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A Life Worth Living
Day 1 of 2
Guest: Elisabeth Elliott
From the series: What in Life is Worth Living For?
Bob: Fifty years ago this week, five American missionaries were martyred by Quechua Indians in rural Ecuador. Their deaths shook the world, but the legacy of their heroism continues to this day. One of the people most profoundly impacted by those events 50 years ago this week is the widow of one of the martyred missionaries, Elisabeth Elliott, the wife of Jim Elliott. As a young widow, she faced questions about the wisdom and the goodness of God, and she faced them head-on.
Elisabeth: Once upon a time, before you were born, there were, in Ecuador a tribe of so-called "savages." Not very much was known about these people. They were naked, they used stone tools, and they killed strangers. One of the questions that people ask me more frequently than any other is how have you handled bitterness? And usually they mean wasn't I bitter against God because of some of the things that have happened in my life. Suffering is a gift. Paul says, "Unto us it is given not only to believe but also to suffer."
Is it worth it? How many things can you think of that are worth suffering for? He is Lord of my life, and when I asked Him, at the age of 12, to be Lord of my life, I turned over to Him all the rights. There is nothing worth living for unless it's worth dying for.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition, Tuesday, January 3rd. I don't know about the rest of our listeners, but just hearing that voice …
Dennis: You're speaking of Elisabeth Elliott.
Bob: Yeah. She has always been somebody that – when I listen to her, I feel like I'm being encouraged and scolded kind of at the same time. You know what I mean? She just has that sense she's calling you to the highest that God would have for your life.
Dennis: She always did that in my life and, as you know, Bob, she has become a good friend of ours. Elisabeth and her husband, Lars – well, she's just a great friend. And what we wanted to do in featuring her on today's broadcast is take our listeners back some 50 years, because this Sunday, January 8th, is the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of five young men who, by faith, flew back into the jungle to lead an uncivilized tribe of people who had never heard the name of Jesus Christ, and who ultimately were murdered on behalf of their faith. And Elisabeth Elliott, of course, is the widow of one of those men, Jim Elliott.
Bob: And as some listeners know, Elisabeth made the courageous decision many months after that, to go back into that jungle and to continue the work that her former husband had begun, and she helped to lead a number of those people to Christ including some of the men who had murdered her husband. And with that historical perspective in mind, we thought it would be good today for our listeners to hear some of her reflections on her husband, his faith, his character, on that time in her life, and on her interaction with the Waodani tribe in Ecuador back in the late 1950s.
Dennis: I think it's going to be a spiritual wheel alignment for some of our listeners who are right now walking through a valley of sorts. Maybe it's the valley of the shadow of death, maybe it's circumstances that can't be defined or explained or even understood after reading the Bible, but God can be trusted, and that's what you're going to hear from Elisabeth Elliott.
A number of years ago, we had the privilege of interviewing her talking to single people, interestingly enough, about the quest for love, and in that interview, Bob, as you and I talked to her, she started talking about how she viewed those circumstances surrounding the loss of her husband.
Elisabeth: In Deuteronomy 8, Moses is reviewing the history of the children of Israel, and he says, "He suffered you to hunger in order that He might know what was in your heart." And you remember that the children of Israel were wailing and screaming and complaining because they didn't have the leeks and onions and garlic and watermelons and fish that they'd had back in Egypt, and they were sick and tired of this stuff they got every day – manna. And it says that a company of strangers came in and said, in effect, "Is this all you've got here?" And so instead of the Lord removing the desire for leeks and onions and garlic, He caused them to hunger for this purpose – that He might know what was in their hearts, and I don't know any situation in which we are more likely to find out what is really in our hearts than where we have been deprived of something that we thought we should have. And, of course, I was deprived of my husband, Jim, and the Lord was saying to me, "Now I want you to glorify me as a single woman again, and I am giving you this gift, and I want you to fulfill this calling faithfully, gladly, and humbly."
I would just get down on my knees and just say, "Lord, you know what my natural feelings are about this but, Lord, I have surrendered them all to you long ago. It was when I was 12 years old that I prayed Betty Scott Stamm's prayer – "Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life in acceptance lieth peace," and I know that's true. It happened again when Ad [ph] was taken from me. He was prayed over, he was anointed, we had people coming from across the country telling me they had a word of knowledge that God wanted to heal Ad Leach. He died, and the Lord is saying, "So here is the gift of widowhood again."
Dennis: One of the themes of your books that seems to be in all of them is the call for the Christian to endure in the midst of suffering. You believe the Scripture calls us to remain faithful in the midst of circumstances that aren't working out to what we wish they would.
Elisabeth: Suffering is a gift, Dennis, it is a gift. Paul says, "Unto us it is given not only to believe but also to suffer," and Jesus referred to the cup that my father has given me. What was in that cup? He was reviled, He was persecuted, He was hated, He was mocked, He was captured, He was flogged, He was blindfolded, He was stripped, and He was crucified. That was the cup, and we know that his human nature was in agony over that. He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood in Gethsemane and finally said, "Not my will," he said, "If it be possible, let this cup pass." The cup didn't pass. It wasn't possible because He could not save Himself and save you and me.
Dennis: One of the most memorable stories I've ever heard you tell is the story of Gladys Aylworth. It illustrates what we're talking about here in a most profound way. Would you share that with our listeners?
Elisabeth: Well, Gladys Aylworth was a London parlormaid with no education, and she believed that God was calling her to China, and when her brother found her studying a map, he said, "Well, Glad, where are we going?" And she said, "To China." And he said, "Glad, you must be out of your mind," and she said, "Jehovah God has spoken to me, and I am going to China. Well," she said, "I didn't know where China was, but I got a map, and I studied."
Then she tells the long story of how she took a train all the way across Europe and Russia and Mongolia and China, and she ended up standing on the wharf in Shanghai, and she said, "When I was a child, I had two great sorrows. All my friends had beautiful golden curls, and mine was black. And when all my friends were still growing, I stopped. Well, I stood on a wharf, and I looked over all these people to whom Jehovah God had sent me, and every single one of them had black hair, and every single one of them had stopped growing when I did. And I said, 'Lord God, you know what you're doing.'"
Bob: I just love hearing her.
Dennis: It's a great story. In fact, that is one of my favorite stories because what she is illustrating there is what life is all about – are you going to trust Him that He really does know what He's doing when you are in the middle of circumstances that can't be explained humanly. And Elisabeth Elliott, as she went through adulthood continued to find herself in unexplainable circumstances.
Bob: She married again. Her husband, Ad – she was married to him for four years. He developed cancer and died. She was single again for a number of years until she married her third husband, Lars, and she often said that she was single more years in life than she was married. She also often said that Lars hoped that he'd outlast the other husbands.
Dennis: And, you know, Bob, it was that aspect of Elisabeth Elliott that really resulted in me inviting her to come speak at a conference we had for singles. It was called "The Keystone Caper."
Bob: This was more than 20 years ago, right?
Dennis: Right, right, in Keystone, Colorado. It was over Thanksgiving, it was for singles, and I really had a passion for speaking to singles about giving their lives to Christ and then following Him as Elisabeth Elliott had done, and we actually went back into the archives and dusted off pieces of five messages she gave at the Keystone Caper back in the mid-'80s. And, I'm telling you, it's just as relevant today as it was to those singles 20 years ago.
Bob: And she exhorted those singles to trust God to be Lord – that He is Lord, and you need to trust Him that He does know what He is doing, and she elaborated on the story that she'd told us in the studio about John and Betty Stamm and the impact they had had early on in her life.
Elisabeth: He is Lord of my life, and when I asked him, at the age of 12, to be Lord of my life, I turned over to Him all the rights. I prayed a prayer written by a missionary to China, a woman by the name of Betty Scott Stamm. But this prayer made a very deep impression on my life, and I copied it into my Bible, and it has become a part of my prayer life. It's really just an expansion on those simple words in The Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done."
"Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me with Thy Holy Spirit, use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt, work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost now and forever," and Betty Scott Stamm and her husband, John, were beheaded by Chinese Communists. She had been a guest in our home. You can imagine what a deep impression the news item made on a little child. "Work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost" – and if you and I could speak with John and Betty Stamm today, do you think they would be thankful for the ways of God with them? Their praises would be ringing, no question about that.
"He is Lord of my life, He holds all the rights" – when my husband, Jim Elliott, was killed, the words that came to my mind when I first knew that he was missing were from Isaiah 43, verse 2 – "When thou passes through the waters, I will be with thee." And when, five days later, I learned that he was, in fact, dead, the words that came to me were from a poem that I had memorized many years before by F.W.H. Myers, a poem called "St. Paul," and the final stanza says this – "So through life, death, through sorrow and through sinning; Christ shall suffice me, for He has sufficed. Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning. Christ, the beginning for the end is Christ."
My life verse is Philippians 1:21
– "To me, to live, is Christ."
Bob: You know, as Elisabeth commented on getting the news as a child that this couple that had been in their home had been beheaded as missionaries, she had no way of knowing that her own husband, years later, would be speared as a missionary; that this was going to be a part of the story of her life – this kind of heroic engagement, the surrendering of your life for the service of God. It marked her life from an early age.
Dennis: And, Bob, the thing our listeners need to hear on this – I think there's two very, very important lessons to not miss. Number one, life can't be found outside of the Lordship of Christ, period. If you want to live life the way the Creator of the Universe designed it to be lived, it's lived submitted to Jesus Christ and His will for your life. You're never going to find it anywhere else.
I was just reflecting as I was listening to Elisabeth, I was thinking, I don't think we're talking enough about this. In fact, I can't remember the last time I heard a message from Romans, chapter 12, verse 1 and 2, where it challenges us to not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind and presenting yourself a living sacrifice to God, giving it all to Him, giving your life to Him, giving up all rights of your life to Him.
Bob: That's what sacrifice means. You're dead to self and alive to Christ.
Dennis: And I think there is a need in our homes, husbands and wives, parent to child, to remind one another where life is found, and that leads me to the second point of application here. I think our children need to be exposed to the great saints. If you have a chance to have a missionary in your home, or a preacher, or someone who walks with God with great faith, seize that opportunity. Don't go out to eat at a fast-food restaurant, don't go anywhere busy, go somewhere where you won't have any distractions, where you can have conversation for another hour after the meal is over, and don't let your kids go play Nintendo. Even though they act like they won't be listening, they'll hear.
And I think as a result of that, what will happen is what occurred in Elisabeth Elliott's life. The children will be challenged to give their lives wholly and totally to the Lordship of Christ, and what will result there is when they grow up they will not waste their lives. They will live their lives to the glory of God.
Bob: And this theme of the Lordship of Christ and abandoning your own life for His service was something that was a constant theme in Elisabeth Elliott's life. Not only was it a life message because of what she had experienced with the martyrdom of her husband and the others back in 1956, but it was a theme that continued to permeate her ministry. In fact, when we had her on FamilyLife Today a number of years ago, she reinforced again for us this idea that Lordship is everything.
Elisabeth: Jesus said, "If you want to be My disciple – you don't have to be – but if you want to be, these are the conditions. Number one, give up your right to yourself. Now, of course, that's difficult. It is the most difficult thing that God could ever ask of us, especially in today's climate, where everybody says, "It's your life, it's your body, you have a right to yourself, if it feels good do it, if it doesn't feel good forget it, don't let anybody tell you what to do," and Jesus quietly continues to say to us, "If you want to be My disciple, give up your right to yourself. Secondly, take up the cross."
Now, in what form is that going to be presented? It is going to be presented in the form of suffering. What else do we expect? The cross is an instrument of torture. Why should we be surprised? So, of course, we are going to have to get down on our knees again and again and ratify that once-in-a-lifetime surrender. As I said, I had made that surrender when I was 12 years old, but there isn't a day that goes by, Dennis, and I am not exaggerating – there's not a day that goes by in which I do not have to consciously take up the cross in some form or other – usually in many forms in any given day.
