Review of Devotedly, The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot
I’ve always had great admiration for Elisabeth Elliot. To this day, I’m drawn to her writings, her faith, her no-nonsense approach to life.
I was only vaguely familiar with her husband Jim, the missionary to the Quichua Indians who was martyred by the Auca Indians while trying to establish initial communication with them. I’ve heard his story since childhood, but I never really took the time to read about him. Still, I admired his faith, vision, determination and loved some select quotes from his journal, which Peter has read. We do tend to pedestalize those who die for their faith, don’t we?
In Devotedly, we’re given a sampling of the correspondence between two young people who were in love with Jesus Christ and each other, in that order, and who desired to do only God’s will. That, in and of itself, is rare and refreshing especially in our current culture which seems morbidly self-focused.
At some point early on, they realized they were attracted to each other and began a friendship, but both believed God would call them to be single missionaries. They talked about their desire and wrote over the course of five or so years while guarding their own hearts until they were sure God had given them the green light to pursue their relationship. We get a glimpse of their private thoughts, inner turmoil, but mostly we see that their desire for each other was secondary to what God wanted for them. And they were prepared to do whatever God called them to do, even if it meant walking away from their relationship.
From Jim Elliot’s (JE) journal:
JE: April 18: “All other persons, places, and principles are false resting points for faith. Father take my life, yea, my blood if Thou wilt, and consume it with Thine enveloping fire. I would not save it, for it is not mine to save. Have it, Lord, have it all. Pour out my life as an oblation for the world. Blood is only of value as it flows before Thine alters.”
From Elisabeth Howard’s (HE) journal:
EH: April 2. “I am seized with fear that my own will is to be given place, and I will thus ruin my usefulness for God. It would be easy to follow my feelings, to interfere with the voice of the Lord when he says, “this is the way, walk ye in it.”
JE: June 10: “Came to an understanding at the Cross with Betty last night. Seemed the Lord made me think of it as laying a sacrifice on the altar. She has put her life there, and I almost feel as if I would lay a hand on it, to retrieve it for myself, but it is not mine – wholly God’s. He paid for it and is worthy to do with it what He will. Take it and burn it for Thy pleasure Lord, and may Thy fire fall on me as well.”
EH: Sept. 28.”Crooked patterns”–may God have mercy upon us, that the only pattern shown may be that of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God…for the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. It is no game we find ourselves in. It is the war of the ages, and we wrestle against principalities and powers. And without purity in us, there is no power.”
What struck me as I was reading these letters is that neither Jim or Elisabeth ever knew that anyone else would read them. (Ok, truthfully, I felt awkward reading some of them as well. Should one read a letter intended solely for another? Some were gushy and too private. I admit I skimmed some for that reason.) There was no show, no pretense, no cultivating an image. Their zeal for Christ was strong in their communication because of their obedience to the Word of God. They were willing to forgo pleasure, family, convenience, and even their desire for each other each if the Lord directed that way.
In Devotedly, we also get a glimpse of their own personal sanctification over a five-year span. We see the personality flaws and hard edges of two young people who want to serve the Lord, and how God graciously softened those flaws over time as they yielded to Him and accepted correction from each other in humility.
We see godliness, dedication, and the pursuit of God’s will. We see Jim’s faith and tenacity as everything he worked to build in his first missionary stint as a single man in Shandia was swept away by flood waters: buildings, supplies, the house, the school they built–all gone in an instant.
He writes to Elisabeth after the devastation of the flood: “Breakfast is on the fire, and a beautiful dawn is breaking through the forest. We are both well and happy, waiting on God to show His will for this station.” This is the character and composure of a man of faith.
We see the desire for purity. We see their humanness. We see feet of clay. We see faulty thinking and the ups and downs of emotions and discouragement. We see sexual desire in Jim’s thought life and his battle to keep it under control. If you were expecting perfection in these two people, you won’t find it here or in anyone else for that matter. But what you will find is the honest dialog and ups and downs of their courtship. You’ll see how they determine to maintain purity before marriage. It will give you the courage to fight your own flesh and mind when you find yourself toying with compromise. It will give you a high view of marriage and how each marriage partner stands before God as beloved and led by His hand. You’ll see lots of gushy love, and it’s normal and natural, though our culture likes to indoctrinate us that passionate love is only for illicit affairs and extramarital flings. This book will help you appreciate your spouse and bend to their likes and dislikes in love.
Oh, and married women, I love how Elisabeth speaks of using her modest home with a tin roof in Shandia, Ecuador:
EE: Oct. 31, 1954 “I am so grateful to God for this house – – so far beyond any house I had ever expected to have. But He gave it to us, and it is His. I want it to be used for His name’s sake, and to be a place of peace for the Lord’s people, as well as the lighthouse to those who live around us. I wonder if we shall spend the rest of our lives here? I dream of it being filled with children and guests – – Lord, let it be!”
Oh, for all you potential mother in laws out there, this book will remind you to watch your tongue when you analyze a potential mate to your son after she spends the Christmas holiday with you. Your criticism may get written in detail in a letter back to her, and it may be recorded for all the world to read, and that, my dear friends, is not a good thing at all. (OH YES, He did. I sat there reading and thinking…I CANNOT believe he told Elisabeth all this so tactlessly. She must have been devastated.)
I walked away from this book with a greater admiration of Elisabeth if that is possible. She loved well, and thought well, and therefore, lived well. (She loved God with all her heart, soul, and mind.) She was single-minded in her devotion to the Lord and it oozed out of her in wisdom and behavior. Another take away from this book is that scripture is right when it says that “It is not good for a man to be alone.” They were better together.
Devotedly, though not a fast read, it was instructive, convicting, and encouraging. I’m thankful that Valerie Shepard took the time to share this memoir with us.
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