Thursday, August 28, 2008

Love Consists of Dying, Part 2

This is the second part to my recent blog post from my and my sister's main blogsite. Feel free to leave any comments on the main blog:

The fear of deprivation is “consuming my life,” says one letter (written to Elisabeth Elliot). The author sees marriage as a carrot on a stick that a sardonic God is dangling in her face. “I sit alone on a hill, separated from life as I would like it. Illusions visit and trick my heart and wound it time and time again. I get angry with God. I blame Him.” (excerpt from Quest for Love: True Stories of Passion and Purity)

Life often feels like the winter season to us in these matters. We writhe with passion for these desires of ours. Reading the Bible and praying to our Father offers no peace for us. We are restless. At first, we thought it was possible to relinquish these desires to Him, but the longer the pain continues the more hopeless we become. Like the author mentioned above, we come to the conclusion that the mess inside us is God’s fault. We have all blamed Him at some point of our lives about these matters of the heart…these desires for a blissful union in a beautiful marriage.
It is so easy to be consumed by desires to be held and loved by the bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. It is not a passion that we give up so easily. This is exactly why these desires belong in His hands and not ours.

“The surrender of the heart’s deepest longing is perhaps as close as we come to an understanding of the Cross. This trial of our faith is crucial, a word that derives from the Latin crux, cross. Our own experience of crucifixion, though immeasurably lesser than our Savior’s, nonetheless furnishes us with a chance to begin to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering. In every form of our own sufferings, He calls us to that fellowship. Ought we not to be thankful, then, for that?
“Did you really wrestle with God?” a girl wrote to me. “I mean, roll-around-on-the- ground- wrestle over these issues? I desperately desire the Lord to lead a man of godly character to pursue me, rather than vice versa. My trial is what to do about how I feel. I have prayed and prayed for an answer about him. Even after a day of fasting the only answer I got was keep waiting.”
Yes. I know. I wrestled. With a pang I still recall that early morning in Ecuador in 1952 – it was not yet light – when Jim Elliot left Quito for the eastern jungle. In love for more than four years, we were still not engaged. We were not committed to anything except the will of God. We had no answer but keep waiting. Would I see him again? Would we ever marry? I cried so bitterly my landlady heard me and rushed to my room.
Janet Erskine Stuart wrote: It is good that we should have to submit to what we do not understand. It teaches us the laws of faith and hope. It is good that we should have to do what we should rather not, in circumstances not of our choice. It is good that there should be always something to prick us on, something to remind us that we are in an enemy’s country, belong to a marching column. It is good that we should meet with checks and failures in what we undertake, to keep us humble and prayerful. All these things belong to sowing in tears.
God seems to have laid out the order of things in His Church, not for a general and brilliant triumph but for the hidden sanctification of the individual souls which compose it. (Prayer in Faith)” - Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliot encourages us with profound wisdom…

“A good and perfect gift, these natural desires. But so much the more necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God.
Those who long for the gift of marriage can find great peace in the words of Psalm 16:5, receiving one day at a time the divinely apportioned gift of singleness, believing that our Heavenly Father’s love will withhold nothing that is good for us.
It should not be forgotten that a lifetime of singleness may be His choice for us. Will we still love Him, trust Him, and praise Him?”

It is a safe thing to trust Him to fulfill the desire which He creates. – Amy Carmichael

Does this seem strange?
“Does it stretch to the breaking point an early twenty-first century credulity? If it does, perhaps it is because there is an idea of honor here that has largely been lost. Honor is fidelity to a system of fixed values and relations. Is there anything today, even in the imagination of the Christian, for which we are willing to pay the price of self-sacrifice? Any idea left, any clear-cut goal, any control of passion?”

“We talked…”about the “codes” each of us had built, Jim on Matt 19:12. Jim put himself in the last category. He was prepared to renounce marriage if that was necessary in his case in order to obey God. As far as he knew, he was able to accept that, at least for now. My code came from Isaiah 54:5 and 1 Cor 7:34, 35.
No Christian ought to put himself outside the possibility that this is his assignment. The claims must be considered.”
- Elisabeth Elliot

This is a hard saying and a hard life. Nevertheless, it is an absolute truth. As Christians we must consider this possibility. Who are we to think we are outside this possibility? Who are we to reject the very life that Christ himself was called to?

