“‘You are loved with an everlasting love,’ that’s what the Bible says, ‘and underneath are the everlasting arms.’”
If you, like me, grew up listening to “Gateway to Joy” on the radio every morning, you knew the next line was going to be, “This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot.” That soft, deep voice would proceed to tell you what she would be talking about with you today. And it was always biblical, profound, and pertinent.
My mom, grandma, and I affectionately referred to her as “E.E.” We listened to cassette tapes of her teaching during our car trips, faithfully caught the fifteen-minute radio broadcast each morning, and always read The Gatekeeper (published monthly by Back to the Bible), as well as The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter (which she sent bi-monthly to supporters).
But who is this revered woman, you ask?
Elisabeth (Howard) Elliot Gren
Elisabeth Howard was born in Belgium to missionary parents, but grew up in the eastern United States. After graduating from Wheaton, Elisabeth went to Ecuador as a missionary. In 1953, she married Jim Elliot, a fellow Wheaton student who was also ministering to the Quichua Indians. (Passion and Purity and Quest for Love detail their unique love story.) In 1956, Jim and four other missionaries were killed while trying to make contact with the remote Huaorani tribe (then known as the Aucas). Jim and Elisabeth’s daughter Valerie was 10 months old at the time. (Read more in Through the Gates of Splendor.)
Elisabeth and her daughter continued to live and work with the Quichua Indians, when her path crossed with two Auca women. Through that meeting, Elisabeth was eventually able to go to live with the Aucas. She (along with her young daughter Valerie) spent two years ministering to the tribe, leading to Christ some of the same men who had been responsible for her husband’s death. (These experiences are chronicled in her book The Savage My Kinsman.)
In 1963, Elisabeth returned to the States along with her daughter. Elisabeth married theology professor Addison Leitch in 1969. He died of cancer a few years later. (When she writes of A Path Through Suffering and The Path of Loneliness, she knows whereof she speaks. These Strange Ashes and On Asking God Why are her honest reflections on faith and trials.)
In her straightforward manner, Elisabeth states the facts of her third marriage: “I had two lodgers in my home. One of them married my daughter, the other one, Lars Gren, married me.” And if you heard the story in person at a conference, she’d usually bring up, with her dry sense of humor, how at this point in their marriage Lars was beginning to worry that he would be next.
“Every experience, if offered to Jesus, can be your gateway to joy.”
Elisabeth was a Titus 2 “older woman” to an entire generation of Christian women. She penned over 20 books on femininity and practical Christianity (Let Me Be A Woman is perhaps one of her best-known titles), as well as biographies of her husband, Jim Elliot, and Amy Carmichael, missionary to India. She traveled regularly to speak to churches and women’s groups. And from 1988 to 2001, her daily “Gateway to Joy” radio broadcast blessed countless listeners.
As Elisabeth’s health failed, her radio program, newsletters, and travel were gradually discontinued. She rounded out her days at “The Cove” with her husband, Lars Gren. And on June 15, 2015, at the age of 88, she quietly slipped across Jordan’s shores, Secure In The Everlasting Arms.
But Elisabeth’s words and legacy remain to inspire a new generation. The timeless truths she shared are lessons just as applicable for today.
Her signature style was always practical, ever forthright. She never minced words. In fact, her rules for writers advised simple, clear, authenticity “devoid of sentimentality”. So her lessons were poignant but memorable.
She showed us The Mark of a Man and The Shaping of a Christian Family. She taught us that Love Has a Price Tag. She told us about Passion and Purity and that Sex Is A Whole Lot More Than Fun. She exemplified Discipline, The Glad Surrender. But most of all, she showed us how to Keep a Quiet Heart.
Each of her books are filled with quotable nuggets of truth. But today, I want to share with you a few of my favorite bits and pieces from Elisabeth Elliot’s newsletters and radio program. They are just a small sampling of the gems she has left us…
Timeless Lessons from Elisabeth Elliot
“Act on principle, not on impulse; will, not emotion.”
