Today we talk with three guests who have dedicated their lives to ministry by bringing others closer to God, even when they themselves couldn’t always see the way forward: pastor and New York Times bestselling author Craig Groeschel, and husband-and-wife author and publisher team Jack & Marsha Countryman. Recently, Craig Groeschel released his newest book, Hope in the Dark: Believing God Is Good When Life Is Not. Today Craig tells us why asking God questions can create a stronger relationship with Him, and how we can endure challenges without losing our faith. Jack and Marsha Countryman have been married for 52 years, and have worked side by side each day of their marriage. They started their publishing company, J. Countryman, at their kitchen table almost forty years ago. Today they describe how they’ve been able to use their talents to connect millions of people to the promises of God, how they’ve been able to keep their marriage strong after five decades, and why they’ve decided to keep going to work every day, even in their later years.
Step Forward in Faith, Despite the Darkness: Craig Groeschel and Jack & Marsha Countryman – Jesus Calling Episode #112
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today we talk with three guests who have dedicated their lives to ministry by bringing others closer to God, even when they couldn’t see the way forward: pastor Craig Groeschel, and husband-and-wife author and publisher team Jack & Marsha Countryman.
First up, we speak to New York Times bestselling author and pastor, Craig Groeschel. Recently Craig released his newest book titled Hope in the Dark: Believing God Is Good When Life Is Not. For years, this book sat on Craig’s computer, forgotten by its author. Craig had written the book for a friend going through a dark time, but when Craig’s own faith was shaken to its core, he returned to the words he wrote for his grieving friend. When they brought him comfort, Craig decided to release the book to the world. Today Craig tells us why asking questions of God can create a stronger relationship with Him, and how we can endure the challenges we face without losing our faith.
Craig Groeschel: I’m Craig Groeschel, and I am married to Amy. We’ve been married for 27 years. We have six kids and one grandkid. And we started Life.Church back in 1996, and we’re blessed to continue to lead Life.Church today.
I was born in Houston, Texas. And my dad was in retail, so he was transferred a lot. We moved all over southern Texas. Eventually we went north of the Red River. He was transferred to Ardmore, Oklahoma, which is a little town best known for people that are driving from Oklahoma City down to Dallas, Ardmore is where they stop to go to the bathroom.
We did a lot of sports. I played baseball, soccer, tennis, football, ran track. I was kind of raised in a regular good home. And I’m really thankful for the family I had as a child.
Finding God As a “Christian Atheist”
So my family went to church some when I was growing up—Christmas and Easter, for sure, and a few times in between. We believed in God, but Jesus wasn’t a real part of our lives. In fact, the term that I ended up using later on in life is, I said that we were “Christian atheists.” In other words, we believed in God, but we lived as if He didn’t exist.
“We were ‘Christian atheists.’ In other words, we believed in God, but we lived as if He didn’t exist” – Craig Groeschel
I ended up going to college and fell into a lot of hard partying. I was in a fraternity and played sports, and so we partied like crazy. I started to hurt, and my sin caught up to me. When my fraternity got in a lot of trouble and they were going to maybe kick us off campus, I was vice president. And I decided to start a Bible study kind of as a public relations move, but more so because I was spiritually curious.
It was in that Bible study I started reading the Bible for the first time. When I got to a Ephesians 2, the lights came on when I recognized that you could be saved not by your works, but by grace.
“The lights came on when I recognized that you could be saved not by your works, but by grace.” – Craig Groeschel
And so I went out all alone on a little softball field, knelt down, and called out to Jesus the best I knew how. Didn’t even know the right kind of prayer, but I just prayed, “If you’re there, if you’re real, take all of my life.”
When I knelt down, I was one person. When I stood up, I was a new creation. The old was gone, and Jesus had made the new.
“When I knelt down, I was one person. When I stood up, I was a new creation. The old was gone, and Jesus had made the new.” – Craig Groeschel
God Is Big Enough to Handle Your Doubts
When I was growing up, if you had any kind of faith doubts around the Christian community, you often felt like a lesser Christian, like you were failing in some way. I always had the idea that I had to either deny my doubts or suppress my doubts.
