The Gift of God in Exchange for Ashes

Sit on a wooden bench (behind a goat) for a day long bus ride through the Andes.  When the bus stops, the only way forward in 1952 is to rent a horse for an excursion over steep mountain trails with muddy puddles up to your knees. You’ll know you’ve reached the village of San Miguel de los Colorados because the large clearing before you is ringed by a number of small houses–and because your fellow missionaries open their doors in greeting.

This was the inauspicious beginning to Elisabeth Elliot’s famous missionary career. Those who have read Shadow of the Almighty or seen the Life Magazine accounts of her husband’s brutal death at the hands of an unreached people group know that Elliot became a sought after public speaker and her words reached literally millions via print and radio ministries. With her perfect diction, ironic humor,  and crisp, no-nonsense delivery of gospel truth, she set the course for my following life and has influenced my teaching and my parenting like no one else, and yet her on-ramp to ministry was beset by disappointment and confusion and was characterized by nothing that would point to a future of success or influence.

These Strange Ashes was originally published in 1979, and when I read it during my early mothering years, it quickly became my favorite of Elisabeth Elliot’s books, partly because of its realistic portrayal of the mundane (and sometimes simply boring!) nature of ministry life, and partly because of the titular reference to a poem in which Amy Carmichael writes about the experience of personal suffering that seems to come to nothing:

“But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?”

I hear in the anguished question a howl that expresses a broken heart and empty hands, but Elisabeth is quick to point out  the “mysterious exchange” by which we offer this emptiness to God and receive back from Him the gift of Himself. Following the death of John Chau and in a season in which many believers seem to be disappointed that salvation has not arrived on Air Force One, Revell has re-released Elisabeth’s deeply personal account of her first year as a missionary under a new title, Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador with a foreword by Kay Warren. In a world in which Twitter and YouTube can bestow celebrity status upon anyone, it becomes a holy experience to read about “calling” in the sense that God “calls people who believe in Him to [go to] others who do not.” This “going” may be beset by what looks for all the world like “downward mobility” and, in Elisabeth’s case, entailed a good bit of what she referred to as “jungle housekeeping,” the making of a safe and livable dwelling in the midst of amoeba infested waters, plain and monotonous food choices, and often deep loneliness.

Taken from journal accounts and her own memory of her young adult self, Elliot comes across as restless and uncertain. Her evangelical roots have led her to expect that her “calling and election being sure,” she should expect resounding success in the jungle– success being defined as a written language for the people, a Bible translation in their brown hands, and a line up of converts to be trained and discipled. What she found instead was a self-sufficient people group, hidden from white culture and content to stay that way, who may have been living in “bondage, sorrow, and night,” but were not interested, “not in the least, in our definition of liberation.”

Confronted with four stunning set backs to her ministry in the jungles of Ecuador, it began to appear to Elisabeth that God had failed her. Given the opportunity to prove Himself strong before the Colorados, He chose to work in quiet and incomprehensible ways that looked, to Elisabeth’s young eyes, like the silence of betrayal. Those who struggle with the mysterious ways of God or who have experienced the anger and disappointment of feeling as if God is not to be trusted will find a surprising voice of comfort and collegiality in Elisabeth Elliot’s long, slow wait:  waiting for help from the nationals with reducing their language to print, waiting for the local population to trust the missionary presence, waiting for a commitment from her fiance, Jim Elliot, that would allow them to marry and minister together.

When God does not “cooperate” with our vision of success or yield to our will for Him, the believer is left to yield her own will to a story arc that may eventually untangle itself in the passing of years–or it may not. In characteristic Elisabeth Elliot fashion, the veteran missionary looks back with clear eyes on her youthful disappointment and derives bracing counsel for us in our days of uncertainty.

