Book Review: Suffering Is Never for Nothing

Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot is “a very slight adaptation” of a series of talks Elisabeth gave at a conference. Someone had given a set of the conference CDs to Jennifer Lyell. She was so blessed, she gave copies to others. Finally she met and befriended Elisabeth and her husband, Lars, when Elisabeth could no longer speak. Later she obtained permission to transcribe the talks and have them published.

Though this volume wasn’t published in Elisabeth’s lifetime, if you’ve read her books, listened to her radio program, or heard her speak, you’ll hear familiar themes.

Just a bit of background for those who might not be familiar with Elisabeth: she and her husband were missionaries to an Indian tribe in Ecuador when several of the missionary couples were burdened to try to reach a tribe then known as Aucas ( later it was discovered they called themselves Waorani). The Aucas were thought to be a savage tribe: their every encounter with any from outside their world ended badly. After several seemingly friendly encounters, the men thought the time had come to try to meet the tribe in person. The first visit went well, but then the Aucas speared all five of the men to death. A few years later Elisabeth, her young daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister to another of the men, Nate Saint, went to live with the Auca/Waorani. Elisabeth shared that story in Through Gates of Splendor. In later years, Elisabeth remarried, but her second husband died of cancer. Before that marriage, Elisabeth lost almost the entire body of the translation work she had painstakingly labored over in the jungle. Along with these major losses in her life, she’s dealt with the everyday ones we all face.

I don’t know if Elisabeth intended to start a writing career when she published her first book: she was still a missionary in the jungle at the time. But God led her to write several more. I was one of many who considered her a mentor from afar, appreciating her no-nonsense, straightforward style and firm foundation on the Word of God.

To come back to this book, after naming several examples of suffering, Elisabeth boiled it down to this definition: “Suffering is having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have” (p. 9). That’s well and good, but what do we do about it? Elisabeth says, “I’m convinced that there are a good many things in this life that we really can’t do anything about, but that God wants us to do something with” (p. 8).

Probably our biggest struggle concerning suffering is wondering where God is in it and why He allows it. Verse after verse assures us that God is right there with us in suffering. And some passages give us a few ideas of why He might allow it. Elisabeth says, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God . . . The greatest gifts of my life have also entailed the greatest suffering” (p. 9).

Still, “There would be no intellectual satisfaction on this side of Heaven to that age-old question, why. Although I have not found intellectual satisfaction, I have found peace. The answer I say to you is not an explanation but a person, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God” (p. 12). She shares that when she first heard the news that her first husband was missing, she didn’t hear anything more about his condition or whereabouts for five days. God brought to her mind Isaiah 43:2-3: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” She realized God wasn’t promising anything about her husband, but He promised to be with her.

“The questions remains, is God paying attention? If so, why doesn’t He do something? I say He has, He did, He is doing something, and He will do something” (p. 13).

She discusses the perspective of the cross and the two different kingdoms, the one on this world and the kingdom of God.

It’s He who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain. And He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know suffering is never for nothing (p. 16).

We are not adrift in chaos. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know about anything in the universe. Every time that things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance (p. 43).

Faith is not a feeling. Faith is willed obedience in action (p. 45).

She then discusses our response: acceptance, gratitude, offering whatever it is back to God, and the transfiguration He works in us, with a chapter devoted to each of those.

Now if I had had a faith that was determined God had to give me a particular kind of answer to my particular prayers, that faith would have disintegrated. But my faith had to be founded on the character of God Himself. And so, what looked like a contradiction in terms: God loves me; God lets this awful thing happen to me. What looked like a contradiction in terms, I had to leave in God’s hands and say okay, Lord. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. But I only had two choices. He is either God or He’s not. I am either held in the Everlasting Arms or I’m at the mercy of chance and I have to trust Him or deny Him. Is there any middle ground? I don’t think so (pp. 26-27).

Many years ago I read a different book by Elisabeth on this topic, A Path Through Suffering. At first I thought this was a republication of that book by a different name. It’s not, though. Some of the information probably overlaps, but they are two different books, both worthy to be read and extremely helpful.

I enjoyed reading this book over the last few weeks with the True Woman Summer Book Club and looking through the comments and study questions there.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

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Here are some good reads I’ve discovered recently:

The Oh So Human Dad’s Club. A look at some biblical fathers commemorated in the “Hall of Faith” despite serious flaws – encouragement that God can use any of us who are “only human.”

