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The Point of Despair

Elisabeth Elliot: I wonder if there's anyone listen who really feels that he or she has reached a point of despair.

Lisa Barry: For most of us panic seems to be the most logical reaction. But as we'll find out today, Elisabeth Elliot has quite another view of what our response should be to suffering. Stay with us for the next 15 minutes as we glean some important wisdom on the subject. That's coming up next on 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 with you again today on the subject of suffering.

I wonder if there is anyone listening who really feels that he or she has reached a point of despair. Well, last Friday I read you a marvelous letter from a woman who was feeling exactly that. And it was in God's changing her attitude in answer to prayer that the situation seemed to change. Now what she wanted to change was her husband. And guess what God did? God changed her attitude.

And she said in her letter, "It's almost like my attitude has changed so much this past week and the genuine kindness that I've shown to John has almost made him more loving and kind as well. Can this be? Is this what happens when you treat someone the way they should be treated? You know God doesn't give me what I really deserve, but rather He treats me like I am so special and worthy of His love."

Well, that's a principle isn't it? A spiritual principle. "While you and I were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And so in our relationships with other people, if we try to pay them back for evil that they've done to us, we're not showing the love of Christ. But it's amazing how a little tenderness, a little kindness, a little building up of that other person may not only change your whole attitude-and you may have given them the tenderness and the kindness without feeling it.

You know, it's amazing that when you act sometimes God gives you the feelings of tenderness and kindness afterwards. But it can also change the whole attitude of that other person. You know, a soft answer turns away wrath.

Well, in case anyone might be listening who really feels that God has forgotten you, I want to remind you of His promise. No temptation has ever come to you beyond your ability to bear. But God is faithful who will never suffer you to be tempted, never allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to bear, but He will give you a way of escape.

I've been reading to you from my book, A PATH THROUGH SUFFERING, talking about that subject-that heavy subject. And I explained last week that each chapter opens with a quotation from Lillias Trotter's PARABLES OF THE CROSS, which are available on tape but the book is out of print. PARABLES OF THE CROSS and PARABLES OF THE CHRIST LIFE. And because those two little gems of books are out of print, I wanted to get them back into circulation and so I got permission to use these quotations in each chapter of my book, A PATH THROUGH SUFFERING.

And this one has a picture. The pen and ink drawings on some of the pages in the book are by my brother Jim Howard. I have a young-my youngest brother, he's not young, goodness sake, all of us are old but he happens to be my youngest brother. And he is an artist and he did a lovely little drawing of a bit of sphagnum moss.

Sphagnum is a large genus of mosses, a certain species of which are highly absorptive and are used for surgical dressings. It grows only in swamps or water and as each layer decays it is crowned in the act of dying; that is, a new one comes to life on top of it. This is how certain kinds of peat are build up.

And Lillias Trotter says, "A bit of sphagnum moss shows the process of death leading on to new life in miniature. Stage after stage of dying has been gone through and each has been all the while crowned with life. Each time that the crown has sunk down again into death, that death has once again been crowned in the act of dying. And the life all the time is the apparent thing. The daily dying that underlies it is hidden to the passing glance."

So when in the providence of God sorrow is heaped upon sorrow, and we cant help wondering if this time God has forgotten us, we can remember then His promise that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to bear. And it is out of these deaths that God wants to bring life. That great principle that life comes out of death. The death of one layer of sphagnum prepares the matrix from which the new life springs.

Now probably most of us didn't know that about sphagnum moss, but we do know that out of the dead leaves comes good compost and fertilizer. So there's an example of life coming out of death. So out of one layer of sphagnum moss the new life springs. The tiny dried fronds so devoid of any vitality or usefulness in themselves are vital and useful in the economy of the Designer. He takes their desolation and makes it life-giving. Without the dying, this sphagnum would not still live on.

I'm so thankful for the rare combination of the artist's eye and a clear spiritual eye that God gave to that amazing missionary to North Africa named Lillias Trotter. The picture of this sphagnum crowned in the act of dying lights up so beautifully for us the word of Hebrews 2:9: "In Jesus we do see one, who for a short while was made lower than the angels, crowned now with glory and honor because He suffered death."

I want to repeat that phrase, "crowned now with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by God's gracious will in tasting death He should stand for us all." Crowned because He suffered. Now can you and I not unite ourselves with Him even in His sufferings?

"He died for us," as George MacDonald says, "not that we might not suffer but that our sufferings might be like His." I want you to think about what that means. If you and I are His children, and we can be God's children, you know, by faith in Jesus Christ, then we can share His treasures and all that Christ claims as His belongs to us as well.

Now that's not just my opinion. Again I take you back to the Scriptures to the Word written and the Word true that God spoke. Romans 8:17 says, "If we share in His sufferings, we shall certainly share in His glory."

There was a day in January of 1973 when I felt very close to desolation. My husband Add Leitch had his first radiation treatment for cancer, three and a half minutes under the eye of a machine the size of a freight car making the noise of three motor boats. In the hallway was an ominous sign, "Danger High Voltage." On the door of the waiting room, "Nuclear Medicine."

In the waiting room that afternoon I watched the other patients go one by one into that chamber of horrors, and then it was Add's turn. The few minutes he was gone were long to me, long enough to pray for him. I thought about how we ourselves are held in the hand that made us all, the hand that is laid on us with love, and with loving words, "Fear not."

I was beginning very slowly to understand the reason suffering is referred to a number of times in the Bible as a gift-a concept which makes no more sense to the world's mind than the idea of Christ nailed to a cross. The Bible calls that fact a stumbling block to Jews, folly to the Greeks. But His Words says, "Divine folly is wiser than the wisdom of man and divine weakness stronger than man's strength."

Things that are spiritually discerned can't be discerned in any other way. The truths of the kingdom of God cut straight across our natural mind set, don't they? But when there is nowhere to turn but to God, no explanations which satisfy either mind or heart, except in His Word, it is then that the Spirit opens the understanding of those who turn to Him in their helplessness.

When I read my journal of 1973 when Add was dying, I can discern the dawning of this radical reversal. I was thanking God for things I would never have learned to thank Him for without the suffering itself. And thanksgiving in the midst of darkness clears a way for grace. I can take His word for it that there are no depths to which I will be called to go where God will not be.

Then I ask myself, "But why do I need the word of anyone but God Himself?" He has told me again, and again, and again that He is with me, and will always be with me in the deep river, the hot fire, the valley of the shadow. Yet I sometimes doubt Him, don't you? And so in His mercy, He brings along witness after witness, people who have learned dimensions of transforming impossible for them to have learned anywhere but where they were.

Dying we still live on, they say, disciplined by suffering we are not done to death. In our sorrows we always have cause for joy. Poor ourselves, we bring wealth to many.

Lisa Barry: What do you do when you encounter a trial that confounds you? When I face a difficult situation, my first response is to try to fix it myself. Then if that doesn't work, in desperation I turn to God. In retrospect, the time I spent in trying to fix the problem seems to be much wasted effort. That's why I hope to change the way I respond to a crisis and learn to trust Christ first, not as a last resort.

Maybe you're at a crisis point in your life right now and you don't want to make the same mistakes I have. Then I'd like to recommend a book that will be a great help to you in dealing with your situation. The book is written by Elisabeth Elliot and it's called A PATH THROUGH SUFFERING. You won't find ten easy exercises to emotional health, but an honest and frank look into the fears and questions that surround suffering.

For more information on how to purchase that, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Or you can write to us at Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible.

When we meet again tomorrow, Elisabeth will continue talking about suffering and share with us a letter from a prisoner. Be sure and be with us again tomorrow for another Gateway To Joy.

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