Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Staying Committed to an Unbeliever

Leslie Basham: When her unbelieving husband wanted to reconcile with her, Shirley’s children told her she was crazy to let him back into her life. But Shirley saw it differently.

Shirley: It’s not a choice. It was something I had to do. If we say we are Christians, then we have to walk it out, day in and day out.

Leslie Basham: It’s Monday, July 10th, and you’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you’re married, do you remember your wedding vows? The traditional vows contain those familiar phrases: “for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”

Well, I’m not married, but I’ve spoken with enough married people to know that when the sickness, the poverty, and “the worse” sides of life come along, the commitment you made before God and witnesses can be tested, sometimes severely.

Perhaps that’s where you are. Maybe you have a son or daughter or friend who’s in a difficult marriage. I hope you’ll stay tuned this whole week because we’re going to talk about “For Better or Worse: Marriage When It’s Tough.”

My longtime friend, Holly Elliff, has been a guest with us on Revive Our Hearts in the past, and she joins us again all this week. Holly, thanks so much for being with us.

Holly Elliff: I love being here, Nancy.

Nancy: Holly is a pastor’s wife. She’s been married for over 30 years. She and her husband, Bill, have eight precious children who are in many different seasons of life. Holly, explain to our listeners about the format for this week.

Holly: We actually gathered a group of women together at a local church and had an open forum related to the area of marriage and long-term marriages and even difficult marriages, and how to be faithful in those.

Nancy: And the women were very candid and open as they shared, as were you in your responses to their questions and answers. Today we’re going to talk about staying married to a husband who’s not a believer.

In 1 Peter 3, the apostle Peter encourages women to strive to win their husbands without a word. Shirley is one of the women who was with us in the audience that day, and I want you to listen to her story because she’s a great model of that principle.

Shirley: One of the things that I desired most was to have a husband who worshiped with the children and me. And that did not happen during the course of 29 years of marriage.

There were some things that happened in the marriage that were very devastating, that were difficult to deal with and difficult to move beyond. But God is so faithful.

Toward the end of my husband’s life . . . because all through the years there were things that I just had to forgive and move beyond; because if you don’t forgive, then bitterness begins to take root in you.

There’s a saying, bitterness is a pill we swallow in the hopes that it will kill someone else. But that’s not what it does. It will kill us if we allow it to take root and to grow in our lives.

The bottom line is, after 29 years . . . I continued all of those years to pray for my husband’s salvation because the Word of God says His desire is that no man should perish, but that every man should come to repentance (see 2 Peter 3:9). Then He goes on to say that “Whatever you ask in accordance with My will, I’ll do” (see John 14:13-14).

Knowing those two promises of God made me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that at some point in time, my husband would come to salvation. I believed that for 29 years. On his deathbed he did that.

When he became so ill, my children—he was away; he came back—the children could not understand how I could go back into that relationship and do what I did. But what I said to my children is that, if we say we are Christians, then we have to walk it out, day in and day out, and it’s not a choice.

And it wasn’t a choice. It was something I had to do because that’s who I am and that’s what I had been commanded to do. Even when someone spitefully uses you, you still love them.

During that time we talked a lot, and he talked about a lot of things. You know, there were things that he said to me that I had waited 29 years to hear. Those were things like: I was precious in his sight; one of the best decisions he made in his life was to marry me; and “I made mistakes.”

But God is faithful. Because I was able to forgive all through the years, even when my children did not understand and they said, “You have lost your mind. . . ”

For you to be able to do that requires a strength that is so beyond anything you could ever hope to do in and of yourself. It is the grace of God that you’re able to do the kind of things that God calls us to do sometimes when we have been so hurt and so devastated by different people’s actions in our lives.

I remember what Nancy said yesterday, and that has been one of my mantras all through my life: “It is not so much what people do to you, it is how you respond to what people do to you.”

So when he was going through that, we would go to the hospital every day, and we would stand at his bedside, and we would read Scripture, and we would gather around his bed, and we would pray. There were people who would come in and out of the hospital who saw this.

That’s what my children learned and what I was trying to tell them—I really had to live it out before them. Because when we are going through difficult things and when we are suffering, many times we think it’s all about us; but it is for a greater good.

There were things that people saw that they testified of after my husband had gone. The day that he passed, we were not able to get to the hospital in time. There was a nurse who came to me after he had passed and she said to me . . . I asked her, “How was he?”

