Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: As she wrote the biography of Elisabeth Elliot, Ellen Vaughn learned lessons for her own life.

Ellen Vaughn: How do any of us weather the things that life brings our way? God is writing our story. What I have found is the reality of, “I can put my faith in Jesus. God is who He says is, and my trust is in Him!”

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, for Tuesday, September 22, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: As Revive Our Hearts enters its twentieth year of ministry (Can you believe it!? I almost can’t!), it’s been a joy to celebrate the life of a woman who had a significant part in what became Revive Our Hearts, because of her influence in my life.

When Elisabeth Elliot and Gateway To Joy came to a close, in God’s providence, Revive Our Hearts stepped into that place and began to minister to women as Elisabeth Elliot had done so effectively for many years.

I know that many of our listeners grew up on Elisabeth Elliot. They grew up attending her conferences, reading her books—as I did—listening to Gateway To Joy, her daily radio program that she did in the later years of her life.

It’s been a joy this week to talk with the biographer of Elisabeth Elliot on the early years. Becoming Elisabeth Elliot is the title of this newly released authorized biography. And, Ellen Vaughn, you’re precious! Amazing! I look at this book and I think of all the interviews that you did, the journal entries and letters that you have read. 

You’re a true researcher. You went into the jungles of the Amazon like a detective tracking down what is now many decades ago, the early years of Elisabeth Elliot. You have made her life so fresh for those of us who have been familiar with her for many years. . .

I think it’s so important to share her life with a new generation, many of whom—maybe most of whom—have no clue who Elisabeth Elliot was. I think it’s really important that we preserve the story, not for the story’s sake (because people come and go, and we don’t have to remember all of them), but for what we can learn from the life of someone like an Elisabeth Elliot, and how did she get from that childhood growing up in Philadelphia to the woman we knew and loved, who was so greatly used of God? 

You’ve unpacked—what?—the first thirty-two years of her life in this book, and I just want to say thank you! This is a beautiful service you’ve given to the Body of Christ. I’m really grateful.

Ellen: That is so kind. Thank you, Nancy. The reason I became a writer is because I’m curious. I love writing people’s stories! What is it that makes you the unique human being that you are, and how does the eternal God in heaven intersect with ordinary human lives?

Nancy: Yes!

Ellen: That has fascinated me for decades in my writing life. So to be the biographer for Elisabeth Elliot . . . now that’s a very heavy stewardship, if you will. 

Nancy: It is!

Ellen: And especially because the paper trail was so mammoth! I mean, she was quite the luminous writer of letters, all of her journal entries over the years, all of the people whom I could interview. And, as you mentioned, I could go down to the jungle in the Amazon and absorb the environment that was such a place where she became the woman that we later knew her to be.

So with all of that, I felt like I was a sculptor chipping away at a big block of stone, or (and this image doesn’t really work, but I’ll try it anyway) . . . I felt as I read her journals—all of these volumes in her handwriting over the years—almost like I was hot water and she was the teabag, and I was taking on her essence.

I found in the most curious way over the course of the time of writing this book that I was carrying not only my own life around, but I was a steward, and I was carrying around the life of Elisabeth Elliot! 

As I would read in her journals, I knew what was coming. When she was writing those pages, she didn’t know what was happening next.

Nancy: She had no idea. 

Ellen: And so, it was an odd sense of being outside of time with her. Of course like any other human being—any other biographer—I’m living my own life at the same time. A book is an organic thing; God uses it, hopefully, in the lives of readers as they take in the story and the Holy Spirit quickens whatever He would quicken in each reader’s life.

But also for me in the research for this book, when I went down to the Amazon jungle and I was able to be among some of the men who are now very, very old, who actually participated in the killing of Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries and they are now brothers in Christ, I found when I was among the Waodani tribal people, such a sweetness of the unity that we have in Christ, that surpasses any cultural barriers, any language barriers. 

Nancy: Only God could write that story!

Ellen: It’s incredible! In fact, dedicated this book to Mincaye, who was one of the young warriors who killed the missionaries who later became a beautiful brother in Christ!

Nancy: We probably have—we do have—more in common with him, as far away as his culture and world would be from ours, than we do with people who live next door to us who don’t have shared faith in Christ.

Ellen: Right. So when I was with the Waodani, they have a word that I learned that I love. That word is [phonetically], “wap-o-nee.” And what it means . . . In English if we care for something, if we enjoy something, we say, “I like it!” Right? They say, “I see it well”—“wap-o-nee.” And if you really love something you draw out the “a:” “w-a-a-a-po-nee!” That means, “I love it! I see it very well!”

Part of my journey in this book I tied to that word “wap-o-nee.” I carry it around as a mantra almost, of seeing it well. It has been a reminder to me to see with the eyes of faith, to see what isn’t there, to trust, in fact, in the God whom I cannot see, whose ways I cannot discern . . . and yet, to trust in Him.

