My husband and I had the opportunity to go up
into the top of that great arch in St. Louis. I was fascinated to learn about
its construction. I know nothing about architecture, but a few things sank into
my thick head. It was designed by Eero Saarinen, the famous architect.
I was thinking about how he as an architect has
perfect freedom to design any kind of building he wants, but he does not have
the freedom to discard either the plumb line or the level. The mathematical
calculations that had to go into the building of that "first of its
kind" structure are staggering. The workers put up these tremendous
stainless steel triangles one by one on two sides, and they had to bring them
up to meet at the top with no other support than themselves. A mistake of
of an inch at the bottom could have spelled disaster at the top.
That's a good illustration of my subject, which
is the liberty of obedience. There is no freedom apart from obedience.
We have freeways in this country, but there
would be no freedom for anybody to travel at high speed without interruption if
most of the people were not obedient to the laws. You cannot travel any speed,
any lane, any direction on a freeway. You must obey certain laws, and those are
what give us freedom.
The great question is: What do you really want?
1:25 brings together three great words: law, freedom and happiness.
James 1:25 says, "The man who looks closely
into the perfect law, the law that makes us free, and who lives in its company,
does not forget what he hears, but acts upon it; and that is the man who by
acting will find happiness."
I love this verse because it brings together
three great words: law, freedom, and happiness. I believe that in God's economy
those three things are inseparable. Saarinen was free to construct that amazing
stainless steel arch in St. Louis because he obeyed the laws of the universe,
the laws of gravity. He used the plumb line and the level.
My husband and I live on the ocean. I love the
summer when we can watch hundreds of sailboats skimming along the horizon with
the most wonderful freedom; but those sailboats would not have the freedom to
skim along the horizon and stay on top of the water if they were not obedient
to the laws of wind and wave and if they had not been constructed in obedience
to certain laws such as the ratio between the beam and the keel.
In every area of life there is no freedom
without obedience. The world tells us that freedom means doing what you want to
do and not doing what you don't want to do.
I have a friend who's a wise mother. When her
kids were about 8 and 10 years old, she told her son one Saturday morning that
it was time to get up. He said, "I'm not getting up this morning."
"Oh," she said, "aren't you feeling well?" He said,
"No, I feel fine. But I've decided that this is going to be a free
"Oh," she said, "what does that
mean?" He said, "I'm just going to do what I want to do, and I'm not
going to do anything I don't want to do, and right now I don't want to get
up." She said, "Do you think that would be a good way for the whole
family to live?" He said, "Yes." So she said, "Okay. We'll
At about 11:30 he came stumbling into the
kitchen rubbing his eyes, and said, "Where's my breakfast?" She said,
"Yeah. You didn't fix breakfast?"
"No," she said, "this is a free
day. I didn't feel like fixing any breakfast."
"Oh." He got his Cheerios out of the
cupboard and managed to get something to eat. While he was eating breakfast, he
looked out the window and saw his brother going out of the garage on his bicycle. "Hey," he said,
"you can't take that. That's my bicycle." The brother said, "I
thought it was a free day today. I can do anything I want to do, and I don't
have to do anything I don't want to do."
So the day went. By supper, it was not necessary
for the mother or the father to preach any sermons about the true meaning of
freedom. They discovered the two boys had learned that freedom is not doing
what you want to do and not doing what you don't want to do. Freedom requires
limitations and laws.
When you buy a new gadget and plug the thing in
and turn it on, and something goes wrong, the chances are that you didn't read
the instructions. When all else fails, you read the instructions.
Unfortunately, that's often the way we conduct our lives. We assume that we
know how to handle things, and we plunge in. We make a mess of things, and then
we wonder what went wrong. When all else fails, we might go back to the Book of
Jesus said, "If you continue in my word,
you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will
make you free" (John 8:3132). We often hear just that last phrase quoted,
but it's a violation of the prerequisites. He says, "If you continue in my word"'s where you start,
"then you are my
disciples. Then you will know the
truth, and the truth will make you free."
My second husband was the dean of a college. He
discovered that the happiest kids on the campus invariably were the musicians
and the athletes. He pondered that for a while, and he came up with the reason:
It's because they are kids who have put themselves voluntarily under
discipline. Everybody else is in college with more or less an unmixed desire to
get a college degree, but everything about the process of getting that degree
is odious to them. They're not convinced that it makes sense to do this
particular assignment for this professor, or they don't see that this course is
necessary in order to be a ba. When
it comes to writing a paper or taking an exam, they hate almost everything
about it. But the athletes and the musicians are there because they want to be,
because they want to play the game or they want to be in the orchestra.
What do you want? Aristotle said, "All men
seek happiness. There are no exceptions." Would you agree? Everybody wants
happiness, but the differences between individuals lie in where they seek happiness.
Jesus has given us the formulas for happiness.
He said, "If you lose your life for my sake, you will find your true self.
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if
it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12: 2425). The principle of
the Cross is a paradox. We bring him our sins; he gives us his righteousness.
We bring him our losses; he gives us his gains. We are obedient; he gives us
things to think about: Desire. Dependence. Decision.
Let me give you three things to think about.
Desire. Dependence. Decision.
The apostle Paul states simply what he wanted
more than anything else in the world. He said, "All I care for is to know
Christ, to experience the power of his resurrection, and to share his
sufferings" (Phil. 3:10). All I care for is to know Christ. I'm convinced
that there is nothing that can happen to me in this life that is not precisely
designed by my sovereign Lord to give me the opportunity to learn to know him.
That's what life is about. Everything that makes up what you are God knows
about and God knows exactly how to bring into your life the circumstances that
are going to enable you to learn to know him, and in knowing him to obey him,
and in obeying him to find the liberty of obedience, the happiness that only
obedience can give.
When I was a college student, I began to admire
from a distance another college student on campus. His name was Jim Elliot. My
brother, Dave, was a buddy of his, and Dave had been talking about him for
several years. They had been on the same wrestling team. Dave was always saying
to me, "You've got to meet this guy Elliot." Dave's my little
brother, and I wasn't excited about meeting my little brother's friends, so I
didn't go out of my way to follow his advice.
But during my senior year, because Jim and I
majored in the same subject, we had almost exactly the same classes, and I
began to notice this man. I liked that he was a spiritual leader on the campus,
president of the foreign missions fellowship, the kind of guy who was always
going up to people and grabbing them by the lapel and saying, "Hey, buddy,
how come you're not going to the mission field?" If they stuttered and
said, "I don't know. I mean, like, you know, I don't really feel
called," he'd say, "You don't need a call. You need a kick in the
I saw that just about every qualification I was
looking for in a husband seemed to be embodied in this man, Jim Elliot. But my
chances of attracting his attention, I felt, were nil. However, when it came
time to get autographs in our yearbooks, I did, with a certain amount of
trembling and fear, ask Jim to sign his name in my yearbook, hoping that he
might sign something besides just his name. He did.
He signed his sweeping autograph; then he wrote
something else, shut the book, and handed it back to me. I quickly turned to
the page and found a Scripture reference. I raced back to the dorm, got my
Bible, and looked up 2 Timothy 2:4: "A soldier on active service will not
let himself be involved in civilian affairs; he must be wholly at his
commanding officer's disposal." I liked that, too.
I wasn't sure why he had chosen that verse,
whether it was just for me, in which case I felt that I did have a little hope.
Maybe he had thought of me more than once. But I liked the second part of the
verse because it was clear that Jim had decided what he wanted. His desire was
to serve his Master. He was wholly at his commanding officer's disposal. His
message came across loud and clear that nobody was going to deflect him from
that primary and supreme aim to please him who had chosen him to be a soldier.
You must, if you ever want to know the liberty
and the happiness that obedience brings, make up your mind what you want, what
you want above everything else in the world. It's tough to say, "I want
the will of God," when I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of
things in my life that may not fit into that.
We balk at that idea when at the same time we
are glibly praying, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
If you pray that prayer, the chances are pretty good that God is going to take
you up on that.
That was what happened to me when I went to
Ecuador. Before I had been a missionary for one year, I had three major blows
to my faith. The informant who was helping me with the native language was
murdered. All of my language materials, everything that went into the writing
of a language that had never been written down before, was stolen. The station
on which Jim Elliot, who was by that time my fiancé, had been working went down
the river in a flood. I don't know whether that fits your idea of how God helps
a new missionary, but it didn't fit mine.
When I was 12 years old, I told the Lord that I
wanted him to work out his will in my life at any cost. When he set about doing
that, I was amazed. I didn't think it was going to be that way. We never do.
The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be
much worse; but in the end, it's going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.
What is your desire?
