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A Little Pot of Oil
By Jill Briscoe
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2003 Jill Briscoe
All right reserved.
The Holy Who?
GETTING TO KNOW THE ONE
WHO FILLS OUR EMPTINESS
When I was six years of age, the Second World War was in full swing, and bombs were part of my life. We lived in Liverpool, which was not a good idea! The Liverpool docks were pounded night after night, and I seldom slept in my little pink bedroom. We would wait till the siren began and hurry down to the shelter our dad had dug for us at the end of our garden. When the horrible noises of death and destruction began, I would try to remember the prayers we had said in school that day. I usually couldn't concentrate long enough to remember them, though, because I was so distracted waiting for the next bang.
Every day in school, when it was time for prayers, we British schoolgirls stood demurely in orderly rows, with our heads suitably bowed and hands together, looking at our shoes. Prayers and Scripture readings were daily events in every English public school back then. I am thankful there was no separation of church and state, because my family did not attend church. Wherever would a British schoolgirl like me have heard of Jesus if not in "assembly" every morning at school?
I listened daily to our headmistress intoning the Apostles' Creed. We were supposed to say it with her, and by now I was proud to know some of it by heart. One particularly bad night, when the blitz just wouldn't quit, I tried frantically to recall the words I thought I knew.
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." Well, I remembered that bit. I paused to wonder what God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth, thought about the carnage we humans were inflicting on His handiwork. Not much, I thought grimly.
Now, then, I mused, what comes next? Oh yes. "And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord ... born of the Virgin Mary." What that was all about? I hadn't a clue. I forced myself to think of the words while I put my hands over my ears to shut out the horrible wailing of the bombs flying overhead.
"I believe in the Holy Ghost ..." Suddenly my mind focused on those words: the Holy Ghost. And just who was the Holy Ghost? The words sounded strange to me, and a little scary. Did I believe in the Holy Ghost? Did my sister and all the other girls? No one had ever explained these mysterious words to me, so I didn't have any idea how the Holy Ghost could help a frightened child waiting to be buried by a bomb in an underground dugout in Liverpool.
It took me nine more years to find out the truth: that the Holy Ghost was the Comforter, the "one called alongside to help," the Advocate, who was actually aware of my plight and was praying for me. That He was someone who could hold me together inside and hush my fears to sleep-God Himself, able to fill the empty places in my life, to fill me up when I was running on empty.
The war was over by the time I knew that. England and our family had begun to rebuild our shattered lives. I was eighteen years old and at college, struggling to make sense of the little I believed. I had tried to figure out life and death on my own as best I could, but had run out of answers. So I tried to forget all about such deep questions; I rationalized my sin and called it "growing up."
Life at college was good, and I threw myself into the adventure-especially the fun. I had the privilege of attending a teacher-training institution in Cambridge, where there was no lack of ideas floating around as to the meaning of life. But the people I talked to in the quaint little tea shops and in the beautiful halls of learning seemed as confused as I was about what was really true. Self-sufficiency seemed to be the way to go-except deep inside I knew I was anything but self-sufficient. In fact, I was rapidly running out of the ability to be my own god and answer my own prayers. I had an enormous hole inside me that nothing seemed to fill.
Then I found Christ during a stay in hospital, and in a heartbeat everything changed. The emptiness in my life was filled with indescribable beauty and hope. In the words of a hymn:
Heav'n above is softer blue;
Earth around is sweeter green! Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen; Birds with gladder songs o'erflow,
Flowers with deeper beauties shine, Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.
"Christless eyes"-that's exactly what I looked at life with before. But now, like the man healed by Jesus, I could testify: "I was blind but now I see." (John 9:25). I saw the truth about Jesus and about myself and the world, and that truth filled my heart and my soul. I also realized I had survived the war not to live for myself, but to live for Him who had saved me from death by bombs and death by sin.
