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What Can God Do With My Emptiness? with Special Guest Nancy Guthrie

Core Christianity / Adriel Sanchez and Bill Maier
The Truth Network Radio
September 11, 2020 1:00 am

What Can God Do With My Emptiness? with Special Guest Nancy Guthrie

Core Christianity / Adriel Sanchez and Bill Maier

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September 11, 2020 1:00 am

Episode 530 | Adriel Sanchez and Bill Maier answer caller questions.

Show Notes

1. Adriel: As you know, Nancy, writing a book is a lot of work. What did you see in the church and the lives of believers around you that made you feel that this book needed to be written?

2. I’m getting really burnt out as a parent right now. I already have a full-time job, and now I have to be a homeschool teacher to my 3 kids due to schools not opening. Finding time and space for devotions was hard enough before! Can you give me any advice to navigate this season in life?

3. When things are going well in my life, I feel like it’s clear that God is working in and through me. But sometimes I don’t feel God’s presence at all. My prayer life feels dry and it seems like no one is listening. How do I get back to that place where I feel like I am being used by God?

4. Adriel: I’m curious, Nancy, as you studied the idea of emptiness throughout Scripture, what did you learn about the nature and character of God?


God Does His Best Work with Empty by Nancy Guthrie

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My prayer life feels dry and it seems like no one is listening.

How do I get back to that place where I feel I'm being used by God? That's just one of the questions we'll be answering on today's edition of CORE Christianity. Hi, this is Bill Meyer, along with Pastor Adriel Sanchez, and this is the radio program where we answer your questions about the Bible and the Christian life every day. You can email us now with your question at 833-THE-CORE.

That's 1-833-843-2673. And you can email us with your question at questions at Today we have a special guest joining us for the program, author and speaker, Nancy Guthrie. Nancy teaches the Bible at her church in Franklin, Tennessee, at conferences around the world, and through numerous books and video series. She and her husband, David, are the co-hosts of the Grief Share Podcast. Nancy is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.

And today she joins us to talk about her new book, God Does His Best Work with Empty. And Nancy, welcome back to CORE Christianity. Thank you so much for having me. So happy to be with you guys. Yeah, Nancy, it is really neat to have you again. I mean, we were able to do several episodes a while back, and I can't tell you how encouraging those programs were for me and for a lot of the people in our church. I shared them with a ton of people.

No, thank you. Well, it's always fun to talk to people about the things that matter most. And that's what we get to do today. Amen. You know, I'm excited about getting into your book. Writing a book is obviously a lot of work. Oh, it's easy, Adriel. Come on.

Yeah, give me some tips, please. But I mean, I'm just curious, you know, what did you see in the church and in the lives of believers around you that made you feel like this is a book that needs to be written? Well, actually, it's a book my husband told me needs to be written. I first uttered those words, God Does His Best Work with Empty, maybe 11 years ago at our very first respite retreat, the retreats that we hold for couples who have lost children. And, you know, at those retreats, we're sitting in a circle with 11 or 12 couples who've all experienced the devastation of losing a child. And I said to them, I know there is an empty place. There is an empty bedroom at your house.

There's an empty place at the table, an empty place in the family photo, an empty place in the plans that you had for your family. And I know that you look at this empty place and you see it as your greatest problem. But I don't think that's how God sees it.

I think when God looks at your life and he sees that empty place, that he sees it as his greatest opportunity, because God does his best work with empty as he fills it with himself. And at that point, I said, just think about how the Bible begins. The Bible begins, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and it was formless and void, empty. But of course, as you continue reading in Genesis 1, it becomes obvious that emptiness is not a problem to God, because there in Genesis chapter 1, we see him deal with the formlessness of creation, with the darkness of creation, and with the emptiness of creation.

As he just says, let there be. And the heavens and the earth that he's created are filled with light and life and beauty and abundance and purpose and meaning. So from the very first page of the Bible, we discover that God does his best work from empty. And then from there, I just traced through various parts of the story of the Bible, you know, jumping to when God begins to create a new people for himself, immediately there's a problem because he tells us about Abram and that his wife is Sarah. But then at the end of Genesis 11, it tells us about Sarah. But she was barren.

She had no children. Her womb is empty. But is it a problem to God?

No, it's not a problem to God. But then, of course, seeing that in Sarah, it prepares us for another woman whose womb is empty, not because she's too old to have a child, but because she's never been with a man. And what does the angel say is going to happen?

