Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Dannah Gresh: When you’re hurting, even before you’re hurting, you can express gratitude. So says Elisabeth Elliot.

Elisabeth Elliot: Just start thanking God in advance, because, no matter what is about to happen, you already know that God is in charge. You are not adrift in a sea of chaos.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of the trilogy Brokenness, Surrender, and Holiness, for Wednesday, September 9, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy: This week we’re in a classic series from Elisabeth. It’s called “Suffering Is Not for Nothing.” If you’ve missed any of the messages so far, you can scroll back in your podcast feed or listen to them at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Dannah: There's one word that doesn't usually come to mind when we talk about suffering. And Elisabeth is going to tell us what that word is, today on our program.

Nancy: That word may surprise may surprise you. But you will find that there is a lot of power and healing and grace as we respond to the harder things in life in this way.

Here’s the late Elisabeth Elliot in a conference recording from the late 1980s.

Elisabeth Elliot: Gratitude is my subject today, and I’d like to give you three things to think about under this subject. I’m very gratified to see that there are some note-takers here. I know I haven’t been helping you very much with following points one, two, and three or anything like that. I’m going to do my best to make that a little bit better this morning. 

First of all, I’d like for us to think about two things which ought to distinguish Christians from the rest of the world. To be quite honest, as I travel around and meet all kinds and varieties of Christians, I’m dismayed to notice that very often there doesn’t seem to be any difference in the way they live and in the way the rest of the world lives; the way they respond to the experiences of their lives and the way the world would respond. In other words, if they were arrested for being Christians, would there be sufficient evidence to convict them?

I’m always asking myself the question, “What kind of a difference would I expect others to see in my life which would at least catch their attention and make them say, ‘There is something different about that woman?!’”

I’ve said in my book Let Me Be a Woman that I am not a different kind of a Christian because I am a woman. But I most certainly ought to be a very different kind of a woman because I am a Christian! Do you know people to whom you can point and say, “Look at him. There is a Christian. Watch that woman’s life. She is a Christian.” What kind of evidence would your friends see in your life?

Two things which certainly ought to distinguish you and me and everyone who calls himself a Christian are acceptance and gratitude. It’s very difficult to draw a sharp distinction between them. If we can accept a gift, then we can say, “Thank you.”

Now, we all have the experience of receiving all kinds of gifts from friends and relatives and great-aunts and people, for which we have to say “thank you,” but we really aren’t exactly tickled with their choice. I mean, how many crocheted toilet paper covers can a woman use? (laughter)

If that’s Aunt Susie’s thing, then you receive it every Christmas and every birthday, perhaps, from her. The only thing that really is required from the recipient is to say “thank you.” But when we’re talking about the gifts of God, we’re talking about gifts that come from One who knows exactly what we need, even though it is not necessarily to our tastes and preferences. He gives us everything which is appropriate for the job that He wants us to do. 

And so, understanding that, then we can say, “Yes, Lord, I’ll take it. It would not have been my choice, but knowing You love me, I will receive it. I understand that someday I will understand the necessity for this thing. So I accept it.” And then I can even go the step beyond and say, “Thank You, Lord.”

Paul says that in everything we ought to give thanks. (see 1 Thess. 5:18) It’s not the experiences of our lives that change us; it is our response to those experiences. That should be a very noticeable distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian.

I mentioned in an earlier talk the responses of various people that I saw in Logan Airport one day last February when the airport was closed. There was a great variety of responses there, from tears to anger to resignation . . . and peace.

We all know people who have gone through terrible things and have turned out to be pure gold! I think every one of us knows somebody like that, who has been through awful things, and yet that hot fire has refined that steel or that gold. 

We also know people who have been through equally bad things or maybe not quite as bad, but they have turned out to be angry, bitter, resentful, querulous, and generally “unget-along-withable.” Now, what was the difference? It wasn’t the experiences; it was their response. The response of a Christian should be gratitude: “Thank You, Lord. I’ll take this.”

I think we could divide the world into two classes: the people who make a habit of complaining about what they haven’t got or what they have got, and the people who make a habit of saying, “Thank You, Lord,” for what they haven’t got and what they have got.

You remember my basic definition of suffering: “Having what you don’t want, and wanting what you don’t have,” which covers the whole gamut, from the smallest things (like a toothache or taxes) to a tumor.

It was very unsettling for me when I lived with that jungle tribe called Aucas, the so-called Stone-age savages that killed my husband. I had the opportunity a couple of years after the men’s deaths to live with those people and to actually get to know the people who did the killing. And I lived in a house with no walls! 

