Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Deep, Difficult Good-bye

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss reminds us that the apostle Paul developed deep relationships on his many journeys.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: But—and here’s the key—he learned how to hold those relationships loosely. When the Lord sent him somewhere else, he was ready and willing to let go and to move on.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for March 3. The True Woman conference is coming to Chattanooga in just 22 days.

Revive Our Hearts began as a partnership with FamilyLife and we recorded for several years at their headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. When we moved the production to the headquarters of Life Action Ministries, the final recording session was very emotional. During that recording session Nancy based her words on a good-bye address Paul delivered in Acts 20. Today’s program wraps up a series called Farewell, and Nancy begins with an event that happened on February 11, 1861.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Abraham Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois to head to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. As he left, thousands of citizens gathered to see him off. Shortly before he departed Lincoln gave a short impromptu speech from his railroad car. It was a moving speech in which he paid sweet tribute to his friends and neighbors. It’s a speech that became known as the Farewell Address. Let me read you a portion of that address.

My friends no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.

Without the assistance of the Divine Being whoever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

Good-byes are hard, aren’t they? You’ve had to say them; we’ve all had to say them. I’ve had a lot of those good-byes in the last days, in recent days, as I close a chapter of ministry here in Little Rock and move back to our ministry home base in Michigan. It’s never easy to leave those that you love and those you’ve grown close to. We have a way of putting down roots and getting settled and comfortable. It’s too easy isn’t it to hold on tightly to things that were gifts from God but were never intended to be essential as God is to us, things that can too easily become idols in our lives if we’re not careful.

God wants us to keep pilgrim hearts and to have hearts that are detached in a sense from this earth and attached to eternity in heaven. As the old spiritual says, “This world is not my home; I’m just a'passin' through.”

We’ve been looking over these last days at the farewell speech that Paul gave, the sermon, the message that Paul gave to his friends and ministry partners, his beloved brothers in the Lord to the church in Ephesus. He met with them in a little seacoast town of Miletus about 30 miles south of Ephesus. Believing that he would never see their faces again, he shared his heart with them.

He shared about his life and ministry, his message, what he had said. He told them about what was coming, the opposition, the attacks they were going to face in the days ahead. He told them how to be protected, how not to become prey to spiritual predators. He entrusted them; He turned them over, commended them to God and to the Word of His grace knowing that they were far safer there than they could be in Paul’s hands.

Then we come to the last paragraph of this message, verses 36-38, where I want us to look today. It’s a tender and intimate scene and as you might imagine after the apostle Paul had had three years of ministry with these believers; it’s also a tearful scene. And it’s not the only difficult parting that the apostle Paul would have.

I want to pick up with the last paragraph in chapter 20. Then I want to continue reading a lengthy portion in chapter 21 because I think it gives you an overview here that’s important, even though not all of this relates directly to the Ephesian church.

As I read this passage, I want you to listen to every reference to Paul’s relationships with other believers. I want you to think about what these friendships meant to Paul. Try to imagine how he felt as he had to say good-bye over and over again to those he had served and grown to love.

So let me pick up at verse 36 in chapter 20.

And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship (verses 36-38).

Then continuing in chapter 21, verse 1, “And when we had parted from them . . .” Now the “we” means Dr. Luke who is writing the book of Acts is in the company with Paul. So there’s a relationship, a “we” in this passage.

“When we had parted from them . . .” The word parted is an interesting one. It means literally “to tear ourselves away from them.” This was a rough parting. When we had torn ourselves away from those that we loved and they loved us,

When we had [torn ourselves away] from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from that to Patara. And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And having sought out the disciples [here’s a reference to relationships] we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

Now let me just pause there. We read earlier in this passage that Paul said he was going to Jerusalem constrained by the Holy Spirit. And yet this passage says that through the Holy Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. That seems to be a contradiction. Did the Holy Spirit tell him to go or did the Holy Spirit tell him not to go?

Well, most commentators believe that this is not in this passage a command from God not to go, that God is not changing His command, that the Lord had sent him on this mission. We see that earlier in chapter 20. But that the Spirit had revealed to these believers that Paul was going to suffer in Jerusalem. And we know that was true. Out of concern for him, they tried to dissuade him from going.

But we see that Paul was persuaded. Remember? Because he didn’t hold his own life dear to himself? “None of these things move me.” He was resolute; he was determined to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. And so picking up in verse 5,

When our days there were ended, we departed [another parting] and went on our journey, and they all with wives and children [relationships], they accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.

Are you marking relationships here? There are a lot of them aren’t there?

He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’" When we had heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem (verses 5-12).

Paul we love you! We want to keep you, and not just because we want to keep you but because your life is in danger. Well, Paul had already settled the issue. It didn’t matter if his life was in danger. If he was following the Lord, that’s what he had to do. But they didn’t quite understand that. So verse 13:

Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, "Let the will of the Lord be done."

