Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: As a single woman, Carolyn McCulley wants to develop the qualities of an excellent wife found in Proverbs 31.

Carolyn McCulley: These qualities need to be in my life. They need to be present now. They’re not just for the day when I say “I do.” This is something I’m going to be evaluated on, and it presents to us a portrait of seamless femininity that’s irrespective of the season in our lives, whether we’re single or married or widowed.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, June 26. Here’s Nancy.

Well, our guest on Revive Our Hearts today is here to help us understand how that chapter applies not only to married women but also to women who are single. Carolyn McCulley is an author. She’s a speaker. She’s on the staff of Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She’s just written a terrific book called Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?

Carolyn, thank you for joining us this week on Revive Our Hearts and thanks for writing this book that has so many really helpful insights, not only for women who are single, but I hope married women will not tune out today or this week because it’s got terrific insights for them as well. So thank you for joining us again today.

Carolyn: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Nancy: I love your subtitle: Trusting God With a Hope Deferred. Every woman on the planet and probably men as well has to learn how to live with hope deferred—unfulfilled longings. Your book really just shines a beautiful spotlight on the trustworthiness of God, the character of God, and why we can trust Him when our hope is deferred.

Now, a lot of married women are used to hearing messages about and doing studies on Proverbs 31, but you discovered as a single woman that Proverbs 31 isn’t just for those who are married.

Carolyn: That’s right. I owe a big debt to Elizabeth George because I was reading through one of her books, and she just briefly pointed out that this is the teaching of the king, and it was originally taught to him by his mother. It’s a 22-verse Hebrew acrostic.

She was teaching him his letters of the Hebrew alphabet and attached to them the virtues of a woman who would make a noble and virtuous wife. In other words, this is something that should be evident in a single woman’s life for a king’s attention to be drawn to her and for him to notice her and to say this woman is a noble woman.

When I realized that, I thought, well, now here is something that I need to be cultivating and developing in my life because these qualities need to be in my life. They need to be present now. They’re not just for the day when I say “I do.” This is something I’m going to be evaluated on, and it presents to us a portrait of seamless femininity that’s irrespective of the season in our lives, whether we’re single or married or widowed. This is biblical femininity outlined for us right here in 22 short verses.

Nancy: So a woman really can be feminine, womanly, and a godly woman regardless of her marital status or her season of life.

Carolyn: That’s right. We see this with Eve. God made Eve fully feminine long before she was presented to Adam, so it wasn’t a man’s response or a man’s lack of a response that defined her femininity. It was God who defined her femininity and said, “This is a woman.”

Nancy: Single women often feel on hold. By the way, let me just back up here. You say in your book that you prefer not to use the term “single women.” How would you rather say that?

Carolyn: Well, it’s not so much using the term, as it’s the emphasis. We tend to identify more with an adjective than a noun. So we hear and we say first “single” and stop there, rather than woman, which is where I think the Bible puts the emphasis.

Nancy: So we are women who are single or married or widowed. Whatever season of life, rather than the emphasis being on, “I am a single.”

Carolyn: That’s right. When I think why our culture tends to want to assign different paths to women who are single or married or when we come up with these ideas on our own that if I’m not married by a certain time, I need to go off and do something radical. I think that has its roots in the 19th century suffragette movement when a lot of women were throwing off the restraints of both marriage and authority of men and God to carve out a lifestyle that was sort of pseudo-masculine and rejected everything that was feminine at the time.

So that line of thinking, I think, has influenced us even two centuries later to think if I’m not married, then I have to live this lifestyle that’s sort of this hybrid neuter gender, neither fully male nor fully female. While I’m grateful for some of the reforms that came out of the suffragette movement—I’m glad to be able to vote and if I were married, to be able to own property. From the start, it was a rejection of God’s values.

Nancy: So you’re really calling us in this book to adopt a feminine, womanly, godly view of ourselves regardless of whether we’re single or married and not just to see singleness as a time in limbo until we can become fully woman, fully a person when we get married.

Carolyn: That’s right. I was very highly influenced when I was helping my pastor’s wife, Carolyn Mahaney, with her book, Feminine Appeal. As I was immersed in her teaching on the Titus 2 virtues, I realized, hey, four out of the seven there have no reference to marital status. These are incumbent on all of us.

So if this list is relevant to women, if these are the commands, the areas in which we need to be trained and taught, it’s relevant no matter what your season is. That and realizing that God has made me feminine and God has assigned me my portion as a woman made me realize I don’t have another path. There isn’t this other path to take if I don’t get married. My femininity is to be expressed in these virtues, in Proverbs 31 and in Titus 2. It just looks a little different sometimes when there are not children of your own or a husband.

Nancy: I think your starting place in your book is so important and that is that it’s a woman’s character, whether she’s married or single, that needs to be noble. You point out several character qualities that particularly exhibit noble or godly character in women who are single. The first one, for example, you talk about trusting God when your hopes are deferred. How’s that a character quality that is important for us as single women?

Carolyn: Well, without trust, then what we’re left with is bitterness and distrust. When we don’t think highly of others, we tend to withdraw from them. So if we are like the servant who thinks they’ve only received one talent from God, which a talent still was an incredible amount of wealth, but we look at somebody else who’s married and say that’s ten talents. I’ve only got one. I’m going to go bury this in the ground.

I’m going to view You as a harsh taskmaster, Lord. I don’t think You’ve got my best interests at heart and I don’t think You’ve been generous to me. So I’m going to bury this, and I’m not going to invest anything. I’m not going to be concerned about giving You a return when I see You face-to-face.

Nancy: So the antidote to doubt and questioning God is to learn to trust His character.

Carolyn: Yes, to meditate on His character, to look straight through the Scriptures and see that this is an account time and time again of man’s faithlessness toward God and His faithfulness toward us. That’s the whole account of Scripture. God’s character hasn’t changed today.

Nancy: You quote Jerry Bridges in your book. I thought it was such a powerful quote. He said, “God views our distrust of Him as seriously as He views our disobedience.” Wow.

Carolyn: Yes. Not only is that a very convicting quote, but we also find as we look through Scripture that years of waiting on God should have more and more testimonies in our own life of His faithfulness toward us that would help us to wait before Him in active worship, not restlessly and not with doubt, but with full trust in Him because of this whole history that we have personally and what we can see in Scripture.

Nancy: It’s true of a difficult marriage. It’s true of walking through those years of singleness that seem to drag on and on. God really can be trusted. When you realize that God really can be trusted, you are able to have another character quality that you talk about as being part of a noble woman and that is the word “contentment.” Contentment even while you’re waiting on a God who seems sometimes to be very slow to act.

Carolyn: Yes, and there’s one word in the line the apostle Paul uses in Philippians 4:11 that I am very grateful for, and that’s the word “learned.” He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (NIV). So if Paul had to learn how to be content, we do to.

That is an active process that has to be worked out day by day and seeing that we pray and God answers, and we pray and God answers, and that He sends His supply to us in terms of fellowship with other people, in terms of teaching, in terms of encouragement from the Word. It’s not just about the one desire you’re waiting for when you view the whole spectrum of His faithfulness to us in our safety, in our friendships, and in our security and in our health.

Nancy: How would we ever learn contentment if we didn’t have unfulfilled longings? If we had everything we wanted the moment we wanted it, we would be satisfied with things of this earth and not have to learn the joy and the blessing of a contented heart that is satisfied with God.

Carolyn: Right. We’re on a journey. Nothing here should content us really. We're not fully satisfied because as soon as we put our hands on it, it’s turning to dust. It’s disappearing.

Nancy: Another thing you challenge us to do as women who are single is to learn the character quality of being gracious even when others are being blessed, not to give in to that red-eyed monster of jealousy or self-pity but to really rejoice with those who rejoice.

Carolyn: Yes. I think there can be an attitude at times that God is a God of scarcity and not abundance. So if someone else gets blessed, that means there’s one less blessing for us. That’s simply not true.

Nancy: So as we come to realize that God is a generous God and a God of abundant grace and mercy, how can we respond when others are blessed?

Carolyn: Well, there’s a very great need to rejoice with others who rejoice. The reason for that is I’ve heard from married women that when they’ve gone through that season how much it meant to them to have friends around them who would rejoice and not pull back.

I want to be one of those who comes alongside a friend who’s being blessed by God in that moment with something I want and that I can rejoice because I know that God is faithful to me just as much as He is faithful to her.

Nancy: Then the character quality of humility, seeking to be a blessing even in our singleness rather than having our focus being on receiving a blessing.

Carolyn: Yes. I don’t think it’s possible to cultivate humility without understanding the gospel clearly, without understanding that in and of ourselves we deserve God’s wrath and God’s judgment. But He in His great mercy has made that provision for us so that our sins would be forgiven through what He’s done and that we can have eternal life with Him.