Whether or not God chooses to reveal His plans to us, “faith, prayer, and obedience are our requirements.  We are not offered in exchange immunity and exemption from the world’s woes. What we are offered has to do with another world altogether.” Our assignment, then, becomes a fierce cooperation with God that brings our hearts into alignment with His to the point that this other world becomes more valuable to us than the one we can see with our own eyes.

Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for joy that “lights the way like some great star,”

michele signature[1]

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The Missionary Experience: A Path of Faith in the Midst of Paradox

Starting in the book of Acts, the history of missions is characterized by controversy. It may have begun when Paul and company set out with freshly-minted instructions from the Jerusalem Council, defining the parameters of the message they were sharing. It was certainly evident when the citizens of Lystra decided to fold Paul and Barnabas into their eclectic assortment of deities–and then to take up stones against them. And remember the story of New Testament heroes of the faith clashing over personnel issues and going their separate ways for a season? Throughout history, according to His own counsel and sovereign wisdom, God has chosen to put the transmission of the Gospel into the hands of His fallen and often short-sighted children, and the effects of that have made for some fascinating reading.

A Train-Wreck of Two Cultures Colliding

Over fifty years ago, Eleanor Vandevort came home from South Sudan in the wake of political unrest. Her thirteen years of language acquisition, Bible translation, literacy work, and relationship building were cut short with no certainty as to their effect or ultimate impact. When she set down the account of her struggle and her achievements in A Leopard Tamed, she was a woman ahead of her time, asking questions few in the golden age of U.S. missions were asking and even fewer wanted to entertain.

Vandevort’s narrative centers around her work among the Nuer, a remote and primitive culture eking out a living on dry, flat, hard-packed land bordering on the Sobat River in South Sudan. She was fortunate, early on, to connect with Kuac (pronounced /kwich/, rhyming with quite), a young man who had been educated at the mission-sponsored village school and was, therefore, a valuable informant for learning the language and reducing it to print.

What followed from Kuac’s conversion, subsequent education, and eventual call to pastor the church in Nasir is a glorious triumph of light over darkness–and it is also the story of a train wreck of two cultures colliding in one frail human soul. With vivid descriptions of the Nuer way of life, this 50th anniversary edition transported me to a land of unique beauty alongside unimaginable hardship and hopelessness.

As Eleanor learned to respect and collaborate with national believers who did not share her affinity for logic, efficiency, or planning, she also gained a sharper image of God in the context of heathenism, for He has made it clear that He loves the entire world, even the parts a North American Christian cannot comprehend:

“Try, if you can, to fathom Him, to draw His picture with clear, solid lines, to pin Him down. Just when you think you have God in focus, He moves, and the picture blurs.” (11)

A Bridge that Spanned Two Cultures

In 1949, at the tender age of 24, Eleanor Vandevort embarked upon her career as a Bible translator, joining the ranks of Wheaton College classmate Elisabeth Elliot and her peers who put their hands to the plow with no thought of turning back. It was an era in which the boundary between Christian culture and Western culture was decidedly blurred, so Vandevort was nonplussed to find that she had arrived in Africa bearing a message that would meet a need the Nuer did not even know existed.

With Kuac’s help, Eleanor slowly acquired a working command of the language with its fourteen vowels, three levels of tone, and absolutely no Christian jargon. Learning her way into those speech patterns helped in building the bridge that spanned the two cultures. However, observations throughout the book reveal a growing awareness that along with the Gospel, she and her fellow missionaries were sharing a full menu of lesser messages, some merely lamentable and others disastrous:

  • “I was incredulous that after fifty years of missionary work among these people, there was no striking hunger on the villager’s part to hear the Gospel. I wondered where the people were who reportedly were crying out for the Word of God.” (34)
  • “As far as I could ever tell, Christian behavior patterns were outlined by the missionaries and were not born out of the Africans’ own experience with God.” (22)
  • “It was painful and disappointing to be making friends with people for whom my ideas were nonsense. The more I came to know them, the more I realized the barrier of taboos between us. But my disappointment went deeper. It stemmed from the fact that God was not shining in the darkness as I had prayed and hoped for and expected.” (39)
  • “Is my scientific orientation to life, which has removed me from the constant threat of death, the factor which stabilizes my faith? Or, in that I need not fear God physically as the heathen do, has this freedom set me adrift from God, missing Him altogether?” (46)
  • “How does a person decide that he’s not going to be afraid of death?” (83)
  • “The many problems of translation exploded my theories of Bible translating, and precluded the possibility of producing an exact and therefore inerrant–as Evangelicals used the term–translation of the Scriptures. (95)
  • “We did not foresee that our things would become more important to the people than our Gospel, that they would want them. No one was to be blamed for this, but as it was turning out, were we not becoming more of a stumbling block than a help to the people?” (187)

Leaving the Results in God’s Hands

As a young missionary, Eleanor Vandevort began to realize that the methods she had inherited from her forebears were an imposition upon the culture. From the tone of voice used when speaking aloud in prayer to the denominational distinctives around church government, Christianity and its trappings became an ill-fitting garment in a world that required Christians to address issues such as polygamy, marriage to the dead, animal sacrifice, and grisly coming-of-age ceremonies.

The prevailing idea among Presbyterian missionaries was that “what was good for Calvin was certainly good for the south Sudan.” Within a context of very isolated and individualized people groups, the concept of “a congregation” was strange enough, but then they must “call” a pastor and provide for him. “It would hardly have occurred to the people to pay a man just for talking about God. . . In that as Christians they were now to believe that God works by the faith of His people, it would seem likely that they would wonder at having to pay a pastor at all.” (82) Then, they must submit to the leadership of the Presbytery with decisions handed down from the UPC of the USA.

Nearing the end of her time in South Sudan, it was evident to Eleanor that Kuac was floundering in his role as “Pastor Moses.” (Upon ordination, national pastors took on a biblical name which, in Kuac’s situation, was never adopted by his people because it was unpronounceable and meaningless to them.) With the introduction of a money-based economy and the acquired need for clothing, furniture, blankets, soap, and utensils, Kuac was under pressure to become something for which there was no precedent in his experience or in his history. When the mission withdrew their support and yet continued to expect Pastor Moses to pay the expense of travel to official church meetings, it became clear that the white man was dictating “what was to be done from behind the Bible without having to submit to the discipline involved himself.”

Therefore, when Eleanor received word from the Commandant of Police in December of 1962 that she was no longer welcome in South Sudan, she wondered, with a sinking heart, what would become of her translation work and of the ministry. The Arab military government had already imprisoned Kuac numerous times in an effort to stamp out Christianity through fear. Like Elisabeth Elliot in These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge?she was called upon to leave in God’s hands the results (or lack of same!) of any work to which He had called her.

To Know, to Believe, and to Understand

From her home and new career in the United States, Eleanor heard of war coming to the Sudan, and then coming again.  Her story challenges many of our western assumptions about missions, while underscoring the sovereignty of God. He is free to work in a nation –or in a young, white, and slightly perplexed former missionary–in any way He deems fitting. As believers who are committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, let us also read and love God’s words to Isaiah, setting forth the purpose of our witness on this planet:

“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.”  (Isaiah 43:10)

In our witnessing and serving, the path of God may cut through mystery and paradox. Sometimes the greatest test of faith is to know, believe, and understand the power and presence of God, even when the evidence we receive is not what we had expected.

Many thanks to Hendrickson  Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase A Leopard Tamed or These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge?, simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

I appreciate your joining me today in thinking through the conflicts and the joys of the missionary experience,

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Managing Time on the Fringes

The most common complaint about time management is lack of time. With most of our moments already spoken for by the work that pays the bills or the tasks that keep family life on the rails, the challenge is to make the most of our little minutes, the time on the fringes of our days.

For example, if you are an average reader (250 words per minute), 15 minutes per day will take your eyes through 3,910 pages in one year. That’s 20 books! If you struggle to set and keep fitness goals, consider the efficiency of a 20-minute walk.