I think I saw this in Elisabeth Elliot’s life, when she lived among the Quichua and the Waodani peoples, that she saw people well, she loved them. She probably was more loving to them than she was later in life to some of her audiences. (That’s another story!)

But, to truly see with the eyes of faith the people God puts in our path every day, right? So that has been a great take-away for me from the writing of this book: “wa-po-nee,” “to see it well,” “to see with the eyes of our heart,” as Ephesians 1:18 puts it. 

Nancy: And to see with the Lord’s eyes.

Ellen: Yes!

Nancy: The way Elisabeth saw these tribal people was with the eyes of Christ’s love, and that may be for a listener seeing her husband that way or seeing that prodigal child that way, with eyes of faith. Isn’t that what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 5:14–16, where he says, 

The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard [or see] no one according to the flesh.

But we see them as they could be, and would be, in Christ! We see them as those that Christ loves, as those for whom He died, and as those that, therefore in His Name we can cherish and serve—which is what Elisabeth Elliot did!

Ellen: It’s something I learned from her in the course of this book. She grew up in a home where her dad was an amateur birdwatcher. He taught his kids to see, to notice detail, to be very attentive, to observe well, and Elisabeth carried that all her life.

After Jim was killed and she was in the jungle, LIFE magazine—which was then a major periodical in the United States—sent its star photographer to take pictures in the aftermath of the missionary massacre. Cornell Capa was his name.

Nancy: It became a famous cover issue!

Ellen: Yes! And some of those famous photos, of course, are in the book. He took beautiful photography, capturing moments of truth. He taught Elisabeth how to take pictures, and so she learned to see in a different way through the photographer’s lens, through Cornell Capa. So the issue of learning to see, I think, is a real take-away.

Nancy: I love the fact, Ellen, that as you wrote this book, you weren’t writing it just as a distant observer or as historian or biographer, but that the Lord was working your life. You were seeing things differently; you were grappling with and growing in your own faith, even as you watched Elisabeth grappling with and growing in her faith.

In God’s providence as you were working on this book, you faced some really difficult circumstances that you could not have anticipated when you accepted this assignment. It seems that this exercise of digging into Elisabeth’s life and writing this book has really impacted your own journey in this season. Tell us a little bit about that. 

Ellen: As I began to work on this project . . . I should give the backdrop. My wonderful husband, Levon, had been diagnosed with a very rare malignant, aggressive brain cancer back in 2012. After surgery and proton radiation—and quite a journey back in 2012 and 2013—the cancer had been lying low, shall we say, for some years. 

Just about the time I began to work on this book, during the time period I was reading all of Elisabeth Elliot’s journals, Lee’s cancer returned. He went through a period of time where his personality changed a bit because of pressure in his frontal lobe. (Those of your listeners who are neurologists know how important that frontal lobe is!)

I was in a period where my husband was acting a bit differently than he had for the prior thirty-three/thirty-four years, and so everything that was familiar was somewhat stripped away. He then had a massive brain surgery and nearly died several times. His recovery from that surgery was very tenuous with many setbacks and much rehabilitation over months and months and months of time.

I found myself reading Elisabeth Elliot’s journals in hospital waiting rooms, in ICU units, in all kinds of settings. As I read about Elisabeth’s loss in her husband, Jim, I faced my own loss, perhaps, of my husband, Lee.

My take-away as I absorbed what Elisabeth had learned from Scripture, what she actually lived out in real time day after day after day, I found that the principles by which she lived her life were sound. They were secure. She had built her life on the Rock. Now that sounds like a Christian cliché, right?

Nancy: But it was actually Jesus who said it, right?

Ellen: But it was true! I found that they were transferable truths that truly buoyed me up in times of great pain and suffering, and I found that in the midst of many days—and to this day—where I don’t know what Lee’s future holds . . . Right now he’s in an experimental program, but again, this cancer is wily, it’s aggressive. 

God could heal him in a heartbeat, but He may well not choose to do that in this life. And so, again, the loss of my own husband is not abstract, but perhaps imminent. Only God knows that. I am blessed with many friends who are really supportive and quite hilarious and quite wonderful in the midst of everything, in good times and in difficult times. 

How do any of us weather the things that life brings our way? God is writing our story. God allows many calamities and many things that seem to make no sense, that hit us. What I have found is the reality of, “I can put my faith in Jesus. God is who He says is, and He has planted something that will grow in eternity, and my trust is in Him!” And those are plain things.

The plain things are the main things in terms of our faith? There is no new way to codify it. There’s no new kind of spin on, “How do we incorporate these truths so they hold in life when the times are hard?” For me, that reality is . . . My children think I’m a pessimist. I am not a pessimist; I am a realist (that’s a joke).

