Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: The concept of retirement doesn’t appeal to Pastor Tom Elliff.

Tom Elliff: I would say that we never had a “come 65 we’re going to kick back and quit doing it” mentality. We never had that mentality. We’ve had enough friends who’ve had that and a year or so later became very disgusted with lives or themselves. That never was appealing to us at all.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, July 20.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’re talking this week with Tom and Jeannie Elliff. Tom has been a pastor for many, many years. They’ve been married for 40 years, and we’re talking about some of the things God has taught them as a couple about godly marriage—a marriage that can go the distance.

I know from many of the letters and emails we receive at Revive Our Hearts that there are a lot of women who want to have the kind of marriage God wants them to have, but there’s a lot of disorientation, a lot of confusion, a lot of blame and recrimination and struggling—just two human beings trying to survive on the same planet. Some of this goes back to the Garden of Eden, I guess.

Tom and Jeannie, God has given you both such a love for His Word and a gift for ministering God’s grace to people in need. I want us just to be able to learn from your lives, and, Tom, before we started this session, I said I’d like to just ask you as a husband (because we don’t have a lot of men on Revive Our Hearts, and we welcome them when they do come on). 

It’s a blessing for us sometimes to be willing to hear from a man—a man’s perspective on us as women. Is there anything you could share with us out of your own marriage or your observation as a pastor of what blesses a man in a woman? What qualities in a woman; what things in your marriage or that you’ve seen in others; what counsel, encouragement, exhortation as a pastor and husband would you give to some of us as women listening?

Jeannie’s sitting here, and, Jeannie, you’ve been a great example in so many ways.

Jeannie Elliff: I’m taking notes. I’m going to find out what I need to do here.

Nancy: Well, you’ve illustrated so many of these things.

Tom, just speak to our hearts as women, wives particularly. As you think back to your marriage, what are some of the things that have blessed you that you’ve seen in your wife?

Tom: Well, Jeannie is a person with a walking faith, not just a talking faith. She, as we have talked about already, is a woman of deep faith in the Lord, but she lives like a person of deep faith in the Lord. She believes God is a God of miracles. She believes that what God says in His Word about marriage, about communication, about loving one another, and about being just a nice person, a gracious person. She practices all those things.

My wife is a very giving person. I cannot tell you the number of times that she has said to me, “Tom, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been counseling with someone, and they don’t have any way to get a dress for the wedding. Could I buy her that dress? Or, could I take them out? Or, could I do this? Or, could I do that? Or, I’m going to go over to so-and-so’s house. Do you mind if I do that?”

Of course I don’t mind. It just tickles me to death. It’s just hard for me to keep up with her. She is a very, very giving person, and I love that about her. It just challenges me.

Nancy: I assume that’s been a blessing and a gift in your family to have a mom, a wife with a giving heart.

Tom: Oh, yes. Sometimes the children have taken advantage of her, I’m sure.

Jeannie: I’m aware of that, too, yes.

Tom: But our kids love their mother because they know that she has their best interest in mind at all times, and I love their mother, too, because I know that she has my best interest in mind at all times.

I love that about her, her faith, and the fact that she gives.

She is a person with a great sense of humor. I love that. I don’t know of many problems in this world that could not be looked at one point or another in a little better light if a person has a sense of humor. We’re funny people, and Jeannie and I will laugh at everything. We like to go to things together. We like to go to places together because we laugh at the same things. Life is just funny. There’s just a lot of fun out there. We have a good time.

I love my wife because she leads people to Christ.

I love my wife because she is faithfully involved in her own devotions, her own ministry of teaching.

I would just have to tell you that that I do not know of a more noble-hearted person in this world than my wife, whose ambitions in life are more noble.

Nancy: We’re embarrassing you, Jeannie.

Jeannie: I know. I can’t believe all this.

Nancy: He’s talking about you.

Tom: By the way, I’ve got a few favors I want to ask you.

Jeannie: Oh, yes. That’s right.

Nancy: Tom, what are some of the ways that Jeannie has supported and encouraged you as a man that have helped you to become more of the man God wants you to be?

Tom: She asks me questions periodically and challenges me, “Are there any dreams or ambitions in your heart that are unfulfilled? If so, let’s talk about it, and what do we need to do to see those come to fruition?”

She literally constantly says, “I love you, and I believe in you. I’m expecting the best out of you.”

