Fill Me Lord!
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Nancy GuthrieNancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her home church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, as well as at conferences around the country and internationally, including through her Biblical Theology Workshops for Women. She is the author of numerous books and the host of the ...more
Do you ever feel depleted, hopeless, or empty? Dave and Ann Wilson talk with Nancy Guthrie about her book, “God Does His Best Work With Empty,” discussing how God has the power to make us whole.
Fill Me Lord!
Bob: I think we’d all agree: “It’s been quite a year.” A lot of us may be feeling spiritually stagnant about now; Nancy Guthrie has a prescription for us.
Nancy: Maybe you’re angry with God, and you’ve just set your Bible aside; or maybe you’ve tried opening it, and you think, “Okay; that’s not speaking to me today; and besides, I can’t even understand it.”
Don’t think that you can somehow move through this on your own. I’m telling you—you need manna, and the manna you need is to hear God’s Word—to take it, and to chew on it, and to digest it, and let it work into your life—it will begin to change your feelings, which is what we need so desperately.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 7th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Could you use a spiritual realignment? I think a lot of us could about now. We’ll get one today from Nancy Guthrie. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There have been times in our marriage/times in raising our kids, where I have felt on top of things—like I’ve felt, “Okay; we’re in a groove. Things are going good. I got this; it’s working.”
Dave: And how long did that last? [Laughter]
Bob: That’s a great question; because there have been plenty of times, where I just am like, “I got nothing here. I am empty; I don’t know what I’m doing. This is not working.” And you wonder, “How do I rally in the midst of all this?”
Ann: I think that word, “empty,” is something many of us feel/I think most of us feel IT at some time—probably all of us. It’s a hard place to be, because it feels like an emptiness of your soul; you’re not sure how to get out of that. I’m not sure my husband has felt that often, though.
Dave: What are you talking about?
Ann: I feel like you’re always full!
Dave: I think I pretend. You don’t want to go to empty. If your car is near empty, pull in a gas station; let’s fill up. You want to live, at least, three quarters full, if not
completely full. When you’re in a state in your life—as a husband/as a dad—and you’re feeling real empty, I think you cover it up; because that’s not a place you want anybody to know you are really deep down in your soul.
Bob: I hate to even go here right now.
Dave: Why are you smiling right now?
Bob: Because you brought up the car, and this is something Mary Ann and I are dealing with; okay? I need your help on this. [Laughter] I think the best time to fill up the car—
Ann: Oh, no.
Bob: —is when the light comes on.
Ann: This is my husband.
Bob: Because this means you have to fill it up less frequently. You wait until it’s down; you’re more efficient in the use of your time. You wait until you’re down to the last gallon or two.
Dave: Here’s the question: “Have you run out?”
Ann: Wait, wait, wait.
Bob: If I’ve run out, it was when I was a teenager. In our married life, we’ve never been on the side of the road, looking, because I ran out of gas. There have been some times when the red light’s been on, and it’s been a long time, and I’ve been praying a lot. [Laughter] There have been times, when I’m driving along, and I’ll act like it’s out of gas; because Mary Ann is worried about it.
Ann: Oh, Bob! That’s terrible.
Bob: I’ve done that.
Mary Ann thinks—we’ll be in her car, and she’ll go, “Oh, I need to fill up my car,”—and I’ll look; and I’ll go, “It’s just under half.” She goes, “Yes! It’s time to fill it up!”
Dave: I wish I could say I’ve never run out of gas since I’ve been married, but we have.
Ann: We were on a freeway in California/six-lane freeway. We had gone to a wedding—high heel shoes—midnight; we run out of gas. This has happened many times.
Dave: No, it has not! It’s happened once; that’s the only time.
Bob: I’m sorry we got us off on this.
Dave: Why are we talking about this?
Bob: We’re talking about this because we—
Bob: —we brought up empty, and you brought filling up the tank.
Nancy Guthrie is joining us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Nancy: Thank you. So glad to be here.
