Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Dannah Gresh: Suffering is painful. In her days on earth, Elisabeth Elliot challenged us to think carefully about our response to difficulty.

Elisabeth Elliot: You either believe God knows what He’s doing, or you believe He doesn’t. You either believe He’s worth trusting, or you say He’s not, and then where are you?

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of the trilogy Brokenness, Surrender, and Holiness, for Tuesday, September 8, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

I have some questions for you to think about today: When trials or difficulties come, how do you respond? Do you think it’s possible to have peace in the midst of your suffering? That’s some of what we’ll hear on today’s program.

Nancy: What a treat we have this week to dive into some rich teaching from the late Elisabeth Elliot! I know many of our listeners grew up under the teaching of Elisabeth . . . and yoiu loved her! She was down-to-earth; she was straight-forward; she lifting our sights and our hearts toward the Lord and heaven. She challenged us to think deeply about the things of God.

A whole new generation coming up probably doesn't even know who Elisabeth Elliot was, and we think that needs to change. Here's a woman who had a message and a life that needs to be remembered and studied and learned from because some things never change. She points us to the things that are unchangingly true. 

Yesterday I talked briefly about how this program, Revive Our Hearts, took the place of Elisabeth’s program, Gateway To Joy when she retired in 2001. We owe so much to Elisabeth! When I stepped into Revive Our Hearts, well, let me just say, those were big shoes to fill.

Dannah: Nancy, I wonder how many times have you heard someone say something like, “I used to listen to Elisabeth Elliot on Gateway To Joy, and I was so sad when it was going off the air”?

Nancy: Let me say . . . more than a few! I had people come up and confess, "I couldn't stand you when you started Revive Our Hearts. I wouldn't listen for years because nobody could replace Elisabeth Elliot." And that's true . . . nobody could replace Elisabeth Elliot. But so many of those people have come back and said, "I do now listen to Revive Our Hearts, and I realize that it's the same message, the same Word, the same God." And they are thankful for the truth that we've continued to share on Revive Our Hearts since Elisabeth's retirement.

Dannah: In fact, here’s an example of that. A woman names Colleen wrote:

Dear Nancy,

Your teaching has helped me a lot over the years. I listen every chance I have. Before you, I listened to Elisabeth Elliot on Gateway To Joy. When she retired, I grieved the loss of her godly input into my life. But it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with you, your teaching, and Revive Our Hearts.

Thank you, Colleen. Nancy, I think that heart after heart can resonate with Colleen's email.

Nancy: Elisabeth held a special place in the hearts of so many Revive Our Hearts listeners, and she still does. For that, I'm grateful.

Now, Elisabeth was no stranger to suffering. We’ve mentioned this before, but her first husband, Jim Elliot, was martyred in the jungles of Ecuador by the very people they were trying to reach for Christ. Her second husband, Addison Leitch, died of cancer just a few years after they were married. As she starts off in today’s message (recorded in 1989), she mentioned her third husband, Lars Gren.

Elisabeth Elliot: An incident happened a couple of years ago. Lars and I were in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was a breakfast. Lars was setting up his book table, and there was a little lady there setting place cards out at the various tables. He and she were chatting back and forth, and there was no one else around at the time.

Suddenly she turned to him and said, “By the way, what’s your name?”

And he said, “Well, I’m an Elliot, too.”

And she looked at him and said, “Are you the speaker’s husband?”

He said, “Yes.”

She said, “Well, that’s funny. I thought they told me you had a different name.”

He said, “Well, I have, actually. Really, my name’s Gren. But, you know, I’m the third husband.”

And her face fell, and she said, “Oh my goodness! But we only have one place card!” (laughter)

She was dead serious. And Lars said, “I don’t think you need to worry. The other two are dead, I don’t think they’re going to show up!” (laughter)

And she said, “Oh, well, it will be alright, then!” (laughter)

Well, how does that fit in with the subject of acceptance? Quite simply, I could not possibly talk this way about Jim and Add if it hadn’t been for the fact that, by the grace of God, I was enabled to accept their death.

People have come to me more than once in my life and said, “How can you possibly talk about your late husbands in that frivolous and flippant way?”

I’ve even had some widows say to me, “How do you keep from comparing your husbands?”

