Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Unexpected Grace, Day 3

Leslie Basham: When Nancy Leigh DeMoss began a relationship with Robert Wolgemuth, she had been content in serving the Lord in singleness for a long time.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: To this point in my life, the Lord has never awakened love in my heart toward a man. God would have to put something in my heart that has never been there.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Wednesday, November 18, 2015.

This week we've been hearing the unexpected love story between Nancy and Robert Wolgemuth. It's a story that helps all of us consider our lives. Are we fully surrendered to the Lord? Does He control every part of our life?

After Nancy and Robert began their courtship, they started getting to know each other, reading each other's books and having a lot of conversations together. Although Nancy was seeing God's leadership in this relationship, and although her love and respect for Robert were growing, she was still wrestling with the question, "Is marriage God's will for my life?" Here's Nancy.

Nancy: This was all very new to me! I think to most people this can sound a little strange, but if you think of how many years I had served the Lord as a single woman, with a sense of having been gifted for that, this was something of a seismic shift!

Leslie: This relationship was a type of holy disruption in Nancy's life. It caused her to seek the Lord in new ways. And God was faithful to give her wisdom as she prayed and waited on Him.

Nancy: There was something else that surfaced in my mind, that I didn't even know was there, and it came to my mind early in this process. I was at my home church one Sunday morning, participating in the worship, enjoying the presence of the Lord.

This was never far from my mind. These conversations were new, this possibility of marriage was very new to me. I was growing to love this man and wanting to know what the Lord thought about all of this. But the thought of being married—to anyone—was so foreign to me and something that had been so far off my radar for a very long time that there was some grappling with, "Is this even possible? Is this desirable? Is this something that, in my heart, I want?"

I believe that as you follow Christ and love Him, He gives you the desires of your heart. One of the questions I was asking was, "Is this a desire in my heart now that's never been there before?"

As I was sitting in church that Sunday morning enjoying the Lord—He was ministering to my heart—we were singing a modern chorus based on an old gospel song: "Lord, I need You, how I need You, every hour I need You."

During the singing of that song, as I was responding to the Lord and just saying, "Lord, yes, I do need you. I want Your presence and Your help and Your grace in my life in this season," something came to the surface of my conscious thinking. If it had been there before, I'd never realized it.

I'm actually a little embarrassed to say it, because now as I look back on it, I'm thinking, Where did this come from? But I realized that, as much as I thought marriage was a great plan—God's plan—for most people, I had this kind of buried sense that for me to be married would be settling for less than God's best.

As this came to my conscious thinking, I thought, I need to deal with this. I wrestled with this in my head. Here's kind of how the conversation with the Lord went (there was no audible conversation but it was a progression over the next hour). I began to realize, as if the Lord were saying to me,

You have spent your life loving to tell people the gospel story—the old, old story of Jesus and His love. You've used marriage as a picture of this. It is the greatest earthly picture of the heavenly redemption story: God pursuing a Bride for His Son. The Son coming to earth, choosing a Bride, drawing her to Himself, wooing her, winning our hearts, us giving our love and our hearts to Him and saying, "Yes, Lord. I love You, and I want to be yours!"

That's the story of redemption, and marriage pictures this so beautifully. I've told this with great joy and enthusiasm and warmth. And, as if the Lord was saying to me [I heard],

You've told this story for decades as a single woman. What if for a season of your life I wanted you to tell this same story, and do it as a married woman and illustrate it in a different way, out of your own life, than what you've ever been able to do before? Would that be a lesser calling?

In that moment I was able to see, with and greater clarity and with joy that, if this is what the Lord had for me, then this would be the highest possible calling. In fact, in my book Lies Women Believe, one of the truths I highlight at the end of that book is, "In the will of God, there is no higher calling than to be a wife and mother."

And I've actually taken a bit of a hit on that point. People have written me at times over the years and said, "You sound like marriage and motherhood are a higher calling than singleness." I've always said the operative term there is, "in the will of God." So, for me, "in the will of God" for me as a single woman all those years was the highest calling.

But I don't think what I really had emotional ownership of, until that moment, was that in the will of God—if that was God's will for me—there would be no higher calling than to glorify Him as a wife, as a married woman..

Then, to be able through my life in a different way to tell the redemption story and to respond to a man's initiative and love in a way that I've always said we as the Church, the Bride of Christ, are to respond to His love, and to show in my respect for a man, in my reverence for him as a husband, the way I've been calling the Bride of Christ to reverence and respect Christ all these years.