Everybody else lived in a house with no walls, so this gave me an opportunity to observe very closely virtually everything that went on day and night. I was also under the most relentless and keen scrutiny from them, because I was a freak in their midst. Everything that I did was not only freakish but highly hilarious and also worth imitating . . . so I got a lot of that!

I really had never thought of myself as a comedian until I lived with the Auca Indians. I discovered that I was expected to be nonstop entertainment! But one of the things which stood out to me in my observations of their family life was that they never complained about anything! My daughter, of course, grew up there in the jungle with Indians.

She was three years old when we went to live with the Aucas. She had lived with other Indians before that, and we went back later and lived with other Indians again. But her husband made a statement to me, which I’m sure my husband (maybe I should say “I’m sure none of my husbands”) could not possibly make about me!

Walt said to me one day, “You know, that woman never complains about anything!” And of course, my mother’s heart just swelled with pride. I suddenly realized that I probably had nothing whatsoever to do with that. In fact, it was in spite of me rather than because of me that my son-in-law could say that!

Because, number one, Valerie is more an Elliot than she is a Howard, and the Elliots were much more cheerful people. I come from a long line of pessimists on both sides . . . champions! (laughter) But I realized that, probably, the major reason was that she had grown up with Indians who never complained.

We lived in a place where there was terrible weather. We had 144 inches of rain per year, which is twelve feet. I don’t know what Florida’s rainfall is, but it was a lot of rain! And so when we traveled, which was always by foot and trail and sometimes canoe, we generally got soaked! We got mud, sometimes, splashed from head to foot but at least up to your knees. 

We were at the mercy of gnats and mud and mildew and mosquitoes and various other discomforts. The Indians would come from maybe a four-hour walk over the trail with, say, a fifty-pound basket of food on their backs. (The women anyway. The men couldn’t carry fifty pounds, but the women could!)

I never once saw a woman take that tumpline off her forehead and set her basket down and say, “Whew!” Never! They just didn’t do that. Now these people were not Christians, and to my shame, I say that I saw among them a cheerfulness, a gracious and peaceful and serene acceptance of what we would consider very hostile conditions, which were taken for granted. No one was patting himself on the back because he didn’t complain! 

So let’s take a lesson or two from those simple people and make a habit instead of complaining, of saying, “Thank You, Lord.” My daughter right now is dealing with probably one of the most difficult questions that parents have to deal with in training their children, and that’s this business of whining.

Her children are obedient; they’ve learned that. They know that Daddy and Mama mean exactly what they say. But they don’t necessarily do it cheerfully; they don’t do it necessarily with a smile, and sometimes one of them has to get sent back to his bedroom until he “finds a nice face.” 

Val or Walt will say, “Now, we really don’t like that face; we don’t like that tone of voice. You go back into the bedroom, and when you find a nice face or a cheerful voice, then you can come back.” 

Amy Carmichael, missionary to India whose biography I wrote, called A Chance to Die, tells how when she was growing up in a little village in northern Ireland, they not only had to immediately stretch forth their hand for the spanking—which was given by a small paddle called a “pandy”—but they had to say, “Thank you, Mother.” Well, that’s tough discipline, isn’t it?

I had a very charming young lady staying with me a couple of weeks ago who told me this wonderful story about the kind of difference that Jesus Christ made in her own life when she was probably about eighteen years old. This is the sort of story that I’m always looking for and it thrills my soul to see that there is a practical, down-to-earth visible difference that Jesus Christ has made in somebody’s life.

She said she had been going to, I think it was, a Young Life meeting where the speaker talked about honoring your father and your mother. She said most of the time it was going in one ear and out the other. All of a sudden something clicked, and she said, “Oh! I’m supposed to honor my father and my mother. And my mother and I are like two cats a lot of times!”

She said, “I went home and began to think about it. I thought, Uh! I can’t do that! This thing about being a Christian is too much! But, she said, “I began to pray that God would help me to do that, whatever it meant. I really didn’t know what it meant! But I knew that complaining and being grumpy and hard to get along with was certainly not fitting to someone who honors father and mother.”

“So,” she said, “I wanted to go to a certain event, and I asked my mother if I could go.” Now she was still living at home, and so although she was seventeen or eighteen, she knew that she was under their authority.

“My mother said, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’” 

And she said, “I couldn’t believe my ears! I couldn’t believe it! I went into my room and I sat down and I said, ‘Who-o-a!’ I just said, ‘okay! It’s the first time in my whole life that I haven’t argued with my mother!” 

