Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: Carolyn McCulley was dealing with challenges related to singleness. At the same time, other singles in her church were coming to her looking for advice, expecting her to be the strong one. During this time, a Scripture passage kept coming to Carolyn's mind.

Carolyn McCulley: “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Somebody else would be on the door (knock, knock, knock). “Carolyn, can you help me?” I'd want to turn around and be like, “What?!” But I couldn't. I'd be like, “Yes, how can I help you?”

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Singled Out for Him, for Tuesday, July 14, 2020. I'm Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Yesterday, we heard the first part of a message that my longtime friend, Carolyn McCulley, gave a while back at a True Woman conference. Carolyn is the author several books including Radical Womanhood and The Measure of Success, which is a great work of women, work, and the home. In the message we're going to hear today, Carolyn challenges the popular definition of love and give us a biblical definition instead. This series is part of our month-long emphasis here on Revive Our Hearts, where we're hearing wisdom for everyday living from a variety of guests.

Now, in this message Carolyn is specifically addresssing single women. But if you are married, I want to assure you will be deeply challenged as well. Haven't we all been impacted by the world's concept of love? Each of us, regardless of our marital status, needs to embrace God's definition of true love.

Carolyn picks up with a concept we read in Proverbs 4. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Here's Carolyn McCulley.

Carolyn: With all of this messiness and this idea that we need to guard our hearts, we need not to be dating in our minds, or we need to have a more concrete perspective on our relationships. It's easier to think of it in terms of measuring our affections and parsing them out to people. Have you ever seen a toddler share something with you? They tear the tiniest little bit of something and say, “Here you go.” “Wow, that's really generous. Thank you.”

That's how the guarding our heart can feel. “Here you go, a little bit of my affection. The rest of it I’m going to keep behind this fortress.” But that is not a biblical idea either. In fact, I’m going to introduce the biblical idea to you. I'm going to do so by asking you to close your eyes and listen to a passage that you have heard in many other contexts. But I want you to hear it closer to the context that the apostle Paul meant it in.

I want you to picture somebody that you are struggling with right now in your church. Maybe it's a friendship gone awry, or somebody you're interested in that hasn’t pursued you or broke up with you. Someplace where you have hurt. We're going to listen to the higher standard for our affections.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor. 13:4–8).

You can open your eyes. The apostle Paul wrote that to a fractious group of Christians in a church in Corinth who were busy dividing themselves and creating new alliances based on material success, standing in society, professions; who would exclude some people from the shared meal, and at times get drunk while others watched on without anything to eat or drink. You can imagine this context of selfishness to receive a letter that talked about love is patient and kind. It is not rude.

We hear it a lot at weddings—and it's applicable to weddings, too, obviously. But I wanted to bring it back to the local church context so we can think about that in the course of relationships with friends, with men, with hoped-for relationships, with broken-off relationships, with people who've been unfaithful to us, and to realize through all of that God says to us, “Love never ends.” That's the standard to which we are to aspire.

But our culture is very quick to talk about cutting things off. “Cut that off. End that relationship. Break that off.” I'm not saying that there are not times where that is appropriate, especially for a season, to terminate communication. The overarching approach is that love never ends because our Savior’s love for us never ends.

What I began to think about in the years and years of hoped for and unrealized relationships in my life was the fact that every one of these men were truly redeemed by the Lord. We were all joined together forever because of the cross. I might say right now, “Speak to the hand. Not talking to you.” But that is a self-centered behavior because my Lord has redeemed this man and redeemed me. We will be forever together around the Lamb in heaven rejoicing, which means these relationships never end.

I think it's important to keep that in mind. Even if the Lord provides a spouse who remains faithful to us until the end of our lives, our job is to steward that spouse and that gift in such a way that when we give him back to the Lord, we can say, “By Your grace and for Your glory, I tried to present to you somebody not damaged by my sin, somebody built up by my words and by my love. Here is he back for you.”

Now I know in our church culture where we are trying to build up the idea of marriage because our surrounding society denigrates it, there are times when we make marriage and family an idol—even in our churches. It becomes the goal to have a good marriage and a good family. We do want good marriages and good families, don't misunderstand me, but that is not the ultimate goal, because these things end in this life. But the myriad of relationships that we have in our churches and our families continue on into eternity. So the idea of stewarding temporary gifts in this life are so that we can glorify God.

Even in good marriages, it's not something that is insular, that turns in on ourselves so that we can be like, “I have a good marriage; I have a good family, and we're all going to sit together and be really pretty.” God gives us those relationships so that we are a picture of redemptive qualities to a watching world. That includes when we're not. When we're failing, when we're snarling at each other, when we're being anything but lovely because we recognize our sinfulness and we turn around and confess our sinfulness to those who are watching and those who are affected by it and ask for forgiveness.

You really want to affect an unbeliever, you humble yourself. An unbeliever can see your sin clearly, if not more clearly than you can. But a watching world doesn't often hear people say, “I'm sorry. I was selfish, please forgive me.” You're going to affect people by your humility.