A Matter of Focus

Like beads on a string, our minutes slide by. Poor, cynical Solomon bemoaned the futility of it all, dismissing his significant accomplishments as a chasing after the wind. Author Annie Dillard speaks a better and more hopeful wisdom:

“How we live our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

If you’re a regular here at Living Our Days, you’ve heard that quote before, and today I’m sharing it along with some thoughts on Time Management over at the writing home of my friend Kelly R. Baker.

Click here to join me as we spend some time discussing the importance of stewarding our time without making an idol of efficiency. Time management in light of the gospel means that God will help me to perform my daily, mundane tasks with Leviticus-Level attention to detail, investing the same purposefulness that transformed curtains of goats’ hair and rams’ skins into a house of worship.

I look forward to your input to the discussion over at Kelly’s place!Managing Time on the Fringes

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Sending Grace Downstream

Dining on cubes of watermelon and calling it breakfast, the youngest son stands pajama-clad at the counter, his toothpick a dowser for the juiciest chunks.  In just a few end-of-summer days from now he will be up to his fetlocks in geometry, and I will be preserving the summer sweetness of our red tomatoes with one eye on the clock and the other eye (fierce!) on the boy’s screen time allotment.  We will approach breakfast with business-like efficiency, thinking about food groups and family devotions and the day’s agenda.

But today, summer is still in full sway and grace is on the menu — along with the watermelon.  In the busy days that lie ahead, is there a way to keep on living juicy, to hang onto the full brightness of summer solstice even though the planet keeps tilting us into shadow?  Brushing crumbs from the dining room table, I wonder if there’s a way to send grace downstream, like a note in a bottle, by deciding today how I will navigate the current of busy days around the next seasonal bend in the stream.

Today is a harbinger of the eventual, which means if I have my eye set on being a godly old lady someday in the far-off future, there are character qualities and mindsets that need to be set in bedrock ahead of time so that the accumulated complaints of life will weigh like feathers in the balance against the collected weight of blessings.  What better time than this seasonal transition to acknowledge the truth that bedrock does not lay down overnight?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul rattled off instructions and laid down guidelines for ministry.  Timothy had his hands full there in Ephesus, and that young pastor had a lot of sorting out to do.  However, tucked into Paul’s lists of qualifications and exhortations is this:

“Take strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .”  II Timothy 2:1 NEB

From one soldier to another, Paul was sending grace downstream to Timothy in the form of truth.  Truth can change the course of a day.  It can re-set a mind set.  Elisabeth Elliot translated Paul’s words into gritty practicality with one sentence:

“Whether you can take what life dishes out depends on what you take first.”

Is it possible that Paul saw a drift toward weakness in his younger brother and sent Truth as a course correction? On this late-summer morning, I invite Truth to inform my own feelings about the changing seasons with three small thoughts that carry the warmth and freedom of summer into autumn days:

There is always enough grace.

Even when my best efforts fail and progress on my self-salvation strategy of the day (also known as my do-list) proves that I am insufficient, I will remember that I am justified before God by my belief in HIS adequacy.  My obedient following makes the unseen visible and preaches truth to my own reluctance, for my smallest movement along “paths of righteousness” is met with God’s unfailing supply of grace for the next move.

Spoken words make a difference.

God stands ready to meet my unsure with sure and to galvanize my wishy-washy with a firm foundation.  There’s a good reason for Paul’s consistent use of the words “grace to you” at the beginning and ending of each of his letters, for he knew the Spirit-words that had been breathed to him would be read aloud to a fledgling church and believers would be strengthened in their faith.  Spoken aloud in a pick-up or drop-off run, murmured at the kitchen counter, these same words come off the page and dance in my imagination:
Take strength!
Don’t get tangled up in today’s mess!
Even if I am faithless, He remains faithful! 

