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Woman of the Word

Renowned Bible teacher Anne Graham Lotz started holding revivals out of her own desperate need for spiritual renewal. Here's what lies behind her passion to know Christ and make him known.

A crowd of several thousand women at Tampa's Ice Palace arena wait patiently for the "Just Give Me Jesus" revival to begin. Those of us close to the chilly main floor this Friday night hunker down in our coats as we warm up to the worship music of Christian recording artist Fernando Ortega. Suddenly, it's time: Well-known speaker and best-selling author Anne Graham Lotz, 54, clad in a silver-gray pantsuit, gracefully crosses the platform to the podium—a simple wooden cross—to open this free, two-day event with prayer. Tall, elegant, and articulate, Anne acknowledges our need for God in her heart-felt plea for him to "Just give us Jesus!" Over the next few hours and during the following Saturday sessions, which are interspersed with worship, guided prayer times, and Bible study, Anne vividly reintroduces Jesus as the suffering Savior, the crucified Lord, and the resurrected, reigning King portrayed in Scripture.

The second daughter of evangelist Billy Graham and his wife Ruth Bell Graham, Anne looks as much at home on the platform as her famous father, who once called her the "best preacher" in the Graham family. A gifted Bible expositor who uses edge-of-the-seat narratives in her teaching, Anne's spoken at venues as varied as church sanctuaries, the General Assembly of the United Nations, and Amsterdam 2000—the largest gathering of evangelists in history. For 12 years Anne led a burgeoning Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. But in 1988, she left BSF to create AnGeL Ministries (derived from her initials), a nonprofit organization that promotes Bible exposition through Anne's live presentations as well as her audiotapes and books. Then, in 2000, Anne launched "Just Give Me Jesus" to spark revival in the church. JGMJ events are cosponsored by local church leaders in host cities and AnGeL Ministries. To date, 13 revivals have been held in major cities across the United States. One national and three international gatherings—in Seoul, South Korea, London, England, and Cardiff, Wales—are slated for later this year.

With the wide scope of her ministry today, it's surprising to discover that as a young mom and inexperienced teacher, Anne was so nervous before teaching her BSF class that she'd throw up in the church washroom.

You can say "Jesus is Lord," but words mean nothing. The proof of his Lordship in your life is your obedience to his commands.

Anne candidly admits her passionate pursuit for revival was birthed out of her own desperate need for a fresh encounter with Christ. Married for 36 years to dentist Danny Lotz, with three now-married children, Jonathan, 33, Morrow, 30, and Rachel-Ruth, 28, Anne reveals from the platform and in two of her several books, Just Give Me Jesus and My Heart's Cry (both W Publishing Group) some of the trials that drove her back into an intense study of God's Word—seasons of infertility, along with spiritual and marital dryness. The recurring theme in Anne's life is her hunger to know God better and her burning desire to help others do the same.

In this exclusive TCW interview conducted in her Raleigh home a few days after her Tampa revival, Anne talks about her inadequacies, her trials, and her consuming passion and greatest need—Jesus.

Seeing you now, it's hard to believe when you first started teaching, you'd become nauseated from nerves.

It's true. When I began teaching that Bible Study Fellowship class in 1976, I was painfully self-conscious. I was terrified to get up in front of the class with all eyes staring at me.

If it was so difficult for you, why did you plow ahead?

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 wasn't drifting spiritually intentionally; it's just that I was distracted. 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. Even though I'd never so much as taught a Sunday school class before, I was so desperate to be in BSF, I agreed to lead it. I not only had to complete the lesson plan, which involves daily Bible reading and studying, but also had to prepare a weekly message. Three hundred women showed up for the first meeting! I knew God had opened this door for me; I was more afraid to say no to the Lord than I was to teach the class, despite my painful shyness. Within a year, the class had grown to 500.

Does God expect us to do something we don't think is our "spiritual gift"?

I would have gone toe-to-toe with somebody if she'd told me I could teach and preach, because I knew I couldn't. But deep down I knew I'd been called. God didn't speak to me through handwriting on the wall; he opened my eyes to a need in my city and in my life to draw closer to him. I felt compelled to become the woman he wanted me to be. So I stepped out in faith.

Sometimes God calls us in our point of need. That's because God's attracted to our weakness. Where we're weak, he's strong. Where we're inadequate, he's sufficient. When we say we can't, we discover he can. In 1 Corinthians 1:27-28, God says he chooses the weak and uneducated, the ones the world despises, because when he uses them and people's lives are changed, he receives the glory.

Do you still battle self-consciousness?

