Finishing the race…..

O Lord, by all thy dealings with us, whether of joy or pain, of light or darkness, let us be brought to Thee. Let us value no treatment of thy grace simply because it makes us happy or because it makes us sad, because it gives us or denies us what we want;

But may all that thou sendest us bring us to thee, that,

knowing thy perfection, we may be sure in every disappointment that thou art still loving us, and in every darkness that thou art still enlightening us, and in every enforced idleness that thou art still using us;

yeah, in every death that thou art still giving us life, as in his death thou didst give life to thy Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen

(Phillips Brooks, 1835-1893)

I was introduced to this prayer by the writing of a woman called Elisabeth Elliott, a woman whose words have shaped my faith and thinking about faith since I discovered her as a teenager. She is known primarily for her many books, exploring in ruthlessly practical ways, the business of working out what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus – as a man, a woman, a parent. She wrote with a lyrical power, without frills, taking the reader straight to the heart of the matter, and always challenging – because every page is saturated with the truth of God.

Her words are strong meat for the soul, leaving the reader with no excuses for not understanding and acting on what God has said. But she is also very comforting to read, because her life experience has included being widowed twice – the first time after only 2 years of marriage, by the martyrdom of her husband at the hands of the Auca Indians in South America. This woman can write about trusting God in the dark times and be taken seriously, because if anyone has proved God’s promises, she has. I wholeheartedly commend her books to anyone who wants to take the business of living a faithful christian life seriously.

The prayer which I quoted above sums up her own faith and overwhelming desire to trust in God, seeking him alone, and not only his gifts. This rings all through her writings, and I believe that is because it is central to faith for us all. If we ever find ourselves desiring anything above God himself, then we are setting up an idol, and heading for trouble. Our desire for God may be weak and fitful, but we long to see it grow, and to become the ruling passion of our lives. Elisabeth Elliott could testify to the struggle which is involved in trusting, at many different stages of her life and through many trials. Her ability to articulate that struggle, and her honesty in identifying the weakness which drags us down, the doubts which undermine us, make her writings enormously helpful to others. Here we find someone who has travelled the road ahead and can prepare us for what we might meet, encourage us to persevere, and provide strong scripture staffs on which we can lean. This quotation from her book ‘The Path of Loneliness’ (1988, Thos Nelson Publishers), demonstrates all these qualities:-

“Accept your share of the hardship that faithfulness to the gospel entails in the strength that God gives you. For he has saved us from all this evil and called us to a life of holiness – not because of any of our achievements but for his own purpose. Before time began he planned to give us in Christ Jesus the grace to achieve this purpose” (2 Tim 1.8-10; JBPhillips.)

That is a wonderfully comforting word to me. God had included the hardships of my life in His original plan. Nothing takes Him by surprise. But nothing is for nothing either. His plan is to make me holy, and hardship is indispensable for that as long as we live in this hard old world. All I have to do is accept it….a distilled act of faith, a laying one’s will alongside God’s, a putting of oneself at one with His Kingdom and His will.

Elisabeth Elliott died on 15 June 2015, after living for several years from dementia. She was  ready to finish the race, to enter into the rest of her Lord, and I rejoice to think that now all her suffering and waiting is over. Surely for her, the voice has rung out, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

But for myself, I am rebuked by the way in which my life continues to fall short of the faith and trust she so humbly demonstrated. May God give me grace to learn afresh how to receive all that he sends with joyful acceptance, offering it up in responsive praise to him again.

All my hope on God is founded, he doth still my trust renew;

me through change and chance he guideth, only good and only true!

(Joachim Neander 1650-1680, translated, Robert Bridges 1844-1930)

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