Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: Diana was expecting her third . . . when the baby died in her womb. Decades later, she looks back and says of the Lord . . .

Diana Elliff: We can have peace in Him because He does all things well.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, for December 26, 2019. 

As we look back as a ministry on 2019, one big highlight was the release of the book You Can Trust God to Write Your Story. It was the first book by Nancy and her husband Robert together.

We all need reminders to trust God to write our stories, because none of us knows what’s ahead in 2020. Nancy is going to help us prepare and trust in God’s providence as she speaks with today’s guests.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I have an amazing privilege today! I didn’t know it was going to be happening today, but a couple of days ago I found out that Tom and Diana Elliff were here at our parent ministry. They’re ministering to some pastors and wives, and Tom preached to our staff in chapel. We got to see the livestream of it from my home.

When I realized they were here in town, I said, “We’ve got to get them in the Revive Our Hearts studio and talk with them about how they have trusted God to write their story.” There are a lot of beautiful pieces and parts of that. 

Tom and Diana, thank you so much for taking some time out today to come and share some of your story—God’s story—with us!

Tom Elliff: We’re glad to be here, Nancy. Thank you so much! This is a privilege.

Nancy: Tom, we go back a long, long way!

Tom: Let’s don’t talk about how long! But, yes. 

Nancy: I just said to you that you don’t look any different than, I think it was about 1984 that we first met. . .

Tom: Yes, I don’t think either of us do!

Nancy: But we’ve lived a lot of life since then!

Tom: There has been a lot of mileage in-between those years, that’s right.

Nancy: And—“spoiler alert!”—I’m going to give away some of the story of your lives when I say this. Diana, this is the first time I’ve met you. You were married to Wayne Barber. I didn’t know you or your husband, though, of course, I knew of your husband. Just tell a little bit about what his and your ministry as a pastor and wife was about.

Diana: Thank you, Nancy. Wayne and I were married for forty-seven years. He loved being a pastor; he loved the Lord God and His Word. He loved to preach the truth, and he had such a heart for people! 

He was quite humorous in his personality. I often said he was my big ol’ teddy bear, because even he was large he had such a tender, soft heart. We served in Chattanooga for the most part of our ministry. We were at Woodland Park Baptist Church there. They were the finest congregation ever!

Nancy: A shout-out?

Diana: Yes! We loved those people, and they loved us. It was a beautiful marriage between a pastor and a congregation!

Nancy: A lot of our listeners have heard your husband because of his work with Precept Ministries.

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: Kay Arthur would record videos, but then your husband did a lot of teaching that was available for couples’ groups or men’s groups that were doing Precept studies, right?

Diana: Yes, he did. Kay’s a dear friend, and the Lord used her to really get the message . . . My husband loved to share Christ in you, the hope of glory. Because of Kay’s hearing from the Lord, she asked Wayne to come and be her men’s teacher. He was on staff with them while he was pastoring the church in Chattanooga. 

So we’ll be forever grateful to her, and I also was privileged to take part in the studies of Precept and in teaching with Precept Ministries. But I gained more just from sitting before God and going through the homework, because “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). I was blessed by that.

Nancy: Right. I love how God has used Precept Ministries to give people a love for the Word. What we’re going to be talking about in this conversation has to do with the providence of God, which is large all through the Scripture from first page to last. 

But it’s one thing to know it in the pages of Scripture; it’s another thing to live it out and see God’s providence at work in your life. We’re going to talk some about how that’s been true in your story. So you and Tom have now been married . . .

Tom: Two wonderful years, next month!

Nancy: Well said! So there’s a story here, clearly. Let’s come back to you, Tom. I’ve known you since the early 80s, and I knew your first wife, Jeannie. She was one of my precious friends. I think a lot of people felt that way about Jeannie!

Tom: Yes, she had a way of making everybody feel like . . .

Nancy: . . . they were her best friends! We had just such a sweet relationship. She was a woman who loved God’s Word. She was involved in Precept Ministries for many years, as I remember.

