Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Trusting God to Work Behind the Scenes

Leslie Basham: Carolyn McCulley gives a warning to single women, that we don’t always see what God is doing behind the scenes.

Carolyn McCulley: When we look at our circumstances and we conclude that God’s not doing anything further for us, it’s a form of pride. We don’t know. We have to be humble. Because of that, we have to keep our desires in open hands before the Lord.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, July 10. Yesterday Nancy began talking with Carolyn McCulley about practical issues relating to singleness. They’ll continue today, answering questions from some of our listeners.

Like I said yesterday, I think all of us will benefit from the conversation, since all of us need to hand over our circumstances to the Lord, whether married or single. Here’s Nancy to pick up the conversation.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Carolyn, I know you talked about that, as a young believer, you started to feel like people were in categories of “husbands, wives, and singles . . .” who kind of were this nondescript genderless group.

Carolyn: Yes, it wasn’t that you were a single man or a single woman, but that you were a “single.” “Let’s have a single over for dinner" or "The singles are going to do this or that.” As if you’re this androgynous, gender-neutral, third-wheel thing. It can contribute to this identity crisis. I recognize what you’re saying.

I’ve had to train my mind to think differently and, as I’ve looked through Scripture, I realize that God has a whole lot more to say about men and women and their different stages of life than He does about the certain seasons of life.

So I found that over time I came more to identify with being an adjective instead of a noun. I was a single woman. I think Scripture says that you are a woman who is in different seasons of life. We will probably all experience different seasons of being a woman. There are different seasons in being a young, single women as compared to a middle-aged, single woman, or an older, single woman.

You might still be unmarried, but those are very different seasons, in a lot of ways, with different challenges. I found that as I looked more toward, “Why did God make me a woman, and what does He expect me to do with that?” I found that I was less tempted to crave people’s approval in situations that are awkward when you’re discussing singleness.

I would just fall back in to Christ and rest in Him. I don’t why God chose me and saved me. I don’t know. I wasn’t looking for Him. I definitely was not looking for Him, but in His mercy He extended this grace of repentance to me. Because He did that, I know He is capable of doing anything else. I just have to rest in His plan.

I wasn’t choosing Him, so He made my life do a complete U-turn. He’s got to have it figured out in advance, and I’ll just wait and see how it unfolds. That doesn’t negate, however, how challenging it can be at times to watch your expectations (whether they’re at twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-five, forty-five, seventy) of how you expected your life to unfold are often not what happens. There is a sweetness to it and a bitterness to it.

I think if we look through Scripture, we will find many women who experienced that same thing and were surprised by what God would do.

Sarah was so surprised. “Am I so old, and now I’m going to have the pleasure of having a child?” She laughed. She laughed right in God’s face, and then denied she laughed in God’s face. I think there were probably a mixture of reasons for that laughter.

“I’ve heard from God’s lips that I’m going to bear a child.” That promise had always been extended to her that it was Abraham’s seed. But now she’s hearing that it’s going to be from her womb, and Abraham’s seed.

There’s got to be that mixture of emotional relief, that ironic temptation to unbelief—“Are you kidding us?”—plus the sweetness of, “God’s finally hearing me.” And probably all that came whooshing together and came out in an eruption of nervous laughter.

I think we can experience that in our lives, that mixture and eruption of emotions that are both bitter and sweet and profound and at times not profound. I don’t know why God chooses what He does sometimes for people. I think that there’s a certain fallout in our generation. We have inherited, in our culture, a great disdain for marriage, so we shouldn’t be surprised in the church that it’s hard for singles to get married.

The church is always affected by what’s going on in our culture. Worldliness washes through the doors of the church constantly and yet we, as singles, get to stand up in this generation and we’re living, walking examples of proclaiming that God’s grace is sufficient, even as we hope for something different.

I am grateful to see younger men and women getting married, reclaiming God’s goodness. Sometimes it’s a little challenging. The ones that I babysat, I’m going to their weddings and their baby showers. But if I look beyond myself, I think, “That’s great! This generation is reclaiming God’s vision for marriage.” And I get to be a “standing stone” to witness that, even in hope deferred, God is enough.

Christy: I would say that the benefits of being single for me is that I’m available for my family. I’ve got four sisters and a brother and some nieces and a nephew, and I get to enjoy life with them. My sister who is married, adopted a child, and I get to live life with her.