Because at this point I had never darkened the door of a church, all of this was brand new to me. The Word of God was certainly an unknown treasure chest. I bought a Bible and opened its stiff covers. Wonderingly I began to ask questions of the text. I asked questions of other Christians as well. I had to. I was so biblically ignorant I didn't know if an apostle was the wife of an epistle! Who had translated the Scriptures, I wondered, and were they complete and accurate? What did the Bible claim about itself? What was a missionary?
Then gradually I came back full circle to my question in the bomb shelter that awful night nearly ten years before: Who was the Holy Ghost? The words still conjured up a sheet-shrouded spook that haunted old English graveyards. But there they were in my Bible, so they must be important.
I learned from the sweet girl who had led me to the Lord that the Holy Ghost had nothing to do with graveyards and in fact had more to do with life than death. The Holy Ghost-or the Holy Spirit-was a person, not a thing, and He was deity. He was an equal member of the Trinity-as much God as my heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were. And He was an entity I could receive into my life. In fact, I had already received Him. The Holy Spirit had come to abide in my heart when I asked Christ to forgive my sin and invade my life.
I remembered doing that, of course. It had been almost ridiculously simple: "Come into my heart, Lord Jesus," I had prayed. Now I was assured that when I invited Him, He had indeed come by His Spirit. As the weeks unfolded, I became more and more aware that He had silently taken up residence in my soul. And I was soon to learn much more about how the Spirit worked.
As I began to read the New Testament, for example, I found I was being mysteriously helped. Someone was throwing light on the words on those thin pages between the stiff covers of my King James Bible, enabling me to understand the Word of God. Of course, I soon came across these words of Jesus: "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13, KJV). And "[The Spirit] shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (v. 15, KJV).
So I came to understand that the Holy Ghost was my teacher. I read the Bible, and He interpreted what I was reading and applied it to my life. I couldn't get enough. My wondering heart was eager with expectation as the gospel became a reality to me.
I remember weeping as I tried to grasp the incredible story-how the Father had walked down the stairway of heaven with a baby in His arms and laid Him in a bale of hay-God's own essence in human form, here to turn this tired world upside down. Born of a woman Christ came, as Charles Wesley so beautifully put it:
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.
I had no trouble believing that Christ had lived a perfect life. Of course. Why not? He was God! In a body like ours He walked our roads, ate our food, slept in our beds, and experienced our joys and sorrows. He taught us, loved us, rebuked us, and comforted us. He showed us how to know God, love God, and serve God. And to equip and enable us for this amazing calling, He sent the Holy Spirit into the world to fill us up when we start to run low on faith or hope or love, to make it possible for us to follow Him.
All of God in All of Me
The night I was saved, the girl who led me to Christ told me to go to sleep saying, "All of God in all of me." I took her advice and so have never had a problem with the realization that when I received Christ by His Spirit, I received all of Christ by His Spirit. If the Spirit is a person, then you can't receive a "bit" of the Spirit, just as you can't receive only part of a person. So I had been given all of God I was going to get. My job from then on was to make sure He was receiving all of me. I needed to learn all I could about this Holy Guest and to cooperate with Him in His saving, satisfying, and sanctifying work in my life. As I kept in step with the Spirit and tried not to grieve Him, quench Him, resist Him, or insult Him, I would not only run on full instead of on empty, but I would also be able to pour out that fullness into the lives of others.
In the years following, I have never stopped learning about the Spirit's sweet, abiding presence. He has drawn me to Christ as Savior and Lord and has ignited a passion in my soul for those who do not know Him. He has taught me how to pray when I didn't have a clue what to say, enlightened my mind to the Scriptures and thoroughly applied them to my life, and overwhelmed me with grace. He has strengthened me when I was weak, humbled me when I was proud, and sensitized me to sin. In fact, He has been all that I have needed Him to be, whenever I have needed Him.