Now going back to this 1 Corinthians passage, Don Carson, in his commentary Showing the Spirit, amplifies this point by saying,

Love does not merely seek that which does not belong to it. It is prepared to give up for the sake of others, even what it is entitled to. In personal relationships, love is not easily angered; that is, it is not touchy, with a blistering temper barely hidden beneath the surface of a respectable facade, just waiting for an offense, real or imagined, at which to take umbrage.

Christian love always endures (or possibly endures all things). It always trusts—which does not mean it is gullible, but that it prefers to be generous in its openness and acceptance rather than suspicious or cynical. Love hopes for the best, even when disappointed by repeated personal abuse, hoping against hope and always ready to give an offender a second chance and to forgive him seventy times seven.

Love perseveres. When the evidence is adverse, love hopes for the best. And when hopes are repeatedly disappointed, it still courageously waits.

I want to clarify something in there—and I think I can clarify it for Dr. Carson, too. He is not saying that we put up with the sin of abuse. We definitely need to confront those who are being sinful by abusing others. But what he is saying is the gospel gives us eyes to see the purpose, God's redemptive purpose, that can come about even for those who are abusing others. They are not beyond the grace of God.

So, going back to the issue of guarding our heart. Did you know that the phrase is actually in the Bible twice? I found it once in the NIV version of Proverbs 4:20–23,

My son, pay attention to what I say; [listen closely] to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for [it is the wellspring of life].

In this context, we see that the heart is the wellspring. It means it is the source of things that emanate out of our lives and that affect others. This point is amplified in Matthew 15 when Jesus is speaking to His disciples and to the Pharisees who have come to challenge Him about washing of hands. He says,

Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone (vv. 17–20).

What He is saying there is, “Guard your heart from the effects of sin, because what you store up in your heart comes spewing out on others.” The biblical principle in both the Old and New Testament is, “What you are ruminating about in your heart, what you keep going in your thoughts, what you store up in terms of your judgments of other people and of God come out in your speech and in your actions.”

So to guard our hearts means we guard our thought life from rehearsing the sins, weaknesses, and failings of others, and from complaining about them. Now particularly in the situation of singles, and being single, you know those moments where the man you've been interested in and he turns around and asks somebody else out? Or he breaks up with you? Or something happens in the relationship you're in the midst of and he doesn’t do what you wanted when you wanted it so you think it's an evidence of him not loving you? All three of those circumstances are opportunities for us to look at what we're doing in storing things up in our hearts, because those things come out.

An unguarded heart is actually one that we're not guarding from defiling it with our own sin. It's so easy to wake up and the first thing you think about is, “I can't believe he dumped me. I can't believe he asked somebody else out. I can't believe whatever.” You start renumerating over and over again the things that you think are more grievous than your own sin before a holy God.

When we realize that we have offended God far more often and far many more times than anybody could possibly have offended us, that gives us the humility to be more gracious in our thought life. Now I’m not saying that this is easy, and I’m not saying that the day after your boyfriend breaks up with you that you're going to bound out of bed, going “Ta-da. Life is good. Bring the butterflies. Here we are dancing around.” It's not going to be like that; it's a process. It's a process of daily reminding yourself, “That's right, I shouldn't be thinking and rehearsing thoughts and sins, going over and over it again like a dog going round and round before he finally lies down.”

One way that we can prevent this storage of sin in our hearts that will overflow onto others is by remembering the kind and wise words of another single man, who in Philippians 4:4-9 wrote some of the most familiar passages that we have as Christians—passages that adorn a lot of retail art, passages that are quoted by lots of other people. But now I want you, once again, to think about this in context of the people that you have conflicts with. The apostle Paul wrote,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone [some translations say, “let your gentleness be evident to all”]. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

So you're in the midst of disappointment. Nobody came along. Somebody's come along and went out with somebody else. Somebody's dumped you. Somebody's been unfaithful in his relationships. Whatever the situation is—romantic or otherwise—we have here a prescription for how to handle the disappointment. The apostle Paul tells us first and foremost, “Rejoice in the Lord.”

This isn't just Christian pie-in-the-sky, like, “Yes, yes, life's tough, but be happy. You're a Christian.” No, this is saying, “Dig in deep.” Acknowledge your hurt, but remember you have been given an incredible gift. Not only have your sins been forgiven, but you have been handed the righteousness of Christ. You will forever be with Him. You will suffer no judgment. One day you will stand before the Lord and out of the judicial robes will come His hand, where He will point to you and either say, “Go to my left or to my right. You either depart with me, or you come.” For those who have received His gift, His hand of judgment turns into the hand that's been crucified for you. He says, “Come and enter into My joy.”

Now if that doesn’t make you stop and rejoice, and you know what, it doesn't always. Sometimes you have to get your nose out of your navel and be like, “Right. Jesus means more to me than this man's affections.” But it doesn’t always happen right away, right? It doesn't. I'll be honest. All of us suffer times of having this great big yawn towards the gospel, which is so offensive. But it's why we need a Savior.

