Many Christians are vaguely familiar with this quote by Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim was a pioneer missionary in South America along with Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Peter Fleming and Nate Saint, and on January 8, 1956 these five men were martyred (killed) by the very people they were trying to reach with the gospel of Jesus Christ. His death gave more meaning to the above quote than his life ever could have, and collectively their deaths were the seed of a notable increase in Christian missions in the twentieth century.
What most Christians don’t realize, especially if they’ve never read a biography about Jim, is that he said a few other things as well.
Regarding “calling” and what to do with our lives:
Why does not the church awake? What a high calling is offered any who will pray, “Send me.” Our young men are going into the professional fields because they don’t “feel called” to the mission field. We don’t need a call; we need a kick in the pants. We must begin thinking in terms of “going out,” and stop our weeping because “they won’t come in.” Who wants to step into an igloo? The tombs themselves are not colder than the churches. May God send us forth.
Ouch. Personally, I think that the “professional fields,” and the trades, and all legitimate vocations can be and are legitimate “mission fields.” However, being a missionary on a mission field actually involves actively making disciples, which many Christians seem to forget.
So what if the well-fed church in the homeland needs stirring? They have the Scriptures, Moses, and the Prophets, and a whole lot more. Their condemnation is written on their bank books and in the dust on their Bible covers. American believers have sold their lives to the service of Mammon, and God has His rightful way of dealing with those who succumb to the spirit of Laodicea.
Ouch again. Obviously Jim was not overly impressed with American churches, and justifiably so. Unfortunately the situation has not improved a whole lot since Jim was alive. From the tone of the above quote I’m inclined to think that Jim didn’t have much hope for American churches. While I do agree with him that the present outlook is bleak, I do think that by the grace of God there is still hope. And that’s why I keep writing this blog.
In a prayer Jim prayed:
Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.
Is that your prayer? Is that my prayer? It’s easy to be a milepost. Other people hardly give a passing glance to mileposts. Being a milepost is safe. Being a fork in road is hard. It’s difficult. It can be unpopular and even dangerous. People don’t necessarily like to make decisions. They don’t want to be confronted with the ideas of truth, of right and wrong, of change.
I started this post with the intention of writing something of a defense for several of the previous posts regarding pastors, preaching, churches and theology, using some perspective from the pen of Jim Elliot. I’m not sure if I accomplished that. I’m not sure if it was necessary…
And finally, and I include this as something of a postscript, Jim also enjoyed the outdoors and mountain climbing in particular.
In all, a beautiful trip, well worth the effort and time, if only for the sweetening and enlarging it accomplished in one’s spirit. The Lord made mountains to climb, not just to look at, and up there one understands why – seeing the vista that most folks never see, with the sense of farness that most never feel.