And I say, “I don’t. I’ve made all kinds of comparisons between my husbands, and you can be sure that I would never have accepted Lars’ proposal if he didn’t compare very favorably with the first two. Although they were very different men, at least they had one thing in common, and that was they liked me.” (laughter)

But the fact is that they were men with very different gifts. One of the things which God brought to my mind when I was considering Lars’ proposal, before I’d given him an answer, was the verse in 1 Corinthians 12: “Men have different gifts, but it’s the same Lord who accomplishes His purposes through them all” (see v. 4)

Acceptance, I believe, is the key to peace in this business of suffering. As I’ve said, the crux of the whole matter is the cross of Jesus Christ, and that word “crux” means “cross.” It is the best thing that ever happened in human history as well as the worst thing.

“Herein is love,” the Scripture tells us, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave Himself. Herein is love that Christ laid down His life for us” (see 1 John 4:10).

And when we speak of love, as the Bible speaks of love, we’re not talking about any silly sentiment. We’re not talking about a mood or a feeling or warm fuzzies. The love of God is not a sentiment. It is a willed and inexorable love, which will desire nothing less than the very best for us.

I think of the love of God as being synonymous with the will of God. Young people sometimes say to me, “This hoping this is the will of God is just so scary! I don’t see how you can ever just turn over your whole life to God because you don’t know what He’s going to do!”

Well, that’s what faith is about, isn’t it? If you really believe that somebody loves you, then you trust them. The will of God is love. And love suffers. That’s how we know what the love of God for us is because He was willing to become a man and to take upon Himself our sins, our griefs, our sufferings.

Love is always inextricably bound with sacrifice. Any father knows this. Any mother knows this. You may have known it in theory, but when that baby is born, if the mother has not suffered before that during those nine months, which I didn’t do, certainly there comes the time when she has to suffer. And when that baby is born and the labor is over with, we mothers know that that’s just the beginning, isn’t it?

No father or mother can possibly imagine what changes there will be in their lives, no matter how much they may have read and how much they may have observed. But the presence of that new little human being in their lives changes everything.

It’s sacrifice day in and day out, night in and night out. But it’s not something that you sit down and feel sorry for yourself about. It’s not something you moan and groan about (except once in a while). But it’s very real, isn’t it? It is my life for yours.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the principle of the cross. That’s what Jesus was demonstrating—“My life for yours.”

Now as I’ve said, and I will probably say it again and again before I’m through, suffering is a mystery. It is not explained, but it is affirmed. All of Christianity rests on mysteries. Those of you who belong to churches that use Creeds know that you are articulating a set of statements about the faith, every one of which deals with the mystery.

Is there anyone who calls himself a Christian that can explain the Trinity? Is there anyone who can get at the gynecology of the Virgin Birth? Is there any specialist in aerodynamics that can tell us anything about the Ascension? These are mysteries: Creation, Redemption, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Redemption. These great keywords of the Christian faith are mysteries.

We stand up as a body in church (the church that I go to for example) and we say a Creed out loud together. We are not explaining anything. We are simply affirming. And that’s what Christianity is about. God is God. God is a three-personed God. He loves us. We are not adrift in chaos.

And to me, that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know anything about in the universe. Every time things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things which do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts: He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance.

Lars and I got to the airport last February for a flight to some place or other. I think our flight was supposed to be at 11:30 in the morning. We got there about 10:30, and low and behold the airport was closed. There were lines all the way from the ticket counters out to the sidewalk. You couldn’t even get through the revolving doors into Logan Airport in Boston. We were told that all flights had been cancelled and the airlines were taking no responsibility for rebooking anything. You had to get in line and start over. Your tickets would mean nothing as far as bookings were concerned.

It was a scene of real horror and chaos. People were crying. I felt so sorry for those families that had little children, and they were headed for Orlando to go to Disney World for their winter break. There were college students with skis. There were fistfights. There were people so angry with the poor ticket agents that they were actually coming to blows. 

We heard that there was one plane load of people on the runway when they were told that the airport was closed, they refused to get off the plane.

Now, you just wonder what kind of a view of things people like that have. But it was such a peaceful thing to me to realize, in spite of the fact that I had people at the other end of the line waiting for me, that Lars and I were not at the mercy of the weather, let alone of TWA.

We are not adrift in chaos. We are held in the everlasting arms. And, therefore—and this makes a difference—we can be at peace, and we can accept. We can say, “Yes, Lord, I’ll take it.”

The faculty by which I apprehend God and who He is is the faculty of faith. My faith enables me to say, “Yes, Lord. I don’t like what You’re doing. I don’t understand it. You’re going to have to take care of those poor people at the other end that thought I was coming to speak on this particular day. But, God, You’re in charge.”

I know the one who is in charge of the universe. He’s got the whole world—where?—in His hands. And that’s where I am. So that to me is the key to acceptance—the fact that it is not for nothing.