She has really raised the bar in my life as far as my own walk with the Lord is concerned.

The thing that I would have to tell you that is most appealing to me about my wife is that she is always approachable. You don’t have to close the door to a room to be unapproachable; you can just close the door right here at this table.

Nancy: What communicates that to you, the approachability?

Tom: Her approachability—early from the get-go in our marriage, I think, with her insistence, the decision was made that we would never allow an issue that needed resolving to go unresolved. We would never go to sleep. Sometimes we’ve been up to 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, but if there was any anger, anything that anybody was miffed at, we were going to stay up and talk about it until it was resolved.

Over a period of time, I think that teaches us, “Let’s go ahead and talk this through because it’s a whole lot better to do it at 9 o’clock than it is at 3 o’clock in the morning. Let’s don’t play any games. Let’s work this through, and when it’s all over, we’re going to be more married and more in love anyway. Because one thing’s for sure: Our relationship, in terms of a husband and wife, that’s not on the table. That’s not an option here. That’s not a card to be played here. So let’s work this out for the best for our entire family and our own lives and our own health.”

My wife is infinitely approachable. If I need to talk with her about anything, if I need to share something that’s on my heart, I don’t have to keep it bottled up for fear that she won’t appreciate it or won’t seek to understand it or won’t listen.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, it makes me want to involve her in my decision-making process because it’s really not just mine, it’s our decision-making process.

I would have to tell you that, in addition to being a lover, she’s a friend, and she is both those. She is both a lover and a friend, and I could talk about each one of those for the next two days, if you would like.

Nancy: Jeannie, what are some of the ways you’ve cultivated a friendship with your husband? I think a lot of couples are roommates, they’re business partners, they’re maybe even adversaries at points, but friendship, how do you cultivate that?

Jeannie: Well, I really long to understand Tom’s heart. This decision we’ve made just recently to leave the pastorate and go into working with the International Mission Board was a difficult decision for me because it meant I had to lay down some of the things I love doing, which is teaching on a week-to-week basis. But I so longed and wanted to understand his heart. His heart was in this, and I knew it, and God, of course, gave me assurance in the Scripture. It was just such a mutual decision between the two of us.

I just want to understand his heart. “Where is he heading?” It’s not that I am—a term you used a little while ago—co-dependent on Tom. I’m my own person. I understand that I am responsible for my walk with the Lord, but God has put us together for this period in our lives, and I want to know where he’s headed. I want to know where his heart is headed.

I try to anticipate needs that he has. For instance, the morning we left, I saw your watch in a funny place—he laid it down somewhere, which is kind of a typical thing for Tom . . .

Tom: Are we going to get on this again?

Jeannie: . . . and I just picked it up and put it where he would expect to find it. Now, that’s a teeny little thing, and some might say, “Oh, you’re just picking up after him.” No, I knew he was going to be in a rush, and he wouldn’t have time to look for it.

I try to anticipate his needs. “What he’s going to need for the day?” I’ll ask him, “Are you going to need this shirt?” Minor little things, but I want to follow him and follow his needs with the things I do in my life.

There’s plenty of time to do my things and those little things for him, too.

Nancy: How do you keep resentment from building up? I think a lot of women, and maybe men also, resent to have to wait on, serve, bless, always be thinking about the other person—especially when they have things that maybe do annoy you—“He’s always leaving his stuff in the wrong place.”

Jeannie: A couple of years ago Tom broke his leg. He couldn’t do much of anything for himself the first few weeks. He couldn’t even put his socks on by himself, so it was a challenge. Toward the end of that three-month period, when he was walking by himself, I started practicing the phrase, “Get it yourself.”

Tom: Yes. I think that neither one of us mind doing that. When you say resentful, I don’t know if that feeling has ever come between us, in terms of resenting having to do something for the other. I’m looking for things to do for her. I feel she does the same for me.

It’s really funny, now that our kids are gone, we’ve got this great big house. Our favorite place is in a little bitty room on a little bitty couch with scarcely enough room for the both of us, just sitting together and talking together. There’s just something about it that is a blessing.

I would have to say that our morning time, working through the prayer journal and praying together is just a very, very wonderful time for me. To know that she wants to do that, and I think for her to know that I want to do that, I think it’s a blessing to us both.

Nancy: So you’re reaping now some of the sweet fruit of years of investing in each other and in your marriage.

Jeannie: Oh yes.

Nancy: There were some times of adversity.

Tom: Oh, yes.

Nancy: You referenced that earlier. I’ve known you long enough to have seen you go through some seasons of challenges—an accident with your daughter, loss of a couple of homes. Tell us a little bit about how you walk as a couple, shoulder to shoulder, through adversity instead of at each other’s throats?

Tom: What do you say to that, Jeannie?

Jeannie: Well, we did. We lost a home to a fire about eight years ago . . .

Tom: . . . and then another one blew away in a tornado.

Nancy: Just after I was in Oklahoma City that happened.

Jeannie: That’s right. Tom and I had been talking about paring down, getting our lives more simple. The Lord did that for us in a big way.

Tom: We’ve yet to cry over that house. It’s all going to burn up anyway.

Jeannie: Things are not important to us. Maybe it goes back to the day we went to the mission field. There was a godly man that said to us, “Take your things to Africa with you. Take as many things as you want, but take them in your hand and not in your heart because you might have to leave them.”

Tom: And we did.

Jeannie: And we did. But I think that it goes back to those days. We had to make a commitment: Things are not what’s important to us. And we’ve seen that go through our children. Our children do not have to have the finest things.

Tom: They’re all serving the Lord, some on the mission field, and in other areas of ministry here in the States. I would have to say that for all four of our children and 22 grandchildren, that things are not of paramount importance.

As I’ve said, they’re all going to burn up anyway, and that frees you from so much when you’re not just feeling like you have to tend to your things all the time.

By the way, let me just say this: My wife is to me,the most beautiful person in the world. I really only have eyes for her, and she knows that. I think she’s definitely convinced of that fact, and when I see her, I see the Lord in her. It just blesses me.

I would rather be with her than with anyone, and, sure enough, we’ve come to a point in our life where we do get to spend a lot of time together, and I’m having a blast.

Jeannie: We are. We’re having a wonderful time at this stage in our life. It’s just great.

Nancy: But you’ve spent a lot of years, Jeannie, as a woman, getting to know the Lord.

Jeannie: That’s right.

Nancy: In fact, you’ve impacted my life in what you’ve shared about your personal time with the Lord. That’s where that beauty has come from because there’s no way at our age and older to look the way someone can at 20. But there’s no way someone at 20 can have the beauty that comes from years of knowing Christ and walking with Him.

Jeannie: That’s exactly right.

You were talking about the crises of life, and we feel this about each other. When we go through a crisis, like the issue with his broken leg, and I saw him trust in the . . . I saw the Lord speak to him and show him things, and it just made it wonderful. I thought, “If I have to care for him for the rest of my life like this, I will do it.”

Tom: I remember looking over at her at one point—it wasn’t just a broken leg, it was a shattered knee, and a whole several months of . . .

Jeannie: . . . surgeries, and so forth.

Tom: I remember looking over at her one night and just seeing her sitting there in the chair, reading. I just started weeping thinking about how much I loved her, how faithful she was, and asking the Lord to make me that faithful to her in a similar circumstance, that I would be that faithful.

The Lord was showing us things about our life and ministry anyway during those days, and I just have to tell you that the Lord blessed me when He allowed me the privilege of marrying Jeannie.

I heard a man say something recently that echoed my sentiments exactly, and I would have to say, in all the years of married life and ministry, there’s not been one day in my life where I have not wanted to go to work, when I’ve dreaded going to the office, or what I had to do.

I have loved what I do, but as he said (this was Dr. Jimmy Draper at Life Way), “The best part of every day is coming home.” And I would have to say that is true for me as well. The best part of the day—I get to thinking about, hours before I get to come home, of coming home.

Nancy: I wish our listeners could see the glint in your eyes as you’re looking across the table here at your wife who you have just announced is the most beautiful woman on the planet.

Tom: In the universe.

Nancy: In the universe, we’ll take your word for that.

One of the things I appreciate about you, Tom and Jeannie, now that you’re in your 60s, you are at a season in life where you could be thinking retirement, kicking back, golden years, and yet you are both still not wanting to spend your lives just for yourselves or your own enjoyment but wanting together to be fruitful for the Lord in this season of life.

What keeps you going, earnest, pursuing, growing, wanting to give rather than be takers in this season of life?