The longer I’ve walked with God, the more I’ve realized that sometimes sincere doubts, they’re not a weakness. They’ll actually lead to more intimate faith with God.
“The longer I’ve walked with God, the more I’ve realized that sometimes sincere doubts, they’re not a weakness. They’ll actually lead to more intimate faith with God.” – Craig Groeschel
I used to think God would be disappointed with me and my doubts. But now when I look in scripture, especially in the Old Testament, there is an entire book of the Bible, Lamentations, about lamenting to God. David cried out and didn’t understand why God wasn’t doing what he thought God should do. Habakkuk was mad and disappointed with God. Jesus on the cross said, “Why, God, are you forsaking me?”
Now I honestly believe that God is big enough to handle our doubts, and may even embrace our questions. So when we do doubt, instead of disconnecting and running from God, we can actually take our doubts, our questions, our hurts to God. I believe we can grow stronger in our faith when we do.
One of the first times that I really struggled with doubts as a Christian, believe it or not, was when I was in seminary. I had a New Testament professor who didn’t have a high view of Scripture—which I know sounds weird to a lot of people, but some seminary professors don’t. He was really critical of God’s Word in the New Testament, so I started to have doubts: if the Bible’s not true, if I can’t trust it, then is everything else not true as well?
I kind of had a moment of panic, and my pastor helped walk me through it and told me to keep hanging on to God. And then thankfully, I read this book called Theological Crossfire. It was a debate between Pinnock and Brown, two theologians. One was considered a conservative, high-view of God’s Word, and the other one was more of a liberal view. And they debated. To me, the one who believed in God’s Word was so convincing that it was almost like God was there with me.
What’s so meaningful to me today is that my trust in the authority of God’s Word isn’t just blind. It’s one that was strengthened through a season of doubt, and that’s why I really encourage people: don’t see your doubts as something negative that that God won’t allow. The truth is, on the other side of it, you can have a stronger and a more intimate faith in God.
“Don’t see your doubts as something negative that that God won’t allow. The truth is, on the other side of it, you can have a stronger and a more intimate faith in God.” – Craig Groeschel
Choosing to Embrace Struggle
The biggest struggle that our family’s had in the last few years is my daughter Mandy. We have six kids, and my second daughter, Mandy, was about to be married and came down with mono. We were really crushed because we knew that would impact the honeymoon and such, but we thought, She’ll get over it. And she really didn’t.
Weeks went by, and the months went by. She recovered from mono, but her body never physically recovered. We went to the best doctors, trying to get a diagnosis. And here we are, two years and three months later, and she still hurts every single day. It rocked us. To be honest, I’ve had a lot of hard conversations with God [about it].
One of the more meaningful things through this is, even in our hurt, we’ve all been strengthened.
I was talking to [Mandy], and I said, “You know, when God allowed this—”
She said, “Dad, I don’t choose to see it as God allowing. I choose to see that God chose me for this.”
And then she went on to explain how she had started a YouTube channel, which now has thousands and thousands of subscribers, and she talks to people who battle chronic illness. And here’s a little 20-something-year-old girl that’s ministering to thousands of people who are hurting like she is. She said, “God chose me because He could use me.”
Then I would say, “Mandy, I’m proud of the way you’re enduring this.”
And she said, “Daddy, I don’t see it as enduring. That’s like a passive response to something happening to you. I’m choosing to embrace it. I believe that God is with me, that God is still good. And I’m using this time to try to bring glory to God. I’m not enduring, I’m embracing.”
And when she told me that, my whole perspective changed. We’re not enduring this difficult time, we’re embracing it. Kind of like James would say, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials, because you know God is using it to mature you. We’re not just enduring, now we’re embracing.”
Finding Hope in the Dark
Narrator: Inspired by his experience wrestling with his faith and witnessing his daughter’s resilience, Craig released his new book Hope in the Dark.
This is a book for people that have real spiritual questions, maybe doubts. It’s for someone who’s wondering, Is God with me? Why is God allowing this? For those who’ve hit that wall, that ceiling, this is a book that’s raw, that’s honest. And I believe it will speak to people who are wrestling with the goodness of God, when life is not good as they’d like.
