It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

The life and death of Jim Elliot has always been a great source of inspiration for me.  Indeed, it was his biography, ‘In the Shadow of the Almighty’, written by his wife Elisabeth, that played an instrumental role in confirming my call to Germany.

Jim and Elisabeth, along with four other missionary couples, were positioned by God deep in the Ecuadorian jungle in the mid-1950s, called to reach the savage Auca tribe with the Gospel.  But on January 8th 1956, as Jim Elliot, Nate Saint (a pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship), Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully attempted to make personal contact with the Auca tribe after weeks of friendly interactions and gift exchanges via Nate’s plane, they were killed by the very people they were trying to reach for Christ.

Yet it was not Jim’s resolve to do as his Heavenly Father required of him, though inspiring, or his willingness to die for the sake of the Gospel, though incredibly challenging, but his readiness to act in obedience to God, one step at a time, that spoke most significantly to me.

As evidenced by his personal journals, Jim spent much time through his teens and twenties seeking God regarding his calling and where God might be leading him to.  For a while, he was torn between India and Ecuador, both of which he had formed connections with and felt his heart stir for.  However, through His quiet, persistent whisper, God eventually confirmed Jim’s call to Ecuador.  And though he still held many questions and was uncertain of his specific purpose in that country, Jim and his friend Pete Fleming arrived in Ecuador in February 1952, just four months later.

For the next three and a half years, Jim worked on learning Spanish, and then using that foundation to familiarise himself with the unwritten tribal languages.  He used the time to build relationships with locals, with other missionaries, and with friendly tribe members.  The growing missionary team set about building homes, schools, and various landing strips for Nate Saint and his plane.  There was plenty to do, but all the while the greater question rung in Jim’s mind: why am I here?

In her book, ‘Through Gates of Splendor’, in which Elisabeth Elliot details Operation Auca (as the missionary five called it), she describes the stark reality of missionary life; “A missionary plods through the first year or two, thinking that things will be different when he speaks the language. He is baffled to find, frequently, that they are not. He is stripped of all that may be called “romance”. Life has fallen more or less into a pattern. Day follows day in unbroken succession; there are no crises, no mass conversions, sometimes not even one or two to whom he can point and say: “There is a transformed life. If I had not come, he would never have known Christ.””

It was not until October 1955 that God confirmed to the missionary five that their purpose in the Ecuadorian jungle was to reach out to the primitive Aucas.

Step by step, God had led Jim to the right people, the right places, the right experiences, and the right opportunities, all building towards something greater.  But that does not mean that those early years were wasted; not at all!  Jim’s Unrivaled Road was a journey, not a single destination.

And so, here I am in Germany; nearly a year has gone by since I first touched down in Darmstadt.  I arrived with such great expectations and an estimated timeline in mind: I’d be fluent in the language within 9 months and then move to another part of the country to begin ministering (and I had some specific ideas of what that might look like too).

But almost 12 months have passed and, at first glance, my life looks much the same as it did on that first day; 3rd April 2017.  What progress has been made?  I still don’t know exactly why God has called me here.  And yet… I have a wealth of experiences, and lessons, and relationships, and opportunities to testify of.  I’m quickly realising that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

Yet God, in His grace, allows me to glimpse His mighty hand at work on a daily basis as He carefully leads me forward, one step at a time.  Every week; another piece of the puzzle falls into place and I am amazed at the bigger picture He is fabricating before my eyes.

We can become disheartened, can’t we, when we are anxious to reach the next milestone?  But God is less interested in the noteworthy moments that we place so much value on, and more invested in our moment-by-moment trust, our step-by-step obedience, and our day-by-day growth.  It is just as important that we are prepared and ready when we ‘arrive’ as it is that we ‘arrive’ at all.

So resist putting a timeline on God.  Take your eyes off that speck in the distance that represents the next milestone or the finish line.  Learn to enjoy the journey.  Appreciate every conversation, every opportunity, every blessing as a gift from God and accept that His plans and ways are fuelled by love for you.  Don’t let the uncertainty of tomorrow distract you from what He is doing in your life today.  He is a good Father and can be trusted to outwork His purposes in your life in the best way and in the best time.

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