Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Unexpected Grace, Day 2

Leslie Basham: When Nancy Leigh DeMoss was invited into a relationship, she first needed to seek the Lord for His will.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I am a woman who is bound first, above any other loyalty, to the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Christ. I knew that, to this point, I had been equipped and gifted by the Lord to serve Him as a single woman, and these passages, in the New Testament in particular, that seemed to indicate that maybe if you could serve the Lord as a single, then you should. And I said, "I need to know from God's Word: Is there freedom to consider marriage?"

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Tuesday, November 17, 2015.

Yesterday we began part one of a series called, "Unexpected Grace: Robert and Nancy's Story." We heard how Nancy felt called to ministry from a young age and embraced the gift of singleness as she pursued that ministry. We also got to know Robert Wolgemuth, who had lost his wife Bobbie of forty-four years to cancer.

When Robert started emailing and getting to know Nancy, she wasn't sure she could get into a relationship, if Got was still giving her the gift of singleness. This very different kind of love story is a reminder to all of us to seek the Lord for His will and His direction for every season and big decision of our lives.

Now, let's pick up as Robert was emailing Nancy.

Nancy: There came a point when I got an email from Robert that was newsy, it was kind of updating on what was happening in his family, and it wasn't intensely personal. I remember thinking, This is interesting.

Robert Wolgemuth: I knew Nancy, so I sent her an email. I wanted to know where the Lord might take this.

Nancy: There were a few emails, and I would respond, not too quickly.

Robert: My suspicion was that Nancy knew that my reaching out to her was out of the ordinary.

Nancy: But at one point I remember thinking, Does he have something else in mind maybe? So I was just trying to be prayerful and careful and wise, and also to be a responder to whatever providences God brings into my life.

Leslie: Robert and Nancy traded emails and texts for several weeks. And then Robert asked if they could have a conversation in person.

Nancy: I knew this to be a man of God. I'd seen his character, his integrity, his reputation. And I just felt that I would not be right to say "no" to having a conversation.

Leslie: Nancy and Robert were able to meet on a cold, snowy day in Chicago.

Robert: Nancy and I sat down at this little round conference table, and I took a deep breath, and I said, "Well, here we are. I'm eager to have this conversation. I'd love to get to know you."

Nancy: We talked about a number of things, and then he kind of got to the reason for his visit.

Robert: At the end of our time . . . I mean, I don't know where this is going, and Nancy doesn't know where this is going. So right at the end, I said, "Would it be okay with you if I would continue to correspond with you and see where the Lord might take this?"

Nancy: At first I said, "I have high respect for you, and I've never heard anything negative about you." We know a lot of the same people. We are in a lot of the same circles because we're both involved in publishing and ministry.

And I said, "I need you to know that, to this point in my life, I have had a very strong sense of being set apart by the Lord to serve Him as a single woman. And if that were ever to change, before I could get into a relationship, even considering marriage, I would have to know that the Lord was redirecting my life from what 1 Corinthians 7 talks about being undistracted devotion that a single servant of the Lord can have, to having that divided devotion.

It's not bad; it's wonderful, but it's different because the married person, the apostle Paul says, is supposed to spend time and effort and energy figuring out how to please their mate and how to serve them. And in just a lot of practical ways, there's divided attention between the Lord, who is always first, and that mate.

I said, "I would have to know that the Lord was redirecting, was changing my calling." He could do that, but to that point, I had not had any sense of that.

The other thing I said was, "To this point in my life, the Lord has never awakened love in my heart toward a man, and God would have to put something in my heart that has never been there."

In saying that, I wasn't saying, "No." I was saying what I've tried always to say. . . when the opportunity to do radio came up, which to that point in my life was the biggest monumental change in my life. It was not something I thought I would ever do or could do or wanted to do. But I couldn't say "no" without asking the Lord, "Is this what You want?" Because my life verse is Luke 1:38, as Mary says to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as You have said."

That was the essence of that conversation I just had. I didn't have a peace to say "no." I had a peace to say "okay," and without any sense of what the Lord might have in this, what the outcome might be.

Robert: I could tell that was a really big thing for her to say "yes" to. And then I said, "I would love to pray together," at the end of our time. And so I prayed.

