Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Dannah Gresh: Have you noticed? God doesn’t always cooperate with your plans. Here’s Elisabeth Elliot.

Elisabeth Elliot: If your prayers don’t get answered the way you thought they were supposed to be, what happens to your faith? The world says, “God doesn’t love you”; the Scriptures tell me something very different. God, through my own troubles and sufferings, has not given me explanations, but He has met me as a person, as an individual.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of the trilogy Brokenness, Surrender, and Holiness, for Monday, September 7, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The late Elisabeth Elliot held a special place in the hearts of men and women around the world. She first entered the consciousness of the Christian community in the late 1950s as the young widow of Jim Elliot, who was martyred by the very people he was trying to reach in the jungles of Ecuador, along with four other missionaries. But over the years we fell in love with Elisabeth, not just for her relationship to Jim, but for the way she continued to minister the body of Christ through her writing, speaking, and then for thriteen years, on her radio program Gateway To Joy. I might add here that she didn't even start that thirteen-year run until she was sixty-three years old!

If you ever heard Elisabeth or knew her, you know that her style was straightforward, to the point, no-nonsense. I didn't know Elisabeth Elliot personally, though I did have the joy of meeting her a couple of times. But I remember in those years as I saw her getting older and thinking about how important her message was and how timely and prophetic and needed it was in our generation, I remember thinking, Who's going to take the baton? Who's going to share this message after she's gone?

I asking God to raise up another voice who would continue to minister to women over the air waves when Elisabeth was no longer able to do it. No one was more surprised that I was when the ministry that hosted Gateway To Joy all those years came to me and said, "We would like you to consider starting a program to be the successor program to Gateway To Joy."

I remember saying, "There's such a need there, but I think you've got the wrong person!" Well, the Lord doesn't just call those who think they are qualified, but He calls those who know how much they need Him. I certainly qualify on that account. 

As Gateway To Joy went off the air and Revive Our Hearts went on the air—nineteen years ago this past week—God brought together an amazing partnership between Back to the Bible, who helped produce Gateway To Joy for those many years, FamilyLife Today with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine, and a lesser-known conference ministry for women called Revive Our Hearts. And this program was born. So in a very real sense, we inherited a lot from Elisabeth Elliot and Gateway To Joy.

Today, we’re going to listen to the audio from a conference Elisabeth gave on the topic of suffering. It's something she talked about a lot. It's something she experienced a lot of. God wrote a message in her own life through her suffering.

The material from this series was later made into a book, published posthumously, called Suffering Is Never for Nothing. We’ve aired the first message before, and you can listen to it on the Revive Our Hearts app or at our website, ReviveOurHearts.com. We’re picking up with her second message from that series.

Let’s listen together. From the late 1980s, here’s Elisabeth Elliot.

Elisabeth: I look upon suffering as one of God’s ways of getting our attention. In fact, C. S. Lewis calls pain “God’s megaphone." He said, “God whispers to us in our conscience, speaks to us in our joys, and shouts to us in our pain.” Pain is God’s megaphone!

And I’d like for us to think about some of the things that God needs to say to us which He needs to get our attention for, first of all. It’s interesting to me and it’s of great significance, I think, that (as far as we know) the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job, is the one that deals most specifically and head-on with the subject of suffering.

You remember that Job was called “a blameless man,” “that righteous man.” God Himself said that Job was a blameless man. (see Job 1:8) If the morality of those days was that a good man would be blessed and an evil man would be punished, then Job’s experience seemed to turn that completely upside down.

Job lost everything! You remember that there was a drama that went on behind the scenes that, as far as we know, Job was never given a clue about. It was where Satan challenged God in heaven and he said, “Of course Job trusts You, but does he trust You for nothing? Try taking away all those blessings and then see where Job’s faith goes!” (see Job 1:9)

God accepted Satan’s challenge, and here we have a mystery which we cannot begin to explain. In fact, it was God who called Satan’s attention to that individual, Job. He gave Satan permission to take things away from Job. So he lost his flocks and his herds and his servants and his sons and his daughters and his house and, finally even, the confidence of his wife. 

As he sat on his ash heap and his health had been touched by that time, and he was scraping himself with potsherds in utter anguish and misery, he kept silence for seven days as his friends (as they were called) sat there and looked at him and apparently didn’t say anything either for seven days.

When Job finally broke silence, he howled his complaints at God! We hear Job called a patient man, but if you read the book of Job, you won’t really find a lot of evidence that he was patient, but he never doubted that God existed. He said some of the very worst things that could possibly be said about God, and isn’t it interesting that the Spirit of God preserved those things for you and me?