Faith, we might say, is the fulcrum of our moral and spiritual balance. Think of a seesaw. The fulcrum is the point where the seesaw rests. My moral and spiritual balance depends on that stability of faith. And my faith, of course, rests on the bedrock, which is Jesus Christ.

Now faith, like love, is not a feeling. We need to get that absolutely clear. Faith is not a feeling. Faith is a willed obedience action. Jesus said again and again:

“Don’t be afraid.”

“Fear not.”

“Let not your heart be troubled.”

“Believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Accept. Take up the cross and follow. He said, “If you want to be My disciples, three conditions: Give up your right to yourself. Take up your cross. And follow.”

And to me, giving up your right to yourself is saying, “No,” to myself. And taking up the cross is saying, “Yes,” to God. “Lord, whatever it is You want to give me, I’ll take it. Yes! Yes! Yes!”

There’s an old legend I’m told inscribed in a parsonage in England, somewhere on the seacoast. It’s a Saxon legend that said, “Do the next thing.” I don’t know any simpler formula for peace, for relief from stress and anxiety than that very practical, very down to earth word of wisdom: “Do the next thing.” That has gotten me through more agonies than anything else I could recommend.

When I found out that my husband Jim was dead, I had gone out to the Missionary Aviation Base in a place called Shell Mera, the edge of the jungle, to be with the other four wives as we waited for word about our husbands. And when the word finally came that all five of the men had been speared to death, then, of course, we had decisions to make: Were we going to go back to our jungle stations? Or what were we going to do?

I went back to my jungle station. I had never considered any other alternative because, for one thing, I had been a missionary before I married Jim Elliot, before I was even engaged to Jim Elliot, so nothing had changed as far as my missionary call was concerned. But I had to go back to a station where there was no other missionary and try to do the work that two of us had been doing between us.

So it wasn’t that I was hard up for things to keep me occupied:

I had a school of about forty boys to oversee. I wasn’t the teacher, but I was sort of in charge of things in one way.

I had a brand-new church of about fifty baptized believers with no Scripture in their hands. I was supposed to be the one doing the translating.

I had a literacy class of about twelve girls that I was teaching to read in their own language so that eventually they could learn to read the Bible translation that I was working on at the same time.

I had a ten-month-old baby to care for.

I had a thousand details of running things on a jungle station, like learning how to run a diesel generator.

I was also giving out medicines right and left and delivering babies in-between times.

What with one thing and another, I really didn’t have time to sit down and have a pity party and sink into a puddle of self-pity. I did the next thing, and there was always a next thing after that. 

I have found many times in my life, after the death of my second husband, just the very fact that, although I was living in a very civilized house, I had dishes to wash. I had floors to clean. I had laundry to do. It was my salvation.

A couple years ago now (I lose track), I had the privilege and the fun of taking care of four of my grandchildren while number five was being born. No, I guess she had already been born, and her parents went off for a weekend, taking the nursing baby along, and I took care of the other four. That was the only time when I’ve ever had the chance to sit and do that. (My grandchildren live in southern California, and I live in the northeast. So I’m one of the lonely grandmothers as opposed to the exhausted ones. (laughter)

After the first day, my daughter had the thoughtfulness to call that evening. She said, “Well, Mama, how are you doing?”

And I said, “Well, they’re wonderful children, and they’re very obedient and everything, but I don’t know whether I’m going to make it through the next four days.” (I was tired, to say the least.) I had to ask the question that my daughter really doesn’t like me to ask, “How do you do it?” (Because every minute of the day I’m thinking, I’m flat out all day long with things that need to be done every second. But my daughter has a nursing baby, which takes about six more hours in the day, and I kept thinking, How does she do it? How does she do it?)

So I had to ask the question I knew she didn’t want me to, but I said, “Val, how do you do it?”

She laughed on the phone, and she said, “Mama, I do just what you taught me years ago. I do the next thing. Don’t think about all the things you have to do. Just do the next thing.”

So I took her advice, and we got through the next four days triumphantly—not just somehow. (laughter)

But it is acceptance that enabled me to do that because I really believed that this was not an accident. God had something up His sleeve, something in mind.

About six weeks after Jim died, I had a letter from my mother-in-law. I had been writing letters home and trying to reassure my parents and my in-laws that God was there, everything was fine, they were not to worry about me. (They were both—my in-laws and my parents—were just dying a thousand deaths, as you can imagine.) And we parents, I’m sure, suffer a hundred times more than our children suffer. Although we think that it’s worse than it is, what we never can visualize is the way the grace of God goes to work in the person who needs it.