Now, that was Step One in that girl’s obedience to Jesus Christ. It’s all very well to make wonderful professions about being a Christian, to do your praying and your reading and your hymn-singing and go to church and do this and that and the other thing, but when it comes right down to where the rubber hits the road, what kind of a difference does it make? 

That girl was able to say, “Thank You, Lord. My mother said ‘no.’ It was my opportunity to obey Jesus Christ!” So gratitude and acceptance should distinguish the Christian.

Number Two: Gratitude honors God. I got this idea straight out of the Bible from the NIV84 version of Psalm 50:23. This is what it says: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Let me go back to October 25, 1972. That was rather an eventful day in my life. I found an apartment for my mother who was moving from Florida up to Massachusetts to be near three of her six children. So that was a major thing that happened that day.

Then, the son of a very close friend of mine was killed in an automobile accident. I had a visit from a young woman who had a three-year-old son with a serious heart anomaly. We had sat down in my living room and talked about the lessons that God was teaching her through this, one of which was acceptance and gratitude.

The condition was such that the doctors had told her, “You never know when you may find him dead in his bed or in his playpen. There’s nothing we can do until he reaches the age of four, but he may not make it to four.”

And then, that very same day my husband had to go to the hospital for a lump on his lip. That morning I had written down on just a little piece of scratch paper these words, “How to deal with suffering of any kind.” I didn’t know all the things that were going to happen in that particular day, and I don’t know where this came from except, I suppose, from God.

How to deal with suffering of any kind: 

  • Number One, I wrote: Recognize it. 
  • Number Two: Accept it. 
  • Number Three: Offer it to God as a sacrifice.
  • Number Four: Offer yourself with it.

Now whether I had a premonition that this thing was going to be serious, or whether I was just reviewing lessons from other years, I really don’t remember. But that same afternoon we were told by the doctor that my husband had cancer.

And the next night there was bleeding from another source which had nothing to do with that lump. We were filled with fear and resentment and worry, and it was all terribly real for both of us, and necessitating our coming to Christ for a refuge. 

You can imagine the dialogues that I began having with God at that point, “Lord, haven’t we been through this once before? You took husband number one, now surely, Lord, You wouldn’t take Add, would you?” 

And it was if the Lord said, “I might. Trust Me.”

I had to begin all over again, I thought, learning lessons which I really thought I had learned well enough before. I was saying, “Lord, did I flunk the test? Do we have to go over this again?”

And the answer was, “Yes, you have to go over it again.” And where do you turn, what do you do?

You cry, you pray, you ask, “Why?” But then, there’s a much better thing to do which is stated in this verse that I read you: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Now, there are a good many circuitous routes to learning to know God, but there are some shortcuts. I am here to suggest that gratitude is one of those shortcuts. Just start thanking God in advance, because no matter what is about to happen, you already know that God is in charge! You are not adrift in a sea of chaos. 

What is there to be grateful for? Well, God is still love; nothing has changed that. God is still God; He’s Sovereign; He’s got the whole world in His hands. He knew that my husband was going to get cancer on that particular day, or that we would find out about it. Before the foundation of the world He knew that, so He wasn’t taken by surprise. And love still wills my joy.

Now, I can always thank God for all of those things. Those are the facts, along with these other horrible things with which we can hardly cope. “It prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” So when we went to the doctor again about the second problem, we discovered that he had a second kind of cancer. The two things were unrelated. 

As we walked across the parking lot, my husband began to quote from Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.” 

And I could see that he had taken, already, a view of total despair. His first wife had died of cancer; his father had died of the kind of cancer which he had just discovered he had.

I went back praying that God would keep me from tears, particularly since I was going to my brother’s house for supper that night. I thought, I can’t be sitting there dissolved in tears! I prayed that He would take my anxieties and my fears and that He would deliver me from making a career out of my troubles—which is a lesson that that young woman who had the little boy with a serious heart anomaly had pointed out to me just a week before. 

She said, “I realized that I could make a career out of my child’s illness, and I began to pray that God would free me from that, in order that I might serve others.” 

That lesson had sunk deeply into my heart. How little I realized how desperately I was going to need that. And so, I thought of a little Chinese song (not that I speak Chinese). I heard that this song was sung by Chinese refugees in World War II: “I will not be afraid; I will not be afraid. I will look upward and travel onward and not be afraid.”

