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The Greatest Thing About Being Empty

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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December 8, 2020 1:00 am

The Greatest Thing About Being Empty

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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December 8, 2020 1:00 am

Have you lost a loved one, a job, a relationship? On FamilyLife Today, hosts Dave and Ann Wilson discuss with author, Nancy Guthrie, how being empty can be the starting place for God to do His greatest work in us.

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When you feel lonely, empty, where do you go? Who do you turn to?

Here's Nancy Guthrie. Maybe this sounds like an ethereal answer, but I think it's God saying to you, you know what? I want our relationship to be so intimate that you won't always be expecting other people to meet all of your relational needs.

In fact, you'll stop demanding so much from other people. And when you feel those tinges of loneliness, instead of you causing you to pick up the phone to call someone, maybe you'll realize, oh, am I out of touch with you, God? This is Family Life Today. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. I'm Bob Lapine. You can find us online at

God tells us in the Bible that in our weakness, He is made strong, but for that to be the case, we have to turn to Him. We're going to talk more about that today with Nancy Guthrie. Stay with us. And welcome to Family Life Today.

Thanks for joining us. How many times have you been speaking at a weekend to remember marriage got away and had a husband or a wife come up to you and just say, I feel like there's nothing left, like the marriage is dead, that it's empty, and I don't know what to do, and they've lost hope for their relationship. Too many to count. So many.

Every single conference I've spoken at. And I would say I felt that. I think when you're married and you're sleeping in bed and you're beside the person that you made your vow to, I can remember thinking, and having three kids in the house sleeping, I can remember thinking, I feel so empty and alone. And I think a lot of women can do that. In fact, and you know what I'll do, and I think we can do this as women especially, I can think, why? And I think the problem is Dave.

The problem is that he's not doing, and then I come up with my list. And I'm sound asleep thinking life is wonderful. Well, and you know, it's interesting because the loneliness that single people feel is real and profound. There is a loneliness that exists in marriage that I don't want to say it's more profound. It's a different kind of profound. Surprisingly.

There is something when you're married with the expectation of oneness and intimacy and it's not there, that's a different kind of loneliness, a profound sense of loneliness. And we hear from listeners all the time who tell us, this is what I'm dealing with and you guys are a lifeline to help me think biblically, to help me realign my thinking and know that God is still with me and that there is still hope in my life. Oh, you're so right, Bob. And we love hearing from listeners. And we recently had a listener say this, family life has changed my life forever. I'm always talking about the podcast I heard that day with everyone I come in contact with.

I know my family gets tired of hearing me say what I hear on family life today. I mean, those are the things that just make us smile because we know that we're making a difference in people's lives. Yeah, and it's truly amazing as we sit here in the studio to think what we do here is a lifeline for people. I mean, sometimes you don't connect the dots that when we give help, practical help and hope, it points people back to God.

I tell you, the thing that everyone needs right now is hope. We've lived in a year that's felt pretty hopeless and there's isolation and pain and we get to step into family rooms and kitchens and radio and bring the life of Christ to people. And I'm telling you, I don't know if you understand this, that does not happen without you.

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So call us or go online at and thanks in advance for whatever you're able to give. Now, as I said, we've been talking about the theme of emptiness this week, and this is something that we've been prompted to talk about because of a new book written by our friend Nancy Guthrie, who is joining us again on Family Life Today. Nancy, welcome back. Thank you.

So glad to be with you. Nancy is an author, a speaker. She is a friend of this ministry.

She's somebody that we look to for wisdom and guidance and counsel on so many things and has written a book called God Does His Best Work with Empty. And we've been exploring this theme of the emptiness that all of us feel at different points in our lives. You've run into married couples, especially as you've worked with couples who are going through grief. That often leads couples to isolation from one another as they don't know how to grieve well together. And there's the emptiness over the loss of a child.