Nancy: Lord, we hold this with open hands. This is not ours. This is Yours. And it's not about us. It's about You and Your kingdom purposes and what would please You and what would bring You glory. And so from that very earliest point, it was a sweet, just living with open hands.

For me, in the first several weeks following that initial meeting, the key issue was: Is God maybe redirecting my life to consider something I had not considered in thirty-five years or more? I wouldn't say I was closed to marriage. I never said that. But it had just not been on my radar. This was something of a seismic shift, earthquake, taking place in my heart. Not so much on an emotional level initially, but at a very fundamental level, thinking: This would be a huge change. Talk about set in your ways, to use some worldly terminology.

I'm in a groove. I'm in a fruitful place of ministry. I'm in a sweet place of my life. I've never been spiritually, physically, emotionally healthier. I was just in a really sweet spot. So I knew it would be a huge shift in my thinking, in my lifestyle, in many ways, to make a shift to marriage—something I had not contemplated for eons.

But the biggest thing to me was I need to know from God's Word: Do I even have freedom to consider this possibility if I could be, as far as I had known to that point, happily single? There's some passages in Scripture that make you wonder about that.

There's a passage in Matthew chapter 19 I won't go into all the details here, but I came to it in my quiet time within that first week. I am a woman who is bound, first, above any other loyalty, to the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Christ, and if there's not freedom from God's Word, then, to me, it's something you don't even go there. You don't toil with it. You don't play with it. You don't think about it. You just don't go there.

That passage in Matthew 19 stopped me in my quiet time. I'm going, "What is Jesus saying here? Does He mean that if you can be happily serving Him single that you should? Or is there permission to consider marriage?" It wasn't clear. I had studied these kinds of passages a lot. I read a lot of commentarie. The fact is, the commentaries didn't really know, which is often true in difficult passages.

Well, I knew (this is within the first week after having that meeting with Robert) that John Piper had over the years addressed this subject and a biblical theology of marriage and singleness and single for the sake of God's kingdom. I knew he had written some on this, and he was one person who came to mind. I'd met him a couple of times. I can't say I know him, but I felt: Here's a man who could help me with this text.

So I emailed his assistant, and I said, "I know that Pastor John is a really busy man (I have to say "no" to a lot of requests like this that I wish I could respond to), but is there any chance that he might be able to respond in a call or an email to help me think this through?"

Well, in order to explain the question, I had to tell a little bit about the story, and a little bit became a little bit more. So I ended up sending this lengthy email. I didn't say who I was talking about, but I said, "As you know, I have had for all of my life a strong sense of being set apart to serve the Lord as a single woman, and I've done that happily. And this man has come into my life who loves Christ and is interested in maybe pursuing a relationship. I think maybe God might be starting to awaken love in my heart."

I didn't really know how to identify what that was, but I knew before that happened, I wanted to deal with this biblical issue. So I kind of spelled that out. I said, "Any chance he could speak to this for me?"

I've got to tell you, within a few hours, that day, I got an email back from Pastor John. It was so gracious and wise and (what I really love) biblical. He put a little cover note on it, and he said, just sweetly, that he was prayerfully thinking about what he knew was this "kind of holy disruption in my life." Then he said, "I, of course, can't tell you what's the right thing to do on this, but read my words prayerfully, and ask the Lord to speak to you." And he not only addressed that specific biblical, theological question I had, which was the one thing I had really asked him for. But in a very helpful way, he addressed that, and helped me to see that that passage wasn't actually saying what I thought it was saying.

And so within the next couple of days, as I processed that, I realized that there really was biblical freedom to consider this, that I was not obligated. If God was now offering a new gift, then I wasn't obligated to keep that gift of singleness. That still didn't tell me what I should do, but it released me to consider this. That was huge for me. I had to know that.

In my musings, in explaining to Pastor John the situation, I just said a kind of rhetorical question: "One of the things I've been wondering is, Is He perhaps wanting to sanctify me in a way as a married woman in areas of my life that might not happen as a single woman?" I wasn't really expecting John Piper to answer that question, but he did.

