By Jill Briscoe
I was really busy. That was a good feeling. In fact it was almost a necessity, seeing that my husband was on the road most of the time. We were in Britain in full-time Christian work where one of the sayings of our mission was, "Soldiers of Jesus Christ are on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." Maybe this sounds a bit extreme, but my husband, Stuart, and I were in a Christian culture whose favorite hymn was, "Let us burn out for Thee, Lord Jesus."
It wasn't until I came to America and saw seminars on burnout that I recognized what was happening to me over and over again. I had burned out spiritually. This was no one's fault but my own. The mission leaders certainly had spoken strongly about keeping fresh in ministry and had given us all the encouragement in the world to do so.
Every week during the short-term Bible schools that were run in the center, a guest speaker would teach the Bible, and the staff were always welcome to take advantage of this. I hardly ever did. My excuses ranged from not being able to find a baby-sitter for our three children to busying myself with my own ministry to the women and youth in the area.
I had three translations of the Bible on my shelves and a library of Christian books. Few had been read. As a result, I felt like a flat camel! The nourishment that should have been stored in my hump was gone! I would be on duty during the church service so I would seldom even get into the chapel to participate in the corporate worship.
I was busy with spiritual stuff, but it was all output and no intake. The inevitable result was a desert experience.
The drier I got, the more irritating my children became. "My kids are driving me crazy," I complained to a friend. "Jill," she said gently, "your children don't create your attitude, they reveal it!" I knew she was right. When you are thirsty, you can see mirages. Satan aided in this.
"Everything is fine," he assured me. "You have a meeting every night of the week, and people are coming to the house day and night to get help. Don't stop doing what you are doing," he intoned in my ear. "In fact you could squeeze a couple of more things in on your only day off." I listened and complied, not recognizing his voice. After all, surely there was spiritual merit in burning out for Jesus.
"Actually there is greater merit in burning on for Jesus," whispered the Spirit of God in my ear, but I thought the still, small whisper was the wind. Busyness doesn't have to be wrong. It is busyness God has not authorized that is wrong. Jesus said, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night comes when no one can work." At the end of His life He was able to say, "I have finished the work You gave Me to do."
Note that He finished the work His Father had given Him to do. Not the work His Father had given everyone else to do! It is from the Word of God that we find out what work God wants us to do! We can't figure it out for ourselves. If we are not in the Word of God then the "tyranny of the urgent" will rule. Once when Jesus' disciples were strung out with the demands of ministry, Jesus said, "Come apart and rest awhile" (see Mk. 6:31).
He knew that if they didn't come apart they would surely come apart! How do we draw aside and leave things undone in order that the greater thing be done? I didn't know, and I didn't do it until trouble forced me to confront the issue.
Trouble came to me in a series of difficult things. First my dad got cancer. This was incredibly painful; watching a beloved parent slowly disintegrate before your eyes. Then our daughter broke her arm the day after Stuart left for a long trip. I hurt my back quite seriously, and on top of all this we had a series of threats from some dangerous kids we had been working with. Suddenly the long absences of my husband on ministry business became overwhelming, and I found out that I was not the good little missionary wife I had thought I was!
Unresolved issues that had been festering in my heart began to surface and I realized a whole lot of issues lay unresolved. Of course I hadn't taken time out with the Lord to resolve them, so they had steadily built up and now began to spill over into my daily life. They began to be vented on my friends and family who seemed powerless to help me.
This desert of spiritual despondency was dry and hot and made me oh-so-thirsty for a cup of cold water from the spring of living waters. God brought the story of Hagar to mind. My hands busy, my mind rehearsed the narrative. This woman, pregnant and alone, was in a tough spot, having run away from Sarai, who was mistreating her. A desert without water is serious business, and Hagar ran on till she found a well. It was providential because, pregnant and alone, Hagar was prey to dehydration and marauders. It was in a desert of her own making that she found the life giving water. It was at the well that she heard the voice of the Lord, "Hagar, where have you come from, and where are you going?" (Gen. 16:8). It was not that God was ignorant of her movements; He wanted to engage her in dialogue. Hagar drank at the well. Water—life-giving, sustaining water—saved her life, and she went home to less-than-favorable circumstances, refreshed by the incredible experience of meeting the "living God" who knew her by name.
As I tied a small, wiggling child's shoelaces I knew I needed a "Hagar" experience. I couldn't remember how long it had been since I had really heard His voice. I would not perhaps have come to this place if it hadn't been for the problems that God had allowed into my life. So I allowed the hurts to drive me to God, and He dealt with me as gently as He dealt with Hagar, and so my healing began.
The first thing I did was reinstate my time with God that had fallen into disrepair. I began to visit the Well on a daily basis. It was a matter of reforming a habit.
Discipline came hard to me, especially after such a long dry spell, but I set myself down after lunch every day. It wasn't long before I heard the still, small voice whisper, "You should have come sooner." But then it often takes pain or pressure to drive us to God. I read, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb. 2:3). This passage convicted me. It was the start of a brand-new day!
