Sometimes the Lord very graciously allows us to see just a little something of the fruits of our labours for the Kingdom of Christ. I had one of those very precious moments recently. An email from a colleague mentioned that a certain man and his wife and children had begun to attend the church he presently serves. The reason the man decided to come to that church was because somewhere in the distant past I had been the pastor there and had counselled this man when he was still a teenager. I had met with him three or four times and helped him work through some issues that troubled him at the time; he then moved on. I never saw him again and his name had even gone from my memory. Yet through this email the Lord gave me a small glimpse of the wonderful fact that the seeds sown more than twelve years earlier had sprouted and begun to bear fruit.
I thought of that when I heard the news that Elisabeth Elliot died this past week. I thought to myself: if only she knew the impact she had on my life and how the seed that she sowed in my life has borne fruit for the Kingdom of Christ.
Apart from the Bible there were two books I read as a teenager that had a big impact on my spiritual life and that played a role in God’s call to ministry. Both books were written by widowed women. Both books were about their late husbands. Both books told stories of lives dedicated to the service of God. The first was a book by Catherine Marshall, “A Man Called Peter”. It’s the story of a Scotsman whom God called to the ministry and who ended up as Chaplain to the United States Senate. A movie by the same name was later made of that book. The second book was by Elisabeth Elliot, “Shadow of the Almighty”. It was the story of Jim Elliot whom the Lord called to serve as a missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Jim, together with four missionary colleagues, died a martyr’s death when he was speared by the Indians whom he was attempting to befriend. Their daughter was ten-months old when Jim died. Two of the missionary widows stayed on and Elisabeth Elliot ended up working with the very people who had killed her husband.
That’s another wonderful example of the Lord permitting His people to see the fruit of their labours. In this case: costly labours that took the lives of five good men. But Elisabeth Elliot was blessed to see the tribe that murdered her husband come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Such God-given glimpses are probably relatively rare. In most cases only eternity will reveal the wonderful ways the Lord has used us as His people to be a blessing to others. In that respect I often think of the parable Jesus told of the separation of the sheep and the goats. Those who are invited in to the party at the end of the ages express surprise: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?”
That’s just the point. Those who serve God and their neighbour do that, not in order to gain some sort of recognition. They do it simply in service of the one who loved them and gave His life to win their pardon. Our desire is for faithfulness – not recognition. When some recognition is given that’s simply a bonus and an added incentive to serve the Lord even more diligently.
Elisabeth Elliot died at 88 after struggling for some years with dementia. But in her lifetime she was not only a missionary to South America. She wrote more than twenty other Christian books – a number of which I am privileged to have on my shelf – and she spent some forty years as an uncompromising convention speaker. Her talks are still readily available and are still a blessing to the church today. Only eternity will reveal what the Lord has done in this world through this humble but faithful Christian lady.