To promote a deeper discipleship and a more faithful following in every season, I will choose to talk to myself more than I listen to myself.

Persevere in the Preserving.

Here just south of the 45th parallel, summer is a fleeting and an in-between season.  It won’t last for long, and even though the Atlantic Ocean is gorgeous all year long, there are only a few days in July and August when I can bear to feel its temperature on my skin.  The green cucumbers and plump tomatoes come in a rush and the last stragglers are snatched before the first frost.  What a perfect reminder that every moment on this planet can be a freeze frame, plucked from the blur and preserved in memory.  The colorful jars of beets and green beans shelved in my basement inform me that no good gift should be taken for granted.  Gratitude preserves joy, so I will persevere in the fight to train this oblivious heart to give thanks.

Instead of fighting the current as it carries away the last days of summer, I’m sending grace downstream by feasting on it today.  In True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wrote about “faith in the present moment,”  and I’m convinced that moving with grace into schedules and lesson plans, cleaning and canning, will not be aided by day-old faith.  So I will speak to my soul today:  “Take strength!” in the bee-buzzing days of summer, because this practice today and the next day (and the day after . . .) sends grace downstream by training my heart in habits of strength for a day when the living is not so easy and grace might seem a little more difficult to find.


Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow.  His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful.  There is always more to tell than can be told.”


If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Photo in featured image by kazuend on Unsplash

Musings — July 2017

The corn’s not as “high as an elephant’s eye” here on this country hill in Maine, but it’s shoulder-high, and I’m sure the raccoons are already planning a picnic. The tomatoes are in blossom and I picked two big bags of green beans today, so canning season has officially begun.

And . . . the wedding pictures from last month are starting to roll in, so I hope you’ll indulge me for just a few:

On the Nightstand

When we choose our heroes of the faith, it’s easy to forget how they got where they are.  In the case of Elisabeth Elliot, I’ve long admired her no-nonsense observations on life and godliness, and I’ve taken to heart her tell-it-straight interpretations of Scriptural commands.  This month, I re-read her first book, Through Gates of Splendor, written after the spearing death of her husband and his four colleagues in ministry.  It chronicles their efforts to impact an isolated Ecuadorian people group with the claims of the gospel.

The story is old enough to have acquired its own patina of glory, but there wasn’t much romantic about being left as a widow in the jungle — a single mum whose only source of income was missionary support.  It takes grit to stay on the field and continue the work you began with your husband — but it takes something more than that to pick up where your husband left off and to travel deep into the jungle so that you can live with and minister to your husband’s killers.  And so, if you do that when you are twenty-something years old, I think a seed is planted which, if watered with obedience and tended by grace, grows into a voice of wisdom that can get away with saying hard truth because her listeners know that she has lived it herself:

“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

“There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.”

“Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

“You can never lose what you have offered to Christ.”

“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.’”

I’ve read Through Gates of Splendor countless times in the past, but picked it up this summer for two reasons:

  1.  Emily Whitten has recommended it as July’s Classic Book of the Month. If you’re curious about that, click here for information about how you can get a complimentary three month risk-free trial of World Magazine which gives you access to all their print and online content.
  2. It’s time to start planning for the new school year, and as reading material for my fifteen year old, I had been planning to pull out Elisabeth’s Shadow of the Almighty and The Journals of Jim Elliot.  I’ll add this one to the list (and enjoy re-reading the other two myself while I’m at it!)

In some ways, maybe Elisabeth Elliot never stopped being a missionary, for even in the days leading up to her death, she was showing us the Way, the Truth and the Life by the way she followed Him and graciously accepted all that came from His good hand.

Also on the nightstand:  

If you participated in the Book Discussion group last year around C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, (or even if you didn’t!) you may be interested to know that there is another one in the works!  Keep your eyes open for more details in upcoming posts in which I will be sharing details, quotes from the book (to tempt you to join us!), and eventually a reading and discussion schedule.

