“As long as this is what the Lord requires of me, then all else is irrelevant.” That was Elisabeth Elliot’s response when she was asked about her decision to journey to the Auca village deep in the jungles of Ecuador with her three-year-old daughter and a few other missionaries in October 1958. Two years earlier, her husband, Jim, and four other missionaries were speared to death at the hands of the same Huaorani people Elisabeth now journeyed towards. Friends and family members begged Elisabeth not to make the two-and-a-half-day trek. They feared she would meet the same fate as Jim. But Elisabeth was convinced that this was the Lord’s plan for her. In spite of the unsettling circumstances, Elisabeth possessed a serene peace as she entered the Auca village.
Elisabeth Elliot was an incredible woman. Believers today can learn countless lessons by reading her books and examining her life. The Elliots' story has greatly challenged and encouraged me. But Elisabeth’s commitment to reach the same people who killed her husband has always struck me as particularly compelling. It is a beautiful testimony of Jesus’s command to love our enemies: an example for all of us to choose love, not bitterness; to offer forgiveness, not resentment; to live courageously, not in sinful timidity; to trust God, even amidst painful circumstances.
If we are honest, I think most of us would admit that we are far too often creatures of circumstance. When life is (seemingly) good, we feel at peace. But when the unexpected happens, or as we consider the unknown of tomorrow and what may take place, we swell with fear and anxiety.
I’ve titled this article “A Pathway to Serenity.” By serenity, I do not mean some kind of surface-level bliss where we ignore, deny, or minimize the real hardships and pain that exist in our world. Instead, I am referring to a kind of serenity where, despite the sin and brokenness of this world, our souls are quiet and at rest before the Lord. I pray this article will help you fight the temptation to be a circumstantial creature and show you how, with God’s help, you can enjoy peace—the same kind of peace Elisabeth Elliot experienced—through life’s unpredictable circumstances.
A Short Text Offering Great Help
There are several texts we could turn to for help on this topic, but few are richer than Psalm 131. Charles Spurgeon said that even though Psalm 131 is only three verses in length—making it one of the shortest Psalms to read—it is one of the longest to learn. It is a beautiful expression of David’s childlike trust and love for God. It is a testimony of a man who was truly at peace because of his relationship with Yahweh. For our purposes, there are three ways Psalm 131 shows us how to be a creature of serenity.
Avoid Self-Absorption (v. 1)
Restless people have an inaccurate perception of the world. They overvalue themselves and undervalue others—including God. They neglect to love God first and others second. Restless people are self-absorbed, drowning in a cesspool of worry because they only think about their wants, needs, and desires. It makes sense when nonbelievers are restless and anxious. They live only with their perspective. They do not lean on their sovereign Creator. But too often, this kind of self-absorption entraps believers as well.
This shouldn’t be the case because we, like David in Psalm 131, have resources to mitigate restless self-absorption. In this brief Psalm, David says his heart is not lifted up (he does not think too highly of himself) nor are his eyes raised too high (he does not look down on others, presuming superiority on his part). Likewise, he does not occupy himself with things too great for him. Despite being the king of Israel, he did not overestimate his capabilities. This kind of peace will always be at odds with self-absorption.
There is an inverse correlation between pride and peace. The more prideful you are, the less peace you possess. How can prideful people have lasting peace? Their time is filled with seeking to make themselves look good and protecting their image before others. But those who have been humbled by God’s grace can experience true peace, even during hard circumstances.
Beloved child of God, labor to avoid all forms of self-absorption.
Enjoy God for Who He Is (v. 2)
Part of the Christian’s sanctification is learning to enjoy God for who He is, not just what He can do or give. David illustrates this concept in verse two by explaining how his soul has been quieted like a weaned child with its mother. The point of this simile is to juxtapose a nursing child with a weaned child. A nursing child constantly craves his mother’s milk, but a weaned child is no longer dependent on his mother’s milk to satisfy hunger cravings. The weaned child is simply content to sit on mom’s lap and be close to her.
That image of a weaned child portrayed David’s relationship with Yahweh. Though David had received many earthly blessings from God, like being appointed the king of Israel, in this Psalm he says he was less interested in enjoying what God could provide and more interested in enjoying God Himself.
Of course, Christians are told to bring their requests to the Lord (Phil. 4:6). We are all like beggars who need God’s help every day (Matt. 5:3). But like David, we must learn to enjoy God for who He is, not simply for what He gives. That’s an essential component of peace: enjoying God for who He is.
Take Comfort in the Future (v. 3)
At the end of this Psalm, David moves from giving personal testimony to talking as the king and leader of Israel. He commands his people to wait for Yahweh, now and forever. In other words, he calls for Israel to look to the future and anticipate the coming day when Yahweh will bring to pass what He has promised.
As a believer today, you do not know what tomorrow holds. But you know your future in Christ is secure. That future hope is a fountain of peace for our souls as we sojourn through this present earth. This comfort—this confidence in the future—drove Jim Elliot to want to reach the Huaorani. He knew the dangers. He was aware of the risks. But because of Christ, he could proclaim the famous words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Elisabeth Elliot shared her husband’s confidence in the future and it gave her inner peace as she journeyed to the Auca Village, even as she endured the pain and hardship that lingered long after her husband’s death.
So, child of God, peace is available—no matter your circumstance. Avoid self-absorption, enjoy God for who He is, take comfort in the future, and “wait for the Lord, from this time on and forever” (Ps 131:3).