I read a book that had a profound impact on me in my twenties. It was the biography of Jim Elliot by his wife Elisabeth: Shadow of the Almighty. (If you haven’t read it, do so. If you haven’t read any missionary biographies, do so!)
I’ll never forget this quote of Jim’s “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jim went on to give up his life at the hands of the Auca tribe in the Ecuadorian jungle – but, later, his wife Elisabeth was able to continue the missionary work he started – and many Aucas professed faith in Jesus. Jim gave up what he couldn’t keep – his earthly life – to gain an eternal life for the Aucas.
That quote and that book so inspired me. What wouldn’t I give up to be used like Jim Elliot?
So I ventured to Moscow Russia (when it was still the USSR) to share the Gospel – despite the fact that it was illegal – and experienced two coups up close and personal.
And now I’m in full time missionary service (we equip volunteers to share the Gospel with women in their communities).
Jim was really paraphrasing Jesus from Luke. Right after Peter reveals that the disciples think Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells them about his death and resurection, then continues:
… If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? Luke 9: 23-25
Somehow Jim Elliot’s quote felt noble. Yes, Lord, I am ready to be martyred to share the Gospel.
But taking up my cross and losing that which I cannot keep on a day-to-day basis is almost HARDER than going across the world to share the Gospel. After all, a martyr’s death is more exotic than the hard work of giving up stuff every day.
Just today, I struggled with some of the losses I’ve had, do have.
Like a husband. In three days, it will have been three years that my husband died. To be sure, I am glad that he is with Jesus. He struggled with unemployment and illness for 10 years before he died. It was hard on all of us.
But he was here. To listen. To bounce ideas off. To keep me company. To encourage me at my job. To love on my daughter who still misses him deeply. To love her in a way I can’t. To counteract with his calmness my high strung personality. To help me see my sin in ways I can’t. To do the bills. To call people to fix things around the house.
I want to say with the bravery of Jim Elliot that I am ok to lose what I cannot keep (a husband) to gain something I cannot lose (my life – through greater intimacy with Jesus).
But it just doesn’t feel so good in the midst of it.
And, frankly, I just don’t want to deny myself sometimes.
I am aware that I need to give my daughter more attention. I need to listen better, REALLY listen. I need to just BE with her. I need to encourage her. I need to build her up. And I’ve often done just the exact opposite. I need to deny myself, but sometimes, I don’t want to lose my life for anyone else’s sake, I just want to take care of me. Or find someone to do so. I want to put the cross down and put me first. Just ignore her needs and everyone else’s.
Yep. That Jim Elliot quote sounds really good. On paper.
But Jesus said it too. And Jesus DID it.
He gave up what He couldn’t keep for the joy set before Him – to see His Father’s face again and lead many brothers and sisters home to His father.
So, I’ll need Jesus to help me get perspective in this everyday cross-bearing, self-forgetting denial. After all, He said if we want to follow him, we’ll deny ourselves.
And if we follow Him, we’ll keep our eyes on Him and He’ll show us how to walk this losing-your-life for something greater way.
Dear Lord: It is hard. You know how hard this last few days has been. You know how unloving I’ve been, how I haven’t borne my cross well, how I’ve mourned my losses. Please help me see all of this loss as a way to save my life, a way to find it, in You. Amen.