So for me, that was another marker. It was a great freedom and a release in my relationship with the Lord to say, "If this is what you have for me, this will be a beautiful and a high calling, and I can glorify You in this way."

As always, I've tried to say my heart is, "Lord, whatever pleases You, whatever brings You the greatest glory, that's what I want." And that moment gave me the freedom to think that this might be the way I could glorify Him—differently than I had in the previous decades.

Through the first months of our courtship leading up to our engagement, probably the number one quality that captured my heart was seeing this man's affection for Christ, for prayer, for the Word of God. He gets up very early in the morning, and every morning he's starting his day in the Word, on his knees.

I knew Robert wasn't just doing this for me. He didn't know me well enough at that point to know how important this was for me, but I was seeing more and more—in different life circumstances—his character, his heart. I'm thinking, This man reminds me of Jesus! I'm experiencing the love of Christ in sweet and tender ways that are stirring my heart differently than I've ever experienced before.

Leslie: God was awakening love in Nancy as she observed Robert's love for Christ and his godly character. As that was happening, the Lord was also helping Nancy gain a new perspective on the amazing, redeeming love of Christ!

Nancy: As the Lord would have it, in His providence, the very week that Robert and I had our first date, I came in my normal Bible reading to the book of Ruth. I found myself parking there over the next several weeks and just soaking in this story—and seeing it through a different lens than I had in the past.

One of the verses that's come to have incredible meaning for me in this journey is Ruth 2:10. If you were to go back and read through our extensive text exchanges over the months, one of the things you'll see often in those texts is that I will—many times over these months-just write the reference, Ruth 2:10.

Now, most people don't know off the top of their heads what Ruth 2:10 says, and I can't actually quote it off the top of my head, but let me read it to you. The context here is that Ruth has come as an outcast—as a Moabitess woman, a widow. She's destitute; she's poverty stricken; she's now come to Israel with her widowed mother-in-law, and they're trying to eke out an existence.

Ruth has taken the place as a humble gleaner. The lowest place on the socio-economic ladder in that culture was to be a gleaner. You're basically trying to pick up the leftovers from the harvest. Ruth stumbles onto (the King James version of the Bible says, "her hap was to light upon") a field belonging to a man named Boaz.

Well, it wasn't happenstance at all—it was God's Providence. But what Ruth didn't know, and what Boaz didn't know was that they were related to each other by marriage. Ruth's husband's family was a relative of Boaz' family.

In the Old Testament law, Boaz could be the one to be a kinsman-redeemer for Ruth, to redeem her out of her poverty, out of her destitution. But she didn't know that. She's just being faithful to do what she supposed to do to try and feed herself and feed her mother-in-law.

Boaz finds her; he takes an interest in her. There are lots of other gleaners, lots of other workers, but he comes and singles her out and expresses to her that he's going to give her provision and protection, and she's not going to be harmed in any way by the men who are the reapers.

Ruth is in awe of this. She's amazed. She has no idea why this man would take an interest in her. Now, Ruth 2:10:

Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?"

Then, just down a few verses in verse 13, she says to him,

"I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants."

Well, as I read that passage over and over again, I began to feel like this Ruth character in this story. I'm going through life, minding my business, trying to do what God's called me to do, and I stumble onto this field of grace—which is what Boaz' field became to Ruth. It's a place where I'm now experiencing lavish grace and love in a different way than I've ever experienced it before.

Now let me say, I never felt like an impoverished widow or destitute in any sense, because God's grace in my life has always been lavish. But I began to experience, through this man Robert Wolgemuth, the love of God and the grace of God in an abundant and different and sweet and precious way. I was in awe of this!

I just found myself thinking this again and again, and my way to say this to Robert was just to write this reference, Ruth 2:10, on a text: "Why would you have taken notice to me? And why would you have poured out your love and your grace and your kindness to me?" I haven't gotten over it. I'm not sure I ever will. I hope I never do!

Because I think, in our relationship with the Lord, it's appropriate that we should always humbly feel, "Lord, why should You have saved me? Why should You have given your life for me? Why should You have brought me into Your field of grace?"

I think in marriage, isn't it humility that will sustain and keep a friendship and a relationship and oneness of heart when there are hard times, when there are challenges, when you face differences? I think if either partner ever ceases to be amazed that God would have given them to each other, then you're setting yourself up for conflict—or for what pride does. It puts walls up, creates barriers.

So if I'm going to be successful in this marriage, I think the number one quality needs to be humility. This is not a false humility on my part. This is a genuine sense of wonder and awe—that this man would have chosen me to be his.

