Series: Women in the Shadow of the Almighty (Elisabeth Elliot)
Leslie Basham: Elisabeth Elliot sometimes receives letters from women that say something like this.
Elisabeth Elliot: “I submit to my husband as long as he’s being nice to me,” or, “as long as he’s right.” Of course, women 99% of the time think he’s not right. There’s something askew somewhere.
Leslie: You’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, June 11.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Yesterday we heard Part One of a message from a woman who has been greatly used of God. Through her books, her radio program, and her life itself, she has influenced thousands of women over a span of fifty years. For one example, here’s speaker and author Jennifer Rothschild:
Jennifer Rothschild: I’m so appreciative of Elisabeth Elliot because as a woman in ministry, though I never have met her personally, she has been a far-off mentor to me. Though I have read most of her books, the one book that impacted me the most is calledThese Strange Ashes. I found it at a used bookstore on audio cassette tape, and she read it herself.
I remember listening to her voice as she told her story. I believe it was just a year that she was there in the jungle before she married her husband. She was just very honest. She was really honest about the struggles she was having, being a little disappointed with other co-workers, being a little disappointed with herself, struggling maybe even with some disappointment toward God.
Listening to that woman of God tell her story, and of course with such beautiful, eloquent language, has always been an encouragement to me. It is the rattiest, most torn-up cassette case, and I will treasure it until my dying day because Elisabeth Elliot—a woman of faith, a woman of integrity, a woman of consistency—has encouraged me to follow behind her in ministry and to be a woman of faith, a woman of consistency, and a woman of integrity. I will always be grateful for her.
Nancy: We’re all about to learn from Elisabeth Elliot. Yesterday she explored the sin of Eve: the desire to do things my way rather than God’s way. We’re going to pick back up on that message today, contrasting Eve with a New Testament woman who said, “Yes, Lord.”
Elisabeth: There are some very sharp contrasts here—an aggressive woman, and a little village maiden to whom an angel appeared. So I have two columns here—this aggressive woman on one side, and then on the other side, this little village maiden.
I love to think about Mary [see Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2 for her story], wondering what exactly she might have been doing in that very humble home in Nazareth. Maybe sweeping the floor, maybe weaving, maybe making bread or something.
Scholars tell us that she would not have been older than fourteen years old, probably between twelve and fourteen, because that was the time at which most Jewish girls would be betrothed. Of course we know that she was at that time betrothed to Joseph.
Suddenly there’s this dazzling visitor who has a staggering piece of news: that she was to become the mother of the Son of God. She had one simple, obvious question: How can this be? I’m not even married.
Then, of course, the angel gives her the statement that she would be “overshadowed,” and she would bear a child by the Holy Spirit. I’ve often wondered if she was tempted to talk to Joseph about that, to say anything at all. Because we know that Joseph naturally took it for granted that she had been unfaithful to him
The Bible tells us that he was an honorable man, but he had to do the one thing that a Jewish man would have to do in a case like that—he was going to put her away quietly. But the Lord took care of that too. He gave Joseph another message, that he was to take Mary as his wife.
Someone suggested that the angel Gabriel might have had to knock on several different doors there in Nazareth before he found somebody that would say yes. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it happen as You say. Beautiful, total self-abandonment to the will of God.
So we have these sharp contrasts—Eve refusing what is given; Mary’s response one of pure receptivity and acceptance.
Eve usurped the not-given. Mary relinquished her own plans.
Eve said, “Be it unto me according to my word,” in effect. It’s not written that way in the book of Genesis, but that really was what she was saying, wasn’t it? Be it unto me according to my word.
Mary said, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”
Eve said, “My will be done, and I’m going to drag Adam into it.” Mary said, “Thy will be done.”
Eve was acting on her lower nature, which leads to death. Mary was acting on her spiritual nature, which brought life to the world.
Eve was independent. She was going to do her own thing. She was going to do it her way.
Mary was dependent. “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” Here I am, Lord—all of me for You forever. Do anything You want with me. Do anything You want with me.
Eve was going to do “my thing.” Mary was given to God’s thing.
Eve was ambitious. Mary surrendered.
Eve had a spirit of opposition. Mary’s was a spirit of cooperation.
Eve showed us the one principle of hell, which is: I AM MY OWN. I am going to do my own thing. Nobody is going to tell me what to do.
And probably in our heart of hearts, every one of us in some form or other has said that, just like Eve. One principle of hell: I am my own.
But Mary’s was total self-abandonment. She couldn’t possibly know all it was going to entail because of this staggering piece of news. But we do know that just a week later [after Jesus’ birth], when she and Joseph went to take the baby up to the temple, old Simeon pointed out that she was going to have a sword pierce her heart.
