Ever since I was a child, my mother has had the impression that God had appointed me to a life of ministry. When I was 12-years-old, she went to hear Elisabeth Elliot–missionary, author, speaker and radio host—deliver a message. After the presentation, my mother spoke privately to Elisabeth Elliot and shared her impression about my call to God’s service.
When mom came home, she presented me with a copy of The Journals of Jim Elliot and told me that Elisabeth Elliot signed the title page and inscribed a personal message for me. Wow. This great missionary lady, host of the Gateway to Joy radio program, wrote a message for me?
I opened the book and turned to the title page. There was her signature in large elegant script. Underneath she wrote a scripture reference—John 12:24. I immediately found my Bible and excitedly thumbed through the pages of John’s gospel to find out what verse Elisabeth Elliot had chosen just for me.
And, boy, was I ever disappointed when I read these words of Jesus:
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
It seemed that Elisabeth Elliot thought I should know that Jesus wanted me dead.
I wasn’t inspired. It sounded so harsh, so unpleasant.
I didn’t like what she had to say, because I didn’t like what Jesus had to say. Even so, somewhere down deep inside, I knew it was true.
After this event, Jesus gave me about three decades to embrace His message, but I never really got around to dying. So Jesus began killing me. He ushered me into a wilderness season of trial and testing in which I experienced pain and suffered loss. And though I cried out many times for relief, He would not relent.
He wanted me dead.
Now, as I look back at the beginning of this wilderness season, I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Dave, I have things I’ve prepared for you to do. I have work that I intend to accomplish through you. But you’re not sufficiently dead yet.”
I understand much better now what Jesus is saying about the necessity of a seed dying in order to be fruitful. Jesus’ call to die is really an invitation to life.
I still have The Journals of Jim Elliot on my bookshelf after 35 years. Even before I embraced His call to die, I’ve always known that Elisabeth Elliot was an angel of God who had written on that title page a personal message from Jesus to me.
As for my mother’s early impressions, one of the things that had to die along with me was my own limited conception of ministry. Mom probably envisioned that I would be the pastor of a church on the corner of 1st and Elm St. But that’s not who I am.
Now that I’m dead, I’m alive–and free–to be the person God has called me to be.