On the Blog

I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of a number of blogging friends this month:

Shannon Coleman who blogs at Of the Hearth invited me to be part of a series to encourage mums that it really IS possible to grow spiritually during the intense years of mothering.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, recalling how it feels to read the Bible with one eye and to watch an exploring toddler with the other, to endure the interruptions and then return to the task at hand. Most of all, it was encouraging to share the more current experiences of learning to roll with the changes and adjustments because of a commitment to make spiritual formation a priority.  Part One of the series gives some background and makes a case for the prudent use of little minutes while Part Two gets into details around accountability and flexibility.  If you know of a young mum who is in the process of setting priorities (or who is feeling frustrated), I hope you’ll share the links with her!

Declaration of Dependence

Debbie Kitterman shared my story of God’s faithfulness to our family during a time of crisis.  Just as King David, in times of distress, remembered what he had learned about God from past experiences of His faithfulness, the memory of being carried by God in the past can change the way we respond in the moment.  I hope you’ll join me over at Debbie’s place to be encouraged by the Old Testament story in which David took courage from the Lord.


The July theme at SheLoves Magazine has been “Open.”  Writing to a prompt is such a great way to examine the happenings of life through a different lens, and for me, in these days of in-between, with weddings and funerals and graduations all piling up on the calendar, it was a challenge for me to look at my days and ask God, “Are there words for this season?  Even for this?  Can you really meet me here?”  And of course He could, so I hope you’ll take a moment to hop over to SheLoves where I’m sharing about Life in the Wide Open Spaces on a lawn mower as part of our family business.

As a result of all this gadding about in cyber space, I’ve reviewed only three books at Living Our Days this month.

The top-notch journalism that characterizes NPR’s Marketplace was behind Rob Schmitz’s Street of Eternal Happiness.  Knitting together tales of his neighbors’ lives on a busy Shangai street in modern-day China, the clash of new and old is suddenly more than just a series of statistics about left-behind children and the lasting effects of Maoism in a budding capitalistic economy.  The stories left me wondering about the characters long after I had turned the last page.  If you think you don’t like non-fiction, but want to challenge that notion this summer, here’s a good place to begin.


I am acquainted with Sue Detweiler’s ministry through her blog, so, naturally, I was curious about her book, and the timing was excellent, because I’ve been challenging myself this year to be more intentional in my prayer life.  Women Who Move Mountains is an invitation to pray with confidence, boldness, and grace because it is not my own puny faith, but, rather, God who moves the mountains.  While the following life is not a promise of “smooth sailing forever and ever,” Sue provides examples from her own life and from women of the Bible who reveal the rich truth that prayer is essentially a relationship in which we are being trained in righteousness.

I found Thirty Thousand Days because Catherine L. Morgan found me through a mutual blogging friend, and I was thrilled to be able to review her book, partly because the math geek in me was fascinated at this numerical component:  the average human spends 30,000 Days in this journey home to God.  (As you read this, I will be living number 20,027.)  But even more than that was the beautifully crafted reminder that there is abundance to be found the midst of the mundane, that our hearts were designed to be poured out for the glory of God, and that I am here, not on vacation, but on mission.  Let this quote about the role of the church in the life of the believer light a fire under your lawn chair:

“I am an alien and stranger here in the thick of a great battle.  If I am engaged in this battle, I will need the refuge of the church.  Love will sustain me.  If I do not perceive this need, maybe I am not really engaging the fight.”

Be encouraged, my friends, as you engage in the fight wherever you are.  This has been a disturbing month in many ways, with lots in the news that is upsetting or downright discouraging.  It’s been good practice for me to focus on “controlling the controllable and leaving the uncontrollable to God.”   

Blessings and love to you!


Beautiful wedding images were captured by Carrie Mae Photography!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

Once again, you’ll find me over at Leigh Kramer’s place for What I’m Into .  She throws the doors of hospitality wide open for bloggers to share their end-of-month recap posts.  If you ‘re looking for your next summer read or wondering about recommendations for podcasts, you’ll want to make a visit there.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.