It says that the Holy Spirit is going to come and overshadow her, and her womb is going to be filled with the very life of God. And I could go on and on because now I see it so many places throughout the Bible, that in fact, God over and over again, in the lives of his people, he does his best work with empty. I think that that's such an important reminder, and especially at a time like this. I mean, I know, just as a pastor, I look around at the church today, and a lot of people feel empty.

They're exhausted, they're tired. Isn't that true? Yeah, so it just seems like this book couldn't have come at a better time. I love also thinking about the fact that the things that we often view as our handicaps, our weaknesses, our emptiness, that's where the strength of Christ is perfected in us. I mean, you think about over and over in the New Testament, how the Apostle Paul talks like that. His strength is perfected in my weakness.

Man, what a beautiful reminder. Yeah, I think we all we think, okay, you know, God wants me to get my act together so I can do a lot for him. And I just don't think that is how God intends to work in our lives. He does his best work in the places where we feel insufficient, not up to the task.

Why? Because then he goes to work in and through our lives in a way that he is glorified, that we know and the world can see. No, this wasn't just something ordinary because Adriel or Bill or Nancy got their act together and made something happen. No, this was God at work. That's what he delights to show the world. And honestly, that's what the world longs to see is something supernatural happening in someone's life by the work of God at work in the interior of their lives. Amen. This is Core Christianity with our special guest, Nancy Guthrie. And Nancy, we have a question from a listener that really relates to your book.

Gabrielle emailed us and she says this. I'm getting really burnt out as a parent right now. I already have a full time job and now I have to be a homeschool teacher to my three kids due to the schools not opening. Finding time and space for devotions was hard enough before. Can you give me any advice on how to navigate this season of life? Wow. And don't we know that Gabriel represents many, many people out there right now? And I'm so glad you asked this, Gabriel.

A couple of things. First of all, you say finding time and space for devotions. And, you know, maybe it's just going to look a little bit different right now than it has always looked for you. I remember reading a book one time where the author talked about how he found just in the ordinary parts of his day, he turned them into prayer prompts. For example, his example was he wanted to remember to be praying for his son-in-law. And so he decided every time I change the liner in the garbage can, I'm going to use that as a prompt to pray for my son-in-law.

You know, just an ordinary thing he did, but it just became then a habit. And I just wonder, Gabriel, if there might be some ordinary times during your day, some things you're doing every day as you homeschool your kids and do your work, that you could turn into prompts for fellowship with God, that you talk to Him about the things in your life, or maybe it's a prompt of a particular passage. You know, maybe right now you're not going to be able to tear off huge chunks of Scripture and think through them and write out all your notes and all this. But maybe you want to pick a couple of passages that you want to commit to memory so that in these ordinary times of the day could prompt you to meditate on that passage, to think about that passage, to pray through that passage.

Let me just give you an example of what I mean. Most of us know Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. We know this, right? And so we've got just that first verse. And so maybe as you awaken in the morning before you actually crawl out of bed, you call that Scripture to mind because you know it. But rather than just like race through it, as you lay there getting awake during the day, you begin to think about what does it mean that the Lord is my shepherd? Isn't it good that I have a shepherd who really cares for me, who knows my needs?

And because of that, Lord, I do have everything I need, not necessarily everything I want. And then you turn it into a prayer to him, Lord, you are my shepherd. I'm defending fully on you. There are so many things that have been taken away from me during this time in COVID, and yet I know you haven't forgotten me. You are shepherding me. You're giving me the opportunity to rest.

You are restoring my soul. And so we just turn that into prayer. And so maybe that doesn't look like your devotions the rest of the time. But throughout the day, you look for opportunities as you are, you know, maybe it's emptying the dishwasher, maybe it's during the shower, that you turn your mind to that passage that you've implanted deep in your heart and mind and use it as an opportunity for fellowship with God.

I was just thinking there as well, Gabriel, that when we come before the Lord, we can just be honest. There are times where we get to sit down and have a great time in the Word and pray for everyone we know and the things that are going on in our lives. And there are other times where it's like, God, I feel like I don't have any time and I don't even feel like praying right now or doing the right thing. Help.

Help. And that's an honest prayer, being able to cry out to the Lord in the midst of everything that's going on and saying, God, be merciful to me. And sometimes that is our prayer. I mean, I think of the Psalms, you know, you have those great psalms of praise and worship and thanksgiving. And then you have the psalms of lament where the psalmist is just saying, help. And there are seasons in life, and it sounds like you're in one of those right now, where that's our prayer is, God, just please sustain me.