The Word leaped to life as God and I began to talk about many things together. I couldn't wait until lunchtime. I found corners around the house where I could leave a Bible open with a notebook and I wrote God little notes of appreciation, captured a Scripture that came to mind, or jotted down a child's need on the run. My desert began to blossom like a rose. And I was not the only one who noticed the difference. "You are a nicer mommy," Judy commented one day. I was discovering that being a nice mommy under pressure takes as much power as preaching to thousands of people, and I have done both. I learned the secret of contentment in those days. As Paul found, the content of contentment is Christ! (Phil. 4:12-13). I knew in my head that no man could ever love me enough, no child could ever need me enough, no friend could ever befriend me enough—only Jesus could! But now I began to know that fact in my heart.
I remember sitting by our fire in our small house. I should have been really lonely, as Stuart had just gone on a three-month worldwide ministry tour. Yet, Jesus was far too near and far too dear to me in those wonderful days of spiritual reality to let me feel sorry for myself. My soul was laughing and my spirit tap-dancing! Only God can dig a well that deep in your soul!
It was on that particular night that our friend from youth group, who had just gotten out of prison, chose to do a bit of "Jill terrorizing," and I heard knocking on the windows. My heart raced and I prayed, "Help, Lord." "Surely," He replied. I found myself incredibly calm. When he got around to my side of the house I opened the door in his face, screamed at him at the top of my lungs, and went for him with a fire poker. It connected with his backside as he ran into the bushes. I went back inside and called the police. "He won't bother you again," the officer said, and he didn't. That night I had one of the sweetest times of my life with the Lord. His presence was so evident in my little room that I kept looking around to see Him there. To be as happy with the problems of life as without them is to find the oasis of the Spirit in the deserts of your life.
Not long after this, I allowed my spiritual disciplines to slip again. I stopped visiting the Well and allowed the barrenness of busyness to take over one more time. I added all sorts of activities to an already overloaded schedule and set to work. I enjoyed everything and shut my ears to the still, small voice telling me I had become more enamored with the work of the Lord than with the Lord of the work! Like Martha in Luke 10:40, I had allowed myself to become "distracted with much serving."
But I plowed on regardless, ignoring the warning signs of spiritual fatigue that surfaced. One day, driven by guilt to have a rare quiet time, I read the story of Elijah under his proverbial broom tree and recognized myself.
"I have had enough, Lord," Elijah complained, and I echoed his sentiments (see 1 Kings 19:4). I, too, "had had it, Lord," with the mission, with the long absences of my husband, with the struggle of raising three small children. I had a growing consciousness that I had failed everyone, including God Himself. Flat on my face in my desert of despair I gave up, whereupon I heard a cheerful "At last!" from the general vicinity of heaven!
In my desert of despondency I learned the life message that the basis of all spiritual strength is helplessness and dependence, and so God had been waiting to see me come to "wit's end corner" and throw myself on Him. I discovered right then that He would bake me bread and quench my thirst just as He did for Elijah (1 Kings 19:6-8). Being busy had become synonymous with being spiritual. Yet I handled all the outside activity moderately well. It was the inactivity in my spirit that took me down. When God is busy in your life, the service flows out naturally. You are renewed day by day. It is simple then to know when to say no and when to say yes. When the Bible is open again and you are open to it, then the dynamism of the Spirit drives the engine, and not self-power. The difference is dramatic.
I didn't stay under the broom tree long. I was refreshed by the Lord's loving concern, "The journey is too great for you" (1 Kings 19:7). I journeyed on in His power, reminded that I could not live the Christian life by myself, but rather by Him and through Him. Deserts would come and go. The desert of death, the desert of opposition and criticism, the desert of fear and pain, the desert of obsessive worry about my kids. But no desert was as important as this one was. The desert of "doing" would be my undoing before any of the other places of testing. "Doing without being" could finish me off all together.
So a great prayer adventure began all those years ago in England, and is still going on. For prayer, I knew, would be the means of attaining a freshness in the Spirit as the cry of my heart was this: "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death" (Phil. 3:10).
Knowing Christ doesn't mean 'coming' to know Him, it means 'getting' to know Him until you are down on your knees with your face to the rising Son and never wanting to get up again. Power to minister grace to a hurt and dying world. Grace to have words of comfort not a curse, words of healing not of hurt, words of fire and life. And knowing Christ means being Christ-centric and not egocentric. Dying to yourself and living to Him, for Him, and through Him. It all comes down to today. After all, we only have today. We don't have all the yesterdays when we learned our desert lessons or all the tomorrows when we may well find ourselves under some broom tree or other. We make a daily choice to meet with Him about the day He has gifted us with! Will we do it?
I went to the Well today. It was wonderful. We talked secrets He and I, the Lover of my soul. And He thanked me for coming. "You should have come sooner," He said. He was right, of course; I should have. My loss! What a Savior, what a Friend, what an incredible Jesus!
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