Guided by Your Hand

Every January 1st for the past twenty years, I have been greeted by the same bracing truth as I turn again to the first page of my well-worn flip calendar of Elisabeth Elliot quotes:

Lord, give me a quiet heart
That doesn’t need to understand,
But, confident, walks forward in
The darkness, guided by your hand.

In a sense, everyone steps into the darkness of the unknown at the beginning of a new year, and the more people we love, the more vulnerable we seem to be.  We can’t control the choices of others; we can’t foresee the twistings and turnings of the details of our days, of our employment situation, of our health; we can’t shield our loved ones from the forces of nature or the consequences of their actions.

Although Elisabeth was a young woman when she penned these words, she had already grasped an important truth that thrums through my bones at the beginning of every year:  we are walking into the unknown, but even so, we can rest in the knowledge – the deep and abiding confidence – that God wants to guide us, and the unknown is well-known to Him.

“Where then does wisdom come from, and where is the source of understanding? God understands the way to it; He alone knows its source; For He can see to the ends of the earth, and He surveys everything under heaven,” Job 28:20, 23, 24 (NEB).

God, in His wisdom, wants to guide us far more than we want to follow!  He doesn’t simply e-mail a set of directions to us or give us advice from a distance.  He has promised to be a Guide.

I am writing from a place of struggle and questioning at the end of a year that has seen more question marks than exclamation points, more misty fog than lighthouses, and many days in which I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere.  To be honest, when I have a decision to make, I want sky writing.  When it’s time to buy a car, I want to see, “Buy the blue Ford,” hanging in the heavens.    Notice, however, that whenever supernatural guidance was given in the Bible (pillars of cloud and fire, talking donkeys, angels, dreams, and visions), it was not usually asked for, but came at God’s discretion.  He is free to communicate by whatever means He chooses.

With this in mind, I want to read His promises of guidance with confidence and to sense His leading, to trust His working in my life by His Spirit to guide my steps and — perhaps even more important — to set me on the right path when I make a wrong turn.

Providing a list of “tried and true methods for finding the will of God” or prescribing how God will work in a life is presumptuous – and harmful. Our God is in the heavens, and He does whatever He pleases.  However, an understanding of how God has worked in the past is helpful in discerning how He may work in the future.


“If any man will do His will, he shall know . . .,” John 7:17. God guides those who obey. If I’m not doing what I know of God’s revealed will, I should not expect further guidance. George MacDonald said, “If any man’s will is to do His will, he shall know . . . Obedience is the opener of eyes.”**

The truth is that much of what God requires of us involves lots of “mundane faithfulness” to daily tasks. David’s harp playing skills that gave him an audience with King Saul were gained in a field watching sheep. Samuel faithfully served in the temple, and I’m sure that Matthew had no idea that he would be called to the life of a disciple on the last day of his tenure as a tax collector.


The prophet Habakkuk made no great claims to a full understanding of the ways of God, but one thing he knew – God has an exquisite sense of timing:

“Then the LORD answered me and said,
‘Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets.
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.’”     Habakkuk 2:2,3 (NKJV)

Waiting is the hardest assignment of all in the discernment of God’s will. Even Ruth, in all her faithfulness and obedience felt the weight of it and received this counsel from Naomi: “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall,” Ruth 3:18.


We are subject to authority and, indeed, obligated to serve and to be sensitive to one another in the body of Christ. Fulfillment of my responsibilities to the people God has placed in my life has often served as a beacon by which God has guided me. For example, should I accept a speaking engagement that conflicts with an important meeting with the ladies of my own church? Probably not.

A word from an employer, a co-worker, a sibling, a parent, or a friend may be used to influence and guide us. When seeking guidance on a matter, it is wise to take godly counsel and to pray with a sister in Christ, “for where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” Matthew 18:20.