My nieces and nephew who live in another city, I get to go to them, and I get to visit friends. I’m just more available, and I enjoy that. The downside is, it has changed over time. I guess that is what it is. I do have some resentment that does come up. I’m embarrassed to confess it, but it’s true.

I’ve also seen how I’ve compromised in relationships that I’ve had before because I wanted it so badly that I would give up what I thought I believed. I can say what I believe, but then, am I really living out what I believe in my walk with the Lord? Am I rebelling against Him? It’s very eye-opening, very heart-opening.

Nancy: It’s amazing how God uses season-of-life challenges to expose our hearts to ourselves. As you think, Carolyn, about the process of singleness in your life, and you and Christy and I are roughly in the same age group. Christy and I are the same age. Can you look back and see some things that God has shown you about your own heart as a result of dealing with the disappointment of the deferred hope or expectations?

Carolyn: Yes, I can clearly remember a good friend of mine, who is the same age, and she got married a number of years ago. Right before she got married she was confronting me about bitterness in my heart. I remember looking at her and thinking, “You always get pursued, and your marriage is imminent, and you’re in my face telling me not to be bitter? I have a right to cry and be full of pity about this situation. It’s hard.”

This was what I was thinking, “I have a right to these emotions, and to express them.” She was looking at me with the honest truth that if the topic of marriage ever came up, I was quick to burst into tears. She said, “I think that’s bitterness.”

It took great boldness her part to speak to me on that issue, but she loved me enough not to leave me trapped in bitterness. That was a really tough season, and honestly, I didn’t really initially receive what she said. I sat back like, “I can’t believe you’re saying that to me.” But I prayed about it and, over time, saw that God was using a very faithful friend to bring me the proverbial, scriptural slap in the face and the wake-up call.

Because to be trapped in bitterness is to be in a place where the enemy can study us and can use this, along with the sin in our own hearts, to continue to breed bad fruit in our lives, so that we’re not glorifying God. We don’t want to be trapped and ensnared in bitterness. She was faithful to point that out to me.

Honestly, being trapped and ensnared in bitterness is not very attractive to men either, so that was a helpful slap . . . “Get over it!” Since that time, she’s been married and has two kids. She came over with some other friends for a luncheon yesterday. I had a number of girlfriends over.

We had half single and half married, and I expressed gratitude to them for being friends to me over the years and sticking with me. The married women were walking through my house and saying things like, “Wow! Look at this. She can have breakables out on her table!” And one of them was saying, “I ate an entire meal and nobody tugged on my clothes. I was able to finish sentences.”

Both sides were expressing appreciation for, “Wow, you have this blessing, you have that blessing.” I was grateful for it, and I was grateful in particular for this friend, who’d been faithful to bring me the observation about bitterness, that we were still friends.

I did, in a sense, envy her getting married and having children, but she had some rough times as a young mother. There was an entire year where her son was colicky. She said, “If I got a shower in a day, that was a good day.” Dealing with a toddler and a baby who wouldn’t stop crying, she thought she was going to lose her mind, literally. It was so hard to get any sleep. She said it was the toughest year of her life.

I look back at that time with a little bit of regret, because I wasn’t really there to invest in her. I’d pulled back a little bit because I was kind of jealous that she got what I wanted. In hindsight, I ask myself, “Why wasn’t I a good friend?” That was a very tough season for her.

We’ve been able to reconnect and have a deeper friendship now. But I hear those stories and I look back and say, “That was an evidence of my selfishness, right there.” It’s not easy to make a transition to being a wife and a mother, and I have coveted what she had and pulled away in a sense.

It wasn’t a great rift—I don’t want to paint it that way—it was just that subtle drift that happens when you’re not intentional to pursue a friendship. Now that we’re more intentional in pursuing our friendship, I have more empathy for her in that situation.

I see that there are different seasons, and I see that God is faithful to sanctify His single children the same way He’s faithful to sanctify His children who are married. There is an intensity of sanctification in the intimacy of marriage, but I think there’s also this special kind of sanctification to singleness. It’s so easy for you to drift away from fellowship and friendship and building into the church, if you choose to do so. So the sanctification comes from being purposeful . . . to keep investing, even when it seems there is no “emotional pay-off.”

You really are deciding, “I’m going to do this for the glory of God. I may not see any immediate payback, but I’m going to do it. So it’s a different kind of sanctification through a long, slow boil of loneliness at times.