I am so glad the girl who first introduced me to Christ took time to explain that although I really did receive all of God-including the Holy Spirit-when I accepted Christ as Savior, there would still be times when I would grieve the Spirit and when I would run out of the will to be faithful, to be vocal about my faith, or to be holy. When life would deal me a hard hand or my friends would let me down, when a loved one would hurt me or I would simply run out of steam, sometimes my reaction would be anything but what would make the Lord's heart smile.
When that happened, she said, what I needed to do was pray. And so I learned that prayer isn't something you do; it's somewhere you go. When you run out of something important, you go to God. So if I ran out of holiness, I needed to run to the holy One, who would restore and forgive me.
That's a vital word for anyone who is running low or running on empty. Whatever it is you are running out of, let me urge you to run to God. If you run out of faith and hope and courage, you can run to Him for strength and inspiration. If you run out of marriage and your spouse runs out on you, you can go to God, who never runs out on anybody. If you run out of holiness and feel shopworn and grubby inside, you can run to God, who never runs out of mercy. If you run out of steam when you are going full tilt in life or ministry, you can run to God, who wants to fill you up again. The Word of God teaches us about staying in touch with the fullness of God through prayer, so we need never be empty.
You can also go to the Bible for both instruction and comfort. I learned that in the days after my conversion. The Holy Spirit was showing me so much, and I couldn't put that holy book down. While at college, I would sneak away at lecture breaks and get on my knees in front of that book and read passages, seeing images and pictures that were contemporaneously relevant to me and to my Cambridge world of cynics and skeptics and rank unbelievers. It was as if the Father had picked me up, put me on His knees, and opened a picture book that He had taken endless trouble to put together just for me.
I felt bad that I had lived all my life in England, where there were churches on every corner, yet was so ignorant of biblical doctrine. Why had I not investigated the Christian faith before? I was encouraged to discover, however, that I was not alone in my ignorance about the doctrines of the Bible, especially of the Holy Spirit. I read in the Acts of the Apostles that the disciples were confused about Him, too.
Waiting for the Wind
The dark days after Jesus' crucifixion left His disciples in total confusion. Terrified, they huddled in secret behind locked doors. When would the authorities come, they wondered, and take them away to be crucified as well? They had run out of dreams, out of plans, and out of the courage to stand up for Christ in a world gone mad. Now that He was dead, they had certainly run out of the belief that they had the power to follow the Master's ideals and teachings. They were truly running on empty.
But then Christ rose from the dead, and the disciples heard about a dead man walking. Witnesses insisted the man who had risen from the dead was Jesus. The disciples began to remember things He had told them-including His promise that He would rise from the dead on the third day. Still they hardly dared to believe it-until Jesus showed Himself alive with "many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3, KJV). He appeared to individuals among their company and then showed Himself to them all at one time. It was true! Though the doors stayed locked, He was there.
So they believed-how could they not? But still they found themselves weak, frightened, and unsure what to do, especially after Christ had ascended and they were left to carry on without Him. Though Jesus had promised to send them a "Helper," promised to pour out His "Spirit" upon them, they had no idea what that could mean.
Until Pentecost, that is.
I had heard about Pentecost growing up. Our school had even enjoyed a holiday on the day. But the Pentecost events I read about in the Acts of the Apostles were far more amazing and important than any schoolgirl holiday.
A hundred and twenty disciples, both men and women, were all together in Jerusalem, in an upstairs room, waiting just as Jesus had told them to do. They didn't know it then, but they were doing what we all need to do when we're running low on our own strength. They were waiting to be filled with the Holy Spirit. They were waiting for the wind.
And then it happened, just as the Lord Jesus had promised. Those who heard it said it sounded like a mighty storm approaching-like a rushing wind. It brought people running out into the streets of Jerusalem to find out what the noise was all about. The power of God had come pouring in to be what the disciples couldn't be and do what they couldn't do, to tell what they feared to tell and take them where they feared to go. God came calling that day. He came to stay, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Excerpted from A Little Pot of Oil by Jill Briscoe Copyright © 2003 by Jill Briscoe
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