It is no accident that every Christian possesses a particular palette of abilities and spiritual gifts. Countless times, I have heard my husband counsel our boys, “Whatever you have in your hand, God will use,” and that’s not a thought that’s original with him. God said the same thing to Moses about a simple rod.


It gets tricky here because we are fallen creatures, barely knowing our own motives, but desires placed prayerfully before God can be a trustworthy guide. The prayer life of the Apostle Paul demonstrates his conviction that it was best to submit his yearnings to God, for even a longing to visit Rome for the establishment of the believers there was made subject to God’s approval.


There was nothing glamorous about the circumstances surrounding Saul being anointed King over Israel. Remember? He was in a predicament because his Father’s donkeys had wandered off. He was out looking them, but what he found instead was God’s servant Samuel who had explicit directives that Saul was to be God’s man on the throne. Our circumstances are part of the “all things” that God promises to work for our good and his glory in Romans 8:28. Often we do not recognize the hand of God until in retrospect we look back on the events of our lives and see how He has led.

Coming into 2016, I want to be attentive to God’s guiding hand, to maintain a quiet heart that waits for Him to shed light on the next step. My prayer is that my confidence in His love will overcome my need for white-knuckle control over the road map; that my “eye-opening” obedience to His directives will enhance my sensitivity to His voice; and that walking into the murky unknown, I will find grace to live in the confidence that waits for the Word of God:

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ’This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left,” (Isaiah 30:21 ESV).


This post first appeared at Soli Deo Gloria .

Image credit:  Jen Ferguson

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Reflections from the Lamp: Remembering Elisabeth Elliot

I have read Elisabeth Elliot’s A Lamp for My Feet at least a half dozen times in the past twenty years, but turned to it again at the outset of 2015.  Like an old friend, its words are familiar to me, and my copy is underlined and dog-eared and covered with scrawled verse references.  It’s a simple little book based on Elisabeth Elliot’s own personal devotions with six months of daily reflections on whatever Scripture she happened to be reading at the time.

Although I own and have read (and re-read) nearly everything Elisabeth has written, this book is in my top three, and in many ways, I have been mentored through her writing. I began reading her books with a dictionary nearby — her vocabulary far surpassed mine.  I have never met her, although I did go to hear her speak once, but was, frankly, too intimidated to go to the book table and talk to her.  By that time, she was in her early seventies and had acquired the bearing and the force of character that one would associate with Huldah, the Old Testament prophetess in King Josiah’s day, (see II Kings 22:14-20).

During the mid-90’s Elisabeth had a daily radio program, so while I was raising babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I arranged my mornings around Gateway to Joy.  A Lamp for My Feet covers those themes for which Elisabeth was so well known:  obedience, the sovereignty of God, sacrifice, and suffering.  Her Christianity was of the bracing and invigorating variety that sustained the heroes she looked up to as a child and wrote about as an adult —  the likes of  Amy Carmichael, Lilias Trotter, and Gladys Aylward, all pioneer missionaries.

Known for being blunt and emphatic, Elisabeth Elliot brooked no excuses and suffered no whiners.  Her second husband Addison Leitch said once that some people call a spade a spade, but Elisabeth called it a bloody shovel.  In the seventies, when everyone else was talking about feminism, she was talking about femininity.  Her life was a spectacular balance of assertiveness and submission, and the fleet of present-day complementarian bloggers are among her spiritual grandchildren.  What I came to understand about Elisabeth Elliot is that she spoke with the certainty of one who had stepped into obedience enough times, who had chosen the way of faith often enough to learn the secret that the resulting joy and the deepening intimacy with God is priceless.  I find it nearly impossible to mourn her passing, because she is now experiencing the fruit of her surrendered life.

Her exhortation in the introduction to A Lamp for My Feet is classic Elisabeth Elliot:  “If you have only five minutes, don’t read my book, read God’s.  It will be a lamp for your feet.”


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