Bob: That's a great reminder from Elisabeth Elliott. We, daily, have to take up our cross.
Dennis: And, Bob, as she said, it has many forms, and yet it's still lived out in the midst of humanity. You know, Bob, the reason we're talking about this 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of these five young men who gave their lives in Ecuador is because we want to, first of all, honor their faith and their courage, and Elisabeth Elliott and the other widows who embraced that trial as well.
But there is a second aspect I don't want our listeners to miss because we have a number of singles who listen to this broadcast, a number of parents who are raising the next generation and, for that matter, we have some who are empty-nesters, who are in prime time, who I think need to take stock of their lives and evaluate how they are going to live the rest of their lives.
And we want to challenge folks to consider – has he called you to invest your life in the mission field? And it could be right where you're living. You don't have to go around the world to Ecuador or into a jungle. The jungle may be just down the street in a housing project near your home, or it may be in some areas of your community that just needs someone to reach out and touch marriages that are decaying and falling apart – or in your church.
But let me tell you something – the needs of our nation in the spiritual realm are great, and today, more than ever, we need to be challenging adults as well as the parents who are raising the next generation. Give your kids a picture of world missions, of what it means to go to the world, but the greatest news – forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. There is no greater privilege in life than giving your life for that cause.
Bob: I think you're right, we don't know what the Lord is going to call you to, whether it's here, whether it's there, but we do know what he's called all of us to, and it's what Elisabeth talked about today – to follow Him, to take up our cross, to die daily to our own flesh and our own desires.
Dennis: Then follow Christ.
Bob: To be about His mission, His agenda in the world today. This past summer, I had my whole family watch with me the documentary that was made by the same company that produce the movie, "End of the Spear" that's coming out in a couple of weeks. "End of the Spear" is a theatrical motion picture that is going to tell the story of the martyrdom of the missionaries. It actually tells it from the perspective of the Waodanis, the tribe that did the spearing.
Dennis: Your children have to be old enough to read if they're going to go to the movie, because it's …
Bob: It's got subtitles.
Dennis: Right. It's not in English.
Bob: But this summer, our family watched the documentary that was produced by the same company that tells the story of the martyrdom of the missionaries using historical archive video footage, photographs, interviews with those who were there, and it was a powerful evening. We've got that documentary available on DVD. It's called "Beyond the Gates of Splendor," and I'd encourage our listeners to get a copy of this DVD and to watch it as a family or to show it to the youth group at church, use it in a variety of settings. It brings home the reality of what took place 50 years ago this week with the martyrdom of these missionaries.
In addition, we have Elisabeth Elliott's book called "Through Gates of Splendor," which is her telling of that same story, which would be a book you could read to your children or a book that they could read on their own. If you've never been acquainted with this story, maybe this is the first time you've heard about these events, Elisabeth's book is a classic. It's one of those books that would be on my list of a book that every Christian ought to read. Again, it's called "Through Gates of Splendor." We have both her book and the DVD "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
Contact us by go online at FamilyLife.com. Click on today's broadcast, and you'll find a link there to the various resources that are available. You can order online, if you'd like, and if you order both Elisabeth's book and the DVD, we can send you at no additional cost the CD audio that includes the clips from Elisabeth Elliott we've been featuring here this week.
Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click on today's broadcast in the center of your screen, and that will take you right to the page where there is more information about the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today.
Let me, if I can, Dennis, just say a quick word of thanks to the folks we heard from at the end of the year. Many of our listeners know we had a matching gift challenge in the month of December where every dollar we received was being matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $350,000, and I haven't seen the final numbers yet, but I do know we heard from many of our listeners, and I think it's safe to say at this point that we think we were able to take full advantage of that matching gift opportunity. So thank you to those of you who called or who wrote or who donated online. We appreciate your support, we appreciate you helping us meet the match, and we appreciate your ongoing investment in this ministry.
Tomorrow we are going to be back with more insights from Elisabeth Elliott as she reflects on the events that took place 50 years ago this week with the martyrdom of five American missionaries. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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