|The Prince: Jonathan,Sons of Encouragement Series #3|
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The Prince, volume 3 in the "Sons of Encouragement" series by best-selling author Francine Rivers introduces us to Jonathan. His zeal carried him into battle. His faithfulness won him honor among his people. His humility led him into friendship with David, the man who would be king in his place.
Favorite Bible Verse: Proverbs 3:5-6 - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight."
Francine Rivers has written books that have won numerous awards including Gold Medallions and Silver Pens. She lives in Northern California with Rick, her husband of over thirty years. Although raised in a religious home, Francine didn’t truly encounter Christ until later in life when she was already a wife, mother of three and established romance novelist. She entered the Christian book market in 1993 and quickly became one of our customers’ favorite authors.
|Our Interview with Francine Rivers|
|JONATHAN: SONS OF ENCOURAGEMENT SERIES (NOVELLA #3)
I noticed you are focusing on the Old Testament characters instead of people from the New Testament. Why is that?
There are several reasons for the focus on men from the Old and New Testament. After having written the Lineage of Grace series about the five women listed in the first chapter of Matthew (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary), I thought it only fair to write about men who impacted eternity. Secondly, after researching and writing AND THE SHOFAR BLEW, I felt the men behind the scenes receive little notice and should be encouraged. They encourage the leader, and sometime must admonish and correct as well. They also help shoulder the burden of service. We need strong men of faith behind the scenes who are diligent to keep watch and make certain Jesus Christ and His Gospel remain the focus of teaching.
|You're working on Amos' story now. Tell us a little about him.
Amos is one of the minor prophets from the Old Testament. Of course, none of the prophets were "minor." We tend to call them that because their books are shorter. Their messages were no less important and powerful. I believe Amos speaks to America. Even though he brings a message of judgment and destruction, God offers an opportunity for the nation to change direction. Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa who was sent to Bethel to warn them of what God would bring if they didn't turn back to Him. Tekoa is very near Jerusalem, and Bethel is only eleven miles away from Jerusalem. Yet, the people had rejected God's law and set up golden calves so they could worship something closer to home. They were very wealthy and militarily powerful at the time God sent Amos, and yet the message was clear: God is God. There is no other.
I noticed you emphasize keeping the focus on God; not stray to their own agenda.
I have to keep my focus also. I have strong faith when there is nothing going on to challenge it. Then a storm comes and all too often I stumble. Case in point: my husband is moving toward retirement. We sold the business building. Even though we prayed before we started the process, there are all these balls in the air, and we become confused. Did we hear the Lord incorrectly? If this is what He wants us to do, why are things not working out smoothly. Of course, everything worked out perfectly on the last day. Then we could look back and see why things did not move quickly. But while going through things, I struggle and question. I know, in my head, the Lord is in control. But sometimes my heart flutters.
|How do you keep bringing yourself back to "Let go and let God?" How do you keep on track?
I read scripture every day. Right now, I am studying Amos. I also read the One Year Bible every year. There is always something new. And miraculously, there is always something that deals with whatever question I happen to be wrestling with at the moment. I tend to beat myself up when I start floundering. I tell myself I shouldn¡¦t have visceral reactions when things happen, that my focus on the Lord isn't strong enough. But it's all a process of learning to trust Him.
Often it's a question of whether I trust in God or my own abilities to save and plan for the future. God knows where He wants us. During this past year, I spent far too much time questioning. So I've had to spend a lot of time confessing. "Lord, my faith is sometimes smaller than a mustard seed. Help me learn to trust You with everything, small or big."
I also do Bible studies. I attended Bible Study Fellowship for seven years. It¡¦s a wonderful program. And Rick and I have hosted a home group every week for twenty years. Our pastor, Rick Hahn, leads. We've studied the Gospels, letters of Paul, minor prophets. Over the past two years, we've changed the format and are using questions raised from the Sunday sermon. Scripture is always applicable to our everyday life.
Even when things are stressful, I have to remind myself that the answers are in God's Word. The comfort is there, too. It's a decision. Who do I want to be in control?
God sees everything. We see the little bit of it that pertains to us. We can't see or understand the whole picture. God knows what He's after and I know trusting Him is the safe place to be. He's slowly transforming me so that I will someday be like Jesus. But it's not comfortable or easy to go through fire and be refined. Life isn't a walk in the park.
I used to have a God box. Maybe I should take it out again.