Woman: I’m finishing up my freshman year in college, going to be a sophomore, and I’m pursuing a nursing degree. I’m blessed because I have this time of singleness to be devoted to God, and I guess to pursue my goal of being the Proverbs 31 woman, and to have all those characteristics.

I’ve been in a relationship for two years, and I’m looking forward to getting married in the next two or three years. But I know that right now, God has me as a single woman where I am so that I can be growing in Him and learning my own identity in Christ, so that when I get married, I won’t be who I am in my husband, I will be seen for the godly woman that I am, so that’s blessing.

Also, I have four younger siblings, two are sisters—one nine and one five—and I have the opportunity to live at home right now while I’m in college and be an example to those two girls of what a godly single woman is.

Whether God chooses to provide a husband for them, whether He chooses to provide that marriage for me that I’m looking forward to, or not, I will have set a good example to them of what a godly young woman is. I think a trial or challenge would be patience in waiting for God’s timing in everything. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, patience is something that’s always a challenge. Waiting on God for whatever it is that He desires for you.

Nancy: Carolyn, your book Did I Kiss Marriage Good-bye? is a book on, essentially, Proverbs 31 for single women. We usually think of Proverbs 31 as being a passage for married women, wives and moms. But you really see in Proverbs 31 a template, a pattern, for all of our lives as women, whether married or single. Tell us a little bit about why you wrote that book and give us a sense of what we can find in it, for those who haven’t read it.

Carolyn: I had mentioned that I had that season of feeling like that gender-neutral third wheel, and God used the opportunity for me to help another woman with her writing project to be immersed in her teaching about biblical womanhood.

I realized as I helped her with this project that my mind was being renewed as to what God’s Word was for women. I began to write articles for other magazines, where I was essentially ripping her off. You know how it is, you find yourself some good teaching, and you just refilter it. I was trying to apply the same things that I was reading in her materials to single women, as I began to mull over what this was like.

She was taking women through Titus 2, and so as I was doing this study, I came across some material on Proverbs 31. It really highlighted to me at that time that this is the collected sayings of a mother to her son, who is now King Lemuel. (Some people think that’s a pseudonym for King Solomon.)

This king is looking back on what his mother taught him, and he’s now reframing it through a woman who is married and is the excellent wife.

It’s a Hebrew acrostic, the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet set to these virtues of a godly woman. It’s kind of the English equivalent to “A is for Apple, B is for Boy.” So she was teaching him, not only the Hebrew alphabet, but also what to look for in a woman who would make a godly wife.

He obviously wasn’t married, as a young boy needing to learn his alphabet. Not only that, it’s not only just a roadmap for what godly femininity looks like for single women, what to prepare for to be that excellent wife, it’s also helpful for women yet to be married to look for the kinds of qualities they need to develop in themselves.

It’s also an encouragement to women who are older, because in this passage, children rise up and call their mother blessed. And children generally don’t rise up and see the wisdom of their mothers until say, thirty-five. It’s an encouragement for every season of life.

I looked at that and I realized, “Hey, I’ve been skipping over this,” because the first line talks about the woman who makes an excellent wife. I wasn’t married, so I was throwing it all out the window without realizing, “This is what I need to do to cultivate femininity in my life.”

I need to be a savvy busy woman—she was certainly very savvy. I need to be able to offer hospitality, I need to be able to manage my home, I need to be able to manage my finances. I need to cultivate the fear of the Lord, because that’s ultimately what I will be praised for . . . not necessarily charm or beauty, especially as charm and beauty are fading away. I realized that so much of what I needed to be cultivating could be cultivated right now to bring glory to God, whether or not I got married.

It was a big surprise to me to find out, “Wow, this is what I need to be doing right now,” rather than just drifting, waiting for someone to tell me how to be a successful single.

Nancy: Talk to us about the balance, the tension between praying asking the Lord, keeping that request before Him, maybe for decades. Is there some point at which you just say, “Apparently this isn’t God’s will. Maybe I should stop asking Him.” Is it okay to keep asking Him? At what point does asking become demanding? How do you work through that tension?

Carolyn: I think that as long you have a desire, Jesus would tell us to keep on knocking like the persistent widow, and trusting Him for His generosity. What we have to guard against, though, in being faithful to pray, is watching this continuum where a good desire becomes a demand that leads to disappointment and then punishment.

