Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Here's Jeannie Elliff.


Jeannie Elliff: If you're in a covenant with your husband and with God, you can go to God and say, “God, I don't understand why he acts like this. Help me. Help me to know what to do." If you have Christ and he has Christ, He'll show you how to work it out. 

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, July 17.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You can spend lots of dollars, as many people do, and lots of time and years, perhaps, going to a marriage counselor and trying to put back together a marriage that is falling apart (kind of like Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall). Or you can start on the front end putting into practice and into place in your life some basic, biblical principles that will help your marriage go the distance, be the marriage God wants it to be, not without challenges. But the Scripture has so much to offer that will make a difference in your marriage, that can give you a marriage that will glorify God.

We're talking this week with a couple who are committed to the sufficiency and the authority of Scripture when it comes to this issue of marriage. They've ministered to thousands of marriages over the years, in the pastoral ministry, in counseling, in teaching the Word of God. They're here with us this week on Revive Our Hearts to share out of their lives, out of their experience and some of the things God has taught them about marriage for the glory of God—marriage and family for the glory of God, but we're starting on marriage.

Tom and Jeannie Elliff, thank you so much for joining us.

Jeannie: Thank you!

Tom Elliff: Thank you! Hi Nancy.

Nancy: You are dear, long-time friends, and it's been so fun to watch you, over the years, develop this marriage that is—now you're in a season of life where your kids are grown and launched and you're still very engaged with them and your grandchildren, but you're able to be serving the Lord together, travelling together.

Jeannie: Nancy, I thought this day would never come when my children were toddlers. I thought, “Oh, I'll never get to go with him," but I do now.

Nancy: So many couples, if they could know you, would say, “That's the kind of marriage I'd like to have.”

Jeannie: Goodness.

Nancy: You can't change your partner. You can't make him something else, but we're talking to a lot of wives who want to have a marriage that is pleasing to the Lord. They want to be the kind of wife who will bring glory to God, who will be a blessing to her husband. Some of them are living with difficult mates, difficult situations, baggage in the past. God's given you some things, some insights that will help, if applied to a marriage, make it be all that it can be for the glory of God.

Now, they're sitting listening to you and thinking, “Well, here's two perfect people who just don't have any challenges, Jeannie married to a godly man. After all, he's a pastor, and pastors are paid to be godly, right?”

Tom & Jeannie: Laughter

Nancy: But you haven't been married for 40 years without having to work through differences.

Tom: Sure, and Nancy, you know, right now, if your radio audience is like most radio audiences at this moment, a vast number of the people listening to you are single moms, or they are young moms with some young children, struggling to make the best of a bad situation. When we say we're talking about how to start out your marriage right . . .

Nancy: thinking it's a little too late for that

Tom: . . . they're thinking, “I'm into this thing, and I'm wondering if it's ever going to get right.” I think that's one thing that your program can bring to the table. Through specific choices that we make at any given time in our life, we can move up. We can make, by the grace of God, things can be better. I'm even speaking to the lady right now who's wondering if her husband's even going to come home from work today perhaps and tell her that he is leaving, and she's wondering what she's going to do.

There are right choices to be made at any given moment, and if you didn't grow up in a godly home, and if you don't have a godly home, then it all begins with a choice. Just as there is a choice that we make to trust in Christ as our Savior, which, of course, is paramount, there are other choices that we make. I'm just excited that you on this program are taking the time to say to your listeners, “There is hope for you.”

Nancy: Yes.

Tom: There really is hope for you.

Nancy: We're watching the power of Christ, the power of His Word, the power of the Gospel transform hopeless situations day after day, and of course, you've seen this in the ministry over the years.

Jeannie: Right.

Nancy: The grace of God is really an incredible thing. When you put it into the mix, it takes a situation where there is no hope . . .

Jeannie: Nancy, it's really interesting. When Tom and I started out our marriage, I was one of those pretty much goodie-two-shoes type Christians. I did everything right, won all the awards, and did everything my parents said and married a preacher, but I didn't really . . .

Tom: surrendered to missions

Jeannie: . . . surrendered to missions. I did not really know Christ truly in my heart until we'd been married five years, and I had to humble myself and say, “I have trusted my works to save me. All this good that I've done . . . Of course, Ephesians 2:8 and 9 came to mind because I'd had it memorized, and I was trusting my works to get me in a relationship with the Lord. From that point on in our marriage, I think things really began to open up for me because I had Christ in my heart, and it was real to me.

Tom: It amazed me. I mean, several times I had actually convinced Jeannie that she was bound to be a Christian, but she wasn't.

This tablecloth in the studio here, Nancy, is made out of a synthetic, and we like synthetics because they look like the real thing. They feel like the real thing, but they're not the real thing. We like them because they take less care than the real thing.