Tom: Everything that Wayne ever wrote or everything that he ever spoke on video, my wife consumed, along with all the other Bible studies. She was a Precept teacher for thirty-seven years.

Nancy: I can kind of picture her marked-up Bible in my mind’s eye.

Tom: Yes, there are several of them. You’ve got a good picture.

Nancy: So you and Jeannie were married for how many years?

Tom: Jeannie and I were married for right at forty-nine years before she passed away of cancer. 

Nancy: I remember knowing, of course, that she was going through this. A lot of people were praying. We’re going to talk about some of that story. But watching you and Jeannie walk through that really difficult season with grace!

We’re going to talk about how that can happen, but not just in the loss of a mate—that’s a huge thing that you’ve been through—but then God bringing you together later in life. We were just chatting before we came into the studio about Robert’s and my story. We’re all just kind of giddy with the amazing thing when you look back and you see: God knew exactly what He was doing! Right?

Tom: Yes. 

Nancy: Tom, you and Jeannie, before you went through Jeannie’s cancer (and I’m going to let you just jump in here, too, Diana. because I know you’ve got stories from your past) talk some about in your earlier years of marriage and ministry. Maybe talk about an event that took place that God used to help ground you in the fact that you could trust Him to write your story.

When I talk about God’s providence, is that something you just always trusted? Take us back to maybe an event or a set of circumstances that challenged you in that.

Tom: We were talking a few moments ago about mentors, and I’ve had several mentors in life, three who remain alive. One is one-hundred-and-one, one is ninety-three, and the other is eighty-five.

Nancy: So that hundred-and-one-year-old, he figures his job isn’t done yet with you?

Tom: That’s exactly right! He told me recently not to celebrate too early. He’s running for a gold medal! Of course, in his age group, you get a gold medal for anything! (At least that’s what I’ve said to him!)

Nancy: If you can stand upright!

Tom: And the irony is that his mentor in college was also my mentor thirty years later, when I was a college student.

Nancy: Wow.

Tom: The way we connected was, we began to hear each other say some of the same things and were totally unaware that they were coming from the same source. But Preacher Hallock—E.F. Hallock—of Norman, Oklahoma was someone who believed—if I could put it in this kind of a nutshell—that the plans of God are revealed to the man or woman of God by the Spirit of God through the Word of God. 

He would say of the Bible, “Read it through, write it down, pray it in, and live it out!” He was determined that those whom he taught were going to learn those principles.

He wanted us to read it. He would say, “Read the Word voluminously and systematically and reverently and obediently!”

Nancy: That’s so good!

Tom: I began doing that. I first met Preacher Hallock when I was sixteen years of age, and he had a profound impact on my life! And in that, God called me to the gospel ministry. He had the same impact on Jeannie’s life. As a matter of fact, we were married because God, in His Word, had given me a template for the kind of person I believed I should marry.

And the only person who ever met that—when I was in college, anyway—was Jeannie. And so it was an easy thing; it was just like falling off a log! We fell in love and were married for forty-nine years. And through those years, God took us to each of our churches, overseas to the mission field, through a period when Jeannie and the kids were in a car that was sabotaged . . . our oldest daughter, Beth, was burned severely and coming back to the States for medical help. 

All the way through our ministry, we saw God’s providence! I would have to tell you, Nancy. If I could use something with which you’re very familiar—our daughter. We despaired of her life at one time because she was burned so severely and broken so badly because of what happened in Africa.

Coming back to the States, I began pastoring Applewood Baptist Church in Denver. Applewood hosted a Life Action crusade; you were there. Of course, they had the prayer room there. Our daughter Beth, the oldest of our four kids, stood up in that crusade. I watched her as she walked out to the prayer room. I wondered what she was going to be praying about.

Her report to me that evening was that she had always thought she was a believer in Christ, but was only pretending. She had done what her mother had done some years earlier at the age of twenty-five. She repented of her sin and put her trust in Christ as her Savior. Now, what do you see in that but the providence of God?!

She said, “I believe the accident helped me realize I could not make it without God. And in the crusade I discovered I could make it with Him.” What a great Provider He is!

Nancy: Wow, you see this thing of God weaving threads together. But as a parent (and I know, Diana, you have children and, again, I don’t know as much of your background) you see your kids go through things, or you see your close friends or your mate or someone that you really love, or the church that your husband pastored, or, Tom, the churches that you’ve pastored. You see these hard providences, especially when it’s your child! And you think, How could this be good?! I mean, in the moment you can’t imagine what you can see in retrospect, right? 

So, Diana, as you think back about your own journey, do you remember a hard providence that in the moment just seemed like, “I can’t imagine how this could ever really make good sense!” 

Diana: Yes, Nancy. I was about twenty-eight years old, and my husband and I had been blessed with a daughter, Stephanie, and our son, Steven. We realized one day I was with child, for our third child, and we were so thrilled that God had brought this blessing into our lives! 

My two children, before this, had been born right at three weeks to four weeks early, so this was about that same time in my pregnancy. We had gone to a rehearsal dinner that night; my husband was going to perform the service the next day. That evening, I realized that the last time I felt the baby move was earlier that morning, around 11:00 a.m.

I had been paying attention to that, and had not felt her move at all. So we called the doctor and he had us come to the hospital. In that day, they didn’t have the new techniques and technology that they have today, so the only way they could tell if the baby was alive or not was through X-ray.

So the nurse came into the room, and she tried to find the baby’s heartbeat. We couldn’t hear it, so the doctor was going to come the next morning. I was having contractions, so I thought, Well, I’m just trying to give birth to this baby. Well, the next morning the doctor came in and he said, “I believe we have a problem.”

So they took the X-ray and he said, “We have to wait twenty-four hours,” before they could read the X-ray. We discovered the baby had died. They took me into surgery. They were going to perform a C-section. Right before I went out for the operation for the delivery of my third child, I heard thunder and lightning. I remember thinking, Wow, we’re having a thunderstorm.

When I woke up I was back in my room. I looked at my husband and I said, “Is it all over?” He said, “No.” He said a tornado had come through and hit the building. It knocked out the electricity and also the back-up electricity.

Nancy: Is this at the hospital?

Diana: Yes. While I was in surgery, I’d been put out already. My husband was in my hospital room reading his Bible, and he heard nurses running down the hall saying, “Flashlights in surgery, flashlights in surgery!” Well, he knew the electricity was out; he knew I was the one in surgery. And so we discovered that the baby had died.

My husband was youth pastor at a church. Maybe two or three months before this event happened, the pastor had come in one day and told my husband, “I want you to cancel everything that you have for the next three or four months!” My husband was six years older than the pastor was, and he was like, “But I scheduled these things a year ago! How can I call and cancel?”

And the pastor said, “Cancel them!” So he did, and we realized the authority of God through that pastor. I needed my husband to be there that particular weekend, and he would have already been out of town when I went into the hospital. That gave us such a peace in our hearts, of knowing that God does orchestrate our lives, whether good, or whether it seems bad to us.

God was sovereign in that situation. And as we’ve lived out our lives—and now I’m in this marriage with Tom—we are still recognizing that we can have peace in Him, because He does all things well!

Nancy: I think it’s the laboratory of life. What does David talk about in Psalm 119:71? “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” How do you even say a sentence like that? “It’s good for me that I might learn your statutes” (KJV). 

So suffering, trials, they’re a tutor; they’re a mentor; they’re a schoolmaster. But in the middle of it, it feels like, “This can’t be right!” 

Tom: Yes. The author of Hebrews, as the Spirit was speaking through him while he wrote, reminds us that as believers in Christ, we do not live with fear of punishment. Christ took our punishment on the cross. This whole book of Hebrews is this wonderful high priestly statement about Jesus and His work and His full work on the Cross of Calvary.