The most amazing thing is, the words that God had given me for someone else actually felt like words that God had for me. I cried all the way through it. It was that little document that I wrote for Adrian that became the basis for the book. And that’s why, because it sat on my computer for years and years, it took longer marinating for the right time for it to speak to me, and then for me to turn it into a book that hopefully will speak to a lot of people.
Prayer Is a Conversation
Narrator: The church that Craig pastors, Life.Church, has a heart for connecting people with great resources that strengthen their relationships with God. In fact, Life.Church created the Bible app, YouVersion, used by more than a third of a billion people. Craig talks about another effective resource he’s seen Christians use to create a more intimate prayer life with God.
Craig Groeschel: As a pastor, I’m always thankful for any great resource that strengthens people. And Jesus Calling daily devotional is probably one of the top resources. I’ve had so many people talk about how it has completely revolutionized their spiritual life with God.
The most common thing I hear is that it builds this real intimate faith in prayer. So many people find it difficult to pray to God. They don’t know how to pray. They don’t know how to listen to God. And Jesus Calling takes people on a on a real journey to where prayer is not some thing you do. It’s a conversation, it’s intimate, it’s highly relational.
“As a pastor, I’m always thankful for any great resource that strengthens people. And Jesus Calling daily devotional is probably one of the top resources. . . . it builds this real intimate faith in prayer.” – Craig Groeschel
I’m so thankful for all the lives that have been changed by the work of God, His spirit, through Jesus Calling.
Being Faithful in the Small Things
There’s a guy that introduced me one time, and he said I’m the most boring leader he knows. And the funny thing is I actually think he meant as a compliment because what he was saying is I literally am passionate about doing the same things over and over again.
And what I found is, over time, just being faithful in the small things, that eventually leads to more significant things. So I don’t have a big significant goal, but what I have is a faithful goal. And I believe that faithfulness will lead to the significance.
“What I found is, over time, just being faithful in the small things, that eventually leads to more significant things.” – Craig Groeschel
Narrator: For more information about Craig’s new book, Hope in the Dark, visit www.Life.Church.
We’ll be right back after a brief message about a free offer from Jesus Calling.
Want a daily reminder that we can have hope, peace and joy each day in Jesus? Now it’s as easy as opening an email. The Jesus Calling Daily Email brings you a thought from the Jesus Calling family of devotionals every day. Brighten up your inbox with this little reminder and take a minute to connect with God during your day. To sign up to get your free, daily thought from Jesus Calling, please visit Jesus Calling.com/daily-email.
Narrator: Our next guests are husband-and-wife authors and publishing partners, Jack and Marsha Countryman. Jack and Marsha have been married for 52 years, and have worked side by side each day of their marriage. They talk about how they started their publishing company, J. Countryman, at their kitchen table almost forty years ago, not knowing what to expect or where God was going to lead them. They describe how they’ve been able to use their talents to connect millions of people to the promises of God when they’re hurting, how they’ve been able to keep their marriage strong after five decades, and why they’ve decided to keep going to work every day, even in their later years.
Jack: I’m Jack Countryman, and I have the title of publisher emeritus here at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. I’ve been with the company now for about 22 years, and the Lord has blessed us beyond all measure. We have had the privilege of being authors of about 35 books. My wife and I, Marsha, are blessed to be able to spend time here and work here, and the fact that someone still wants us at 88.
Marsha: You’re the 88.
I’m Marsha Countryman, and I am Jack’s right-hand woman, I would say. We worked together for fifty-two years. And all that we do, no matter what type of work we were in, we did it together.
Growing Up as Movers and Shakers
Jack: I was born in South Bend, Washington. That’s Willapa Harbor, the oyster capital of the world. My father was a butter maker, and my mother was a housekeeper. I was 11 years old when we moved to Eugene, Oregon, where we spent our lives until I went off to the war.
I was quite an athlete. In high school I received 11 letters. I played football, basketball, baseball, ran on the track team, and did all kinds of stuff. I was very fast. I was really blessed.
And when I went on to college, I couldn’t stand it, I had to go out for the football team. I also ran on the track team.