And then now you feel like you're losing your spouse at the same time. I often tell couples who come to our respite retreat for grieving couples that if you were to put grief into a pot on the stove and boil it down to its essence, that what I think you'd have left in the pot is a little pile of loneliness and that loneliness is inherent to grief. But I'll also say I can't imagine that there's anyone listening today who doesn't experience loneliness. I mean, I write in the book, sometimes I feel lonely and that I feel a little bit ridiculous for saying so because I look at my life and I think I've got these great friends.

I have a fabulous husband and we enjoy a fabulous relationship. And yet there is there's something inherent to life in this world that loneliness is just a part of it. But you know what I suggest in this book, God Does His Best Work with Empty, is that I ask the question, maybe loneliness isn't a problem to be solved. I think we think of it that way, don't we? Yeah. But maybe loneliness is something God intends to use to woo us to himself. Oh, boy, you better lay that out.

What's that look like? You know what I'm suggesting? Is to think if I feel lonely, that it's a problem with my vertical relationships.

Exactly. I expect for this loneliness problem to get solved. You know, I've got to create better community. I've got to get things going with my husband a little bit better or differently, or I've got to get a friend to get together with. So first of all, I see it as a problem and I see it as a purely human relationship issue. But maybe loneliness is something that God allows us to feel to, in a sense, nudge us in His direction, to woo us in His direction, because this is one of the ways that God works in our loneliness is He draws us into a more intimate relationship with Himself. Yeah, we said in our marriage book, tell me if this is where you're going.

So many people think they married the wrong person because they feel the emptiness and the loneliness and it's not feeling, but we say they're looking in the wrong place. Well, what I think is beautiful in the Bible is that from beginning to end, it is a story of God intending to enjoy intimacy amongst His people. I mean, that's what He had in Eden. He was there in the presence of His people.

And from the time they get sent out of the garden, God goes to work to restore this relationship with them. And He states His intention in Exodus. He keeps repeating it throughout the whole of the Old Testament. He keeps saying, I'm gonna be your God and you're gonna be my people and I'm gonna dwell with you. And as we trace that story, so what does He do? His people, they leave Egypt and they're living out in tents in the middle of the wilderness.

So what does He do? He says, okay, Moses, I want you guys to build me a tent. And where does He want the tent to be? In the center of their camp. I mean, is this not an expression of God's desire to be among His people? Right there in the tabernacle, I'm gonna come down and I'm gonna dwell among you. They moved into the land and now they're living in permanent homes.

So it's finally time, build Him a permanent home. And once again, He comes down to dwell among His people. They go into exile and He gives the prophet Ezekiel a vision.

Ezekiel, this one who wanted to be working in the temple, but he's gone off into exile. First, he sees this vision of the glory of God that had come down to be in the temple, that it's leaving the temple and he's heartbroken. But then where's it going?

It's moving east. Well, that's where the people of God are. I mean, so you can think of that kind of story as just being something theological.

I don't think it is. I think that reveals something to us about the heart of God and this aspect of who God is gets to the heart of the way God intends to work in our loneliness. And that is His intention to dwell among His people because when we get to the New Testament, what happens? Fire comes down to dwell, not in a tabernacle and not in a temple, but at Pentecost, where does it come down? It comes down on believers that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within people, within those who belong to Him. And then when we go to the very end of the Bible story, we get this final announcement in Revelation 21. It says, behold, the dwelling place of God is now with man and He will be their God and they will be His people. And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

And so we have that to look forward to. So maybe this sounds like an ethereal answer, but I think it's God saying to you, you know what? I want our relationship to be so vital, so intimate that you won't always be expecting other people to meet all of your relational needs. In fact, you'll stop demanding so much from other people. And instead, when you feel those tinges of loneliness, instead of you causing you to pick up the phone to call someone, maybe you'll realize, oh, am I out of touch with you, God?

Because maybe you are wooing me to yourself through these feelings I have of loneliness. When Marianne and I were dating, we had dated for about three and a half years. And she had gone to be the nurse at a summer camp that summer. And I was living in Tulsa working at a radio station and I got a letter from her. And it was a Dear Bob letter. It was, Bob, I've met somebody here at camp. Things are over between us. I mean, it just knocked the slats out from underneath me.

