Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Walking in Faith, Not Fear

Dannah Gresh: She was newly widowed, but the Lord calmed Diana Elliff’s fears and anxieties.

Diana Elliff: The time that I have experienced God’s peace the most was the day I was standing at the cemetery. I knew God was with me, and I thanked the Lord that day. I said, “Lord, thank You. Your grace is truly sufficient for me.”

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Friday, December 27.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, we’re back here today on Revive Our Hearts with Tom and Diana Elliff. Many of you have heard the Elliff name on this program many times. Tom has been a guest here, but also, Holly Elliff you’ve heard. Not to further confuse things, but Holly is married to Tom’s brother, Bill. And so this whole family is kind of a national treasure. And I think, between you and your siblings, how many grandchildren are there, Tom? Can you count that high?

Tom Elliff: Well, we have thirty-three grandchildren and seven greats on the way.

Nancy: The two of you do.

Tom: The two of us.

Nancy: But then you take you and your siblings . . .

Tom: Oh, my goodness.

Nancy: It’s in the thousands or something, I don’t know, but it’s a lot.

Tom: Oh, my goodness. I have no idea.

Nancy: It’s been so sweet to watch God’s hand in the generations of the Elliff family. And from your dad and mom—and there’s lots of story there about trusting God to write your story. We may get to that a little bit—and in your generation, you and your siblings and then your children and now their children, and to see God writing that story. It’s been such a beautiful thing.

Tom: I love just seeing the providence of God because that story is a beautiful picture, at least in our family, of the providence of God.

Nancy: Okay, for those who weren’t with us on yesterday’s program, let me just say that Diana is your second wife. You were widowed. Your wife, Jeannie, whom I knew for many years and was close to, she went to be with the Lord. Diana, your husband, Wayne Barber, who was a fabulous Bible teacher and pastor, and many people will know his name through Precept Ministries, he went home to be with the Lord. He had Lou Gehrig’s disease, a really difficult death.

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: And then, in God’s providence, God brought you and Tom together. We’ll talk about that a little bit. And here we’re sitting talking about God’s providence, there’s me married! Tom, did you ever think I’d be married?

Tom: You know what? I’d always hoped so.

Nancy: Well, that’s a good answer, but you probably didn’t think I would be.

Tom: I wasn’t sure about that.

Nancy: God’s providence. Right? Trusting Him to write our story.

Tom: Exactly.

Nancy: So I’m really thankful for both of you, not only living out trusting God to write your story, but being here to share some of that with us.

So take us to this story about your dad. That’s been a huge part of your life, that story.

Tom: Well, early on our family, our original family, actually came to the shores of this continent back in the mid-1700s. There’s not any record of any of them knowing Christ at that time.

Two years after the Civil War, my great-grandfather said to his wife Mary Jane, “Let’s go to Indian territory.” So they came as far as the train would take them, which was Fort Smith, Arkansas. They got off the train, bought a wagon team, and went into Oklahoma, down around Horse Thieves Springs and put in a farm—a wonderful farm. And she came down with cholera, and she said, “I don’t want to die in Indian territory.”

He sold the farm and went back, and they got on the train. They had one baby, and here she was sick. It looked like she was about to die, so they moved some cowboys off a bench at the front of the train, and she laid down there. They handed the baby to an elderly lady on the train, and she looked up at my great-granddad and said, “Jim (his name was James Thomas), Jim, promise me two things.”

He said, “Mary Jane, I promise if I can.”

She said, “Promise me you’ll give your life to God, and promise me you’ll give this baby to God.”

And he said—I have this in his own handwriting—“I got down on my knees, and when I stood up, I said, ‘Mary Jane, I promise.’”

And she looked up at him and said, “Goodbye, Jim. Say goodbye to the baby.” And then she died.

That Wednesday she was buried in Giles, Tennessee. The next Sunday, in the middle of a worship service at a little country church, the doors opened. A tall, angular man standing silhouetted in the door hole with a baby over his head, and he said, “Brothers, I’ve come to give my life to God and give this baby to God.”

He says there was whooping and hollering, and he was baptized that afternoon.

Well, two years later, remarried, he came back to Indian territory to put in a farm. And he and my great-grandmother had eleven children—six died, which was not uncommon for that time of our history—five lived, one of whom was my grandfather. He was very much a Christian, just so strong. And my grandfather caught that and actually answered the call of God to the gospel ministry.

