To God be the glory!

Making a welcome return to Britain at the end of June to teach women how to dig deeper into God’s Word, Anne Graham Lotz tells Woman Alive about her own spiritual walk with God and the need for Christians to continually seek a deeper relationship with him

Ever since I was a child, the Lord has blessed me with many strong Christians who have been wonderful sources of wisdom and advice. Certainly my parents (Dr and Mrs Billy Graham) top that list. From my mother, I gleaned her love for God’s Word, her commitment to take everything to God in prayer, and her fierce loyalty to family.  From my father, I have gleaned a strong commitment to be faithful to God’s call in my life and, like him,  I have an enormous sense of urgency to use the time God has given me wisely.  In addition to my parents, I have been blessed in my life by godly grandparents. 

Outside my family, interestingly, I have been strongly influenced by four people from Great Britain:  Miss A Wetherell Johnson, founder of Bible Study Fellowship, who taught me to teach and gave me opportunity to do so; Stephen Olford, who encouraged me to answer God’s call in my life, and who challenged me to keep my focus on biblical exposition; and Stuart and Jill Briscoe who continue to be very close friends, prayer partners, and mentors, teaching me not only by what they say, but just by who they are. It was also Jill who, understanding my painful shyness and self-consciousness, encouraged, “Anne, just do it scared!”

When I first started to teach the Bible, I was terrified.  After my son, Jonathan, was born in 1970, followed by my daughters Morrow and Rachel-Ruth, I was immersed in small talk, small toys, small clothes, and small, sticky fingerprints. I found it hard to set aside time for Bible reading and prayer, much less my treasured morning cup of coffee. So I didn't. I became distracted by busyness and weariness, but because the importance of prayer and Bible study had been ingrained in me from childhood, I desperately desired them.
I wanted to take a Bible Study Fellowship course, but nobody volunteered to teach it. I was so desperate to be in BSF that even though I'd never so much as taught a Sunday school class before, I agreed to lead it. I not only had to complete the lesson plan, which involved daily Bible reading and studying, but I also had to prepare a weekly message.

I was painfully self-conscious and for the first six weeks or so, I was actually physically ill immediately prior to standing in the pulpit to teach. But 300 women came to the first meeting and within six weeks, the number had increased to 500. I knew God had opened this door for me. As scared as I was, I was more afraid to say no to the Lord.

So, whether I felt I was ready or gifted, God had called me. Sometimes, I believe, God calls us in our point of need. That's because God is attracted to our weakness. Where we're weak, we’re dependent on him.  And he uses those who are dependent.

I think my greatest challenge is the one I face each day in my ministry and also in my personal life - to maintain a meaningful daily prayer time. Every morning I rise early and spend time with the Lord through Bible reading and prayer.  When I read my Bible, I do so expectantly, listening for God to speak to me through it.  When he does, I obey what he says.  When I pray, I talk to him about what I have just read, applying it to myself and others on my prayer list. 

For me, this time each morning is like setting my spiritual compass.  No matter what happens during the day, it’s as though my thoughts, attitudes and actions automatically turn towards God and how I can please him, because I started my day by focusing on him.

I don’t really worry about a work/life balance. I have surrendered all my life and all of my time to God and so the biggest challenge for me is discerning how he wants me to spend what is really his time by making sure that in the busyness of ministry I make time for him – in his Word, in prayer, and in stillness – that I might hear my Shepherd’s voice.

I have long believed that, rather than trying to take matters into my own hand to find balance and relaxation in my schedule, I would just trust the Lord to provide opportunities. As I have been about his business, he has been so good to be about mine. When he allows, I relish every opportunity to take a walk around a nearby lake with a friend or my daughter and grandchildren, to read a novel, and when time allows, enjoy a day at the beach or in the mountains.

What distresses me most is to see the Church in both America and in Britain so ineffective in its role.  The primary problem with our countries and our world is not war, economic recession, famine, or disease – though these are all serious problems.  It’s sin in the Church, sin amongst God’s people.  Praise the Lord that his Word promises that if his people will come back to the cross, confess their sin, and turn from their wicked ways, then he will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14). 

The message for the Church therefore is not to be busier with Christian activity, not to do more, but to do what is most needed: return to the cross,  repent of sin, and recommit herself to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to living a life of selfless, obedient service to the glory of God.

