I finished reading Elisabeth Elliot’s biography of Amy Carmichael entitled A Chance to Die. It has been a few weeks since I finished it, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and put together my thoughts about this book until today.
Amy Carmichael was a driven woman. Her drive was not to be successful or happy. Her drive was to serve God and bring Him glory while bringing people who didn’t know the Lord to the knowledge of Him. She must have been an oddity in her time – a woman, unmarried, young, and with an intense feeling God was calling her to be on the mission field in 1892. She was a true disciple who did not turn away from tough situations. She allowed God to guide her steps and plans. She began in Japan, but ended up in India and stayed there for fifty-three years. She established Dohnavur Fellowship, a refuge for children in moral danger – children who were orphaned or unwanted and sold to the temple. She became the mother of these children.
Amy was not a saint. Amy was a sinner just like you and me. She had many faults. I think what sticks most with me after reading this book was her undivided focus on finding God’s will and doing it – whatever it cost.
One thing I hear over and over from people who have gone above and beyond what most of us do to obey and serve God with our lives; and that is that they are questioned about whether that is really what they should be doing. “Aren’t you doing too much?” “Aren’t you too young to be responsible for so much?” “Do you really think God is asking you to do that?” Why are they questioned in this way?
Perhaps it is because we judge them by our own standards – or our own fears. But, don’t you think that when things are attempted that are beyond ourselves we are met with the power of God and that is why things can be accomplished that seem impossible to us? What a blessing it can be to be part of this kind of work!
Amy had to confront the Hindu religion with all its superstitions and many gods. There is one story recorded in the book about a morning when Amy picked up a hand bell and rang it to gather the servants for prayers.
“The cook’s small boy, pointing to the bell, said, “It’s a god.”
(From Amy’s journal) I looked at the thing, it had a scratched face on the handle, and the face, he declared, was Ram’s. I think the young scamp meant nothing more serious than a bit of mischief, but I knocked the bell handle off and pushed it into a fire which was burning near. He could never say that again! They all looked on, servants and coolies, and nobody said a word. Would a god let me do that? I asked them, and walked off, carrying the battered bell.
Another time she was in the hills walking and saw three stones under a tree which her Indian co-worker Saral said were heathen idols. “To see those stupid stones standing there to the honor of the false gods, in the midst of the true God’s beauty, was too much for us. We knocked them over and down they crashed and over they rolled forthwith. Oh the shame of it! It makes one burn to think of His glory being given to another.”
She has several statements attributed to her that are recorded for history. In response to a fellow missionary who said that she would not last for long if she lived in huts and among the people she said, “I would rather burn out than rust out.”
Something else she often spoke of was the opportunity she had to give her life for Christ. This desire is where the title of the book, “A Chance to Die” comes from.
She found out during her time in India that doing God’s work was not always glamourous. She came to have a small band of women – Indian ladies who had forsaken their earthly wealth and position to serve God with her.
The women of the Band were learning that if the Lord of Glory took a towel and knelt on the floor to wash the dusty feet of His disciples (the job of the lowest slave in an Eastern household), then no work, even the relentless and often messy routine of caring for squalling babies, is demeaning. To offer it up to the Lord of Glory transforms it into a holy task, “Could it be right,” Amy had asked, “to turn from so much that might be of profit and become just nursemaids?” The answer was yes. It is not the business of the servant to decide which work is great, which is small, which important or unimportant – he is not greater than his master. (A Chance to Die, pp 182,183)
At a crucial time in the ministry in India one of the other missionaries, Thomas Walker, a man she had come to hold a great respect for, unexpectedly died.
Excerpt from the book: Kind people, wanting to console, made the usual observation: “It is very hard to see how this can be for the best.”
“We are not asked to SEE,” said Amy. “Why need we when we KNOW?” We know – not the answer to the inevitable Why, but the incontestable fact that it is for the best. “It is an irreparable loss, but is it faith at all if it is ‘hard to trust’ when things are entirely bewildering?”
Others, with a sigh and shake of their head, observed that it is difficult for us human beings to escape bitterness, even dumb rage, when such things happen.
“It is indeed not only difficult, it is impossible.” Amy wrote. “There is only one way of victory over the bitterness and rage that come naturally to us – To will what God wills brings peace.”
(A Chance to Die, p. 220)
I wish that I was more ready to trust God and His providence. How much more peaceful my life would be if I did. Too often I still ask God to explain “Why?” And, he never has answered that question. He doesn’t need to.
The one trait that always accompanies the lives of people who are doing great things for God is a devoted prayer life. I have always felt that I fall woefully short in this area. What could God do in my life if I devoted an hour to prayer every day? Why is it so hard to set that time aside?
Amy had three rules of prayer that helped her “family” to save time and energy in prayer meetings.
1. We don’t need to explain to our Father things that are known to Him.
2. We don’t need to press Him, as if we had to deal with an unwilling God.
3. We don’t need to suggest to Him what to do, for He Himself knows what to do.
(A Chance to Die, p. 365)
I find those interesting rules – and certainly fitting. How often I break them! I always think I know how God should take care of things. Isn’t it funny that I am NEVER right? 🙂
I would definitely recommend your reading this encouraging and challenging biography of Amy Carmichael. It could change the way you look at the task – whatever it is! – that God has called you to do.
Have a great weekend. Lori