Have you heard of Helen Roseveare? I hadn’t until I came across a book of hers called Living Sacrifice. She was a medical missionary in Zaire from 1953 to 1973. Her story is a remarkable one. Not so much for the adventures she experienced in Africa, but more because of her brutal honesty in relaying the years it took her to truly surrender her entire will to the Lord. You would think that the very choice to become a missionary in a hostile country on the verge of civil uprising would be sufficient to warrant a “well done, good and faithful servant”, but God saw it differently.
One incident she describes left a deep impression on me. The village where she resided suffered an invasion of small, weaver birds. Requiring palm leaves to weave their nests, these birds stripped the trees in such great numbers, that the future yield of nuts (from which the villagers extracted their valuable palm oil) was seriously threatened. Not only was palm oil a basic commodity in their diets, it was also essential to sustaining the local economy.
A deal was struck with the local village boys: for every ten birds they shot, they got a penny. The kids turned out to be extremely capable marksmen. Soon, the lower branches of all kinds of trees and shrubs were missing. The boys likewise endangered the economy in their zeal, by hacking off the lower, choice boughs from fruit-laden citrus trees and flowering coffee shrubs, acacias, and any other growth which exhibited promising artillery potential. Quick action ensued to salvage these crops. A decision had to be made. Arrows were desperately needed and the only trees to produce them would have to be the acacias, since they only served as eye appeal.
Everywhere, boys were found whittling, sanding and buffing the thin branches. Any offshoots, knots and thorns were stripped, and smoothed away. Gone were the feathery leaves and fragrant flowers. All was sacrificed to make a perfectly straight and well-balanced arrow, thus ridding the community of the hordes of destructive birds, and preserving the essential food-source.
The analogy was immediately realized by Helen. She wrote,
“To be thus transformed, was I willing – am I still willing – for the whittling, sandpapering, stripping processes necessary in my Christian life? The ruthless pulling off of leaves and flowers might include doing without a television set or washing machine, remaining single in order to see a job done, re-evaluating the worthiness of the ambition to be a ‘good’ doctor (according to my terms and values). The snapping off of thorns might include drastic dealing with hidden jealousies and unknown prides, giving up prized rights in leadership and administration. The final stripping of the bark might include lessons to be learned regarding death to self – self-defense, self-pity, self-justification, self-vindication, self-sufficiency, all the mechanisms of preventing the hurt of too-deep involvement. Am I prepared for the pain, which may at times seem like sacrifice, in order to be made into a tool in His service? My willingness will be a measure of the sincerity of my desire to express my heartfelt gratitude to Him for His so-great salvation. Can I see such minor ‘sacrifices’ in the light of the great sacrifices of Calvary, where Christ gave all for me? Can I see the apparent cost as minimal compared to the reality of the gain? Do I accept His right to demand my willingness to pay such a price in order to enter into the privilege and joy of being used in His purposes?”
To be perfectly honest, reading this was not easy. And harder still was posing a similar line of questions to myself. For some reason, the childhood memory of being asked to sit still, and open my mouth wide to receive that ghastly orange-flavored cough syrup came to mind. Then I remembered the words penned by F.B. Meyer in his essay “The Blessed Life”:
“If you cannot give all, ask the Lord to take all, and especially that which seems so hard to give. Many have been helped by hearing it put thus. Tell them to give, and they shake their heads despondently. They are like the little child who told her mother that she had been trying to give Jesus her heart, but it wouldn’t go. But ask them if they are willing for Him to come into their hearts and take all, and they will joyfully assent.”
Sometimes I need to remind myself that the work of sanctification is not my work to do. A person who requires a heart transplant merely displays his faith in the doctor’s skill by submitting himself to the doctor’s care. So it is with Jesus Christ.
He knows me better than I know myself. He loves me more than I can fathom. He is the Great Physician, and what little I can offer, even the weak plea for Him to take those things that I vainly hold onto which only bring sorrow, frustration or bitterness, I trust that He will do so with tenderness and wisdom, that He may enjoy a vessel, an instrument, or even an arrow, fit for the Master’s use.