I want to say that throughout this process, one of the things I've really loved has been seeing God give me a new tenderness and sensitivity toward Him. I've always wanted that, and I've experienced it at moments.

I tend to be pretty "cerebral" in my walk with the Lord—fairly "left-brained," and not given-generally-toward more emotional expressions of my faith and in my walk with the Lord. I'm always longing for greater intimacy with Him, a greater sense of His presence, but I tend to go with the head first and then the heart.

So to see the Lord during this season as I was . . . Yes, seeking Him with all my mind, but to also be seeking Him with my heart and to have Him be tenderizing my heart through the initiative and the love of Robert Wolgemuth was a real instrument of God starting to soften my heart in ways I hadn't experienced quite like that before.

So was it love? Yes. Is it love? Yes. But it's not just the love of Robert Wolgemuth. That's all entwined with the love of Christ, and I've found myself experiencing God's love in some new and fresh and sweet ways. I don't even know how to separate those two loves, and I'm not sure they should be separated.

I'm not sure that's intended to be separated, because aren't we to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength—all our being? I think in a different way I've experienced that uniting of my heart to love and to fear the Lord. This whole process has been part of making that happen.

Leslie: In any relationship that's headed toward marriage, it's important to have appropriate boundaries for emotional and physical purity. Nancy and Robert took this step seriously.

Nancy: As the relationship developed, one of the things I was mindful of—and I knew Robert was as well—was, "What are appropriate boundaries for this season of the relationship?" Our relationship was changing, from the time we sat in our friend's office at Moody Bible Institute, through the dating, the courtship, the early days.

I was, really, just always seeking the Lord about "what's appropriate to say, what's not appropriate to express at this moment?" I wanted to be careful not to defraud this friend. Paul talks about this in 1 Thessalonians. He's talking about moral purity. (Here again, Robert and I are just texting—we're not even physically together in the same place.)

What does it mean to defraud someone? In a way, I think it means to create expectations that, at that moment, you can't righteously fulfill. I didn't want to lead this man on. I didn't want to say or express things that were further than what I thought the Lord was giving me freedom to say at that moment.

There's a picture in the Song of Solomon which I think is very sweet. The groom applauds this. It's in the season leading up to their marriage, where he talks about his beloved's eyes and her face being behind a veil.

That's poetry. I don't think it was a literal veil there, but there's a sense that you don't show everything right away. Even in the courtship and dating relationship, I think there's an appropriate showing of your heart, of your words, of yourself.

That's different on your first date than it is when you get engaged, different as you get closer to marriage. How do you know where those lines are? I think that's where you have to be so sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

There was one point in our texting—I was trying to be very careful. I was being guarded, I think in a good way. But it was in a different way, because I was letting down hedges that had been in my life toward married men that I worked with (for example) that had been in place for decades (and still are-I have still have those hedges in place in relationships).

I'm the woman who had lived with these mile-high hedges, as a woman working in a ministry with a lot of men, and so it was a different thing for me to say, "There are some things I can express; there are ways I can be responsive to this man's affection and his initiative."

I was navigating all this and thinking through, What's appropriate? What's healthy? What keeps us in a place where . . .? And we both expressed this desire. "We don't want to say or do things early on in this relationship that we might look back on later and regret."

What if the Lord didn't lead us to marriage? We didn't want to have to be saying, "I gave a part of my heart or words away." Maybe the world wouldn't think anything of doing that, but we wanted to protect and keep this as a healthy and a pure thing, so that we would not have regrets.

Even if the Lord would lead us to marriage, we would not have pushed it, we would not have incited emotions and desires that would have been premature. That may all sound a little bit obsessive, but as you're just listening to the Lord and following Him, I think He makes that clear.

For instance, there was a moment in our texting (and we were doing a lot of texting, and I was trying to be thoughtful and prayerful) where I said something (I don't remember the exact phrase) that was something like "my dear sweet friend" or whatever. I used the word "my," and this was very early on.

I had a check in my spirit after I used the word "my," and I thought, You know what? You're not "mine" yet. There's not an ongoing long-term commitment here yet. I don't mean to be super picky about this, but in that moment I just had this check in my heart that I said a little bit more than I should have, a little sooner than was best.

I went back to him—I texted him—and said, "I don't want to seem strange here, but the Lord just put it on my heart that I said that a little sooner than I should have." Communication was really important.

Leslie: Robert also valued communication and, as the initiator of this relationship, he felt it was important to tell Nancy something one night as they were having dinner.

