Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Turning from Empty Wells

Dannah Gresh: Gretchen Saffles found that when it came to her home, she was often using it to try to impress others.

Gretchen Saffles: I had to take a step back and go, “God, this house is not mine. This house is Yours. I will decorate it, and I will enjoy that, but ultimately, it’s just a building. I want to steward it, and I want it to be a place of ministry.”

Dannah: This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for April 6, 2021. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy, yesterday you mentioned something that made me think that we didn’t all have a green thumb.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I don’t have a green anything when it comes to plants. I have beautiful things in my house, but they’re all fake. Actually, some of them look so real, I had somebody go and put up her nose next to one. She’s sniffing it, and I’m going, “That’s not real.” 

She said, “Yes it is!” 

But, it isn’t.

Dannah: The things we tell ourselves.

I have a plant in my house that I call my favorite. Do you know why it’s my favorite?

Nancy: Tell me.

Dannah: It tells me when it needs water.

Nancy: Come on.

Dannah: It’s a peace lily, and they wilt heavily when they’re thirsty. And you give them a little water, and they perk right back up.

Nancy: Come back to life.

Dannah: Yes.

Nancy: It’s Revive Our Flowers.

Dannah: Revive Our Flowers! Exactly! But it’s a reminder of me every single time I do it, that when my spirit isn’t in the Living Water of Jesus Christ and the Word, that I’m just like that peace lily, and I wilt.

Nancy: The telltale signs . . . don’t we all have them. Others may think that we have it all together, that we’re really doing great, that who we are when we’re producing these programs is that’s all we ever are. And yet, we both know from a lot of hard experience that there are days and seasons of our lives when we’re more like that wilted flower, and we just need the refreshing and reviving of God’s Word, His presence to revive our hearts.

Dannah: Yes. And today’s guest is going to help us drink deeply of that Living Water and the Word.

Her name is Gretchen Saffles. If you’re just meeting her like we are, you’re probably falling in love with her. She’s the author of  The Well-Watered Woman. The subtitle is: Rooted in Truth, Growing in Grace, Flourishing in Faith.

Welcome back, Gretchen.

Gretchen: Thank you for having me again.

Nancy: Congratulations on the release of your first book this week. We’re so glad we could be among the first to make it available. It’s a book that God’s been writing in your heart for a lot of years, but now it’s available. I know it’s going to be a blessing to many of our listeners who are going to want to know how they can get it, too.

Gretchen: That’s my prayer.

Dannah: I can’t help but think yesterday that many women probably took inventory and said, “Oh, I think I sound a little bit more like a wilted woman than a well-watered woman.”

I know that my heart was pricked, my conscience was awakened to some areas where I need to step up and water my soul a little better. So let’s talk a little bit about how to do that today, Gretchen, because you do that so beautifully.

Nancy: And Gretchen, as Dannah is setting this up, I’m thinking about how I think most of us want to be those flourishing women. We don’t want to be wilted, dry plants that look like nobody has ever taken care of them or paid any attention to them. We want to be flourishing. We want to be growing. We want to have good soil and good roots.

I know you and Dannah are both green thumbs. You’re into gardening. You’re not the green thumb—Dannah is. Is that right?

Gretchen: I have a somewhat green thumb. It’s a gray thumb. It’s not black. It’s not green. It’s in the middle.

Nancy: We want to be these flourishing women. I know both you and Dannah are into gardening, so you see a lot of illustrations of this. But something happens that keeps us from being where we want to be.

Scripture talks about how we can turn to some sources that we think will make us flourish, but they actually end up leaving us dry and wilted.

Gretchen: Yes. And this is something we see happen over and over with the Israelites in the Old Testament. We see them wandering away from God to worthless idols, to the things of this world that won’t satisfy them. God is so gracious to always call them out from their wandering back to His heart. He does the same to us.

We see this unfold in Jeremiah chapter 2. The Israelites were actually in Babylon. They were in exile because they had wandered away from the ways of God. They were prone to wander just like we are prone to wander as well. And in Jeremiah 2, verse 13, God says to the people:

“For my people have committed two evils:they have forsaken me,the fountain of living waters,and hewed out cisterns for themselves,broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Nancy: Okay. Hold on. Before we go any further . . .

Gretchen: Yes?

Nancy: We’re not talking about brothers and sisters here. It’s not that word. It’s cisterns.

Gretchen: Yes.

Nancy: What are these cisterns? Because we’re not used to using that word.

Gretchen: Absolutely.

In the Bible—especially in the Old Testament—you’re going to see wells were often a meeting place, a place even where God did a lot of amazing things in the lives of His people. Wells, like cisterns, were holding places for water for the people. They couldn’t just go and turn on the tap like we can do. They actually had to go somewhere to get this water.

But the thing that Jeremiah notes here is that they were going to broken cisterns, which meant that they were going to a place that would have had dirty water, not clean water.