-Elisabeth Elliot in Quest for Love
“Commit your uncertainties and fears to Him.”
There are just too many things to do. My natural response is to fret and fear. Both are forbidden: Fret not. Fear not. That tells me what not to do. What, then, should I do?
“I will run the course set out in Thy commandments, for they gladden my heart.” (Psalms 119:32 NEB)
There will be both time and strength today to run that course, for it is always possible to do the will of God. The course He sets for us in His commandments is not an obstacle course, but one carefully planned to suit our qualifications—that is, not too rigorous for our limitations, not too lenient for our strengths.
The plan of God for me, for this one day, is meant not to trouble but to gladden my heart. Christ’s yoke, according to His own promise, is not hard but easy—if we bear it together with Him and if we bear it as Christ bore it, in meekness and lowliness of heart.
“We must run with resolution the race for which we are entered, our eyes fixed on Jesus, on Whom faith depends from start to finish.” (Hebrews 12:2 NEB)
-Elisabeth Elliot in a September 1999 letter to supporters
“Jesus could not be accused of false advertising… When He said, ‘If you want to be My disciple, you must give up your right to yourself and take up the cross and follow Me’ those are the conditions. You must love. ‘If you do not love your brother, you’re a murderer. If you say that you love Me, you are a liar if you don’t love your brother.’”
“Do the next thing.”
Have you had the experience of feeling as if you’ve got far too many burdens to bear, far too many people to take care of, far too many things on your list to do? You just can’t possibly do it, and you get in a panic and you just want to sit down and collapse in a pile and feel sorry for yourself.
Well, I’ve felt that way a good many times in my life, and I go back over and over again to an old Saxon legend, which I’m told is carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea. I don’t know where this is. But this is a poem which was written about that legend. The legend is “Do the next thing.” And it’s spelled in what I suppose is Saxon spelling. “D-O-E” for “do,” “the,” and then next, “N-E-X-T.” “Thing”-“T-H-Y-N-G-E.”
The poem says, “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.” That is a wonderfully saving truth. Just do the next thing…
What is the next thing for you to do? Small duties, perhaps? Jobs that nobody will notice as long as you do them? A dirty job that you would get out of if you could have your own preferences? Are you asked to take some great responsibility, which you really don’t feel qualified to do? You don’t have to do the whole thing right this minute, do you? I can tell you one thing that you do have to do right this minute. It’s the one thing that is required of all of us every minute of every day. Trust in the living God.
-Elisabeth Elliot in her radio program, “Gateway to Joy” (Read Full Transcript)
“Obey God in the least thing shown.”
Jim Elliot corresponded with one missionary in India and one in Ecuador, seeking to determine which field he should go to. In view of the information he received, he simply made a choice: Ecuador. It was not a “shot in the dark.” It was an act of faith in a God who promises to guide.
Must you have a “specific call”? A call is a combination of desire, concern, and commitment. “You can’t steer a parked car,” Jim used to say. It makes sense to move in the direction you believe God is leading, trusting Him as a faithful Shepherd to lead you in paths of righteousness for His (not your) name’s sake. Will He make it hard for His obedient sheep? Of course not. And if you are “steering your car” in the wrong direction, you can count on Isaiah 30:21.
Yes, both moving and waiting are required. But you have waited. It’s time to move. There may be more waiting, but God knows how to slow you down, quiet your heart, cause delays in order to accomplish His purposes. See Isaiah 41:10.
-Elisabeth Elliot in March/April 2000 issue of The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter
(Click here for more of Elisabeth’s thoughts on waiting.)
Marriage won’t make you happy.
How many of us went into marriage imagining that that man would be able to make us happy? Well, it doesn’t take very long to find out that there isn’t a human being on earth that can make us happy. God said, “You have hewn out broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Come to the One who has the living water.
Your marital status–married, divorced, widowed, single–live to the hilt, live for God, here and now in this state, without being miserable for the rest of your life because God didn’t give you what you wanted.
If we are going to be transformed into the image of Christ, we are going to have to get rid of self-preoccupation, self-broodings, self-interest. Turn your eyes to Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
-Elisabeth Elliot in her radio program “Gateway to Joy”, March 28, 1997,
Series: Transformation in Christ, Message: Learning to Walk with Christ
“Trust His timing. Receive His answer for today.”
Just the other day I read a quotation from George MacDonald in which he says,
“If you’re waiting for the salvation of someone for whom you’ve been praying for a long time, don’t suppose that God is not at work.”
Remember, God has to work at His own pace and He has heard your prayer for that person’s salvation. You can’t hustle souls into the kingdom. God must be working first in that person’s life before there will be any sort of detectable change.
We need to be careful that we don’t let a feeling of impossibility influence a full heart of simple faith in matters that confront us or concerning those for whom we pray.
-Elisabeth Elliot in her radio program, “Gateway to Joy”, November 5 & 6, 1997
“Praise and sing to the Lord. Thank Him for everything.”
Having a quiet time with the Lord every day is absolutely essential if you expect to grow spiritually. But you have to plan it. It won’t “just happen.” We’re all much too busy. Early morning is best, and there are plenty of scriptural precedents for that (Jesus rose “a great while before day”; the psalmist said, “In the morning shalt Thou hear my voice”). If you meet the Lord before you meet anybody else, you’ll be “pointed in the right direction” for whatever comes. God knows how difficult it is for some to do this, and if you have a reason you can offer Him why early morning won’t work, I’m sure He’ll help you find another time. Sometimes the children’s afternoon nap time can be quiet time for a mother. At any rate, plan the time. Make up your mind to stick with it. Perhaps you’ll start with just fifteen minutes or so. You’ll be surprised at how soon you’ll be wanting more.
If you’re not very familiar with the Bible you can begin with Mark, the shortest Gospel. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s teaching. Read a few verses, a paragraph or a chapter. Then ask, does this passage teach me something about: (1) God, (2) Jesus Christ, (3) the Holy Spirit, (4) myself, (5) sins to confess or avoid, (6) commands to obey, (7) what Christian love is?
It helps me to keep a notebook. Try it. Write down some of your special prayer requests with the date. Record the answer when it comes. Note also some of the answers you’ve found to the above questions, or anything else you’ve learned. Tell your parents, siblings, your friends some of these things. That will help you to remember them. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a quiet time will make in your life.
May the Lord make us faithful in placing ourselves in His presence, listening to His Word, and offering our prayers to Him in faith.
-Elisabeth Elliot in June 1996 issue of The Gatekeeper
Find more from Elisabeth Elliot online:
- Visit ElisabethElliot.org for archived back issues of The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter, as well as “Ramblings from the Cove” by Elisabeth’s husband Lars Gren.
- Several websites offer audio libraries of messages by Elisabeth available for download:
Blue Letter Bible Elisabeth Elliot Media
Discipleship Library (search for “Elisabeth Elliot”)
- Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN) provides on-demand listening each week to the original “Gateway to Joy” daily radio broadcasts.
- Back to the Bible’s transcripts of some of the more recent years of “Gateway to Joy” broadcasts can be accessed by navigating through Archive.org.
- Revive Our Hearts re-airs classic broadcasts from Elisabeth Elliot from time to time and also publishes blog posts on Elisabeth’s life and convictions.
- Desiring God features posts about the lessons Elisabeth taught.
- The Kindred Grace team has a Pinterest board with favorite quotes and more from Elisabeth Elliot.
- Search YouTube for Elisabeth Elliot tributes, as well as the recordings of many of Elisabeth’s lectures and video series.
Excerpts from “Gateway to Joy” radio broadcasts are Copyright ©1997 Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. (Back to the Bible), Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“Gateway to Joy” section heading quote taken from The Gatekeeper tagline.
Latter section headings in quotation marks are taken from the last chapter of Quest for Love.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography
(originally published in 2009; edited from the archives)