This year marks a milestone for me, one that has crept up with all the usual veracity that our calendars bring every year. I’m turning 40, a benchmark year that feels weightier. I joke about the mid-life crisis that awaits me on that day. Lurking in the back of my mind are serious questions: What have I done with my life? What will people think of my resume? What have I really accomplished?
With these worries fresh on my mind, I opened an old journal. Folded neatly inside was a piece of paper with notes I took at a CRU conference I attended in college. The top read: Elisabeth Elliot, January 3, 2003. Elisabeth was a missionary, author, and speaker known around the world for boldness in sharing the love of Jesus in the Amazonian jungles of Ecuador.
That day I expected her to share the story of the dangerous missionary work with her husband, Jim Elliot, his martyrdom, and how she continued that work as a young mother. Instead, she delivered a simple yet powerful message on servanthood.
Looking back, I realize how her message shaped my view of ministry and service. I hope the lessons I learned that day act as a reminder of Jesus as our servant-king, and how each of us should approach our work, both inside and outside of the home, as missionaries.
Lesson 1: Serve While Unseen and Unknown
Elisabeth Elliot asked a couple of questions that rattled my view of ministry as a college student. “Do you shrink from menial work? Are you willing to serve where nobody sees or knows what you’re doing?” She charged us to remember Christ, who humbled himself by becoming a servant, saying, “No servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16).
Then she proceeded to tell us about time she spent in an orphanage cleaning toilets and meditating on Jesus, who knelt over to wash feet. I don’t know if I really understood the gospel implications at that moment. I probably shrunk under the conviction that I was not like Jesus; my heart was not a servant’s heart. What did that mean for me?Each of us should approach our work, both inside and outside of the home, as missionaries. Click To Tweet
Over the years I’ve grown to see this more beautifully in light of the gospel. When I consider Jesus—humbling himself to take on the nature of man, kneeling to wash feet—I’m overwhelmed by such a great Savior! It’s here, meditating on God’s nature, that even the ordinary aspects of my life gain purpose. He’s at work to make me more like his Son. There is no part of creation his redeeming, restoring work doesn’t touch. This truth propels me to serve with joy.
Lesson 2: Everyday Faithfulness Matters
That day Mrs. Elliot told us that the decade of language work she had done in South America was lost. None of it was being used as she had hoped. But she said that didn’t matter to her; what mattered was her obedience and faithfulness. Although I didn’t write that down in my notes that day, I never forgot them.
We’re success-driven people, but our measurement of success is often misconstrued by the world’s definition of progress. Goals are wonderful and should be celebrated, but we must remember that God is looking at the bigger picture. I’m reminded of how our “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:17–18). She told us, “God’s will is always bigger than we think, often more difficult and more glorious.” Elisabeth’s story is glorious, but she taught us that her missionary work was built on small, ordinary faithfulness.
As I reflect on my own everyday faithfulness, I know I fall short too often. However, I don’t depend on my own faithfulness. Scripture says, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Thanks be to God that our faithfulness doesn’t depend on ourselves, but on him who is always faithful. I pray God will help me become a better follower of him—one who walks in everyday faithfulness and isn’t burdened by a focus on success.Elisabeth's story is glorious, but she taught us that her missionary work was built on small, ordinary faithfulness. Click To Tweet
Lesson 3: Keep Your Gaze on Jesus
As I reflected on the question, “What have I accomplished?”—Elisabeth’s message reminded me to look at what Christ is accomplishing. He takes our small acts of faithfulness and creates something beautiful. Through the Holy Spirit, he is making us more like the servant he came to be. When we know this, we don’t have to worry about success. In fact, we don’t need to look at ourselves at all. We will be too busy gazing at the One who is worthy of all glory: Jesus, our servant-king.
Elisabeth Elliot’s impact on generations of women cannot be easily measured. So many have flourished under her teaching and example. Her influence in my life has emboldened me to joyfully embrace biblical servanthood and to teach the younger women I have the privilege of influencing to do likewise. May we all remember these lessons and live them out daily to the glory of God.