From my grandfather down to my grandson, who is also a minister, there are twenty-two preachers. Now, not that preachers are the only thing that counts because we have wonderful, godly businessmen, but all the providence of God. That lady who encouraged him to give his heart to God is not even my relative. She died. She was not even in my life. But yet, that statement at that moment . . .

Nancy: It’s part of your legacy.

Tom: That’s exactly right. That statement at that moment just changed everything about the history of our family.

And I might say that those who are maybe not aware of how preachers act sometimes. Our family reunions are very noisy.

Nancy: I’ve been there.

Tom: Yes. You’ve been there, and all but three of those preachers are still alive—one recently passed away.

Nancy: So even when you think about the generations—the ones who have come before, what they’ve past to us . . . For some people, they don’t have a heritage of preacher, godly.

Tom: That’s the call to be the first in line.

Nancy: Exactly. And to realize that God is writing a story in your life that you can pass on to the next generation. So trusting God with your lineage . . . It sounds a little silly to say, but I love those genealogies in Scripture. They’re kind of hard to get through, and they can be a little dry, and the names are hard to pronounce, but I love seeing how God takes unknown people, messed up people, confused people, godly people, and He weaves it together. He writes a story that touches us, and then He’s using our lives to touch somebody else’s.

So you see this in your families. And I think for so many people, family is a painful thing. It’s not a happy thing. There are a lot of happy Elliff family reunions, but I know, Tom, that in your family there have also been some really hard places, hard providences.

Tom: Yes.

Nancy: Can you tell a short version of your dad? That was a hard providence in your life.

Tom: Well, my father was one of those ministers and everybody’s hero in our family. And we cannot explain this except to say that, as he told me later on, he said, “I got to a point in my ministry where I was just coasting. I failed to realize it’s daily bread.” (I wish I could emphasize that with every one of us—it’s daily bread.) And he said, “I just got out of the Word and would mechanically preach what I had preached as I’d go from place to place.”

And in the process of that, my father was unfaithful to my mother and, ultimately, left her and married someone else.

Nancy: And this was after years of faithful ministry.

Tom: They were sixty-five years of age when this happened. They’d been married forty-three years—if you can imagine something like that.

Nancy: I remember this. It was just so astonishing, hard to believe.

Tom: That’s right. And yet, in His providence (we don’t have time to tell the entire story), God brought him . . . God brought them . . . I had the privilege of pastoring my father, after my mother’s death, pastoring my father and his wife for almost twenty years. He lived until he was ninety-seven.

Nancy: God turned ashes to beauty.

Tom: Absolutely. And in that, like what Joseph said to his brothers, “What you meant unto me for evil, God meant unto good.” In that, God took the stinger out of that horrible, horrible event that was so shattering to us. It has taught thousands of people how to forgive. I’m so grateful for that. I praise the Lord that what was meant for evil was turned to good, but only in the providence of God.

Nancy: I remember you and your family, your brothers and sisters, walking through that season when you couldn’t see the restored man that your dad was going to become.

Tom: Correct.

Nancy: He was restored to repentance and the grace of God, but it was a long process.

Tom: It was a long process, but it was a process that did take place, for which we are eminently grateful, because it’s a picture of the grace of God. And it remains that to this very day.

Nancy: Yes. It’s a beautiful picture.

Tom: Yes. And from that to God’s leading through physical tragedies . . . things that you would just think, Oh man, that’s got to be the end of it. But He’s bigger than it all. Behind those dark clouds, there’s the face of God with that smile.

Nancy: A smiling providence. Yes.

Diana, I think we, as women, sometimes hear stories like this and a kind of fear rises up that we think, If I really trust God with my family, with my future. . . In Proverbs 31 it talks about this woman smiling at the future, but your story is about people you thought were godly and go off the rails. Or you talked in the program yesterday about losing a child just weeks before the due date. You can tense up and think, I don’t want God to mess with my life.

As you think about your journey now, walking with the Lord for many years, and as you’ve encouraged others, how do you walk in faith rather than fear when it comes to thinking about all the bad things that have happened, all the bad things that could happen. I know as women, our imaginations are going right now as they’re listening to this conversation, and they’re tensing up and going, “If I really trust God, what might He do to me?”

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: And you can revert to fear.

Diana: Yes. The word that comes to my mind is this: It’s so important for us as believers to walk with Christ today and walk with Him tomorrow before the storm ever hits because the storms are coming. This loss of my child and my late husband, that will probably, more than likely, not be the last one that I have or the last person or people that I might lose in this life.

Nancy: And for those who didn’t hear that part of the story, your husband had Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: Which is a terrible illness—as was Jeannie’s . . . cancer.

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: But we’ve all watched people taken through that ALS. So as you’re walking through that journey, it would be easy to just fall into fear.

Diana: Yes. I remember the day we went to the doctor, a new doctor, to try to find out what was going on with my husband. He started losing weight. The doctor said, “Feed him this. Give him that. Make milkshakes.” I was doing all of that, but he just continued to lose weight.

So we went to this internist, and he said to us, “I think you have a neurological disease.”

We didn’t know which one. He didn’t know. And he said, “We’ll just do blood work, and I’ll have you come back again.”

So we did this, and when we got home from the hospital that day, I got on my knees beside my husband. He was in a chair, and his left arm was closest to mine. I took my arms and wrapped them around his arm, and I looked him in the face, and I started crying—and this is so unusual for me. My children have hardly ever seen me cry because I just don’t do that. And my husband was probably shocked because he’d not seen me cry very much. I burst into tears, and I said to him, “But I can’t live my life without you.” So we cried together.

And then God’s grace was sufficient in that moment, and then we went on. I fixed dinner that night, and got up the next day and went through my day with him. On the second day of hearing this news, the still small voice of God came to my heart. He said these words to me: “Wayne Barber is not your lord. Jesus Christ is your Lord. He will never leave you nor forsake you.” And that really got my attention because God revealed to me through His Word and in that moment that His will is perfect.

So I talked with my husband that afternoon. I told him, “You know, when the Bible says God’s will is good; His will is acceptable and perfect, no matter which way this goes, we have to come back to the fact.” I was saying these things because he had so beautifully taught me these things which he had been preaching through the years. I said, “We have to come back to what God says. And every time I begin to wander out into fear, I must come back to God’s Word and what He has to say.”

So that became our talking point. I would say, “Okay, now today we must realize that this Word of God is truth, and if God takes us over to the left side of His Word where He’s going to heal you, we will say, ‘Praise You, Lord. Your will is good, acceptable and perfect.’ But if He doesn’t do that, and He takes us to the right side of His Word in this, we must still say, ‘God Your will is good, acceptable and perfect.’”

Those were the things that got me through. And once that was settled in my heart and in his heart, then I was able to really focus in on my care for him, walking before my children. I wanted them to see God’s strength in us. And God provided that for both of us.

Nancy: So God was writing a story in your husband’s life.

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: He was writing a story in your life.

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: He was writing a story in your children’s lives.

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: And who knows who else. I think the peace comes in the middle of the storm. As you say, “We’d been preparing for it. We’d been trusting God. We’ve been walking with Him.” But then the peace comes through open hands. Right?

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: Relinquishment. Saying, “God, Your will is good and perfect, even if I don’t understand it or it makes no sense at all to me.”

Diana: Right. And as Tom would say this about his lovely wife, Jeannie, I can say this of Wayne. I didn’t want him to be gone. I didn’t want God to call him home at this point in my life. Tom and Jeannie were very best friends. Wayne and I, he was my very best friend. We enjoyed each other’s company. My husband used to say, “It is so good to pull in the driveway, put your car in the garage, shut the garage door, and come into our place of refuge,” because we enjoyed each other’s company so much.

But the Lord brought me through that. And the time that I have experienced God’s peace the most was the day that I was standing at the cemetery. My children were there. My brothers and sisters and my mother were there—my dad’s with the Lord. I stood there that day, and I knew God was with me. I’d never been as peaceful in all my life as I was that moment. I thanked the Lord that day, and I said, “Lord, thank You. Your grace is truly sufficient for me.”

Nancy: And you don’t have that experience until you are at the place where you really need God’s grace.

Diana: You’re exactly right.

Tom: So that begs the question then: How are we going to learn the depths of God’s grace without hardship? So many of us have the belief that, “If God is sovereign and provident, then He is somehow obligated to get me through this life unscathed and unscarred,” when the reality is that those scars are what drive me to Him and give usefulness.

