3 Lessons from the Life of Amy Carmichael

originally published on The Wilting Rose Project  September 23, 2021, reprinted with permission

 Amma! I want to stay with you always!” the little girl in Amy’s lap sobbed.

Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary woman, had come to India to share the gospel. Returning from an evangelistic trip, Amy had been met by an Indian Christian woman who brought the child to her, explaining that she had run away from slavery in a Hindu temple.

Her mother had given her up to be abused in worship of the Hindu gods, but now little Preena clung to Amy and called her "Amma"– "Mother."

Preena would be the first of many motherless children to call Amy “Mother.” For Amy, being a mother was another opportunity to serve the Lord, something she had been doing for years.

Amy Carmichael has left us a rich legacy of a life of service. There are a multitude of lessons we can glean from her life, and today I want to share three with you.

1. Serve Christ by Serving Others

Though she never married, Amy Carmichael was not lonely. She learned an important lesson: serving others brings joy.

When she was seventeen, she was walking home from church with her two brothers when the threesome spotted a beggar woman struggling under a load of firewood. Amy and her brothers hurried to help. But soon, other churchgoers caught up, and Amy was embarrassed. Later, as they passed a fountain, Amy suddenly heard the words in her mind, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is,” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13, NKJV).

From that day on, Amy decided that nothing would ever matter to her again except the things that were eternal. The oldest of seven children, she threw herself with renewed vigor into helping care for and teach her younger brothers and sisters. When she learned about the plight of the “shawlies” (factory girls who were too poor to buy hats so they put their shawls on their heads), Amy launched a ministry to share the love and hope of Jesus with them. Eventually, her passion for helping others led her to Japan and finally to India where she would spend the rest of her life.

The lesson for us? When we are feeling lonely or down (or even if we’re not), reach out. Author and speaker Leslie Ludy teaches that turning outward leads to joy. “Giving joy brings joy,” she writes.

As one of seven children myself, Amy’s example inspires me to invest in my siblings. What about you? Are there family members you could love, sisters in Christ you could encourage, neighbors you could reach out to, church members you could serve?

2. Labor for a heavenly reward, not an earthly one

Am Carmichael’s life was a breathing illustration of these lines from the ancient Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision”:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance now and always.

When a ministry building she had planned for the shawlies was dedicated, Amy herself sat with the shawlie girls in the crowd while a large banner read, “That in all things He [Christ] may have the preeminence,” (from Colossians 1:18).

Amy hated “fuss.” Her eyes were fixed on Heaven, and she cared nothing for earthly fame. When she found out her books were referred to as “popular,” she was horrified. Her goal was not to write popular books, but God-glorifying, truthful words.

Not, of course, that it’s wrong to seek to reach more people with our message, or that it’s sinful to enjoy receiving compliments, or that it’s bad to relish the fruits of your labor. Yet while we are thankful for our earthly blessings, our eyes are set on a higher prize.

As Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (NKJV).

3. It’s About Your Spirit, Not the Work

Amy Carmichael once said, “It is not the place where we are, or the work that we do or cannot do that matters, it is something else. It is the fire within that burns and shines, whatever be our circumstances.”

She spent the last nearly twenty years of her life bedridden. During this time, she wrote and prayed extensively. How wonderful it is to think that even when there is literally nothing else we can do, we can always lift our burdens to our Heavenly Father. As another missionary, Mary Slessor, said, “Pray on, dear one. The power lies that way.”

So, dear girl, don’t be discouraged if health or other circumstances prevent you from doing all the work you would like to do. Pull a Miss Carmichael and do what you can, knowing that the Lord does not look on the outward appearance, but on the heart—the heart that beats and burns and loves and longs for Him.

Amy left this earth on January 18th, 1951, yet she has left us a shining example of a life devoted to Christ. She was but an ordinary person, as we all are, a sinner saved by the Cross.

I’ve only shared a few of the many lessons we can learn from her life. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll learn more about her through her writing and biographies.

And keep the faith, dearest sisters, as we follow in the steps of those who have gone before as they followed Christ.

--Savannah Jane


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