He said, essentially, "Singleness sanctifies." Well, I've experienced that over the years, and any single woman knows there's a sanctifying process. Then he said, "Marriage sanctifies." And any women who's been married for any length of time knows that that's true. Then he said, "As to which would sanctify more (marriage or singleness), I cannot say. But I think the answer to that question for you is found in Romans 8:28–29." This is a verse we're all familiar with. It talks about those who love God and are called according to His purpose, that He then conforms to His image—that's sanctification. He said, "I think the answer as to which would sanctify you more—marriage or singleness—is whichever decision you make for the love of God."

Leslie: Pastor Piper's counsel helped Nancy adjust her perspective.

Nancy: I began to ponder that. I've not stopped pondering it because I realize it framed the issue differently. This was not about the love of Robert or the love of marriage or the love of singleness or the love of ministry as I know it or, for sure, about love of me. It was not about anything ultimately but the love of God.

I began to think and say, "What would I do, not only in the outcome, but in this journey for the love of God? What would the love of God press me to do? Lord, I love You. What does that look like, and how do I live that out in the course of this journey?"

So that exchange with Dr. Piper was hugely helpful. He helped me better understand some of these passages and what they were and weren't saying, and within a matter of maybe days or a week or so, I began to realize that there was freedom, biblically. For me, that then freed me up to consider that maybe this really was something different that God had for a new season of my life.

Leslie: At that point, Nancy and Robert entered a long-distance courtship.

Nancy: There was just a sweet, pure focus on getting to know each other, asking a lot of questions, sharing about our journeys. Early on in this process, I started reading some of his books. (He's actually written more books than I have, and many of them on marriage and family-related matters.) At the same time, he was reading some of my writing—Lies Women Believe.

So he was reading my writing to find out what I believed about a good wife. I was reading his works to find out what he believed about being a good husband. This was one of the ways that we got to know each other early on, which was helpful.

But then in our conversations, our courting of each other, I began to see more and more below the surface, below what the professional, public, persona was. Both of us are public people, so we knew a lot about each other. We knew a lot to respect about each other. We knew a lot of people who knew each other. So I could go to friends; he could go to friends. "What do you know about Nancy? What do you know about Robert?" And, of course, there's always the Internet. Right?

There was lots to appreciate, lots to admire. But I'll tell you, the really sweet things for me were as we began to really know each other on a more personal level. We texted. We emailed. And let me say, we texted a lot. I would sometimes surprise Robert with the length of my texts. He'd say, "Surely you're doing that on your computer."

I'd say, "No, I'm doing it on my phone."

And he would say, "How can you write texts this long on your phone?"

I said, "I could write a book on my phone."

So, there were long texts. There were emails. There was a lot of conversation—virtual—about the things that matter to us. And getting to know what matters to each of us and how we viewed different topics.

At one point, I prayed (this was early on, and we'd been doing a lot of texting). I just asked the Lord, I said, "Would You move Robert to think that it's important for us to talk on the phone?" This was just a few days after our initial meeting, and within twenty-four hours he said, "Let's have a phone call." I was thankful for that.

And I was prayerful, as I know was he, during this whole process. "Lord, just show us how this should unfold, what it should look like." I said at one point, "I do think it's really important for us to talk because we're both writers. We're both very expressive in writing. And we could fall in love with each other just by our texts and maybe not really know each other." So I did think it was important, as did he, for us to begin to hear each other's voice and to talk through things.

One of the things I loved was that Robert would be the one leading us together to seek the Lord, and he would be the one leading us to pray. I think, as women, we sometimes put men in bondage of our expectations, what it looks like to be a spiritual leader. And sometimes we want men to do that in exactly the same ways we would as women. So I think we need to be careful about that, that could be expectations that are not realistic.

But I know that prayer is really important. I know that seeking the Lord is really important. So one of the things I asked the Lord was, "If this is a relationship that You want me to be considering and us to be pursuing, would You have him be leading in prayer?" And I didn't say that to him, but from the very first meeting, and I think I can safely say that every phone call we have had since, we are praying together, and 95% of the time, Robert's the one saying, "Let's pray."

There have been many times when, just in the course of a conversation, both of us having the awareness that Christ is with us in that moment—in our texting, in our emailing, in our calling, and since, in our being together—that this is a threesome, that we are doing this coram Deo, in the face of God, in the presence of Christ.

