Martyr Jim Elliot (1927—1956), missionary to the Auca people in Ecuador, often expressed this classic piece of wisdom: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
There are a myriad of things that we can never possess in life; one of these, and the most significant one, is having ultimate control over our life. Yet, we seem to struggle for years, and for many, through the whole lifespan—not acknowledging this fact—enduring torment. In a way it’s senseless, and altogether meaningless—certainly when looking back from the end-of-life view.
Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” — Mark 8:35.
We are apt at skipping over the fundamentals thinking we’ve got them covered. The interesting thing about this verse above is that it’s every bit as hard and all-encompassing to achieve as it is to achieve anything Jesus preached during the Sermon on the Mount.
In fact, it sort of sums it all up—as a foundational unit in the base program of the Christ-follower’s life.
Think about total daily surrender of our desires and selfishness. Think about reality. There’s a divide, a great abyss between the two, it doesn’t matter who we are. We want to do what is good, but many times we miss the mark. Paul sums it up as he laments: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” — Romans 7:15.
So, how do we get there, or is living like Jesus Christ only something of an ideal? I don’t think Jesus meant for us to think only idealistically. In fact, that’s the Devil’s program, to convince us obeying God is too hard.
Assuming we’re already Christ-believer’s, and conceding Jesus’ statement is conditional, chasing the lost life to truly save our life (hence, finding it) requires us to consistently give up on our own personal desires, plans and dreams and to start loving others as we want to be loved. It’s the perfect search of selflessness and wisdom, noting the difference here between perfection and a search. Searching like this is a devoted investigation, leading us to spiritual progress, and abandoning the false hope of attaining spiritual perfection.
And this can’t ever be done overnight. It’s a process of practising the practice over the years and decades, commencing with the seconds and minutes. It’s less about our own effort and more about the ease of trusting God’s grace. It’s about listening to, and cooperating with, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. It’s about becoming professional as a Christlike human being. And if this is our sole focus, all other things we need will be given to us.
Enter the concept of good faith, and right living before God and with humankind.
When we give up what we cannot keep (our life, control over it, and elements of extraneous desire over life) for a life in the surrender before God, we get to keep a slice of eternity (here) as a sort of down payment on life kept in eternity (to come) with God—something we cannot lose, provided we remain in him. And if we learn to give the material resources we cannot keep God teaches us something eternal we cannot lose.
I think this is what Jim Elliot meant in his quote at first.
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” What are “all these things?” To name a few, these are what we'll eat and drink, and what we’ll wear. We can extend this out (safely) to any material possession. What we truly need, God will provide.
See John 15:1-17. Jesus’ command for those “remaining” in him... “Love each other.”