What's a God box?
|When I first became a Christian, I had trouble trusting God about anything. I was raised in the church, but I had only head knowledge. My heart had never been touched. When I did make the decision to turn everything over to Jesus, I still had that "I shouldn't bother the Lord with this" attitude. But things would eat at me. I tend to worry and fret over things and try to fix them. Well, I had been a secretary for a few years. I had an "in" box and an "out" box on my desk. I kept thinking about that. So one day, I decided to make a God box. When something kept troubling me, I would write out a pray and put it in the God box. I found I could let it go then. I could forget about it. The problem or situation or fear was in God's box, and He would take care of it. Every few months, I would open the box and record the answers. It was amazing how the Lord worked things out, often in completely unexpected ways. I could see how the Lord had been in the midst of it. The God box helped boost my faith and trust in Him.
Karen Ball and Liz Curtis Higgs speak very highly of you.
I'm honored to have them both as friends. They're both awesome writers as well. Karen is one of the best editors in the Christian market. I learned so much from working with her. She was instrumental in bringing me into the Christian market. When I got the rights back for REDEEMING LOVE (the first book I wrote after becoming a born-again Christian), she had moved on to be editor at Multnomah. When Tyndale felt the book wasn't appropriate for their list, she wanted it. I was able to remove some things and add in the conversion scene which would not have been allowed in the general market edition. Karen has been a good friend and encourager.
The same is true of Liz Curtis Higgs. She is so multi-talented and a gifted teacher I've heard her speak at retreats. She can make you laugh until your sides ache, and send you away with a profound message that changes your life. I'm delighted she's writing fiction. She's one of those special people who can write both non-fiction and fiction very well.
There was a time when fiction was considered ¡§untrue¡¨ and therefore not worthy of publication in the Christian market. Bodie Thoene changed that thinking. So did Frank Peretti. They paved the way for writers like me. Publishers began to realize the power of fiction and how it can bring people to the foot of the cross. Jesus taught with parables. Story can change people's view of life and God.
Do you prefer writing Biblical or contemporary fiction?
Biblical fiction is extremely hard for me. I'm writing about real people, and I want to be sure to be as accurate as possible. But I'm not a scholar, and I tend not to trust many commentaries. I have to read and re-read the story countless times, trying to find what God is trying to say to me. What lesson does this life have for me, Lord? My hope is these novellas will whet the appetite for the reader to dive into the Scriptures and see what God has for them. Hence, the discussion questions at the back for personal or small group study.
|What is your favorite Bible verse?
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your path straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 This verse was also very special to my mother.
What person most influenced you with your writing?
My mom, Frieda King. She wrote journals from the time she was seventeen until a few weeks before she died of cancer. When she was approaching death, she asked me what I wanted from the house, and I asked for her journals. She was surprised and pleased, I think. There is a whole lifetime in the journals. I can't talk to her now, but I can read what she has to say. She wrote a history of our family and the different things we did and the places we went. She had beautiful handwriting. I really miss her.
I do some journal writing, but I tend to tackle an issue and write my thoughts and views on it. I want my children/grandchildren to know me. So I'm pretty transparent, good and bad. I encourage others to write journals as well. It's important for the next generation to have a record of how we thought. Where was I and what was I thinking when John F. Kennedy was assassinated? How about the Cuban Missile Crisis? 9-11? When did I come to know Jesus? How did He change my life? Journals become historical documents for the family.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
The hardest part of being a writer is to get out of my own way and not go into a project with preconceived notions. I constantly struggle with this. I make a map of a story, but put it aside. The focus is on people (Biblical fiction) or characters (historical or contemporary fiction). I want people to live inside them. So I have to live inside them first.
Another challenge is to put the work down when I'm stuck. I have to let it go, walk away from it and wait for the Lord to tell me when it's time to come back. That¡¦s especially difficult when a deadline is looming. But God knows that, too. Sometimes I've gone down a wrong trail and need to retrace, take another look around, listen and then move forward again the way He wants me to go.
|I'm writing to learn and draw closer to the Lord. So I often start with questions. That makes the writing more challenging because I don¡¦t have the answers. That also makes it more necessary to study scripture. I want to find God's perspective.
I became very caught up in speaking for a few years. But I felt called to write. Speaking (especially at pregnancy counseling centers) is a good thing, but I found it exhausted me. I'm not a speaker. I'm a "talker." God called me to write. I needed to remember that. Every day is about what God is trying to teach me in this moment, at this time. Even when I fall flat on my face, I have His promise that He'll use it all to His good purpose.
How long did it take to write The Prince (Jonathan)?