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem and [here’s another relationship] some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly (verses 13-17).

So I want to talk for a few moments just reflecting on this passage about this issue of relationships within the Body of Christ. Those relationships are important. They’re an expression of our oneness in Christ. If I’m in Christ and you’re in Christ, then we are one in Christ. We are family. We are part of each other. We are all part of His Body.

The strongest relational ties you will ever find on earth are not family ties, human family ties; they’re family of God ties. Now you may have very close family ties, but you will never have with unbelieving family members the kind of soul and heart oneness you can have with those in the Body of Christ who may come from a totally different background than yours, totally different socio-economic strata, totally different family background.

But if you have Christ in common, you have more in common than you do with those that are blood relatives who are not one with you in Christ. The strongest ties are found in the family of God because of shared faith and mission.

We need relationships in the Body of Christ. They help us grow and become all God intended to be. I think of how many of you have spoken into my life. You’ve encouraged me, and you’ve admonished me, and you’ve exhorted me, and you’ve supported me, and you’ve held me accountable. I’ve been able to do that for some of you as well. And those are close, loving, intimate, godly and can be healthy relationships.

The kingdom of God is advanced as we walk together and serve the Lord together in His kingdom. Paul had those kinds of relationships. You see it in spades in the passage we just read. Did you catch all those references to relationship?

And you say, “The great apostle Paul is a preacher isn’t he? Doesn’t he have to write more epistles? Isn’t he too busy for those relationships?” No, he wasn’t too busy for relationships. We see that he had intimate, godly close relationships with other believers.

But—and here’s the key—he learned how to hold those relationships loosely. And when the Lord sent him somewhere else, he was ready and willing to let go and to move on. Now he kept those people in his heart, and you can read that in the epistles. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. I make mention of you always in my prayers” (see Philippians 1:3). 

They didn’t leave his heart. But he was willing to leave them geographically when it’s what God called him to do, to go somewhere else to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

It strikes me as I’ve been meditating on this passage that we tend toward two unhealthy extremes when it comes to relationships. Some people pride themselves on being independent. “I don’t need anyone. I’m not going to get close to anyone.”

I talked to a woman the other day, a sweet, godly Christian woman. I was talking about some of the friends the Lord has blessed me with and numbering off some of them—just many people in different spheres in my life. I have been very blessed with rich relationships in the Body of Christ.

And she looked at me like she’d never heard of anything like this. She said, “We are really only close to one other couple.” I felt sorry for her. I felt like she maybe didn’t realize what she was missing. Now there may be a lot of reasons for that, and I’m not reflecting negatively on them. I’m just saying that some people go the extreme of being independent and not having those intimate relationships.

I know sometimes when you get moved around a lot or people have moved away from you, you get afraid to get close. Or perhaps you’ve been hurt by relationships, and there’s a fear to get close. You just come in under your little turtle shell. You don’t stick your head about because you’re afraid you’re going to get hurt again. Maybe somebody else will leave, somebody else will die. It’s kind of this knee jerk reaction not to get too close to people. That is unhealthy. It’s not as God intended it should be in the Body of Christ.

Others go to the other extreme and they develop what psychologists might call co-dependent relationships. What that really means is that they have an unhealthy dependence on others. And really, a more accurate name for co-dependency is idolatry. It means we’ve made an idol out of that person. When they are taken away from us or when the relationship shifts or changes, we can’t survive.An idol is anything or anyone other than God that you cannot survive without.

  • Now you can find out if your husband was an idol when the Lord takes him to heaven.
  • You can find out if your children were an idol when the Lord moves them off to college or sends them to another part of the world to serve as a missionary.

God knows when people have come to mean more to us than is appropriate. He challenges us with this story of Paul. Have the close relationships. Cherish them. Build them. Enjoy them. But when it’s time to move on let God move you on.

The will of God and the kingdom of God must always take precedence over human relationships. I’ve come to believe that for the Christian, life on this earth is a series of partings with one great eternal reunion. God uses that again to keep our hearts detached from this earth and increasingly attached to our heavenly eternal home and keep our focus on eternity.

Let me take us back now to the last paragraph in Acts 20—that scene, that tender scene there on the coast of Miletus as Paul is saying farewell, good-bye to the church leaders of Ephesus, those who’ve become dear, precious friends and fellow servants. Verse 36 says,

He knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.

As I read this passage, I want to say to you that it is okay to be sorrowful. It is okay to grieve the loss of friends, the death of those that you’ve cared for deeply, the moving away. And it’s okay; it's a good thing to express love and tenderness and compassion. We see that here in Acts 20; it's just the most beautiful tender scene.