But then in chapter twelve, after he’s given this roll call of men and women of faith, people who staked their lives on the truth of God and His providence, of whom the Scripture says the world was not even worthy . . . (see Heb. 11:28)

Well, as the author comes to the close of that in chapter 12, he reminds us that while we don’t have punishment, but what God does because He loves us is He disciplines us, and discipline is different. Punishment is you just get it out of the way: “You did this; you pay for it!” Discipline says, “I believe in you. You have a future. There is more usefulness down the road. I’m going to train you, and I’m going to invest in this.” Sometimes we call it “chastening” or “correction” or “discipline.”

Nancy: And He is training us to trust when we can’t see. I think that’s the hard thing about this theme that Robert and I have been living with for the past year or two now: you can trust God to write your story. Our kind of reflexive thing is, “If I could see what the story is, and where it goes and how it ends . . .”

Tom: Then it wouldn’t be trust!

Nancy: Then it wouldn’t be trust. So we’re saying we’re trusting what we can’t see, because we are trusting the character of God. We’re trusting that He uses even the hard things, even the things that people mean for evil because He uses those as part of making us like Jesus. We want the outcome, but we don’t necessarily want the process of getting there.

Tom: No, not at all. The operational principle of Christianity is faith, and faith is not just mentally assenting to a truth, endorsing it. Faith is operating on the basis of that truth, behaving. Not one person in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews—which is the roll call of faith—is famous for what they thought or how they felt, but because they did what God said.

Nancy: Wow, just say that last sentence again: They weren’t famous for. . .

Tom: They’re not famous for what they thought or for what they felt; they’re famous because they did what God said . . . in spite of what they thought.

Nancy: Which means they had to trust His Word!

Tom: Yes! Abel offered. Enoch walked. There’s an active verb. Noah prepared. Abraham went out. Jacob and Isaac blessed. Moses forsook. There’s always an active verb. And so when the Scripture tells us that we are encompassed about with this great cloud of witnesses, most people I think mistakenly say, “Well, they’re witnesses of us.”

Well, yeah, maybe. I think they’ve got more to do than lean over the edge of heaven and watch what’s happening here, right now. But we are encompassed with this cloud. They are witnesses to us that it is worth your life to stake everything on your faith in Christ. He is trustworthy!

Nancy: Well, they’ve reached the finish line, and they are kind of looking back. We’re encouraged as we think that they got to the end. Their faith in Christ stood firm. I know, Diana, as a pastor’s wife for all those years, you undoubtedly attended with your husband a lot of funerals.

And sometimes it’s the little ones, it’s the stillborn, it’s the little child, it’s the drug overdose. I mean, just the hard, hard things. How has walking through your own loss of that third child affected the way that you feel and love and encourage people who are going through their own hard place? Because I know you draw out of that life experience.

How has it shaped your view of God, your understanding of His ways, and your ability to encourage others?

Diana: When I lost our little baby . . . I don’t know why I use the word “lost,” because I know where she is; she is with the Lord. And now my late husband is able to be with her, and they’re enjoying fellowship with one another like I’ve not experienced yet.

Shortly after our daughter was buried, I heard of a family that was in our church, and they went through the very same thing that I had gone through. When we go through something and learn of God, then you’re so encouraged by Him to go. You go to them, and you bless them.

Nancy: Which is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:4, we comfort others with the comfort with which God has comforted us!

Diana: That’s right. One of the things that is prior to this story . . . One of the ladies that came to the hospital to visit me while they were having the service for my baby daughter (I was still in the hospital) said to me, “I know exactly what you’re going through, because I experienced this about fifteen years ago.” 

I was stunned in my heart, because I had been with Caroline in Bible study. I had heard her testify of the goodness of the Lord, and I had seen her laugh. I had observed her with her children.