I'm sure that we're speaking to some people who would say that their personal walk with the Lord is more synthetic than authentic. My first challenge, in fact, the very first crack out of the box in terms of pre-marriage counseling is you need to both know that you have a real, dynamic, vital experience that is changing your life today, experience with Christ. You need to know that you are cleansed and forgiven and know that you have repented and believed on Him, not just gone to church, not just trusting in your works to save you.

I remember a lady saying to me, “The only thing that could happen to change my husband,” (their marriage was on the rocks) “is if he could walk in the door and Jesus would be there.”

I said, “Well, He can be.”

She said, “Yah, sure.”

I said, “Well, does He live in your heart?” I said, “Why should he walk in the house and Jesus not meet him through you? Isn't that what the Christian life is all about?” As we began talking, she finally just admitted to the very kind of experience Jeannie had and that is that she had never repented and believed in Christ.

The title of your program, or broadcast here, Revive Our Heartsone of the reasons that many churches struggle with ever having a revival is because they're dealing with a congregation that is predominantly unregenerate, so it is not revival that is needed. It is conversion that is needed.

Nancy: Yes.

Tom: That's certainly true in a marriage.

Nancy: The changes that we're trying to see take place in a marriage are impossible apart from that foundation of the presence of Christ in the life. 

Tom, you were saying something when I heard you speaking earlier this week in this convention about the difference that salvation could and should make in our lives. I think so many times we say, “I came into marriage with this baggage, with this background, with this past, with this story that. It just defines who I am.” You were pointing out what a difference genuine conversion really does make.

Tom: Nancy, I know some of our listeners are familiar with the term co-dependency. I think there are some people who are co-dependent on their past because they're always using the past to explain to them, to excuse where they are today. Well, that ceases when you come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior. Now, it may help to understand a few things, but when you come to know Christ, genuinely as Savior and Lord, old things pass away. All things become new.

Jeannie: Behold, all things. Behold all things become new.

Tom: You're a new creature in Christ Jesus, so don't sell conversion short. I mean, it will work wonders. Now, if it will work wonders in you, think of what it will work in your mate and in your children. A lot of times we're just trying to act out the Christian life and wondering why it's not working when really, it's not the Christian life at all. It's just a pretense.

So I would challenge our listeners here today, Nancy, if they have never come to that point of just, as Jeannie said, just giving up and saying, “You know, I really am a sinner. I've been really trying to do a good job of this Christian life, but I am a sinner separated from God. I need to repent.”

Nancy: We often on Revive Our Hearts extend that challenge to people who may be churched, may be religious, but don't have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you try to bear the fruit of the Spirit if you don't have the Spirit of Christ in you, it's going to be one uphill struggle, impossible struggle, for all of your life until you get Christ in you bearing that fruit. Let me just say a strong amen to what Tom and Jeannie have said here. If you have questions about your salvation—maybe God is convicting your heart right now. You do not have a relationship with Christ. Do what Jeannie did. Get honest. Cry out to the Lord for mercy.

Jeannie: But you do have to come to the end of yourself, and that's what I had reached—two toddlers. I had five years of marriage, and I just was exhausted trying to be the kind of person the Lord wanted me to be. I finally said, “I can't do it,” and my biggest sin was pride. I was proud of the things I'd done, proud of my wonderful life.

I never took a drink. I never smoked a cigarette. I was one of these wonderful people, but the Lord doesn't look at that. He looks at our hearts, and my heart was dirty and dark and full of pride.

Nancy: And it took the humbling of that pride to say, “I'm lost. I need a Savior. I need Christ.”

Tom: And for the pastor's wife to present herself to the church to openly confess the fact that she was trusting Christ and then to subsequently be baptized. Then God gave you a voracious appetite for the Scriptures . . .

Jeannie: That's what really happened.

Nancy: Like a newborn baby.

Jeannie: Yes, yes.

Tom: . . . and for leading people to Christ. Oh, it was incredible. She was sweeter in the flesh than I was in the Spirit anyway, but when she came to know Christ, I mean, it was just, I couldn't believe it. It was amazing, the transformation that took place in her life.

Nancy: Now, if it's important to know Christ yourself in order to establish a good marriage, say something about the importance of marrying someone else who knows the Lord.

Tom: That's one of the other things that has been a prerequisite for marriage, that both individuals in this union, that they both know Christ as their Savior. Many times couples will come where one of them is a Christian, generally the young lady, and the other one is not a professing believer. The idea in her heart often is, “Well, I'm going to get married, and I will change him.” But what if they get married, and he changes her, which is generally, more often than you would ever imagine, it goes in that direction without the miracle of God's grace?

