Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Gracious Woman

Dannah Gresh: Youth is celebrated and valued everywhere—just take a look at advertisements, magazine covers, or websites.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You either have to be young, or you have to work very hard and pay a lot of money to look young. And it gets harder and harder, as some of us can attest! The world does not place value on the wisdom of age, on maturity. God places great value on the wisdom that can come with age if you've been following Christ and practicing His principles in your life.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Thursday, December 17, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

What kind of season are you in right now? The days are growing colder for many of us this winter, and we’re preparing for Christmas. But I don’t just mean that kind of season. What season of life does God have you in? Are you faithfully serving Him in whatever role He has given you for this time of your life? 

Today you’ll be introduced to an unsung hero in the Christmas story. Nancy begins a series called, "Anna: The Woman Who Welcomed Christ."

Nancy: I’ve always enjoyed studying the lives of women in the Bible; men as well, but I find that God often gives me insights for my life as a woman by studying the women.

We’ve done a number of series on Revive Our Hearts in the past. We come today to a paragraph in the Christmas account in Luke’s gospel that gives us a bio-sketch of another godly woman.

I have been so blessed. Only three verses in Scripture tell us anything about her. But those verses are chock full of insight and have been very challenging to my life as a woman. In fact, I’ve decided this is who I want to be like when I grow up. This is the kind of woman I want to be.

Let me just reset the scene, because we’re jumping into a context here. Jesus has just been born in Bethlehem, and according to the Law of Moses, when He was forty days old, Mary went to the temple for a purification ritual. She took her Son, along with Joseph, the child’s adopted father, to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord.

Let me begin reading in Luke 2:36–37.

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. [Or as some of your translations say, “and then as a widow for eighty-four years.” We’ll talk about that in just a bit.]

She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

God in His providence orchestrates this scene. Mary and Joseph and the baby are there, and Simeon and Anna are brought to the temple at exactly the same time that Mary and Joseph come into the temple with the baby.

You couldn’t have scripted this. You couldn’t have made this happen, apart from God by His Spirit drawing them all together at this time. He moves both a man and woman to testify to the fact that the Messiah has been born.

Both Simeon and Anna prophesy in partial fulfillment of a prophecy we read about in Joel 2:28–29 that says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters,” Simeon and Anna, “shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”

Now, we won’t see the full fulfillment of that prophecy until Christ returns. But at the first advent of Christ, there at the incarnation, we saw a partial fulfillment of this as the Spirit of God was poured out on His servants, male and female, to proclaim who Christ was and what He came to do.

The only thing we know about Anna is what is found in this passage. This is the only reference to her in the Bible—just three verses, but so rich.

Anna’s name means—does anybody know what it means? Anna means “grace” or “gracious.” It’s the same word as the name we read about in the Old Testament of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Hannah and Anna—Grace or Gracious One.

I particularly like that name because Nancy also means the same thing. It comes from the same word, grace or gracious one. I know that I want to be a woman of grace. I certainly have been the recipient of abundant, overflowing grace of God.

When you as a woman are the recipient of God’s grace, it will make you a gracious woman. We see that Anna was a recipient of God’s grace, but she also expressed God’s grace by being a gracious woman. Gracious is consistent with what we read about Anna in this passage about her life and her character.

We’re told that she was a daughter of Phanuel. Sometimes we might say, “Is it worth pointing out these details?” I take the perspective when I read Scripture that if it’s in the Bible, it’s a detail that God inspired for some reason.

I may not know the reason, but there’s no insignificant detail in the Bible. Every jot and tittle, every word of the Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that we may be complete [see Matt. 5:18 and 2 Tim. 3:16–17].

So I like to bore down into some of these details and see what they might have to say to us. The fact that she was the daughter of Phanuel—the name Phanuel means “face of God.” In fact, in the Old Testament you remember that incident in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord (who was in fact a representation of God Himself, an expression of Himself)?

God blessed Jacob, and then “ Jacob called the name of the place Peniel,” or Phenuel, a related word here, “saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered’” (Gen. 32:30).

There’s something awesome and fearful about seeing the face of God, in any limited sense which we’re permitted to see it, and realizing that He by His mercy would spare us from the experience.

