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Jim Elliot and friends; did they have to die?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sometimes in the muddle of life, it is difficult to discern God's hand. Its easy to drift into routine, forgetting that God is at work, usually behind the scenes but at work nonetheless.

If you are stressed and worn, thinking perhaps God has stopped working in your life, take courage from the example of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.

Not One Thing Has Failed
by Elisabeth Elliot


I love to read people's journals. Except for one which I was allowed to read in the original handwriting, that of my late husband Jim Elliot, I have had to limit myself to published journals--those, for example of David Brainerd, early missionary to American Indians; Katherine Mansfield, short-story writer from New Zealand; Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous pilot; and Mircea Eliade, Rumanian professor of the history of religion at the University of Chicago.

Jim Elliot was a jungle missionary in Ecuador. He died in 1958 when Warani warriors attacked Jim and four missionary friends. Their story of courage is told in this dramatic movie.

Jim started his journal as a means of self-discipline. He began to get up early in the morning during his junior year in college to read the Bible and pray before classes. He was realistic enough to recognize the slim chances of fitting in any serious study and prayer later in the day. If it had priority on his list of things that mattered, it had to have chronological priority. To see that he did not waste the dearly-bought time, he began to note down on paper specific things he learned from the Word and specific things he asked for in prayer.

"It is not written as a diary of my experiences or feelings," he recorded in his journal, "but as a 'book of remembrance' to enable me to ask definitely by forcing myself to put yearnings into words. All I have asked has not been given and the Father's withholding has served to intensify my desires.... He promises water to the thirsty, satiation to the unsatisfied (I do not say dissatisfied), filling to the famished for righteousness. So has His concealing of Himself given me longings that can only be slaked when Psalm 17:15 ['As for me I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form'] is realized" (From The Journals of Jim Elliot, ed. Elisabeth Elliot. Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell).

"All I have asked has not been given."

Not, that is, in the way or at the time he might have predicted. Jim beheld the longed-for Face much sooner than he expected. It is startling to see, from the perspective of nearly thirty years, how much of what he asked was given, and given beyond his dreaming.


In his meditations on the Revelation of John, Jim prayed for a greater love for God's church, which he saw "in a shambling ruins," sadly in need of awakening to her calling. "And where shall an overcomer be found? Alas, they all witness that there is no need for overcoming....

But Christ was among the churches. The tarnish of the lamp stand did not send Him away from them; He is still in their midst. Ah, turn me, Lord Jesus, to see Thee in Thy concern for Thy witness and let me write, publish, and send to the church what things I see."

Knowing Jim and the context in which he wrote, I am quite certain it was beyond his dreaming to publish a book. He wanted to witness. He wanted to preach. He was called to be a missionary. But he did not imagine himself a published author. The way this came about (his posthumous notoriety) cannot have entered the frame-work of his prayer.

When Jim prayed for revival he was instructed by reading in David Brainerd's diary how a revival came when Brainerd was sick, discouraged, and cast down, "little expecting that God had chosen the hour of his weakness," Jim wrote, "for manifestation of His strength."

"I visited Indians at Crossweeksung," Brainerd records, "Apprehending that it was my indispensable duty.... I cannot say I had any hopes of success. I do not know that my hopes respecting the conversion of the Indians were ever reduced to so low an ebb...

yet this was the very season that God saw fittest to begin His glorious work in! And thus He ordained strength out of weakness... whence I learn that it is good to follow the path of duty, though in the midst of darkness and discouragement."

Following the quotation from David Brainerd Jim includes in the journal a quotation I had sent him from a book which had encouraged me. At that time I was working for the Canadian Sunday School Mission in the bush country of Alberta. My own journal of the first day says, "It is a new and strange experience and I feel keenly my need of the mighty Fortress."

On the second day, "I woke at 4:30 with the farm fowl. Made a small breakfast and cleaned up my little home [a fourteen-foot trailer]. In the hot stillness of the afternoon I felt desolate, helpless, lonely, discouraged. Was helped by Deuteronomy 1:29, 30: 'Then I said to you, Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you."'

Jessie Penn-Lewis's book Thy Hidden Ones showed me God's purpose in my isolation and helplessness. It was her words I sent in a letter to Jim: "In the Holy Spirit's leading of the soul through the stripping of what may be called 'consecrated self,' and its activity, it is important that there should be a fulfillment of all outward duty, that the believer may learn to act on principle rather than on pleasant impulse."

It was a spiritual lesson that was to fortify me through countless later experiences when feelings or impulses contributed nothing to an inclination toward obedience. God allows the absence of feeling or, more often, the presence of strong negative feeling that we may simply follow, simply obey, simply trust.

Jim saw, in reading Brainerd, the value of his own journals. He also "was much encouraged to think of a life of godliness in the light of an early death... Christianity has been analyzed, decried, refused by some; coolly eyed, submitted to, and its forms followed by others who call themselves Christians. But alas, what emptiness in both!

"I have prayed for new men, fiery, reckless men, possessed of uncontrollably youthful passion--these lit by the Spirit of God. I have prayed for new words, explosive, direct, simple words. I have prayed for new miracles. Explaining old miracles will not do.

If God is to be known as the God who does wonders in heaven and earth, then God must produce for this generation. Lord, fill preachers and preaching with Thy power. How long dare we go on without tears, without moral passions, hatred and love? Not long, I pray, Lord Jesus, not long." I read these prayers now with awe--new men, new words, new miracles all granted as a result of this young man's death.

The next day, October 28, 1949, when Jim was twenty-two years old he wrote, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." This was the lesson he found in Luke 16:9, "Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations."

The lesson had one application for him in that early morning devotional hour. He did not know how poignantly it would be applied in his life, how aptly illustrated in his death, and how often quoted in the years following.

He wrote in 1953 of watching an Indian die in a jungle house. "And so it will come to me one day, I kept thinking. I wonder if that little phrase I used to use in preaching was something of a prophecy: 'Are you willing to lie in some native hut to die of a disease American doctors never heard of?'

I am still willing, Lord God. Whatever You say shall stand at my end time. But oh, I want to live to teach Your word. Lord, let me live 'until I have declared Thy works to this generation."'

God let him live another three years and then answered that prayer as he answers so many--mysteriously. Five men from a little Stone Age tribe speared him to death. "We thought he had come to eat us," they told me several years later when I had learned their language.

"Why did you think so?" I asked, holding the tiny microphone of a transistor recorder to the mouth of Gikita, the man who seemed to have made the decision to use his spear first.

He laughed. "Unungi!" "For no reason. For no particular purpose."

But the God who holds in his hand the breath of every living thing had a purpose.

He answered Jim's prayer mysteriously, and "exceedingly abundantly above all" that he had asked or thought. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jim's generation for whom he had prayed were brought to their knees, some of them in lifelong surrender to the call of Christ.

Now another generation, born since Jim died, is reading the record of his young manhood - the days which seemed so sterile, so useless, so devoid of any feelings of holiness, when God was at work shaping the character of a man who was to be his witness; the prayers which seemed to go unheard at the time, kept--as all the prayers of all his children are kept, incense for God--and answered after what would have seemed to Jim a long delay.

I think of the farewell message of old Joshua to the elders, heads, judges and officers of Israel: "Be steadfast ... cleave to the Lord ... love the Lord your God.... You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you, not one of them has failed."

Copyright 1979, by Elisabeth Elliot,
all rights reserved.


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