I never expected this, didn't see it coming, was really surprised. It was her dumping me via letter. And she came back from camp.

We got together. I thought maybe I would charm or woo or cajole or do something to get her to change her mind. But she was resolute that, no, the relationship was done and she had met somebody new.

And that's probably, if I were to trace when was I the emptiest in my life, that was probably it. It was, I thought you were gonna say she met Jesus. I really thought that's where you were going. No, no, she had met a guy. She had met a guy and she was moving on. That sparked something.

Well, here's what happened. I remember when she was removed from my life and I felt that emptiness. I remember I would get off work and I would go to a friend's house and say, you have to do something with me tonight because I need something.

I can't go home to emptiness. And so for a lot of weeks, I was knocking on my friend's doors and saying, what are we doing tonight so that I don't have to deal with this? And one night I got off work. I had a moped back then.

Remember mopeds? It was a Friday night. I'm thinking, I'm gonna go see the so and so's.

My friends over here, just drop in on them. And it was like there was this voice in my ear saying, no, go home. I thought, okay, so I drive to the next light and I go, you know I should go see.

I should go see Paul, my friend Paul. No, go home. I was like, there was something compelling me to go home. Now home, there was nothing charming about home. Home was a bedroom, a living room, kitchen combination. It was a furnished apartment, $95 a month, bills paid. My mom cried when she saw it. It was a dump, okay?

So I get home on a Friday night at eight o'clock and fix a can of soup and I sit down and I go, okay, I'm home, now what? And I would say if there's been a night in my life where there was a wrestle with God moment, that this was that night of wrestling with God. And the things that came out of just the prayer that I was having in that night was, I will remove anything that becomes an idol. So if you're filling up your life, if you're finding your joy, if you think ultimate joy and satisfaction is found somewhere else, I'll take that out because I am a jealous God and will have no other gods before me. And it was just this, is it gonna be us?

Or are you gonna keep looking for friends or other people or a girlfriend or whatever else to be where you find life and where you find hope? And I realized that my relationship with Marianne, I had put her ahead of God. I had cared more about what was pleasing to her than what was pleasing to him. And God said, we're not gonna have that. Now the rest of the story, I mean, you kind of have to get to the story where two months later, she calls me and says, could we get together and talk? And we got together and talked and she realized the other relationship was not what she thought it was and she'd missed me and we got together and it's a happy story, we get married. Doesn't always work that way. But it was a learning lesson for me. In that emptiness, God said, if you're gonna go somewhere else to get it filled, I am a jealous God, I can remove those things.

Take them out of your life. You will have no other gods before me. And I think sometimes God introduces emptiness into our lives to say, do you know where to go to get it filled back up? You know, in the Gospel of John, I think there's a story of just such a woman. It says that Jesus had to go through Samaria.

And of course, when we read it, we know, no, he didn't really have to go through Samaria. But he goes to this well and this woman comes out to the well and she's coming that time of day because she can't face all of the other women in town because she's probably slept with some of their husbands. And she meets this man at the well and asks her to give him some water. And as they talk about the water, Jesus seemingly points to the water in the well. And he says, basically he says, you drink this water, you're just gonna be thirsty again. But if anybody who drinks of the water that I give, they'll never be thirsty again.

And throughout the Old Testament, this idea of well, water out of a well, we get a sense that it's about desire and relationship. Now I've always thought when he says to this woman that I know you've had five husbands before because he says, go get your husband. And of course he says, no, you've had five husbands.

And the man you're living with now is not your husband. I've always thought to myself, oh, these were bad men. And they were all using her, right? That could be, it's not necessarily the point of the story, but it could also be that all of these men, she had been expecting them to be her living water. And you know, it's a lot of pressure on a person to try to be someone else's living water. There's only one person who can be our living water. And the good news of the gospel is that he offers himself to us.

