Have you ever read something that made you second guess your level of devotion to the Lord? I recently started reading through The Journals of Jim Elliot, and I’ve started wondering if I even know the Lord at all. Ok, that’s probably an exaggeration. But Elliot’s heart for God, his concern for holiness, and his bold prayers challenge my weak faith. He follows a simple model in journaling: he simply reads a chapter in Scripture, finds a point of application, and then prays for growth in godliness. His method isn’t complicated. Even the youngest Christian can follow his format. And yet, by his simple faith and obedience, Elliot models a vibrant walk with the Lord. I’m currently reading through his thoughts on Exodus (which have been incredibly sobering), and I’ve found myself speechless before his testimony. As I was reading through his journal entries, one entry in particular struck me.
On February 16,1948, during his junior year at Wheaton College in Illinois, Elliot prayed that God would send him persecution in order that he might bring forth much fruit. He drew his request from the first chapter of Exodus, where he noticed that the Hebrews were prospering under persecution. In the same way that the people multiplied under the weight of oppression, Elliot prayed for a pharaoh to arise in order that he might be stirred up to fruitfulness.
This is a weighty prayer. Jim Elliot literally prayed for hardship and trial because he felt it would make him more beneficial to the kingdom. That’s a tough prayer to pray, and I don’t know many who would pray this sincerely. I remember the terror I felt when I was little as I feared that God would lead me into danger and death, and I can remember hoping for a safe life, comforting myself by noticing how many people around me didn’t seem to be called to face death for the name of Jesus. But as I read Elliot’s entry, the realization struck me that God had answered his prayer. On January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were speared to death in Ecuador as they attempted to reach the Auca Indians with the Gospel message. I highly recommend reading about the sacrifice of these five men (the story has been widely told, and can easily be found if you’ve never before heard the account). Now, of course, God may have answered Elliot’s prayer in many ways prior to the events of January 8th. This particular answer, however, stands out in the memory of Christians everywhere, encouraging the Church and propelling its members to service and sacrifice. The Holy Spirit has truly used this story in mighty ways.
I wonder, though, if we really want God to answer our prayers. I’ve found that praying for God to use us is easy. Singing songs about surrender and sacrifice is even easier. But, if these are in fact prayers to God, we have to understand that he may indeed answer us like he answered Jim Elliot. He might call us “where feet may fail” (“Oceans” by Hillsong UNITED). He might ask us to honor our promise to “surrender all.” He may lead us exactly where we don’t want to go. Scripture is full of examples of him doing just that. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, pointed to Hebrews 11 as a specific example of this, where we read,
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
After listing the mighty acts of faith seen throughout the pages of Scripture, the author of Hebrews finishes chapter 11 with these verses, making a transition into a call for endurance in the pursuit of God in chapter 12. I love how these faithful men and women are described: “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). They sacrificed more than most in order that we who follow them may learn from their example.
The death of these men, though tragic, was not the end of the story. God made a way for the wives of the missionaries to reach this tribe, and he saved the very men who had speared the missionaries on that beach beforehand. I can remember going to a Stephen Curtis Chapman concert when I was growing up where one of those Indians walked onto the stage and, through a translator, shared his testimony. Though the thought of death terrified me then, the testimony encourages me now.
God answered Jim Elliot’s prayer. He sent persecution that resulted in Elliot’s death. But God caused even this to work for good (Romans 8:28). And, no doubt, Elliot found the saying to be true that, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In his own words, Elliot famously wrote that, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Let this be our mindset. Rather than praying empty prayers, rather than singing songs with halfhearted intentions, rather than worrying about our own lives, let us learn to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). Let us learn to die to ourselves, taking up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23). Let us set our eyes on things above (Colossians 3). And, in all things, may God be glorified.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18