The Quietly Poured-Out Life of Lilias Trotter

If we pour everything out, every last portion of our life, and no one notices, is it worth the sacrifice? Is it worth it if we gain nothing but Jesus?

Over the last two years, I’ve studied and read everything I could about the 19th-century missionary, Isabella Lilias Trotter. She is not known by most Christians today, which is a fact that baffles me. The more I learn about Lilias, the more frustrated I become that she is not listed among the greatest missionaries like Elizabeth and Jim Elliot, Lottie Moon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, or Amy Carmichael. This frustration was then met with a line that I remembered from one of Lilias’ works. She said:

“It is the poured-out life that God blesses - the life that heeds not itself, if only other souls may be won.”[1]

In her 75 years, there is no way to doubt that Lilias was familiar with “the poured-out life.” It is reasonable to say that by the end of her life in 1928 Lilias poured out as much as she was able. She gave up a promising career as an artist to be one of the first missionaries to take the gospel to Algeria. Without extensive cultural knowledge or ability to speak Arabic, she left her English home and used her own wealth to fund her missionary endeavor. She had an issue with her heart and her health was at risk for the entirety of her life. Both her parents died while she was overseas. Seemingly no fruit came from the first few years of her ministry. The Algerian government persecuted Christians during much of her time in country. Many of those she saw converted were severely persecuted and killed. Her life did not heed itself but was poured out for the sake of others.

Lilias Trotter’s forgotten life is actually a signpost of her faithfulness. Isn’t it true that the last, the least, the unknown, and the faithful will be the greatest and the first among us in heaven?[2] If that is the case, then Lilias will be far ahead of many.

Lilias’ life was not loud or showy. She gained very little in terms of worldly fame. She lived a quiet, humble life. She didn’t seek the furtherance of her own name or ministry.

We can learn much from Lilias’ quietly poured-out life. But perhaps the greatest thing we could ever learn from her is the fact that most people don’t know her.

We think far too often of how to build our platform or gain followers. Even if we don’t say it, we think it would be nice if some people remembered us after we die. We would like a book published, or an accomplishment acknowledged on a website, or to make an “influencer” list. We want to be among those who have a legacy that outlasts us. However subtle, these prideful thoughts rest in our minds. They lie to us and tell us that gaining just a little more than Jesus is okay.

May God kill our desire to seek our own legacy. We should slay the lurking thought that obedience to God should give something other than Christ.

Christ is sufficient to meet all our needs. Nothing in this world can satisfy us, and nothing in this world is eternal. “So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Will we learn from Lilias Trotter’s quietly poured-out life? Will we put our hope in that which is eternal? Will we seek an earthly legacy, or will we allow ourselves to disappear more and more so that God is the one glorified? Will we remember that, “Everything that wrecks our hopes of ourselves, and our earthly props, is helping forward infinitely God’s work in us?”[3]

So I ask again: Is it worth it if we gain nothing but Jesus?