And that blessed me so much! Because it was as if the Lord was saying, “You will be where she is someday. You don’t feel that now. As she has continued to love Him and walk on with Him, then you will be able to enjoy life once again.”

So I went to the hospital to see this little couple, and since they were church members, I just assumed that he was a believer. I was sharing with them how God had blessed me to know the story of when David and Bathsheba lost their son, and while the little boy was alive, David was in prayer and he didn’t eat, he fasted.

And then when he heard that the baby died, he got up, and he cleaned up, and he ate. His men with him said, “We don’t understand this! Why are you doing this now?” And David said, “My son cannot come to me, but I can go to him.” (see 2 Sam. 12:16–23)

And just knowing that I had experienced that with my little daughter, I wanted to encourage them with the Word of God saying that, “Your son can’t come to you, but you can go to him.” I left there, and about a week later his parents told me that he had gotten saved that day.

Nancy: The dad?

Diana: Yes, because he knew in order to see his son once again, he needed to know the Lord Jesus Christ in salvation.

Nancy: Wow!

Diana: So these are the joyful things that come from hard experiences and hurtful ways in our life. 

Tom: You know, Nancy, many people in your radio audience will be familiar with the name Vance Havner. For those listeners who are not, he was a very well-known evangelist. Billy Graham says Vance Havner was his model for what an evangelist ought to be.

Vance married very late in life; he married a lady named Sara, a wonderful lady. He didn’t even drive. She took charge! I mean, she provided so much that Vance needed, bless his heart! And then one day through an awful, awful illness, Sara passed away.

Someone came to Vance after that was over and said, “I’ve been listening to you preach lately, and there’s an effectiveness about it. In fact, you preach with a different tone.” And Vance said, “Yes, and it came at a high price!” 

And so, here is God using that experience in his life to bring out an element of empathy and concern for others that perhaps was not there before. Paying that high price. Again, in the background is the providence of God.

Nancy: We’re going to continue this conversation here tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. I’m just so grateful to see illustrated the beauty of the mystery of providence in your lives. Tom, I’ve watched you and Jeannie lives this in many different ways, and we’re going to talk about some more of those illustrations.

There was a tornado in your lives—a literal tornado (and probably some figurative ones, as well)—and I just think that hearing people affirm, as you do, that in the midst of the storm (literal or otherwise), God is still faithful, God is still good, that when you look back, you can affirm that He has done all things well.

I think getting to hear that from friends like you is a sweet encouragement and a ministry of hope to somebody who is in that storm, who is listening to this conversation right now. So be sure and join us tomorrow here on Revive Our Hearts, with Tom and Diana Elliff.

Dannah: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Tom and Diana Elliff about some of their most difficult seasons of life and they’ve been showing us why we can trust God—no matter how we feel.

Throughout this year, we’ve been bringing you interviews on the theme: you can trust God to write your story. Now, I know these conversations have encouraged many listeners going through very difficult times. And you can hear all of those conversations at ReviveOurHearts.com. We’re able to encourage you this way thanks to listeners who support Revive Our Hearts financially.

As a ministry, we’re trusting God to write the story of Revive Our Hearts! As we make the turn into 2020, we’re excited to see a lot of possibilities! We see opportunities to speak to a new generation of women by launching new podcasts and expanding our digital reach.

We also see God at work in nations around the world, and we want to feed that momentum by producing the program in even more languages. But we also see a lot of needs to make all of that happen.

One amazing part of the story came just a few weeks ago when some friends of the ministry pledged to double each gift up to a substantial matching challenge amount. In the few days left in 2019, we’re watching to see how that story ends. 

Will you be a part of helping us meet—or exceed—this matching challenge? To give a much-needed year-end gift, visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959. 

Tomorrow, we’re going to continue exploring God’s providence as Nancy talks with Tom and Diana Elliff about seasons of grief. They’ll show us how to walk in faith, even when we’re tempted to fear. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to remind you that you can trust God even when it’s hard. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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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