Material for Sacrifice

“God gives us material for sacrifice. Sometimes the sacrifice makes little sense to others, but when offered to Him is always accepted. What was the “point” in God’s asking Abraham for the sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac? The story has often been attacked as”pagan” and has been grossly misunderstood. Our offerings to Him may very likely be seen as senseless and fanatical, but He receives them. Jesus received the precious ointment from the worshipping woman, although those present thought it a foolish waste. It is lesson I understood very dimly in 1948, but it has become clearer and clearer the further I go with God. I have tried to explain it sometimes to people who are lonely and longing for love. “Give it to Jesus,” I say. The loneliness itself is material for sacrifice. The very longings themselves can be offered to Him who understands perfectly. The transformation into something He can use for the good of others takes place only when the offering is put into His hands.
What will He do with these offerings? Never mind. He knows what to do.”

“If the yearnings went away, what would we have to offer up to the Lord? Aren’t they given to us to offer? It is the control of passion, not its eradication, that is needed. How would we learn to submit to the authority of Christ if we had nothing to submit?”

“Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.”
Taken in the right spirit. These are the operative words. ….The effect of my troubles depends not on the nature of the troubles themselves but on how I receive them. I can receive them with both hands in faith and acceptance, or I can rebel and reject.”

– Elisabeth Elliot

Wrestling With Feelings and Loneliness

It is easy to become frustrated with having to live with these feelings and desires that only increase our loneliness, desperation, and longing. Sometimes, we ignore them. Other times, we fight them too much.

“Do not debunk feelings as such, Remember they are given to us as part of our humanity. Do not try to fortify yourself against emotions. Recognize them; name them, if that helps; and then lay them open before the Lord for His training of your responses. The discipline of emotions is the training of responses.”
“As we give ourselves to His rule He gives us grace to rule.”

“Let’s be candid with ourselves before God. Call a spade a spade or even a muddy shovel. If your passions are aroused, say so – to yourself and to God, not to the object of your passion. Then turn the reins over to God. Bring your will to Him. Will to obey Him, ask for His help. He will not do the obeying for you, but He will help you. Don’t ask me how. He knows how. You’ll see.”

“What to do With Loneliness:
Be still and know that He is God. When you are lonely, too much stillness is exactly the thing that seems to be laying waste your soul. Use that stillness to quiet your heart before God. Get to know Him. If He is God, He is still in charge.
Remember that you are not alone. “The Lord, He it is that doth go with thee. He will not fail thee neither forsake thee. Be strong and of good courage.” (Duet. 31:8) Jesus promised His disciples, “Lo, I am with you always.” (Matt 28:20) Never mind if you cannot feel His presence. He is there, never for one moment forgetting you.
Give thanks. In times of my greatest loneliness I have been lifted up by the promise of 2 Cor 4:17, 18, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” This is something to thank God for. This loneliness itself, which seems a weight, will be far outweighed by glory.
Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with power to destroy you. Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried your griefs and sorrows.
Accept your loneliness. It is one stage, and only one stage, on a journey that brings you to God. It will not always last.
Offer up your loneliness to God, as the little boy offered to Jesus his five loaves and two fishes. God can transform it for the good of others.
Do something for somebody else. No matter who or where you are, there is something you can do, somebody who needs you. Pray that you may be an instrument of God’s peace, that where there is loneliness you may bring joy.”

“Waiting silently is the hardest thing of all. I was dying to talk to Jim and about Jim. But the things that we feel most deeply we ought to learn to be silent about, at least until we have talked them over thoroughly with God.”

( – Elisabeth Elliot)

Hungering for Something More

“That “dragging on the soul,” that stretched-out agony of longing – what are these but the sharp showers, hot sweats, wet feet of which that old saint Rutherford wrote so often? His letters are full of them. There has never been any other route to glory. From the earliest stories of Israel to the story of His Son’s journey as a man on earth, God has been bringing men always through much tribulation. There is no strawberry shortcut.
Was it necessary for God to test the fiber of His children for forty years in the wilderness? Wouldn’t forty days have been enough? The process must go on…and on…and on.
Through affairs of the heart God uncovers our true intentions: “…whether or not it was in your heart to keep his commandments. He humbled you and made you hungry; then he fed you on manna….”
But it was not manna the people wanted. It was leeks and onions and garlic. It was meat and bread, whine and oil – ordinary food.
So it is with us. We’re created men and women. If Adam needed Eve and she was made for him, isn’t it natural, then, isn’t it altogether fitting and proper, that men and women should hunger for each other?
It is natural indeed. However, it’s not the only thing God has in mind for us. We are not meant to live merely by what is natural. We need to learn to live by the supernatural. Ordinary fare will not fill the emptiness in our hearts. Bread will not suffice. We need extraordinary fare. We need manna. How else will we learn to eat it, if we are never hungry? How will we educate our tastes for heavenly things if we are surfeited with earthly? Sex simply will not suffice any more than bread will. My heart was saying, “Lord, take away this longing, or give me that for which I long.” The Lord was answering, “I must teach you to long for something better.”
“…He fed you on manna which neither you nor your fathers had known before, to teach you that man cannot live on bread alone but lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” – Elisabeth Elliot

S.D. Gordon, in his Quiet Talks on Prayer, describes waiting. It means:
Steadfastness, that is holding on;
Patience, that is holding back;
Expectancy, that is holding the face up;
Obedience, that is holding one’s self in readiness to go or do;
Listening, that is holding quiet and still so as to hear.