And he says, you drink of this water and you'll never be thirsty again. And he offers himself to quench those deep desires that we have for satisfying, meaningful relationship. We begin experiencing that now. And then the day is going to come when we will experience it perfectly, eternally.

You walk us through in your book, the ways in which God meets our emptiness, fills our emptiness with his presence, with his grace, his kindness, with his life, with meaning, with faith, and ultimately with joy. As I was reading that, I thought this almost feels sequential. Like first he meets us with presence and then he meets us. Were you thinking sequentially as you wrote this?

Not so much. The sequence is working my way through the scriptures. So looking at the children of Israel in the wilderness, and then the story of Ruth and Naomi, and then stopping in the wisdom books, and then going to a prophet. And in fact, I'd love to tell you about the prophet. Yeah, tell us. So do you remember the story of the prophet Habakkuk?

It's just those three chapters. And what we know about him is living in a time when he is so frustrated about how the people of God are living. He looks around, he sees injustice, violence, and he's been crying out to God, God, you've got to do something about this. And by the way, does that not sound like our day right now?

Right? We want to say, God, do something about all of this violence and injustice. And then he hears God speak to him. God tells him what he's going to do.

Well, he doesn't like what he hears at all. Because what God said is, well, you know those really bad people over there, the Babylonians, I'm going to bring them over to judge my people, to purge them of all this sin. And it's almost as if Habakkuk goes, uh, wait a minute.

That's not what I had in mind. And in fact, God, that doesn't even sound like you. How could you use a more evil people to somehow work in the lives of your less evil people as Israelites? And then God begins to reveal to him what he's done in the past and what he's going to do in the future. And it has one of my very favorite verses in the Bible, where he gives Habakkuk this vision of the future, where he says that the earth is going to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And it begins to fill Habakkuk with hope.

And we get to the last chapter of Habakkuk. And it doesn't say it's a song, but it kind of says it's a song because at the beginning of the chapter, it says, according to Shigianoth. So it's saying, here's the tune you should sing this with. Now, do you know the tune of Shignia? I know you know a lot about music. Well, don't happen to know that tune.

Don't know Shigianoth, no. And then at the very end of the chapter, it talks about four stringed instruments. So we know all of Habakkuk three is a song.

What does he sing about? He says, Lord, we know, we've heard these reports of what you've done before. We know that you judge. And he says, in wrath, remember mercy. But then near the end of that chapter are probably the most familiar verses from the book of Habakkuk, where he says, and isn't this a determination? He knows, think about this. He knows the most evil people in the world, the Babylonians, are about to sweep in to his land, his people. But I figure he knows to his property and his family. Maybe he's gonna lose his family members. Maybe he's gonna lose his own life. And he's looking out at this potentially devastating future.

And what does he say? He says, even though the fig trees have no blossoms and there's no grapes on the vine, even though the olive crop fails and the fields lie empty and barren, even though the flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.

This is an agrarian society. So he is facing losing everything. And yet, as he reviews what God has done in the past and what God has promised to do in the future, and that's the essence of faith. Faith isn't based on what we can see right now in our circumstances. It's based on what God has done in the past, what he's promised to do in the future. And he says, I'm gonna live by faith. And that faith fills him with a joyful confidence as he faces the future.

And I actually think that Habakkuk's prayer is what we need in these days of COVID-19. Because many of us are facing a really unsuiting future. For us, it's not olive trees, but it's savings account. It's losing a job, losing a loved one, losing the plans we had for college this fall.

I mean, whatever it is, right? We're facing such an uncertain future. And because of that, I think that we can take Habakkuk's prayer and give it our own spin.

Can I tell you what that would be like? Maybe we would say, okay, God, even if my income drives up and my savings are gone, even if I face a devastating diagnosis and I lose my dignity in the process, even if my integrity is questioned and my reputation is ruined, yet I will choose daily to be happy in Christ. I will smile at the future because I am protected and provided for in Christ. None of these things is the source of my strength or security, God alone is my strength.

