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The New Leaf Shall Live
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “A Path Through Suffering.” It was published in 1990.
From the first hour that the layer of separation begins to form in the leafstalk, the leafs fate is sealed; there is never a moment's reversal of the decision. Each day that follows is a steady carrying out of the plant's purpose: "This old leaf shall die, and the new leaf shall live."
MY FRIEND TERRI KNOTT BECAME A CHRISTIAN when she was a teenager. For a while the change was not a dramatic one, but she began studying the Bible and trying to live like a Christian. There had been certain tensions between her and her mother---"typical sixteen-year-old kinds of things," she says, "missing a curfew here and there, getting a speeding ticket a block from my house, not calling home to tell my parents I'd be late."
One day Terri discovered that, according to God's Word, she was supposed to "honor' her parents. What, exactly, did that mean? She thought about it. She prayed about it. She did not relish the answer she got, for it meant a kind of death--- she was going to have to submit to them. Becoming a Christian means submission to God, which almost always, in one way or another, means submission to somebody He has put over us. Alas. Who of us likes to submit? Terri was not eager to do this, but she was eager to know God and to do what He said. Because she loved Him, she accepted this very personal, very practical death to the "old leaf," and she asked for His help.
The day came when she asked permission to go to a party given by someone her mother did not know. "The case was highly scrutinized," Terri said, and her mother's answer was no. Terri's response startled both of them. Instead of the usual argument, a quiet "Okay." A "new leaf' had actually begun to appear.
She went to her room, sat down on a chair, and said, "I can't believe what just happened! Mother said no and I said okay! I didn't even argue with her! I didn't even raise my voice! I ... I guess that's 'honoring' your mother, isn't it, Lord? Well, thank You. Thank You for helping me."
Not a moment's reversal of the decision. A steady carrying out of her purpose to live as a Christian. It didn't happen in an instant. It wasn't the last crisis she'd face. It was one thing God had shown her had to change and with His help she changed it. The self-life---doing her own thing---had to go. She could not do it by herself, but she could will to do it, and she could pray. She asked for God's help and she got it. Grace enables us to do what we can't do.
Many of our sufferings are of our own making. If Terri had decided she was old enough to make her own decisions and God's Word did not apply in her case, tensions would have increased and suffering would have been prolonged. Obedience freed her. And so it is with all of us. A recalcitrant child of God brings upon himself troubles he need never have had, as Scripture says, "The way of transgressors is hard" (Proverb 13:15, AV).
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer. (Joseph Scrivin)
If Terri had tried to change all by herself she would have experienced frustration. But it would have been needless pain. Instead, she carried the situation to God.
Pride is at the root of all sins, and it is pride that often keeps us from carrying things to God in prayer. We imagine we can handle things quite well on our own, or we fear that God is likely to tell us to do something we don't want to do. (He is likely to do that, as He did in Terri s case, because He loves us.) The whole Christian life is a process of bringing the self-life down to death in order that the life of Jesus may be manifest in us. "As he grows greater, I must grow less," said John the Baptist (Jn 3:30).
"Let us remember that it is not God who makes many of the crosses that we find in our way, such as we commonly call 'crosses.' Our Heavenly Father makes 'straight paths for our feet,'... But when the path that God points out goes north and south, and our stubborn wills lead us east and west, the consequence is 'a cross'---a cross of our own making, not that which our Master bids us 'take up and carry after Him,’ and of which it has been well said, 'He always carries the heaviest end Himself " (Annie Webb-Peploe, quoted in Mary Tileston: Joy and Strength, World Wide Publications, Minneapolis 1986, p. 354).
To a heart willing to be shown, God will reveal the self-inflicted causes of trouble. There are many examples given in Scripture, such as receiving the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Cor 11:27-30), persistence in sin (1 Pt 4:17), and---this is the reason for prolonged and terrible miseries---a refusal to forgive (Mt 18:34-35).
One day recently something lit a fuse of anger in someone who then burned me with hot words. I felt sure I did not deserve this response, but when I ran to God about it, He reminded me of part of a prayer I had been using. "Teach me to treat all that comes to me with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all."
His will that I should be burned? Not exactly, but His will governs all. In a wrong-filled world we suffer (and cause) many a wrong. God is there to heal and comfort and forgive. He who brought blessing to many out of the sin of the jealous brothers against Joseph means this hurt for my ultimate blessing and, I think, for an increase of love between me and the one who hurt me. Love is very patient, very kind. Love never seeks its own good. Love looks to God for grace to help.
"It was not you who sent me here but God," Joseph said to the brothers who had meant to get rid of him altogether. "You meant to do me harm, but God meant to bring good out of it" (Gn 45:8; 50:20). Here is consolation for us when someone sins against us: God sent it, and God meant it---for good.
When we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," an angry retort from someone may be part of the answer, for it may furnish just the occasion we need in which to learn not only longsuffering and forgiveness, but meekness, gentleness, fruits not born in us but borne only by the Spirit in us. Amy Carmichael wrote, "A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how suddenly jarred."
All this is part of the process of separating us from the old life and forming in us the new. Painful it must be, of course, but look to the purpose! Look to the glory God has in mind, accept it, and say with the psalmist, "I, thy servant, will study thy statutes. Thy instruction is my continual delight; I turn to it for counsel.... I will run the course set out in thy commandments, for they gladden my heart" (Ps 119:23-24, 32, italics mine). [29-33]
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