Six Reasons We Love Faithful Fathers, HT to True Woman.

A Guide to Same Page Summer. This introduces a summer Bible reading plan, but it has some great principles for Bible reading in general.

Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person, HT to Challies. “Of course, there are honest disagreements and agree-to-disagree propositions, but that’s not what the Bible means by quarreling. Quarrels, at least in Proverbs, are unnecessary arguments, the kind that honorable men stay away from (Prov. 17:14; 20:3). And elders too (1 Tim. 3). These fights aren’t the product of a loving rebuke or a principled conviction. These quarrels arise because people are quarrelsome.”

Why We Go to Church on Vacation.

When Old They’ll Still Bear Fruit, HT to Challies.

Losing a Foster Child. Some people don’t want to foster because of how painful it would be to let a child go after caring for it. But some children need just that kind of love and care during an unsettling time in their lives. This has some good help for the pain of giving back a foster child.

The True Woman blog, an arm of the Revive Our Hearts ministry, is holding a summer book club reading through Elisabeth Elliot’s just-published book, Suffering Is Never For Nothing. This book comes from a series of messages Elisabeth shared at a conference and is different from her earlier book, A Path Through Suffering (though I would guess they probably overlap). The book club starts this Tuesday, June 18, and continues for 6 weeks.

Someone set up a “bird photo booth” and caught some great close-up photos of birds.

Happy Saturday!

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Book List and Memorial Video

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Someone commented early on in this series that I should list some of Elisabeth’s books, particularly those that are autobiographical. I think all of her books are autobiographical to a degree, though there is not any one that tells her whole life story. I hope that someone will put all the pieces together in a biography of her someday soon. I’ve also had a few comments from people who had never heard of her or didn’t know much about her, so I thought a book list would be a good idea. I am using the original publication dates where I can find them: many of them have been reprinted multiple times, some with an update from Elisabeth in them, so on Amazon or other places the more recent date they show is that of the reprint.

Books by Elisabeth Elliot

Through Gates of Splendor (1957) was her first, in which she told the story of her husband and the four other missionaries who were killed by the Auca (now known as Waorani) Indians in the 1950s. I reviewed it here. This book started me on the path of reading missionary biographies and reading Elisabeth Elliot.

The Journals of Jim Elliot (1978) are, as the title says, the journals of her first husband, Jim, with some notes by Elisabeth here and there. I wrote about them here.

The Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (1958) is her biography of Jim. This and his journals were prime reading material among many students when I was in college.

The Savage My Kinsman (1961) tells of Elisabeth’s years working with the Aucas/Waorani after Jim’s death.

These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge? is an account of her first year as a missionary, before her marriage to Jim, and if I remember correctly, contains the account of the murder of the man who was helping her translate the Colorado language and her wrestlings with why God allowed it to happen.

Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control (1984) shares her love story with Jim, which was not a smooth one, as they both originally thought God wanted them to be single missionaries. They were willing for that, if that was what God wanted, though they did love each other. This book mainly talks about the need to put God first in one’s love life and to trust Him for the outcome.

Quest For Love: True Stories of Passion and Purity contains Elisabeth’s answers to questions people sent her after reading Passion and Purity.

Furnace of the Lord: Reflections on the Redemption of the Holy City (1969) contains some of her thoughts as she visited Israel (out of print).

Let Me Be a Woman (1977) was written not long before her daughter was married and discusses what the Bible has to say about Biblical womanhood.

Discipline: The Glad Surrender.

The Mark of a Man:Following Christ’s Example of Masculinity, originally written for a nephew.

Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and Our Pain. Excellent – one of my top three favorite books on suffering.

The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way Through the Wilderness to God.

The Music of His Promises: Listening to God with Love, Trust, and Obedience.

The Shaping of a Christian Family. “Drawing from 40 years of observation and her own family experience, Elliot illustrates how we can create a fulfilling Christian home based on Scriptural principles and values.” (Out of print).

God’s Guidance: A Slow and Certain Light (Out of print)

Taking Flight: Wisdom for Your Journey, for graduates (out of print).

 A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (1987), her only full biography other than Jim’s (out of print).