There was this amazing peace of Christ that was ruling in my heart. Even before I had a sense of what the outcome would be, there was a sense of, God's in charge here, and He's leading, and I'm following Him, and I'm listening for His voice. That brought me great joy. Now, the conversations with Robert were bringing me great joy, the texting, the emails, the phone calls, the times of prayer. I was loving this. I was so enjoying it. My heart was being drawn to him. But undergirding all of that, and overarching all of that was this really sweet sense that God is here.

I don't mean to be mystical about this, but I will tell you, I had a sense, not unlike what I think maybe the Israelites experienced in the Old Testament when the cloud would move and they would know it was time to move on. Then the cloud would stay for a while, and they'd say, "Now it's time to stay." But the cloud was God's presence. Now, I didn't see any visible clouds or pillars of fire as the Israelites did in the Old Testament, but in my heart—and isn't that the role of the Holy Spirit to do this in us? He is the presence of Christ in us. There was this sense that the cloud is moving.

I've been parked in this place as a single woman for a very long time. It's been a good place. It's been a sweet place. It's been right. It's been fruitful. It's been joyful. But I began to believe that the cloud of God's presence was moving. It was too early to say for sure where that was going to go, where that was leading, but there was a lot of joy for me in that combination of getting to know Robert, praying together with him, seeking the Lord together, but me listening as well to the Lord. And that sense of the Holy Spirit moving inside and saying, "I'm taking you to a different place now."

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Robert Wolgemuth have been sharing a very different kind of love story with us. Nancy will be right back.

Before getting swept up into the strong emotions of romance, Nancy first asked: "What is God's will? How can I glorify Him?" And then secondly, when she felt freedom to be open to a relationship, she asked, "What kind of character would a godly husband display?"

These questions are so important. I hope a lot of women ponder them when it comes time for them to consider their relationships. In fact, this story would be a good launching pad between you and your daughter or another young woman you influence. We'd like to send you the video version of this story on DVD. It includes a beautiful short film that tells this story plus a lot of bonus interviews with Robert and Nancy. We'll send you the DVD, "Unexpected Grace," when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Call and ask for the DVD. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We'll send one DVD per household with your donation.

And, you can watch the short film I've been telling you about at ReviveOurHearts.com. It debuts today on our site.

As Nancy and Robert got to know each other leading up to their engagement, Nancy never said three little powerful words, "I love you." Find out why tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Now she's back with some closing thoughts.

Nancy: My journey in this progression, my story, is obviously different than anyone else's, and yours is different than anyone else's. The details have been different, and certainly being single all these years and joyfully serving the Lord as a single woman, and then considering the prospect of marriage in your mid-fifties, there aren't many stories quite like that.

But I do think there are components of this story that, I would say, should be true of anyone thinking of marriage at any age. I've got a lot of young friends I've walked through a dating and courtship process that, in many cases, have led to marriage. I've had young women come to me numerous times over the years asking, "How can I know this is the right one? Am I supposed to be married?"

But as I've sought to share wisdom from God's Word with others, I would say to anyone else, at any age, seeking the Lord about marriage: I think it's so critical, first of all, to know that your own will is surrendered to the will of God. It's critical that the heart attitude—not just about marriage, but any other thing in life . . . Should we have children? Should we not? Should I take this job? Should I move? Should I build this house? Should I buy this whatever. Whether big things or little things, the goal is that my attitude would always be,  "Lord, I want what You want—not my will but Yours be done," or "Make my will to be what Your will is. I want You. I want what will please You. I want what will honor You. I want what will advance Your kingdom."

And then in that process, yes, we have emotions. Yes, we have desires, and those aren't necessarily sinful or bad things. But make sure that those emotions, which can be very volatile—they can be up and down, depending on how much sleep you've had, what you've had to eat, who you've been with, what input you're getting—emotions can go up and down. They can be a bit of a roller coaster. But what is steady, what is sure, what is secure is the Word of God. It's the ways of God. It's the wisdom of God.

So my goal in this, and I would say to anybody considering marriage or any other life-changing decision, is to say: "Lord, lead me by Your Spirit, and then let my mind follow You and let my emotions follow You as well."

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

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