Amy Carmichael said, 

Have you no scar?
No hidden scar in foot or side or hand?
I hear Your song is mighty in the land;
I hear them hail Your bright, ascendant star.
Have you no scar? 

Have you no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archer’s spent.
Leaned Me against a tree to die; rent
By ravening beaves which compass Me, I swooned.
Have you no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall a servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
But yours are whole; can he have followed far
Who has no wound, no scar?

So I would have to say that to follow Christ far involves seeing His provident loving hand of grace in the hard times as well as the good times.

Nancy: And the fact is that everybody does have hard times. I mean, if you’ve lived any length of time, we have some people . . . You look at Joni Eareckson Tada who’s got, oh, fifty years of physical suffering. Okay, not everybody has that, but everybody does have hard things. It may not seem big to somebody else, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s big to you.

The question isn’t: Are we going to have hard times? We live in a broken, fallen world that’s marred by sinfulness and rebellion against God. We all experience the consequences of that.

The question is: What’s my perspective going to be, and how am I going to respond to God when the story He’s writing for my life involves the hard things?

Tom: Yes.

Nancy: I remember, Tom, we’re going kind of from pillar to post here in terms of the scope of these hard things—losing a child, losing a mate—those are huge. But, Tom, I watched your family go through the the loss of two homes. Like, does anybody insure you anymore?

Tom: I can’t find any neighbors, that’s for sure. (laughter) We had just put our kids on the plane back to Cambodia and sat down with some friends of ours while we were on vacation in Hawaii, of all places (that’s to their goodness and their grace). And I said, “Jeannie and I are asking the Lord to show us how to simplify our lifestyle.”

My cell phone was there, and it started buzzing, and I picked it up. It was the executive pastor at the church I pastored in Oklahoma City. He said, “Your house just burned down.” And I laughed. 

I said, “Is this a joke?” 

And he said, “No. I’m serious.” 

I said, “Well, I know the fire chief.” 

And he said, “Hold on, I’ll put him on the phone.”

And sure enough, our house had burned, I mean, to the ground. And we never shed a tear about that. We literally never did. It’s all going to burn up anyway.

Nancy: Wait a minute—that’s true of your wife, too?

Tom: That’s true of my wife. It’s all going to burn up anyway. Every bit of it is going to burn up one of these days.

Nancy: Okay, you’re a guy. But, tell me, did your wife have any . . . Guys can have feelings, too, I know that. But there wasn’t any moment of, “There’s some precious things?” Is it okay to shed a tear? I’ll ask that.

Tom: Well, I’m certainly sure that it is, but she didn’t.

On the plane going back home she said, “You know, I guess the one thing I’ll miss the most are our pictures.” And when we got home we discovered that our daughter had gone over to the house, while the fire was raging, and had found a member of our church that was on the fire department. She said, “I know where all the family photographs are.” He had gone into the house and handed them out through the window. So the pictures survived, but that was it.

I’ll tell you one thing: I thought all these big game trophies that, as a guy, I had mounted in the entryway of our house. Some of them were from Africa and places where we had lived. When I walked up on that porch, there was nothing but ashes and one glass eyeball. And Jeannie poked me and said, “That’s what God thinks of your trophies.” (laughter) I didn’t have quite the same feeling, but it’s true. It’s all going to burn up anyway.

We moved into a house that our insurance company provided for us almost immediately. It was February 21, 1999. And then May 3 of 1999, same year, it blew away in a tornado.

Nancy: I remember that tornado.

Tom: Yes. Providence of God. We didn’t lose much because we didn’t have anything to lose in that house. We just had some rented furniture and a few clothes. We didn’t even have any old clothes.

And yet, it gave me a ticket into the heart of eighty-five of our church members who had lost their homes. And without having to worry about my home, I could still say, “Yes, I know. That happened to me.” 

And they’re, “We know how you understand us, Brother Tom.”

It was just God’s providence in charge of it all.

Nancy: I remember hearing you say at your wife’s funeral—Jeannie’s funeral—about how having just lost a wife, you were thinking about people that you had ministered to who had lost someone, but you were seeing it through totally different eyes.

