Lessons learned from Amy Carmichael

While looking through some old books recently, I happened across a beloved Christian classic, one I had forgotten about. Years ago, my Bible study leader frequently referred to Amy Carmichael’s book, If, in her teaching. Amy was a missionary in the late 19th/early 20th century in India. A single woman in a foreign field in those days was far from the norm, but Amy was a strong force, proving herself up to the challenge. The Dohnavur Fellowship, which she established and still exists today, was devoted to rescuing children from the evils of temple child prostitution—a part of religious rituals in India at that time.

A prolific writer, Amy penned If as a commentary and practical application of 1 Corinthians 13, which elaborates on the self-sacrificing love of Christ that she called “Calvary love.” One interesting thing about this small book is that Amy’s examples are not what anyone would expect. You won’t find flowery words, warm and fuzzy images or vague cliches in If. Instead, Amy gets right to the heart of lovelessness and zings the reader with specific examples that make her very bold and very blunt point. As I read through her work a second time, I made notes to myself, specifically after each of her illustrations, seeking to apply these truths to myself as much as possible.

“IF I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, ‘You do not understand,’ or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness, IF I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Note to self: Calvary love does not mean being a doormat, nor is it an excuse not to speak truth. It is THE reason to speak truth.

“IF I cannot in honest happiness take the second place (or the twentieth), IF I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my own unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Note to self: Seek authentic humility, not my usual false version.

“IF I wonder why something trying is allowed, and press for prayer that it may be removed; IF I cannot be trusted with any disappointment, and cannot go on in peace under any mystery, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Note to self: Trust God and stop whining..

“IF souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing about Calvary love.”

Note to self: Stop talking, and listen.

I first read If almost forty years go. I looked it over slowly and thoughtfully this time, with eyes that had seen many years. What is my takeaway now?

I cringe as I see myself in every single example Amy uses to illustrate selfishness. But at the same time, I am filled with an overwhelming gratitude when I remember how God’s grace and Calvary love have rescued me time and time again from my own insensitivity and self-centeredness.

Therefore, I pray Amy’s prayer on the final page, “Lord, evermore give me this love.”

Published June 6, 2016