How long, Lord, must I wait?
Never mind, child. Trust me.
(Elisabeth Elliot)

Does God Want Everything?
(a chapter from Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion & Purity)

God sifted men’s hearts in the Old Testament times.
“God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Gen 22: 1-2
God was still sifting hearts in the New Testament times:
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Matt 19:16 - 22

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. – Phil. 3:8

Great spiritual principles. Unarguable. To all of them, my intellect gave full consent. A giant of the faith like Abraham or Paul the apostle – of course they had to be tested with great tests. I was only a college girl, trying to do well in my studies, praying for direction for my life, attracted to a very appealing man whose primary interest was in the Kingdom of God. Anything wrong with that?
“If you wish to go the whole way…..” It was not to the intellect alone that the question came. My heart and my feelings were involved now, and I must give an answer. God was sifting me this time. Did I want to go the “whole way”? Yes, Lord.
“Do you want to be worthy of Me?” Yes, Lord.
“Do you want to know Christ Jesus as Lord?” Certainly, Lord.
In Lilias Trotter’s beautiful illustrated book, Parables of the Cross, she describes the death—life cycle of plants, which illustrates the spiritual processes that must go on in us if we are to die to self and live to God. In the love life, as well as in other areas:

The fair new petals must fall, and for no visible reason. No one seems enriched by the stripping.
And the first step into the realm of giving is a like surrender – not manward but Godward: an utter yielding of our best. So long as our idea of surrender is limited to the renouncing of unlawful things, we have never grasped its true meaning: that is not worthy of the name for “no polluted thing” can be offered.
The life lost on the Cross was not a sinful one – the treasure poured forth there was God-given, God-blessed treasure, lawful and right to be kept: only that there was the life of the world at stake.

What kind of a God is it who asks everything of us? The same God who “…did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all; and with this gift how can he fail to lavish upon us all he has to give?”
He gives all.
He asks all.

Until the will and the affection are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His Lordship, the Cross, as it enters the love life, will reveal the heart’s truth. My heart, I knew, would be forever a lonely hunter unless settled, “where true joys are to be found.”

His Commands Are His Enablings

Though my natural instinct is to wish for a life free from pain, trouble, and adversity, I am learning to welcome anything that makes me conscious of my need for Him. If prayer is birthed out of desperation, then anything that makes me desperate for God is a blessing. – Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Through no fault or choice of my own, I am unable to express my sexuality in the beauty and intimacy of Christian marriage, as God intended when he created me a sexual being in his own image. To seek to do this outside of marriage is, by the clear teaching of Scripture, to sin against God and against my own nature. As a committed Christian, then, I have no alternative but to live a life of voluntary celibacy. I must be chaste not only in body, but in mind and spirit as well. Since I am now in my 60s I think that my experience of what this means is valid. I want to go on record as having proved that for those who are committed to God’s will, his commands are his enablings….My whole being cries out continually for something I may not have. My whole life must be lived in the context of this never-ceasing tension. My profession life, my social life, my personal life, my Christian life - all are subject to its constant and powerful pull. As a Christian I have no choice but to obey God, cost what it may. I must trust him to make it possible for me to honor him in my singleness. That this is possible, a mighty cloud of witnesses will join me to attest. Multitudes of single Christians in every age and circumstance have proved God’s sufficiency in this matter. He has promised to meet our needs and he honors his word. If we seek fulfillment in him, we shall find it. It may not be easy, but whoever said that Christian life was easy? The badge of Christ’s discipleship was a cross. Why must I live my life alone? I do not know. But Jesus Christ is Lord of my life. I believe in the sovereignty of God, and I accept my singleness from his hand. He could have ordered my life otherwise, but he has not chosen to do so. As his child, I must trust his love and wisdom. - Margaret Clarkson
When Christian was crossing the River at the close of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, his heart failed him for fear. He began to sink in the cold, dark waters. But Hopeful, his companion, helped him to stand, calling out, “Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good.” Then Christian recovered his faith, and passed safely through the waters to the Celestial City. If there are singles who find the waters of singleness dark and deep, who feel, “I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me,” this is my message to you concerning singleness: “Be of good cheer, my brother, my sister; I feel the bottom, and it is good.” - Margaret Clarkson