God reminded me of the verse in the Psalms where He says, “What time I am afraid, I will trust” (Ps. 56:3). And the verse that says, “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1). Now that’s a willed, conscious, deliberate obedience, isn’t it? “I will bless the Lord, regardless of what is happening around here.”

There is that other level, that other perspective, a different vision. The visible things are transitory; it is the invisible things that are really permanent. The doctor’s verdict was fact. I had to believe it, but God’s Word was also fact. 

I was able to write in my journal these words, which I certainly would have forgotten if they weren’t there in black-and-white: “Good and peaceful all day.” Those were my feelings: “good and peaceful.” Does that make any sense from any other standpoint except the perspective of eternity? It can’t possibly make sense to anybody else!

That’s why I keep saying that it isn’t explanations that we need, it’s a Person. We need Jesus Christ, our Refuge, our Fortress, the Stronghold of my life. It takes desolation to teach us our need of Him.

I think of the list of miracles in the New Testament that Jesus performed. If you were to go through the whole New Testament and make a list of the situations that people were in when Jesus arrived . . . Now some of them were relatively trivial, for example, the embarrassed host at the wedding of Cana where the wine had run out.

People don’t really desperately need wine all of the time. I guess, back then, it was one of the staple foods, but you don’t really need seconds at a party, do you? And yet, when the wine ran out, the first miracle that Jesus performed was to provide not only seconds for the party, but better wine than the host had been able to serve on the first round!

So if the wine hadn’t run out, the people would not have been prepared to recognize Jesus in the way that they did. When those five thousand—or fifteen or twenty-thousand—people were in need of food on the mountain when Jesus had been preaching to them and the disciples said, “They’ve got to have something to eat!” They probably could have made it home.

I don’t think they would have starved to death between the mountain and their own houses. It was a relatively small thing, but it was a miracle. 

I remind you of these things because so often we can get completely preoccupied with theory, metaphysics, invisible principles up here which are very hard to put into practice in our own lives.

So what is your place of need today? Has the wine run out? Are you hungry? Is it something more desperate . . . like the man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years or the child who had died or the widow who had lost her only son or the baby born blind or the storm that came up when the disciples thought they were perishing? 

What is your place of need? Where is Jesus putting His finger in your life today? Maybe there is an unanswered prayer that you have been battering away at God’s door for years about and it just seems as though He’s not paying attention. 

Maybe there’s some deep resentment in your heart because somebody has hurt you. Somebody has done something which, humanly speaking, is unforgivable! Forgiveness is for real offenses. It’s not like saying, “Excuse me,” when you step on somebody’s toe by accident. “Excuse me,” is one thing, but “Forgive me,” is for real offenses!

Jesus comes into our lives in these places of need. And if we recognize Him because of our need, then we can receive whatever it is that He’s prepared to offer us—whether it’s the grace of forgiveness, or the patience to wait for the answer to that prayer, or healing, or serenity in the midst of the worst times of your life. Whatever it is, you can receive it and say, “Thank You, Lord!”

Now, I personally have never thanked God for cancer. I have never thanked God specifically that certain Indians murdered my husband. I don’t think I need to thank God for the cancer and for the murder. But I do need to thank God that in the midst of that very situation, the world was still in His hands; that the One who keeps all those galaxies wheeling in space is the very hand that holds me! The hands that were wounded on the Cross are the same hands that hold the seven stars. 

The hands that were laid on old John when he was there on the island of Patmos, and the voice that was like the sound of many waters which said to him, “Don’t be afraid. I am. I have the keys.” (see Rev. 1:11, 15)

Now, I told you I was going to tell you three things, and I don’t think I’ve specified what that third thing is, and I’ve already said it. The first thing was that there are two things that distinguish the Christian: gratitude and acceptance. 

The second thing was that it honors God, and the third thing comes from the second half of the same verse that I read to you, Psalm 50:23. It prepares the way, and it is in these very situations which are so painful—having what you don’t want, wanting with all your heart something that you don’t have. Thanksgiving can prepare the way for God to show us His salvation!

Ten weeks after that doctor’s office visit, I wrote in my journal: 

One down, twenty-nine to go. Add had his first betatron treatment yesterday. Three-and-a-half minutes under the eye of a machine the size of a freight car, making the noise of three motorboats. There were ‘Danger! High Voltage,’ signs in the hallway, ‘Nuclear Medicine,’ on the door, an alarm system.