Dave: I think she’s run out of gas before. [Laughter]
Nancy: I think we need to take a break for some marriage counseling, Bob.
Ann: That’s why you’re here, Nancy! [Laughter]
Bob: You have written a book called God Does His Best Work with Empty. The emptiness you’re talking about is not our gas tanks.
Nancy: It is not! [Laughter]
Bob: It’s the emptiness we experience in our soul from time to time.
Nancy: Absolutely, as Ann was talking about.
It was interesting to me, as I was writing this book, and I would tell people the title—most often, the most common response I got from people was, “Mmmm,”—that sense of identification—like, “Maybe, I haven’t used that word; and yet, that seems to capture how I feel in the deepest part of my soul.”
Ann: What prompted you to write this, Nancy?
Nancy: The way this began was—my husband and I hold weekend retreats for couples who have lost children. We began those about 11 years ago in 2009. At one point in that weekend, sitting in that circle—it will be me with about 10 or 11 other couples—I look around in that circle; and I say to them, “I know that right now your world is full of emptiness: there is an empty bedroom at your house; there is an empty place in your schedule, an empty place in the family photo, an empty place at the dinner table. You’re so aware of the emptiness. You look at this empty place in your life, and you see it as your greatest problem. What I want you to know is that that’s not how God sees it! When God looks at your life, and He sees the empty place, He sees it as His greatest opportunity; because God does His best work with empty.”
In fact, that’s always what He has done. If you think about the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and it was formless and—
Nancy: Was that a problem for God?—not at all! We read the rest of Genesis 1; what happens?—He fills in with light and life, and beauty and abundance, and relationship, and purpose and meaning. From the very beginning of the Bible, we see that God does His best work with empty as He fills it.
As you continue the story of the Bible, you get to this very important point, that God has called this one man, Abraham/Abram at that point to Himself. Just before we meet Abram, we read about him. There is a problem: his wife, Sarai—it says she is barren; she had no children—her womb is empty. We hardly know how to make sense of this when we think about the promises that God has made to Abram—that they’re going to have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. But, once again, God does His work. At 90 years old, her womb is filled with a child they name Isaac, which means laughter. What does God do?—He works in the emptiness this good work and fills their lives with so much joy.
In a sense, this promised child in her womb is really just a shadow of another womb; it’s empty—not because she is old—but empty because she’s never been with a man. An angel comes to her. Just as the Spirit hovered at creation, the angel says to this young woman Mary that the Holy Spirit is going to overshadow her. And what’s going to happen?—her womb is going to be filled with the very life of God.
Over and over again, in the Bible, we see that God works in empty. Here we are—thinking that it’s up to us to gather up some stuff to bring to Him that He can work with—but He is a Creator God. He creates something/everything out of nothing; He works with empty.
I remember the very first time I said that at one of our respite retreats. Afterwards, my husband/he was like, “I don’t know where that came from, but that’s a book!” For 11 years it wasn’t, and now it is. What I’ve done in the book, I’ve just traced the story through the Bible. I’ve given you kind of a couple steps into it.
But don’t we see again and again—the story of Naomi and Ruth—she uses this word, if you remember. Do you remember that?—Naomi comes back. When she left, their stomachs were empty; but her family was full. She returned; she’s lost her husband and two sons. She can’t even see the gift that she’s been given in this daughter-in-law, Ruth, who’s come home with her. She says to her friends, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara; my life is so bitter.” She says, “I went away full, and I’ve come back empty.”
Then we start getting these hints of how God intends to do His work in her emptiness. Then, once again, when she [Ruth] goes to the threshing floor, she comes home with a scarf full of grain. The story ends—and there is Naomi, who was so sure that her life was only empty/only call her “bitter”—and her arms are full. Her arms are full with a descendant, and one who’s going to be—it says that he’s Obed; and Obed is going to be the father of Jesse; and Jesse is going to be the father of David, the king, who’s going to fill the need of this nation for a leader/the kind of leader that God wants for His people.