Those are the moments where you can turn and will yourself to say, “This hurts right now. It hurts a lot. But Lord, I know that even in five years in this fallen world, I’m going to probably have forgotten about this, much less than all eternity where I will be rejoicing before you. So help me now in my unbelief so I can rejoice in your goodness toward me.”

“Let your reasonableness or your gentleness be evident to all.” When you hurt, it's easy to be really prickly, isn't it? My friends call that spatula-neck. It's where you are so tense it looks like you swallowed a spatula. You're like, “Hi, how are you. Good to see you” (said shortly). They didn't come out with that name because somebody else was evidencing spatula-neck. It's because I would do that.

There was a season of my life where so much was required of me at the time. I was under incredible deadlines, and everyone around me seemed to be having a significant milestone—whether it was a crisis or happy moment. I felt like I was being pulled in ten directions. The Lord kept pounding that verse into my head. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. Let your gentleness be evident to all." Somebody else would be at the door (knock, knock, knock). “Carolyn, can you help me?” I'd want to turn around and be like, “What?!” But I couldn't. I'd be like, “Yes, how can I help you?”

I had to on the outside do that because on the inside I was still like, “What!” I was trying to let my gentleness be evident to all. So in the practice of sanctification, you eventually get your heart there. Sometimes we really have to drag our heart along with us in the sense of, “I will be happy at some point. But right now, I’m just going to go for it. I’m going to have to try to act like it and assume that my heart's going to catch up with me soon.”

Let your reasonableness and your willingness to be appealed to. Do you know what I'm talking about? Some women who are so hard, they are so unyielding? There is no way you can ever come to them and say, “Maybe you should consider another perspective,” because they'd be like (hissing cat sound). You don't want to be that woman. You want to be humble and supple enough that when people come to you, you're like, “Let me hear.”

You have another step. Don't be anxious. Above all else, don't speculate into the future. “He didn't ask me out! No one is ever going to ask me out! I'm going to be just like that speaker!” Don't speculate into the future. You don't know.

My friends and I in times of our greatest temptation to speculate about things—for good or for bad—we'd look at each other and say, “You don't know nothing about nothing.” That's really helpful. Because in those moments when we're sure that God's against us, "he's never going to let me ever date anybody," then somebody appears out of the blue. Then don't you feel really humble?

Even if that hasn't happened in your case, it's happened for other people. Lately, I’m seeing a lot of relationships and marriages start for people who have thought for some reason that they were disqualified from God blessing them. I can guarantee you that no matter exactly how your circumstances work out in your life, when you get to see Him face to face, you're not going to go up to Him to and go, “What was that all about?”

No, you are going to come up, and you are going to take the crown that He has given you, the rewards that He made possible by His grace to be obedient, and He is going to reward you for this. When this whole thing hits you, you're going to throw your crown down at His feet, and you are going to say, “I am not worthy.” And you are not.

You are an object of grace and an object of mercy. Knowing that, you can turn around to your fellow sinners when they sin against you and recognize that they too are objects of grace and mercy as they know the Lord. That allows you not to be anxious, to be gentle, to rejoice in the Lord. It motivates you therefore to pray, because the Lord is at hand. You can pray and thank Him that you have desires, that you desire a good thing, and that you're trusting Him for the fulfillment of those desires.

Nancy: Carolyn McCulley has been offering wise, biblical counsel on trusting God with our future and with our desires. Carolyn addressed that talk to single women, but I think everyone can get a lot out of this message, because we all need to learn to trust God with the issues in our hearts, regardless of our marital status or season in life.

I so appreciated hearing from a listener who wrote us and said, “I'm single and in my thirties. God is healing my life from poor choices I have made, and He is using your ministry in this healing.” What a blessing it is to see how God is using this ministry to bless women in various seasons of life and to help them walk in God's wisdom.

Dannah: Throughout this month we're bringing you practical, wise conversations and messages like this one from Carolyn. We want to help you navigate life in a way that honors God. That’s where The Little Red Book of Wisdom comes in. It's is a book Mark DeMoss, Nancy's brother,  wrote some years ago. It really is not a huge, thick book, but it’s chock-full of practical advice for each of us.

Nancy: As you may know, Revive Our Hearts is a listener-supported ministry. That means we depend on donations from friends like you to keep our outreaches like this program going on a day-to-day basis. This month, when you contact us to make a donation, we want to say "thank you" by sending you my brother's book, The Little Red Book of Wisdom.

Dannah: You can donate by calling us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit us online at

Nancy: Well, sin often comes when you desire a good thing too much. Carolyn McCulley shows you how to avoid sin and keep the desire for relationships in perspective. Learn to keep marriage and family from becoming an idol, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Helping you guard your heart, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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

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

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About the Teacher

Carolyn McCulley

Carolyn McCulley

In 2009, Carolyn started Citygate Films, a documentary film company where she is a producer/director. Prior to that, Carolyn served as the media specialist for Sovereign Grace Ministries, worked in corporate communications, and was a television and commercial film producer. She is a frequent conference speaker and has authored several books.