Jesus, if this is Your will,
then YES to being single.
In my deepest heart, I want to marry,
to belong to a great man;
to know that I am linked to his life…
and he to mine…
following Christ and our dreams together….
but You know what I need.
If I never marry, it is YES to you.
- Ann Kiemel Anderson

The Falling, the Darkness, the Dying

The beautiful colors of the leaf are only revealed in the fall season….when the leaf is dying. – Tim Doyle

It’s when one is living in the midst of those five years or whatever the span may be, that it is easy to read spiritual books as nothing more than spiritual books, with no relation to the hard realities we are trying to cope with. Yet the deep principle of life out of death, so wonderfully illuminated for me by Lilias Trotter in her Parables of the Cross, has everything to do with the hard realities. There was real comfort for me in the lessons shown at the top of the stadium by the rainbow, the cloud, the words about the corn of wheat, the sunset. God spoke peace into my emotional turmoil because I was asking for it and looking for it and being silent enough to hear it.
To those with ears to hear and eyes to see, there will be very great release from unbearable burdens in the language of autumn trees, for example, when they dress most gloriously in preparation for death. The red of the leaves is the sign of the cross. Winter follows, when snow closes everything in frozen silence. The three then are skeletons, but wonders are being performed under the surface of things. Spring comes, and the hidden wonders burst out all at once – tiny shoots, swelling buds, touches of green and red where all seemed hopeless the day before. Miss Trotter shows the yellow blossom of the gorse springing straight out of last year’s thorn. Plain lessons for us, if we’ll open our eyes.
If the leaves had not been let go to fall and whither, if the tree had not consented to be a skeleton for many months, there would be no new life rising, no bud, no flower, no fruit, no seed, no new generation. – Elisabeth Elliot

Psalm 78:8 – let us not find ourselves amongst the “generation with no firm purpose, with hearts not fixed steadfastly on God.“

The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying. The seed falls into the ground, dies as the new shoot springs up. There must be a splitting and a breaking in order for a bud to form. The bud “lets go” when the flower forms. The calyx lets go of the flower. The petals must curl up and die in order for the fruit to form. The fruit falls, splits, relinquishes the seed. The seed falls into the ground…
There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes to let it go or unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver meant it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul.
It is easy to make the mistake here. “If God gave it to mean,” we say, “it’s mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of – if we want to find our true selves, if we want real Life, if our hearts are set on glory.
Think of the self that God has given as an acorn. It is a marvelous little thing, a perfect shape, perfectly designed for its purpose, perfectly functional. Think of the grand glory of the oak tree. God’s intention when He made the acorn was the oak tree. His intention for us is…”the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Many death must go into our reaching that measure, many letting goes. When you look at the oak tree, you don’t feel that the “loss” of the acorn is a very great loss. The more you perceive God’s purposes in your life, the less terrible will the losses seem.

There must be relinquishment. There is no way around it. The seed does not “know” what will happen. It only knows what is happening – the falling, the darkness, the dying. That was how it felt to be separated as we were – as though we had been given no clues as to why this has to be. “The wanting itself is good,” Jim wrote, “it is right, even God granted, but now God denied, and He has not let know all the wisdom of the denial.”

The acorn does what it was made to do, without pestering its Maker with questions about when and how and why. We who have been given an intelligence and a will and a whole range of wants that can be set against the divine Pattern for God are asked to believe Him. We are given the chance to trust Him when He says…” if any man will let himself be lost for my sake, he will find his true self.”
(Elisabeth Elliot)

“Being in love,” wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, “is a good thing, but it is not the best of things. There are many things below it, there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life.”

Oh how many things there are above it! If we would dare consider our Great Lover, the one who knitted us in the womb and breathed life (not just mere physical life, but eternal life) into our feeble hearts – we would most certainly find something worth hungering for! Blessed are they who find their hearts and rest in Christ alone.

Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living. – Jim Elliot

O how we are made to live!

Just a reminder that these past two blogs are aimed at every single Christian. Regardless of whether we ever marry or not, these are truths for us all to consider and live!
In Christ alone,

The quotations in this blogpost are from most of the books below. All are amazing and soaking in the Spirit of Christ.
Elliot, Elisabeth (Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Passion & Purity, Quest for Love)
Piper, John (What is the Difference? Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)