This morning, snow on the ground; the bare dogwood trees against a blue sky; the little raggedy form of McDuff (he was my Scottish terrier) running in the snow. All these things, and the action of the betatron and we ourselves are held in the hand that held the seven stars.

It is the hand that is now laid on us again with love, and His loving words: “Fear not. Don’t be afraid! I am the One who died; I am alive! And I have the keys. 

Remember Elisha and his servant sitting there on the mountain? Suddenly, the word is, “Behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:17). They hadn’t been able to see them, except with the eye of faith. And you and I have no idea of the things that are going on in the unseen world—except we do have an idea that they are for our perfection, for our fulfillment, for our ultimate blessing.

I close with one verse, again from Psalm 55, verse 22: “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you.” And to my amazement and delight, I discovered that that word “burden,” in the Hebrew, is the same word as the word for “gift.” This is a transforming truth to me!

If I thank God for this very thing which is killing me, I can begin—dimly and faintly—to see it as a gift, and to realize that it is through that very thing, which is so far from being the thing I would have chosen, that God wants to teach me His way of salvation!

“I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13). I will say, “Yes, Lord!” I will say, “Thank You, Lord!”

Nancy: So 2020 hasn't exactly been a bed of roses for most of us. You life isn't easy, I'd guess. I know mine hasn't been. But oh, to be able to form that habit of saying, "Thank You, Lord," even when life is hard! We’ve been listening to Elisabeth Elliot, who learned those lessons in some heart-wrenching ways herself.

Revive Our Hearts stands on the shoulders of Elisabeth because this program was the successor to Elisabeth's Gateway To Joy, which many of our listeners remember with great fondness. We’re now in our twentieth year on the air. It's hard to believe! So if you’re one of the listeners who remember that transition from Gateway To Joy, you’ve been in it for the long haul! And we’d love to hear some of your memories from the early days of Revive Our Hearts.

Dannah: Here's one, Nanc. Stormy wrote us with this:

I started listening to Elisabeth Elliot's Gateway To Joy after I heard her speak at our church. I was blessed and amazed by her zeal for the Lord. So when it was announced that a new ministry was being put in its place, I was sad and happy, for how do you let go of Elisabeth Elliot? But I so thoroughly impressed by Nancy's own devotion, zeal and timely message. You could "see" God's will and anointing in the whole thing.

Nancy, I agree so wholeheartedly as I watched that unfold. She goes on to say this, which I think also expresses the heart of so many: 

Through the years, Revive Our Hearts has helped keep me focused on the Lord and His will. And for the times that I derailed, it was a guide post that pointed me unflinchingly back to the Lord, saying, "Run, don't walk back to the Lord, your loving Father awaits! So, a heartfelt “thank you,” and many prayers over the years for Nancy and all who serve with her.

Nancy: That's so sweet. Thanks so much, Stormy, that means a lot. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Elisabeth, or you’re just getting acquainted with her, I know you’ll enjoy finding out more about the life of this remarkable woman.

She is the subject of the new, authorized biography titled Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. It’s by bestselling author Ellen Vaughn. I really enjoyed reading this book myself. I thought I knew a lot about Elisabeth Elliot, but in writing this book, Ellen was able to draw on some journals and some letters that are not publicly available, so I found myself learning some new things about the background of this woman.

I think one of the things I was touched by was the transparency in her journals of some of the struggles she had, some of the things she wrestled with. She didn't say all those things publicly, but she recorded them in her journals.

As I read this new biography, I had this sense of, "This woman wasn't all put together. She needed God's grace. And the strength she drew from the Word of God, in the same way, I need it." I can go to the same place she did to get strength for my daily challenges. Through this book her life has continued to challenge me in my walk with the Lord, and I know it will do the same for you.

If you’d like to get the new book Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, it’s our way of saying "thank you" for a suggested donation of $30 or more to support the ongoing work of Revive Our Hearts. The book doesn't officially release until next week, but when it does, I know that you'll be able to get it for less than $30 at some online retailers. But when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts, you're enabling this message to be shared with women around the world in a way that changes lives for eternity, so it's really an investment. Thanks for you support of this ministry.

When you send your gift today, be sure to ask for Elisabeth Elliot's biography when you contact us. You can do that at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Dannah: Do you ever feel like what you have to offer God is so minimal, paltry, or so insignificant? Tomorrow, on Revive Our Hearts, Elisabeth Elliot will compare your gift to a smashed-up dandelion, but one that’s transformed into something valuable. Find out what she means, tomorrow, on Revive Our Hearts.

Helping you develop a more grateful heart, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is 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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