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God's Assignment and the Grace to Accept

Lisa Barry: Are you one of those people who is great at helping other people get through a crisis, but when the crisis comes to your door it's a different story? Most of us know intellectually what to do before a trial comes; but when the final exam of personal experience rolls around, it's then we discover how much of God's truth we really understand.

All this week on Gateway To Joy, Elisabeth Elliot is ushering us into God's classroom where the lessons are trust and acceptance. What kind of a grade are you getting today? Stay with us as Elisabeth talks about accepting the assignments that God is allowing. It's all coming up next on this Tuesday edition of Gateway To Joy.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot, talking today about "whatever my lot." I think many of you know that beautiful hymn, "When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll--Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul."

Just after the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, I spent 10 weeks in Jerusalem. One afternoon I was invited to have tea with Mrs. Bertha Spafford Vester, who had lived there all of her 91 years, a fascinating woman. She was the fifth daughter of Horatio Spafford, who wrote "It Is Well With My Soul."

I remember sitting in the small dining room of the beautiful hotel where I was staying, which had been the home of the Spafford family, and I noticed this old lady. She fascinated me. She happened to sit just across from me and I could sit there and watch her eat and watch her talk to the servants, all of whom of course she knew because she lived there in that hotel. And I wondered who she was and finally I asked my waiter and he told me that her name was Mrs. Bertha Spafford Vester. I remembered that name, Spafford, and somehow or other--I don't really know how in the world it happened--she found out that I was in the hotel and might enjoy having a cup of tea with her. So that is what happened.

The story of that beautiful hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul," is familiar, I'm sure, to very many of you. But Mrs. Vester added many details that were certainly brand-new to me.

The great Chicago fire of the 1870s caused Spafford, a wealthy businessman, to take stock of his life. Wanting to know Jesus better, he decided to sell everything and move to the land where He had walked. "He" was capitalized, meaning where Jesus had walked. Shortly before the ship sailed, he was delayed by business but took the family to New York. For some reason that he was unable to explain, he had the purser change their cabin, moving them closer to the bow. He returned to Chicago to finish his business.

Then came a telegram: "Saved alone." The ship had sunk. Mrs. Spafford had survived. Their four daughters had perished. Had they been in the cabin originally reserved amidships, all five would have been drowned, for it was just there that the steamer had been struck by another vessel.

As we sipped tea and munched on Arab sweets, Mrs. Vester, who was not born until after the disaster, told me how her mother had described that terrible, black night when she and her four little girls were flung into the cold sea. Frantically, she had tried to save them. Barely she had been able to touch just with her fingertips the hem of the little gown of one of her babies, but she could not grasp it. She herself had been miraculously rescued as she floated unconscious on a piece of flotsam.

During Mr. Spafford's voyage to join his wife in France, the captain summoned him one day to the bridge. Pointing to his charts, he explained that it was just here, where they were at that moment, that the other ship had gone down. Spafford returned to his cabin and wrote the hymn which has comforted countless thousands:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll--
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

That word "lot" is not one we use in quite that way. It means whatever happens, that which comes by the will of the powers that rule our destiny, a share, a portion, an assignment. When we draw lots, no human power controls which will be ours. But Christians know that we are not at the mercy of chance. A loving hand, a great wisdom, and an omnipotent power rule our destiny.

The government of all is on the mighty shoulders of Christ Himself, who sees all long before it happens. All is intended for our blessing. How different things look. Yet think of the faith of Horatio Spafford, suffering the loss of all his children and writing, "Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well."

To love God is to love His will. That which He gives we receive. That which He takes, we relinquish, as glad to know ourselves in the hands of God as we should be sorry to be in our own, as Fenelon said. As glad to know ourselves in the hands of God as we should be sorry to be in our own. Wouldn't you rather be in the hands of God?

With what astonishment of gladness or sadness we receive some things. With what reluctance or delight we relinquish others. Yet we find that we can bear our own sufferings while of others' sufferings we say, "I could never bear that."

My friend Jim, whose wife has cancer, wrote to me. "The assignment is so hard, but always there are the gracious gifts, the winks of heaven--a friend stopping by, a plumber coming at the perfect moment. Coincidences? Not to one with the eyes of faith. God shields us from most of the things that we fear, but when He chooses not to shield us, He unfailingly allots grace in the measure needed. It is for us to choose to receive or refuse it. Our joy or our misery will depend on that choice."

I want to read again the beautiful words that Horatio Spafford wrote upon the death of his little girls:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll--
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back like a scroll;
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
"Even so"--it is well with my soul.

I can't tell you how many times that hymn has fortified me. We sang it at home. You've heard me say that we sang a hymn every single day. Different hymns. We'd go through different hymnbooks and every time we would sing a hymn we would sing all the stanzas, not skipping any. And because of that, we have this tremendous legacy that our parents gave us by insisting that we learn the great hymns.

So, once again, may I strongly urge those of you who go to churches where you sing perhaps only praise songs...don't get me wrong. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the praise songs, but they're not nearly so meaty sometimes, so filled with godly wisdom and doctrine as the great old hymns. And this was one of my favorites. I remember so vividly how we would sing that song, and I can't remember one of the...I think there are four stanzas at least; I left out one of them. But it was such an amazing blessing to me to have that tea with Mrs. Bertha Spafford.

The Lord knows exactly what He's doing. I want to read to you a quotation from Sir Thomas Browne of the 17th century, long before Mr. Horatio Spafford. This is what he says:

"When I survey the occurrences of my life and call into account the finger of God, I can perceive nothing but an abyss and mass of mercies. Those which others term crosses, afflictions, judgments, misfortunes, to me who inquire farther into them than their visible effects have ever proved the secret and dissembled favors of His affection."

That's Sir Thomas Browne of the 17th century, and that reminds me of Psalm 16:5 that says, "LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; and have made my lot secure." How I thank God for these great saints who have given us such a tremendous legacy of knowing God through their lives.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace.

Lisa Barry: What wonderful, comforting words. There's power in the Scripture that no humanly authored words can offer.

Well, before we say goodbye for today, I want to tell you about a timely Christmas packet that we've put together for you. First, Elisabeth Elliot has written a brand-new book called The Music of His Promises. It's a comforting and yet challenging collection of God's promises for you and me. Along with the book is a flip calendar that's good for any year and we've added some great new pictures and verses to this edition. There's also an audiotape of Elisabeth giving five of her favorite Christmas stories that you can share with your family and friends.

And when you request the Christmas packet, we have a special bonus for you--a beautiful Gateway To Joy wall calendar for the new year. It has wonderful pictures for each month, a thought from Elisabeth and lots of room for you to write your notes and appointments. Just ask for the bonus wall calendar when you contact us.

The suggested donation for the Christmas packet is $25. Ask for it when you call us at 1-800-759-4JOY. That number again is 1-800-759-4569. You can call us 24 hours a day. You can also look us up on the Web. That address is gatewaytojoy.org. Or, write us at:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE 68501. And remember to ask for your free copy of the Gateway To Joy wall calendar when you contact us.

Thanks for your support of this ministry. As you pray and give, we are able to continue these broadcasts and bring encouragement to more and more people through the variety of media we utilize.

Tomorrow, Elisabeth Elliot offers another lesson of love from God's classroom. That's next time on Gateway To Joy. Be sure to join us.

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