Elisabeth Elliot staring into the distance

Why Elisabeth Elliot Matters

Screenshot taken from YouTube

Two years ago today, Elisabeth Elliot went home to the Lord at the age of 88.

A prolific speaker and writer, Elisabeth was one of the most influential Christian women of our time, best known for her writings about missions, gender roles, romance, and living right with God.

During my formative years, I was dealing with the usual questions of identity and purpose: Who am I? Why am I here? Stumbling on her books was a happy accident that helped me understand God’s principles and stay grounded in them.

As we commemorate her two year death-anniversary, these are three lessons I’ve gleaned from her life:


1) To have the courage to obey

American pastor John Piper recalled how Elisabeth had once told him (while they were on a panel together on world missions), “I don’t think you should say, ‘Pursue joy with all your might.’ I think you should say, ‘Pursue obedience with all your might.’”

Obedience defined Elisabeth’s life. She waited years for God’s timing to start her relationship with her first husband, the evangelical missionary Jim Elliot. Together, they obeyed God’s call to go to Ecuador as missionaries. After Jim’s martyrdom, Elisabeth bravely continued her mission work with a 10-month-old daughter in tow—in spite of her fears and grief. She also obeyed God in returning to the States a few years later. This pursuit of obedience didn’t come naturally, but she allowed herself to be disciplined, purified, and moulded into a vessel fitting for God’s use.

Elisabeth’s example influenced me in my own relationships. Granted, my first relationship was a precious lesson in disobedience. And when I finally obeyed God and ended it, it was not without scars. After that, I learned from Elisabeth to trust God in His timing. Whether it was ending a relationship or refraining from one, I had to learn to obey. It was tough because I was afraid that I’d “miss my chance”.

Today, I’m happily married to the man of my dreams. It wasn’t the easiest path getting here, but it was the right one, and this life wouldn’t have happened if I had not had the courage to obey.


2) To be a woman of principle

When people were crying out for the redefinition of gender roles, Elisabeth defended biblical womanhood. She was criticized, of course. Some said she lived in the past. Others accused her life and message of being contradictory.

But Elisabeth was no supporter of inequality, discrimination, or stereotypes. She once said, “I am not here to defend stereotypes of femininity, but to try to focus on the Original Pattern.” Elsewhere, she explained, “To me, a lady is not frilly, flouncy, flippant, frivolous, and fluff-brained, but she is gentle, she is gracious, she is godly and she is giving.”

Whether you agree with her views on femininity, it’s hard to deny that Elisabeth was a woman of principle. Interestingly, because of her steadfastness and in spite of differing opinions, supporters and dissenters alike respected her greatly.

To me, being a person of principle in today’s world means standing firm in the Word even when others challenge its infallibility. It means saying no to bribery or cheating, or saving sex for marriage, when everyone else is doing otherwise. It’s not about being legalistic. It’s about being true to what you stand for, and this affects even the smallest of decisions.

Once, I had ordered a 12-inch Subway sandwich and was charged for a 6-inch. I was tempted to walk away with the extra cash. But I had to ask myself: Do I want to be an honest person, or a person who takes advantage of the mistakes of another?


3) To live life to the hilt

Elisabeth was honest with her strengths, weaknesses, fears, and doubts. She loved and lost twice, and was stricken with dementia in her final years. She had good days and bad, and laughed as much as she mourned. Whether she was wife, mother, missionary, author, or speaker, Elisabeth never wavered and lived fully in her circumstances.

I’m learning a lot in this aspect. I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, and often feel like I’m not doing enough. I should be writing more, crafting more, connecting more. But there’s also that new cafe to visit, and that Wonder Woman movie to catch.

In the age of FOMO (Fear of missing out), it’s easy to become discontented and obsess about the next big thing. Yet all we need do is focus on the things that matter and give them our best. It was Jim who said these famous words, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”


Because God is sovereign

Elisabeth could live out these three lessons because of her faith. It was her confidence in God, in knowing her Father in Heaven is good, that gave her daily courage to obey, to remain steadfast, and to live without anxiety. She knew that she was “loved with an everlasting love and underneath are the everlasting arms,” as she would say at the end of her radio shows.

No human being is perfect, but Elisabeth is as good a role model as we can get for this generation. Her values may appear archaic, but I believe they are vital to navigating today’s world. While she adjusted to her times and situations, she remained true to God. Likewise, we too can be relevant in this postmodern world yet remain steadfast in God’s principles. We too can be committed to upholding God’s standards as lights that shine in the darkness.

May we, like Elisabeth, have the courage to obey, the will to stay true, and the strength to live life to the hilt.

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