God is big enough to take anything that we can dish out to Him. He even saw to it that Job’s howls and complaints were preserved in black and white for our instruction. So never hesitate to say what you really feel to God, because remember that God knows what you think before you know, and He certainly knows what you’re going to say before you even think it!

For some samples of these dreadful things that this “patient” man, Job, said to God, how about Job chapter 3, verses 11, 19, and 20, where he says: “Why was I not stillborn? Why did I not die when I came out of the womb? Why should the sufferer be born to see the light? Why is life given to men who find it so bitter?” 

You see Job here dialoguing with God. There is no question in Job’s mind throughout this entire book of the existence of God. He knows that it is God with whom he has to deal. “Somebody is behind all this,” he is saying. The question, “Why?” presupposes that there is reason, that there is a mind behind all that may appear to be mindless suffering.

We would never ask the question, “Why?” if we really believed that the whole of the universe was an accident and that you and I are completely at the mercy of chance. The very question, “Why?”—even if it is flung at us by one who calls himself an unbeliever or an atheist—is a dead giveaway that there is that sneaking suspicion in the back of every human mind that there is somebody, some reason, some thinking Individual behind this.

And then Job addresses God directly in the tenth chapter. He says, “Can’t You take Your eyes off of me? Won’t You leave me alone long enough to swallow my spit!? You shaped me and made me, now You’ve turned to destroy me! You kneaded me like clay, and now You are grinding me to a powder!” (see vv. 8–9) Has anybody ever felt like that?? 

Does that ring any bells out there: “God is grinding me to a powder! He doesn’t give me a chance to swallow my spit!” And then, of course, his friends (who were very orthodox; they never say a word that is not theologically sound) begin to accuse him of foolish notions. “A belly full of wind,” they say, “Job is utterly lacking in the fear of God and he is pitting himself against the Almighty. . . charging Him head-down, like an angry bull!” (see Job 15)

Then Job calls Eliphaz a “windbag,” (this is the pot calling the kettle black). But his friends and enemies, he says, can’t hold a candle to God who has, “set upon me and mauled me, seized me by the neck, and worried me. He set me up as His target; His arrows reigned upon me from every side. He is pitiless! He cut deep into my vitals; He spilt my gall on the ground!” (see Job 6)

Now, can you top that? Would you dare to say such things aloud?! 

Then Job asks God question after question after question. At one point he says, “If I ask Him a thousand questions, He won’t even answer one of them!” And he was right! Remember that when God finally breaks His silence, God does not answer a single question. God’s response to Job’s questions is mystery.

In other words, God answers Job’s mystery with the mystery of Himself. He starts right in snowing poor Job with questions!: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?” “Have you seen the treasures of the snow?” “Have you walked in the great deep?” “Do you know where the wild ass gives birth?” “Have you presided over the doe in labor?” 

He goes on and on and on, question after question after question! But what He’s doing is revealing to Job Who He is. As I said in my first talk, God through my own troubles and sufferings has not given me explanations, but He has met me as a person, as an individual. That’s what we need.

Who of us in the worst pit that we’ve ever been in needs anything as much as we need company—just somebody, perhaps, who will sit there in silence, just be with us. Job never denies God’s existence, never imagines that God has nothing to do with his troubles. But he has a thousand questions . . . and so do we!

Let me just tell you a story or two that comes out of my first year as a missionary. I thought of myself as being very well-prepared to be a missionary. As I told you, I came from a strong Christian home. My parents had been missionaries themselves. We had dozens—probably hundreds—of missionaries traipsing through our house.

We had a guest room which always seemed to be full. We had suitcases bumping up and down the stairs all the time. We listened from our earliest memories to many, many missionary stories at our own dinner table. I went to a school for missionaries’ children, which was here in Orlando, as a matter of fact.

I heard thousands of missionary talks. I looked at tens of thousands of terribly bad missionary slides! (laughter) I sort of lived, ate, breathed, drank “missionaries” and turned out to be a missionary myself, as did four of my other brothers and sisters. 

There were six of us siblings in our family and five of us turned out to be missionaries of one sort or another, and the sixth is a professor in Christian colleges. Anyway, I thought that I was probably God’s gift to the mission field as a missionary, and had all this training behind me. I went to a Bible school, and I’d done some home missionary work in a Canadian Sunday school mission . . . etc. etc.

But within the first year, God saw fit to give me three major blows to what I thought was a very well-founded and very sinewy faith. The first of these was a man by the name of Macario. He was my informant as I was attempting to learn an unwritten Indian language in the western jungle of Ecuador, the language of the Colorado tribe. It was a very small tribe who never had any written language and therefore had none of the Bible in their language. 

I had prayed that God would give me an informant, someone who would be prepared to sit down with me and go over and over and over what, for him, was the easiest language in the world, and have the patience to deal with this apparently retarded foreigner.

And God answered my prayer by sending me this man by the name of Macario, who was bilingual, which was an enormous advantage! He spoke Spanish and Colorado. I had learned Spanish as the national language of the country. 

So we worked together very happily for about six weeks or two months, I’ve forgotten exactly what it was. I was on my knees one morning in my bedroom, as was my habit, reading my Bible and praying. I happened to be reading in the fourth chapter of 1 Peter. 

These were the words: “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try you, as though some strange thing happened . . . It happens to give you a share in the sufferings of Christ” (see vv. 12–13). And at that very point, I heard gunshots. There was nothing unusual about gunshots in that particular clearing of the jungle.

We were surrounded by Indians who hunted with guns that they had bought from the white man. There were also white people who hunted in that clearing, so we often heard gunshots. But these particular ones were followed by yelling and screaming and horses galloping and people running and general pandemonium. 

I rushed outside to hear that Macario had just been murdered! Now, it would be very nice if I could tell you that I easily found another informant, but the truth was that Macario was literally the only person in the world who was capable of doing the job that he had been doing with me. Nobody else knew both Spanish and Colorado!

So I was faced for the first time in my personal experience with that awful, “Why!?” Like Job, I didn’t doubt for a second that God was up there and that God knew what He was doing, but I couldn’t imagine what He could have possibly had in mind! And God’s answer to my, “Why?” was, “Trust Me.” No explanations, just “Trust Me.” That was the message.

Now if I had had a faith which was determined that God had to give me a particular kind of answer to my particular prayers, that faith would have disintegrated. But my faith had to be founded on the character of God Himself.

And so what looked like a contradiction in terms: “God loves me/God lets this awful thing happen to me.” What looked like a contradiction in terms, I had to leave in God’s hands and say, “Okay, Lord, I don’t understand it. I don’t like it!”

I only had two choices: He is either God, or He’s not. I am either held in the Everlasting Arms, or I’m at the mercy of chance. I have to trust Him or deny Him. Is there any middle ground? I don’t think so! 

I thought of Daniel in the lion’s den. I remember the picture that we had on our wall at home, a painting. When I was a child, I often gazed at that painting. Daniel is standing in the den of lions. There’s a light on his face. He stands very tall and straight with his hands behind his back, and just very faintly in the dark you can see these glowing eyes of the hungry lions.

I realized that the painting is telling me that here’s a man whose faith rests in the character of God. Of course, I wouldn’t have put it in those terms as a child, but that picture spoke volumes to me. God was there in the pit. He was not making it unnecessary for Daniel to go into the pit any more than it was unnecessary for Joseph to go into that pit where his jealous brothers threw him, or to be put into prison as were Paul and Silas and Peter and many other people in Scripture. John the Baptist got his head chopped off. It was necessary for Shadrach and Meshech and Abednego to go into the fiery furnace, because God had a message . . . not just for Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, but also, you’ll remember, for the king.

He said, “Has your God whom you serve been able to deliver you?” And you remember his challenge before he threw them into the furnace: “Do you think your God can deliver you?” And those ringing words of faith: “Our God, Whom we trust, is able to deliver us. But if not, be it known unto you, O King, that we will not bow down or serve you.” (see Dan. 3:18)

“But if not . . .” That is the lesson that has to come to all of us at some point in our lives. Every one of us, I’m sure, sooner or later has to face up to that painful question, “Why?” And God is saying, “Trust Me!” 

If your prayers don’t get answered the way you thought they were supposed to be, what happens to your faith? The world says, “God doesn’t love you!” The Scriptures tell me something very different. Those “blesseds” of the Beatitudes. Paul’s word, “It is my happiness to suffer for you.” 

We don’t know the answer, but we know that it lies deep within the mystery of the freedom to choose. When God created man, Adam and Eve, He created them with the freedom to choose to love Him or to defy Him. And they chose to defy Him.

Adam and Eve abused that freedom. C. S. Lewis says in his book The Problem of Pain, “Man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe, not because God made him so, but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his freewill.”

Lewis goes on to state this knotty problem in its simplest form: “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy. If God were Almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy, therefore God lacks either the goodness or the power or both.”

So answering the question depends upon our definition of “good.” An ancient man thought of goodness in moral terms. Modern man equates good with happiness. “If it ain’t fun, it ain’t good!” The two things almost seem to be mutually exclusive. They put it the other way around: “If it’s good, it ain’t fun!”

You know that commercial for some kind of cereal (I can’t remember what it is but), two little kids have heard that the cereal is natural and it’s good for you. So they say, “Well, let’s get him to try it. He’ll eat anything! He doesn’t know it’s good for you!” So the little kid eats it because he doesn’t know any better that the other two kids wouldn’t even try it because it’s good for you!

You’ve heard the saying that, “Everything I like is either illegal, immoral, or fattening!” (or something like that). It’s a notion that the world has that the two things are mutually exclusive. If it’s good, it’s not fun. It has nothing to do with my happiness. Moral man was concerned primarily with moral goodness.

If we learn to know God in the midst of our pain, we come to know Him as One who is not “a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15 KJV). He is One who has been over every inch of the road! 

I love that old hymn, I think from the seventeenth century, by Richard Baxter: “Christ leads me through no darker rooms than He went through before.” I love those words! I have some dear friends who are missionaries in North Africa. He was one of the many seminary students who have lived in our house.

I had a letter from them about a year or so ago to tell me that they had just lost their baby girl. I think it was either at birth or just within a few hours after birth. Their letter was filled with the anguish that that cost them, and of course, I wanted to answer the letter. But I’ve never lost a baby.

I only have one child who was ten months old when her father was killed. So I couldn’t write to Phil and Janet and say, “I know exactly what you’ve been through.” But I have read the wonderful letters of Samuel Rutherford, that Scottish preacher from the seventeenth century, who seems to have been through just about every imaginable human trial. He had lost at least one child.

I had his letters in my study, so I looked up one of his letters to a woman who had lost a child. This is what he wrote to her (and I quoted these words to Phil and Janet after saying to them, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I know of one who knows”). 

I sent them Samuel Rutherford’s words. He had lost two daughters (I have here in my notes). This is what he said: 

Grace rooteth not out the affections of a mother, but putteth him on his wheel who maketh all things new, that they may be refined. He commandeth you to weep, and that princely one took up to heaven with Him a man’s heart to be a compassionate High Priest. The cup you drink was at the lip of sweet Jesus, and He drank of it. 

And Janet wrote to me these words: “The storm of pain is calming down, and the Lord is painting a new and different picture of Himself.” I saw in her experience that the very suffering itself was an irreplaceable medium.

God was using that thing to speak to Janet and Phil in a way that He could not have spoken if He had not gotten their attention through the death of that little child. Now I don’t mean to oversimplify things, as though that explains it, that God had to say something to those two people. Because if I know anything about godliness, I know that Phil and Janet Linton are both godly people.

And that raises another painful question, doesn’t it? We often say, “Why did such-and-such have to happen to her? She’s such a wonderful person!” “Why did he have to go through this? He’s such a wonderful person!” Well, again, the word is, “Trust Me!”

Back when I was a college student I was dabbling around in poetry, as I suppose most teenage girls do at some point. I wrote some words that later on seemed to me to be almost prophetic. I wrote these words, and I really don’t remember exactly whether there was any particular reason I wrote them at the time.

But something had given me a clue that there could be some loneliness ahead for me, and so these were the words that I wrote:

Perhaps some future day, Lord, Thy strong hand
Will lead me to the place where I must stand utterly alone.
Alone, O gracious Lover, but for Thee.
I shall be satisfied if I can see Jesus only.

I do not know Thy plan for years to come;
My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home, sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now; 
Lead on, no matter where, no matter how.

I trust in Thee.

I began keeping journals back when I was about sixteen or seventeen and have been keeping them ever since. That makes quite a few years. As I went back to re-read some of those earlier journals in preparation for these talks, I thought, Well, I really better go back and see whether I know anything about what I’m talking about!

And as I said in my first talk, I don’t think I know very much by comparison to others. But I found a few little things in the journal, and one of the things which I did feel was significant was the fact that, again and again, I quote hymns about the cross, hymns which were favorites at different times.

One of them that I learned in college was, 

Oh, teach me what it meaneth, that cross uplifted high
With One, the Man of Sorrows condemned to bleed and die.
~Lucy A. Bennett

One of the hymns that we learned as very small children in our family prayers (we used to sing a hymn every morning in family prayers) was, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” My daughter has taught some of those hymns to her own children. 

I don’t think I will ever forget seeing little two-year-old Jim violently swinging his newborn baby sister, Colleen, in one of those little canvas swings, and singing, 

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever,
’Til my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

And here’s this little boy just violently swinging this infant—who’s having the time of her life! He’s singing this profound hymn about the cross. I could go on and on with hymns that I could quote. “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” has always been a favorite of mine. 