No Graven Image, 1966, is her only foray into fiction, but it is based somewhat on her first years as a missionary, also out of print.

All of the following are collections of her thoughts on a wide variety of topics, arising from her study of God’s Word: marriage, motherhood, singleness, abortion, as well as a gamut of aspects on the Christian life:

Twelve Baskets of Crumbs (1977) (out of print).

All That Was Ever Ours (1988)(out of print).

A Lamp Unto My Feet: The Bible’s Light For Your Daily Walk (1985).

Love Has a Price Tag

On Asking God Why: Reflections On Trusting God (1997)

Keep a Quiet Heart 

Be Still My Soul

Secure in the Everlasting Arms

I’ve read the majority of these, though it was some years ago for most of them. Most her books can be ordered on Amazon and other sites as well as her website, along with some CDs and DVDs. There are also a few videos of her speaking on YouTube. Many of her out of print books can still be found used on Amazon and other places.

In addition to her books, her newsletters, which were published every other month from 1982 to 2003, can be found here. Some of the material made its way into her books and vice versa. She also had a radio program called Gateway to Joy for almost 13 years, ending in 2001. Back to the Bible used to have transcripts of it on their site, but, sadly, they don’t any more. However, the Bible Broadcasting Network has started replaying them at 11:15 a.m. on BBN stations, or they can be listened to at that time through live streaming here or on their mobile app, or they can be listened to on demand here.

After Elisabeth Elliot passed away, I was glad to learn that her memorial service would be available online. It was rather long (2+ hours), so it took me a while to have the time to watch it, but I am glad I did. You can find the whole service here.

It looked like they cut out all but one of the grandchildren’s testimonies. I was sorry to see that. I am not sure whether it was because of the time factor or whether theirs would have been a bit too personal. But there were testimonies from a number of personal friends and family members.

It was wonderful both to be reminded of aspects of her life I was familiar with and to learn a few new things. Her daughter, Valerie Shephard, reads some excerpts from her mother’s journal. Elisabeth never tried to portray herself as perfect and was always honest about her shortcomings, but readings from her journal were raw, recounting grief over her impatience with the Indians (which touched me, having battled my own impatience lately – again), times she felt like a failure, her missing her husband in the days after his death, her frustration in dealing with some issues that he usually dealt with. Part of me hopes that some day they might publish her journals, but I would understand if they didn’t: she shared much of her life publicly already, and I would not be surprised if they might want to keep some things private. But that short glimpse helped me see her anew as a woman “of like passions as we are,” who had to deal with grief and frustrations and wrong attitudes and then adjust them in light of Scriptural teaching and what she knew about her Father’s character and workings.

Valerie’s segment as well as that of Joni Eareckson Tada were my favorite parts, though I enjoyed all the testimonies.

A few other observations: I enjoyed the majestic old hymns, something I knew Elisabeth appreciated and used in her devotional times. Evidently she taught them to her children and grandchildren as well. I love many new hymns, but some of these old ones I had not heard in a long time. At first I was going to try to skip through some of the singing to get to the speeches, but I am glad I didn’t.

I loved hearing about her humor. She doesn’t strike you as a funny person at first, but she enjoyed a good laugh.

I also enjoyed seeing photos I had not seen before, including some of places and people and even pets.

But the thing that struck me most was Elisabeth’s interest in and ministry to people. She wasn’t just off at a desk writing all the time. Honestly, that would be my own preference. I often don’t know what to say “in the moment.” That’s one reason I like writing and blogging – I can turn things over in my mind, write a bit, let it sit for a while and come back to it, and finally after days or months give you a fairly thorough answer or opinion on something. But that can’t substitute for an interest in and ministry to people in everyday moments, and one thing those testimonies did was to awaken and encourage that in me.

I thought it would be fitting, at then end of our time with Elisabeth Elliot this month, to close with this video that was shown at the memorial service. This video is a little longish – I don’t often click on videos on people’s blogs that are longer that a minute or two, and this one is over 16. But I think if you have time and you read and loved her at all, this is a worthwhile listen. I’ll forewarn you that there is a bit of what a former pastor used to call “National Geographic-style nudity,” but it is only in the few minutes describing her time working with the tribe that she ministered to, who wore nothing but a string around their hips.  I hope you have a chance to watch this, and I hope it is a blessing to you.

