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Slain in the Shadow of the Almighty

John Piper / January 7, 2016
Slain in the Shadow of the Almighty

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1–2)

On January 8, 1956 — sixty years ago today — Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Flemming, and Roger Youderian were speared to death on a sandbar called “Palm Beach” in the Curaray River of Ecuador. They were trying to reach the Huaorani Indians for the first time in history with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Elisabeth Elliot memorialized the story in her book Shadow of the Almighty. That title comes from Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Not an Accident

This is where Jim Elliot was slain — in the shadow of the Almighty. Elisabeth had not forgotten the heartbreaking facts when she chose that title two years after her husband’s death. When he was killed, they had been married three years and had a ten-month-old daughter.

The title was not a slip — not any more than the death of the five missionaries was a slip. But the world saw it differently. Around the world, the death of these young men was called a tragic nightmare. Elisabeth believed the world was missing something. She wrote, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

She called her book Shadow of the Almighty because she was utterly convinced that the refuge of the people of God is not a refuge from suffering and death, but a refuge from final and ultimate defeat. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24) — because the Lord is God Almighty.

God did not exercise his omnipotence to deliver Jesus from the cross. Nor will he exercise it to deliver you and me from tribulation. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). If we have the faith and single-mindedness and courage of those five missionaries, we might find ourselves saying with the apostle Paul,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:36–39)

Security in His Strength

Has it ever hit home to you what it means to say, “My God, who loves me and gave himself for me, is almighty”? It means that if you take your place “in the shadow of the Almighty,” you will be protected by omnipotence. There is infinite and unending security in the almightiness of God — no matter what happens in this life.

The omnipotence of God means eternal, unshakable refuge in the everlasting glory of God, no matter what happens on this earth. And that confidence is the power of radical obedience to the call of God — even the call to die.

Is there anything more freeing, more thrilling, or more strengthening than the truth that God Almighty is your refuge — all day, every day, in all the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of life? Nothing but what he ordains for your good befalls you.

God Intervened

Research into the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of the five missionaries has revealed the hand of God in unexpected ways. In the September 1996 issue of Christianity Today, Steve Saint, son of Nate Saint, who was martyred along with Elliott, McCully, Flemming, and Youderian, wrote an article about new discoveries made about the tribal intrigue behind the slayings. He wrote one of the most amazing sentences on the sovereignty of the Almighty that I have ever read — especially coming from the son of a slain missionary:

As [the killers] described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killing took place at all; it is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention. (italics added)

In other words, there is only one explanation for why these five young men died and left a legacy that has inspired thousands. God intervened. This is the kind of sovereignty we mean when we say, “Nothing but what he ordains for your good befalls you.”

Which also means that no one, absolutely no one, can frustrate the designs of God to fulfill his missionary plans for the nations. In the darkest moments of our pain, God is hiding his weapons behind enemy lines. Everything that happens in history will serve this purpose as expressed in Psalm 86:9,

All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

If we believed this, if we really let this truth of God’s omnipotence get hold of us — that we live perfectly secure in the shadow of the Almighty — what a difference it would make in our personal lives and in our families and churches. How humble and powerful we would become for the saving purposes of God.

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Minimize Student Debt, Maximize Christian Mission

Alex Chediak / January 7, 2016
Minimize Student Debt, Maximize Christian Mission

January doesn’t just mark the start of a new year. It also marks the season when tens of thousands of families in the United States begin filling out the FAFSA for the next academic year. If you have a child headed to college, you know what I mean. The FAFSA is the gateway to billions of dollars in financial aid (federal and state grants, work-study funds, low-interest loans, and more). With the cost of college rising much faster than the rate of inflation, an ever-increasing percentage of families are dependent on this aid.

Within families, the burden is increasingly falling on students, two-thirds of whom are now carrying debt. The average borrower in the class of 2015 walked the stage $35,000 in the hole. Which makes me wonder, How many current (and incoming) students are making decisions today that will put them in even deeper debt? What is clear is that thousands upon thousands of students need help assessing the largest investment they’ve ever made.