Tom: Oh, totally different eyes. In fact, I think I said in that service that I would like to gather up everyone I’d tried to minister to over the years and said, “God bless you. I’ll be praying for you.” I tried to comfort them. I would like to gather them all up, put them in one big room, have them all take off their shoes, and I’d like to get on my knees and crawl around and kiss their feet and say, “I had no idea what you were going through, but I do now.”

Nancy: So you care for people differently as a pastor, as a shepherd.

Tom: Absolutely. I see it all with different eyes. Absolutely. And I’m grateful that I can. Diana said a few moments ago when she said, “My kids didn’t see me cry. My family didn’t see me cry.” But I can tell you what: That event of having a husband who, after a long siege of Lou Gehrig’s disease, goes home to heaven, she cannot say, “I don’t have emotions, and I don’t cry anymore” because we welcome that. I mean, I welcome that. I hold her and hug her while she does.

Diana: We had an experience a few weeks ago. We were watching a movie. I don’t even remember what it was about,but there was a sad part in there where someone died. I started crying because it reminded me of my husband’s death. I put my hand over my face, the side of my face, because I didn’t want him to be hurt over that. And I looked over at him, and I thought, “I think he’s crying.”

And we both looked at each other, and he said, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” 

And I said, “Yes. It’s so hard.” 

We stood up in the den, and we embraced each other. He was crying over the loss of Jeannie. I was crying over the loss of Wayne. And only with Jesus Christ and two people could that ever happen.

Tom: And we love each other passionately, Diana and I do, but yet we could still cry about that.

Nancy: Isn’t that like Jesus who wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus?

Diana: Yes.

Nancy: Sometimes, those of us who’ve got this really solid, godly upbringing and background and grounding in the Word, it takes pain sometimes to bring tenderness, to make us more tender. All three of us are Bible teachers, and we’re always instructing people in the Word of God and the ways of God. But it’s the funerals that my family has walked through, probably as much as anything, that have given me the ability to weep with those who weep in a way that I couldn’t just by . . .

I read this Book, and I see the tenderness of Christ. I see we’re supposed to be tenderhearted and compassionate, but what gives you that?

Tom: Well, you mentioned the passage a while ago from 2 Corinthians, “He is indeed the God of all comfort who does comfort us in all of our afflictions so that we might comfort others also with the same comfort with which we’re comforted of God” (see 1:4).

There is utility in pain. There’s usefulness in pain. It enables me to comfort others also. So . . . we don’t want it. In fact, that’s the last thing you want. But once that wave has come through, you discover that you’re a different person, and by the grace of God you can be different for the better.

Dannah: If you’re going through a season of pain right now, Tom Elliff has been giving you valuable perspective. God can take this difficult experience of yours and use it to help other people. You could one day be a big encouragement to others.

Tom and Diana Elliff have been encouraging us, talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about some of their seasons of pain and showing us why we can trust God in the midst of the suffering.

Nancy, you know, this has been quite a year of exploring people’s stories.

Nancy: It has, and I’ve so enjoyed listening to that, even some of the really hard ones. Robert and I interviewed several people as we were researching for the book we co-authored called You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.

And then we talked with even more people about their life’s stories as we explored that topic here on Revive Our Hearts over the last several months. What a rich experience it’s been hearing over and over again how God proves Himself to be trustworthy and faithful.

Dannah: You know, that’s a good note to end the final days of 2019. It’s a good reminder for us as we’re looking to the Lord to meet some significant year-end needs here at the ministry. We’re trusting Him to work through listeners to launch the ministry into 2020 in a healthy financial position, ready to respond to the opportunities He’s providing.

Nancy: I’ve been so excited to see how our listeners have responded thus far to a very generous matching challenge. I want to say a huge “thank you” to each person who has helped us to get closer to meeting this challenge.

Perhaps you’ve been hearing us talk about the matching challenge, and you’ve been wanting or planning to get involved. Well, just a reminder that we need to hear from you by December 31 so that your gift can be doubled as part of this matching challenge.

To make your donation, you can visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can give us a call at 1–800–569–5959.

And I want to say again, “Thank you for your generosity, which is such a sweet reflection of the generous giving heart of God.”

Dannah: We hope you’ll have a great weekend, and on Monday we’ll hear how God orchestrated events so that two people who were convinced they would never remarry after their spouses died actually did remarry each other. We’ll hear more from Tom and Diana Elliff next week. I’m Dannah Gresh saying, please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you see God at work in your story. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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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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