What is the next book after Amos?
Silas. He was a scribe who traveled with Paul. He also traveled with Peter and he knew Timothy. We never focus on him because there's so little scripture about him. That will give me the opportunity to imagine much of his life story. This novella will be more fiction than Biblical fiction.
Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
Yes. One that I'm very excited about. I'm working on a children¡¦s book with my daughter, Shannon. It's evolved into far more than we originally planned, but it's been more and more fun to tackle. We have a great editor in Betty Swanburg who has been able to define what we wanted to do. The working title is called 30 Days of Bible People. I'm writing short fictionalized story. Shannon is writing "interesting facts" and discussion questions and prayer suggestions. The book will be useful as a family devotional as well as teaching tool for home schoolers like Shannon and others from her generation.
How much research did you do on Jonathan?
A great deal. I filled a binder with information that pertained to his life and times. The one on Amos is even thicker. I found maps, scriptures, information on customs and manner, political situation, warfare, enemies. I'm not a scholar, nor do I retain information for a long period of time, so I have to have information at hand. The binders work well for me. I review them constantly. It also helps to have a publisher that insists on accuracy. Tyndale editors will ask questions about what I've written, and I need to have evidence to back up the way I've presented the story.
|Why did King Saul take so long to be killed?
I see that as God's mercy on him. The Lord gave Saul opportunity after opportunity to repent. He could have turned back to God any time. He could have said, "David, I¡¦ll teach you all the things I know, but you are the man God has chosen to be king." Saul's focus was on building his own dynasty his own way. Saul had no interest in God's perspective. He thought man's power would be enough to hold onto the crown.
Jonathan, on the other hand, was a man of God. While Saul was out hunting David, Jonathon stayed behind to hold the kingdom together. For David. When David was deep in depression, Jonathan went out and encouraged him and reminded him that the Lord had chosen him to be king. It didn't matter what Saul wanted. God would prevail. I think Jonathan probably knew in the end that he would have to die before that day came. Otherwise, he wouldn¡¦t have made David promise to care for his family. If Jonathan had lived, the tribe of Benjamin would have stood against David in an effort to keep their kinsman on the throne. The only way for the kingdom to be united was for Jonathan to die and David to reign. I admire and love Jonathan because he managed to walk a very thin line between two emotionally charged men. Jonathan honored his father while encouraging David and honoring God choice.
How did you choose the five men for this series?
I wanted men from different areas of work, and men attached to great leaders of the Bible. I also wanted men who lived during difficult times. Hence, Aaron, brother of Moses (religious leadership), Caleb, friend of Joshua (military), Jonathan, friend of David (politics), Amos, friend of God (prophesy/activism), and Silas, traveling companion to Paul and Peter (reporter).
Aaron lived during the time when God gave man the Law. Caleb was there to cross the Jordan and enter and conquer the Promised Land. Jonathan stood beside David who would be Israel's greatest military leader and king, a man after God¡¦s own heart. Amos would speak to the nations and show them that the Lord is Lord over all. And Silas would witness the spread of the Gospel throughout the known world. These men lived in amazing times!
Who is your favorite character?
I become attached to all my characters, but I would say that Hadassah inspires me. She is the kind of Christian I would like to be.
What were your favorite books as a child?
I read very little as a child. I lived in the country and spent most of my time riding bikes, hiking in the hills, and swimming. Mom and Dad took my brother and me to the library, but I seldom read what I checked out. They were non-fiction readers, and I was a dreamer. I lived in my imagination and created stories in my head. I even had an imaginary friend for a while. I was also a ¡§latch-key kid¡¨ before that was common, and I think the time alone helped develop my imagination.
|What message would you like your readers to take from Jonathan?
No matter what anyone tells you, do what the Lord wants you to do. Even if it means giving up your dreams for the sake of someone else, walk humbly before the Lord and do what is right in His eyes. God has a bigger plan for you than you can even imagine. And that plan continues through eternity.
What is your goal or mission as a Christian writer?
I want to whet the appetite of readers for the real thing: Scripture. The whole purpose of Christian fiction is to draw people to Christ, to make them think deeper, to live better, to share their faith. Many people will not read the Bible, but they will read a novel. So a non-Christian won't necessarily know what they're getting. But hopefully, the story, the people in it will open their eyes and heart. These stories can be shared and discussed. The prayer is that the unsaved with turn to Christ, and the saved with learn valuable lessons as well about mercy, compassion, grace, and be encouraged to walk and live like Jesus.