But the reality for me is, it seems to be the norm to have times of difficulty, times of storms, and the times that are serene and happy are few and far between. I think for many of us, as we were younger we would chafe at those times: “Oh, if my faith were stronger, I wouldn’t be feeling like this!” Or we would focus on our feelings, or we would expect God to bring wonderful new self-realization and blessings. In fact, all of that is such a cultural Christianity, that cannot hold in the storms of real life.

Nancy: And, of course, so much of the rest of the world knows that better than we do.

Ellen: Yes. 

Nancy: In fact, I think the issues with COVID and so many of the things that are troubling the Western world today, the United States, are things that are very familiar—in different ways—to the rest of the world. But it’s shaken us because we’re used to basically being able to manage and to have the funding we need and the housing we need, most of us, the food we need.

But you have whole swaths of the world that famine is a part of their reality. So believers in those contexts have had to learn to cling to Christ when nothing else is secure. But here in the United States, as some of us have had things knocked out from under us, we’re kind of left reeling, because we expected it to always be okay. 

Ellen: Well, I think we have become addicted to a false value of comfort and of the illusion of control. Part of what I have loved over the last ten, twenty years has been my work with international, cooperating ministries. And so, I’ve gone all over the world to developing nations and interviewed believers.

I can’t tell you the number of times that believers in other countries that face persecution or that face difficult circumstances, hostile governments, whatever it is, in a strange way feel sorry for us in the U. S. because our faith has not been tested and made more precious, in terms of intimacy with Jesus that only comes through suffering. That’s a hard message! But it is the message that will hold us when the times are difficult.

Nancy: We have listeners who, right now, are being tossed about in some very serious, unexpected storms, for which there seems to be no end in sight or the end in sight doesn’t seem to be one that they would want. Just review for us some of the things that you learned and heard as you unpacked the early years of Elisabeth Elliot.

What are some take-away statements, things that we’ve talked about over these last days? I’ll just mention one, it wasn’t original with her, but said by Amy Carmichael who had such an influence in Elisabeth’s life: “In acceptance lies peace.” Don’t resist it; don’t resent it; don’t run from it, but accept what God brings. And in doing that with open hands, there will be peace.

That’s something that Elisabeth Elliot taught a lot of us, and it’s something that has stood you in good stead through your storms.

Ellen: Yes! It really has.

Nancy: What else have you picked up that has helped you and will help the listener who says, “I’m in that stormy place right now.” 

Ellen: I’m a very practical person, and I don’t want to waste energy on nonacceptance, for example. “It is what it is.” That’s a cliché, but acceptance is the quickest way to get to the next step. I also, like Elisabeth Elliot, don’t see wasting a whole lot of energy in asking why things happen. It’s rather an irrelevant question once the things have happened.

I have found, too, that the most practical take-away is that—and anyone who loves Elisabeth Elliot knows this—in the midst of each day, to do the next thing. In the midst of my husband’s medical crises, there have been many things that I have needed to do. 

There is a certain freedom and a certain peace that comes in just working through, “Lord, give me the grace to do what I need to do today.” I have found, in a mystical way, God’s mercies are new every morning!

I will go to bed exhausted by the end of the day, wiped out, a woman of little faith who has used up all her words for the day. But by the next day when I wake up, God has refilled my cup, and He will do that one day at a time.

Nancy: Elisabeth had such a thread, a theme, in her ministry of suffering. In fact, posthumously, the book based on her teaching on the subject—Suffering Is Never for Nothing—is one that’s really ministered to a lot of people. It’s one she kept coming back to again and again, because she had lived this in small ways and in big ways.

Here’s a quote from your book that I jotted down:

She wasn’t angry at God because of pain and suffering. She expected it in this life. She was not daunted by our inability to explain God’s ways. Rather, she was irked with Christians who smoothed away the discomfort or the mystery of it all in favor of some easy platitude.

She wanted to perceive the truth and follow Him wherever He led, regardless of the pain, even if it meant messily hacking a new trail, leaving others wondering, "Just what had happened to poor, dear Betty?!" 

Ellen: Yes, right!

Nancy: So that expectation changing, so your hope is not in comfort or convenience or simplicity or understanding, but in saying, “I’m Yours, Lord. Yes, Lord!”

Ellen: And certainly those who know and love Elisabeth Elliot, again, knew of her love for Amy Carmichael. In the book I quote one of Amy Carmichael’s famous poems Hast Thou No Scar? And in that, in a poetic framework, Amy Carmichael posits that, in fact, there is a pattern in the way that God designed the universe.

Even Jesus learned obedience through suffering. As we do that—something none of us would sign up for!—He is faithful. I think many of us have become materialists in our culture today, where we’re really not thinking a whole lot about eternity. 