I’m very grateful for the teaching of a counselor and an author named Paul Tripp, who talks about this. We have good desires, and we’re instructed in Scripture to hold those desires before the Lord in open hands. There’s no way that we can force someone else to fall in love with us and pursue us.

It’s God who opens the hearts of men and women to each other, so you keep your hands held up in worship before the Lord. But there comes a time when our heart decides to re-label a desire into a need. "I need this. I need this to function."

Those open hands began to curl up into a demand, and it becomes not just a desire and a re-labeled need, but a demand before God. And we’re gripping onto it, and that’s where we bring ourselves the greatest misery, because we’ve left the position of worship before the Lord and we start grasping.

“God, I have to have this to fulfill my happiness.” Then, so often, when it doesn’t happen on our schedule, we have this expectation that doesn’t get fulfilled, it leads to disappointment, and disappointment often leads to punishment.

Punishment is either bitterness toward God or other people, or a withdrawing from other people. “I don’t need to be in the church anymore. It’s just one big disappointment, and all these couples and married people,” or “I won’t speak to single men anymore,” or whatever it is, and we start pushing people away.

We can’t do anything about fulfilling our desires but Scripture would tell us to continue to be humble and pray to the One Who can. What we can do, however, is monitor the attitudes of our hearts, and watch whether our hands are still in the position, “Lord, you can do it. I don’t understand why you haven’t done it yet, but I trust You. Because what I can see of my circumstances is not all that’s there.”

Monitor where our hands are becoming demanding and grasping. I take a lot of comfort from the illustration of Naomi in Scripture, because she was a woman who had endured a lot of hardship. She looked at her life and she said, “God’s hand has gone out against me.” She could not see that there was any more blessing to come to her.

She was a widow; she’d lost her sons. The male means of provision was gone from her life, and that was very serious for women at that time. It wasn’t just a matter of “I don’t have male fellowship and comfort,” it was a matter of, “I may starve.”

She comes to Israel and she sees her friends, after having lived in exile in Moab for so long. They’re so happy to see her. When they encounter her they say, “Naomi,”—which means “Pleasant,” . . . “Naomi’s back!” And she says, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara. The Lord’s hand’s gone out against me. Just call me ‘bitter.'"

She is ready to identify with that. She has decided that the Lord’s hand has gone out against her. And because she can’t see any further blessing for her in her life—because it’s not evident for her to look at—has concluded that God is not capable, or is not wiling, to bless her any further.

As she speaks those words, she’s standing next to Ruth, whom God is going to use to bring her physical provision. Ruth will go out into the fields, and Ruth will glean. As she’s speaking . . . if we could see this in a movie scene, the camera comes in closer . . . wham! . . . locks in on her . . . and right behind her is the barley harvest, and it’s ready and ripe—the seeds of which have been planted long time ago, while she was in Moab.

And there’s Naomi, with Ruth standing next to her. She can’t see what God is doing in her circumstances, but God is positioning everything to bless her. And not only does God bless her more than she expects—her family name is restored to her, she has an heir, in a sense—she probably never would have expected that God would bless her in physical provision and relational provision, but would also put her in the lineage of her Savior.

When we look at our circumstances and we conclude that God’s not doing anything further for us, it’s a form of pride. We don’t know. We have to be humble. That’s why we have to keep our desires in open hands before the Lord.

I’m often encouraged by what Jerry Bridges wrote in the forward, I think of, Trusting God. It’s in one of his books. He gives thanks to God for the blessing of his second wife, who’s God’s gift to him in the "afternoon"  of his life.

That might be what some of us are called to be. The gift to a godly man in the “afternoon” of his life, but we don’t know.

Leslie: Carolyn McCulley is encouraging all of us to trust God to work behind the scenes. She and Nancy Leigh DeMoss have been showing us what it looks like, specifically in singleness. To get more wisdom from Carolyn, I hope you’ll get a copy of her book Did I Kiss Marriage Good-bye? The book is filled with practical wisdom.

You’ll learn a lot on topics like these: How to guard your heart and protect purity; How to interact with men and encourage their walk with the Lord; How to invest in the lives of children as a single woman. And you’ll read a lot more. We’ll send you Did I Kiss Marriage Good-bye? when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959. Or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Is it right for believing women to pursue men? Carolyn gives you some perspective tomorrow. Please be back for 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.

About the Speaker

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 …

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