The second thing I want you to think about is
What is your dependence? Christians are people who know they can't make it
alone. Christians are people who have accepted God's estimate of them, and the
remedy. God's estimate of us is that we are sinners. We need a Savior. You
wouldn't be a Christian if you didn't know you needed a Savior.
One experience after another in our lives has to
bring us to the point of stripping. We have to be stripped of all the veneers,
all the shell, all the accretions that build up whereby we protect ourselves
from reality. God has to peel away the layers the way you peel away an onion
until we get down to reality, and we realize that we cannot possibly take our
next breath without God. It's easy for us to imagine that what we're good at
we've done all by ourselves.
The truth is my heart would not take the next
beat if it weren't for God. No gift I have been given has anything to do with
me. I'm dependent. He is my Lord and Master, and I've discovered that every job
God has assigned to me has turned out to be too big for me, even things I felt
capable of doing.
Do you remember what Moses said when he had that
stunning encounter with God in the desert? He saw the bush that was burning and
wasn't consumed. God told him that he was going to have to tell Pharaoh to let
the people go. Moses said, "Who am I?" God reminded him that it
really didn't make any difference who he was. What mattered was who God was.
Moses said, "How shall I speak to them? What will I say?" God said,
"I'll tell you what to say." Then Moses had another objection.
"But what if they don't listen to me?" God said, "Then I will
arise and bear my holy arm."
The point was not who Moses was or what his
gifts and limitations might be. He was to be dependent on the I Am. God said "I
Am is sending you."
The same thing happened with Jeremiah. God told
him that he was going to be a prophet, and Jeremiah immediately had his list of
objections. "I'm just a child. I can't speak." God didn't argue the
point. He just said "I'm going to tell you what to say."
The job was too big for Moses, but the men were
obedient. Toward the end of Exodus, the children of Israel were between the
Egyptian chariots and the sea, an impossible position. God told Moses to
stretch forth his hand over the water, "and Moses stretched out his hand,
and the Lord rolled the waters back."
Isn't that a marvelous picture of how man's will
and God's will work in harmony? What could Moses' hand have done against that
sea? Moses' hand was useless and futile by itself, but God worked in response
to Moses' obedience. The liberty of obedience. The children of Israel would not
have been freed if Moses had not done that seemingly useless thing. He
stretched out his hand, and the Lord rolled the sea back.
Jim Elliot graduated from college with highest
honors. He went to the jungle of Ecuador to be a missionary to the Quechua
Indians. He had to start from the bottom rung of a language ladder. He had to
learn Spanish as the national language of the country. Then he had to start at
the bottom of an unwritten language, Quechua. He had graduated with highest
honor in classical Greek, and he couldn't speak a word of one of the easiest
languages in the world. The Indians could only reach the conclusion that the
poor man was retarded, because they had never heard of anybody who didn't speak
Then they discovered that he didn't know how to
thatch a roof. They'd never seen a man who didn't know how to thatch a roof.
Then they tried to get him to pole a canoe. He didn't know how to pole a wooden
canoe up the rapids. To them, he was a bumbling idiot.
He was totally dependent not only on God but on
these Indians who didn't know half of what he knew.
What's the job God has asked you to do? Do you
feel qualified? Do you think you're adequate for the job? You're not. That has
nothing to do with whether or not you must be obedient. If you are going to be
obedient, you're going to have to trust God to do what you can't do.
Dependence. It's time you declared your dependence. Nobody is ever adequate for
any job that God has assigned. It's a cooperation between you and him to do the
job in his strength.
When you have decided that what you really want
is the kind of happiness that God offers, when you have declared your
dependence, then you must accept his strength for your weakness. There was at
least one thing that Paul had that he didn't want, that was a thorn. Paul said
that he asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn, and the answer was no.
The answer was, "My grace is all you need."
What is the thing in your life that you don't want
there, that you feel hinders your happiness and is an obstacle to your freedom?
Have you been asking God to change that thing? Perhaps he's saying that his
grace is all you need. You have to make a decision. Are you going to do what
God asks you to do? Or are you going to do your thing? "If you continue in
my words, then you are my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth
will make you free."
Jesus Christ chose to be weak so that you and I
might be strong. He chose to die so that we might live. He chose to become poor
so that we through his poverty might be rich. Do you want to be free? Do you
want to be happy? The root to freedom and happiness is obedience.
Elliot hosts a daily radio broadcast, Gateway to Joy. She is author of Through
the Gates of Splendor and Passion and