Comforted and Comforting

“The question is not whether you ever gave yourself to God, but whether you are His now” Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward

Elizabeth_Prentiss

Elizabeth Prentiss, née Elizabeth Payson, daughter of an American Congregational preacher, Edward Payson, well known for her hymn “More Love to Thee, O Christ” and the religious novel Stepping Heavenward was deeply impacted by the death of her father who suffered from from tuberculosis for over a year.  She was eight at the time.  During that time, her father’s faith never wavered.  He wrote, “There can be no such thing as disappointment to me, for I have no desires but that God’s will be might be accomplished.” He died a few days before Elizabeth turned nine.

Elizabeth couldn’t calmly accept her father’s death as he had.  She threw temper tantrums, resented those who offered to help and misbehaved, causing her grieving mother great stress.  As she grew older, Elizabeth had conflicting emotions when it came to God.  She longed to trust Him as her parents did.  She was in between two extremes, one moment she believed that she loved God more than life itself and the next, she sank into deep despair about her standing with Him.  In May of 1931, after the family moved to New York City, Elizabeth made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ and joined the Bleecker Street Presbyterian Church.

In 1838, she opened a small girls’ school in her home and took up a Sabbath-school class as well. Two years later, she left for Richmond, Virginia, to be a department head at a girls’ boarding school. It was during her years of teaching and in her twenties, when Elizabeth was in agony because of her conviction of her sinfulness and lack of concern for the things of Christ.  She believed herself to be a hypocrite although the evidence showed otherwise.  She was deeply concerned for the salvation of her pupils, many of whom she led to Christ. When this crisis was over, she experienced a greater joy than she had before.  “Sometimes my heart feels ready to break for the longing it has for a nearer approach to the Lord Jesus than I can obtain without the use of words, and there is not a corner of the house which I can have to myself.”

In 1845, she married George Lewis Prentiss, a brother of her close friend Anna Prentiss Stearns.  The couple settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where George became pastor of South Trinitarian Church.  For a while Elizabeth enjoyed her duties as a pastor’s wife and a housewife and then in 1852, when she was expecting their third child, their son Eddy got sick.  He had “water on the brain”, which we know today as meningitis.  Elizabeth prepared her son for death by telling him stories about what Heaven would be like and urging him to trust Jesus.  Then, he died and at his funeral, the choir sang the hymn, Thy Will Be Done.  Elizabeth wrote, “It was like cold water to thirsty souls. This was all we had to say or could say.”

Three months later, Eddy’s little sister, Bessie was born and appeared to be in good health but a month later, she got seriously ill and died the following day.  So, within five months, the family had lost two children. “My faith has staggered under this new blow,” Elizabeth wrote, “and I blush to tell how hard I find it to say cheerfully ‘Thy will be done.’…Oh how I do wish, do long to feel an entire, unquestioning submission to Him who pities while He afflicts me.”

As a mother, I can relate to how devastating it is to lose a child.  However, I can’t imagine losing two and at such young ages.  It is said that when Eddy died, it was one of the darkest days in her life.  The little boy had broken into a rash and fever. Elizabeth did the little that the doctors could suggest in a desperate attempt to save his life but to no avail.  After Eddy died she recognized that going to Jesus was a great blessing for him in spite her own pain and she wrote lines, urging him to, “O, hasten hence! to His [Christ’s] embraces, hasten!”

Despite her struggles with chronic health problems, Elizabeth was able to to have three more healthy children.  During that time, she wrote a poem which became a children’s classic and a book.  In 1856, following the nearly fatal illness of her daughter Minnie, she wrote the hymn “More Love to Thee.”

Elizabeth, despite her frailty and battle with chronic insomnia, was described as a bright-eyed woman with a keen sense of humor.  With her life wholly dedicated to Christ, she purposefully lived a life of joy.  She said, “Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to use it for strengthening and comforting other souls.”

In 1878, at the age of 59, Elizabeth died and her hymn “More Love to Thee” was sung at her funeral. After her death, her husband, George, published The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss (1882), using for the book’s preface, her words, “Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to use it for strengthening and comforting other souls.”  Elizabeth had six children, four of whom survived infancy.  Elizabeth was the fifth of eight children.  She was one of the six who survived infancy.

When her two children died within months of each other, Elizabeth, through her grief continued to trust God.  She believed that there’s a purpose in suffering.  She said to a friend whom she was counseling, “We can’t understand it, but I have been thinking that this [suffering] might be God’s way of preparing His children for very high degrees of service on earth or happiness in heaven.” She learned how to be deeply sympathetic with other grieving parents through her own losses by comforting them with the comfort she received.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

“…God notices the most trivial act, accepts the poorest, most threadbare little service, listens to the coldest, feeblest petition, and gathers up with parental fondness all our fragmentary desires and attempts at good works. Oh, if we could only begin to conceive how He loves us, what different creatures we should be!”
Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward
“What grieves me is that I am constantly forgetting to recognize God’s hand in the little, everyday trials of life, and instead of receiving them as from Him, find fault with the instruments by which He sends them.”
Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward
“…if God chooses quite another lot for you, you may be sure that He sees that you need something totally different from what you want.”
Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward
“I see that if I would be happy in God, I must give Him all. And there is a wicked reluctance to do that. I want Him–but I want to have my own way, too. I want to walk humbly and softly before Him and I want to go where I shall be admired and applauded. To whom shall I yield? To God? Or to myself?”
Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward [with Biographical Introduction]

