Jan Johnson

Book Club Opportunity

On September 15th, Renovareī Book Club is going to study together a book I edited: Madame Jeanne Guyon:  Her Autobiography. Sign up here to join the club with benefits such as study guide, podcasts and related articles. (You receive the book for free if you sign up before Sept 7.) It operates through GoodReads so you can sign up for free there as well. www.Goodreads.com

A book club study is ideal for this book because it explores how one woman underwent criticism and even persecution but somehow managed to keep her heart right. It’s as if she read the passages in 1 Peter about suffering . . . and actually walked them out. Such a right heart is more caught than taught. I’ve “caught” so much from her - you may too!

To help you decide, here’s a sneak preview at the introductory essay:

    Do you ever wonder how people who really “get” God got that way? Reading their biographies tells us how. Autobiographies (bios written by the person) are even better because the actual person reveals what was going on inside them. We discover their thoughts as they struggled and what made them do the things that make them well known today.

Such is the case with Madame Jeanne Guyon:  Her Autobiography. I first read her work in Foster and Smith’s Devotional Classics in leaflet form in 1991 and immediately got my hands on her book Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. When I was asked to condense and modernize her autobiography, I was thrilled.

Note to guys: Don’t dismiss this as a chick-book. My male students quote Madame G more than the female students do. Maybe that’s because Guyon was an adventurer. Her life was like a Star Wars movie--the obstacles keep coming. Read on!

In the 1600s when women had no rights, Jeanne was forced to marry a man she’d never met. He and his mother ridiculed her and hired a maid who beat Jeanne with a brush.

Jeanne’s way of survival was “mental prayer” (similar to Brother Lawrence’s practicing the presence of God). When her husband died and she inherited the money, things didn’t get better. She ventured out into missionary work with all kinds of opposition. Yet people were drawn to her. In her missionary travels, both scrubwomen and bishops came to her door, asking her to teach them to pray. So she wrote A Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer (now titled Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ; we’ll read a section in Week 6).

Then persecution really began. In this post-Enlightenment era, the church authorities were being criticized for anything that didn’t add up to rational, analytical, left-brained only thinking and so they squelched all signs of communing with God. Jeanne was finally incarcerated by her half-brother who was a priest. In all she spent twenty years in exile or prison for promoting the idea that you and I could have a personal relationship with Jesus. (She was imprisoned for a while in the Bastille at the same time as prisoner #64389000, the man in the iron mask.)

Why read such a downer book? Because she gets “life with God,” no matter what. For me this book was a turnaround. The idea that all things (!) work together for good for those who love God had never really made sense to me (although I never told anyone at church). But Jeanne Guyon lived this out with trust and integrity. God used her story to woo me into the idea that any trial or hardship can be redeemed by God for good. God can pull us back from any slide into sin or despair and make it something that bonds us to God’s own self. Indeed, spiritual growth is as much or more caught than taught. Madame Guyon’s life is contagious with it

I used to feel uncomfortable when people quoted the verse:  “all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).  All things?  What about people who were abused as children?  All things?  What about child abandonment?  But since you can’t say those things at church, I never said them.

Then about ten years ago I landed the job of condensing and paraphrasing the dramatic autobiography of seventeenth century writer Madame Jeanne Guyon.  Since her book, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ about enjoying uninterrupted fellowship with God, has been a long-time favorite of mine, I was thrilled to do it.

At fifteen, Jeanne Guyon enter an arranged marriage with a thirty-seven-year-old invalid she had never met. He and his mother ridiculed her, giving her a maid who taunted her and beat her with a brush. In this persecution, she learned to “pray the Scripture”:  reading a few words and praying them slowly.  She advised, “Take in fully, gently, and carefully what you are reading.  Taste it and digest it as you read.” When her husband died, she became a missionary but the church authorities then persecuted her for writing about “praying the Scripture” so she spent twenty years in prison or exile.  She trusted God to redeem all these terrible things;  she really believed that all things work for good for those who love God.  But as I finished my project, I found her too unbelievable and rejected my hero.

A few months later, I found myself stuck on an airport shuttle bus with a flat tire late one Sunday night.  Tired from a long speaking engagement, I just wanted to go home.  I started to cry but in my mind I could see Guyon and her little maid La Gautiere abandoned by a carriage on a snowbank to die: “This poor girl and I were tranquil in our minds, though chilled and soaked with snow, which melted on us. Occasions like these show whether we are perfectly resigned to God or not” (p. 132).

I wondered, What if “all things CAN work for good”?  What if ANYthing can be redeemed?  Then what?  So I experimented.  I turned to the disgruntled older gentleman next to me in the front seat and said: “I suppose it would have been worse if this had happened on the freeway.  Here, we have a place to pull over.”  Before long we were entertaining each other, making jokes about what we could use to cover ourselves if a riot broke out behind us on the bus.  (These tired travelers were livid.)  We thanked the driver for his efforts and soon another bus came.

This little experiment became a turning point for me.  I followed up with more Guyon-like experiments about seriously difficult situations, asking, What if God can redeem any mess?  Then what would I do?  In each case, my answer was that if God could do that then I would cooperate by keeping a right heart and trusting God.  So I did that. I found that my increasing cooperation invited God’s redemptive power to work more quickly.  These experiments helped me turn away from my life-long tendency toward cynicism and move toward hope.

That happened in 1998 but I’m remembering it now because Seedsowers is republishing this book:  Madame Jeanne Guyon:  Her Autobiography.  I’m pleased because Jeanne Guyon’s life invited me to trust God more deeply and I want others to experience this too.

OUTTAKES:  1st & 2nd paragraphs of original

    Christians often say, “It’s all good,” but is it all good?  Someone said this after a church meeting in which many unwise and hurtful things were said.  It wasn’t all good. Closely related are the phrases, “It was meant to be” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Was Saddam Hussein’s genocide “meant to be”?  Is the ADD happen for a good reason, making it difficult to get a job?  Does a boss scream at you, a fraudulent person charge items on your credit card or a friend ignore you for a good reason?  Or are these things that God weeps over (Isa. 23:12; 47:1;  Jer. 9:1;  Jer. 14:17;  46:11)?  It’s not all good and not everything is meant to be--this side of heaven.

    People make these comments with good intentions, perhaps aiming at the truth that “all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).  But even that phrase bothers people: Can everything work out for good--child abuse? Abandonment?

END:  made this truth real to me and won me over.

    So:  “it’s NOT all good”;  NOT “everything was meant to be”; and NOT “Everything happens for a reason.”  But God can redeem these things and I want to cooperate with God.

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson

www.JanJohnson.org

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