John Fuller: Let’s begin today’s “Focus on the Family” by sharing a little behind the scenes banter from our guests.
Mrs.Jill Briscoe: I can’t remember how long we’ve been married. I can’t remember how old I was in the war and I can’t remember. I do know . . . am I 81 or 2?
Mr. Stuart Briscoe: I don’t know. You’ve lied about it for so long (Laughter).
End of Teaser
John: Well, obviously Stuart and Jill Briscoe have a great sense of humor and they’re with us today on “Focus on the Family” to talk about aging gracefully and finishing strong. And your host is Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we only have so much time on this earth and it’s relatively short when you think of 80, 90 years if the Lord allows us those many years. And it’s like a vapor. In fact, the Scripture says, “Life is like a vapor” and it comes quickly. And before you know it, you’re in the fourth quarter, as I like [to say].I’m the football guy, right, so I’m thinking always in quarters. I’m ending the third quarter. I’ll be entering my fourth quarter pretty soon if you look at 20 years per quarter. And I am just grateful for how the Lord has steered my life.
And today, we’re gonna talk with a couple, Stuart and Jill Briscoe, who have been married almost 60 years and they have incredible wisdom. They have taught and pastored and in fact, did marriage,still doing marriage, premarriage counseling and I am looking forward to this conversation. And as I said, they’ve been married for almost 60 years. They’ve written a book called Improving with Age–I love that–God’s Plan for Getting Older and Better. You know, socially we don’t often think of it in that way, John.Let me just quickly say, welcome to both Stuart and Jill to “Focus on the Family.”
Jill: Thanks for having us.
Stuart: Thank you.
Jim: Now, you’ve been here once before, is that right, about 2000?
Stuart: Jill was here. I was not.
Jim: Let me start, because you have those wonderful British accents, which we all love and boy, you have been here for 47 years in the United States, but that accent has stuck, hasn’t it?
Stuart: Yes, I fear it’s one of my few remaining assets. (Laughter) So, I’m holding onto it.
Jim: And you’re still drinking tea.
Stuart: Ray Stedman said on one occasion when he introduced me in his church, he said that, “It’s a well-proven fact in American evangelicalism that if you have a British accent, theology is not necessary. (Laughter) And to prove it”—
Jim: ‘Cause you sound so smart.
Stuart: –and then he says, “And to prove it, here’s Stuart Briscoe.”
John: Oh. (Laughter) What a nice introduction. (Laughter)
Jim: That is funny, but I wanted to start the story today going way back as we were talking before we went to air here, about World War II and you both were young children at that time, but you have memories of that and Jill, we talked a bit about it. Describe that moment. You were 4-years-old and Stuart, I don’t know if you were 5 or 6.
Stuart: No, I was 9.
Jim: Okay. I’d like to hear from both of you that moment, because it’s rare to have somebody that actually was there and lived through that and can share about it. What were your recollections, Jill?
Jill: About halfway through the war when I was a little older than 4, my recollections were running down to the bottom of our garden, yard–
Jill: –where my dad had dug a[n] underground little shelter for the family. If you had any land, you did that instead of looking for a general shelter down the road or near a church or something and went off to the war. And [we were] bombed every night. I’m sure I did sleep in my little pink bedroom, but I can’t remember too many nights.
So, we’d wait till the siren went and then run down and my sister, my mum and I would spend the night just holding each other and listening to the bombs fall. And I wasn’t churched, but I did go to a British school where Scripture and prayers, Anglican prayers had to be said every morning and I’m so thankful for that.
Jim: It did plant the seed for you.
Jill: It not only planted the seed, I could say the Apostles’ Creed off by heart, which is pretty good theology.
Jim: Most of us can’t.
Jill: And I would pray frantically through that. I didn’t know what else to do and everyone I could find. I prayed to God, the Father and I prayed to God, the Son and God, the Holy Ghost, we called Him. And my mind began to stop every time I prayed through to these People, or whatever—God—and I’d think, who is the Holy Ghost? And then a bomb would drop and I’d pray to the Holy Ghost.