Living water, what God refers to here, would be referred to as fresh water, water that is moving, that is alive. The good water that the people wanted to drink.

Nancy: And this would have been a word picture that the Israelites really got. 

Gretchen: Absolutely!

Nancy: The land there is arid. It’s a dry climate, so they would have these cisterns. These are holding places for water. It might be dug out of a mountain or dug out of a rock. And if that earth were caked, if the pottery that was supposed to hold water, if it was cracked and broken, it couldn’t hold water, and the people would die of thirst.

And so you say, “Well, my people have made broken cisterns.” What does that mean?

God says this is a great evil. So it’s something that He wanted them to understand that they were going to places they thought would provide satisfaction and flourishing for them—these idols, this immorality. But, in fact, it was leaving them with dirty, useless water. Those cisterns were useless because they couldn’t get the clean water they needed to survive.

Dannah: Yes.

Gretchen: Absolutely. They couldn’t provide for them what they were really looking for.

I used to have a mug that my husband and I made. We went to a pottery place to make it. So it meant a lot to me. I made this mug with my own hands. And yet, over the years, it cracked. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. I would keep it. And sometimes I would forget this is a cracked mug, and I’d pull it out, put something in it, and it would start to leak.

It was just like these broken cisterns that they kept running to, thinking, This idol is going to satisfy me. If I do this, if I get this, it will satisfy me, when, really, they’re left with nothing. They’re left empty-handed, just like I was with my broken mug that would not give me a drink of water.

Instead, God was calling them, “Come to Me. I am the Fountain of Living Water.”

Dannah: Yes. So let’s fast-forward to the year 2021. We don’t have cisterns or idols that we bow down to. What are those broken cisterns that we go to? What do they look like in our lives?

Gretchen: What’s interesting to me is they look like the things that are around us. We often overlook the little phone that’s probably right next to you. It could be in our pocket. You’re probably listening to the podcast right here on your phone. That is one of the idols that we bow down to, one of the broken cisterns that we run to in our moment of need.

Nancy: So it’s not things that are apparently evil.

Gretchen: Right.

Nancy: But we’re looking to it to do something for our souls that it can’t do. That’s why it’s a broken cistern. Right?

Gretchen: Absolutely. I’ve found myself in moments where I am exhausted, and I need a word of hope. I need some encouragement. I pull out my phone. And instead of the opportunity to read God’s Word on my phone, to text a friend, to listen to worship music, I’ll find myself going down a rabbit hole on social media and comparing myself to so many different people.

Dannah: Okay. Stop stepping on my toes. Can you give me some advice? Last night I was just a little overwhelmed. That’s how I felt about life. And, “I need to listen to a podcast,” or “I need to read.” But I didn’t. I got onto Instagram, and I was scrolling through nothing, looking at people’s breakfast and lunch and dinner. It didn’t help. It didn’t satisfy me.

And let me say, I mean, I don’t want to demonize my phone because my phone in itself is not evil. I do use it for a lot of good things. It connects me to people. I have a friend right now, I have a text waiting for me from a friend that needs prayer. I love that she’s calling on me for prayer.

Nancy: And Instagram can be a tool, a means of grace.

Dannah: Exactly. But how you use it and what the heart’s intent is sometimes turns it into a broken cistern or a well that leaks. Right? I did that last night. I had a leaky well in my hand. Do you have any advice for me, Gretchen, about how I can use that better?

Gretchen: One of the things that my husband and I did a few years ago is we created a charging station in our home because we knew that we were so prone to go to our phones at the end of the day to try to find, maybe just some relief from the stress of raising young kids and working—just all the things happening in the world. And we would find ourselves disconnecting from each other to look online, and so much time would go by, and then we wouldn’t sleep good, and we wouldn’t get the rest that we needed.

So we created a charging station where we put our phones every night. And each night when I go plug it in, and I shut the door to the cabinet, it’s like I’m saying, “Phone, you are not the boss of me. Ultimately I am in God’s hands, and I can leave you for this time so that I can go rest in Him.”

So for me, it’s having some boundaries in place where I go at this time of day, because I know myself. I know by the end of the day is when I’m wanting to run to different things for some satisfaction or comfort or just those things that will maybe help me unwind a little bit. I never found joy going to my phone. So we created those boundaries, and that really helped us to flourish at night and to get the rest that we needed.

But another thing is: Being really wise about what is on my phone. There’s a lot of great apps out there that I can use to read Scripture, listen to it, to listen to podcasts that will fuel my faith. Those are gifts of God. So being really wise about what you have on your phone.

Who are you following? Are you following people that when you pull up social media you’re going to see a word of encouragement and a word of truth that will point you back to Jesus?

Those are really practical things that can actually redeem our phones from being broken cisterns to actually being wells that point us to the well of Living Water who is Jesus.