So, just hold out for the best from the very beginning. I know that we're talking probably mostly to married people here.

Nancy: But we have parents who are preparing their children for marriage.

Tom: Say to your children from the get-go, “It's imperative that the person that you marry be a person who knows Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”

Nancy: And has a vital faith. I had a young woman come up to me, not a young, actually, maybe close to my age, recently. She's been dating a guy for years. She said, “I'm trying to decide if I should marry him, but he's just not quite spiritually, I think he's a Christian, but just there's this kind of . . .”

Tom: Yes, you should know that. 

Nancy: Well, if he is, or she thinks he is, but there's not a vital faith there, I just said to her, “Don't do it. Don't do it.”

Tom: Well, marriage is God's idea, and the very thought that you can do it right without knowing the author . . .

Jeannie: doesn't make sense. That doesn't even compute.

Tom: . . . the one who dreamed it up, doesn't even make sense. Marriage is a covenant, and it's not just a covenant between two people. It's a covenant between two people and God. Well, if you're not believers in Christ, how can you do that?

Marriage is a picture of what it means to be saved. The whole marriage ceremony is a picture of Christ, the groom, and the Church, the bride. If you don't know Christ, that's a mockery because it's to be a worship service. It's actually to be an evangelistic service at which other people could trust in Christ as their Savior. So to do that without knowing Christ is just ludicrous. It is imperative, as you said, to have a vital faith, both the bride and the groom.

Nancy: Okay, you used the word covenant, and I know that's an important word in the Scripture. It's a precious word in our relationship with Christ. His covenant with us made possible through the shedding of His blood is what gives us eternal life and hope, but covenant's an important word in marriage, too.

Tom: It's a crucial word. Of course, a covenant is different than a contract. A contract—many people probably have a contract sitting around in a file at their house, maybe a contract for their house, a loan agreement. It has many pages to it, and the reason it has many pages to it is because a contract is based on mutual distrust. All those pages are your options in case one party or the other fails. This is your recourse.

A covenant is based upon mutual trust. The word covenant, berith, actually means cutting. In the days of the Old Testament, when a covenant was made between two people, they would literally cut an animal, nose to tail, into halves, and after walking between those halves, they would stand in the middle and would exchange coats and belts and swords.

The coat was to say, I'm giving you my identity. I'm taking upon myself yours. Belts—I'm giving you my strength. I'm taking upon myself your strength. Swords—my enemies are yours; yours are mine. Then they would look at these two halves of the animal, and they would say, “May God do so and more to either one of us if we break this covenant,” and it's a picture. I mean, those were the tokens.

It's a picture of our relationship with Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We are in Christ. We have His identity. His enemies are ours, ours His, and then on top of that, there are these tokens.

Of course, we use a wedding band. We don't use coats and belts and swords and animals cut in two, although that would attract a crowd at a wedding, but we use the ring. The ring is a token of what? It's a token—the minister says it—of the covenant relationship. It's a covenant, not just between two people, but between two people and God. How could you do that without knowing Christ as your Savior is just beyond me.

Nancy: Once this covenant's been made between the couple and God, how does that covenant, the realization of the permanence of that covenant, help a marriage that's under pressure, under assault? It's now the worse of better and worse. It's the poorer of richer and poorer. How does that concept of the covenant keep a marriage together?

Jeannie: Tom and I both grew up in wonderful homes, and the word divorce was never, never thought of. I grew up with a knowledge that you stuck it out. But if you're in a covenant with your husband and with God, you can go to God and say, “God, I don't understand why he acts like this. Help me to know what to do.” If you have Christ and he has Christ, He'll show you how to work it out, the hard times, the poorer times that every marriage goes through, we've gone through, rough times. The Lord shows you what to do.

Nancy: But you've got to start with the premise that getting out of this marriage is not an option.

Jeannie: is not an option

Tom: not an option

Jeannie: not an option

Tom: It is not an option. Bottom line.

Nancy: Okay, but you get a couple that comes to a point where the tension is so great, the hurt is so great, the lines are drawn. We're getting letters and emails from these women all the time describing horrendous battleground situations, and she's feeling, “That's my only option. I'm so hurt, so damaged, so wounded from this relationship, for my kids' sake, for my sake, I just have got to get out of here.”

Tom: Nancy, I don't think that anyone in his right mind would encourage a person to stay, especially in an abusive situation. There are other recourses than divorce. On more than one occasion, I have said to individuals, “For your own health and for your own safety, I want to encourage you to separate. You need to separate at this point because your life may be at stake,” and some of the things that are happening.

Someone will say, “Well, it takes just as much trouble to go through separation as divorce.” But separation says, “I'm holding out for an answer.”

Jeannie: That's right. There's hope.