Though Elisabeth would never want to be out on a pedestal, as she once said of others in the faith whom we admire, so I think we can say this of her:

Pedestals are for statues. Usually statues commemorate people who have done something admirable. Is the deed worth imitating? Does it draw me out of myself, set my sights higher? Let me remember the Source of all strength (“The Lord is the strength of my life,” says Ps 27:1 AV) and, cheered by the image of a human being in whom that strength was shown, follow his example.

I have enjoyed this time over the past month reminding myself of things Elisabeth said. I hope you have as well. Thank you for your kind comments!

To see all the posts in this series, see the bottom of this post.

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Several Short Quotes

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As I knew would happen, there were many more quotes from Elisabeth that I wanted to share than there were days in October for the Write 31 Days project. I decided to put a few of the shorter ones together in one post:

From A Lamp For My Feet.

To listen to one word and go out and obey it is better than having the most exalted “religious experience.” “The man who has received my commands and obeys them–he it is who loves me: and he who loves me will be loved by my Father; and I will love him and disclose myself to him” (Jn 14:21). There is the order: hear, do, know.

From Keep a Quiet Heart:

If my life is once surrendered, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were in peril in His hand but would be safer in mine!

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Convicting, isn’t it? And it is so silly that we do this, but too often we do.

I don’t know which of Elisabeth’s writings this came from, but it is short and sweet and very helpful:

“Pray when you feel like praying. Pray when you don’t feel like praying. Pray until you do feel like praying.”

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From a chapter titled “God’s Curriculum” in  Keep a Quiet Heart:

An angry retort from someone may be just the occasion we need in which to learn not only longsuffering and forgiveness, but meekness and gentleness; fruits not born in us but borne only by the Spirit.

Too often I fail to learn that lesson and react in a fleshly manner instead of a spiritual one, so I am thankful for this reminder to seek the Spirit’s help in reacting in a right way.

I don’t know the source of this one, either:

A surrendered mind is not one which is no longer in operation. It is, rather, a mind freed from rebellion and opposition. To be Christ’s captive is to be perfectly free.

From Keep a Quiet Heart in a section on self-image:

If I’m so beautiful and lovable, what was Jesus doing up there, nailed to the cross and crowned with thorns? Why all that hideous suffering for the pure Son of God? Here’s why: There was no other way to deliver us from the hell of our own proud self-loving selves, no other way out of the bondage of self-pity and self-congratulation. How shall we take our stand beneath the cross of Jesus and continue to love the selves that put Him there? How can we survey the wondrous cross and at the same time feed our pride? No. It won’t work. Jesus put it simply: If you want to be My disciple, you must leave self behind, take up the cross, and follow Me.

Finally, this is from a chapter titled, “Nevertheless We Must Run Aground” in Love Has a Price Tag:

Heaven is not here, it’s There. If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.

Someone suggested that I share a list of Elisabeth’s books, so I will do that tomorrow, along with a video shown at her memorial service.

See all the posts in this series here.

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This is the last day to enter DaySpring.com’s contest for Write 31 Days readers. To enter to win a $500 DaySpring shopping spree, just click on this link & follow the giveaway widget instructions by October 30. Best wishes, and thanks for reading!

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: The Key to Supernatural Power

Elisabeth Elliot2This is from Elisabeth’s book, Keep a Quiet Heart. At first I was only going to include an excerpt of a few paragraphs, but as I read over it, I couldn’t leave anything out:

The world cannot fathom strength proceeding from weakness, gain proceeding from loss, or power from meekness. Christians apprehend these truths very slowly, if at all, for we are strongly influenced by secular thinking. Let’s stop and concentrate on what Jesus meant when He said that the meek would inherit the earth. Do we understand what meekness truly is? Think first about what it isn’t.

It is not a naturally phlegmatic temperament. I knew a woman who was so phlegmatic that nothing seemed to make much difference to her at all. While drying dishes for her one day in her kitchen I asked where I should put a serving platter.

“Oh, I don’t know. Wherever you think would be a good place,” was her answer. I wondered how she managed to find things if there wasn’t a place for everything (and everything in its place).

Meekness is not indecision or laziness or feminine fragility or loose sentimentalism or indifference or affable neutrality.