“Face of God”—that’s the name of Anna’s father. Phenuel’s daughter Anna saw the face of God in Jesus Christ. The meaning of her father’s name was fulfilled in her life, and she experienced and expressed His grace. Anna: Grace or Gracious One.

She was of the tribe of Asher. That’s not a tribe we hear a lot about, of the twelve tribes of Israel. That was one of the ten tribes of the northern part of Israel. You remember the northern ten tribes had been taken into captivity hundreds of years earlier. Those tribes had been dispersed, and most of those people had been assimilated into other cultures.

They never returned to the Promised Land as the southern tribes did. The southern tribes went into exile for seventy years, and God brought them back to the land. The northern tribes never returned. But a few people did—a remnant out of the north God preserved. When the southern portion, Judah, returned from exile, there were apparently some few from the northern tribes that came back as well.

We’re told that she is a prophetess. Scripture talks in the Old Testament about a number of prophetesses: Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron; Deborah; Huldah.

The New Testament refers to Anna as a prophetess. It talks about the four daughters of Philip who prophesied in the book of Acts [21:8–9]. Theologians differ greatly about what exactly is meant by an Old Testament or a New Testament prophet or prophetess, and they differ as to which are such functions in the Body of Christ today.

I’m not going to go into all of that. I will just say a few things that we can know. Vine’s Expository Dictionary, which is one of the tools I use a lot in my study, says that "it is the forth-telling"—not just foretelling, but the forth-telling—"of the will of God, whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future."

John MacArthur, whose study Bible makes a similar point, says, “This refers to a woman who spoke God’s Word. She was a teacher of the Old Testament.” So at least we know her to have been one who had unusual spiritual insight and understanding of the Scripture.

Where does that come from? From God; from the Holy Spirit. The natural mind cannot understand the things of God (see 1 Cor. 12:14). God’s Spirit had illuminated her mind and given her understanding, and she had proclaimed that truth to others. She taught the Word of God, presumably to other women or in conversation one-on-one with other people she had contact with.

Paul speaks specifically of this gift, prophesying, in 1 Corinthians 14:3. He says, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding [or their edification] and encouragement and consolation [or comfort].” Certainly Anna used this gift of prophecy in that way.

So we’re told she was a prophetess, and then that she was advanced in years. How advanced in years was she? We know that she had been married for seven years. The verse tells us that.

Then the Scripture says, in the translation I’m using (English Standard Version), that she was “a widow until she was eighty-four.” I’m no scholar or expert here, but based on the study I’ve done, I think some of the other translations may be accurate. Other translations say that she was a widow for eighty-four years after her husband died.

So it’s not clear for sure whether she was actually eighty-four years old—she’d been a widow for many years, one way or the other—or more likely that she had been a widow for eighty-four years. If the latter is true, she was married probably as a young girl.

In that culture she would have been married easily at twelve or thirteen years of age. Then she was married seven years until her husband died. So she would have been maybe in her late teens, perhaps twenty years old when her husband died. And then she’d been a widow for eighty-four years. Do the math. This makes this woman somewhere about 103 or 104 years old. She may have been eighty-four, if you take that translation. She was at least eighty-four, and may have been 103, 104, or older.

The literal translation where it says she was advance in years says, "She was very old in her many days." She was an old woman. She was elderly. I don't think she would have minded us saying that.

It's interesting how many older people, older believers, are featured prominently in Luke's account of the events surrounding the birth of Christ's incarnation: Elizabeth, Zechariah (the parents of John the Baptist who were past child-bearing years), Simeon (the Scripture doesn't say he was old, but it is likely that he was because he was apparently close to death), and then Anna (who we are told is very old in her many days).

It's interesting that these four believers, really Old Testament believers bridging to the New Testament, were among the most receptive to the advent of Christ. They were not only receptive, but they were perceptive—they recognized Christ. I see in Elizabeth and Anna two elderly women who are models for us as women.

You know our culture; just look at the magazines, the advertisements. It doesn’t esteem old age, does it? It esteems youthfulness. You either have to be young, or you have to work very hard and pay a lot of money to look young. And it gets harder and harder, as some of us can attest!

But the world does not place value on the wisdom of age, on maturity. God places great value on the wisdom that can come with age if you’ve been following Christ and practicing His principles in your life.

I want to remind those of us who are younger women and those who are older women (you decide which you are) that older women can have great spiritual wisdom, impact, and fruitfulness.