I just was drawn to it naturally. My mother tried to get me to play the piano. And come to find out, I wanted to be out throwing the ball, catching the ball, and doing things. So that didn’t work out too well.
Marsha: I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I had a situation where my father was an alcoholic. My mother was a wonderful homemaker and kept my our family together through thick and thin.
My outlet was dance, so I took tap and ballet, and I wanted to be a dance teacher when I graduated from high school. I was in the drill team. I was a majorette. And my outward expression was through dance because I was quiet and shy, basically, because of alcoholism in our family. That was a real struggle for me.
I turned to God, of course. I was active in church and Sunday school, and went three times a week to church. That was just my saving grace.
Partners for Life
Jack: I went in the health club business. We were in Dallas, and I was a manager of a health club. We were hiring women to work on the floor as an instructor, and that sort of thing. And lo and behold, Marsha shows up looking for a job. I met her when she was riding on a bicycle. I said to myself, “My, she’s pretty.”
So later on, we worked together. I was a lecturer on the Dallas Morning News, on Finishing Touches. And I needed somebody help me with instruction. So naturally I asked Marsha to come help me. So we worked that together, and we would have coffee afterwards, we would talk. And lo and behold, it led to us starting to go out together.
Marsha: I was very impressed with him because he was an excellent salesman.
I was kind of bowled over by the way he was, and how forceful he was. But then I saw a softer side to him. And that’s what drew me to him, was just seeing his sensitive side, and how he loved the Lord, and how he wanted his life to go.
Jack: We got married October 29, 1965. And it’s been a joy ever since.
Following God’s Next Steps
Jack: After 13 years in the health club business, we decided to leave.
And during that time, I had a hunger to find out more about what God has to say in His Word. I was drawn to the (audio of the) Living New Testament in Living Sound. And I said to myself, People don’t read the Bible anymore. I wonder if they would give a license to that?
We were on vacation up in Eugene, and we went out to play golf with Jack MacArthur, who was John MacArthur’s father. I started sharing with him about the Living New Testament, and he said, “You know, Jack, I’m publishing with Tyndale House. I’ll speak up for you.”
Lo and behold, they set of meeting, and we went to meet them. They end up giving us the first license they ever gave to anyone. And we, on our kitchen table, in our little home, started our Living Scripture Company. We were selling the Living New Testament in Living Sound.
We went to Christian radio and KFMK in Houston, Texas. We got an ad with the direct dramatic presentation of the Word of God, and it exploded.
And then we were invited out to show our stuff to Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, California. We offered our Living New Testament in Living Sound and sold thousands.
And we were in the Christian industry.
Narration: Little did Jack and Marsha know, soon after they began selling the Living New Testament in Living Sound, they would arrive on a book idea for God’s Promises, a topically-arranged Scripture book that would eventually reach more than 20 million people.
Jack: In 1981, I was sitting in the living room of Roger McDuff, a gospel singer, and he mentioned he had a promise book. And I looked at it and I thought, I think I can I could do that. Because I was teaching single parents from the Bible and I said that, “God has the answer for everything. Just seek it. You’ll find it.”
“God has the answer for everything. Just seek it. You’ll find it.” – Jack Countryman
And that started us on our trip into the publishing business.
God has promised you certain things, and people want to define that, like what you do when you’re discouraged, what you do when you’re depressed, what to do when you worry, what do you do when you are experiencing fear, what do you when you need courage. Everybody in this world is struggling with something, and God has the answer for everything. So we put the promises in 81 topics, and [readers] would easily be able to find those topics, find that scripture and find the answers that they’re looking for to solve whatever problem they were facing.
“Everybody in this world is struggling with something, and God has the answer for everything.” – Jack Countryman
We published that book in December ‘81, and we printed 11,000. I never will forget this: we sold 10,000.
We went to the [National Religious Broadcasters Conference], and there I met Harvey Warner, who was the business manager for Charles Stanley. I showed him the book, and he said, “Let me show this to Charles.”
And he came back and said, “We would like to order 3000.”
I thought, Oh gee, that’d be nice.
He said, “We want 1000 in June, 1000 in July, and 1000 August.”