Meekness is most emphatically not weakness. Do you remember who was the meekest man in the Old Testament? Moses! (See Numbers 12:3). My mental image of him is not of a feeble man. It is shaped by Michelangelo’s sculpture and painting and by the biblical descriptions. Think of him murdering the Egyptian, smashing the tablets of the commandments, grinding the golden calf to a powder, scattering it on the water and making the Israelites drink it. Nary a hint of weakness there, nor in David who wrote, “The meek will he guide in judgment” (Psalm 25:9, KJV), nor in Isaiah, who wrote, “The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord” (Isaiah 29:19, KJV).

The Lord Jesus was the Lamb of God, and when we think of lambs we think of meekness (and perhaps weakness), but He was also the Lion of Judah, and He said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29, KJV). He told us that we can find rest for our souls if we will come to Him, take His yoke, and learn. What we must learn is meekness. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.

Meekness is teachability. “The meek will he teach his way” (Psalm 25:9, KJV). It is the readiness to be shown, which includes the readiness to lay down my fixed notions, my objections and “what ifs” or “but what abouts,” my certainties about the rightness of what I have always done or thought or said. It is the child’s glad “Show me! Is this the way? Please help me.” We won’t make it into the kingdom without that childlikeness, that simple willingness to be taught and corrected and helped. “Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, KJV). Meekness is an explicitly spiritual quality, a fruit of the Spirit, learned, not inherited. It shows in the kind of attention we pay to one another, the tone of voice we use, the facial expression.

One weekend I spoke in Atlanta on this subject, and the following weekend I was to speak on it again in Philadelphia. As very often happens, I was sorely tested on that very point in the few days in between. That sore test was my chance to be taught and changed and helped. At the same time I was strongly tempted to indulge in the very opposite of meekness: sulking. Someone had hurt me. He/she was the one who needed to be changed! I felt I was misunderstood, unfairly treated, and unduly berated. Although I managed to keep my mouth shut, both the Lord and I knew that my thoughts did not spring from a depth of loving-kindness and holy charity. I wanted to vindicate myself to the offender. That was a revelation of how little I knew of meekness.

The Spirit of God reminded me that it was He who had provided this very thing to bring that lesson of meekness which I could learn nowhere else. He was literally putting me on the spot: would I choose, here and now, to learn of Him, learn His meekness? He was despised, rejected, reviled, pierced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. What was this little incident of mine by comparison with my Lord’s suffering? He brought to mind Jesus’ willingness not only to eat with Judas who would soon betray Him, but also to kneel before him and wash his dirty feet. He showed me the look the Lord gave Peter when he had three times denied Him–a look of unutterable love and forgiveness, a look of meekness which overpowered Peter’s cowardice and selfishness, and brought him to repentance. I thought of His meekness as He hung pinioned on the cross, praying even in His agony for His Father’s forgiveness for His killers. There was no venom or bitterness there, only the final proof of a sublime and invincible love.

But how shall I, not born with the smallest shred of that quality, I who love victory by argument and put-down, ever learn that holy meekness? The prophet Zephaniah tells us to seek it (Zephaniah 2:3). We must walk (live) in the Spirit, not gratifying the desires of the sinful nature (for example, my desire to answer back, to offer excuses and accusations, my desire to show up the other’s fault instead of to be shown my own). We must “clothe” ourselves (Colossians 3:12) with meekness–put it on, like a garment. This entails an explicit choice: I will be meek. I will not sulk, will not retaliate, will not carry a chip.

A steadfast look at Jesus instead of at the injury makes a very great difference. Seeking to see things in His light changes the aspect altogether.

In PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, Prudence asks Christian in the House Beautiful, “Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances at times, as if they were vanquished?”

“Yes,” says Christian, “when I think what I saw at the Cross, that will do it.”

The message of the cross is foolishness to the world and to all whose thinking is still worldly. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25, NIV). The meekness of Jesus was a force more irresistible than any force on earth. “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” wrote the great apostle, “I appeal to you…. Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:1, 3-4, NIV). The weapon of meekness counters all enmity, says author Dietrich Von Hildebrand, with the offer of an unshielded heart.