Robert Wolgemuth: I said to her, "Nancy, I want you to know something. I love you." Then I said, "In saying that, I'm not asking for or expecting a response. I'm telling you how I feel." Then she said something really interesting—again, something I'll never forget.

Nancy: Well, I said to him that evening (and we kind of laugh about it a little now, because), actually the first thing I said was, "Thank you." I was very grateful for him to be expressing how he felt. I was grateful for his love. I was grateful to know how God was leading him.

But I also said to him, "God has put it in my heart that I don't feel the freedom to say those words back to you, I love you, until I'm also ready to say 'yes' to marriage." Those are words I have never said to a man in a dating relationship, and I wanted to say them.

Three words—three little words. What's the big deal? I'm not saying it would have been wrong or that it would be wrong for somebody else to say them, but I wanted to make them really special. I wanted to say, "When I say those words, I'm also saying, 'Yes, I will marry you.'"

Robert: So, that was wonderful, that was enough. But then something happened. I told her I loved her on Wednesday, and on Friday we're sitting in this meeting, and the Scripture, 1 John 4:19, came blasting through my mind. "We love him because he first loved us."

So that night I said to Nancy, "I'm happy to be the initiator. (Now, I'm not equating myself with Jesus—just so you understand.) But He went first. Our love for Jesus is a response to His going first. So I'm happy—I'm willing and I'm happy—to be the person who initiates this." So, "We love him because he first loved us" became a really important marker in my relationship with Nancy and, I think her understanding of what I was doing in terms of being willing to love her and to woo her.

Again, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, this wasn't a human thing of trying to "win," but letting her know how I felt, and then praying that if it's the Lord's will, He would speak to her heart and someday she would say that back to me.

Nancy: And so, for me, coming from years and years and years of being so careful and not giving my heart or my physical affection away, I was so thankful to be with this man who had been so kind, so gentlemanly, so tender, so sweet to want to protect my heart and my relationship with the Lord.

And yet, he wasn't afraid to speak into my life, to challenge something—to challenge my thinking about something, to point out a different perspective, or even to speak into something. As I would say, "I want you to speak into my life. I want to be teachable. I want to be humble. I want someone who will help me see things about how I come across, about how I communicate that maybe I'm blind to, can't see, or I'm too stubborn to deal with. I want someone who's not afraid of me, not intimidated by me.

And I see that in Robert, but I see it in a kind and gentle way. So there were different things that came up during that season—about our plans and schedules. He would suggest something maybe a little different than what I had had in mind, and I felt great freedom to discuss these things.

One thing he said to me early on, which meant so much, was, "From now on, for the rest of our lives, if the Lord has marriage for us, I want you to know that you have freedom to say anything that's on your heart. You don't need to be afraid. You can speak it."

So I do feel that freedom. I feel freedom to suggest different ideas than his, or to disagree, but I also feel freedom—a lot of freedom—to listen really carefully and respectfully, and to go with the direction that's on his heart, because I know where he's looking for that wisdom. I know where he's going to get that direction. He's going to the Throne; he's going to the Lord.

And I'm going, "Lord, I can trust You. And because I trust You and I know this man is seeking You, I can trust him." And that became a really significant thing for me as I began to consider the possibility of marriage. After all these years of seeking the Lord on my own and having to make a lot of these life decisions on my own, it was a big paradigm shift to think of doing this with someone else. When you know that someone else is seeking the Lord with all his heart . . . Wow!

Leslie: Nancy and Robert Wolgemuth have been telling us a very different kind of love story. Their story of seeking the Lord for His will in their lives reminds all of us to lean on Him in every season and every situation. We'd like to send you the video version of this story.

When you get the DVD, you'll see a documentary showing Nancy and Robert's relationship, from the first meeting in Chicago to the wedding day. You'll also get a lot of bonus videos with additional stories. For instance, you'll get to know Robert's family and his first wife, Bobbie, who died of cancer.

You'll find all kinds of practical lessons through these stories, and we'd like to share them with you on the DVD "Unexpected Grace: Robert and Nancy's Story." We'll send you a copy when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

After Robert began a relationship with Nancy, he was surprised when a friend told him what his first wife, Bobbie, had been hoping.

Robert: Two months before Bobbie died, she was having lunch with a good friend, and she said, "Now, if I go to heaven, I want Robert to marry right away."

Her friend said, "Yes, Bobbie, I've heard that many times."

And then Bobbie said to her friend, "There's one more thing I want you to know." She said, "I want Robert to marry Nancy Leigh DeMoss."

We'll hear more of that story tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

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

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

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