How should Christian students in particular think about their finances in this transitional and formative season of life?

1. View college as an education and an investment.

As the cost of college has skyrocketed, the perspective of many students has shifted from college for learning to college for earning. As Christians, we’re not to love money (1 Timothy 6:9–10), but we are to be wise stewards of it (Proverbs 6:6–8; 21:20). So while learning for the sake of learning is wonderful, it is wise to consider your likely future earnings when deciding how much to spend or borrow. An engineering student graduating with $30,000 in debt will be in better shape than an English major with the same debt load. This isn’t a denigration of English majors. It’s being realistic about the world we inhabit.

Conversely, if you’re pursuing an applied major, don’t be so laser-focused on “what I need to know to get a job” that you neglect the value of general education. For one, you’re not just preparing for that first job, but for your fourth, fifth, and sixth jobs. Put more broadly, college is not just about preparing for a living; it’s about preparing for the totality of your life.

2. Assess the financial picture.

Our entire life is to be lived before God and for God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That includes how we pay for college. Since your future is what’s at stake, assume responsibility for the process. Take the time to understand what’s happening. Your college has a list price, but each student pays a different net price. Basically,

Net price = List price – Grants – Scholarships

Net price is what counts, because that’s how much you’re expected to pay from savings, earn from employment, or borrow.

At public universities, scholarships are often harder to come by, but you may qualify for grants, and if you’re an in-state student, the price has already been marked down. At private universities, it’s not uncommon for a student’s net price to be 20–40 percent lower than list price. It depends on the college’s resources, your income bracket, and how much the school wants you. Thankfully, there are ways to anticipate your net price using publicly available data (see Chapter 3 in Beating the College Debt Trap). Choose a college that you can afford not just for one year but through graduation.

3. Don’t assume college has to cost a fortune.

A recent study found that grant aid could cover all but $2,000 per year in tuition at a public, four-year college for three out of four students from families with annual incomes below $50,000 — yet many such students never requested the aid.

It’s simply a myth that college has to cost a fortune. It can cost a fortune, but it doesn’t need to. Some overspend to attend a “prestigious” school. Others on a needlessly luxurious room and board plan. Still others overspend — I’m on sensitive ground here — because they think they cannot afford not to attend a Christian college. Christian colleges offer clear advantages, but God will be with you at a secular school, too. Finally, many overspend because they’re unaware of how the system works, so they fail to work the system.

Here’s the thing: That you graduate college is more important than where you go to college. Put another way, the value of the degree far exceeds any incremental value of spending more to get a “better” degree from a “better” school (assuming we’re talking about the same degree — associate’s vs. associate’s, bachelor’s vs. bachelor’s). So make a budget and stick to it. Getting a great education is more about the effort you put in than the amount of money you spend.

4. Minimize debt so you can live with impact.

Just recently I heard about college graduates being declined by missions agencies because they had too much debt. How tragic! I also heard from a respected seminary that 34% of their incoming class already had more than $10,000 in debt. Yet for every missionary or pastor held back from the Greatest Cause by crippling debt, I fear that there are many more Christians who won’t even consider strategic, lower-paying lines of work because they anticipate having too much debt to repay.

Borrowing should be your absolute last resort, because those funds must be repaid with interest. And excessive debt can limit your options after graduation in unanticipated ways. Count the cost at the outset. Minimize your debt so that you can maximum your freedom to serve Christ.

More from Desiring God

  • Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery: These are the truths John Piper has often rehearsed to make the case that you should not gamble with your money by playing the lottery.

  • The One Must-Read in 2016: We will never fully comprehend or appreciate the fact that God has given us his own words in a book. John Piper gives us seven reasons to read the Bible every day.

  • Advice for Another Year of Bible Reading: Most Christians know they should spend time regularly in God’s word, but they don’t know how. Bruce Ware offers us five tips from decades of Bible reading.

Obey as People Who Are Free

John Piper / January 7, 2016
Obey as People Who Are Free

How do servants of the King live and serve in a world with kings? In this lab, John Piper reveals the wonder of Christian freedom and the witness of being subject to human authorities.

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