October 28, 1949 marks a special day in Christian history. Not because any revolutionary nailed a paradigm-shifting document to a door, not because a famous evangelist was birthed, but rather because a young man with a deep affection for God scribbled some simple words that are now some of the most often quoted Christian words not found in the Holy Scriptures.
The above image is a scanned copy of Jim Elliot’s journal entry that he wrote over sixty years ago on October 28, 1949 which features the quote that the martyred Christian missionary is most noted for:
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Elliot was not well known during his life. He grew up in a Plymouth Brethren church and attended Wheaton College before following God’s call to reach Quechua Indians of Ecuador. The thing he is most well known for in his life is the incredible passion he had for those without Christ, which he ultimately led to his martyrdom and the martyrdom of his four missionary friends Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint at the hands of the very people they were trying to reach, the Huaorani Indians of Ecuador.
Jim’s legacy continues through books and movies on his life, martyrdom, and the eventual salvation and transformation of the community that killed him. Elliot’s story is told in his biography written by his wife Elizabeth Elliot in In The Shadow of the Almighty while his journals are published in The Journals of Jim Elliot. More recently his story has been adapted for the silver screen in Beyond the Gates of Splendor (2002) and End of the Spear (2005).
A few observations on the above image and Elliot’s testimony:
1. His journal looks so normal…
This journal looks like any journal that I keep. I suspect Elliot didn’t ever expect anyone to read his daily personal thoughts or musings, which is a powerful testimony to his deep relationship to the Lord and desire to see his kingdom come. This encourages me to be more devoted to the spiritual exercise of journaling, not to catch man’s attention, but to serve as an ebenezer to powerfully remind me of rich times with the God of the universe.
This image powerfully demonstrates that God can use ordinary people to impact the world in an extraordinary way.
2. His journal reflects a deep meditation on Scripture and the things of God…
Elliot didn’t write his famous quote to improve a sermon or because he signed a book deal with a Christian publisher–he wrote those words flowing from his deep affection for Christ. A deep affection for Christ should be our great source of motivation in ministry. This journal is a small reflection of Elliot pausing during his time with the Lord to jot down what came to his head as he fixed his eyes on Jesus.
May my life be characterized by letting the Word dwell in me deeply (Colossians 3:16) and by practicing constant communion with the Lord (Psalm 119:15).
3. His journal reflects a deep desire to be used by the Lord…
The text at the top of the image shows this:
Lord, fill preachers and preaching with power. How long dare we go on without tears; without moral passions; hatred and love? Not long, I pray, Lord Jesus, not long…
Elliot desired for the gospel to be preached, souls to be saved, and for God’s Word to be proclaimed with power. In his mind, he was going to be one of those preachers of the gospel with power to save souls. That is what led him to Ecuador in the first place.
Preaching the gospel and saving souls is exactly what he did, not in his way, but in God’s way which involved pouring out his life as a testimony for the gospel. His death ultimately led to the saving of the souls of those he longed to reach, and made the simple words penned in a journal able to be used by the Lord to preach with the power he so desired.
Elliot’s life, along with the life of Keith Green, serve as perfect illustrations for the truth of John 12:24:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Special thanks to the Billy Graham Center of Wheaton College for information on the life of Jim Elliot and the image.
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