Jim and Elisabeth Elliot are two of my heroes.
I’ve devoured as many books by Elisabeth Elliot as I can get my hands on and been moved to tears by Jim’s commitment to God—and the tragedy it led to. I’ve read their journal entries and love letters, listened to audio clips from Jim and talks given by Elisabeth. God has used their steadfast devotion to Him to fuel a fire of passion in my own heart for the gospel.
As I’ve studied their writings and lives, one thread has emerged—a simple and consistent commitment to seeking God. They both have pages upon pages of journal entries sharing truths they learned from Scripture or pouring out prayers to God. Through agonies and joys, seasons of dryness and times of abundance, their journals record a testimony of the one thing that enabled them to leave their legacy of faith. Their humanity stands out starkly from these pages. While Jim and Elisabeth did extraordinary things for God, they were quite simply ordinary people. How could they, in all their frailties, questions, and doubts, make such a stunning impact for God?
The answer is simple. Their devotion to God happened most frequently behind closed doors. They didn’t seek platform, fame, or success. They weren’t out to display their godliness for the world to notice. Instead, they strove for daily, inconsequential faithfulness. They sought God in private more frequently than they proclaimed His name in public. A passion burned within their hearts to know God and obey His leading, no matter the cost or consequences. And so, while most of the world never witnessed it, they sought the face of God through the mirror of His Word and listened for His voice as they poured out their own hearts.
Their love for God and His Word challenges me fiercely. I want to share three lessons on seeking God that I’ve learned from Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.
1. Seek God to Discern His Will
“I have just spent an hour with the Lord in His Word, seeking to know His will about my life,” 21-year-old Elisabeth wrote on April 20th, 1948. “How abundantly He has answered, and promised to show me. He tells me to wait, fear not, for He is the Lord. My mind is so clouded, my eyes so dim, my understanding so human—and He says, ‘I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them’ (Ezek. 11:15).”
Entries like this are common occurrences throughout the monstrosity that is the collected journal entries of Elisabeth Elliot. An undivided passion to know and do the will of God marked both Jim and Elisabeth’s lives. It was their sole purpose in living and everything—from their love for each other, to guidance on their prospective mission fields, to the ins and outs of daily life—they desired to have brought into perfect alignment with God’s will.
But like we so often do, they struggled deeply with knowing “What is God’s will?” Whatever it was, they wanted to do it, but how could they know? How do you know when God is leading you or if it’s just your own desires or thoughts? Grappling with this question, they turned full force toward the Word of God, confident it held the answers they needed.
In 1950, when Jim was struggling with knowing where God would send him to be a missionary, he wrote, “In seeking a promise of God’s acceptance of my trust in Him for guidance in the next one and a half months, I got this encouragement from Isaiah 42:26—‘I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do, and I will not forsake them.’ I fulfill the qualifications for once, Lord. Most surely I am blind.”
Time and again, they record moments when “God gave me this verse” or “Encouraged today by the truth of…” A good portion of Jim’s journals are thoughts and observations from Scripture, as he shares the things God brought to mind through his study.
How can we know God’s will if we don’t know God? Jim and Elisabeth knew such a thing was impossible. It’s only by knowing the nature and character of God that we can even begin to understand the mysteries of His will and guidance of His hand. Click To Tweet It’s only by knowing the nature and character of God that we can even begin to understand the mysteries of His will and guidance of His hand. And the only way to know God is to learn of Him through His book to us. The Bible is God’s testimony of Himself.
2. Press on Through Dryness and Distraction
“Difficulty getting anything from the Word at all. No fervency in prayer. Disturbance in the house, cold weather, and occasional headaches have made spiritual things less precious this whole week.” Jim dismally remarked to his journal one cold February 4, 1950. “I find I must drive myself to study…I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.”
For two people so committed to God, you might be tempted to think they never experienced seasons of dryness. But instead, their journals and letters reveal the opposite. Like we so often do, they battled their flesh. Sometimes they didn’t have time to read the Bible and pray. Sometimes their hearts were so cluttered with “rubble,” as Jim called it, that they couldn’t concentrate. Sometimes they just plain didn’t feel like it. Jim once said he had “consistent thoughtlessness and careless neglect of prayer and Bible study,” and bemoaned times when he “did not get to the Word until this afternoon and only then after a real battle.”
Elisabeth understood this battle as well. In the middle of her and Jim’s tumultuous love story, we often see her wrestling with her emotions and letting her heart and mind get swept away by the man she loved. “Spent several hours in prayer and study up in the stadium this morning.” She wrote in early July of 1948. “I am distressed that it is so difficult for me to direct my whole mind and heart fully to God. I find it very easy to spend much time thinking of Jim. Why should this be?”
We often look to our heroes of the faith and think they were somehow removed from the struggles we face. But they’re not. We can share with them our common humanity. What can be challenging to us is their perseverance to press on through the struggles and never give up. Even through the days and weeks of dryness or distraction, they knew that giving up wasn’t the solution—pressing on was.
3. Seek God in Sorrow, Confusion, and Pain
Jim and Elisabeth’s complicated five year love story brought heartache after heartache to them both. But over and over, they brought their hurting, longing hearts to their Heavenly Father. “Last night, after receiving the first letter in three weeks from Jim, my soul was nearly torn apart,” Elisabeth wrote in April of 1949. Not usually melodramatic, we can get a sense for how excruciating the pain was through her words. “Oh, I cannot write of all it meant, but my heart was desperately wrung. My soul cried out, ‘Why? How can it be?’” But here, even in this pain of a broken heart, she turned to God. “Then I remembered. I had prayed, ‘No matter how’—it is only for my Lord to choose my cross. Can He not give grace and enable me to go in peace? … And the Lord Himself stood by me. He spoke peace. He held me in His everlasting arms and loved me with His everlasting love.”
Their passionate struggle encourages me that nothing needs to be hidden from God. All can be brought before Him. Our heartaches and heartbreaks. Our longings. Our fears. Our needs and desires, questions and confusions. They brought it all to their Heavenly Father, trusting that He already knew and would be faithful to stand by them and sustain them.
“After I got into bed last night, I simply confessed to the Lord all my desires and hopes…” Elisabeth wrote. “But He was tender and understanding, reassuring me that since I had asked Him to lead me, He would do just that and I could trust Him.”
God wants us to bring all of our sorrows, confusions, and pain before Him. In my own life, that’s when I’ve encountered His grace and presence the strongest—when my heart was raw and my prayers broken and desperate. It’s when we trust Him with our messiest emotions that we can find the true depths of His peace.
Jim and Elisabeth’s commitment to seeking God in these three ways has both comforted and challenged me. In our own weakness and failures, we know we can approach the same Heavenly Father they did and He will meet us with the same grace He extended to their brokenness.Seek God, my friend, to know His will, to understand His heart and learn His character. Seek Him when you don’t feel like it. Click To Tweet Seek God, my friend, to know His will, to understand His heart and learn His character. Seek Him when you don’t feel like it. When your emotions are turbulent and your mind distracted. When your heart is raw and hurting. When your strength fails you. But seek Him.
And as you do, may you find, as Jim and Elisabeth did, the uplifting presence of God Most High, sustaining you through every moment and season in your life. It’s only through waiting upon God that we are made effective to serve God. And it’s only through seeking God that we are sustained to continue the race of following Him. After all, who else could we seek? Who else holds the words of life?
As Jim once wrote, “To whom shall I go for counsel for a way of life? To whom for example? To Thee, Lord? Yea, I come to Thee.”
For further reading on Jim and Elisabeth, check out: