Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Obeying God’s Call

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We think that we need to be strong, and when we’re weak, I think we tend to naturally feel threatened by that. But actually, I’m learning that it’s my weakness that makes me a candidate for God’s grace. When I am insufficient and inadequate, He is sufficient; He is adequate!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh, for August 27, 2018.

Dannah Gresh: What would you say is God’s calling on your life? Do you know? We’re going to explore that topic today as we also celebrate the calling on the life of someone that’s very familiar to you and to me: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth!

Hi, I’m Dannah Gresh, and today we are going to look back at forty years of vocational ministry in the life of our dear friend, Nancy, so that we can explore our own calling and purpose for the Lord. Nancy, I know you’re used to sitting in this seat, but today we’re going to turn the tables, and I am going to interview you on your own radio program.

Nancy: I am so looking forward to that, Dannah. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’m just eager to have this conversation with you and with our friends listening with us today.

Dannah: I’m so excited! You have been serving the Lord so faithfully—even as a child, as a high school student, as a college student. But this month marks your first vocational ministry position. What was that?

Nancy: Forty years ago this month I was just fresh out of college, and as you said, I had been serving in the local church. I taught my first Sunday school when I was eight years old—and I was hooked! I just loved teaching the Word and loved ministering to others.

Dannah: Now, I’ve got to ask: eight years old! Who were you teaching?

Nancy: Oh, eight-year-old children. I think the teacher had to be gone for a week or something and asked if I would teach.

Dannah: It was in your DNA.

Nancy: Yeah, it was. I didn’t do it every week at that point You know, I grew up in a home where the Word was honored and loved. My parents were first-generation Christians, and the wonder of knowing Jesus had not worn off for them as it does for so many.

They loved ministry; they had a heart for serving the Lord. They were always ministering to other people, so that was the air we breathed in our home. Even though my dad was a businessman, he was a layman. There was a real heart for ministry, so I always loved that.

Right out of college I was a piano major, so it wasn’t like I was studying Bible or theology. But I was an avid reader. I loved just studying those things on my own. I just wanted to serve the Lord. So I was blessed right out of college to get a position in a local church in children’s ministries.

I had been involved in children’s ministry all the way through high school and college. That was forty years ago this month!

Dannah: Forty years!

Nancy: I was way too young to have this role! I had no clue what I was really doing.

Dannah: How old were you?

Nancy: I was nineteen when I graduated from college, and I turned twenty just shortly after I got into this role. I had so much to learn. I thought I knew way more than I did, and if I could go back and do it again, I probably would listen more and be more aware of my need to learn.

But God taught me so much! I had the joy of serving under older people who had been doing this for a long time. Jani DeSaegher was the Director of one of the areas of children’s ministries in that church. She was so experienced; she was so gifted at this. So I had examples and models, and people to invest in my life.

Dannah: So you didn’t step right into a leadership position.

Nancy: Actually, as it turned out, I did. It was a large church, and they had a Children’s Ministry Director for each of the different age groups. I was the Primary Children’s Director, grades 1–3. So I directed everything that related to first through third graders. There were about 400 kids in that age group in that church.

So I was thrown into the deep end, but I had been doing that through college at a church on the West Coast when I was at USC. So the Lord had prepared my heart, but I had so much to learn—I still have so much to learn!

Dannah: What an encouragement, though, for those who are in their first vocational ministry position—maybe fresh out of college or maybe even out of high school, because the Lord’s called them right into service. Look how far you’ve come and how many you’ve impacted!

We know you as the voice of Revive Our Hearts. Women all across the globe are feasting on your Bible teaching. You’ve authored nineteen books. We feel like your friend from afar sometimes. And today we get to come close.

I have written to many of those women across the globe and said, “If you could sit down with Nancy for tea (because you’re not a coffee drinker!), what would you ask her?”

Nancy: Exactly! Let’s have tea.

Dannah: And today, we are going to get to ask you some of those questions. I’m going to ask you the questions from the hearts of some of these women. They are so excited! One woman actually said to me, “I’ve dreamed of this opportunity to sit down with Nancy and ask her questions! I’ve even rehearsed the questions in my head that I would ask her, but now that I have the opportunity, my mind has gone blank!” (laughter)

Nancy: I am so, so thankful! I’m big on celebrating markers of God’s faithfulness. I just want to start by saying that forty years of vocational ministry is a huge privilege, but it’s nothing to brag about, because it’s all about Him! I started and have continued—and try to continue to this day—that my calling is to try to be a servant of the Lord.

I am not anything amazing or special or great. Forty years ago I felt so needy, inadequate, dependent on the Lord—over my skis. And Dannah, I feel that way to this day. I have lots more experience. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a lot of blessings and rewards—the blessings of ministry.

But I do not feel any more qualified to do what I do today than I did back then! In fact, we were emailing about this last night as you were headed here to Revive Our Hearts today. We were just saying we (you get this, because you’ve been doing this a long time yourself) feel so needy on the Lord to give us strength and wisdom and grace.

Day after day we wake up and we say, “Lord, if You don’t do it today, I can’t do this!” So I hope that’s an encouragement to others who are serving the Lord—whether it’s in vocational ministry or whatever calling God has given them.

Whether it is the woman who has three toddlers right now, or be teaching, leading a small group, or in the workplace, or wherever God has placed us, know that it’s okay to feel inadequate!

Dannah: I identify with that word a lot. I don’t know whether to feel amazingly encouraged or a little bummed that it’s not going to go away!

Nancy: (laughs) You should feel encouraged!

Dannah: I do.

Nancy: Because if we ever get to the place where we’re not conscious of how much we need God, then I think we run the risk of God just removing His anointing, His hand, His presence from off what we’re doing.

I don’t want to do anything, whether it’s blessing my husband, or doing a Revive Our Hearts teaching session, I don’t want to do anything that I don’t need God’s grace and God’s help to do.

Dannah: You speak of the anointing, and I think that as women who have followed you and learned from you, we can see an anointing of God on your life. I’m thinking back to the genesis of that anointing. When did it start? When did God begin to speak to your heart, that He was calling you to serve Him?

Nancy: I was very young, although I wouldn’t have put those words to it at the time. I actually came to know Jesus when I was four years old. It’s my first conscious memory, giving my life to Christ. I didn’t know a lot of theological terms or concepts, but I knew that I needed Christ, and that He was the Savior and came to save me from my sins.

At that point I gave all of me that I knew to all of Him that I knew. I really do look back and say that’s when I became a new person. But within the first, I don’t know, three or four years after coming to know the Lord as a little girl (probably when I was seven or eight years old), I began to have (and it wasn’t like one day or one moment) this growing sense that my life belonged to Christ.

I wanted to serve Him with all of my life, and I sensed that He was putting a calling on my life to be His servant. I had no idea what that would mean, what that would look like, whether I would be married or single. It turned out I was single for most of that time and only married later.

I didn’t know whether it would be vocational, but I just knew that I wanted to serve the Lord with all my heart—whatever that meant. And there was, for me, and I think this is important for everybody, just coming to that point of saying, “Lord, whatever You want to do with my life, I’m yours!”

In fact, that’s why my life verse over all these years (if I had to pick one!) is Luke 1:38. It’s where Mary of Nazareth, a fourteen-year-old girl, probably a young teen, says to the angel who’s come to give her this amazing, impossible calling, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

And you just settle the issue: “Lord, whatever you want, I am yours. Send me, direct me, command me, use me—or don’t. It can be a public ministry, it can be very unseen and obscure. It doesn’t matter; whatever You want me to do, that’s what I want to do!” And I will say that from that point until this there has never been a time when I could imagine doing anything other than serving the Lord—and in my case, vocationally.

God doesn’t call everybody that way. My dad wasn’t called that way or my mom. But in my life, honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else! There’s been a great sense of joy, even through some of the trials and tests and hardships and failures on my part.

I haven’t always done it well, but I’ve always had a sense of, this is . . . It’s what Eric Liddell said, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” When I do what God’s called me to do here, even though it may be through blood, sweat, and tears sometimes, I feel God’s pleasure.

Dannah: When I hear you share that story, the story of your calling, what I think is that many people don’t have this, “Eureka!” moment. The moment where they go forward and they have a big sense that God has said, “This is your mission.” But what you have exemplified is a long slow obedience in the right direction.

Nancy: I think that is so vital. Sometimes younger women will come up to me and say, “I want to do what you do. I want to be an author; I want to be a Bible teacher. How did you get there?”

There is nothing that I’m doing in ministry today that I set out to do. I didn’t aspire to any of this. I didn’t seek it out. What I tried to do, Dannah, is what I encourage every person to do, and that is to say, “Lord, how can I serve You today? What are you putting in my path to do today?” And to take advantage of opportunities to bless and serve the body of Christ, whoever God puts in your path.

It may be people who know Jesus, people who don’t know Jesus. I find, looking back now, that as we take the steps God has for us today . . . As we just make ourselves available say, “Lord, here I am. Do with me what You want. Who do You want me to talk to? What do you want me to do?”

We just look for opportunities—not to gain something for myself, not to gain a “platform.” That’s a word we hear used a lot in ministry today. I think we need to get it out of our vocabulary. This is not about platforming us! This is about showcasing Jesus and the gospel in whatever calling God has put us into.

Dannah: Yes, I agree!

Nancy: There’s no sacred, spiritual, secular. It’s all a calling to follow Christ, to love Him, to love others. As you do the thing God has put in front of you, He’s going to unfold what the next step is. And whatever it is, it’s going to be sweet.

Dannah: I’m often asked, “How do you start a ministry?” People write to me and say that. And I say, “Minister to one heart. Look at that one heart God has put in front of you right now.” Of course, though, Nancy, at this point the Lord has put in front of you millions of hearts through the books that you’ve written and the radio program you’ve developed, Revive Our Hearts.

I guess before I ask you a hard question about Revive Our Hearts, I want to ask you sort of an easy question. Heidi wrote to me and asked, “Can you ask Nancy how it came about that the radio program became her calling?” Can you tell us that story?

Nancy: There’s a long version, and there’s a short version! Let me stick to the short version today, because it was over a process of a number of years that that unfolded. I’ve been asked that kind of question before. I just want to reiterate that radio is not my calling.

Following Jesus and proclaiming the gospel is my calling! So I do that through radio, through podcasts, through writing, through hospitality, through loving my husband, through being a friend to you and our friendship. We do that in so many different ways! So radio is not the calling.

But I think a lot of people do want to know how Revive Our Hearts got started. A lot of our listeners will remember Elisabeth Elliot—a woman who has impacted both of our lives a lot through her books, her writing. She’s now with the Lord.

We grew up listening to her radio program Gateway to Joy. Through the course of a few years of just seeking what the Lord would have as a next step and being challenged to begin a radio ministry for women (this is back when people were really listening to radio, and we didn’t have podcasting and Internet),

In that course of time, Elisabeth Elliot retired from her daily radio program. The ministry that was heading that up came to us and said, “Would you consider developing a successor program to Gateway to Joy?” In God’s Providence, the timing was such . . . Now I’ll tell you, I was scared to death!

Dannah: I was just going to ask you, were you shaking in your shoes?

Nancy: Elisabeth Elliot was iconic! She was a heroine to many of us. I still meet women today who say, “Elisabeth Elliot was my spiritual mother.” She impacted our lives so deeply. And I’m thinking, I cannot fill her shoes!

First of all, she had been twice widowed—her first husband had been martyred. She had such an amazing story! I didn’t quite want that story. There is no other Elisabeth Elliott. And there’s no other Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: And there’s no other Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy: . . . or whoever may be listening to our voices right now. At the time I had been in itinerant ministry for ten years or so, traveling around doing women’s conferences. So I had like thirteen messages or something that I would repeat over and over again.

The thought of having to do daily content was hugely daunting to me! We’re talking 260 times a year, Monday through Friday, fifty-two weeks a year! I said, “There’s no way I can do that!”

But God began to show me that His Word was a limitless, inexhaustible well of wisdom and that you could spend a lifetime teaching it and not run out of material and that God would give me what I needed, one day at a time, to do this calling. So I just said, “Okay, Lord, I’m your servant. Let it be to me as You have said.”

Dannah: You bring up a really good point, and that is: “I can’t do this!” You just said, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Many women have questions about the hard, behind-the-scenes stuff. And you just said, it’s not what you’ve done but how you’ve done it that really matters.

Leah, a listener from State College, Pennsylvania wants to know, “What is the hardest time of faith-testing that you can remember?”

Nancy: Like last night?

Dannah: Yeah, well, of course! She also says, “How did the Lord minister to you in those moments?” Maybe you can take us back to a specific time of hard testing.

Nancy: Well, there have been a lot of different ones, and each new season has its own hard things. Let me just preface this by quoting a pastor friend of mine: “Hard is hard, but hard is not bad. Hard presses us to the heart and the sufficiency of Christ.”

In the middle of a hard thing you think, I will never get past this! I can’t put one step in front of another! I can’t go on! I’ve had many of those moments in ministry. But when you talk about that, the first thing that comes to my mind is in the early years of radio.

We were recording in Little Rock, Arkansas. FamilyLife Today—listened to by many of our people who are listening to this program today—were doing the coaching and the training and the producing of this program.

We would record on Mondays and Tuesdays, not every week but many weeks during the spring and the fall. So all weekend long I would be doing the last final prep to record two full days of new content. I’m older now. I can’t do two days in a row anymore, but we did then.

We would get right down to the wire. This is in the day of quarter-hour programs. I had thirty new programs to prepare for the Monday and Tuesday coming up. I’d be halfway through and thinking, I cannot do this!

I would call a friend or a confidante, and I would just burst into tears. I was sitting there in my study by myself saying, “I cannot do this!” I felt so needy, so helpless, so lacking in confidence. And Bob Lepine with FamilyLife Ministries (many will recognize that name), he was the one doing a lot of coaching in those days.

When I would come in for that recording session on Monday morning, a lot of times I had been up half the night trying to get my notes prepared, and thinking, I’m still not ready! He would say, “This is a Red Sea moment, isn’t it? We’re up to the Red Sea. Now watch what God’s going to do!”

Dannah: Wow!

Nancy: I’m telling you, Dannah, again and again and again—and to this day—I go into those recording sessions. We record now just one day, and it’s a longer program so we do just eight. But it’s a full day! It’s hours of teaching new material. Often I’ve been up until midnight, 1:00, 2:00 that morning. I’m bleary-eyed. It’s all new stuff, and it’s not falling together for me. I say, “This is a Red Sea moment!”

Sometimes it’s been in relation to the ministry’s finances, saying, “How are we going to pay the bills this month?” Sometimes it’s been in relation to a staffing need, “How are we going to get this position filled?” We come right up to the Red Sea, and we say, “There’s no way to get across this!”

But you stand still, and you see the salvation of the Lord. You watch God come through. You say, “I can’t do this!” You cry out, “O Lord, help!” I don’t know if there’s any prayer—it’s like one-word, two-word prayer—that’s sweeter to God’s heart. I’ve seen Him answer more times than that prayer, caught between a rock and a hard place as they say—but then to watch God make a path and watch Him come through.

It’s not that I didn’t study, it’s not that I didn’t prepare, it’s not that we haven’t done the things we think we need to do in the ministry to meet whatever that need is. But then you get there, and you say, “I can’t do this!” and you watch God come through.

Dannah: As you tell that story, I’m getting this picture of motherhood. You’ve been a spiritual mother to many, and I’m hearing some of the processes as I have been a biological mom.

Nancy: Well, starting with labor and delivery.

Dannah: Yes, labor and delivery. I’m physically exhausted, I haven’t had sleep for days. I don’t have the resources—the money, the food, the whatever. So what an encouragement to young mothers listening right now!

Nancy: We think that we need to be strong, and when we’re weak, I think we tend to naturally feel threatened by that. But actually, I’m learning that it’s my weakness that makes me a candidate for God’s grace. When I am insufficient and inadequate, He is sufficient, He is adequate. His grace is enough for me for this day and all that it will hold.

I can’t see how He’s going to provide; I can’t see how He’s going to come through. If I ever get to the place where I feel like I’m strong without Him, I think that’s a dangerous place to be.

Dannah: What you’re speaking about is perspective. You have written a list of potential pitfalls of ministry in which you say that if we lose perspective, we begin to lose the ability to minister effectively.

Nancy: I think we lose perspective in two ways, and this is true whether you’re in vocational ministry, or you’re serving the Lord in an office setting, or you’re a teacher, or you’re a college roommate, or you’re a mom with three teenagers, or whatever, a single mom.

We forget how big God is, and when we do, that tends to lead us to discouragement. I can’t tell you how many times, Dannah, I have been tempted to throw in the towel—in ministry, in life, in relationships—to get out of the race.

Dannah: Wow!

Nancy: As I’ve gotten older I’m gonna say that’s gotten harder because I’m more tired. I don’t have the kind of energy I did when I started this forty years ago. If I forget how big God is, that leads me to discouragement.

But the other way of losing perspective is if I forget how little I am—then that leads me to pride and self-sufficiency. So either way, I’ve got to keep God front and center. If He’s big, then I’m going to realize I have enough. What can’t God do for me? And if I get too big, then why would I need God? So I want to keep all that in perspective.

When I get to feeling incredibly overwhelmed . . . which I don’t know if everybody else relates to this, but it happens a lot for me. Maybe just because God wants to keep reminding me how big He is, how little I am, but how much He loves me, and how much He cares and how committed He is to help me take that next step.

Dannah: Those are great tools for us as we face our own Red Sea moments in life and ministry. Let me ask you one more hard question today, Nancy.

Joy, from Ohio, asked this question: “Do you have any regrets? What is one thing you wish you would have done differently in the last forty years?”

Nancy: Can I give you two?

Dannah: You can give two, because it’s your show.

Nancy: And with more time to think about it, I would certainly come up with others. But the first two things that come to my mind . . . One, I wish I had stressed and worried less about how to get through the next task.

I wish I’d trusted more, trusted the greatness of God, trusted the goodness of God, trusted the provision of God, trusted the promises of God and not taken the weight of the world on my own shoulders, as often as I do.

And the second thing, and these clearly relate to each other: I wish to this day that I were more focused on “being” in my relationship with the Lord than on “doing.” And for me it’s not just because I think I need to perform to please the Lord—although I know that’s a battle that we can have a lot. ..

For me, it’s so easy to get caught up in the tasks, the demands of ministry. And now with email and texting and the more you do and the more people that have access and the more people that are blessed by the ministry, the more people want things from you!

Dannah: It’s distracting!

Nancy: A lot of distractions—a lot of my own making, a lot of other people’s making. “Everybody loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life!” And there are a lot of things I want to do. But, you know, years ago when I was starting out in ministry, actually I talked to a wise, godly older pastor who’s now been with the Lord for many years.

I asked him, “What’s one single piece of advice you would give me as I’m starting out into vocational ministry?” (I think I was eighteen at the time.) This is all he said: “Give your mornings to God!” He was a man who did that faithfully for many, many years in study, in worship, in meditation, in prayer.

And I certainly hugely value the time I have with the Lord in the morning and at other times of the day, so I have soaked in the Word. I’ve spent a lot of time just being alone with the Lord. But in retrospect, I wish I’d done more of that!

Dannah: Well, Nancy, there have been so many women that have asked questions about your private prayer life, so I want to save that for tomorrow. But that reminds me of one of your books that I love very much that helps women enter into a private prayer time.

Nancy: I think you’re referring to A Place of Quiet Rest, which is actually the first book I ever wrote. I’ve often said that if I could only share one message with women, it would be the message in that book because it talks about how to have a personal devotional life, cultivating intimacy with God through that time with the Lord.

God has been so faithful over the years not only to provide what I needed to teach and to be sustained in this ministry, but He’s also raised up a lot of partners who have supported the ministry financially and made its outreach possible all around the world!

So this week, to anyone who sends a donation of any amount to help support Revive Our Hearts, we want to say “thank you” by sending a copy of that book, A Place of Quiet Rest.

Dannah: It’s a book that I have used in my own life to cultivate my quiet time with the Lord, and I found it to be so rich and full of treasures. It felt like not only was I getting closer to Jesus, but I was guided by a conversation with a close friend—you—whom I hadn’t yet even met.

Nancy: Wow! And to think of the joy that we’ve had of serving Him together over, now, the last dozen years or so. So we want to make that book available to any listener today who sends a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts.

If the Lord is prompting your heart to make a gift today, just give us a call at 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com. When you make your donation, be sure and let us know that you’d like a copy of A Place of Quiet Rest, and we’ll be glad to send that to you.

Dannah: Tomorrow we’ll be exploring the topic of having a personal quiet time with the Lord a little more deeply. I have a lot more questions from your listeners, Nancy. In fact, one of them is a question about your husband Robert! Just one question.

Nancy: I’m looking forward to that!

Dannah: Yes, it’s going to be a fun one! We’ll save those for tomorrow when we continue celebrating your fortieth anniversary of vocational ministry—right here on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is celebrating God’s faithfulness! It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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