Jeannie: Nancy, all of us have had moments where we have done something for ourselves, and it’s really kind of nice. But when you do something for somebody else, the joy you receive from that far surpasses doing something for yourself. I guess that’s what we feel.

Tom: And we feel like these are our most productive years. I would say that we never had a “come 65 we’re going to kick back and quit doing it” mentality. We never had that mentality. We’ve had enough friends who’ve had that and a year or so later became very disgusted with lives or themselves. That never was appealing to us at all.

Nancy: So how long do you want to serve and bless others together?

Jeannie: As long as the Lord gives us breath. That’s how long we want to serve.

Tom: I think the Scripture says that, if you read it, and read it carefully, and read the lives of men and women in the Scripture, the indication there is that our utility, our usefulness to God increases up to the moment we take our last breath. We don’t do the same things.

I mentioned in the conference this morning that a lady said to me, “Well, I’m so old and decrepit now the only thing I can do is pray.” Well, she’s just moved up to the big leagues now. She’s at the point where she really has utility of the Lord.

So we’re just going to go hand in hand here, continue to charge ahead with what God has put on our plate, and we just love the thought of serving Him. We don’t have any plans about kicking back.

Nancy: How do you want your children to remember your marriage?

Jeannie: I want them to think of us together, not mom and dad bickering over what’s the right thing. That’s always been a goal of ours—together. This decision is the both of us, and even in this decision, each of our four children have asked me individually, “Mom, are you okay with this decision, with Daddy not being a pastor anymore?” And I had to assure them, “Yes. We wouldn’t have done this—Dad wouldn’t have done this if it hadn’t been exactly what we knew God wanted for us.”

Tom: And it was a together decision. I guarantee you I didn’t run into this and then try to drag Jeannie into it. She could tell you more about that. We determined from the very beginning this is going to be our decision. We’d make it together.

Jeannie: Exactly. I think that oneness as a couple, this one thing that I desire for our children and their marriages—to have that oneness—because that’s what I feel like we’ve had since the moment I got saved.

Tom: If we had a mission as parents and grandparents—I have written on several occasions in my journal that the mission here is to be a living illustration of God’s faithfulness to any people who would take Him at His Word—and that’s our desire, to be a living illustration of the faithfulness of God to any man or woman who will take Him at His Word.

Leslie: Whatever your season of life, Tom and Jeannie Elliff have provided you with some hope today—hope for a God-honoring, productive future.

They’ve been speaking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and she’ll be right back.

To continue making this hope part of your daily reality, get a copy of John Piper’s book This Momentary Marriage. Dr. Piper writes about practical issues in a unique way. He comes at a topic like a theologian and a poet. The advice you real will be grounded in truth, inspiring and practical.

We want to put This Momentary Marriage in your hands. When you donate any amount to make this ministry possible in your area, we’ll send you a copy. Donate to Revive Our Hearts by calling 1-800-569-5959 and ask for This Momentary Marriage, or you can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

When you’re at the site, you can tell us how the program has affected you. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com and click on “Contact Us.”

A woman did that not long ago, and, Nancy, she was excited about a big announcement you recently made.

Nancy: She wrote and said, “I could hardly believe it when I heard you say that the True Woman Conference is coming to Chattanooga.”

She went on to explain that she and her friends had been praying for years that Revive Our Hearts would host a conference in Chattanooga, and she wrote, “When I heard that announcement, I had joyful tears in my eyes. I will spread this exciting news to everyone I know. I can’t wait to see you in 2010.”

Well, this woman was referring to True Woman, the conference created by Revive Our Hearts that will help you discover and embrace God’s design for your life.

The first True Woman Conference, held in Chicago last fall, attracted women from around the world, and in 2010, we want to make it easier for more women to attend. That’s why Revive Our Hearts has planned three True Woman Conferences for next year. You can join us in Chattanooga in March, Indianapolis in September, or Ft. Worth in October. That’s all next year, 2010. For more details, just go to ReviveOurHearts.com.

Last year the conference sold out quickly and when registration opens for True Woman ’10, we expect a lot of interest. You can register beginning August 1, just a couple of weeks away, at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie: As a young man, Tom Elliff realized he needed to know his children’s unique gifts and callings. Find out why that made such a difference in the way he disciplined them, tomorrow on 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.