Editor’s Note: This post was written by Joy Mosbarger, not Gem Fadling as previously posted.
During my college and young adult years, there were numerous authors and speakers who had a significant impact on my life. One whose influence was most noteworthy was Elisabeth Elliot. A few weeks ago, on June 15, 2015, Elisabeth Elliot died. Hearing that news brought back a lot of lessons learned from her books and talks. And I began to realize that some messages resonate throughout our lives, equally powerful when we are young, idealistic, and eager, as well as when we are more mature, circumspect, and experienced.
One of the topics that Elisabeth Elliot addressed frequently in her writing and her speaking was the concept of sacrifice and suffering in the Christian life. This was a topic with which she was intimately familiar. While she and her husband, Jim Elliot, were missionaries in Ecuador, he was speared to death by members of a tribe of Indians in Ecuador that they were attempting to reach with the gospel, leaving Elisabeth a young widow with a ten-month old daughter. Her second husband, Addison Leitch, died of cancer after only four years of marriage. In her later years, Elisabeth herself suffered from dementia.
In one of her messages, Elisabeth talks about Deuteronomy 8. After God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they soon began to grumble and complain about the lack of abundant meat, bread, and water they had in Egypt. In Deuteronomy 8, God tells the Israelites that he had purposely let them be hungry. By allowing the Israelites to suffer hunger and deprivation, God was testing them, to see what was in their hearts. He gave them manna to satisfy their hunger, but that wasn’t what they wanted. As Elisabeth Elliot points out, we are most likely to find out what is truly in our hearts when we are deprived of something we thought we should have. Would the Israelites humbly endure in the midst of their suffering, believing God and following his word? Would they trust that God knew what he was doing, that he had a plan and a purpose?
Elisabeth also speaks of the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. The Father gave Jesus a cup to drink (John 18:11). That cup involved being scorned, despised, hated, persecuted, and, eventually, crucified. As Jesus was praying in Gethsemane shortly before he was killed, he asked the Father to let this cup pass from him if it was possible (Matthew 26:39-42). But it was not possible and the cup could not pass. As Elisabeth says, “He could not save himself and save you and me.” To follow Jesus, we must give up all our own plans, desires, and hopes, giving ourselves utterly and completely to him, accepting God’s will, no matter the cost.
In my young adult years, I found Elisabeth’s words inspiring and compelling. I wanted to be that person who followed Jesus no matter what the cost. But in all honesty, at that point I really hadn’t been tested. I didn’t know what was in my heart. But as the years have passed, I have had opportunities to discover more about what is in the depths of my heart through times of suffering and sacrifice. Some of those discoveries have not been pleasant. I have found at times that my own desires for comfort, my plans for success, or my hopes for recognition have been extremely powerful. But coming to the place of acceptance of the cup that the Father has given me has brought peace. I don’t always remain in that place, but I pray I always return there.
Only in complete submission are we able to experience fully the comfort and security of the Father’s everlasting arms carrying us close to his heart, even in the midst of sacrifice and suffering. The life worth living is the life given wholly to God. We must take up our cross daily, giving up our own rights. We must abandon ourselves to God’s love, his will, and his service. “The eyes of the Lord move to and from throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his” (2 Chronicles 16:9). When his eyes land on me, may he find my heart to be completely his.