So my mother-in-law wrote me this letter saying she was very much afraid that I was repressing my feelings, that it wasn’t normal the way I was reacting and just carrying on that I was just trying to be busy and maybe I was burying myself in my work. And she said, “Eventually you’re going to crack.”

Well then, all of a sudden my peace disappeared, and I began to say, “Is she right? Is there really no such thing as “the peace that passes understanding”? Can God really fulfill His Word?”

I kept going back again and again to the promises that God had given me, and I had to write them there in my journal day after day. God was giving me promises which He just enabled me to get through.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Jim died yesterday, but the same Lord was with me today. And I didn’t need to worry about the next fifty years (which is a temptation for anyone who’s lost someone they love. You think, Well, I guess I can make it throughsupper tonight, but I’m not real sure about tomorrow or next week, let alone the next fifty years).

And in the very same mail, with my mother-in-law’s unsettling letter, I got this poem by Amy Carmichael, which came in a form letter from her mission:

When stormy winds against us break, establish and reinforce our will.
O hear us for Thine own name sake, hold us in strength, and hold us still.
Still, as the faithful mountains stand, through the long silent years of stress,
So would we wait at Thy right hand in quietness and steadfastness.”

Well, that sounds pretty brave and strong, doesn’t it? But listen to the last stanza:

But not of us, this strength, O Lord, and not of us, this constancy.
Our strength is Thine Eternal Word, Thy presence, our security.

And this vital truth was laying hold of my mind and my heart: That God really did mean what He was saying, that He was right there.

One of the verses that God had given me before I went to Ecuador was in Isaiah 50, verse 7: “The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”

I was tempted, as all of us are, to say, “Well, Lord, You promised to help me, but You do have kind of a funny way of going about it. It’s not my idea of the way God is supposed to help one of His servants who is trying to be obedient and trying to be faithful.”

And what does God say to an argument like that? Same thing He’s always saying: “Trust Me. Trust Me. Someday even you will see that there’s sense in this. Your suffering is not for nothing.”

Now, my husband Jim was a fairly good carpenter. He built a very nice house in the jungle, a very civilized house with a cement floor and wooden walls and an aluminum roof. He even built a wonderful water system by collecting the water from the aluminum roof and then piping it into the house so that we actually had a flush toilet and a shower and a sink.

He set about filling the house with very serviceable and not terribly beautiful furniture. But while Jim was building a piece of furniture, if there’s one thing he could not stand was for me to hang over his shoulder. And I would say, “Well, what’s this thing? What are you doing with that tool? Why do you do it this way? And how in the world are you going to fit that thing into this?”

And he would say, “Would you get lost?!” (laughter.) “When it’s finished, you’ll see.”

A very simple analogy: God is saying, “Trust Me. Accept it now.”

How many choices have you got to go back to those alternatives? You either believe God knows what He’s doing, or you believe He doesn’t. You either believe He’s worth trusting, or you say He’s not. And then where are you? You’re at the mercy of chaos, not cosmos. Chaos is the Greek word for disorder. Cosmos is the word for order.

We either live in an ordered universe, or we are trying, like the poor lady that sat next to me on the plane yesterday, to create her own reality. Can you imagine a more desperate situation to be in than to be creating one’s own reality?

Acceptance is a voluntary and willed act. God was giving me something to do. The next thing was, “Yes, Lord.” Accept it. And that is the key to peace.

Now, does it make sense to an ordinary human being to say, “Accept this suffering.”? Isn’t it contrary to human nature? And I want to make something very clear here, because I realize every word I say can be distorted and twisted and misunderstood. I want to try my best to make very clear what I mean here when I say, “Accept.”

I’m not talking about things which can be changed and/or ought to be changed. There’s some things which can be changed that ought not to be changed. For example, a dear young man that I know decided to unload his wife and two children when the second child was one week old. He went ahead and did that against all advice to the contrary. A couple of years later, I said to him, “Why?” 

And he said, “It wasn’t working.”

Now, I hear this on all sides. We all hear it, don’t we? We know that this is happening on all sides. There was a situation which he thought ought to be changed, and he was told by so-called Christian counselors, that’s that the thing to do. “You just have to get rid of her because this is a case of incompatibility.”

So, when I say that there are things which can be changed but ought not to be, that might be one example.

There are many things which cannot be changed, and there are things which ought not to be changed. So I want us to be clear that I’m not saying, “Accept everything, just resign yourself, and the worse things that happen, you don’t do a thing about it.” That is not my purpose in this talk.

The apostle Paul, remember, prayed for the removal of that thorn in his flesh. And what was the answer? He prayed three times that God would remove that thorn, and the answer was, “My grace is all you need—My grace is sufficient for you.”

