growing up” out of our inherent selfishness into selflessness.  “Love does not demand its own way,” he writes in 1 Corinthians 13:5.  He tells the Corinthians that they cannot make love work unless they grow up and mature.  Mature love is not selfish!  In 1 Corinthians 13:11 it says, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does.  But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”  To be selfish is to act like a child; in order to love, you need to grow up and put away childish selfishness!

One day we were visiting a family we hadn’t seen in a long time.  The older children were bringing us up to speed on their lives and telling us their plans for the future, while the four-year-old waited impatiently for a pause in the conversation.  His father noticed his dilemma and said to him, “Duncan, tell Pastor Briscoe what you want to be when you grow up.”  Duncan thought for a moment and then said, “Bigger!”

That was a noble aspiration.  Oh, that all of us were like Duncan, that all of us would want to be bigger people and grow up into mature human beings.  We all need to grow up in the art of loving. If we don’t we will live lives that are inherently selfish.  Do you want to be “bigger” in the matter of loving?  I do.

Blessings,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us