Isn’t this the simple explanation for our being so heavy-laden, so tired, so overburdened and confused and bitter? We drag around such prodigious loads of resentment and self-assertion. Shall we not rather accept at once the loving invitation: “Come to Me. Take My yoke. Learn of Me–I am gentle, meek, humble, lowly. I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29 paraphrased).

See all the posts in this series here.

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DaySpring.com is celebrating all of the amazing Write 31 Days readers who are supporting nearly 2,000 writers this October! To enter to win a $500 DaySpring shopping spree, just click on this link & follow the giveaway widget instructions by October 30. Best wishes, and thanks for reading!

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: The Hand That Hurts and the Hand That Heals

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This is titled “A Dog’s Thanksgiving” and appears in the November/December 1988 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter:

“I remember fixing the wounded leg of my dog. There was some struggle and a hurt crying but he kept licking my hand. The hand of the one who was hurting him and the hand of the one who was healing him were the same, and his endurance of the one rested in his trust in the other. Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.” From This Cup, by Addison Leitch (my second husband, who died in 1973).

There are many lessons for us in the mysterious animal world. Have we ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to learn those sweet lessons?

Our Heavenly Healer often has to hurt us in order to heal us. We sometimes fail to recognize His mighty love in this, yet we are firmly held always in the Everlasting Arms. The dog’s leg was hurting. Add’s ministrations were as delicate as possible, yet they hurt too, and the loyal dog accepted them and thanked him with his eyes. Have we the humility to thank our Father for the gift of pain?

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Let us give thanks!

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See all the posts in this series here.

_____________________________________________________

DaySpring.com is celebrating all of the amazing Write 31 Days readers who are supporting nearly 2,000 writers this October! To enter to win a $500 DaySpring shopping spree, just click on this link & follow the giveaway widget instructions by October 30. Best wishes, and thanks for reading!

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Devotional Time

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These excerpts come from the chapter “The Song of the Animals” in Elisabeth’s book, On Asking God Why. The chapter title might seem odd one for talking about time with God, but it comes from one part where she talks about all creation praising God by doing what He created them to do. She also discusses her father’s example of rising early to spend time alone with God. One thing I love about this except is that she is so transparent, ordinary, and normal here.

Few people know what to do with solitude when it is forced upon them; even fewer arrange for solitude regularly. This is not to suggest that we should neglect meeting with other believers for prayer (Hebrews 10:25), but the foundation of our devotional life is our own private relationship with God…

Christians may (and ought to) pray anytime and anywhere, but we cannot well do without a special time and place to be alone with God. Most of us find that early morning is not an easy time to pray. I wonder if there is an easy time….

The Bible is God’s message to everybody. We deceive ourselves if we claim to want to hear his voice but neglect the primary channel through which it comes. We must read his Word. We must obey it. We must live it, which means rereading it throughout our lives…

We read that our Heavenly Father actually looks for people who will worship him in spirit and in reality. Imagine! God is looking for worshippers. Will he always have to go to a church to find them, or might there be one here and there in an ordinary house, kneeling alone by a chair, simply adoring him?…

When I stumble out of bed in the morning, put on a robe, and go into my study, words do not spring spontaneously to my lips–other than words like, “Lord, here I am again to talk to you. It’s cold. I’m not feeling terribly spiritual….” Who can go on and on like that morning after morning, and who can bear to listen to it day after day?

I need help in order to worship God. Nothing helps me more than the Psalms. Here we find human cries–of praise, adoration, anguish, complaint, petition. There is an immediacy, an authenticity, about those cries. They speak for me to God–that is, they say what I often want to say, but for which I cannot find words.

Surely the Holy Spirit preserved those Psalms in order that we might have paradigms of prayer and of our individual dealings with God. It is immensely comforting to find that even David, the great king, wailed about his loneliness, his enemies, his pains, his sorrows, and his fears. But then he turned from them to God in paeans of praise.

He found expression for praise far beyond my poor powers, so I use his and am lifted out of myself, up into heights of adoration, even though I’m still the same ordinary woman alone in the same little room.

Another source of assistance for me has been the great hymns of the Church, such as “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven,” “New Every Morning Is the Love,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” and ”O Worship the King.” The third stanza of that last one delights me. It must delight God when I sing it to him:

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

That’s praise. By putting into words things on earth for which we thank him, we are training ourselves to be ever more aware of such things as we live our lives. It is easy otherwise to be oblivious of the thousand evidences of his care. Have you thought of thanking God for light and air, because in them his care breathes and shines?

