Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: When you’re in the middle of suffering, you might meet God in deeper ways. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I’m thinking about the three Hebrew young men in the Old Testament. They were thrown into the fiery furnace. Not only were they not destroyed by the fire, but that’s where they experienced the presence of Christ walking there in the midst of that fire with them. Those guys never got any closer to Jesus than they were when they were in the midst of that fire.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Forgiveness, for Wednesday, August 23, 2017.

The book of Revelation tells us about dramatic events happening on a cosmic scale. Pictures come to mind of a beast coming out of the sea.

The book of Revelation is also very relational and practical. The book begins with seven letters to seven churches. Nancy’s been teaching through these letters in multiple radio series this year. This week we're focusing on the persecuted church of Smyrna in a series called "Faithfulness and the Crown of Life." Nancy’s with some friends to reflect on the teaching so far.

Nancy: I’m finding myself so blessed and challenged by these letters to the churches because the subjects they address are so practical, so relevant, so needed in our day. I just keep finding myself thinking as I’ve been living with these churches over these last months, if Jesus could write letters to our churches today, if He could write letters to us as believers, these are the issues He would address. These are the things He would talk about.

As we continue studying the letter to the church in Smyrna, Revelation chapter 2, the second letter of the seven, we want to just pause in the midst of this study. I’m joined by guests that you’ve heard before on Revive Our Hearts, my friends, Kim Wagner and Holly Elliff, just to talk about some of what we’ve been hearing, what we’ve been processing.

I think, ladies, when we start talking about persecution and martyrdom and tribulation, there’s a sense in which, yes, we have some hard things in our lives, but we can hardly relate to what these martyrs of thousands of years ago went through. So what takes this message out of the pages of the book of Revelation and makes it relevant and practical in our hearts today as twenty-first century believers in affluent America where we really don’t have persecution or martyrdom, so to speak?

Kim Wagner: As we read through accounts of martyrs, it gives us a better perspective and context for suffering. Just this past Sunday, my pastor and my husband recommended to parents (we do this often) that they read stories of the martyrs to their children. That is something that we need to be reminded of frequently because it gives us a better perspective, just a context. Some ten-year-old boys think cleaning their room on a Saturday is suffering. So we need to understand what true suffering is.

Nancy: Do you think children really can and should—I mean some parents may think this is a little scary. Do you want your children reading about martyrs? How would you counsel parents on that? Is there an age that’s too young or stories that may be too graphic?

Kim: When each of our children were thirteen, we gave them a gift of a book that was written for teenagers on martyrdom. Many teen stories are in this book on martyrs. So I felt like that was an age that they could read that and appreciate that. Yes, I wouldn’t read martyr stories to five-year-old children I don’t believe.

Holly Elliff: I don’t think Fox’s Book of Martyrs would be . . .

Nancy: . . . the place to start.

Holly: . . . the place to start, although I have had to explain being drawn and quartered to my children. But I don’t think I would start there. I do think it is valuable to help them understand that there are kids their age, there are people in other countries just like them. A movie like The Hiding Place where you could explain a family choosing to give up their own comfort to aid those because of their beliefs in Christ who are getting outside themselves.

I think doing practical things. Some families around the holidays will choose to set aside their own celebration and go minister to needy people in their city. That’s a way of helping your children understand that there are always people around us who are in very different circumstances than we are. I think that’s a real healthy thing for our kids. It’s a real balance to our normal life in America.

Nancy: I can envision some people hearing about these martyrs, and I’ve read more about them over the last week since I’ve been preparing for this series, and I can imagine some people kind of cringing in fear of ever having to go through something like that, of having to endure. How do you read these stories without going into a mode of fear or shrinking up or saying I don’t know that I’d ever want to live in a day where this was happening?

Kim: Well, we need to face the fact that there are believers today living with that as reality, that are experiencing that. Rather than bringing us to a place of fear, I think it needs to bring us to a place of gratitude for not only what we have, but that there have been believers that have gone on before us and are now in other countries dying as a testimony to the goodness of our God.

I’m thankful they’re out there doing that because I do think that that has a real effect on the lost world. The very word martyr means witness. It is a visible witness that God is worth not only dying for, but living for. That’s what I think we need to translate into our lives and for our children.

If they can read the story about this teenage boy that said I will die for Jesus. We need to then translate it into our child’s life and say, “You may or you may not have to stand before a firing line one day and give your life for Christ, but today you need to die to self and live for Christ.” Just in the simple tasks that you have to do today

Holly: I don’t think it’s really all that great a stretch now for our kids to understand that concept. In recent history, we have seen in America American students at gunpoint having to say, “I’m a believer.” Columbine is an example of that. Our kids are aware of that. I think for our kids to predetermine whether or not they could walk through that is really getting ahead of God’s grace.

But I think as we teach our kids, as Kim said, for every moment of everyday life we’re training our kids to live with whatever circumstances they’re in in the light of God’s grace and what He’s already provided. So whether I’m in a high school that gets attacked at gunpoint, or I’m standing against my best friend who now is wanting to do drugs, I’m making a choice to stand for what I know is right, and God’s accompanying grace will be there for that moment—whatever that circumstance is.