If you’re a younger woman, that means you need to listen to and solicit the wisdom of older women. If you’re an older woman, that means God isn’t done using you. Your life is not through. There’s usefulness yet to be had for you; and we see that in spades as we go through the life of Anna.

We also see that not only was she advanced in years, but she was a widow. She had lost her husband at a young age, possibly even when she was still a teenager, and then faced the rest of her life alone. This was in a culture when it would have been very difficult for a woman to survive as a widow unless she had a relative who could provide for her support.

She’s a woman who really would have had to trust God. She’d been through a lot. She knew about loneliness. She knew about being alone and being perhaps close to destitution at points. We don’t know those details. Her parents had undoubtedly died by now, if she was 103 or 104. Certainly her parents had died by now. She was alone in the world, humanly speaking.

But that aloneness put her in a position where she gravitated to the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. She gravitated to the Lord.

I thought of the verse as I studied her life from Psalm 73: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing I desire on earth besides you." Here's a woman who found God to be her great desire and enough to take her all the way through old age—many, many years, decades, as a widow.

I hope that’s an encouragement to some of you who may be widows, and many women in this room who will at one time or another face the season of life that is widowhood: God is the God who can sustain through each season of life.

One of the things I love about Anna is that she was a woman who was faithful to the Lord in each season of life. Each season of life had for her, as it does for us, its different responsibilities and its different challenges. She was faithful in each of those, and she found God to be sufficient for her in each of those life seasons.

There are actually three life seasons mentioned in these verses that Anna went through. It doesn’t give us great detail about them, but it alludes to them.

First of all, she went through a period of time, not long, but where she was single as an unmarried woman never having been married. She didn’t live that way many years, but it says that until she married she was a virgin.

So here’s a woman who found God’s grace, unlike many unmarried women today who are sexually active, who are violating God’s principles and thinking nothing of it. Even within the church we see this happening. Here’s a woman who was a virgin until she got married. It takes God’s grace to do that. It takes God’s grace to be faithful to God in that unmarried season of life.

Then she went through the season of being a wife. Again, only seven years that she lived as a wife, but it says she “lived with her husband seven years” until she became a widow. Here’s a woman who was faithful “until death do us part.”

It doesn’t tell us how she lived as a wife, what kind of wife she was; but looking at what kind of older woman she was, I think we can speculate that she was a woman who was faithful as a wife. Surely she grew in those years spiritually, but she was a woman who lived with her husband until she became a widow. She was faithful in the marriage season of life, in being a wife.

And then in what, for her, was the longest season of her life, as a widow for eighty-four years, perhaps; she lived in dependence on the Lord. She served Him all the way until the finish line.

Here’s a woman who, as we’ll see over the next few sessions, did not become reclusive. She didn’t become bitter. She didn’t become a crusty, old, cantankerous lady. She didn’t waste her life flitting around from one activity to another. She lived a life that was purposeful; it was intentional; it was fruitful, and it was God-centered—as a single, unmarried woman, as a wife, and as a widow.

As a result, her life has had an impact on multiple generations, including (aren’t you glad?) our lives today.

I don’t know what season of life you may be in right now, maritally or otherwise. We have women in this room who are in many seasons of life, from younger to older—different marital status, different work and home status, different seasons that God has called us to.

The question is: Are you being faithful, and are you finding God’s grace in the midst of whatever season you’re in right now?

As you look to the future, can you look to the future without fear, knowing that God will be enough for you in each season of life? And doesn’t it challenge you (it does me, as I think about Anna’s life) to realize that if I’m faithful to God and find His grace to be sufficient in this season of life, wherever God has put me, that my life will be fruitful and will have an impact on other lives, perhaps for generations to come?

Don’t underestimate the significance of your faithfulness to God in this season of life. You may think, “My life is obscure. It’s not touching anybody. I’m at home with these three, little kids all day long, day in and day out. My life’s not touching anybody.”

Anna may have thought that for years. “My life’s not touching anybody.” Here’s this widow, alone; yet her life is touching us today in God’s providence. It’s been preserved for us.

Your life will go on and bear fruit, potentially for generations to come, if you will be faithful to God in whatever season He has placed you now and in whatever seasons He has ahead for you.

