Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Developing a Heart for People

Dear Friends,

When you read of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, you hear his heart. You hear his tears talking: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37).  We can pray about people’s stubborn pride. Jesus and Jeremiah did.

Prayer that is effective is prayer that is specific. Jeremiah didn’t get on his knees and pray fervently, “Bless Israel!” He got down to specifics. He prayed about the root problem, and he prayed about the repercussions of the problem. If we will be effective in our prayers, we must do our homework so we can intercede with an intelligent understanding of the situation. 

Prayer also prepares the ground before the seed is scattered on it. The sowers scatter the seed, and our tears water it. Prayer is the place where God softens our hard hearts toward difficult people who may be giving the sowers a hard time. And our prayers soften their hearts, too.

Jeremiah prayed plenty of “I’ve had it with them” prayers. When he stayed in the presence of God long enough, however, he began to catch the heart of God for these same people, and soon he would be weeping for them instead of wanting vengeance. There is little hope of nursing a heart of vengeance if you are engaging in a viable prayer ministry. A heart for people is developed on your knees. 

I am struck with Jeremiah’s likeness to God. The prophet’s heart yearned for the people to repent and turn to the Lord, just as Jesus’ heart did. Jeremiah’s troubles were chiseling him into the likeness of God. “Perhaps they will bring their petition before the Lord, and each will turn from his wicked ways, for the anger and wrath pronounced against this people by the Lord are great,” he says (Jer. 36:7). God’s tears were on Jeremiah’s face. God’s compassion was in Jeremiah’s heart. God’s mercy was evident in the words Jeremiah was praying. God’s love was being offered freely to His people throughout Jeremiah’s life.

The secret of a heart of compassion is a secret prayer life that no one else knows about. What are you and God secretly doing together? Are you talking to Him regularly about all the people who are bound for destruction if they don’t repent, or could you not care less? You don’t grow compassion in public; you grow it on your face before God in the secret place. 

Not long ago I spent some time asking God to show me an area of my devotional life in which He wanted me to grow. Unmistakably the answer came back, I want you to care.

“But I do care, Lord,” I remonstrated. “I spend every living moment attending to your work.” 

Where are the tears? He asked me quietly. I had no answer because I had no tears. It was time to let Him do His work in me in the secret places of my heart. 

If there are no tears, I will not be putting my life on the line.  I will not be taking risks, pushing boundaries, attaining heights, taking new initiatives. There will be no late-night candles burning at both ends because people are dying without Christ. 

Compassion moves you from the comparative safety of your own house into the marketplace of the world to shout out the message from the housetops. Compassion gets you off the evangelical donkey and into the ditch or, if you like, into the trenches. If you are moved with compassion, you didn’t ride past someone in trouble as the scribe or Pharisee did in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). You get down from your high horse and attend to the one who has been robbed and beaten by thieves. We must not leave this sort of compassion to the Jeremiahs of this world. We all need to develop a heart for people.    

When’s the last time you shed real tears for the people around you? Ask God to give you a heart of compassion for others—and start on your knees!

With joy,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Difficult Choices

Dear Friends,

One fateful day I tremblingly got down on my knees with my brand-new Bible open on the bed in front of me. I couldn’t pray! All I could do was will myself to stay there as my best friend looked at me in shock. Then I heard the door open, and she called out to the girls down the corridor, “Come here and look at this! She's gone cuckoo!” As I heard the footsteps coming along the corridor to “look at this,” a huge sense of joy engulfed me. I think joy is feeling God’s pleasure. 

So many people think joy is experiencing their own pleasure. But it doesn’t work like that. When we bring joy and delight to the heart it doesn't work like that. When we bring joy and delight to the heart of God, He lets us know that deep down inside us, and our heart smiles. When Jesus sent the larger group of His disciples out to minister in His name for the first time, they returned full of excited stories of what had happened. They also “returned with joy” (Lk. 10:17). “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure’” (Lk. 10:21). When we are doing the Father’s good pleasure-the things He has called and gifted us to do-His joy is transferred to our hearts, strengthening us to please Him. After all, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). When Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell ran, he experienced the joy of God. “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure,” he said.

As I knelt there by my bed in college, I felt his pleasure. I knew I was exactly where I ought to be, doing what I should be doing. It would be alright, even though I was sure this was the end of those friendships. I was right about that. My friends never spoke to me again, and I was left to find out whether God would give me other friends. I know now that if I had not passed that basic test, I would not have been ready for the next one, and the next and the next. Whatever small challenge you are facing as a Christian in a hostile world, never underestimate its importance. God is strengthening you along the way for the bigger challenges ahead.

It might be that you do His will and your heart smiles but other hearts frown, or worse, scowl! You may feel God's pleasure while others are incensed. In the same passage that Jesus talks about the disciples knowing His joy and their joy being full, He talks about the world hating them (Jn. 17:13-14). The forces of evil are not moved by our joy. In fact, their fury knows no bounds when they come across joyful Christians, and they set about wiping the joy off our faces. They do this by entering the arena of our testing and trying to use it to their advantage. But God is on our side, and we shall not be moved, even in the greatest trials. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who, in the face of Nazism, said, “When a person has completely given up the idea of making something of himself-then one throws himself entirely into the arms of God, then one no longer takes seriously his own sufferings, but rather the suffering of God in the world” (Broadman’s Commentary on John, p. 372).

Bonhoeffer took his prison term as a gift of God to him and an opportunity to minister to other victims in the prison. Bonhoeffer lost his life to gain it in a better place. He became so identified with the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings" that his life stands as a beacon and an example for the suffering church around the world. We need to give up the idea of making something of ourselves. As we focus on the things that matter to God and not the things that matter to us, we’ll be able to buckle down to the task at hand.


Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine