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By Elisabeth Elliot
What Can I Do For God?
Most of us would like to do something special in life, something to distinguish us. We suppose that we desire it for God's sake, but more likely we are discontent with ordinary life and crave special privileges. When Israel asked if they should offer some spectacular sacrifice--thousands of rams, ten thousand "rivers of oil," a firstborn child--the answer was, "He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Mi 6:8 RSV).
There is nothing conspicuous about those requirements. It is not a "special" service for which one would be likely to be decorated or even particularly remembered. But it is worth more to God than any sacrifice.
Lord, deliver me from the delusion of imagining that my desire is to serve You, when my real desire is the distinction of serving in some way which others admire.
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Love of the World
John tells us in his first letter that anyone who loves the world is a stranger to the Father's love. We are not to set our hearts on the world or anything in it. These words have been interpreted in many strange ways by different varieties of Christians, and I have puzzled much over them. The word used in the original is cosmos, which means the whole created order. Is there nothing here that I am allowed to love? What about the thundering, flashing sea that I see from my window? What about the rose on my desk, or even this house where I live with its warmth and pleasantness, the cup of tea in mid-afternoon, the books on my shelves? They are not going to last forever. If I love them, am I then a stranger to my heavenly Father's love?
It has helped me to think of John's words in this manner: To love the world in the wrong way is to love it without knowing the Father's love. It is when a man knows Him and receives everything from his hand that the world is redeemed for him, no longer a snare and in opposition to the love of God. We must love the world only through and because of the Father, not instead of. Our ultimate concern must be God Himself. He is eternal. His gifts are not always so.
Lord, may no gift of yours ever take your place in my heart. Help me to hold them lightly in an open palm, that the supreme object of my desire may always be You and You alone. Purify my heart--I want to love You purely.
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My Own Fault
Someone who is suffering as a result of his own foolishness or failure may read these words. These griefs are hard indeed to bear, for we feel we might easily have avoided them. We have no one to blame but ourselves, and there isn't much consolation there. Sometimes we imagine that we must bear this kind of trouble alone, but that is a mistake. The Lamb of God, slain for us, has borne all of our griefs and carried all of our sorrows, no matter what their origin. All grief and sorrow is the result of sin somewhere along the line, but Christ received them willingly. It is nothing but pride that keeps me from asking Him to help me to bear the troubles which are my own fault.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, take away mine.
I take Him at His word indeed,
Christ died for sinners--this I read--
And in my heart I find a need
Of Him to be my Savior.
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The Hope of Holiness
The "openness" that is often praised among Christians as a sign of true humility may sometimes be an oblique effort to prove that there is no such thing as a saint after all, and that those who believe that it is possible in the twentieth century to live a holy life are only deceiving themselves. When we enjoy listening to some Christian confess his weaknesses and failures, we may be eager only to convince ourselves that we are not so bad after all. We sit on the edge of our chairs waiting to grasp at an excuse for continuing to do what we have made up our minds long ago to do anyway. The Lord is ready to forgive sin at any moment and to make strong servants out of the worst of us. But we must believe it; we must come to Him in faith for forgiveness and deliverance and then go out to do the work He has given us to do.
"Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity" (1 Cor 13:6 AV). Let us be willing to call iniquity what is really iniquity, rather than to call it weakness, temperament, failure, hangups, or to fall back on the tired excuse, "It's just the way I am."
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a right spirit within me. (Ps 51:10 AV)
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Do You Want an Answer?
This is the question we need to ask ourselves when we are seeking "solutions" to our problems. Often we want only an audience. We want the chance to air grievances, to present our excuses, to make an explanation for our behavior, rather than a cure. More often than not the clearest and most direct answer can be found in the Word, but it must be sought honestly.
"The way of the Lord gives refuge to the honest man, but dismays those who do evil" (Prv 10:29 NEB).
We can approach God's word with a will to obey whatever it says to us about our present situation, or we can avoid it and say to anyone who would try to point us to it, "Don't throw the Book at me." The latter is an evasion, which supports our suspicion that our problems are, in fact, insoluble. The honest (i.e., humble) heart will indeed find the Lord's way to be a refuge.
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Give Way to Truth
Through a disagreement with my husband Lars yesterday I suddenly recognized an instrument used powerfully by the enemy to drive a wedge between two people who love each other (and there is nothing which fills the enemy with such glee as destroying unity). It is reason. I had good reasons for my argument and so did he. Reason comes very close to being an idol to me at times, and I am tempted to make sacrifices on its altar.
"Be faithful to Reason!" whispers the Destroyer. "Do not let go!"
"Be faithful to Me," Christ says, "give up your reasons, give way to Truth."
Reason is one of God's great gifts. We have intelligence and the faculty of reason, to be employed in the service of God and other people. Faithfulness to Christ (who is Truth) does not negate reason, but purifies it, raises it to a higher level.
"Pure" reason, logical argument, stood between my husband and me, as it stood between Job and his friends, and Jesus and the Pharisees.
"Knowledge gives self-importance--it is love that makes the building grow. A man may imagine that he understands something, but still not understand anything in the way he ought to!" (1 Cor 8:1,2 JB).
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You Can't Keep Both Eyes
A young man was delivered from a life of self-destruction in the form of drug abuse. He turned from his old ways, but of course was pursued by the enemy and tempted back. It was clear to him that he could not afford to be lenient with himself in allowing the least indulgence in the old habit. One day he said to his pastor, "Don't ever allow me to use the word 'struggle.' Every time I use it I am excusing disobedience, I am really prefering to 'struggle' rather than to quit."
Jesus made this necessity sharply clear when He said, "If it is your eye that is your undoing, tear it out and fling it away; it is better to enter into life with one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into the fires of hell" (Mt 5:29).
To struggle--that is, to allow a "little bit" of sin, to be cautious with ourselves, tolerant of a certain amount of plain disobedience, is to try to keep both eyes.
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The Fruit of Forgiveness
Every day I am forgiven for many sins of many kinds, and although on the one hand forgiveness seems such an impossible thing (but grace is greater than all my sin), on the other hand I receive it often without wonder and nearly always without offering any "fruit."
When the Lord punished Israel, Isaiah wrote: "Only then can the fruit of his forgiveness be shown: they must smash their stone altars into pounded chalk" (Is 27:9 JBP).
When I acknowledge a specific sin, it is a good thing to do something specific to demonstrate my determination to forsake it. Smash an altar, sacrifice an hour of sleep or a meal (if the sin has been, e.g., failure to do what I want to do "because I haven't time"), write a note of apology to one sinned against, make restitution in some way for a wrong. To arise and obey in such a particular act is an appropriate sign of the genuineness of my repentance--the fruit of forgiveness.
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No Further Than Natural Things
"Well, it's perfectly natural for you to feel that way," I was telling myself when I was upset with the way someone had treated me. "It's a normal reaction."
It was a normal reaction for a carnal mind. It was not normal for a spiritual one. The carnal attitude deals with things on one level only--this world's. It "sees no further than natural things" (Rom 8:5 JBP).
Is there a telescope that will bring into focus things I would not see with merely "natural" vision? There is.
"The spiritual attitude reaches out after the things of the spirit." It is a different means of perceiving. It will enable me to see what I could not have seen with the naked--that is, the carnal--eye.
It works. When I looked at that person who had offended me through the "spiritual eye," I saw in him one of God's instruments to teach me, instead of one of the devil's to torment me. I saw something more. I saw a person God loves, and whom He wants to love through me.
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A Devious Repentance
Recently I committed a sin of what seemed to me unpardonable thoughtlessness. For days I wanted to kick myself around the block. What is the matter with me? I thought. How could I have acted so? "Fret not thyself because of evildoers" came to mind. In this case the evildoer was myself, and I was fretting. My fretting, I discovered, was a subtle kind of pride. "I'm really not that sort of person," I was saying. I did not want to be thought of as that sort of person. I was very sorry for what I had done, not primarily because I had failed someone I loved, but because my reputation would be smudged. When my reputation becomes my chief concern, my repentance has a hollow ring. No wonder Satan is called the deceiver. He has a thousand tricks, and we fall for them.
Lord, I confess my sin of thoughtlessness and my sin of pride. I pray for a more loving and a purer heart, for Jesus' sake.
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An Antidote for Pride
The basis of all sin of whatever kind is pride. This was what inspired the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and it is always with us. One very common form it takes is the pride of privilege. When a man is given a special position, he forgets that it was given. He becomes proud, as though "his own arm" had gotten him the victory.
God knows well the heart and made provision for this sin of pride when He instructed the Israelites about appointing a king. He was to make a copy of the law. This would be the antidote, necessary for him and likewise for all of us (for "law" read "Word"). "He shall keep it by him and read from it all his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and keep all the words of this law and observe these statutes.
In this way he shall not become prouder than his fellow countrymen nor shall he turn from these commandments to right or left" (Dt 17:19, 20 NEB). The attempt itself to keep the commandments, one by one and day after day, will be sufficient to humble us, for the "straightedge of the law" (Rom 3:20 JBP) will only show us, as Paul found, how crooked we are. We will find, in fact, that we cannot keep it. "The whole matter is on a different plane--believing instead of achieving" (Rom 3:27 JBP). Pride won't find much foothold on that plane.
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The search for recognition hinders faith. We cannot believe so long as we are concerned with the "image" we present to others. When we think in terms of "roles" for ourselves and others, instead of simply doing the task given us to do, we are thinking as the world thinks, not as God thinks. The thought of Jesus was always and only for the Father. He did what He saw the Father do. He spoke what He heard the Father say. His will was submitted to the Father's will.
"You have no love for God in you," He said to the Pharisees. "I have come accredited by my Father, and you have no welcome for me....How can you have faith so long as you receive honor from one another, and care nothing for the honor that comes from him who alone is God?" (Jn 5:42-44 NEB).
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In Paphos there lived a sorcerer named Elymas, who posed as a prophet. He belonged to the governor's retinue. Seized with jealousy because the governor wanted to hear the word of the Lord from Paul and Barnabas, Elymas tried to turn him aside from faith. Having seen the light, Elymas preferred darkness and preferred also that others remain in darkness if their turning to the light should turn them away from him. He thus willfully falsified the truth and was struck blind.
The result of deliberate deception is blindness. The man who, to preserve his own position, deceives himself or another, is a swindler (this is what Paul called Elymas), "rascal, son of the devil, enemy of all goodness" (Acts 13:10 NEB).
God is light and in Him is not any darkness at all.
If we guard some comer of darkness in ourselves, we will soon be drawing someone else into darkness, shutting them out from the light in the face of Jesus Christ.
"Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen" (Book of Common Prayer).
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The Root of Hostility to Others
When personal relationships break down, it is a sure sign that there is some rift in one's relationship with God. The deeper the rift, the broader will be the effect on the human level. Rebellion against our Creator and Redeemer--against the One who designed us and gives us the breath of life and loves us every minute of every day--is not only unreasonable but outrageous. The sense of outrage will reveal itself in our treatment of others.
We "get at" God by getting at those He has made, especially those whom his providence has placed close to us. We cannot bear the image of God in them, for we cannot bear the ineradicability of that image in our own being. It is a constant reminder of our own sin, which is the violation of the divine image. Without the consciousness of a legitimate claim on our lives, we could not know sin.
To recognize and submit to that claim is to return to peace and fellowship.
"If we claim to be sharing in his life while we walk in the dark, our words and our lives are a lie; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus His Son" (l Jn 1:6,7 NEB).
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Watching Quietly, Praying Silently
The man whom Abraham sent to find a wife for his son Isaac had been long in Abraham's service. No doubt he had learned much of trust and obedience through watching his master walk with God. He set out on his mission, confident that God would help him.
Beside the Well of Aram of Two Rivers he halted his camels and was praying silently when a beautiful young woman appeared with her water jar on her shoulder. She responded to his request as he had prayed she would, and he watched quietly to see whether the Lord had made his journey successful (Gn 24:21).
Very possibly we often miss what God wants to show us because we don't take time to pray silently and watch quietly. It was by doing those two things, along with the obvious practical things (let us not leave those undone) that the servant was able to say, "I have been guided by the Lord" (Gn 24:27 NEB).
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The Necessity to Cover
There are things which it is our duty to cover in silence. We are told nowadays that everything ought to be expressed if we are truly "honest" and "open."
Proverbs 11:13 says, "He who goes abroad as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing hidden."
Jesus sometimes refused to reveal the truth about Himself, even when it would have seemed to us "an opportunity to witness." He did not always answer questions. He did not always say who He was. He told some of those He healed to tell no one about it.
"For every activity under heaven its time...a time for silence and a time for speech" (Eccl 3:1,7 NEB). "A man of understanding remains silent" (Prv 11:12 RSV).
Lord, deliver me from the urge to open my mouth when I should shut it. Give me the wisdom to keep silence where silence is wise. Remind me that not everything needs to be said, and that there are very few things that need to be said by me.
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The Need for Silence
It is always easier to add to the noise of the world than to be silent. Silence is a very precious thing--"There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (Rv 8:1 AV), when the seventh seal was opened in the Book of the Revelation. Thunder and horses and martyrs and earthquakes had preceded the opening of this seal. Hail, fire, blood, and fearful judgment followed it--but in between, angels stood in the presence of God and there was utter silence.
Have we learned to stand in God's presence, mouths shut, hearts open? "Lord, what do you want me to do?" We must be quiet in order to know Him and to hear Him and to hear Him answer us.
"If any of you lack wisdom let him ask his friends." No. That is not the Word of the Lord. "If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God" (Jas 1:5 AV) is his Word to us. There is a place for asking wisdom of godly friends, but let us always go first to God.
"Be still"--that is, shut up--"and know that He is God" (Ps 46:10 AV).
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Time for God
It is a good and necessary thing to set aside time for God in each day. The busier the day, the more indispensable is this quiet period for prayer, Bible reading, and silent listening. It often happens, however, that I find my mind so full of earthly matters that it seems I have gotten up early in vain and have wasted three-fourths of the time so dearly bought (I do love my sleep!). But I have come to believe that the act of will required to arrange time for God may be an offering to Him. As such He accepts it, and what would otherwise be "loss" to me I count as "gain" for Christ.
Let us not be "weary in well-doing," or discouraged in the pursuit of holiness. Let us, like Moses, go to the Rock of Horeb--and God says to us what He said to him, "You will find me waiting for you there" (Ex 17:6 NEB).
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Shut Up and Know
"Do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day, and on the morrow how much clearer are thy purpose and duties," wrote Thomas Carlyle. The psalmist wrote (in Psalm 46) of great cataclysms, noise, war, destruction. What is the man of God supposed to do in the middle of all that? One thing above all else: "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10 AV). Simply shut up for a change. It is amazing what the quiet holding of the soul before the Lord will do to the external and seemingly uncontrollable tumult around us. It is in that stillness that the Voice will be heard, the only voice in all the universe that speaks peace to the deepest part of us.
No other voice than Thine has ever spoken,
O Lord, to me--
No other words but Thine the stillness broken
Of life's lone sea.
There openeth the spirit's silent chamber
No other hand--
No other lips can speak the language tender,
Speech of the Fatherland.
(T.S.M., from Hymns of Ter Steegen and Others, Frances Bevan)
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First Be Quiet
Our hectic lives involve many changes, and changes require decisions, and decisions must often be made in the midst of a multitude of confusions. We run here and there asking advice. Often we make decisions without sufficient deliberation because we simply haven't time--or so we tell ourselves.
There is a marvelously helpful practice that we usually overlook. It is quietness. Notice how often in the gospels we find Jesus going away alone, even when people needed Him. He deliberately chose solitude. The more hectic our lives become, the more necessary is this quietness. When it is impossible to break away physically to a place of solitude for a day or so in order to think and pray over a hard decision, there is one thing which I think helps--do not speak about the decision to anyone but God for forty-eight hours at least. Just hold it before Him alone. Keep your mouth shut for two days. Pray. Listen. Seek his counsel.
Try this, too--sit before Him for fifteen consecutive minutes in silence, focusing your mind on the words of Psalm 86:11 (NEB), "Guide me, O Lord, that I may be true to thee and follow thy path."
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How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God's messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God's messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.
The Psalms are full of cries to God about enemies--but it was the enemies that drove the psalmist (for example, in Psalm 64) to cry. If he had had no enemies, he would have had no need of a Protector. God will go to any lengths to bring us to Himself.
"Think of him who submitted to such opposition from sinners: that will help you not to lose heart and grow faint....You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood....The Lord disciplines those whom he loves" (Heb 12:3,4,6 NEB).
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Difficulties are Proof Contexts
Repeatedly I am asked variations of this question: Did the Lord comfort you or were you sometimes lonely or sad? It is not an either-or thing. If I had not been lonely and sad at times, how could I have needed, received, or appreciated comfort? It is the sick who need the physician, the thirsty who need water. This is why Paul not only did not deplore his weaknesses, he "gloried" in them, for they provided the very occasions for his appropriating divine help and strength.
It was in prison that Joseph knew the presence of the Lord.
It was in the lion's den that Daniel's faith was proved.
It was in the furnace that Daniel's three friends found themselves accompanied by a fourth.
We have plenty of "proof texts"--but in order to experience their truth we have to be placed in "proof contexts." The prison, the lion's den, the furnace are where we are shown the realities, incontestably and forever.