Let’s be honest with each other for a moment. There’s no denying the fact that we live in a cultural moment where the course of this world is pouring gasoline on the fire that burns in all of us. . . that is, the fire of looking for affirmation, renown, and note-worthiness in the eyes of others. While we might philosophically toe the line in seeking to be self-less, our actions more often-than-not reveal a functional desire which quickly trumps our stated desire for humility as we seek to find our identity in being seen, admired, and followed by others. The stage known as Social media has ramped up this default-setting, which is rooted deeply in our human depravity, by offering us 24/7 access to saying “look at me!” as we pursue the accumulation of the social capital of followers and likes. No longer is vain-glory seen as a vice. Rather, we are living in a day and age where vanity is at the very least seen as benign, and increasingly embraced and practiced as a virtue.

None of us is immune. When we get caught up in the raging rapids of the river where everyone else seems to be swimming, we too will begin to think and live in ways that are “culturally appropriate,” even if those ways go completely against the way and will of God for His people. We tend to do what seems right, rather than what is right.

I’ve been thinking about this in personal ways over the last few weeks as I’ve been reading Ellen Vaughn’s excellent two-volume biography of Elisabeth Elliot, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot and Being Elisabeth Elliot. I’m guessing that many of you know at least some of Elliot’s life story. If you don’t, you need to. Writing from Elliot’s vast volumes of personal journals, Ellen Vaughn has opened a window into a life of pain, struggle, unimaginable heartache, and immense joy. The temptation is to put Elisabeth Elliot on a pedestal as someone whose spiritual depth and breadth made her a kind of super-human. But the reality is that as you read, you will see that in her struggles, temptations, and doubts, she is no different from the rest of us. For me, reading Ellen Vaughn’s two-volume bio of Elliot has been deeply devotional. I wasn’t just reading about someone’s life. I was reading about what it means to be a human being in God’s world, following Him with faithful obedience regardless of personal cost.

I confess that I read the books out of order, which means that what I finished last evening was Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, the volume recounting her life up until the point when she left the jungles of Ecuador to return to the United States. In the short three-page Chapter 39: “The Dust and Ashes”, Vaughn reminds us of the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, and how Elliot learned that the things of life which are seen as weak are used by God, making them our greatest strengths. Paul tells us that when he was weak, it was then that he was strong.

Ellen Vaughn then writes these words: “Betty resonated with Paul’s perspective. The second that any of us starts to get preoccupied with our power, platform, image, or identity is the moment we run into trouble.” Go ahead and read that again. . . and then again. Those are some counter-cultural words that push against our deepest and most-depraved inclinations, all with great life-giving truth!

Vaughn then shares these words Elisabeth Elliot wrote in her devotional book, A Lamp Unto My Feet: “The search for recognition hinders faith. We cannot believe so long as we are concerned with the ‘image’ we present to others. When we think in terms of ‘roles’ for ourselves and others, instead of simply doing the task given us to do, we are thinking as the world thinks, not as God thinks. The thought of Jesus was always and only for the Father. He did what He saw the Father do. He spoke what He heard the Father say. His will was submitted to the Father’s will.”

Chew on that today. . . and every day.

And, you still have half the summer to read Becoming Elisabeth Elliot and Being Elisabeth Elliot for yourself.

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