I could go on and on. There’s just so many pictures throughout the Bible that we realize: “God keeps on doing His work in the empty place.”
Bob: When you and David were grieving the loss of your daughter, and then the loss of your son—your kids lived for less than a year, both of them—I can’t imagine the emptiness that must have been there for you and the wondering if there would ever be joy or life again in your soul.
Nancy: Before that loss, I had been filling my life with God’s Word. If we don’t have that/if we don’t have that to hold onto—when everything is so hard, and so dark, and so empty—you can feel hopeless. I feel grateful that I came into that with a foundational understanding of who God is.
For me, that meant the key things about who He is in that situation: was that He’s sovereign; this didn’t happen to me, somehow, outside of His control. Then secondly, that He loves me. Just like those Israelites needed manna every day in the wilderness of the world, so we need manna every day to feed on as we make our way in the wilderness of the world.
If there’s anyone, who’s listening to me, who’s experiencing the emptiness of grief or something like that, I would say to you, “You know what? Don’t think that you can somehow move through this on your own,”—that somehow you’re angry with God, and you’ve set your Bible aside—or maybe, you’ve tried opening it; and you think, “Okay; that’s not speaking to me today; and besides, I can’t even understand it.” I’m telling you—you need manna, and the manna you need is to hear God’s Word—to take it, and to chew on it, and to digest it, and let it work into your life and nourish your soul and shape your thoughts. As it shapes your thoughts about who God is, and what He’s doing in this world, it will begin to change your feelings, which is what we need so desperately. We find, as we feed on His Word/with that manna every day, and as He’s shaping our thinking and changing how we’re feeling, that the heaviness of grief begins to lighten.
Bob: I’ve been preaching through John 6, where Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” That’s an allusion back to the manna in the wilderness. In John 6:35, when Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never hunger. He who believes in Me will never thirst.” Mary Ann said, “What does that mean?—never hunger; never thirst. Does that mean, when we come to Jesus, we’re never empty? Does that mean, when we come to Jesus, there is never any lack or want on our part?” What do we do with that?
Nancy: That’s a beautiful passage that we would tie to this story in the wilderness; right? Those people on the hillside did that day—they remembered, “Oh; this is kind of like what happened with Moses in the wilderness,”—Jesus says to them, in a sense, there in John 6, “Yes, you’re right; you’re thinking along the right lines.”
But here was the problem with those people that day, and it’s the problem with you and me sometimes today; and that is, they wanted bread from Jesus and not Jesus as bread. There, on the hillside that day, when He said to them, “I am the Bread of life. I am the Bread the Father has sent from heaven.” Then, when He begins to talk about what it’s going to mean for them, in a sense, to eat this bread—remember what it’s like? They’re all so excited; “We’re going to get free meals!” He says, “No; you’re going to eat My flesh and drink My blood.”
All of a sudden, most of them are out. It’s a very sad scene; isn’t it? It says about them that “Many of them walked away”; it was too much for them. That’s at the point, where—I just love this—Jesus said, “Are you going to leave too?” Peter says, “But where would we go? Only You have the words of eternal life.”
I think you’re getting at something important here, Bob; because it gets to the essence of what it means to never hunger and never thirst. We must, in a sense, eat this Bread of Life, which means feed on Jesus’s atoning death and resurrected life. That’s what it means—that we begin to feed on it now; we begin to sense that God is at work in our emptiness—not yet perfectly, not yet completely, but genuinely—and know that the day is coming when we’ll never feel hungry or thirsty again.
Dave: It makes me think, as I listen to you: “Can a person really experience the fullness and intimacy of Christ without ever being completely empty?” It’s like you can’t really; can you? Can I be healed if I’ve never felt or admitted the real sense of brokenness in my life?
Nancy: I think that’s so important, Dave—when we reckon with this emptiness, and when we refuse to turn to the world to fill it—because isn’t that so much of what we do? We fill it with the internet; and we fill it with alcohol; and we fill it with food; and we fill it with busyness; and we fill it with accomplishment.