I'm overwhelmed. I feel empty. And that's, I think, the right prayer to pray in that moment. And we go to the God who fills us with His grace, with His mercy, who sustains us even when we feel like we're empty. You are listening to Core Christianity with Pastor Adriel Sanchez and our special guest, author Nancy Guthrie. Her latest book is God Does His Best Work with Empty. You know as well as I do, Nancy, that the world is full of suffering.

I mean, we're seeing it all around us right now. What do you say to people who are experiencing emptiness and loss in your new book? Well, in the book, I trace through the story of the Bible, and we look at the people of God and their experience of emptiness and the way that God works in it. For example, there's the children of Israel in the wilderness, and their stomachs are empty. If you remember, it causes them to grumble and complain. Now, I'm sure you guys would never do that, right?

It would never turn into grumbling for you. But for some of us, it does. It's our natural tendency. And what's so interesting when you look at that story is this thing, their preferred food choice with the garlic and onions and the fish that they loved. It's not just something they kind of want. They begin to crave it so much that they're considering going back to work at the brick factory in Egypt, where their children were literally being killed just so they can have that food. So this desire became a craving that consumed them. And I think in this time of emptiness, that can be the case for us, too.

You know, this thing that's not necessarily a bad thing, food's not a bad thing, but this thing we kind of want becomes a craving. What we learn in their story is that God was at work. Later, Moses, he's going to speak to the next generation as they get ready to go into the promised land.

And he says this about that first generation. He says, God, let them hunger so they would know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So God was purposeful in allowing them to feel the hunger, because he wanted to teach them and he wanted to train them to trust in his provision.

And I think that's pretty significant for us now. I know in my life, and I imagine in the lives of so many who are listening, there's these things that we've always enjoyed that aren't bad things, and we've been cut off from them, and it can become a craving that we demand. And we can look at so many ways for the world to fill up that empty place rather than trust in God's provision, rather than allowing this wilderness time to be a time when God actually teaches us and trains us to trust in him in a deeper, more profound way. And so that's the kind of thing that I'm doing in the book as I look at stories like those children in the wilderness, or like Naomi who comes back and she says, I went away full, I've come back empty. Or Habakkuk as he's facing a future when there's going to be no fruit on the vine and no cattle in the stall, a profound emptiness. Or the writer of Ecclesiastes as he says, everything is meaningless. And so we look at all of these experiences of emptiness and the way God works to fill it, not with just anything, but with himself, with his joy and his peace and his grace.

That's what we want. You know, Nancy, my pastor once said that, you know, God wants us to have a beautiful steak dinner, and yet we fill up on Doritos. I mean, I kind of like Doritos too with my steak. I love it that you said that, Bill, because the way I often describe this to people, our tendency to fill up with lesser things, is like when you're driving on the interstate, right? And you're looking for the logo of the food place where you want to eat on the exit signs. And the one you're looking for, like it doesn't come, it doesn't come, it doesn't come. So finally, like you're like so hungry, you just like pull off and you get some kind of substandard fast food fare, right?

And then sure enough, you get back in your car and two exits down, there's the one you were looking for, right? And so isn't it so true that in the empty places of our lives, that empty places in the form of loneliness, boredom, fear about the future, we can look to fill that with other things like scrolling through the internet, working our way through Netflix, alcohol, food, online shopping. There's just so many things that we can look at to fill the emptiness and we get ourselves all filled up with junk food innocence. And then we wonder why we have no appetite to read God's Word, no appetite to talk to Him in prayer. It's because we filled it up with so many lesser things.

Once again, Nancy's book is called God Does His Best Work with Empty. And we have that available on our website while supplies last for a donation of any amount. So head over to forward slash offers. You can also call us at 833-843-2673 for help getting any one of our offers.

That's 833 the core. By the way, if you have a question for us, you can call us at that number. You can also record a question through our website at slash radio. There's a little microphone icon there on the side of the page. Just click on that. You can record your question there.

Nancy, here's a question we received from Edward. Hey, guys, thanks for taking my call. When things are going good in my life, I feel like it's really obvious that God is working in me and working through me and I'm being used. But sometimes I just don't feel God's presence whatsoever. My prayer life feels really stale and it just seems like he's not even listening when I'm calling out to him.