Hymns often combine praise and petition, which are appropriate for that time alone with God. The beautiful morning hymn “Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun” has these stanzas:

All praise to Thee, who safe hast kept,
And hast refreshed me while I slept.
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake,
I may of endless light partake.
Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say;
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

Adoration should be followed by confession. Sometimes it happens that I can think of nothing that needs confessing. This is usually a sign that I’m not paying attention. I need to read the Bible. If I read it with prayer that the Holy Spirit will open my eyes to this need, I soon remember things done that ought not to have been done and things undone that ought to have been done.

Sometimes I follow confession of sin with confession of faith–that is, with a declaration of what I believe. Any one of the creeds helps here, or these simple words: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Then comes intercession, the hardest work in the world–the giving of one’s self, time, strength, energy, and attention to the needs of others in a way that no one but God sees, no one but God will do anything about, and no one but God will ever reward you for.

Do you know what to pray for people whom you haven’t heard from in a long time? I don’t. So I often use the prayers of the New Testament, so all-encompassing, so directed toward things of true and eternal importance, such as Paul’s for the Christians in Ephesus: ”…I pray that you, rooted and founded in love yourselves, may be able to grasp…how wide and long and deep and high is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:17, 18). Or I use his prayer for the Colossians, “We pray that you will be strengthened from God’s boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through any experience and endure it with joy” (Colossians 1:11)…

My own devotional life is very far from being Exhibit A of what it should be. I have tried, throughout most of my life, to maintain a quiet time with God, with many lapses and failures. Occasionally, but only occasionally, it is impossible. Our Heavenly Father knows all about those occasions. He understands perfectly why mothers with small children bring them along when they talk to him.

Nearly always it is possible for most of us, with effort and planning and the will to do his will, to set aside time for God alone. I am sure I have lost out spiritually when I have missed that time. And I can say with the psalmist, “I have found more joy along the path of thy instruction than in any kind of wealth” (Psalms 119:14).

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See all the posts in this series here.

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31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Freedom and Discipline

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This is taken from a chapter titled “How to Be Free” from Elisabeth’s book All That Was Ever Ours. After discussing a friend of her daughter’s who was having trouble at home and believed “freedom meant doing what she wanted to do,” Elisabeth wrote:

…True freedom is not to be found in throwing off personal responsibility. The man who runs away from the truth will never be a free man, for it is the truth alone, sought within the circle of his commitments, which will make him free.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who epitomized true freedom in his acceptance, for God’s sake, of the prison cell and death, wrote: “If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses. . . . Only through discipline may a man learn to be free.”

Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward, of discipline. It is to be bought with a high price, not merely claimed. The world thrills to watch the grace of Peggy Fleming on the ice, or the marvelously controlled speed and strength of a racehorse. But the skater and horse are free to perform as they do only because they have been subjected to countless hours of grueling work, rigidly prescribed, faithfully carried out. Men are free to soar into space because they have willingly confined themselves in a tiny capsule designed and produced by highly trained scientists and craftsmen, have meticulously followed instructions and submitted themselves to rules which others defined.

Then Elisabeth wrote of her time in the jungle with the Auca (now known as Waorani Indians), where she “enjoyed a kind of freedom which even hippies might envy. But I was free only because the Indians worked. My freedom was contingent upon their acceptance of me as a liability and, incidentally, upon my own willingness to confine myself to a forest clearing where all I heard was a foreign language.”

…meaning in life…can be found only in God’s purpose, I believe, in what he originally meant when he made us. “If you are faithful to what I have said, you are truly my disciples (those who are being disciplined),” Jesus said. “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

There is one kind of freedom that Jesus was talking about in John 8:36: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Spiritually we’re set free from sin and its penalty the moment we repent and believe on Jesus Christ as our Savior, and there is nothing we can do to “earn” it. But it would not have been possible without His setting Himself under the discipline of the cross. However,  in our sanctification, in our growing day by day in the Lord, it’s one of those paradoxical things that the more we submit to His discipline, the freer we become.

See all the posts in this series here.