If you stray from that point, if something else becomes greater and more important, then you will never be content with what it is that God has given you in addition to salvation because those are extra blessings.

I experienced the truth of that my first year as a Christian. I had to go to 13 weddings, more than one a month, two to my younger sisters, two who are former flames, and a number of friends. I had to go and choose to bless them when somebody else was receiving a gift that I wanted, but I could only do that when I understood the immensity of what I had received, the enormity of the gift of salvation. Then I could choose to go and bless others and rejoice with them because I had received something that was of far greater worth.

Nancy: Now you point us to a passage in the New Testament which is a passage a lot of singles would just as soon stay away from—1 Corinthians 7—where singleness is talked about as a gift. Was that a challenge for you to come to see singleness as a gift?

Carolyn: Yes. But that’s because I think when we use that term “gift,” we think of it in terms of human responses or human viewpoints. When we receive a gift, we often look at it and evaluate it. Do I like it? Do I want it? Is this something I can use? Can I return it? Can I exchange it?

Because there’s been such an emphasis on the word “gift” as though it’s something about you, singleness is the only thing that we view spiritually, I think, where we view it as a stigma rather than as an opportunity to serve. So if you have the gift of serving or administrative gifts, or if you have a leadership gift, if you’re a pastor or a teacher, most people don’t tend to think about that as an evaluation of themselves. They see it as a way to serve.

Nancy: Yet it’s easy for singles to think of marriage as a great gift.

Carolyn: Right. I think what was helpful for me was in reading something that theologian Gordon Fee said. He said that the translation of the word charisma as a gift is a limited translation.

A better translation might be more like a gracious endowment where the emphasis is on the root word of grace in that, the activity of the Holy Spirit in our midst and being able to function and to be a blessing to others. So rather than looking at a gift as an assignment, we should really be looking at it more as a gracious endowment in order to be a blessing to others.

Nancy: So the gift of singleness or marriage is not primarily for ourselves, but it is for what purpose?

Carolyn: Well, I think we find that purpose in 1 Peter 4:10 where he talks about the gifts being something that are administrated or stewarded for the purpose of the common good. The implication there being the local church. Until I started thinking that way, because he uses the same word charisma there that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 7, then I realized there’s a purpose for this gift and there’s a context for it. There’s a place to employ it and use it as a resource, which is the local church.

Nancy: So singleness or marriage is not about you. It’s not about your happiness. It’s not about your fulfillment. It’s about the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ and what can be done to advance that here on this earth.

Carolyn: Right. Being graciously endowed by the Holy Spirit for that season to accomplish something, to glorify God, and to advance the gospel.

Nancy: I know we have a lot of listeners who are married who kind of wish right now that they had the gift of singleness and would like to swap gifts, but isn’t that human nature to want to swap what God has given us for something that we think is a better gift. But the tendency when we aren’t happy with the gift we have at that moment is to turn those unfulfilled desires into demands. What happens when we do?

Carolyn: Well, I think biblical counselor and author Paul Tripp does a very good job of explaining how what is generally a good desire can be just held in our hands openly before the Lord and somehow or another gets relabeled as a demand. So our fists start to clench over it. It gets again relabeled as a need. “I need this.” When we christen something as a need, there’s an expectation of fulfillment. When that isn’t met, then comes disappointment and out of disappointment usually comes punishment, a sinful reaction.

So that arc that we look at when we say desire for marriage is a good thing and marriage as a gift is a good thing, but if I feel like I need it on my timetable within the parameters I’ve set before God for the kind of man that I want, all these things starting from the point of being demanding—I, I, I—you can very quickly get to that point of disappointment and then punishment, meaning you withdraw from other people or you start to indulge in bitterness or you begin to openly live a sinful lifestyle because you’re tired of waiting on God.

Nancy: So the Scripture calls us to become women of noble character, whether married, single, widowed, divorced, whatever season of life, children, no children. God calls us to be women of excellent, noble, godly character.

That’s something that happens in each of our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the gospel, the power of the cross of Christ. He’s the One who then transforms our hearts and our lives and makes it so that we’re not just on hold waiting for some future gift, some future change that God may bring about in our lives.

It allows us to be healthy, fruitful, productive women right now in this season of life wherever God has put us. Content, trusting God, faithful to obey Him even sometimes when our emotions are wavering, gracious when others are being blessed, and humbly seeking to be a blessing rather than to receive a blessing. All that adds up to a great recipe for true and lasting joy. That’s what God calls us to. That’s what He calls you to.