But as I came across those in my journals, I thought, What did I imagine would be the answer to the prayers that I was praying in those hymns? What kind of answer did I really expect God to give me? Did I expect some kind of a miraculous revelation, perhaps, some deep original insight into the meaning of the cross? Did I expect God to make some kind of spiritual giant out of me, so that I would have mysteries at my fingertips that other people didn’t know anything about? 

Well, I haven’t the slightest idea what I really thought. I suppose it was all very vague and mystical in my mind, and I didn’t know what God would do by way of answering that prayer.

But I can look back over these forty-five years or so and see that God, in fact, is in the process of answering those prayers. “Teach me what it meaneth, that cross uplifted high.” What is this great symbol of the Christian faith? It’s a symbol of suffering! That is what the Christian faith is about. 

It deals head-on with this question of suffering, and no other religion in the world does that. Every other religion in some way evades the question. Christianity has, at its very heart, this question of suffering. The answer to our prayers, “Teach me what it meaneth; in the cross be my glory ever. Beneath the cross of Jesus . . .”

The answer comes, not in the form of a revelation or an explanation or a vision, but in the form of a Person who comes to You and me in our sorrow. He says, “Trust Me! Walk with Me.”

I have to insert in here another little grandchild story, and you’re going to have to bear with me. You know, grandmothers do tell grandchild stories, but they seem so appropriate so often!

In this particular case, my little four-year-old granddaughter, Christiana, had to be spanked three times in one day for the same offense. She had not come running quickly when she was called. And my daughter treated delayed obedience as disobedience. So Christiana was spanked three times on that particular Sunday. 

So Sunday night, when it was time to go to church and she was called, she came charging out to the car. Tears were pouring down her face, her arms full of a Bible, a notebook, a pen (at four years old, mind you, on her way to church had to have a Bible, a notebook, a pen). 

Her barrettes, her necklaces, her bracelets, her hair ribbons, and who-knows-what-else essentials were all falling out of her arms. She was tripping over things, tears pouring down her face. And she stopped and said, “Oh, Mama! If only Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned!”

Now that child was suffering because she lives in a fallen world. And you and I live in that same fallen world. We have to look at these awful facts: the fact of sin and suffering and death; the fact that God created a world in which those things were possible; the fact that He does love us (that means He wants nothing less than our perfection and joy); that He gave us the freedom to choose, and that man decided that his own idea of perfection and joy was better than God’s and believed what Satan told him. Therefore, sin and suffering entered into the world.

And now we’re saying, “Why doesn’t God do something about it!?” The Christian answer is, “He did!” He became the victim, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. 

George Herbert, another seventeenth century poet, wrote this: “Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes, fine nets and stratagems to catch us in.”

And then, George MacDonald, a nineteenth century poet, said this: “Pain, with dog and spear, hounds false faith from human hearts.” Two different expressions of what God is up to. “Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,” to give us this message.

And as the psalmist said in Psalm 46, “Though the earth shake and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, God is our refuge!” (see v. 2)

I speak to you as one who has desperately needed a refuge! And in that same psalm he says, “Be still” (and I’m told that it’s legitimate to translate that, “Shut up!”) “and know that I am God!” (v. 10) 

Nancy: What an encouraging (and challenging!) word. I told you—she didn’t mince words! We’ve been listening to Elisabeth Elliot, who is now with the Lord. In this message recorded decades ago, she reminded us that God’s answer to our “why?” is “Trust me.” That's a message that I need in this season of my life, and maybe you do to.

The new, authorized biography of the first part of Elisabeth’s life will be out next week. It’s by bestselling author Ellen Vaughn. Ellen does a remarkable job of delving into Elisabeth’s journals, interviews with family and friends, and reams of other resources , to present us the beautiful life of an ordinary woman who was completely sold out to God.

The title of Ellen’s book is Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, and we’d love to get a copy into your hands. Technically, it’s not officially available until September 15, but we managed to get some copies ahead of that release date.

I’m excited to be able to offer you the authorized biography Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. It’s available from Revive Our Hearts for a suggested donation of $30 or more. Once the book releases I know you'll be able to get it from an online retailer. But when you make a donationt to Revive Our Hearts, you’re helping us call women around the world to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. Your donation at this time is both needed and greatly appreciated. So get in touch with us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

How can you and I experience peace in the midst of excruciating difficulty? That’s what Elisabeth will address tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Pointing you to the mystery of God Himself, 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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