Around May, we get a call from them. They had advertised in their InTouch Magazine. And he said, “How fast can you get 25,000 of these to us? We got orders coming out our ears.” So that year we sold him 55,000.
And we were in the publishing business.
Our first project, of course, was God’s Promises. And then a year and a half later, we came up with God’s Answers. And then we had God’s Gift for Mothers and God’s Power for Fathers and and so on and so forth, always taking the word of God and arranging scriptures topically oriented to the needs of people, that was our secret. We always want to do the needs of people, fathers, mothers.
Marsha: It just fit the needs of people in various categories, in various situations that they were in. And nobody turned away from it. And we even, at one time, Jack went and met the pope and showed the book to him.
But that was quite a turning point for us, to be able to branch out and just reach whoever we could with the Word of God.
Jack: We sold to Thomas Nelson at the end of 1994, and that opened up a whole new thing for us. Our premise was, “We’re going to produce the most beautiful books with great content, good design, reasonably priced.” Which we did. And of course the rest is just history.
I received the Lifetime Achievement Award for 20 million God’s Promises being sold. And it was the Kip Jordan Award that was given to someone who has done something exemplary for the Lord. And was really a highlight. All kinds of authors were videoed to shower blessings upon me, and it was really, really a highlight time.
And that year [in 2014], we were honored by the state. I was received an honor from the [House] of Representatives, from the mayor of Nashville.
Marsha: But that Kip Jordan Award, that was where Jack was voted on by his peers, which is what really blew us away. Because all these publishers that we’ve been in competition with, all those years.
We were just in awe of all these awards that came to us that particular year, especially, without us doing anything of reaching out to anybody here. And we were just the recipients of all those blessings.
“Spending Time in the Word Is an Absolute Must.”
Narrator: Because they’ve authored dozens of devotionals, Jack and Marsha place great importance on spending time with God every day. They talk about why they’ve enjoyed the Jesus Calling devotionals and why the writings of Jesus Calling author Sarah Young inspire them.
Jack: You know, I’m 88. And I would say that spending time in the Word has become an absolute with me, with us. So we bathe ourselves in the Word of God every morning without fail, because we feel like the Lord is touching us and He’s changed us.
Marsha: And it doesn’t take long to do that, it’s not a laborious thing. We don’t spend an hour in the morning at the breakfast table. We just do our devotionals.
Jack: We have been reading Jesus Calling for ten years. I read the left-hand page, she reads the right-hand page.
Marsha: Out loud to each other.
Jack: Out loud to each other every morning.
And I will say [Sarah Young] has a way of bringing God’s Word in first person. People want to know exactly what God has to say to them. And that is such a wonderful thing. And I have found that [Sarah’s writing] really touches me everyday. We’re now into Jesus Always.
Marsha: We really, really like it.
Jack: And the fact that [Sarah] uses scripture to emphasize what she’s saying all out through the daily devotional, and then the larger [versions of Jesus Calling and Jesus Always] have the scriptures written out, so you can digest the scripture along with getting blessed from the words that she has written.
Marsha: No matter where we are, we take the books with us when we travel so that we don’t miss a day because it’s very important for us to start our day like that. And it gives us a richer meaning to our relationship to each other, as well as a richer meaning to us with other people that we’ve come in contact with.
Jack and Marsha’s Secret to Marriage
Jack: I’ve found the secret of marriage is to lift your partner up at all times. Listen to her. Respect her. Have no secrets from her. Because she is your helpmate, and God has given her to you bless your life. She blesses me everyday. I’ve learned to listen to my wife, and she’s number one in my life.
“I’ve found the secret of marriage is to lift your partner up at all times. Listen to her. Respect her.” – Jack Countryman
Marsha: I did have to learn to speak up for myself, because he’s such a dynamic person and aggressive and charging ahead. For many years, I was very shy and quiet. I didn’t even want to pray with him because I was intimidated. He could stand in front of anybody, and he could pray beautiful prayers and that all this, and I was much more quiet with the way that I did my prayer time and prayer life. But God just made a way for us to realize the strengths in each other, and to care about the other person more than we do ourselves.
Now we pray together every day, and we pray together all the time. We have a real respect for one another, and we had a lot of hard knocks that we worked through. But here we are, 52 years later.
