Facing Life’s Final Season: Remembering Evelyn Christenson

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: As Evelyn Christenson entered the final season of her life, her heart was set on one goal.

Evelyn Christenson: My goal has been to be like Jesus, to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son. I have worked at that for most of my adult life. That has been my goal, to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son, and when I see Him . . .

Nancy: You want it to be just the next step, don’t you?

Evelyn: Yes, because when we see Him, we shall be completely like Him. I don’t want to have this great big gulf in-between. I would like to just be able to slip in and be like Jesus.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, November 18.

Nancy: Evelyn Christenson was known as a woman of prayer. She had a powerful life message in that area. She influenced me in a significant way, and she influenced countless other women through her speaking and her books.

In fact, one of those books has become a classic. It’s called What Happens When Women Pray? It sold over three million copies since it first came out. Unfortunately, that book is no longer in print, but at the end of today’s program we’ll tell you how you can get a copy through Revive Our Hearts.

Well, it was less than three weeks ago, on November 1, when I received the email letting me know that Evelyn Christenson had finished her race and was finally home with the Lord where she longed to be. Evelyn was eighty-nine years old when the Lord took her home, and she remained faithful to Him all the way to the end of her life, leaving an example of finishing well.

In fact, over the last week or so, we’ve been in email with a friend who knew her well. This woman said, "All this happened through a little lady with no college degree, no seminary degree, no radio program, no marketing personnel or other personnel but a secretary and a part-time bookkeeper. She prayed and obeyed over and over and over again."

She told us, "Evelyn was even leading people to the Lord at her assisted living home one month before she died. With her last breath, she told us that Jesus was holding her hand," and what a way to go.

Well, today we want to remember and honor the long fruitful life of this servant of the Lord by listening to a conversation with Evelyn that we aired several years ago. At the time, she was dealing with many physical issues. Her heart was working at about a third of its capacity though you would have never known it because she was still passionate and energetic to do the work of the Lord.

In that conversation, Evelyn shared some of the heartache that she had gone through early in her marriage.

Evelyn: Well, the wonderful thing about being 80, Nancy, is that I can look back and see how God used those experiences very definitely in what He was calling me and preparing me to do and to be. So when I look back now, I can do it with a thankful heart. I couldn’t at the time, and I don’t think anybody going through losing four babies (which I have done) would say, “Oh, isn’t this wonderful? Isn’t this fun?” It is not! It is very traumatic.

When we were first married, I was pregnant, and we lost that baby in a miscarriage. So that wasn’t as traumatic as the next miscarriage because in-between those I had lost a baby—a full-term baby, stillborn. Also, we had just lost Chris’ father just five weeks before that. He died very unexpectedly, and then our baby was born dead. I knew the baby was dead for ten days before I finally delivered the baby.

Nancy: Wow.

Evelyn: Nancy, we were in World War II, and I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through a war realizes how traumatic all the things are that you go through. Our doctors and our nurses were all overseas. If it weren’t for my mother, I wouldn’t have lived through that stillborn because for two solid days I was in steady labor with contractions about one minute apart.

Nancy: Knowing that this child was dead?

Evelyn: Knowing the baby was dead. It was a very serious thing. My husband was gone. He was still in training. He hadn’t gone overseas yet, which he did, but we wanted that baby so desperately to fill the place that his dad left, having just died. We thought, “Oh, now there’s going to be a little baby.” But there wasn’t.

And then, of course, there was the next miscarriage. My husband had come back from Germany. He was a bomber pilot, and all of this had gone on. It was a very traumatic time in our lives. My father had become an invalid as well.

The second miscarriage happened after we got to Bethel College,  because when Chris came back, God had called him to be a pastor. We only had one year of college before WW II broke out. I already now had one miscarriage and a stillborn, and then we got back to college, and I was pregnant.

I was ecstatic because I thought, “Oh, this is going to be it because we are in God’s will. We’re going into the ministry. We’ve given up everything, and so everything is going to be just fine. We’re going to have our family.”

The amazing thing was I lost that baby. I prayed everything you’re supposed to pray. I did all the steps that anybody would ever thing you would do when God has called you into ministry. You  know the whole story. You’ve heard many people tell this story.

I remember being so angry, “God, I want this baby so badly.” I was lying in that hospital  room, and just like a ticker tape, it ran through my mind Romans 8:28. I [God] am working all things for [not His good] for my good.

Nancy: And did you just immediately accept that?

Evelyn: You know, I did. If God says something, Nancy . . . I think I got this from my mother. I watched her. If God said it, it was okay. I accepted it from the Lord, and I not only accepted it, but I made it my philosophy of life. I have lived by it from age twenty-three to age eighty. Nancy, God has never failed me. “This is for your good”—even losing babies.

Nancy: And you had to be willing to accept that even if you couldn’t understand?

Evelyn: I understood the first time. When He said it, I understood. A lot of things have come in my life I haven’t understood, but I have so deeply ingrained in my thinking and my belief that God is not making a mistake, that whatever comes in my life, I can say I know that God is not making a mistake.

There have been very difficult things in my life . . .

Nancy: And that wasn’t the last child you lost?

Evelyn: Oh, no, it wasn’t the last child we lost. We had one child. Our Jan was perfectly fine, a wonderful, precious, little girl. And then the next baby after that—we were in our first pastorate, and I was pregnant but didn’t now it when we left for the pastorate. I was pregnant with our little Judy, and then things weren’t right. When I got toward the last of the pregnancy, things were not good. Something was very wrong with Judy.

When she was born, I had an extremely difficult delivery, very, very difficult. They told me that was the hardest kind they had recorded in the hospital. I said, “Thanks a lot.” But Judy was born with Spina Bifida, and she was born paralyzed from the waist down.

They told us if she ever spiked a high fever just to take her to the hospital because her water system, fluids in her body could not take care of a high fever. She was perfectly good and well and happy when I put her to bed. When I picked her up in the morning, she had 105 degree fever. I knew I needed to take her to the hospital.

Nancy: And she was how old, now?

Evelyn: Seven months—well she died at seven months. She was in the hospital a couple of months. 

Nancy: How were you praying at that time?

Evelyn: Well now, this is what was so amazing. This is when I got angry. A former pastor of ours had said, “My goodness. God must love Evelyn and Harold a lot to give them all this trouble and all these problems.” I became so angry. He was talking about Hebrews 12. So I spent a lot of time at night. We took her in the daytime to the hospital. Then in the night, in that first parsonage where I  lived that first year, I stayed on my knees in that bedroom all night long fighting with God.

Nancy: For the life of that child.

Evelyn: I kept saying, “This is a great way to show me You love me. Isn’t it enough that there are three of them? Haven’t I learned enough?” I had all these things that I’d learned already. I was telling God all these things, and I was angry. I fought. All at once I stayed in Hebrews 12.

Now, He doesn’t teach us all the same things, but what He was teaching me was, “If you’re going to be the pastor’s wife I want you to be, you’re going to have to know these things.”

Nancy: What was it in Hebrews 12 He was saying?

Evelyn: Oh, He was saying that we are disciplined because He loves us. It’s so that we would be holy, and it’s for our good.

Nancy: Disciplined—does that mean you’ve done something wrong?

Evelyn: No. That word used to be chastening in the old translations. It isn’t so much chastening as it is preparation. It’s honing—making finer gold—that in the hot fire and all that.

Nancy: Did you ask yourself, “Have I done something wrong? Is God punishing me?”

Evelyn: Well, I didn’t even think I had because we had gone to our first church. We had done everything we’re supposed to do. We had gone through all the schooling. As far as we knew, we were on track with God. So I wasn’t questioning that I had done anything wrong. But,

  • Why, when I had done everything that I thought I was supposed to be doing, now why are You doing this to me, Lord? 
  • Haven’t I done enough? 
  • Haven’t I given enough? 
  • Haven’t I suffered enough?

Nancy: I think a lot of us ask those questions.

Evelyn: He said, “No. You’re going to have to learn.”

Then, Nancy, that night I admit I was fighting God. I was angry at that pastor for saying that. But when it broke, it broke. And, Nancy, I suffered, and I grieved after that.

Nancy: This is while your little girl is still in the hospital?

Evelyn: She’s still in the hospital, even when she died, I didn’t fight. I accepted God’s will that night on my face.

Nancy: When you say you broke . . .

Evelyn: Whatever it was. My defiance, my anger, my everything—it just went. It broke, like a dam.

Nancy: Was that a surrender for you?

Evelyn: It was a surrender.

Nancy: A relinquishment?

Evelyn: Both. It was a surrender to God for His love.

Nancy: Not knowing whether she would live or die.

Evelyn: No, we didn’t know. But she didn’t live. I pretty much knew from the doctors. He could have performed a miracle if He had wanted to.

The grief was very, very much there, of course, when we lost her.

Nancy: So surrender doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the pain?

Evelyn: Oh, no. I felt the pain. In those couple months we had with her in the hospital, we watched her literally burn out because her system could not handle the fever. She almost turned purple. She was just burning out. And to watch your own child go through that was very, very difficult. But I never asked God why again.

I was doing a radio broadcast, a call-in broadcast from California just a couple of years ago, and somebody called in from the East Coast. She said, “Evelyn may not remember me, but I was a little girl when she was a pastor’s wife”—then in our second church. She said, “My mom and dad went through a real sorrowful thing because my little baby sister died. Pastor Chris and Evelyn were on vacation, and they gave up their vacation to come back to be with my mother and dad.”

She said, “I was this little girl”—little toddler about four, probably—and she said, “I watched my pastor’s wife, Evelyn, come back and stand.” You see, the secret here is the little casket. This isn’t a miscarriage here. This is a casket. She said, “I watched my pastor’s wife walk up to my mom by the casket, and all she did was take my mom in her arms. I don’t remember that she said anything, but she held my mom, and she cried and cried with my mom.”

Nancy: This was some years after you lost your little girl.

Evelyn: This was many years. But I knew . . . God said, “If you’re going to be a pastor’s wife, you need to know. Your heart needs to understand.” I held that member of my church—she was a member of my Sunday school class. I held her in my arms, and we just wept together.

That woman calling into the radio program said, “I said to myself when I watched that happen, ‘When I get big enough, I want to be like that, if that’s what a Christian is.’”

Nancy, one of our missionary friends lost their little Kenny. It was in Ethiopia, and we went to visit. She was bitter. All I know is that I knew how she felt, and I stood there with her, my arms around this little missionary wife, and we prayed, and we cried. That’s all we did. From that day on she was okay.

Somebody who understood had walked arm in arm with her. That’s what Romans 8:28 is. “Evelyn, it’s for your good.”

Nancy: But not just for your good.

Evelyn: For her good, too.

Nancy: Ultimately for the good of others.

Evelyn: Yes, and that beautiful chapter—is it 2 Corinthians 1?

Nancy: Chapter 1, yes.

Evelyn: Where God comforts us with the comfort that . . . We can comfort other people with the comfort whereby we have been comforted. If we have never gone through the comforting, and, by the way, if we’ve never accepted it and never let God change us in our trials, then don’t try to change somebody else. There’s nothing that is more aggravating than going through a trial and having somebody who thinks they know what you’re going through, and they don’t have a clue.

But God comforts us so that we can comfort those who are in like circumstances.

Nancy: Now, you’ve talked about getting to eighty and having this unshakeable confidence in God’s Word, His ways—no more doubts. You’ve been through the night of weeping; you’re experiencing the morning of joy. But I know there are some who get to their older years, and that’s not their experience. They’re bitter, ornery, and I’ve watched this. I’ve seen two different kinds of older people.

Evelyn: And they say, “If only, if only, if only, if only . . .”

Nancy: A lot of regret. What’s the difference?

Evelyn: The difference is where you are right now today. Whatever age anybody listening is today, start right now with Romans 8:28 and your faith in God that He’s in control. He never makes a mistake. Get to know Him. Stay in the Scripture to get to know who God really is. That’s why we’re so feeble and so anemic almost because we don’t stay to know who God really is.

You don’t test Him, but you believe Him, and when He says He’s going to do something—on the eagle’s wings—I’m going to wait on the Lord, and wait for the whole story. If you don’t take that literally and live it, how can you expect to look back on an experience and say, “Wasn’t it wonderful?” It depends on what you are doing with today.

Now, you can’t do anything about what you did with yesterday, but anybody at any age can start right now.

Nancy: Evelyn, I have to tell you that since I was a little girl, my goal in life—don’t laugh—has always been to be a godly,  old lady. Only God knows which of us will get to heaven first, but I’ve asked the Lord to give me eighty-five years, if it would please Him, of fruitful, strong ministry for Him until the age of eighty-five. He may not give me that many; He may give more, but it’s my goal, my heart’s desire to finish well, to get to the season of life where you are with a strong heart and an unshakeable faith.

I want you to look me in the eyes, and tell me what’s your counsel? What do I need to remember? How do I get from here to where my heart’s desire is to be, and that is an old woman full of faith, full of love for God. What’s going to get me from here to there?

Evelyn: It’s what you do every single day, when you:

  • stay in His Word 
  • listen 
  • apply it 
  • be willing 
  • be flexible 
  • let Him be in control 
  • trust in the Lord with all your heart 
  • lean not on your own understanding 

It is really step by step by step. Sometimes there will be many steps in one day and some of them are huge big steps. Some of them are little baby steps, but every single day work at. It’s discipline. You have to have discipline. But it isn’t all discipline. Once you get into this routine, it’s joy. It’s exciting. It’s thrilling.

But, Nancy, I have the same goal. You see, I’m eighty. I’m asking the Lord today to keep me this way, to keep me not wavering. I want to be able, when I step into heaven, I want to be able to look the Lord in the eye, and, of course, I want Him to say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” But I want to be able to say, “Lord, as long as You let me live, I did my best. I know I messed up many, many times, but, Lord, I tried. I did everything I knew how to do.”

I want to be able to look at God without those awful regrets that we hear about in 1 John—we will be so sorry and embarrassed when we see the Lord. I don’t want to be embarrassed about anything when I see the Lord.

And when we see Him, we shall be like Him. My goal has been to be like Jesus, to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son. I have worked at that for all my life—most of my adult life. That has been my goal, to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son, and when I see Him . . .

Nancy: You want it to be just the next step, don’t you?

Evelyn: Yes, because when we see Him, we shall be completely like Him. I don’t want to have this great big gulf in-between. I would like to just be able to slip in and be like Jesus. That’s my goal. It’s not an easy goal. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice, but it has such awesome joy.

I don’t want this to sound negative because this kind of a life has peace, and it has joy that the world cannot understand. Most Christians don’t understand, but I can say unequivocally it does work. It works to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son.

God stopped me very recently, and I almost apologized for having that goal because I was reading in Hebrews 1. Isn’t it amazing how many times the Lord will show us something new. And in Hebrews 1 I suddenly saw Jesus, the Son of God. God spoke to us in the prophets, etc. in the Old Testament, but now He sent His Son who is the exact representation of the glory of God.

I stopped, and I thought, “I have been praying and struggling all these years to be conformed to the image of the Son of God who is the exact representation of the Shekinah glory of God.” I fell on my face, and I said, “God, forgive me. I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy. Please forgive me for having thought I should be conformed to the image of Jesus who’s the exact representation of Your glory.”

You know what God said to me? “I, God, who wrote Hebrews 1, also wrote Romans 8 for you to be conformed to the image of My Son who is the exact representation. I wrote both of them for you.” Then I could accept it.

“Keep me faithful, Lord.” That’s what I’m saying at this age. And the hardest transition, by the way—there are transition points in our lives, of course, rights of passage. The hardest one is when we have to start peeling off, not doing what you want to do because there isn’t enough strength and all that. But to stay faithful in these years, this is what I’m learning now. So I’m never done. I’ll never be done with, “Lord, change me.” Never.

Nancy: That was Evelyn Christenson, a long- time, dear friend and faithful servant of the Lord. We’ve been listening to an interview with her that first aired on Revive Our Hearts in 2005. Evelyn described her desire to grow and to learn and to take on new challenges until the Lord took her home, and that’s exactly what He did just a few weeks ago on November 1.

Those words from Evelyn remind me to press on no matter what, to stay focused on God’s purpose and calling, doing His will regardless of how difficult my circumstances may be. My prayer is that I will finish strong as Evelyn did. Always learning. Always growing. Always becoming more like Jesus until the very last breath I take here on earth.

I think you’ll be encouraged by hearing a longer version of this conversation with Evelyn Christenson. You can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com. On today’s transcript you’ll find links to hear more from Evelyn on subjects like aging, prayer, and suffering. I hope you’ll take time to learn more from this godly example of a woman who sought the Lord with all her heart to the end of her days.

And, as I mentioned at the top of the broadcast, Evelyn’s best-known book What Happens When Women Pray? is a classic. It sold more than three million copies and has had an enormous impact. As I mentioned, that book is no longer in print, but we’ve been able to get some copies from Evelyn’s ministry, and we’d love to send you a copy if you’ll just contact us and send a donation of any amount.

I can’t help but hope and pray that the Lord will raise up some more Evelyn Christensons who will pray and trust Him with all their hearts. So I want to encourage you to get a copy of this book, to read it, and to let the Lord make you into a woman of impact as you become a woman of prayer.

Just give us a call at 1-800-569-5959. Let us know you’d like a copy of Evelyn’s book What Happens When Women Pray? and we’ll be glad to send it to you for a donation of any amount. Or, if you prefer, you can reach us online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

As Evelyn neared the end of her life and suffered many physical issues, I watched as she continued to model a sweet spirit of contentment. Next week we’re going to open God’s Word and learn how to develop more of that important quality. Please be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.

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