But if you don’t want it to be an idol, then do it in the context of prayer and worship in the presence of the Lord. What made this parting so right was that they did it on their knees. They came to the Lord together and they submitted to the Lord their own feelings, their own emotions, their own desires, their own thoughts. Let the will of the Lord be done.

As we say good-byes in different settings of life, with our hearts surrendered we say to God, “We worship and love You more than we love any human being. We want our lives to be God-centered.”

I want to share with you briefly as I close here an experience that I don’t think I’ve ever shared publicly before. In May of 1989, the founder of our parent ministry, Life Action Ministries, Del Fehsenfeld, Jr. was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at the age of 43. I had been close to him and his wife. He had been a mentor to me since my own dad had gone to be with the Lord when I was 21.

We had served together, I had with him and his wife, in ministry for ten years. I was devastated as were all in our ministry by this news. Over the next months as he went through surgery, we hoped and we prayed that the Lord would spare his life. The diagnosis was in May. On August 11 of that year, as I was reading through Oswald Chambers devotional My Utmost for his Highest, I came to this reading. And I’m going to just excerpt it for you.

It was called “This Experience Must Come.” The Scripture text for that day’s devotional reading was 2 Kings chapter 2:12 that says, “And he saw him no more.” The context was the passage there in 2 Kings 2 where the prophet Elijah passes his mantel and his ministry over to Elisha and then God takes Elijah to heaven on a chariot of fire. Here’s what Oswald Chambers had to say about that verse, “And he saw him no more.”

It is not wrong to depend upon Elijah as long as God gives him to you, but remember the time will come when he will have to go; when he stands no more to you as your guide and leader, because God does not intend he should. You say, "I can not go on without Elijah." God says you must.

You have to put to the test now what you learned when you were with your Elijah. . . . When you get to your wits' end and feel you’re inclined to succumb to panic, don’t. . . . Put into practice what you learned with your Elijah. . . . Determine to trust in God and do not look for Elijah any more.

Well, our friend and leader, Del Fehsenfeld, as I read those words was dying of a brain tumor. We were hoping and praying that God would spare his life. That was in August, and as I read this I couldn’t help but think of Del, my Elijah in many respects, who was very ill. I found myself thinking, “Oh Lord, please don’t take him.” I had this kind of tightening up inside of me. “Lord, don’t let this be talking about our leader.”

But God knew better. He knew what was best for me and for our ministry. He knew what would bring the greatest glory to Himself. And three months later the Lord chose to take our Elijah home to heaven. At the time there were many of us who felt, “We can’t go on without Elijah.” But God said we must.

In the days that followed there were times when I felt inclined to succumb to panic, as Oswald Chambers says. I had to determine to trust in God and to put into practice what we had learned from this man of God. And now 20 years later and more, I want to just attest that God has proved Himself to be faithful to us as he was to Del.

Over these past eight and a half years, I have grown to deeply love the women God has allowed me to serve here in Little Rock. Our hearts have been knit together, and as we close this season of ministry this is a hard day. Let me just say, I’m not planning on dying at the moment or being transported to heaven in a chariot, only moving to another state where we plan to continue recording with another group of women who need the grace of God as well.

I do hope that you’ll continue to stay connected to this ministry and to this message via radio and the Internet, but I know it will be different. For some of you where there has been a deeper relationship established over these years, there is this day a sense of loss. But I want to assure you that God will be with you. He’s not going anywhere. He’s staying here. I want to encourage you to put your trust in the Lord.

He will not leave you. He will not forsake you. Look to Him. I do "commend you to God and to the Word of His grace which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance, a rich inheritance among those who are being sanctified" (verse 32).

Leslie Basham: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She’ll be right back to pray for us and for the women gathered in the studio. Today’s program represents the final teaching segment recorded in Little Rock, Arkansas. Revive Our Hearts was recorded there for eight years, and we’re transitioning the production to new facilities in Michigan. So this series was recorded right in the middle of big transitions for our staff and for Nancy.

The series is called Farewell, and it will help you keep perspective during difficult transitions in your life. When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll provide this series on CD along with a booklet Portrait of a Woman Used by God. Nancy wrote the booklet to help you grow into the woman God wants you to be. The series and the booklet are yours when you donate during this important time of transition.

Would you ask God what you could give as we build new studios, invest in new equipment and meet new needs for production staff? You can donate at ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for the booklet and CDs when you call 1-800-569-5959.

You are no accident. God has a special purpose for you as a woman. Learn to embrace that calling as we learn to be true women on tomorrow’s Revive Our Hearts. Now Nancy wraps up our time in prayer.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Oh Lord how I thank You for the women You have brought into my life in this season and for the joys of studying Your Word together, the growing together, seeking You together, repenting together, praying and crying out together for revival.

May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful. He will surely do it. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, amen.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

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