Kim: Now I do think that there may be questions that arise in our children’s minds—maybe our minds—of if God is so good, why is He allowing this to happen? Why does He allow people to go through such brutal deaths? I think we need to be ready to give an answer for that to highlight and point out to our children the opportunity, even the privilege, that’s given in being one who would embrace the total cost of discipleship, to give up our lives.

Not many people have to pay that price. In small ways, we experience suffering, hardship, difficulty, and we need to point out to our children that God is, as Holly said, able to give grace for whatever He entrusts to your life. He is able to pour out His grace in that. The martyrs, when you hear their statements, they weren’t complaining against God.

Nancy: That’s what’s amazing to me.

Kim: They weren’t saying that God was being unjust or unfair. Their heart grew sweeter. Their love toward Him was deeper.

Nancy: And there was joy.

Kim: There was joy.

Holly: I think that’s the thing that we want our children to recognize, that I want myself to recognize, is that their perspective on their lifetime was eternal. So they understood that this current moment was brief and that eternity was long. Well, if we can raise kids, if we become women who understand that this current lifetime is brief and that eternity is long, then it changes the way I relate to those that God has put me around, how I relate to my husband, how I make choices about my finances. It touches every aspect of my life.

So I may not be facing martyrdom today, but I’m facing where I write my next check. I’m facing what I spend my money on, what I spend my time on, and those are issues that I’m confronted with every moment of every day.

Nancy: We’re confronted with issues of speaking about Christ or not and opportunities that God provides to name the name of Christ, to share the gospel of Christ. I think we’ve been intimidated in our culture, this very pluralistic culture where everybody’s religion is equally good and you have to be willing to acknowledge that they’re all great. Sometimes I think the great temptation is for us not to speak in the workplace and as we’re traveling and doing business and in the places where we shop to speak a word on behalf of Christ.

I’m thinking as we’re walking through this series, if I don’t have the boldness and the courage to witness for Christ in this country where at least we have the legal freedom to do so, if I let laziness or fear of what people will think keep me from speaking for Christ, whatever makes me think that in a situation where stakes were higher that I would have the boldness and the faith then?

So we really have to be cultivating faithfulness now in witnessing for Christ, which as you say Kim is the same as the word martyr. It’s to tell what you’ve seen and experienced, to tell the truth about Christ and the gospel with the willingness, if necessary, to pay whatever price may be required.

Kim: I think it’s good too for us to keep going back to something that you reiterate frequently, Nancy, and that is to see God’s hand of providence and even tender mercy throughout times of suffering. Holly and I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago. We were both reminded of where we were just a few years ago. Both of us are now in churches that were birthed out of very difficult circumstances.

I remember I read in my journal a couple of weeks ago some lines from that period of time where in my journal I was just writing, “I am clinging to You, Lord Jesus. That is all I can do is cling to You. This is so hard.” And I look now through the lens of looking back through the years of the precious works that God has done in my heart, in my life, when I was at that point I thought I was being crushed. I was being taken through a fire that I did not see myself able to get through to the other side.

Now I am sitting here looking back saying, “Thank You so much, Lord Jesus, for taking me through that. It was painful. I don’t deny the pain. I did have what I would consider moments of suffering. Not in comparison to the martyrs we’re studying but in my small life a measure of suffering.

Nancy: Thlipsis. Tribulations. Being pressured. Crushed.

Kim: Nancy, when you shared what the word tribulation actually means: "to press," "to squeeze," "to crush." Immediately it brought to mind a vivid memory, something I did quite a lot when I was little, a vivid memory of a heavy metal nutcracker that my father had actually built as an engineering student. It has different mechanisms on it and different ways to crack different sized nuts.

What you do is you place the nut in a metal type of vice and you turn the lever and a heavy metal cylinder would push against the nut, which was wedged into the other side of the heavy metal block and you would turn it slowly.

Nancy: Apply the pressure.

Kim: Apply the pressure slowly, but you wanted to be very careful. If you were real fast and hard with that pressure, you would crush and crack not only the outer hard shell of the nut, but you would crush the meat and it would all be in little pieces and you wouldn’t really have much of a nut to eat.

Just as the Father knows what is necessary in my life to break through my hard heart, my hard shell, maybe rebelliousness that I didn’t even know was there, selfishness, pride. He can apply just the right amount of pressure to break that outer shell and then the fruit that comes out of that. I was sharing with someone the other day who was talking about what a difficult year it has been for her. I just was able to encourage her as one who has walked through dark days that there is beauty at the other end of times of pain and suffering.

Nancy: It’s that myrrh coming out. You cut into the bark of the branch. It’s painful. It hurts. It cuts. And what comes out is a bitter taste, but it brings this fragrant aroma and ultimately used in perfume and incense and can make something very valuable and costly and precious. But it takes that cutting, as the shell of the nut has to be cracked in order for what’s inside to come out. That whole principle of brokenness.

Kim: It also takes though us responding to that humbling process, allowing God’s grace to transform us because I’ve seen many women walk through dark, difficult times, maybe not even as difficult as someone like say Joni Eareckson Tada. You see women that have faced things not that difficult . . .