I think the saints who came a hundred years ago, two-hundred years ago, thought a lot more about eternity. The fact is that the suffering in this life will be transformed into something we cannot even imagine, in terms of what a God who exists in all kinds of different dimensions we can’t even imagine, in terms of His good plan for our pleasure, for His glory. And so I rest in that.

There are plenty of days I think all of us, whatever our situation, it’s like, “Get me out of here!” God will give us what we need to make it through each day. But the bottomline is that this life is a puff of time! We will get through this. And then, like Elisabeth Elliot, that June day when she took her last breath, was an incredible release from a life that had been marked by suffering.

I know Elisabeth’s best friend would say that suffering was for the purposes that others in the body of Christ would see the way of obedience and walk in it.

Nancy: We have seen that through her life, and you’ve helped us see that. As you’re talking, Ellen, I’m thinking of that beautiful passage in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18. This is for all of us, “So we do not lose heart.” You’re in some circumstances now, I’m facing circumstances now with my own husband’s health, where it would be easy to lose heart.

But we don’t lose heart, Paul said! “Though our outer self is wasting away,” which it is!

Ellen: I see that every day: I’m wasting away!

Nancy: Well, I’ll say “amen” to that, “. . . our inner self is being renewed day by day.” We saw that in Elisabeth. Lord willing, we’re seeing that in our own lives. And then this: “For this light momentary affliction . . .” Wow! You think about the things Elisabeth went through that were hard, the things that we’re going through that are hard. They don’t seem light or momentary! 

That’s not how I would describe them! But that’s what the apostle Paul said: these afflictions we’re experiencing here and now, they’re light and they’re momentary. How is that possible?

Ellen: Only in comparison to eternity.

Nancy: Exactly! He said this, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us [and I would say, “preparing us for”] an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” 

Ellen: Right. I have to say that in the midst of that, part of the mystery that I feel that Elisabeth was so oriented toward—the mystery of our faith—is that, in my own small life I have never felt more of an abundance of joy that has come through suffering in whatever suffering I’ve gone through, which is minimal compared to what others, your listeners, may be experiencing or what Elisabeth Elliot herself went through. 

I feel like that’s part of the great secret that she used to know in part, but now she knows fully in heaven—that suffering, in fact, is that gateway to joy!

Nancy: And that’s exactly what she meant by that title of that program she had for so many years—that your loneliness, your loss, your suffering is actually a gateway to greater joy! 

And the Scripture affirms that in 1 Peter 1:6–9, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary [and it is necessary] you have been grieved by various trials . . .” All kinds of trials; big ones, little ones. What seems big to me may not seem big to you, but you’ve got your own, there’s an outcome to this. “. . . so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It will be worth it all when we see Him. Remember the old gospel song, “When We See Christ”?

Though you have not seen him, you love him [and] though you do not now see him, you believe in him [and here it is!] and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Ellen: And that can be a reality in anyone’s life!

Nancy: Yes!

Dannah: No matter what you’re going through, isn’t it encouraging to remember that the Lord has a plan for you and that He is completely trustworthy! We’ve been listening to a conversation between Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Ellen Vaughn.

Ellen wrote the authorized biography Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, and that book is included as a thank you gift when youbecome a part of our Monthly Partner Team. What exactly is our Monthly Partner Team? Well, it’s made up of people who consistently pray, generously give thirty dollars or more every month and share the message and vision of Revive Our Hearts with other people in their lives.

Our Monthly Partners make fruitful ministry possible, and you can be a part of it! We’re believing God for three-hundred new members to join our Monthly Partner team here in September. When you sign up, you’ll receive a special gift as our way to thank you for joining the team.

Here are a few of the resources in the Monthly Partner Team Welcome Collection: the full Lies book collection, based on Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free (that’s five books!), a daily devotional that you will continue to receive every single month, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (which I just mentioned), a CD set with some of the most popular series from Revive Our Hearts in the last ten years. And let me tell you, we featured snippets of some of these a few weeks ago on the program, and God used them so powerfully in my life! It’s the best of the best of Nancy’s last decade of teaching. 

We’ve put all of that in a Revive Our Hearts tote bag. Along with those items you’ll receive one complimentary registration to any of our conferences each year. You can join the team today and help us share God’s Word with a world that desperately needs Him right now! To sign up or find out more, visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. 

Recently I was able to record a video series on the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, because it’s so unbelievably relevant for the challenging year we’re living through. Tomorrow I’ll be here with you to share with you Part 1 of that series. I hope you’ll join me!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants your life to display divine anointing. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Speakers

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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Ellen Vaughn

Ellen Vaughn

Ellen is a New York Times bestselling author and speaker who has written or co-written twenty-three books. Former vice president of executive communications at Prison Fellowship, she collaborated with the …

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