And it was one of those times when I was around 6, towards the end of the war I suppose or getting there, that I just panicked and started to scream, “Stop it; stop it; stop it; stop the bombs!” And I can remember “Stop the bombs falling, all over my mommy’s sewing machine, my sister’s dolls.” I can remember that. And “Stop it; stop it; stop it.” And into my hole underground came the Holy Ghost. I cannot explain the calming, physical calming peace of God—
Jill: –that happened, but I’m totally misrepresented that. I thought God said yes. It’s alright, little girl. I’ll look after your house and everything.” And that morning when the all-clear went, a bomb had damaged, not taken, damaged the back of our house. And so, my search for God began in a very muddled way. Who are You? Why did You tease me? You said, ‘I’ll look after you,’ and then You allowed a bomb to come that near?”
Jill: And so, theologically, my search for God began then. Who is He? Why would He do that?
Jill: Where was He? And I carried that all the way through to my conversion at Cambridge.
Jim: And you’re at Cambridge, college age years I would assume and uh—
Jill: Yes, uh-hm.
Jim: –that’s when your heart and your heart (Sound of click) solidified.
Jill: That’s when I found Jesus.
Jim: [It] made all the difference.
Jill: Oh, more than all the difference, all the difference and more–
Jim: That is so well-said.
Jim: Stuart, how about you as a 9-year-old boy? What were your recollections of what was happening?
Stuart: One of the most vivid recollections was before the war started and I was playing outside my home one day when I heard a funny engine sound. It didn’t make any sense, ’cause there were no vehicles anywhere near me. And then I looked up because a great shadow came across the road and it was one of the great German airships.
Stuart: And it was flying very, very low and I could hear the engines. We could see people sitting in the airship. And I remembered the big iron cross symbol on the side of this thing. It was the most terrifying thing. It was almost silent, just this burring sound, this huge balloon going low over our houses. Our parents quickly figured out that it was a reconnaissance trip that they were doing, because we lived nearby one of the major ship-building yards in England, where they built all the aircraft carriers and the submarines.
Stuart: And so that was one of the most vivid recollections and that was before the war started.
Jim: Right, so they were already penetrating. What an amazing way to start your lives–
Jim: –I mean, as children and to have that kind of trauma and then how it helped, I’m sure, in some ways shape your worldview, your commitment to Christ and all those things.
Jill: Well, yes. My father had a car business. After the war he came back and some of the survivors of the Holocaust came to Europe and began to talk about being liberated from the camps. And my father emptied his car showrooms and a big car showroom, so that they could come and one of them had painted with mud some of the atrocities and he put those up and took them round to Europe and told his story. And I don’t know, but I went home and said to my mom, “Mum, who are the Jews?” And she said, “They’re God’s people.” And I said, “Really? Why didn’t He look after His own?” And that was the second huge thing I began to wrestle with. How could God allow that to happen to His people, you know?
Jim: Let me ask you Jill and we’re gonna get to your book, which is about aging.
Jill: Yes, yes.
Jim: And we will pull this back in, but even sitting here listening to you as a 50-something guy, listening to you, who have gone through World War II, this is part of the process we’re talking about, when we talk about aging, sharing those stories with younger people—
Jill: Of course.
Jim: –so that we could better understand what you’ve gone through.
Jim: And we’re actually practicing it right now. But I do want to ask you, if I could say it in baseball terms, if I could use that—
Jim: –baseball analogy, two strikes—
Jim: –as a young girl, not feeling like God kept His promise and then realizing at a little later age perhaps, that you know, why would God not take care of His own people? That’s strike two.
Jim: How did you come to faith at Cambridge later in your college years? How did you make—
Jim: –that connection?
Jill: –of Intervarsity, Dr. John Stott’s church.
Jill: I never heard him in his church, and C.S. Lewis’s conversion at Oxford. And then he came to Cambridge in my last two years. And he was on the BBC history channel, talking about medieval history, which is his subject.
But then he’d throw in questions and statements, and he began about his atheism, and then moved to his agnosticism, and then his deism, and then apparently, I never heard him on there, but somebody in Oxford, Cambridge, even over in the universities of the world, began to scribble down some of his quotes.