Nancy: And they become bitter and hard.

Kim: And critical.

Holly: I’m just thinking about how tragic it would be if when we’re placed in that vice we don’t learn as Christian women that God has a purpose in it. As we respond, as you said, Kim, to God’s purpose, then it’s not ever in vain. We know that God is producing out of us an aroma that becomes life to other people.

I’m just thinking how tragic it would be if we walked around looking professional in our Christianity instead of real. If there aren’t cracks in our shell, then when Kim is going through a tough time or Nancy’s going through a tough time or those of you who are listening to my voice are going through a tough time, I don’t have a way to convey to you what I’ve learned of God in the midst of that.

But if my shell has been cracked and God has had to reveal Himself to me in that process, then I’m able to share, empathize with you, but also not just emotionally empathize, but I know something about the character and nature of God that I didn’t know before I walked through that hard thing.

Nancy: I’m thinking about the three Hebrew young men in the Old Testament. They were thrown into the fiery furnace. Fire burns; it destroys. By all human considerations, they should have been decimated by that fire. Not only were they not destroyed by the fire, but that’s where they experienced the presence of Christ walking there in the midst of that fire with them. Those guys never got any closer to Jesus than they were when they were in the midst of that fire.

Holly: I love that as Scripture tells that story, it says that they were not even singed.

Nancy: Not a hair of their head.

Holly: They didn’t even smell like smoke. I think that’s the difference, Kim, as you were saying, between women who walk through the pressure and resist that pressure, go inward, resist what God is trying to teach them; and women who understand this is not in vain. It has a purpose. So I’m going to yield to the pressure so that God can produce out of me what He desires.

So instead of being consumed by that difficult thing, I come out of that knowing Christ like those three young men did but not scarred by that moment because God, as He promises, has produced good out of that very deep place. It’s not that that deep place is not very hard and very tight and very consuming, but it’s that God is producing, as Paul says, in us something that’s eternal, something that brings God glory, if we can understand that there’s a purpose in it.

Kim: That’s what I’ve come to understand. I used to read that verse in James about "consider it all joy when you face various trials" (1:2).

Holly: The Lord had me memorize that verse in college. I didn’t understand why then. I should have known what was coming.

Kim: I did in high school, and I would think I’m memorizing this but I really don’t understand it.

Holly: I didn’t understand it until much later in my life. I remember hearing John Piper say that if we have wimpy theology, we’re going to be wimpy women. I was in that sense of not understanding the depths of God and how He works, and I did not understand as a younger woman the depths of God or how He was going to work in my life.

Now, knowing who I was at twenty, that was probably a good thing because I might have run the other direction. But now looking back on that, I can see that as God put me in those hot, high temperature oven moments, there were reasons why He allowed each of those things in my life and what He was trying to work into my life, what He was trying to reveal about Himself.

Kim: He redefines what is good for you. We think, oh, what is good is comfort . . .

Nancy: . . . carefree life.

Kim: Yes, no problems. But that is not ultimately the best thing that produces that weight of glory, that produces that transformation that’s necessary in our lives. Peter, when he’s writing his letter to Christians in the first century that you know are facing martyrdom, you know they are, and you would think that he might say, like you have said times before, Nancy, you want somebody to come alongside and say, “Oh, I know it’s so hard.”

Holly: She’s patting me on the back, just in case you want to know what that sound is.

Kim: You want someone to come alongside and pat you on the back and say, “Oh, it’s so hard. I don’t know how you’re doing this.” Peter said, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trials as though it’s a strange thing that’s happening” (1 Peter 4:12). We talk about walking through a fiery trial, and it may be a flat tire or a difficult day. When he was talking to them about fiery trials, he was talking to people that had witnessed Nero putting Christians on stakes, covering them with tar and setting them on fire so he could use them as lights at parties.

The fiery trials that he was talking about, that he said, “Don’t think it strange,” is much more than anything I’ve ever had to face. I’ve not yet shed blood in striving against sin. That’s not to say that it’s not tough, that it’s not hard to make right choices. But when we read things like that, it helps us to have a perspective of eternal issues and of the fact that what God brings into our life, it is for our good and ultimately that He would be glorified.

Leslie: Kim Wagner has been putting suffering in perspective. She’s been talking with Holly Elliff and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about one of the letters we find in the book of Revelation. It was addressed to the church in a city called Smyrna, but it has a lot of practical application for us today.

Today’s guest, Kim Wagner, has been instrumental in creating a resource that will show you many practical applications from the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation. It’s a booklet called Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. As you’re listening to Nancy teach through these letters and studying them yourself, this resource will lead you through a series of questions to make this material very personal.

You’ll get a lot of comfort and hope from this process no matter what suffering you’re going through. When you donate any amount to keep Revive Our Hearts on the air in your community, we’ll say "thanks" by sending Ears to Hear. Just ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959, or donate at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, tomorrow Kim, Holly, and Nancy will pick this discussion back up. How can you prepare your children for suffering and persecution? They’ll tackle that question on the next Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to equip you for times of suffering in the future. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries

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