Nancy: In the way we use social media, we can be givers of water and life to others instead of causing them sinful comparisons or sending them down rabbit holes.

What we retweet, what we like, what we post can be means . . . I’ve spent a lot of time in 2020 when my husband was battling cancer late at night, because that’s the only time I could get to it, writing CaringBridge posts to update people on how my husband was doing.

That turned into its own little ministry, a means of grace to other people as I shared what we were battling with, but how the Lord was meeting us with His grace, and how He was allowing us to flourish even in this challenging time. People were pouring life into me, God’s Word was pouring life into me, but I was also able to use social media, CaringBridge, these means to help give grace and life to others.

Gretchen: That’s beautiful.

Dannah: I love that!

Gretchen, what do you think are some other places where we have to be vigilant or things that could be useful and good in our lives can become those broken cisterns? What are some common ones?

Gretchen: I think the gift of the home can become a broken cistern. We can use it in a way that is stewarding it to bless others, to be hospitable, to care for our family. Or it can so quickly become something that we’re on Pinterest all the time—trying to find the perfect pillow and make it into something that will make us feel maybe more comfortable or more successful in life.

It’s amazing how quickly my heart can flip from being grateful for something that God has given me to putting it on a pedestal above where God should be.

I remember when my husband and I first bought a house. I was, like, “This is it! I finally get to decorate a house!” I found myself in that rabbit hole, drinking from that broken cistern, on Pinterest.

I was comparing myself to so many other people. I would see something, and I would go, “Oh, but this doesn’t look like my house.” Then I started to not be grateful for what God has provided for us.

I had to stop myself. I had to take a step back and go, “God, this house is not mine. This house is Yours. I will decorate it, and I will enjoy that, but ultimately, it’s just a building. I want to steward it, and I want it to be a place of ministry, not a place where I can show everybody how great it looks.”

That’s one really practical example that I’ve experienced in my own life.

Dannah: Yes.

Nancy, what about you? What are some areas where maybe you’ve struggled with something that’s good, a gift from God, but if you’re not vigilant, it can become a broken cistern?

Nancy: Well, let me say first, Gretchen, thank you for what you just said about the home. When you get to be my age, in my sixties, I’m now seeing all you younger women doing these amazing, beautiful things with your homes. And my home starts to feel a little out-of-date, not more traditional.

I can find myself thinking, Oh, maybe I could just redo this and this and this and. . . And then I’m saying, “What are you doing, in your sixties? Is that really necessary? Is that going to be life giving? Or is that going to end up, is that going to be a broken cistern?”

So, you just added one to my list!

But another one for me that has been a go-to well so many times, but often proves to be a broken cistern, is the whole thing of food. Eating when I’m happy; eating when I’m sad; eating when I’m mad—just eating.

Dannah: It sounds like eating your emotions, or emotional eating.

Nancy: Emotional eating. Boy, you go back to Genesis—in the beginning of Genesis. God says, “I’ve given you all this fruit of these trees to enjoy.” Food is a good thing. It’s a gift from God. But if I’m looking to food, as I often have throughout my life (and still do, often), as something that is going to make me feel better about myself . . . Eating or not eating. We can do it different ways. “I’m going to indulge in this, or I’m going to abstain from anything because I don’t like the way that I look, or I don’t like the way that I feel.”

It can become such a god and such a task master and can leave me feeling really empty and dry and wilted. Rather than seeing this really amazing meal, I think, Oh, this is going to make me feel so great! or This amazing dessert, I just have to have it!

It can be an idol, and it can lead me to really not flourishing at all.

Gretchen: As a matter of fact, I’m more on the opposite end. I battled Anorexia. In my freshman year of college, I ended up losing about twenty-five pounds because I idolized a certain pant size. I thought that if I looked a certain way that I would be more beautiful and more desirable. I thought that I would fit in better if I looked a certain way.

And instead, what happened is that I lost so much weight, and I began to lose my identity in Christ as I was so obsessed with having a certain number on the scale and with controlling every bit of food that would come into my mouth.

God brought me to a breaking point. He allowed me to get to this low point where I realized that I was helpless and broken, drinking that empty well that it was only leading me to a place of death, not a place of life where Christ was leading me.

I remember I used these note cards, and I wrote down every single Scripture . . . I still have them. I’ve never gotten rid of them because I see these note cards that I wrote in college, and I always see them as this reminder that God really can save, and His Word really is the Living Water that we drink from. His Word really saves us from these broken cisterns that lead only to death because He came to give us true life.

Nancy: Gretchen, what was on those note cards that made such a difference for you?

Gretchen: Scripture. I went through my Bible, and I wrote down as many verses as I could. I carried them with me everywhere I went.

I remember being in a study hall where I was studying for a class test, and I had them sitting out next to me because I knew, even in that moment, I may start struggling. I would read from my book, and then I would go through some of those Scripture verses. I took them with me on the bus. God’s Word was literally my lifeline.