And I just I just hate feeling like that. And so I just want to know, like, what what can I do to get back to that place and to stay in that place where I feel like God is actually using me? Thanks for taking my call. Edward, thank you for that. I think many of us can relate to that feeling that we are praying and we wonder if anyone is listening. I couldn't help but notice, though, Edward, how many times you use the word feel like or seems like. And what that tells me is you have an expectation of a very strong feeling and you're depending on your feelings to know whether or not God is working in you. Whether or not he's working through you, whether or not he is hearing your prayer. And so I just want to encourage you, Edward, to look to another source other than your own senses, the own voice inside your head to know this. The way that we know God is at work in our lives, the way he is working through us is because his word tells us that he will. It requires an exercise of faith, in a sense, to say, OK, God, you've promised to hear me when I pray to you because I belong to you.

You have promised to work in and through me because I belong to you. And so even when I don't see it, I want to believe that you are doing that and that you will do that. And I also want to encourage you one other way, Edward, in regard to that sense that no one is listening to your prayers. I think so often my prayer mode has been like, I've got this big agenda, these things that I want. And so I totally set the agenda in what I'm praying about. And if you think about having a conversation with another person, isn't it annoying when one person does all the talking and that it's not really a conversation?

Or when you feel like that other person isn't even hearing what you're saying? Well, prayer is meant to be a conversation. Our conversation partner is as we open up God's word. And so I want to encourage you, rather than you setting the agenda, just deciding what you're going to pray about, open up your Bible to a passage.

And as you read it, every line, every bit of it, make it a conversation. Talk back to God about what you're hearing Him say through His word. As you're praying for other people, plug their names into those passages. Ask God to do in their life, in your life, what He's promising to do in that passage.

And I think, Edward, that you will have a deeper sense that your prayers are becoming richer and more meaningful and that they're being heard as you make it a conversation. You know, Edward, one of the, I think, reasons that we struggle with this is because so often our feelings are just determined by our circumstances. And when we're experiencing difficult circumstances, like many people have been because of the coronavirus or loss of work, we don't have that same sense of joy, the feeling of God's absence. But I think you look at a guy like the apostle Paul in the New Testament.

I mean, he was shipwrecked, hungry, talk about being empty, you know, beaten on numerous occasions, we're told. But listen to what he said in Romans chapter 8, verses 38 and 39. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The primary sign that God loves you and is at work in your life is His goodness to you in the gospel. I think all of us, Nancy, I mean, you hit the nail on the head, we have those times in our lives where we do feel or don't feel the presence of the Lord, but even there, God is working. I'm curious, Nancy, as you studied the idea of emptiness throughout Scripture, what did you learn about the nature and character of God? Always when we're in God's Word, our desire is that it would help us to see Him more clearly, what He's doing in the world through Christ.

And I think one thing that really helped me was to go back to actually before the beginning. You know, earlier I said, I looked right there in Genesis 1, how God was able to fill the emptiness. But as I kept studying it, I realized, how is it that He could do it? It's because He is a God of divine fullness. When we think about all of the attributes of God, all of the things that make Him who He is, it's not like He's got a minimal amount or an adequate amount of these things.

What do we know about God? You know, God is love. He is abundant in mercy. And so it helped me to think about God as this God who He has so much fullness, the fullness of His grace and love and mercy and forgiveness. He super abounds in all of these things. And here is this God who is full, and His inclination, His orientation, His posture is to share with His people out of that fullness.

Don't you just love that? You know, God is not stingy. When you think about Moses, Moses is kind of the first person that God introduced Himself to personally.

Remember that? Moses is like, you know, show me your glory, and who shall I say sent me when I went to the Pharaoh? And God says to him, I am who I am. I am the God who is slow to anger, abundant in mercy. Wow, that's who He is. And so as we think of ourselves, and we can tend to think of ourselves and focus solely on our need, what we see again and again is that God fills our needs out of His abundance.

I think one of the best pictures of this is there on the hillside. Remember, all of those 5,000 people are following Jesus, and it gets to be lunchtime. Everybody's hungry. And what does Jesus do? You know, He takes those loaves and fish, and He feeds 5,000 people. But then we get this extra little detail.

There are 12 baskets of food left over. He fills us so abundantly out of His divine fullness. Nancy, thank you so much for your time today. Once again, Nancy's book is called God Does His Best Work with Empty. We have that available here at CORE Christianity while supplies last.

Just go to our website slash offers. Nancy, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate you. Thank you so much for having me. We'll see you next time.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-15 15:04:01 / 2024-03-15 15:13:42 / 10

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