When you read carefully the story of Mary, there’s very little about her; but the more you plumb the depths of what she had to face, the more I’m convinced that there were many more than just one great sorrow.
When you have that wonderful little package of your first child, it’s so thrilling, so marvelous. It doesn’t take very long to be suddenly smitten with the tremendous responsibility that is placed upon us.
So she had given herself completely. She said, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” She bore, deep down in her womanliness, the mystery of charity.
There’s a beautiful hymn—I wish I could remember the title of the hymn—that has a line in it which we sing in our church at least once a year or so. “Let my soul, like Mary, be Thine earthly sanctuary.”
That applies to every single one of us. I do believe that God gives us the privilege of being His earthly sanctuary when He comes to live in our hearts.
The more you think about it, the more incredible it is, isn’t it? The Lord of the universe, the One who created the stars and everything else, becoming a helpless baby and growing up like a little boy. He must have skinned His knee many a time.
We know that when He was twelve years old, He was very wise. He had been given wisdom then by His Father. But you know that that was a situation which was very hard for Mary and Joseph.
They said, “We sought you sorrowing. Where have you been?” Of course, He had been staggering the experts in the law when he was only twelve.
Now, number three, let men be men and women be women for the glory of God. Are we competitive with our husbands?
Well, you’re looking at a woman who was born competitive. I was a debater in high school, a debater in college. I won the championship with Elizabeth Rice Hanfdord, that woman who wrote that wonderful little book called Me? Obey Him?
Elizabeth and I were debate colleagues together, and her husband was in the same class with Jim Elliot. Elizabeth and I won the championship of the northwest.
I look back and think, “Lord, I don’t know why You let me do things like that.” It was wonderful. It was fun. But this idea of competition is very strong in me. I have four brothers and one sister, and I’ve always been trying to best my brothers.
But when I think about my mother, I think of what a lovely example of the opposite she was. There was never any pulling and hauling between my mother and my father.
My father absolutely adored my mother. Every evening as he would come back from work, we would hear the squeak of the front door, and then we would hear my father’s little chickadee call. He was a bird man, and he could imitate to perfection sixty different bird calls. But the one he had chosen for my mother was the chickadee.
So we would hear the scrape of the door, and then we would hear his little whistle of the chickadee. Then we would hear my mother’s much-less-than-perfect answer from the kitchen.
My father’s was sort of like this [whistles], and my mother would answer [whistle]. We knew he was home and that he had gone to the kitchen and undoubtedly taken her into his arms and given her a big kiss.
But I don’t think my mother thought about these things. I’ve often thought, “Why didn’t I ask my mother a few questions about these things?”
I was so independent that I don’t think it ever crossed my mind to ask her what her relationship was like with my father. But I know that my father absolutely adored the ground that she walked on.
And she was willing—there wasn’t any question in her mind, I’m sure, that she was to be a helper and a lover and a giver and a bearer and a vessel unto honor for her husband.The central call of our femininity, ladies, is mothering. That applies whether we are mothers in the biological sense or not.
I’m assuming that there are undoubtedly a lot of single women here today. We are all meant to be mothers—spiritual mothers. I am so greatly blessed by a good many spiritual mothers in my own life, and I wish I had time to tell you more about those.
One of those dear, spiritual women was an old, humpbacked, completely deaf, absolutely penniless lady. Her name was Mrs. Kershaw. Somehow or other my mother found her and discovered that Mrs. Kershaw would love to come and live in our house and just do any menial task that needed to be done.
I wonder, where are these old women now? Well, you’re looking at one of them. I’m a very old woman. Mrs. Kershaw was probably just about the age that I am now. I happen to be 73. She had this great humpback and she was totally deaf.
When Mrs. Kershaw arrived at the Howard home every morning—one of us would have to go in the car and pick her up and bring her back—she had one thing in mind: How can I bless the Howard family? And she never stopped smiling.
She would bend over the kitchen sink—back in those days the sink was low, and she had this big humped back. And she had this old-fashioned contraption that was supposed to help her with her hearing, but she had to unscrew the thing, and then she had to stick it in our mouth, practically, in order for us to shout to her.
But she never, ever stopped smiling. She made thousands of brown sugar cookies, and she made thousands of gallons of applesauce, and she ironed and she cleaned and she cooked.
I just think, “If old women would be willing to do something like that for the younger women who are so harried and so helpless, wouldn’t it be marvelous?” Well, I hope there will be somebody here whose heart God may have touched. She loved God, and she loved us. Dear Mrs. Kershaw.