I don't battle it anymore because I simply accept the fact I'm inadequate, then get on with it. The wonderful thing is, for all my inadequacies, God is sufficient. What you see is what he's enabled me to do. Every time I go to a platform to speak, I pray, God, crucify my fleshly insecurities so my self-consciousness goes away. And increasingly he's done that.

Why did you create "Just Give Me Jesus" revivals?

Again, because it was what I needed.

In the late '90s, a series of events in my life left me crying out desperately to God. In 1996, when Hurricane Fran hit North Carolina, we were without electricity and telephone service for six weeks. Our yard was demolished—we lost 102 trees. Then my husband's dental office suffered an electrical fire and burned to the ground. Our three children got married within eight months—and with two girls, that meant major planning for two weddings! Then, in 1998, our son, Jonathan, was diagnosed with cancer a month before his wedding and he underwent surgery. My mother, Ruth, also had five major surgeries within ten months. I'd make the four-hour drive to visit her, spend the night in the hospital, come home, turn around, and go back again. On top of that, I had a full schedule speaking and writing books.

I was tempted to pull back within myself and tell the world to get lost. But I chose to stay active in my ministry. My heart cried out, Just Give Me Jesus, because I felt that if I had a fresh encounter with him, my questions about what was going on in my life either could wait—or he would be the answer. I opened my Bible and prayed, "God, I need a supernatural touch from you."

How did he answer?

Through my study of the lives Jesus touched in the Gospel of John. That study became the basis of my book Just Give Me Jesus. Then God gave me a burden for other women like myself, women raised in a Christian home, raised in the church, who needed to revive their passion for Jesus. I wanted to create an environment in which a woman could walk into an arena and meet Jesus without an agenda, without anyone cashing in on it, without anybody promoting herself or selling a product.

How did you turn your vision into a reality?

I tried three times to get these revivals started—and three times God slammed the door.

If God kept closing the door, why did you persist?

Because the burden was so heavy. In fact, I asked God to either give me a platform or take away the burden, because I couldn't bear it anymore.

What happened?

The burden for revival got heavier. Finally, in the fall of '99, my ministry team and I met with an events planner to learn what it would take organizationally and financially to get these revivals off the ground. By the end of the day, all the other women in the room were saying it couldn't be done. But now my vision had become more concrete. I was willing to step out in faith, but I had to make sure of God's calling.

The next morning during my devotional time, after I prayed, that day's scripture reading jumped from the page at me. It included a phrase from Matthew 14, in which the disciple Peter steps out of the boat to walk on water. Peter said, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come." and Jesus said, "Come." I felt the Lord saying, Anne, now's the time. You can come.

That first year we held five revivals and broke even. They told us it couldn't be done, but we did it.

What do you hope to accomplish at the revivals?

I'm not interested in making a name for myself, building a ministry, or telling people what I think they need to hear. I'm more selfish than that: I want to know God. And I'm after the hearts of people so they can fall in love with the Lord.

I'm deeply concerned that Christians listen to a lot of other believers, but don't know how to hear their Good Shepherd's voice. We read Christian books instead of God's Word. We read other people's testimonies. But we don't develop the type of relationship with God in which we can recognize his voice.

How do we do that?

At the revivals, I share the practical tools I use to read and study the Scriptures. I ask the women to read a selected passage of Scripture, then have them list the obvious facts in each of the verses, using the words in the passage. Then, I ask them to determine what spiritual lessons or principles can be gleaned from these facts. Finally, I ask the women to write out those lessons in the form of a personal question: What does it mean in my life? Is there a command, warning, promise, principle, or example for me here in God's Word?

The way you know God is by reading his Word and being on your knees in prayer. But what fleshes out that knowledge is obedience. You can say "Jesus is Lord," but words mean nothing. The proof of his Lordship in your life is your obedience to his commands.

God doesn't want to hurt us, embarrass us, or make us unhappy. It's the opposite. But to get to that place of blessing, to that place of joy and deep satisfaction, sometimes you have to go through a death. It may be the death of a desire for something you think you need or want to control. Jesus would tell us today, "I have a cross for you"—not a physical crucifixion, but a denying of ourselves to follow him.

That's not a popular message in this self-centered culture.

That's true. We often feel that if we're not happy and problem-free, then we're not in God's will. But you can be right in the thick of a problem and still be in God's will. Jesus was bound that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, yet he was right in his Father's will.

There's that beautiful verse in John 12:24: "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." Women come up to me and say they've never been taught about the crucified life—that if you want to have life, victory, and power, you've got to die to yourself first.

A part of you must have died when you learned your son had cancer.