Several years ago, I had the privilege to hold our women’s meeting, Just Give Me Jesus, in London’s Royal Albert Hall and in Cardiff’s International Arena. During the year of preparation and in the many subsequent visits I’ve made to Britain, I’ve come to realise that the United Kingdom’s attitude toward religion is much like it is in America.

While many people seem to be religious yet lack a personal relationship with God, many others have become so disillusioned by organised religion that they no longer attend any  church or synagogue, or mosque and have rejected religion altogether. And even some of the minority who have established a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ have drifted from him, as I have myself in years past, by succumbing to everyday pressures, responsibility, and simply the tyranny of the urgent, so that they have no time for him in their lives. I believe those of us who call ourselves by God’s name desperately need a fresh touch from him.

The church landscape in the UK reminds me of a field that is lying dormant.  The soil of the hearts of God’s people that had been stirred in years past now seems to be crusted over with a hardness that comes from weariness, prayerlessness, busyness, sinfulness, timidness, pridefulness, and political correctness. But underneath the hardened surface, the seeds of truth that have been sown by faithful preachers and Bible teachers throughout the years are just waiting for the proper nourishment. 

As we plough up the soil of the hearts through prayer, as we water it through the preaching of the Word, as we warm it with the sunshine of God’s Spirit, I believe the seeds will sprout into genuine faith –  and many of them have!  We have seen hundreds of women blossom in their relationship with God as they experienced a fresh encounter with Jesus at Albert Hall and the Cardiff Arena.

Three things stand out in my memory as I reflect on those meetings.   I had been told how reserved British women are, and I was warned not to be disappointed if no one responded to my invitation to come to the Cross in repentance of sin after the first message.  I will never forget, however, when I extended the invitation, how literally hundreds of women streamed forward, walking quickly to the platform, as they publicly committed their lives to Jesus. 

The second thing that stands out is the incredibly beautiful sound of the women’s voices singing hymns, filling Royal Albert Hall with praise.  In particular, their treatment of Fairest Lord Jesus and What a Friend We Have in Jesus, it was a little foretaste of heaven.

The third thing that I will never forget took place at the International Arena in Cardiff, Wales.  During the session on prayer, I invited the women to write on a piece of white paper the specific sin God had convicted them of, bring it to the platform as though they were bringing it to the cross and then leave it there.  So when they left the arena to go back home, and the devil tried to remind them of their sin, they could rebuke him by saying they had left their sin at the cross, and they bore it no more. 

I had no idea if the women would respond to an invitation like that - I had actually never extended an invitation like that before.  To my amazement, almost every woman in the arena came to the platform, and dropped her piece of paper at the foot of my podium, which is an old wooden cross.  As the women filed back to their seats, we sang, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, has been nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, it is well with my soul.”

In the years since, we have heard from hundreds of women whose lives were changed forever, not only through the event itself, but also through the follow-up Bible studies.

I have been invited by the same leaders who organised Just Give Me Jesus/ London to return and hold a follow-up weekend which we call Pursuing MORE of Jesus.

In Mark 9:2, Jesus took his disciples away from the crowds for encouragement and equipping. It was during this very special time of retreat that the disciples received a vision of the glory of Jesus.

The purpose of Pursuing MORE of Jesus is to offer 400 women the opportunity to draw away from the busyness of life and to focus on Jesus without distraction. This unique time of refreshing will enable the women to sharpen their focus on him, strengthen their faith in him and stimulate their love for him, while we enjoy refreshing spiritual fellowship with others.

The church is only as strong as each of its individual members. One of the ways the church can regain its strength is for each member to seek a deeper relationship with Jesus and to become equipped to lead others deeper into his Word.

God willing, when we leave the University of Surrey at Guildford on this summer weekend, each of us will be revitalised in our personal worship of him so that our work for him flows out of an overflowing heart of love and gratitude.  As a result, and with the help of the practical workshops, we will be better prepared to live a life that brings him glory and makes an eternal difference in the lives of those around us.

Pursuing MORE of Jesus with Anne Graham Lotz will be held at the University of Surrey in Guildford from 29th June - 1st July and costs £225.  More details from www.annegrahamlotz.com