Dannah: Even if you don’t see the results of what God is doing in your life, you can trust that He’s working. That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth encouraging you to keep serving the Lord faithfully in this season. This message is is the beginning of the series, "Anna: The Woman Who Welcomed Christ." You can find the transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com, and stay tuned as we dive deeper into her story over the next few days.

The story of Anna challenges all of us to keep expecting great things from God. And as we read in Luke 2, Anna was a woman of prayer. At Revive Our Hearts, we recently dedicated the month of October to prayer, specifically in what we called the Cry Out! Challenge. Tens of thousands of women joined together to cry out to God on the behalf of our broken world and to intercede for Him to move in our hearts. You know, Nancy, it was very impacting on my own heart and life and others as well. Many women have written to tell us about it.

Nancy: One of the things that I loved is that I don't think it ended in October. Women today are still crying out to the Lord around the world for Him to move in our world. We received stories, all kinds of testimonies of how God used this challenge to draw women closer to Him, how prayer has changed their hearts, or the hearts of those around them. Woman like this one who wrote:

This has been an inspiring challenge. I have gained a whole new perspective on prayer. Through crying out to God in prayer, my eyes have been opened anew to the ways in which God answers. Through this challenge, God has given me a new desire to intercede for others.

Dannah: I love how the Lord changed this woman’s view of prayer. As we cried out on our knees all month long, we were seeking the Lord for revival. One woman told us she had especially been praying for her church, for renewal and refreshment, that they would live for the glory of God. She says:

God has responded by working in the hearts of several people in our church—including mine—and He is doing exactly what I asked. I am so in awe of God, so amazed at what I see Him doing in my church family. There has truly been revival! I cry out to God now, asking that the revival continues and spreads to all in the congregation. God is so good, so faithful. And I am so grateful!

Nancy: I love that. Just imagine how that same thing could be happening in churches throughout this country and around the world. Dannah, that's what we dream of. That's what we long for. That's what we are believing God to do among His people around the world. Here’s another woman who wrote to say:

My own soul has awakened to the desperate need of our nation and all people. I have a yearning to cry out every day to the Lord that I hadn’t had before. I pray that He will continue to burden my heart for His people.

Dannah: Beautiful! I love these letters, Nancy, hearing the powerful ways God has worked through the Cry Out! Challenge. We sought Him together with desperation in these desperate times, and He met us there. Listen to this testimony from a woman battling cancer:

As a cancer patient at home recovering from a stem cell transplant, God used this time to take my attention off myself and my weakness and discomfort, and empowered me to pray for the world, my country, my state, and my small town. I cannot leave my house, but I can look out the windows up and down the street and pray for the residents in the houses I see, and the drivers in the cars that pass by.

Nancy: Wow! Just imagine multiplying these stories by tens or hundreds or thousands in the community where you live, your state, your country, and in our world. 

In this year of chaos, hardships, and difficulties of all kinds, the Lord is still faithful. Jesus is still on His throne, and these women can attest to that. I'm so thankful that day after day, month after month Revive Our Hearts is able to bring resources like the Cry Out! Challenge to women around the world through the help of our listeners, like you.

Dannah: That's so true, Nancy.  The funding we receive this month directly affects our ministry opportunities, since about 40% of our annual budget omes in December.

As we reach our year-end and prepare for 2021, we’re relying on the Lord to provide for our need of 2.2 million dollars. Would you seek the Lord, and ask Him if He would have you make a gift to Revive Our Hearts this month? And thanks to our Matching Challenge from some generous friends of the ministry, your gift will have twice the impact!

Nancy: I'm excited to see how the Lord is providing this month, and how He's going to continue to provide through the end of the month. We’re celebrating the many ways God has moved in hearts and lives all over the world through Revive Our Hearts. We look forward to the ways the Lord will work in the coming year, and we would love for you to be a part.

You can help us to continue to declare hope and spread the message that Christ is King. You can give to our year-end need by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com, or make your gift by calling us at 1–800–569–5959.

Thank you so much for being part of what God is doing in the hearts and homes of women where you live and around the world.

Dannah: The woman Nancy talked about in her message today, Anna, stayed engaged in prayer and service for the Lord even in her later years. Listen to the ways she served, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. Please be back.  

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth encourages you to keep serving the Lord in your season. The program 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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