Christ enables me to navigate dangerous and difficult circumstances. That's the prayer of Habakkuk turned into a prayer that we can pray as the Lord gives us grace to do so, that as we face an uncertain future, he will fill us with faith to face it and with joy in the midst of it. And I'm thinking of where we started with people who are in marriages, where they would say, I'm empty, where you use the illustration of putting grief on the stove and when it boils off, there's loneliness left. And I thought part of what boils off is hope. Hope is gone, it's evaporated. And we think, I've got nothing, I'm empty.

And these verses, if you're paraphrasing Habakkuk three in a marriage situation and say, even if this marriage does not bring the joy that I've been longing for it to bring, or even if my spouse desserts me, or even if we can go through the whole litany of what you're living through right now and say, even if these things happen, I'm still gonna hope, I'm still gonna trust, I'm still gonna praise, I'm still gonna turn to you and find my sufficiency and my strength there. It sounds crazy. It does. It really does. I mean, as I was listening to you say that, Nancy, and you know, the song, it was a song. It wasn't just said, it was sang. So there's a sense of real joy in it with no certainty except vertical.

I know vertically my God, and I know it can be trusted. And so I'm thinking of the person that doesn't know that. They really have no hope. It's like, there's no football season. Oh no, what am I gonna do? Well, there's gonna be basketball.

I'm still like, the money will come back. What if none of that works and you keep going horizontal, horizontal, horizontal, and nothing ever changes enough to bring you joy? There has to be a well of joy that's available, and it is. Jesus really is enough.

But my way, if you don't know Him well enough for Him to be the well, it's an empty answer. So I mean, I think we're saying, your book's saying, the gospel is saying, turn your eyes to the only source of hope, the only source of joy. And it's real. I mean, we're all sitting here and we've all experienced pain and empty, and we can all, I think, I'm speaking for all of us, we can say empty is one of the best things I've ever gone through in my life, even though it was horrific. It allowed me to sense the depth of Jesus' real joy. It's real.

And you gotta turn to Him today. And that's what you point us to in the book and in the online study you've done for this. I'm grateful that we've gotten a chance to talk about emptiness. I am too. I can't wait to give this book out to my friends. Nancy, thanks. Thank you so much.

Thanks for being here. We've got copies of Nancy's book, God Does His Best Work with Empty in our Family Life Today Resource Center. Go online at to get a copy or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.

Again, the title of Nancy Guthrie's book is God Does His Best Work with Empty. You can order it from us at or you can call to order 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today.

Let me remind you once again of what we talked about earlier. There is an opportunity for us here at Family Life this month to take advantage of the generosity of some friends of the ministry who have come along and said during the month of December, they will match every donation we receive, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2 million. So we're asking Family Life Today listeners, those of you who are regular listeners, if God has used this program in your life over the last year, if you want Family Life Today to continue to be heard in your community going forward, would you make as generous a year-end contribution as you possibly can, knowing that your donation, whatever it is, is gonna be matched dollar for dollar until we take full advantage of that $2 million matching gift opportunity. You can give online at, or you can give by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. When you do, we wanna say thank you by sending you two resources.

One is my book, Love Like You Mean It, all about 1 Corinthians 13 and how these qualities described in that passage need to be a part of every marriage relationship. And then we also wanna send you a flash drive, a thumb drive that you can insert in your computer, more than 100 Family Life Today programs from the last 28 years that really the best of family life today, programs on marriage, on parenting, on extended family relationships, some great stories, great guests we've had, programs that feature Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Dave and Ann Wilson. That flash drive, along with my book, Love Like You Mean It, those are our year-end thank you gifts when you make a donation today.

Go to to donate or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and thanks in advance for your support here at year-end. Now tomorrow, we're gonna talk about how important it is for our interactions with our children to be full of grace. Our speech needs to be seasoned with grace. William Smith is gonna join us to help us figure out how we do a better job of that, and I hope you can tune in for that conversation. I wanna thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Bob Lapine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life of Little Rock, Arkansas, a crew ministry. Help for today, hope for tomorrow.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-17 15:12:36 / 2024-01-17 15:26:16 / 14

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