A Conversation with Stuart Briscoe
September 1, 2012 - Following a banking career in England and an itinerant ministry with Torchbearers International, D. Stuart Briscoe became senior pastor at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisc., in 1970. He served there for 30 years. Today, Stuart and his wife, Jill, who were married in 1958, remain active teaching and speaking at various venues and through their radio program Telling the Truth. The Briscoes, who are also prolific writers, will lead a seminar at The Cove Nov. 11-13, titled “Holiness Without the H
By Richard Greene
Q: When and how did your own spiritual journey begin?
A: Both my parents were very godly people. Before I was born, my mother knelt beside the little crib in which she hoped I would be placed and prayed for me. Also, before I was born, my father was reading a book by Eva Stuart Watt, and he was so fascinated by the story of this intrepid, single lady who was a missionary to Africa that he looked at my mother and said, “If this baby is a boy, his name will be Stuart.” And so there was this godly atmosphere into which I was born.
As far as my understanding of these things is concerned, it grew as a child. And somewhere along the line—I would be very hard put to identify exactly where, when and how—I came to the point of embracing what I knew and simply telling the Lord that I wanted to love Him and honor Him and that I needed Him to save me.
Q: How do you cultivate your relationship with God so you can know Him?
A: Obviously, regular study in the Word; cultivating an attitude and specific disciplines of prayer; committing to worship in the community of faith; and seeking to witness as I have opportunity.
While these are all part and parcel of my life, my relationship with the Lord is really locked up in my daily attitude—in the same way that my ability to live in the physical universe is directly related to my ability to breathe. This process of breathing is something I don’t think about unless, of course, I’m forced to run to catch a bus or I’m required to climb a steep gradient, then I focus on it. In my relationship with the Lord, I try simply to cultivate an attitude that becomes almost automatic. It’s an attitude of dependence, an attitude of expectancy, an attitude of availability and, when push comes to shove, an attitude of facing up to the necessity for obedience. It’s cultivating an inner life that enables me to know Him and grow in my knowledge of Him.
I think something else should be stressed that I’ve found necessary in this frantic, noise-filled world. Each of us needs a time and place for quietness. I must cultivate the ability to meditate, to contemplate, and this requires intentionality. I’m not talking in terms of eastern meditation or yoga. But I am talking about finding a quiet place, a quiet time and a quiet frame of mind, in which I focus not on the things of earth, which grow strangely dim, but on God, who is revealing Himself to me through His Word.
Q: Have you found that trials and difficulties strengthen your walk with the Lord?
A: Absolutely. We are called to identify with Christ—the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief. He made it very clear that if we are going to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. Peter figured this out, when he wrote his epistle: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV).
The Apostle Paul also picked up on this theme. He came to recognize that it is possible to rejoice in tribulations, not because he was masochistic but because he knew that God could turn his trials into a means of blessing.
Perhaps the most challenging passage I’ve read recently is in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9—“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (NIV). The lesson Paul wants to get across is this: We cannot cope on our own, so we need to come to the point of saying, “I can’t handle this, but I know who can. It is the God who raised up Jesus from the dead.”
Q: Is there any struggle of late that God has used to help you to grow?
A: Not too long ago, while I was watching one of my grandsons play his final baseball game for Wheaton College, I fell off the bleacher and broke four ribs. The pain was unbelievable. You dare not laugh. You dread coughing. And you hope desperately you don’t sneeze.
Here’s the interesting thing though. This happened during the time I was living in 2 Corinthians. I discovered the theme of this wonderful, but often neglected epistle, which Paul summarizes at the end: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
As I went through this period of weakness, I learned to draw on resources found in the Word, resources in the Spirit, resources in spending more time with my wife, which has been a delight, and resources in fellowshipping with friends. I’d tell them, “Hey, I’m just sitting around here healing, come on over and watch.” It’s been rich.
Q: Did your grandson’s team win that day?
A: You know, I don’t think they did, but I was in the hospital by about the second inning.
Q: Are there certain areas of your life that you still would like to become more Christlike?
A: Yes, all of them. We are fallen people. That means absolutely nothing is the way it ought to be—including absolutely every dimension of my humanity. When I look at my life, I say to myself, “What an incredible mess.” But when I think of Christ, what do I see? I see somebody who was fully God and fully man, who lived in the fullness of the Spirit. And as He lived in the fullness of the Spirit, the fullest possible measure of the fruit of the Spirit was manifested. So, what aspects of my life would I hope to see become more Christlike? I’d like to see considerable improvement in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—because I believe that is a portrait of Jesus living in the fullness of the Spirit.
Q: How would you encourage believers to not only be obedient to share the Good News with friends and family where they live, but to prayerfully consider serving overseas in missions?
A: The Apostle Paul nailed it for us in Romans chapter 1. He starts off by saying, “I am obligated to both Jew and Greek, both to the wise and to the unwise.” Then he says, “I am eager to preach to those who are at Rome also.” He concludes, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” Three specific statements concerning his own attitude toward the Gospel and what needs to be done about it.
Well, it’s our personal reception of the Good News of Jesus Christ that has brought us into a relationship with God and given us the assurance of sins forgiven, and the promise and hope of living in the new Heaven and the new earth with the risen Lord. If that’s what we believe, we’re obligated to those who don’t. If it is so wonderful, we should be eager to share it. And if it is so powerful and so life-transforming as we say it is, why in the world would we be ashamed of it? So, let’s go!
Q: Franklin Graham will be going to London next fall to proclaim the Gospel. What’s your prayer for your home country?
A: My prayer is that there will be an extraordinary movement of the Spirit because the situation is so serious. It is so hardened. There is biblical illiteracy. There are now two or three generations who are utter strangers to the Gospel. They don’t know what it is. Our prayer has got to be that God in His own gracious way will bring a great movement of the Spirit in the United Kingdom.
Q: You and Jill are each well-known and respected in your own right. What do you enjoy about ministering together?
A: One of the things we enjoy most is that we are so different. Jill is a classic right brain, while I’m a classic left brain. Jill is the poetic one. She’s the romantic one. She loves to approach the Scriptures and ask the question, “Who is standing in the shadows?” She likes to peep around the corner of the verse and has all these wonderful, imaginative ways of illustrating Scripture, and people love it. I haven’t a clue about that. I analyze it, break it down and finish up with five points all beginning with “P.” The pastor of a church we recently visited said, “Stuart speaks like Proverbs; Jill speaks like Psalms.” Our ministries certainly complement each other.
Q: During your seminar at The Cove, your topic will be drawn from teaching that you’ve put into a new book, “Holiness Without the Halo.” What do you plan to convey about how we can live a life of everyday holiness?
A: We will first look at the biblical definition of holiness, and we’ll want people to get beyond being nervous about holiness because many seem to have quite a bit of negative understanding. I’ll ask the question, “If you had to choose, which would you select: Being happy? Being healthy? Or being holy?” A lot of people—a lot of Christians—will look a little sheepish and say, “Well, I’m supposed to say holy, but I’m afraid I’m really more concerned about being happy and healthy.” We’ll explore that and look at Scriptures and how the Holy Spirit can be active to bring about practical holiness in our lives. ©2012 BGEA