Jill: And somebody gave it [to] me in the lunch line. I can’t see a face. I can’t remember who it was. They’d been listening and it was on heaven and hell. And I left the lunch line and went and read it, and it intrigued me. I just said, not a prayer, “If only someone would tell me. If only.” And God read me. I always say, if you don’t know how to pray or what to say in trauma, just say, “Read me, God.”
Jim: Read me.
Jill: And He did and three weeks later I was in hospital, because they thought I had appendicitis. And the girl in the next bed to me was one of John Stott’s recent converts, a nurse. And she led me to Jesus.
Jim: Isn’t that something.
Jill: But she took that picture of the door, well, Lewis’s quote, “There is a door opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and one day we shall get in.” And she used Revelation 3:20, I always say out of context, but it worked. (Laughter) And when she said “door,” I said, “I know about the door.” And she said, “How do you know about the door?” And I was able to tell her what I could remember of Lewis’s quote.
Jill: And then I just said, “Can you take me through the door to meet God?” And she said, “Yes.”
Jill: That was how I came to Christ.
Jim: Isn’t that beautiful? Every story’s unique in that way.
Jill: Yeah, that’s right.
Jim: You two have lived across an amazing time in the history of the world. I mean—
Jim: –when you think of World War II, and what you saw as little children, and then seeing God kind of marginalized in culture, Western Europe particularly and trying to understand still, “God, what are You doing? Read me. Help me to read You.” Before we get to aging, let me ask that question, which is a big question, Stuart. How do you read what God is up to right now in the world?
Stuart: Well, He’s building His kingdom and He is totally committed to building His kingdom and He’s told us to be involved, minimally by praying “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come.” That should be in the forefront of all God’s people’s minds. Thy kingdom come. We’re in the kingdom business. We’re in the kingdom-building business and God is doing it. He is moving relentlessly, inexorably towards the grand consummation or His grand, cosmic, eternal plan.
Now that being the case, the evil one is not sitting idly by and it seems to me that we’re seeing most darkly the great battle, the great conflict in the world. And if I can use the vernacular, I would say I think we can anticipate the good getting “gooder” and the bad getting “badder.”
Jim: It seems accurate.
Stuart: And that’s what I see going on in the world. The dreadful things that are happening, the new dreadful things that are happening are just unspeakable. And yet, on the other hand, the remarkable things that are happening. We have the privilege of traveling all over the world and, you know, we’re fascinated with China. We’re fascinated with India, the two largest nations in the world. That’s where the Spirit is mightily at work.
Jim: That’s so true.
Stuart: And then in surprising places like Iran, and what is going on there. So, the kingdom is coming.
Jim: You’re listening to “Focus on the Family.” Today we’re talking with Stuart and Jill Briscoe. We are going to talk about their book, Improving with Age, but this was heartfelt and I so appreciate deviating from the script, so to speak, to talk about those experiences.
Let’s get into it, though. Let’s talk about aging and the difficulties of aging. Society seems to not appreciate those who are aging the way we should. Speak to that need for people to embrace the process of aging that God has laid out there.
Stuart: Well, it is an undeniable fact that everybody is aging. From the moment we’re born, we start aging. The natural tendency, as people move on in life, is to try to deny it, or defy it–
Jim: Or cover it up.
Stuart: –or delay it, you see.
Stuart: Deny, defy, delay. What I tell them is, be realistic about this thing. Deny it if you will. Defy it if you can; delay it if you think you’re going to have any success, but I’ve got news for you. It will defeat you in the end. And so, start thinking seriously about what it means to be living as a person who is aging. Now, it was the late Dr. Vernon Grounds who said, “Aging is diminishing.”
Stuart: And there are many, many ways when, of course, people get up into the senior years, but let me hasten to add, it’s not just seniors who are aging. When we got into our senior years, there is a diminishing. And it’s perfectly obvious. Now deny, defy, delay, that all goes on, but the process continues.
