Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Big Doors…Little Hinges

By on December 27, 2010

Thirty-eight years ago, I met someone whom God has faithfully used in the balance of my life to school me in the value of spiritual disciplines. Neither of us could have guessed the paths our lives would take in the following years, including the privilege of working together on the staff of three different churches. Today, Dr. Ralph Speas is the President of Meridian University of Biblical Training, an institution God is using to train literally thousands of pastors and laymen around the world in effective evangelism and discipleship through the oral transmission of God’s Word. But back then, Ralph and I were simply pastors of two neighboring churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ralph came by the office of Eastwood Baptist Church to welcome me to the community and we developed an instant camaraderie. Although his was a church of a different denomination, we had much in common, including fathers who were also in the ministry. Long theological discussions after raquet-ball games ultimately resulted in his making a serious, prayerful, deliberate decision to become a Southern Baptist, and I had the subsequent privilege of baptizing him and his wife. A year afterward he was giving strategic direction to our rapidly growing Sunday School that ultimately reached over 2,600 people for Bible study each week.

But back to the idea of big doors and little hinges, a phrase popularized by none other than C.H. Spurgeon.

Early in our friendship, Ralph Speas planted a seemingly little idea in my heart that over the years has produced big, positive results. The little hinge? Asking God at the close of each year to give me a verse for the coming year. Through the years, my verse for the year has proven useful for guidance, clarity of vision, consolation and encouragement. I have been more than a little surprised by the manner in which this seemingly innocuous practice has served to steady my hand and calm my thoughts about the future.

At the outset of 2010, I was a somewhat taken by the fact that the Lord kept urging me to adopt 1 Thessalonians 5:16 as my verse for the year. For almost four decades I have closed many letters with the exhortation to “Rejoice evermore!” Now God seemed to insist that I chose it as my verse for the new year. Little did I know that within weeks Jeannie would be diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, and that the bulk of the year would be given to the excruciating realities of major surgery and chemotherapy. Yet through it all, God reminded us to “Rejoice evermore!”

Most of my verses for the year are not as brief as “Rejoice evermore!” This year’s text, in fact, is seven verses long! But I’m excited to see how God will bring that portion of God’s Word to play in our lives as the year unfolds.

Why am I telling you all of this? I am praying that this little hinge will serve to turn the big door of your life toward the practice of finding a verse for the year. The exercise itself will be profitable. And the manner in which God will use it to define and clarify the direction of your life will be both exciting and encouraging.

Take it from me.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1: 12