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31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: The Face of Jesus

Elisabeth Elliot2This is from Elisabeth’s book, A Lamp For My Feet:

The face of Jesus:

marred more than any man–
spit upon,
slapped,
thorn-pierced,
bloodied,
sweating,
the beard plucked,
twisted in pain–

For my salvation.

A glorious face, now.

Let its light shine on me, O Light of Life.

Let Your radiance fall on me, Sun and Savior,

Lighten my darkness.

Then grant me this by Your grace:

That I, in turn, may give

“The light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6 AV)

As I see it in the face of Jesus Christ.

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See all the posts in this series here.

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31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: A Call to Older Women

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This excerpt is from the September/October 1989 issue of Elisabeth’s newsletter and is also in her book Keep a Quiet Heart. The first part tells of some older ladies who had been a godly influence in her life, and then she continued:

The apostle Paul tells Titus that older women ought to school the younger women to be loving wives and mothers, temperate, chaste and kind, busy at home, respecting the authority of their own husbands. That’s from Titus 2:4,5. My dear Mom Cunningham schooled me not in a class, or seminar, or even primarily by her words. It was what she was that taught me. It was her availability to God when He sent her to my door. It was the surrender of her time and offering to Him, for my sake. It was her readiness to get involved, to lay down her life for one anxious Bible School girl. Above all, she herself, a simple Scottish woman, was the message.

I think of the vast number of older women today. The statistical abstract of the United States says that way back in 1980, 19.5 percent of the population was between ages 45 to 65, but by 2000, it will be 22.9 percent. Assuming that half of those people are women, what a pool of energy and power for God they might be. We live longer now than we did forty years ago. The same volume says that the over 65’s will increase from 11.3 to 13 percent. There’s more mobility, more money around, more leisure, more health and strength.

Resources, which if put at God’s disposal, might bless younger women. But there are also many more ways to spend those resources, so we find it very easy to occupy ourselves selfishly. Where are the women, single or married, willing to hear God’s call to spiritual motherhood, taking spiritual daughters under their wings to school them, as Mom Cunningham did me? She had no training the world would recognize. She had no thought of such. She simply loved God and was willing to be broken bread and poured out wine for His sake. Retirement never crossed her mind.

If some of my listeners are willing to hear this call but hardly know how to begin, here are some suggestions.

First of all, pray about it. Ask God to show you whom, what, how.

Second, consider writing notes to or telephoning some younger woman who needs encouragement in the areas Paul mentioned.

Three, ask a young mother if you may do her ironing, take the children out, baby-sit so she can go out, or make a cake or casserole for her.

Number four, do what Mom Cunningham did for me. Invite somebody to tea. Find out what she’d like you to pray for. I asked Mom Cunningham to pray that God would bring Jim Elliot and me together. Pray with that lady.

Number five, start a little prayer group of two or three whom you can cheer and help. You’ll be cheered and helped, too.

Six, organize a volunteer house-cleaning pool to go out every other week or once a month to somebody who needs you.

Seven, have a lending library of books of real spiritual food.

Eight, be the first of a group in your church to be known as the WOTTs: Women of Titus Two. See what happens. Something will.

Here’s a quotation from a minister from the 19th century:

“Say not you cannot gladden, elevate and set free, that you have nothing of the grace of influence, that all you have to give is at the most only common bread and water. Give yourself to your Lord for the service of men with what you have. Cannot He change water into wine? Cannot He make stammering words to be imbued, filled or charged with saving power? Cannot He change trembling efforts to help into deeds of strength? Cannot He still as of old enable you in all your personal poverty to make many rich? God has need of thee for the service of thy fellow men. He has a work for thee to do. To find out what it is and then to do it is at once, thy supremest duty and thy highest wisdom. Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”

I do want to add this suggestion. Please don’t start another meeting in your church. That’s the last thing you need. But maybe it would make sense to just post a sheet of 11×8 paper on the bulletin board with WOTTs–Women of Titus Two–at the top. Let women sign up if they’re willing to be available to do any of those things that I’ve suggested. You might be surprised that there are really young women hoping and praying for spiritual mothers. You can be one.

While I appreciate all of this, I especially appreciate the last paragraph. We don’t need another organized program in the church. We mainly just need to be aware of the need to be used in this way and to be open to God’s leading, as she wrote in the first paragraph. I wrote more ideas on this topic in Mentoring Women.

See all the posts in this series here.

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