And it’s very interesting, and it’s very significant, I think, that Paul says, “I was given a thorn in the flesh to keep me from becoming absurdly conceited.” And then he says, “It was a messenger of Satan.”

Now that seems like a contradiction because, obviously, it had to be God who cares whether he becomes absurdly conceited. Satan would be delighted if we become absurdly conceited. But he said, “In order to keep me from becoming absurdly conceited over a particular spiritual experience, (which he had just described in that chapter 2 of Corinthians 12). He said, “In order to keep me from that, I was given a thorn in the flesh. So it was a messenger of Satan,” he says.

So if you get all hung up thinking, Now, is this thing from God or is it from Satan? Is it the voice of God or the voice of Satan? Stop worrying about it. You don’t really need to sort that out because here’s a case where the thorn was, in a sense, given by God as a messenger of Satan.

And there’s at least one other example in Scripture that I can think of, of the same apparent contradiction where Joseph says to his brothers that it was they who sent him into Egypt. But he says, “God sent me to Egypt.” We know that Joseph’s brothers were sinning against him, and yet it was God who sent him there.

So when the answer was “no” about the thorn in the flesh, and the answer of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “If it be possible, let this cup pass.” We know that there’s nothing wrong with praying that God will solve our problems and heal our diseases and pay our debts and sort out our marital difficulties. It’s right and proper that we should bring such requests to God. We’re not praying against His will.

But when the answer is “no,” then we know that God has something better at stake. Far greater things are at stake. There’s another level, another kingdom, an invisible kingdom which you and I cannot see now, but toward which we move and to which we belong.

A verse which, to me, sums up just the things that I’ve been trying to say under this heading of “Acceptance,” is another seeming contradiction which I found in the 116th Psalm.

The psalmist says, “What shall I render under the Lord for all his benefits?” (v.12)

I was reading this one day when I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for all the blessings of my life. I was just sitting in a chair looking out over the ocean (we live on the coast of Massachusetts). I was looking at this magnificent view in a very comfortable room and just saying, “Lord, I don’t know how to thank You. How can I say, ‘Thanks’?”

And I opened my Bible to this verse, where the psalmist says, “What shall I render?” And then I saw that the next verse is, “I will take the cup of salvation.”

“What shall I give You, Lord?” And the answer is, “I will take the cup of salvation” (v. 13).

Now, what is in God’s cup of salvation? Obviously, the psalmist in the Old Testament times was not thinking of salvation in the somewhat narrow terms that we sometimes do. But whatever is in the cup that God is offering to me, whether it be pain and sorrow and suffering and grief, along with the many more joys, I’m willing to take it because I trust Him, because I know that what God wants for me is the very best. I will receive this thing in His name.

And I hope you’ll forgive me if I give you two more lines of poetry from that poet George Herbert (or perhaps it’s John Dunn; I’ve forgotten).

I need Thy thunder, oh my God.
Thy music will not serve me.

I need pain sometimes because God has something bigger in mind. It is not for nothing.

And so I say, Lord, in Jesus’ name, by Your grace, I accept it.

Nancy: Elisabeth Elliot captured the essence of that attitude of acceptance and surrender with that phrase, “Yes, Lord.” If I could sum up the desire of my heart into just two words, it might be those two words: “Yes, Lord.”

The teaching you’re hearing this week on Revive Our Hearts forms the basis of a book by Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering Is Never for Nothing. You can find more information about it at our website, ReviveOurHearts.com. You’ll find a link to order that resource in the transcript of today’s program.

There’s also more information there about the brand-new, authorized biography by Ellen Vaughn, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. Earlier today we used the term “down-to-earth” to describe Elisabeth, and she certainly was that in some ways. But those who knew her well would also say that she was hilarious, brilliant, witty, self-deprecating, sensitive, radical, and surprisingly relatable. You’ll find out why all those words (and more!) apply to Elisabeth in this new biography of the earlier years of her life.

We'd be glad to send you a copy when you donate $30 or more to Revive Our Hearts. When you do, ask for the book on Elisabeth Elliot, and we’ll thank you by sending you a copy. Your support as we launch into our twentieth year of ministry is vital. Thank you so much! Again, our web address is ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Dannah: Can you think of something really hard going on in your life right now? I think all of us can. We are all going through some global and national challenges. But you might be going through what I call "grief within a grief." With trials and difficulties, our natural response is to grumble and to complain. But tomorrow Elisabeth Elliot will be back to show us the importance of responding with gratitude. That’s not usually our instinctive response! But tomorrow she'll help us with it. Please be back tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is calling women to greater faith in Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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