Tag Archives: Elisabeth Elliott

Against self-pity

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him…and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

(1 Peter 1.6-9)

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

(Hebrews 12.2)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

(James 1.2-4)

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ…..I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…

(Philippians 3.7&10)

I am often guilty of wishful thinking; of comparing my situation to that of other people and wondering why I should have to bear my particular burdens. I know this is foolish – who knows what hidden struggles and trials plague the lives of others? I know it is sinful, and yet I find myself longing, wondering, scheming to find a way out of my own personal darkness.

I resent my sufferings; I don’t want anyone else to have to bear them, but I don’t want them either! And then I read these words from Paul…and Peter…and James, and am rebuked and see clearly what my attitude is saying.

I am accusing God of dealing unfairly with me; of giving me a burden which is too great for me to carry; of asking too much; I am refusing to trust that this God – who has so devastatingly shown his love for me on the cross – has my best interests at heart. I consider Jesus, my saviour, and also my example of obedient, holy living, and am ashamed of my disobedient, grumbling attitude.

We are taught that our sufferings have a purpose – the maturing of our faith, until it becomes like pure gold in which the maker can see his own likeness clearly reflected – but that can produce a stoic, teeth-gritting determination rather than a humble, thankful acceptance. I believe that there is another element to the process, which can transform our attitude. Have you ever considered that once we are in glory with Christ, we will never again have the privilege of suffering anything at all in his name and for his sake? There will be nothing to endure, only to enjoy!

Our trials in this world are our opportunity to prove God faithful in his promises to strengthen, comfort and keep us.  When, in the mystery of his will, we are permitted to experience trials and troubles of every kind, then I believe that he is inviting our partnership in the process of creating Christ-likeness in us. The late Helen Roseveare, missionary doctor and one who suffered much at the hands of the Congolese rebels in 1964, wrote of how God spoke to her in the midst of great suffering:

Was He saying to me,’Yes, I could have kept you out of this situation: I could have rescued you….but I thought I could trust you to go through this with me, as I have a plan and purpose for the future..Can you thank me for trusting you with this experience even if I never tell you why?” (Count it All Joy; Helen Roseveare 2017)

If, when faced with our own particular trials, we take refuge in self-pity, in blaming God, and devote all our energies to getting out of the situation by our own efforts, then I believe we are neglecting an opportunity – to grow in faith; to let God shape us through this particular experience of leaning and depending on him; to witness to his power at work in our situation and above all to glorify Jesus by our desire to offer our suffering up in worship. In my own experience, it is in the darkest nights that the tenderness of my Lord’s love is most dear, most present – shall I refuse to meet him there again?

I, the least of the Lord’s servants, am being counted worthy of suffering in his name – and I have his example to inspire me – scorning the shame, and for the joy that is to come, I can receive my trials as a means of blessing. The missionary and author Elisabeth Elliott – who like Dr Roseveare proved God faithful through many trials – puts it perfectly:

“Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with power to destroy you. Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried our griefs and sorrows.”

Oh Loving God, Heavenly Father, grant me wisdom, faith and courage, to trust you and embrace all that you choose to permit in my life, for your glory and the blessing of others.

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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)