By David Ray
When Jim Elliot was in high school, he studied architectural drawing, played on the football team, got elected president of his senior class, and was such a talented actor that several of his teachers urged him to consider a professional career in theater.
I guess you could say he was on a fast track to “success” in life.
Growing up in a religious home, though, Elliot headed off to a Christian college and eventually sensed a calling to work with a remote tribe of Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador. They were a people who not only had never heard of Christ, but had never had friendly contact with the outside world. But Elliot, along with a group of fellow workers who shared a similar passion for spreading the gospel, slowly worked toward making contact.
It was a difficult and risky undertaking. And at just the point when the team thought they were about to make a dramatic breakthrough, they were ambushed by a fierce group of Auca tribesmen who viciously mutilated their bodies with spears and machetes.
An entry in Elliot’s personal journal, made about six years before his death, has become a memorable testimony to how he valued his mission more than his life. He wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
All of us know someone who has experienced significant losses. And some of us have lost much ourselves. It’s only natural that we grieve. But a life like Elliot’s lends perspective.
When all is said and done, does the sum of life consist of how much we possess, or how much we are willing to give? Is it all about how safe and secure we find ourselves, or about greater purpose and eternal security?
I’m not suggesting that our present troubles shouldn’t create concern. But it does make you stop and think when you consider someone like Elliot—a promising young man who, though capable of “making it big” in life, gave it all up for something of greater value.
Elliot was in good company, though. Jesus pointed out that he didn’t have a place where he could even lay his head. When his soldier executioners at the cross took inventory of what he left behind, the only thing they saw of any value was the simple, peasant cloak he had worn.
Paul once said that Christ “for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). The Lord’s Supper offers a time for us to weigh eternal things. When you die, it’s not about how much you have in this life that matters. It’s about what you gained that you cannot lose forever.
David Ray serves as dean of Cincinnati (Ohio) Bible Seminary and professor of practical ministries at Cincinnati Christian University.