Jack: If you give yourself to the Lord, you can’t out-give Him. He will bless you immensely. And we have found that, in our togetherness, we have been so blessed and so honored, and [we have] feelings of great security in our relationship with the Lord. It has helped us in our relationship with each other. We have a triune marriage, with God in the middle, and that has been so important for us. I’m so thankful that we discovered that many years ago, because we’ve just built a bond that cannot be broken.
“In our togetherness, we have been so blessed and so honored and [we have] feelings of great security in our relationship with the Lord.” – Jack Countryman
“I Still Have Something to Offer.”
Narrator: Jack and Marsha have written their first 365-day devotional called God’s Promises Every Day, which is filled with scriptures of God’s assurances for His people. Jack and Marsha encourage us all that it is never too late to answer your calling and contribute in a meaningful way to the world.
Jack: There are 7,000 promises in the Bible. We chose 365 that would be an encouragement and uplifting to someone. We’ve had inspirational thoughts to go with the scripture so someone would understand what this verse really meant and how it would bless their life, and if you choose to read it on a daily basis, how you will be drawn closer to the Lord, how you’ll be blessed by what God has to say. And we’re really excited about the opportunity that we’re going to have with it.
“There are 7,000 promises in the Bible. We chose 365 that would be an encouragement and uplifting to someone. “ – Jack Countryman
I’ve authored 35 books, and I probably have a couple more in my quiver. I just feel like that, hey, I couldn’t play golf every day—although I love to play golf, that would be boring.
Retirement’s not in the Bible. I’m an old athlete, and my prayer is, “Lord, don’t put me on the bench. Keep me in the game.”
I have found, and we have found, that we’re still excited about being involved in publishing. I’m 88 and she’s 76, and I don’t even think about retirement. Because, you see, I’ve lived. I’ve made all the mistakes that a person can make. I’ve had most of the success that a person can have. I know the difference between the two. And therefore, I feel like I’ve been blessed, and I still have something to offer.
Let God Bless You Every Day Through His Word
Jack: My whole emphasis to everybody I talk to is put the Lord first in your life. Let the Lord guide you. Let the Lord speak to you. Make the right choice. You know, the choices we make determine the person that we become. And therefore you need to make choices that honor God in everything you do and everything you say.
“Put the Lord first in your life. Let the Lord guide you. Let the Lord speak to you. Make the right choice. . . . The choices we make determine the person that we become.” – Jack Countryman
I’m much more peace today than I have ever been. I’m much more confident in God than I’ve ever been. And I really, really love Him with all of my heart. And I just think that if you will choose, it takes discipline. Discipline and a choice. We could choose to do other things. But if you have the discipline to get into the Word every day, and if you make a choice to let the Lord bless you every day, He will. That’s the secret, I think, in life.
Narrator: Jack and Marsha’s latest devotional book, God’s Promises Every Day, is available wherever books are sold.
Narrator: God promises to use us when we trust Him, even when we can’t see the way forward. And by spending time with God, we allow ourselves to be comforted by His healing presence. We hear these truths echoed in the May 15 entry of the Jesus Calling Audiobook.
Spending time alone with Me is essential for your well-being. It is not a luxury or an option; it is a necessity. Therefore, do not feel guilty about taking time to be with Me. Remember that Satan is the accuser of believers. He delights in heaping guilt feelings upon you, especially when you are enjoying My Presence. When you feel Satan’s arrows of accusation, you are probably on the right track. Use your shield of faith to protect yourself from him. Talk with Me about what you are experiencing, and ask Me to show you the way forward. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to Me, and I will come near to you.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we visit with up-and-coming country music star RaeLynn. RaeLynn believes in the power of music to tell stories and help others who are struggling feel they are not alone. After she was a contestant on NBC’s The Voice in 2012, RaeLynn saw her career take off and tells us how she stayed grounded through that experience.
RaeLynn: The first time I sang, they played my audition right after the Super Bowl. There were 13 million people that were watching that episode—13 million. It was just nuts. It was like, overnight, just completely crazy.
And the only thing that got me through was the peace of the Lord.