Tom: Somebody says, “Well, only a miracle of God.” Right! That's what we're talking about. That's why we have Revive Our Hearts, because we believe that God is a miracle-working God and that we ought to hold out for that mirace. I think it's important for people to understand that we're not saying that there's no place in marriage for common sense, but that God always has a next step for us to take that brings hope to us.

Nancy: Have you seen the Lord rescue . . .

Jeannie: Oh, yes!

Tom: Oh man, oh man, oh man!

Nancy: . . . and redeem some hopeless situations?

Tom: Oh, I'm telling you!

Jeannie: I was just thinking of several of those cases. Of course, we can't mention their names or details. My mind was just filling with couples. You were describing the woman that writes in, calls in in a hopeless situation. I can think of one young woman, and it was awful. It was just terrible, but she purposed, after Tom talked to her, and I talked to her, to make her marriage work.

Her husband totally made a turnaround. They are doing wonderful. They have three other children. They have a lovely home. We got a Christmas card from them this year, and it was just, it was wonderful to see that.

Tom: The great thing about pastoring the church we were just pastoring for 20 years, was to be able to stand up and look out across the congregation and see home after home after home after home that had basically been rescued—I mean, was just absolutely horrendously impaired as far as the marriage is concerned.

I looked down there, two rows from the pulpit was always a couple who now lead in the church the rescue ministry. I can remember her being at the altar and weeping her heart out and praying for God to somehow reach her husband.

Some years ago, we were seated at a table, our deacons and I, and one of our deacons said, “I'm going to resign because the Bible says that deacons ought to rule their own families well, and I've got a girl who's just, she's a pill.”

We prayed with him and said, “Well, we'll just keep praying with you.”

I would see him in the hallway at church, and I'd say, “Well, how are things, Henry?”

He'd always say, “Up there or out there.”

I'd say, “What do you mean?”

He'd say, “Well, up there, God has given me a Bible promise that one day my children will be around the table like olive plants, but out there, Brother Tom, it's looking tough.” He would give me this report, and he would always say, “Up there.”

Jeannie: This is over a period of several months or maybe years.

Tom: Oh, yes. “Up there or out there,” and he said, “Now she's gone. Now she's moved in with a guy that's pushing drugs. Now she's pregnant.” It was always, “Up there, but up there, God has said one of these days my family will be like olive plants, all of them around the table.”

One day, I got a phone call, and it was from his daughter. She said,

Preacher, I know you haven't heard from me in a long time, but I've got to visit with you. My husband's pushing drugs. He's got caught. He's in jail. Someone who doesn't even know that I'm married to him now—someone went down to the jail, led him to Christ. He now has called me. I need to go before the church and ask to repent and ask for their help. I need to make things right with my parents. I don't know how to do that.

I said, “Well, come see me.” As she was walking in the door, her parents were walking out. I didn't even orchestrate—this is God. I'm a slob anyway. I wept with everybody else. They had been working in our church library. So we walked in the office, and she went through this whole spiel, went before the church. Our church loved her, as of course churches will do that, embraced her, and helped her with this new child that she had.

I went to Hank, and I said, “Hey Henry. You know, now it's time for you to get back in serving on our deacon council.”

He said, “No, Brother Tom, I can't. Olive plants need nurture. Now this boy's down in the federal penitentiary, down here about three and a half hours away, and I've got to go nurture him every Sunday.” So every Sunday, the whole family would load up, and they'd go down to Big Mac.

I thought, when is this guy ever going to get back in church? Well, one day, I saw him right after Thanksgiving. I said, “Well, Henry, how are things going?” He pulled an old Polaroid picture out of his pocket. He said, “Look at that.” There's a table loaded with food and all these people around it.

I said, “Who is that guy?”

He said, “Oh, that's Donna's husband. He's out of prison now. Hey Brother Tom, I just want you to look at this. This is all of my children—like olive plants around my table.” So Christ makes a difference in people's home, but you got to hang in there.

Nancy: Give God time.

Tom: Yes.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Tom and Jeannie Elliff about hope for marriages and families. Our world needs strong families, and when you learn to love your husband and children the way God intends, He gets great glory.

We'll help you in that important process by sending you the book This Momentary Marriage, a Parable of Permanence. John Piper wrote this book to help your commitment endure swings of emotion and circumstance. It will help you understand what the Bible says about roles, anger, forgiveness, and other topics crucial to your marriage.

When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, you'll help us continue on the air in your area and around the country. As our thanks, we'll send you This Momentary Marriage. Look for this offer at, or call us at 1-800-569-5959.

On Monday, Tom and Jeannie Elliff return to explain why traditional views of retirement are unfulfilling. Please join us for Revive Our Hearts.

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

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

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About the Teacher

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 for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.