We’ll be back with Carolyn McCulley tomorrow to talk about how women who are not married can have healthy, wholesome, and holy relationships with men. You’ll want to be sure and join us for that conversation tomorrow.

Leslie: You can hear the entire conversation between Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Carolyn McCulley on CD. Listening to it will help you keep your focus on what really matters as a single person or as a married woman as well. You can order that CD at ReviveOurHearts.com. That’s also where you can pick up Carolyn McCulley’s book, Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?

Learn to become the kind of woman Nancy and Carolyn were describing today. This book will help you in that process. It’s yours when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts.

We’ll also send you Nancy’s booklet called Singled Out For Him. She has experienced rich and deep ministry by devoting herself to the Lord as a single person. She also knows the struggles singles encounter. She writes powerfully about those.

Again, you set the donation amount, and we’ll send you the book from Carolyn and the booklet from Nancy. You can do that by calling 1-800-569-5959. When you do, please mention that you’d like these resources, or donate at ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you were intrigued by today’s conversation about Proverbs 31, learn more about this important passage for women. Nancy has done an in-depth study on the Proverbs 31 woman. When you go through it, maybe in your quiet time, you’ll get more out of this chapter than you ever thought existed. You can order the teaching on CD, or review the transcripts online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

You can always search through every power-packed transcript in Revive Our Hearts history. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com and search for the topic that interests you.

Nancy had a chance to interact with a group of women not long ago, and the conversation was on singleness. Let’s listen in.

Woman 1: Nancy, since I have a daughter who has thought that all she wanted to do was be a wife and a mother and just even as a little girl she was Miss Suzy Homemaker. My other daughter who was the tomboy is the one that is married. I have watched my Donna dealing with her singleness with the Lord.

I said, “Donna, what I see is you and your friends are putting your life on hold and waiting for sometime for that to begin.” I said, “God has you in this place for a reason.”

What have you in your experience of being single and dealing with other single women? What would you say to them?

Nancy: Well, you just gave some wise words yourself there, Dorothy. I think what you said is actually the answer to everything in life. You talked about dealing with singleness with the Lord. In every issue in life singleness is—about half in this room I understand are single. The other half are married. They have to deal with marriage with the Lord.

Because marriage or singleness, children or barrenness, youth or age, every situation in life requires crucifixion. It requires the cross. The only way you can walk through loss—and every one of those seasons of life involves some different types of loss. The only way you can walk through pain—and every aspect and season of life involves in some way pain—is to walk through it with the Lord.

Dorothy, I think, too, what you said is so important about not putting your life on hold, which we tend to do in a multitude of ways. There’s nothing wrong with anticipation in its place, but I do think it’s unwise and a mistake, as Dorothy said, to put our life on hold rather than enjoying the moment where God has me.

Dorothy, I think about your daughter. I mean God may give her a husband, and that is God’s norm for most. But there’ll be other unfulfilled longings in her heart until she gets to heaven because ultimately—and I know it sounds when you’re single and really want to be married, it can sound like just pious words, but it really is true—there is no one and nothing apart from Christ who can fill the innermost parts of my heart. A husband will not do that. The most wonderful husband cannot fill the innermost parts of your heart.

There are aspects of ministry and relationship that you single women are free to enjoy that the married women aren’t. Now having Christ doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of real pain and loneliness, but you take it to the cross. You embrace it. You accept it, and you say, “This is good that I should have to walk through this.”

I’m walking through some of the toughest waters of my life right now in other issues and I have to keep reminding myself of God’s perspective that pain is good. Now, we don’t think that way, but I can’t grow without pain. I can’t become like Jesus without pain. I can’t be fitted for heaven without pain. So I have to keep counseling my own heart according to what I know is true and that is that pain is good.

That doesn’t mean you walk in a hospital and say I would like to have surgery if you don’t need it. We’re not asking to be martyrs, but we’re knowing that part of growth in grace requires pain. It requires denying self and releasing and relinquishing our natural and, in some cases, good desires.

You say, “Lord, I desire this, but I desire You more than this, and I’m willing to accept that You are enough for me.”

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

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you’ve listened to Revive Our Hearts for any length of time, you’ve probably heard us do some teaching on, well, that famous Old Testament chapter, Proverbs chapter 31. You know, the one that some of us like to avoid? The one that if you’re reading through the Proverbs one chapter each day, you’re kind of glad when there aren’t 31 days in the month. Yes, that’s the chapter I’m talking about. The chapter about a virtuous wife.

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