The Legacy of a Martyr: Jim Elliot

Shadow of the Almighty: the Life and Testament of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

JimElliotThe missionary Jim Elliot (1927-1956) was one of five men killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. His widow Elisabeth has written many tremendous books. In Shadow of the Almighty, she reveals much about the life and heart of Jim through his journals and personal letters to family members and to herself.

As I read Elliot’s writings, I was amazed how spiritually mature and completely “sold out” for the Lord this man was from as young as 18 years old! As an 18 year old freshman at Wheaton College, Elliot earned a reputation for having a “one-track mind” and for being a “woman-hater” because he refused to date, feeling it would distract him from his goals. By the age of 20, Elliot was convinced that God was calling him to serve on the mission field, and from that time on all his energies and plans were directed towards that goal.

It seemed to me that Jim Elliot didn’t do anything, make any decision, without considering how it would profit his soul, benefit another individual, or most importantly, advance the cause of the Gospel of Christ and his goals to contribute to that cause. For example, in high school Jim was on the track team and in college he was on the wrestling team. But these were more than merely fun, extracurricular activities. He believed physical exercise would strengthen his body “for the rigors of missionary life” and helped to stimulate his mind for his studies.

I have collected two sets of quotes that stood out to me as particularly inspiring and insightful from the writings of Jim Elliot that Elisabeth shares in Shadow of the Almighty The Heart of a Martyr, Part One is a collection of quotes that reveal the personal heart and dedication the man had to live and serve God and His purposes. The Heart of a Martyr, Part Two are observations he made that are still (if not MORE) relevant in our day related to issues that affect the life of the individual believer, the church of Christ, and the spread of the Gospel.

After their marriage in October 1953, a simple civil ceremony in Quito, Ecuador, Elisabeth writes about their life together up until the time of her husband’s death on January 8, 1956. During that period of a little over two years, Jim wrote in his letters and journal of the activities related to setting up life in the Ecuadorian jungle and working and teaching amongst the natives there.

One interesting thing I noticed was the numerous times that Elliot made comments which could almost be viewed as foreshadowing or prophetic statements of his early death for the sake of the Gospel.

In January 1948, Elliot wrote in his journal:

God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks in my life and may I burn up for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.” Later that same year he recorded the following: “Prayed a strange prayer today. I covenanted with the Father that He would do either of two things: either glorify Himself to the utmost in me or slay me. By His grace I shall not have His second best. For He heard me, I believe, so that now I have nothing to look forward to but a life of sacrificial sonship or heaven — soon. Perhaps tomorrow! What a prospect!

Another journal entry dated April 18, 1948 is this prayer: “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 altar.”

Another entry dated December 1951 reads:

Must we always comment on life? Can it not simply be lived in the reality of Christ’s terms of contact with the Father, with joy and peace, fear and love full to the fingertips in their turn, without incessant drawing of lessons and making of rules? I do not know. Only I know that my own life is full. It is time to die, for I have had all that a young man can have…If there were not further issue from my training, it would be well. The training has been good, and to the glory of God. I am ready to meet Jesus. Failure means nothing now, only that it taught me life. Success is meaningless, only that it gave me farther experience in using the great gift of God, Life.

In December of 1952, in a letter to Elisabeth expressing how much he missed her, Jim wrote this ironic passage: “Betty, I do fear sometimes, like a worrying mother, that something will happen to you and I will lose you, and then what would I do, where would I be when I wasn’t where I seemed to be?….There could be nothing else in life like this for me. Funny, but I never think of my having the accident and our losing me!”

And in his journal he recorded this thought in March of 1953: “I wonder if that little phrase I used to use in preaching is something of a prophecy? – ‘Are you willing to lie in some native hut to die of a disease American doctors never heard of?’ I am still willing, Lord God. Whatever You say shall stand at the time of my end. But oh, I want to live to teach Thy Word. Lord, let me live till I have declared Thy works to this generation.”

As the day approached when the young men would fly in to meet the Aucas face to face for the first time, Jim and Elisabeth discussed the possibility of his not returning. Jim’s comment to her: “If God wants it that way, darling, I am ready to die for the salvation of the Aucas.” This was just a few weeks before his death. Elisabeth tells in more detail the story of the five martyred missionaries in her book Through Gates of Splendor (1957). She and their daughter remained to live amongst the Aucas for a few years after Jim’s death.

Some would say that Jim Elliot’s death was untimely and tragic, but he believed that “you are immortal until your work is done.” We can be assured that God used him for His purposes and glory and took him from this earth when His purpose for Jim’s life had been accomplished. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot’s lives and work have endured as a testimony of what God can do with a life wholly dedicated to Him.

Certainly not every Christian is called to be a Jim Elliot, but may each of us pray that God will enable us to be wholly committed to doing His will and to carry out His purposes in our lives and not our own.

These films about the Elliots and their companions in Ecuador are worth checking out:

Read more from the journals and letters of Jim Elliot in “The Heart of a Martyr,” Part One and Part Two.
Related Articles
Did you find any of the statements by Elliot particularly inspiring or insightful?
What other Christian missionaries have inspired you?

6 thoughts on “The Legacy of a Martyr: Jim Elliot

  1. My favorite Jim Elliot quote is, “Forgive me for being so ordinary while claiming to know such an extraordinary God.”
    Blessings to you and your ministry.
    ~ Robert Lloyd Russell
    author of “JIM ELLIOT: A Christian Martyr Speaks to You”

  2. Thanks, Robert – you have the special distinction of being my very first commenter on my brand new blog! And I appreciate you crediting me with having a “ministry,” because I’m not doing anything special, but I am doing this as a service to the people of God, so I guess that sort of does count as a ministry; I just hadn’t thought of it that way before! 🙂

  3. In writing the review for Nate Saint, in the same event you have mentioned involving Jim Elliot, I was also impressed with the fervency of Nate, Jim, and the others who ended up in a support ministry in Ecuador, especially in their youth! You’ve written your review very well. Many people experienced the ripple effect of the events involving these dedicated men of God and their wives. I am always thrilled to see how decades later, the events that could have been seen as a disaster by others who don’t understand God’s way of reaching out to lost souls, is still effective in books and DVDs…and now in blogs! I pray continually that God will raise up young people today with the same energy for missions and reaching others for Christ. God bless you!

    1. Thanks for your comments. Yes, it is amazing how God has used these willing servants of his to impact and influence so many. As you mentioned, the spiritual maturity and dedication of these men at such a young age is astounding. Praise God He is still moving in every corner of the globe to change hearts and lives for His glory.

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