But one thing that I’ve found absolutely fascinating is Paul’s take on this. He said, “Outwardly we’re wasting away.” If you like, that’s diminishing. “But inwardly we’re being renewed day by day.” And so, aging from a biblical point of view requires me to deal with two things that are moving in opposite directions.
One is physically diminishing; the other is spiritually growing and we need to be focusing on both. I find that very often, if people do talk about aging, it’s almost invariably about the physical diminishing—the aches and the pains, the worries about the next generation, whether they’re going to have enough money for retirement, the problems with your care, Affordable Care Act, what are they going to do with that? The international turmoil, these are the things that they talk about.
What we should be talking about is, yes, we have got to be looking realistically at these things. That’s life, but what about the improving with age? What about this idea of the inner life of the spirit growing and maturing and expanding and explosively moving out?
Stuart: That’s how we look at aging.
Jim: Let me ask you this question. I’m assuming you’re in your 80’s, but I’m—
Jim: –only guessing.
Stuart: Jill’s not sure. (Laughter)
John: She’s 39.
Jill: –I’m 81. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, 39. My—
Jim: –mother was 39 for at least 20 years. (Laughter)
Jill: I get [that]. That happened in my 70’s. (Laughter) I’m in my 80’s. Stuart’s 84 or 5? (Laughter)
Stuart: I’m actually 86.
Jill: Are you really? (Laughter)
Jill: When did that happen?
Stuart: When I had the last birthday.
Jim: You missed that cake. (Laughter) But in that regard, I don’t know that many people, I mean, I’m in my 50’s. John, you’re in your 50’s.
John: Fifties, yeah.
Jim: When we’re looking ahead, I don’t know that we see the goal to be even more mature in our faith in that diminishing.
Jim: You said it so beautifully, that these are actually contradictory—
Jim: –directions. But what a beautiful thing as you’re approaching your last quarter of life, to have a goal to be better spiritually than you were 20 years ago. How does a person go about doing that?
Jill: You know, if I could just interject. We have a very large ministry in our church to seniors—not just to seniors; they have a large ministry in our church to everyone else. But I was going out to speak to them and said to Stuart, he said, “Where are you going?” And I said, “I’m going to speak to the seniors. I love ministering to them.” He said, “Them is us.” (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, them is us.(Laughing)
Jill: Do you know, having got my biblical view right, I know it, but the growing younger and younger and younger-till-glory bit is so possible that you don’t internally, spiritually feel old—
Jill: –even when you are.
Jim: On the inside.
Jill: It’s a reality. It’s not something that’s just spiritual. I honestly thought it was them not me, and that’s silly, you know.
Jim: I understand exactly.
Jill: But God can do that if we concentrate on the spiritual youth.
Jim: Well, and so often, I think people, especially in the Western culture, it’s about comfort and leisure; the leftovers of Hellenism. And so, we’re aiming for that in our 401(k)’s and whatever retirement plans we have. We’re looking forward to moving to a wonderful warm state like Florida. I know you are, John. (Laughter) And you know, maybe playing golf on the weekends and playing bridge with our friends and having nice socials together. That’s not what the Lord is suggesting, is it?
Stuart: Oh, I think the Lord is certainly committed to work, but He’s also insists on leisure right from the Creation ordinance.
Jim: He likes that idea.
Stuart: That was clearly established. So as far as I’m concerned, I don’t have any problem with people working. I don’t have a problem with people arriving at a point of leisure.
But one of the things we write about in the book is what I call “Productive Leisure.” And it’s not an oxymoron.
Jim: What does it look like?
Stuart: Well, productive leisure, well, it’s the old issue of retirement, you see. The Bible says, well, and people say the Bible never mentions retirement. Well, of course it doesn’t. It doesn’t mention nuclear arms. It doesn’t mention flush toilets. It doesn’t mention—
Jim: (Laughing) Right.
Stuart: –a lot of things. And so, we don’t argue from silence. But what God did do, He did create people to be productive. So, if a person is fortunate enough to retire, that does not mean that they now suddenly cease to be human, in that they are called to be productive.
So, by all means retire. That means you don’t have shareholders to satisfy. You don’t have to pay wages at the end of the week. You don’t have to pay off your mortgage, all this sort of thing. That gives you a rest. That gives you a break.
Jim: That’s freedom.
Stuart: That’s your freedom. But what it does, it gives you freedom to be what you’ve never been and do what you never did. So, be productive. Look for ways of being what you’ve never been. Look for ways of doing what you’ve never done.
John: Stuart, tying into what you said earlier about kind of exploding in our spiritual growth, the truth is, as I’ve aged, I find I actually can do less things. There are fewer things that I seem capable of doing, just physically. You know, I’m running out of gas. How does that translate into the possibilities of being productive spiritually, even if it means possibly “doing less?”
Stuart: Well, growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That’s a good place to start, you see. Looking at the 2 Corinthians 3 thing, where we look into the wonder of Christ, and as we are looking into the wonder of Christ, we are being transformed into the same image. That was talking about renewed. It’s talking about transformed. It’s talking about growing in grace.
And I don’t see that it says, “That’s up to 65, and then just let it go,” you see. So, you put it in the framework of what you’re able to do. And I mean, one important thing is, if people look at us and say, “Ah, they’re still trotting around the world in their 80’s,” we say, “We’re not models of anything except abnormality. (Laughter)
But what’s abnormal about us is, incredibly good health and we fully recognize that many people do not have good health. And then it becomes a burden for them. But they’d still work within their limitations.
We have a little lady called Shirley back in our church. She pulled a beauty on me one day. I was going to speak to the seniors at this church and she’d been asked to introduce me. And she made her way slowly, rather painfully up to the podium. And she said, “Our speaker today, Stuart Briscoe, needs no introduction, so he won’t get one.” (Laughter)
Jim: And then walked away.
Jill: Our seniors are great. They’re wonderful. (Laughter)
Stuart: This is Shirley; this is Shirley.
Jill: On your point, I think physically we don’t have all health, but we have enough.
Jill: America says, if I have all health, all rest, then I’ll volunteer; then I’ll do something. But you do it with not everything. You do it with what you’ve got. But what I wanted to say is gift doesn’t age. Spiritual gift does not age. And the wisdom that our seniors have is not all physical know-how or wisdom, but maybe they were able to do when they were younger to go out and mission and church.
And they feel marginalized by the church a little in America or a lot in America. Some people say they’re leaving the church as much as the Millennials are because they don’t feel wanted or needed or their wisdom isn’t asked for anymore.
But once you can say to them I’ve got two seniors who are brilliant with junior high kids, but they were moved on. You know, they got older and older and older. I took them back, those two people into the junior high work and put them in leadership and oh, advice or teaching. And the whole thing came alive. Gift doesn’t age.
And so, if we can show Christian seniors what was your heart? You had a touch with that. Or you were this on the missions committee? Well, you don’t need to go anymore, but we need you. Come back, you know.
Jim: Well, again, back to the years of wisdom and what you’ve gleaned over those years—
Jim: –that is a valuable resource to the body of Christ.
Jill: It’s huge.
Jim: And we don’t want to underestimate it.
Jim: We have flown by in this first half hour, but I want to stick with it and come back next time and talk more specifically about how the aging process affects us spiritually, those things we can do—
Jim: –to ensure that we age gracefully and that we age in such a way to honor the Lord—
Jim: –and not dishonor the Lord and what that means, what those differences are, maybe in attitude and in all kinds of ways. Can we do that? Can you stick with us, come back next time?
Stuart: Of course.
Jill: Of course.
Jim: Very good, and let me remind everyone that if you’re in that life stage, where you’re in the fourth quarter, and kids are gone, and now you’re saying, “Okay, Lord, what’s next?” Improving with Age, the book by Stuart and Jill Briscoe, may be exactly the resource that you need right now, and for a gift of any amount, we want to make that available to you. So, support the work here at Focus, and our way of saying thank you will be by sending along this wonderful resource to help you think, I think spiritually and godly about what you need to do as you age and through the fourth quarter.
John: Be sure to order your copy of that book and make a generous donation when you do. Our number 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or online, www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we continue the conversation with Stuart and Jill Briscoe, and once again, help you and your family thrive.