Yes, I had to die to my hopes and dreams as a mother. After I got over my shock and denial, I immediately had to fall back on who God is. I didn't know if Jonathan was going to die, or if God would heal him. But I was confident God was in control.

As I sat at the hospital the morning of Jonathan's surgery to remove the malignancy, I felt God call to mind verses that assured me everything was going to be okay. I had wonderful people who sat with me and encouraged me. When the surgeon came out of the operating room and told us he'd been able to remove all the cancer and that the surrounding tissues were clear, it was a huge answer to prayer.

Apparently Jonathan had this cancer for six years, and the physicians were surprised it hadn't spread. Jonathan had follow-up radiation treatments, and to date, five years later, he's doing really well.

But I knew that whether Jonathan died from the cancer, was healed of the cancer, or underwent treatments for the cancer, God would be glorified in this.

How were you able to get to that point of surrender?

Danny and I experienced infertility in the early years of our marriage, so Jonathan was intensely prayed for and fasted over before he even was conceived. Jonathan was prayed for every day of my pregnancy. And he's been prayed for every day of his life. I knew this cancer hadn't caught God by surprise.

When Jonathan was 13 and Morrow and Rachel-Ruth were 11 and 9, they all came down with a brutal case of the chicken pox. In fact, the pediatrician said it was the worst case he'd ever seen. I knelt beside their beds and surrendered their lives to the Lord. So I'd already given my children to God.

Much of this rests on knowing God. If you don't think God is good, you're not going to trust him with your children. But as you know him, you can release your children, marriage, friends, and parents to him—because you're confident he has their best in mind.

It all goes back to being able to hear your Shepherd's voice. What's imperative is that you know how to read your bible so you can hear God speaking to you.

What do you hope to pass on to your children?

What I want to pass on is the way I've tried to live my life before Christ. And I pray they would see my marriage as one that's strong, loving, and Christ-centered, one that's been developed over time and difficulty.

Such as?

After I started leading BSF, I was just so busy, I put the children first, then the pressures of the class, then all the other things I had to do. A wife can only do that for so long without negative consequences. I didn't mean for it to happen, but my husband, Danny, slipped in my order of priorities. I felt I'd lost my love for him in our marriage.

Was Danny aware of how you felt?

I don't think he was aware of what I was feeling. It certainly wasn't because of anything he was doing wrong.

How did you address this problem?

I made my marriage a matter of prayer for months, because I didn't think God wanted me to live the rest of my life in a loveless marriage. I always was faithful to Danny, and I knew God didn't want me to get a divorce. I felt there had to be some kind of solution—I just couldn't see it.

Then one morning, as I read in 1 John 4 how God is love, God told me, Anne, don't concentrate so much on your relationship with your husband. Concentrate on your relationship with me. He was telling me that as I surrendered more areas of my life to him, he would fill me to overflowing with love for my husband.

That realization was an enormous relief! I could relax in my relationship with my husband. Danny didn't have to meet all my needs—God is the only one who can do that. Although there isn't one specific day when I realized I'd fallen back in love with my husband, over time I developed a deeper, more unconditional love for him than when we were first married. Danny and I have been married 36 years, and I love him more than ever.

How are your mom and dad?

My father recently preached in Dallas to record-breaking crowds. I think he's doing really well. He looks good. He sounds good.

Several months ago, mother had pneumonia so severe we thought we were losing her. She was in the emergency room every time I turned around. At one point, Daddy called to tell me they didn't think she'd make it, but I couldn't get there to see her. That was as hard as anything I've experienced, but the Lord answered our prayer and brought her out of it. She's bright, positive, and such a blessing. When Mother does better, Daddy does better.

What have you gleaned from your parents?

My mother's love for the Lord and the Scriptures, and my father's commitment to serve. If God's called you to serve him, you do it all out. I think my daddy's done that. And like my father, I have an enormous sense of urgency to use the time God's given me wisely, and to work while it's day, because the night's coming.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse?

One of the first verses I memorized was Philippians 4:6: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." A friend cross-stitched that for me because I'm a worrier. It's in my genes.

From your father or mother?

I'm not going to say [laughs]. I also like Joshua 1:8: "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

Our spiritual success is directly related to being in the Book. It helps us keep our focus. We tend to look at things as they happen now and in light of how we feel today and what we think can happen tomorrow. But God sees the big picture; he knows that if we can just get our eyes off this moment and hold on, down the road there will be tremendous blessing. That was true of the Cross. Jesus challenges us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. But don't forget the glories ahead—there's a resurrection coming.

For more information on AnGeL Ministries or "Just Give Me Jesus" revivals, check out Anne's website at www.annegrahamlotz.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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