Nancy: That takes us back to Jeremiah 2 so beautifully where God said, “My people have committed two great evils.” And what were they? One was: You’ve turned to things of this world” that aren’t necessarily inherently sinful—food is a good gift; homes are a good gift; friends and relationships are a good gift.

But He says, “You’ve tried to find your soul’s satisfaction in these things that cannot satisfy. They’re going to disappoint you. They’re going to let you down. They can’t fill you up.” They’re kind of like cotton candy. I mean, it looks so amazing when you’re a kid. You’re at the fair. And you think, “Boy, I’m going to love this!” And then you’ve got a stomach ache. Or it just doesn’t satisfy for more than just a moment.

So God says, “My people have made these broken cisterns that can’t hold water. They can’t satisfy.”

But He says, “Also, they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters.”

God said, “I want to satisfy you deeply.” Here are these people, they’re in this dry land, following after their idols, following after their immorality, following after their broken cisterns. And God says, “Look! Here I am! A fountain of living water!”

This lush, beautiful, filling, satisfying place that Christ provides through Himself, the living Word, and through His written Word, and why would we settle for the stuff that are cheap substitutes and miss the fountain of living waters God wants to give us through His Word. But, that’s what we do. Right?

Dannah: Yes. We do.

Gretchen: Right.

Nancy: He was calling His people to repentance, and He calls each of us to repentance so that we can experience that well-watered place, that place of fullness and flourishing and blessing. That’s what our hearts are really craving.

Dannah: That makes me just want to ask very directly: What’s your empty well? What’s your worthless idol? What broken cistern are you drinking from?

Listen, we aren’t spending time on this today because it’s fun to talk about what’s broken in all of our lives. We’re spending time on this because nobody wakes up and says, “I hope today can be the day I forget Jesus. I hope today can be the day I walk away from my Lord and Savior.” We do it slowly, incrementally, bit by bit.

Bob and I live out in the country on a farm, and we have something very rare. We have well water. We have a little cistern on our farm. And every two years my county demands that I dig it up and make sure it’s not broken.

That’s what we’re doing on the Revive Our Hearts program today. We’re inviting you to look deep down and see: “Are there any broken cisterns, empty wells that I’m drinking from that are taking me away from the Living Water?”

Nancy: Yes, Dannah. You said that so beautifully. And the purpose for doing that is not so we can end up feeling guilty or depressed, but so we can lift our eyes up and find the Fountain of Living Waters, Christ, who really does deeply, lastingly satisfy, even when we’re living in dry places. The environment around us, the context we’re in may be some really hard places. But in the midst of that, there’s that Fountain of Living Waters, that is Christ and His Word.

And, Gretchen, that’s why I’m so grateful that you’ve written this new book, The Well-Watered Woman, which takes us from a lot of different angles to explore: What are the wells that we run to? But also: How can we find Christ, the Fountain of Living Waters, and how can we drink deeply from Him?

Dannah: We want to make Gretchen’s book available to you as our thank you for your donation of any amount right now. The title of the book is, The Well-Watered Woman. The subtitle: Rooted in Truth, Growing in Grace, Flourishing in Faith.

To get a copy of this book by making a donation of any amount, visit, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. You can also ask about how you can get the devotional journal that goes along with the book.

Well, maybe you’ve been listening today, and you’re saying, “I can’t really identify a well I’ve been drinking from that I shouldn’t be, but I do feel a little wilted. I feel like I need to be watered.” Gretchen says sometimes the Jesus-plus mentality infiltrates our spirits.

Gretchen: Jesus comes and He says that, “I am the True Vine. I am the One who will provide you with sufficiency and with all that you need in this life.” In order to receive the benefits of the True Vine, we have to remain attached to Him.

There are so many false vines in this world that are vying for our attention that are saying, “If you just attach to me . . . if you just have more money in your bank account, you’re going to live a flourishing life.”

And so we think that that more could satisfy us. It never does, because ultimately they’re pointing to God. He is the One who owns all, and He is ultimately the True Vine that brings us joy.

Dannah: We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you’ll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to point you to the Fountain of Living Waters—Jesus. This program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Guest

Gretchen Saffles

Gretchen Saffles

Gretchen Saffles is the founder of the global online women's ministry Well-Watered Women, the creator of the Give Me Jesus quiet time journal, and a passionate writer who longs to see women grasp the fullness of the gospel in everyday life.  As she shares from her life experiences, Gretchen writes with authenticity and boldness, encouraging women to seek Christ right where they are and live in his abundance. Gretchen lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two sons and loves going on adventures with her family, traveling to new places, daydreaming of wildflower fields, cooking tasty meals, baking chocolate chip cookies, painting, reading good books, and teaching women to know and love Jesus.

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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