Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Bill Elliff says a wise husband should welcome accountability from his wife.

Bill Elliff: That he can say to her, “Hey, I’m going on a business trip. Call me at 10:00. You have all the freedom in the world to ask me any question you want.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, January 27.

Nancy: Well we are continuing a conversation with Pastor Bill Elliff and his wife Holly. Holly has been on the program many times over the years and Bill and Holly have been very dear friends of mine for twenty-five years.

Holly: Decades.

Nancy: They have made such an impact on my life. I am just so grateful for your willingness to stop by the studio today to share with our listeners. We were talking yesterday about marriage and the things your parents modeled or did that provided a good foundation for your own marriages, and we ran out of time. When we finished Holly said to me, “I want to share something about my parents; Bill got to talk about his.”

So let’s just jump back in there, Holly, and share with us how their marriage impacted your life.

Holly: Probably the greatest moment of impact in my life was when I was in college. I remember coming home for the summer and it was obvious that my parents were struggling in their marriage. It was a really tough time. I went to my mother and as the oldest child, I sat down with her and I said, “I need to know what is happening. I need to know if you and daddy are going to stay together.” My mother said to me, “It doesn’t matter what happens with your dad or with our relationship, I will never leave him or divorce him.” I just walked away very relieved that I had the assurance that they were going to stay together.

As I walked into marriage, I walked into it with the understanding that even though my family was not really totally centered around God’s Word, there was a mindset that this commitment matters and that we will honor our vows to each other. When I went down the aisle and took Billy’s hand, that was going to be for eternity; it was going to be lifelong. I had seen that modeled in my parents even when it was not an easy thing to do.

Bill: You know Nancy, I don’t think we understand how critical it is to verbalize that commitment to permanence. I was in Waukesha, Wisconsin once. I was preaching about this truth that we just need to tell our mate, and our kids need to hear it, that I am in this thing. So the next day an older lady came to me kind of laughing and she said, “Well, my husband did what you said, but he said he kind of did it in his own way.” I said, “Well, what happened?”

And she said, “Every morning he eats breakfast with a paper up in front of his nose, and I kind of slide his food under his paper. He said this morning through the paper, 'Honey, I went by the monument company and had them put your name by mine on the tombstone.'”

Nancy: That was his way . . . 

Bill: That was his way. Then she teared up as she was telling me this. She said, “You know, he is a man of few words, but he will never know what that meant to me. That in his way he was saying, 'I am in this with you for life.'" I think we are in a day where that is not the attitude. It’s like, "Let’s try this on for size for a little while, and if it doesn’t work, we can always get out. Other people are doing it, and they seem to be okay. In fact, other people try to convince us to get out."

Holly: I think the term now is starter marriage. You have a starter marriage that lasts two to three years and then you start over.

Nancy: I was just reading within the last few weeks about some states looking at renewable marriage contracts, two years, and then you decide if you want to renew it. That is definitely the trend.

Holly: Exactly. Our son David who is twenty-nine has friends who have already been married and divorced and now are single again. Our culture is so much following that trend. So really, a lifelong commitment. Billy and I have been married almost four decades now. So I’ve been married almost twice as long as I was ever single, but that is the exception and not the rule.

Nancy: Now we talked yesterday about how your parents, Bill, prior to your marriage had been such an example of faithfulness and love for Christ, but not too many years into your marriage, their marriage hit a snag.

Bill: That’s exactly right. It was probably ten years after Holly and I had been married when my daddy, who was a pastor, fell morally. If you knew my dad, you would think there was nobody in the world that would be shocked like this. It was a real attack of the enemy and a vulnerable time in his life. But when that happened and my family . . .

Holly: I think your mom and dad at that point had been married forty-three years.

Bill: I was a thirty or thirty-one-year-old man.

Nancy: And just to be clear because a lot of listeners don’t know the story even though you and he have shared that, but your parent’s marriage did not survive.

Bill and Holly: Right.

Nancy: Later there was restoration spiritually, but your dad . . .

Bill: He divorced my mother, married a lady that was the age of my sister. It was several years, actually on my mother’s death bed, before God brought my dad and his wife to repentance. It was wonderful repentance, but costly, huge.

Holly: And those were really, really hard years. Those were tough years.

Nancy: For the whole family.

Bill: Anybody that says, “Well, my children will be all right; they’ll bounce back.”

Nancy: Or they are grown and it won’t affect them as much.

Bill: My entire theology was thrown in the air, and I didn’t know if it would land, and if it did, what it would look like. It was a devastating time.

Holly: I can remember us having our tenth anniversary. I can remember Billy and I sitting down and looking at each other and Billy saying, “This is a place I’ve never been before because we had never thought about the fact that our marriage could be threatened.”

Nancy: Their marriage seemed to be so rock solid.

Holly: And it was rock solid up until that point. So it was a moment when we really had to look at our marriage and say, “Are we in a place where God is going to continue to grow our marriage and is our commitment solid? Are we rock solid here?”

Bill: And that was the time, Nancy, I had little cracks in my life of moral impurity. I would say to Holly when we were talking about my dad, “Well, I understand how he fell into that affair.”

