I was still a young bride in January of 1956. Along with the rest of the world, my husband and I were shocked and horrified when we heard of the deaths of the five missionaries (Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian) in Ecuador. Our hearts went out to the families of the men who had been martyred.
It was hard to understand God’s reasoning in allowing these outstanding and deeply committed men to be killed just as they seemed to be reaching their goals. They had prayed long and hard before going to Ecuador. They had felt God leading them and had planned carefully how to go about reaching these very primitive people. They were there on faith, and believed that God would be with them in their work. Then this tragic outcome: speared through and through, and left to die on a desolate sandbar. What a waste, the world thought.
I was deeply impressed by the depth of forgiveness of Elisabeth Elliot and Nate Saint’s sister Rachel, who later chose to return to the area to work with the native tribes who had killed their loved ones. At that stage of my life I could not help but wonder how they could find the love in their hearts to forgive those who had inflicted such horror and pain. I did not realize at that point that worshipful submission to the will of God is not really optional, but a basic component of what it means to be a believer.
Later, as God allowed some genuine difficulties in my life, I began to understand that life is not about getting everything we want, but in submitting in peace to the will of God. If I could sum up the most important lessons of my life in Christ and put it into one sentence, it would be pretty much what Elisabeth Elliot has already written:
“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.”
― Elisabeth Elliot
This is not an easy lesson, and most of us would prefer to believe that eventually God will somehow find a way to give us what we want. When we want something very deeply ~ good things, like someone’s healing, or to find a much needed job, or to see an errant child brought back to the family and to the Lord ~ it seems impossible to believe that God would not find it in His heart of mercy to grant our desires and make it “all right”… but sometimes His answer is, “No”.
Some, if their desires are not satisfied, may eventually give up on God, and go their own way. Their “faith” was perhaps based on what they thought they could get from God, rather than on what they could give to Him. Some may become discouraged and turn inward because they assume they must not have enough faith, or they must be doing something wrong. They will not yet have learned that our circumstances and the degree of His love are not based on our scoring adequate points through good behavior. What we all need to remember is that God never says , “No” unless He has a reason. Another quote from Elliot is this:
“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful ~ “severe mercies” at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our hearts desire except to give us something better.”
Sometimes it takes time to see the goodness that comes out of adversity. In the case of the missionaries in Ecuador, the publicity engendered by their deaths is said to have resulted in the highest number of new missionaries around the world in years. The natives of that tribe gradually came to trust the message of Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint because they could not understand how they could be forgiven for what they had done ~ and curiosity about this opened them up to hear about the forgiveness of God in Christ. Many were brought to know the Lord. The missionaries themselves went to see the face of God, and their work was still accomplished. The highest cost was to the families and friends who were left behind. We can’t ignore the human side of this; even the most spiritual of people are deeply hurt by the death of someone they love. I cannot imagine the shock and devastation for those young wives and children. Yet, the journals of several of the missionaries show that they had realized that they were possibly in mortal danger, but they chose to continue because they believed themselves in the will of the Lord and were prepared to be in submission, even to death.
The deaths had been so selfless that it brought the world’s attention to the truth that the work of God goes on, often quietly and unseen, but considered by some to be worth their very lives. Christians all over the world were united in their grief and in remembering that the bottom line is not about us, but about Him. We considered our own faith and wondered if we trusted Him enough to offer our lives. It brought a world-wide revival of sorts, and the hearts of many non-believers were touched as well.
So, what does all this have to do with us today? There are many who go through heartbreaking challenges: those who realize that they will never have a much desired child; those whose loved ones (or themselves) are being consumed by painful disease; those whose homes have been destroyed in some disaster; those whose children have been born with major disabilities and face uncertain futures. There is unlimited pain and suffering all around us, and we beg for God’s intervention. We plead for the alleviation of our pain ~ but sometimes the answer is, “No”.
My goal is to learn to be content with what He allows, in trust.
If I ever hope to go deeper, to become more like Jesus, then it is necessary that I learn to die to self and let the Spirit of God change me into His image. I need to be content to submit my will to the will of God, in all things. Do I truly want Him to be Lord of every detail of my life? Am I prepared to accept what appears to be adversity with calm and trust, believing that He has allowed this for some purpose of His own? Am I content to have Him say, “No” ? Do I see myself as His servant, not expecting Him to be my servant?
What are my expectations of the life in Christ? Am I prepared to live a life of poverty, humility and obscurity if that is His plan for me? How important is He to me? Am I His follower only because it is comfortable in this country and in these times to call myself a believer? Would I still feel the same if I knew that to be a believer could put my life in jeopardy?
I don’t want to be a sunshine follower. If I am committed, then it is in sunshine and shadow, just as His love is for me. When I really think about how deeply He loves me; how patient He has been with me; how much it has cost Him to bring us to a place of reconciliation, then I cannot be satisfied to offer Him only what is left over from the rest of my life. I want Him to be truly my Lord; to have Him forever on the throne of my heart and my life.
I am not a perfect Christian, and I never will be in this life. I can only go at my own pace, and take it day by day. I think of Him and realize His beauty; catch a small glimpse of the enormity of His love and wisdom and goodness, and my heart melts within me. How can Perfection love me? How can I ever be worthy of His grace? There is nothing I can do to merit His love. All I have to give is my life, which He gave me and which He sustains. I can only offer it back to Him, with gratitude and a declaration that I want Him to rule in my life in every way.
Even though my human goals and desires may be worthy; even though I may think in myself that what I want is not unreasonable ~ submission to His wisdom and love for me are more important than getting my own way. I do not have His overreaching sight. I do not know what He has planned for my future, or the lessons He wants me to learn. I choose to trust Him, and accept His, “No” if that is His will. Not my will, but Thine, O Lord… that in all things You might have the preeminence.