She said, “You know, at the beginning when he began to slip away he was struggling.” She said, “But I got the Bible, and I began to read the twenty-third psalm. When I began to read the twenty-third psalm, he became at peace, and he just slipped away.”

She said, “I was able to do that because that’s what I had seen you all do, because you came and stood at his bedside, and you read Scripture and prayed, and that was a comfort to him. So I was able to do the same thing in his last moments.”

So I thanked her for that, and I thanked God for the strength to be able to do what I was only able to do by the grace of God because it has very, very little to do with me.

Holly: Shirley, we get so many letters from women who are in marriages where their husbands are either not believers or they are not interested in spiritual things, even if they claim to be believers. They’re in marriages like yours was that are difficult for a long, long, long time.

What would you say to those women just to give them hope as they’re raising their children, as they’re staying in that marriage by their choice to stay in a hard marriage? What would you say to them just to give them hope and encouragement?

Shirley: I guess the one thing I would say, because it’s the one thing that did the most for me, is that you just have to continuously seek the Lord in everything you do.

I used to ask the Lord all the time, “Lord, help me to rear these children,” even when my husband wasn’t there to do the things that he needed to do as a father; because I just believe what the Word of God says. I don’t have any more sense than this belief that if God said it, He can perform it.

So I just believed. I trusted Him to do what needed to be done in the lives of my children and in the life of my husband and in my own life. What we have to do is take the focus off of us, and we have to keep our eyes on the cross because that is the thing that is going to give us the strength to do whatever it is that we need to do to endure.

So I would say, “Don’t give up. Continue to pray. Continue to seek the Lord.” You know, there were times in our marriage when I would try to talk to my husband about the Lord, and he would just get so upset, and he’d start talking and I’d get back because, “Lightning is going to strike you, and I don’t want to be anywhere near.”

So there would be times like that. But then I came to understand that if we are going to win our husbands to Christ, it’s not going to be by what we say; it’s going to be by what we do. You have to just keep walking it out before them, not preaching at them all the time.

There were times when I could not share the Gospel with him, but then toward the end he wanted to hear the Gospel. So he knew the time was right, because the Lord was moving in his heart.

I would say to just persevere. You just have to continue to look to the Lord and continue to trust Him for His grace and for His mercy and for Him being able to sustain us.

Because He will. There are times when we think we just can’t go on. In and of ourselves, many times we couldn’t. But by the grace of God and by His strength and by His Spirit, He upholds us, and He allows us to just keep on keeping on.

Holly: Thank you, Shirley.

Nancy: You know, I appreciate that testimony so much because one of the things we’ve really got to be thinking about seriously, if we’re going to be women who take God seriously and believe His Word, is this whole thing of the permanence of marriage—that marriage is intended to be a reflection of the faithful, covenant-keeping character of God who doesn’t give up on His people, who keeps pursuing us, keeps persevering, keeps loving even when we give Him every reason not to.

What we so desperately need today are some women and men who will say, “I’m not in this for me. I’m in this for the glory of God. I’m in this to reflect the heart of a covenant-keeping God.”

So what happens to me ultimately is insignificant. What matters is what people think of God, and realizing that there are things God wants to do in the life of your mate that may never happen in the short term if you’re not willing to be in it for the long haul.

Leslie Basham: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss, along with pastor’s wife, Holly Elliff, talking about one way marriage can be tough. Did you notice Shirley’s restraint? She didn’t speak disrespectfully of her husband’s actions, even though there were some painful memories.

Shirley actually did share a lot more than we had time for on the radio, but we do want to make the recording of all this week’s programs available to you for a gift of any amount. Log on to our website for more information.

One of the goals of the ministry of Revive Our Hearts is to help women to be spiritually fruitful, to give them a vision for their distinctive, God-given calling, mission, roles, and responsibilities. Our focus all this week is on the role of the Christian wife.

So, in response and to serve you, our web team has put together a helpful resource page specifically designed for wives. We trust you’ll find it an encouragement and practical help that might very well apply to your individual situation.

Finally, I wanted to let you know that we’re challenging you to turn off your TV for the whole month of August. You might want to start discussing this possibility with your husband. Stay tuned for more details, or check out our website. If you prefer calling, our phone number is 800-569-5959.

How would you respond if you found out your husband had been unfaithful to you? We’ll find out about someone who did, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts . Join us.

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

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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.