And she would say, “Well, I don’t understand.”

And I would say, “I understand.” That conversation would go on for a while then one day she said, “Why do you understand?” I just thought, "Okay, I’m going to open up."

We were probably ten years into our marriage, and I revealed everything in my life. That moment broke the back of that issue in my life. Coming out of that I began an annual retreat with three other pastors that has continued now for twenty years. We look each other in the eye, ask the tough questions. I told those guys if my dad can fall, nobody is immune.

My dad was sixty-seven years old when he fell. The enemy doesn’t care how long it takes to get you, he just wants to get you. Often he’ll let you go a long time so that you have a greater grid of relationships. My dad’s fall had a profound negative effect on a lot of people.

Nancy: A lot of ripples. Well, there are some women listening to this thinking, “Is there any way to guarantee that a marriage will go the distance?” Some women just got some real fear in their hearts. Maybe my husband is going to . . . If your dad was married forty-three years, he was a pastor, then he fell morally, are there any guarantees? Do I need to live I fear?

Bill: I don’t think we need to live in fear, but I do think that in this age particularly, we need to live with unbelievable caution and unbelievable circumspection about our life. We need to be taking heed lest we fall. It should create a healthy fear if I could say it like that, to drive us to the Lord, drive us to openness, drive us to transparency, drive us to communicating. 

I’d been going through a spell that I was thinking about my life and my future, and I had some fear. It was actually creating some tension between us, at least coming from me, because I was short; I wasn’t responding well to things. We sat down and had this long conversation for several hours. I just opened up. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide those things. I was kind of processing all of that. That led to greater intimacy, our souls were attached to each other.

Nancy: Go back to the moment you opened up. Your dad had the moral fall, and you opened up with Holly about moral struggles in your own life. A lot of men, I think, would be really afraid of what their wife’s response might be if they got that transparent and vulnerable.

Holly: I can tell you that is not a comfortable moment for any wife. It is a scary moment, I think. I can remember my mom saying, “There are just things I’d rather not know” about my dad. And I think there is some sense in which a lot of wives would rather not know. I had a young wife say to me the other day, “I am really fine with my husband just kind of doing his own thing. We’ll just take care of our kids; we’ll be nice, and we’ll move on.” In a marriage the problem with that is the enemy is also moving on.

Bill: And you’ve lost your helpmate. The person that is designed by God to take you places with the Lord that you can’t go otherwise. You have just cut off that relationship and you can’t do that. Now I do think, while we’re on this subject, if a listener is thinking about that, there needs to be that moment of transparency. Holly and I often counsel couples and say, “You need to get some counsel about how to navigate this because it is volatile."

Nancy: You’re throwing a grenade.

Bill: It’s like a shotgun.

Holly: It’s like walking through a mine field.

Nancy: So when a husband comes and says, “I’ve got this struggle with this area of temptation,” or maybe it comes out he’s involved in pornography or that he’s been tempted or even stepped out into an elicit relationship, what are some right ways and wrong ways for the wife to respond to that news?

Holly: I think the first thing for the wife to do is to be still. I know it creates tremendous fear when you hear those words. I think it is critical for us to get still enough to let the Spirit of God take us to a point of rest and truth. Sometimes that may mean that you have to say to your husband, “Let’s take some time and let’s talk about this tomorrow.” Or, “I can’t talk about this right now, but give me some time and we'll get back to it.”

Nancy: But if a wife hyperventilates out of the fear or the shock or not understanding how this could be, what does that do to a husband?

Bill: Well, it makes it harder. I think the husband is expecting that. He is expecting worse and . . .

Nancy: Which is why maybe a lot of the times they don’t open up.

Bill: That is exactly the reason. I mean the fear in them that says they’ll never understand, and it will just create a division that will be irreversible in our relationship. So you just close that door on that closet. But I think if a wife can say in the midst of her tears and in the midst of her hyperventilating, “Well, I just want you to know I don’t know how to respond, but I want you to know that I love you and we’re going to get through this.” That communicates something that is so huge to a husband. He knows she’s going to be upset. To be honest about it, it helps his repentance to see how his sin is affecting his wife.

Holly: Because it is a wound.

Bill: It is a wound to his wife. I remember when I shared some of those things and they were honestly minor compared to what a lot of men are sharing now with their mates. But I watched what it did to my wife and I thought, “I don’t want to ever have to go through that again.” Well, that is a tremendous deterrent to future sin. It is a very important part of the repentance journey. So it is okay to have tears, it is okay to be broken, you need to be real, you need to be honest.

But if in the middle of that you can assure him of your love, your commitment to the Lord, your desire to work through this together, then you’ve calmed his heart.

Nancy: So you have this initial coming to light of the truth, the shock,  and the “we’re going to get through this together.” But then you have to move on. How does a wife appropriately be a helper to her husband in an area like morals where he may struggle in ways she may not, without being a nag or controlling, making him feel that he can’t breathe? How can she appropriately encourage and help in accountability? Is she the one who should be helping with accountability?  

Bill: Let me back up one step before that. I think it is a tremendous help to a man who is struggling with even telling his wife these things, if his wife would periodically say to him, “I know some men wrestle with these deals, and I just want you to know if you ever need to tell me anything, I’m all ears. I will listen, and I will love you through that. I’ll be a safe place.” That is a huge load that has just gone off his heart.

Nancy: As opposed to “I don’t want to hear any of this.”

Bill: Exactly, or just silence. So I think setting that up really opens the harbor for him to sail into. Once that has occurred I think there are some fears that need to be helped in her life, and so she needs to know that he is getting help and getting accountability. I think she can be the greatest accountability partner for him. There is a way to set that up so that he can say to her, “Hey I’m going on a business trip. Call me at 10:00. You have all the freedom in the world to ask me any question you want.” Just that one open door.

Nancy: Does he need to initiate that?

Bill: I think he needs to initiate that if he can. If he can’t, maybe she can say things like, “Honey, what can we do? What can I do to help you in this area?” It goes without saying that one of the greatest ways is to meet his physical needs. But in terms of just asking questions, I think she could say to her husband, “Would it help for me to ask you some questions periodically?” But I think if she comes on like . . .

Nancy: There is no way I can trust you.

Holly: And she can’t be his parent. He’s had a mother.

Nancy: Or his Holy Spirit.

Holly: He doesn’t need a Holy Spirit or a parent, but what he does need is a completer. So even in this, even in those hard things, we are still to complete our husbands even in areas that are not what they should be. So God is calling us to come alongside them in this battle, and it is a battle.

You go to Ephesians 6 and you put on the armor yourself, and then you walk alongside your husband so that he is also putting on his armor. You do it together so that you know how to parent your children as they walk through those same temptations. You’ve already had some experience with confronting those things, and so your perspective is different when you one day have teenage sons and daughters. It is choice you make as a couple, and it is a hard choice.

Bill: I think a wife has got to be willing to have the balance of truth and grace. A lot of women are all over confrontation, but some women are, “I’m not going to ask that question because I’m afraid of what I’m going to hear.” Well, lovingly confronting somebody is speaking the truth in love. Galatians 6:1-2, “. . . with gentleness and humility, understanding your own weakness . . .”

When you come to me with that spirit and I know that spirit is there and I know that you’re going to respond in an appropriate way, then I can receive that. But when you come as a Gestapo agent and with an FBI badge, then you’re just shutting your husband down.

I think another thing that a wife can do is to say, “Hey honey, can we work together on coming up with a game plan?” Now, the husband should be initiating that himself. If I was counseling a man I would say, “Okay, you need to go to your pastor or a trusted godly mentor and you need to get a plan that not only will help you but will alleviate the fears of your wife. Every spot where she is fearful, you need to be proactive about that.”

Let’s get a game plan: an Internet safety deal, we got a "what if I’m gone on a business trip" plan, we’ve got a "what if I’m coming home late from work" plan. You just work it out and then you work the plan so that you can restore trust. And I say often to husbands, you’ve got to be willing to give your wife time for that trust to be restored. It’s going to take some time. If she comes back with fears and questions, you’ve got to be willing to go around that track one more time answering those questions because you’re helping her.

Holly: Right, and for the wives it takes a lot of courage sometimes to choose to come alongside your husband, to choose to listen to hard things that you don’t want to hear, to choose to run to the Lord for grace that you do not have, to enable you to walk into those things. I think it is much easier to ignore it, but it doesn’t resolve anything and then you end up with bigger and bigger cracks in the foundation of your marriage that become terminal if they don’t get attention.

Nancy: Well, I think there are many variations on this that we would like to be able to address, but the message we want people to hear is, wherever your marriage is, wherever your husband is or isn’t, the women who are listening to this, there is hope as long as there is God; there is grace for you in that situation.

Whether your husband is telling or not telling, whether he’s broken or not broken, whether he is ready for accountability or not, we’re not primarily speaking to the men on this program. So we have wives in a gazillion different situations, and for them to know the name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe. That regardless of where your mate is, regardless of where your marriage is, you can find God’s grace to be His woman in that situation and to be a helper to your husband—hard as he may make it perhaps—but to walk in humility before God and utter dependence upon Him, that is a safe place to be.

Leslie: Bill Elliff and his wife Holly have been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about the way husbands and wives can encourage one another to be morally pure. You can get that conversation on CD. We’re calling the series Building a Marriage That Glorifies God. We will send it to you when you support Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any amount. We’ll also include a book by Gary Thomas called Sacred Marriage. This book rescues readers from a fairytale view of marriage and shows them how marriage teaches couples holiness. In the pages you’ll see how marriage teaches you to forgive, it teaches you to be a servant, it makes you more aware of God’s presence, it will help you build character. These are just a few of the topics Gary Thomas explores.

We’ll send you Sacred Marriage along with the CD Building a Marriage That Glorifies God. Just ask for them when you donate by phone. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or donate at You’ll have a chance to indicate there on the site that you’d like these resources.

Well, have you ever noticed how many people are obsessed with greatness? Who is the greatest athlete, the greatest singer, the greatest business person? Well, next week Nancy will take you into the Bible and give you a true definition of greatness. I hope you worship and participate at your church this weekend, then be back on Monday for Revive Our Hearts.  

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.


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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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