Sources:  Wikipedia; Christianity.com; Good Reads; Encyclopædia Britannica; Bulletin Inserts;

Victory Through Jesus

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ – 1 Corinthians 15:57

This Easter, I find myself reflecting on the victory we have through Jesus which He made possible when He died on the cross, taking away our sins and reconciling us to the Father.  Through His death, He destroyed the devil who had power of death (Hebrews 2:14), our last enemy which will be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).  One day the righteous will be resurrected and come out of their graves to meet their Lord and those who are still alive when He comes will join them.  This is only possible because of Jesus who “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). 

He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken – Isaiah 25:8

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Imagine the day when God Himself will wipe our tears away.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your sting?  O grave, where is your victory?” – 1 Corinthians 15:54, 55

We have reason to rejoice and this Easter Sunday, we cab celebrate the empty tomb which could not hold our Lord.  He rose on the third day as He promised.

‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. There shall be no more death.’ Neither shall there be any more sorrow nor crying nor pain, for the former things have passed away” – Revelation 21:4

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One day, we will meet Jesus face to face.  What a glorious day that will be.  Hold on to this blessed hope until He comes again.

Loving the Unloved

For I am the LORD who heals you – Exodus 15:26

I read this story and was so touched by this young woman’s love and compassion for others who were experiencing what she once experienced.  When a leprosy patient cried out, “Don’t open my bandage!”, Sakshi revealed her own hands and feet which clearly showed traces of the disease.  She assured the patient the disease was not as result of some sin.  Many people who have leprosy believe that some sin in their lives is the cause.  Sakshi once believed this too.

Sakshi was a teenager when she found out that she had the disease.  As the eldest her younger siblings used to look up to her until she got leprosy.  They abruptly withdrew from her and wanted nothing more to do with her.  Friendless and rejected, Sakshi became depressed and hopelessness drove her to attempted suicide.  Thankfully, her father saved her and encouraged her.  He told her that she was a precious child and urged her to strengthen her heart through the pain and hardship.

“So my papa was becoming so much a comforter to me and he comforted me and even my brother and sister, they used to hate me, and they don’t want to talk with me, they were not in home at that time when I was doing all these things,” Sakshi shared. “So my father, he saw me and he pulled me from there, and he made me understand everything, and after that I became ok.”

After speaking to her father, she gave up trying to end her life but was still experiencing loneliness and it didn’t help that people were blaming her for contracting the disease.  This is similar to what Job himself experienced when he lost his livestock, possessions, servants and children and was covered in painful boils.  He was blamed for what happened to him.  His friends offered him no comfort and told him that he must have committed some evil for all these things to have happened to him.  He was all alone but he clung to his faith in God and God healed him and restored his losses.

Unlike Job, Sakshi had some support but it didn’t stop her from worrying or believing that she had done something to contract the disease.  As time went by, her condition grew worse.  One of her fingers bent in an awkward position and when she experienced terrible pain in one of her legs, the doctors encouraged her to amputate it but she was afraid to do so.  And it was around this time that she met a few Gospel for Asia supported missionaries who encouraged her and prayed for her.  They told her about the about the love of the Healer and Sakshi began to pray in faith and ask Jesus to heal her own body. And her prayer was answered.  Jesus healed her!

After she experienced complete healing, Sakshi decided that she would dedicate her life to serving the Lord and helping others.  She attended Bible college and served in leprosy ministry after graduation.  She made it her mission to reach out to the shunned and the rejected.  “Nobody is there to comfort [the leprosy patients] and to give any kind of encouragement. Nobody wants to love them, hug them or to come near to them to dress them.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God – 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4

“By seeing them, I am thinking that I will fill the gap,” Sakshi said. “I will give that love, which they are not getting from their grandchildren and daughters… I will become their daughter, I will become their grandchildren, and I will help them and encourage them and I will love them.”  With the love of Christ flowing through her, Sakshi touched the untouchable and despised by doing simple things such as helping them with housework, giving them hugs, washing clothes and combing hair.  She showed them the love of God and how precious they were in His sight.  He has not forgotten them.  God used her testimony to give them hope.  He does not cast people aside because they have leprosy.  When Sakshi cried out to Him in faith, He heard her and answered.  He intervened when she wanted to end her life and through her father, He spoke “words of life into her weary soul”.

January 29 is World Leprosy Day.  You can make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering from this disfiguring disease by helping the Leprosy Ministry to share the love of Christ and the Gospel.  We hope to see more people like Sakshi dedicating their lives to serving Jesus and bringing others to Him.  Be a part of the ministry which reaches out to people who will hear, perhaps for the first time, about a kind and compassionate Savior who is not afraid to touch and hold them.  He loved the unloved.

Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother – Zechariah 7:9

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Source:  Gospel for Asia