When we play down or obscure or devaluate or in any other way ignore the God-given distinctions between the sexes, we violate our real glory as vehicles of the glory of God. We should be thankful that we have a subordinate position, because the buck stops with the men, not with you and me. All we have to do is submit and obey.
You can imagine that there are a great many women who have written me letters saying, “I submit to my husband as long as he’s being nice to me,” or, “as long as he’s right.” Of course, women 99% of the time think he’s not right. There’s something askew somewhere.
And then I think of some of the other godly women. Ruth Ritchie was my next-door neighbor when I was nine years old. We moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey, and I was very homesick and didn’t have any friends.
Ruth Ritchie lived next door. She was about fifteen. She became a spiritual mother to me.
Of course, Ruth never in her wildest dreams would have used those words. She would never have dreamed that’s what she was to me, and I didn’t think of it at that time. But years later I thought back over what that woman did in my life—a fifteen-year-old, sweet Christian girl who saw that this lonely nine-year-old, skinny, helpless child needed to be cheered up.
I saw her years and years later, probably fifty years later. She came to hear me speak, and someone told me that she was in the audience. So I had the opportunity to see her again, and I said, “Ruth, I’ve been talking about you all over the country.” She didn’t have any idea what I was talking about, but she had been a spiritual mother.
I think of my dear Aunt Anne. My father had two sisters, both of them spinsters. Our family was blessed by Aunts Anne and Alice. We loved having them come to us, and we loved going to their house. I don’t remember a word of self-pity from either one of them, wishing that they had had husbands.
Then, when I was a student at Wheaton College, it just so happened that I was in the dormitory of which Miss Cumming was the dorm mother. I got to know Miss Cumming partly because she taught our Sunday school class, and she and I used to walk to Sunday school together. As I got to know her better, I would go in and pour out my troubles and trials and tribulations to her.
She was a short little dumpy lady from Georgia. She had come from a very, very wealthy family that had white columns in the front of the house and servants in the back. But she was completely taken out of the family’s legacy.
She would have received an enormous amount of money, but because she became a Christian, they cut her out. I never did find out what in the world she did for a living before she came to Wheaton College; she was in her late fifties at least when she came to Wheaton.
But I knew that this lady had had a very different kind of background. I used to come and pour out my troubles and tribulations to her every once in a while, and once in a while she would give me a little hint as to something that she was dealing with.
She told me one day, “Oh, Betty, I came to Wheaton to be a spiritual counselor, but here I am carrying mops and toilet paper across the campus.” You know, that had a tremendous influence in my life, because she was indeed a spiritual counselor; but she was also willing, in spite of her background, to carry mops and toilet paper across the campus, which was certainly not her job description.
People didn’t have job descriptions in those days anyway, but it was somebody else, certainly, who was supposed to carry the mops and toilet paper but had not done it. That made a deep impression on me because I knew the kind of background she came from, and I knew that this woman had humbled herself.
Years later, when I went to visit her with my second husband, in her retirement home in Florida, I reminded her of what she had said to me that day. She looked up at me again and said, “Oh, Betty, did I really say that?”
I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what you said.”
She said, “Oh, Betty, just think of the mercy of God, that He allowed me to carry mops and toilet paper for His glory.”
Of course, I told her what that had meant in my life. Servanthood—the willingness to play second fiddle; the willingness to do whatever needs to be done at any time.Of course, that’s what mothers are for isn’t it?
Any mother—married or single, with children or not with children—we are meant to be mothers in the world. We are meant to be spiritual mothers, as well as biological mothers if God gives us that privilege.
I have one more person I want to tell you about. Dr. Virginia Blakesley was a missionary in Africa years ago. I heard her speak when I was a teenager at a conference. She told some hair-raising stories about the escapes she’d had from various tribal groups.
The thing that never left my mind was the intensity with which she quoted the verse from Isaiah: “The Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isa. 50:7 KJV).
I can still see her leaning over that pulpit, with tears running down her face, a single woman for God. When I went to Ecuador, there were over seventy single women missionaries in Ecuador, which is a small country, and there were two single men. One of them married a national. The other one is still not married. So, that’s just the way things are nowadays.
I want to close with a passage from Philippians: “[Let us remember the attitude of the Lord Jesus]: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place” (Phil. 2:5-9 NIV).
Nancy: Amen. Elisabeth Elliot has been pointing us to the humble, self-sacrificing example of Jesus. As women, we’re called to live out those Christlike qualities in some uniquely feminine ways. Elisabeth Elliot has been showing us some of those.
She’s shown us what it looks like to serve God by following the leaders He’s put in place. She’s also shown us what it means to mother the next generation, whether we’re married or single, whether we have biological children or not.
Used with Permission. Revive Our Hearts.