Dave: —or a person.
Nancy: —or another person; exactly.
Dave: —a marriage.
Nancy: But instead, when we come to the place, where we go, “Wow; I feel empty. Where am I going to turn for the filling that I know that I need?” As we allow that emptiness to turn us upward—to focus us into God’s Word and to focus us up on Jesus Christ—and say, “You know what? There’s so many other things I can turn to, but I want You to fill my emptiness. Your kindness, Your love, Your grace—I need You to fill my life with meaning, not something I can make happen on my own.”
Ann: I think my greatest sense of emptiness—that same feeling—was when I lost my best friend and sister. She was only 45; she had four sons that ranged from 11 to 20. By the time she was diagnosed, she passed away within five months of lung cancer. I was devastated; I had never experienced an emptiness like that.
I remember, I was angry with God. All the prayers that I was praying—that she would be healed on this earth—hadn’t happened. I felt like He had abandoned me in so many ways, and her kids, and her husband. In my emptiness, I had cried out; but I was so angry that I started filling my life with other things—exactly what you were saying. I was eating more. I didn’t even want to listen to Christian music at first.
And yet, the emptiness then became so excruciating that I knew: “I need to turn to my Father.” It is so interesting—when we come to the Father/we say, “I have nothing; I have nothing,”—I was honest in saying to God—“I feel like You haven’t answered me. I feel like You haven’t talked to me. I feel like You’ve been distant. But I need You so desperately that I can go nowhere else to be filled.” The things I was doing—they were not filling me in the least. In fact, it made me feel worse: I felt fat; I felt shame. I felt like, “Ohhh; this is terrible.”
Nancy, you’re saying, when we go to God and say, “I have nothing”; He’s saying, “I can do My best work in that.”
Nancy: Absolutely; He says, “This is not the end; this is the beginning. Now, as you open yourself up to Me, I will fill you up with the very best things! As you refuse to allow yourself/for your life to be filled with all of the less-than-the-best things, I will fill you up. I will come in; I will work; I will show you My grace; I will show you My kindness; I will fill your life with meaning, and purpose, and faith, and joy.” The reason we know He can do that is because we can see that He’s done it again, and again, and again.
Dave: You get to Philippians 2. You find out the reason God can do that in us is because Paul tells us Jesus emptied Himself; right?—He takes that same word and says, “I’m going to let it all go so that you can be full.”
Nancy: He poured Himself out on the cross; didn’t He? Even now, He intends to pour Himself into us.
Dave: Walking through the valley with Ann, when her sister died—it really was the woman who led her to Christ/her best friend—I watched her be empty. We’d go to church and weep when we sang worship—couldn’t even sing—just wept. I remember getting to a point, maybe nine months/a year in, after she died, thinking, “I don’t know if my wife will ever come back to her full self.”
Then I watched what she just told you; I watched her dig in the Word. She knew God; she just needed to see Him again and know that He was good and with her. I remember, one day, I was in the kitchen; she was out in the garage. I heard her laugh; I can feel it right now. I remember going, “I haven’t heard her laugh in two years.” It was a belly laugh; I’m like, “She’s going to make it. God’s going to get her through this”; and she has.
I would just say, “If you’re in that valley, God is going to bring laughter.”
Ann: I think this would be a great time, if you’re feeling that emptiness—if you take a sponge, and it hasn’t been used or had water put on it in a long time—you can scrape it with your thumbnail or fingernail and hear it go [scraping sound]. I thought, “That’s what my heart felt like.” But then I take God’s Word—and if you like put a drop of water on it once a week—it doesn’t do anything for a little drop—sometimes that’s what we do at church: “Oh, I got a little Word at church.” But when you start to put a drop, and a drop, and a drop, suddenly that sponge fills back up; and it becomes soft. I realized, “My heart is coming alive again. God’s Word is filling me. I still don’t have all the answers.” Yet, I felt a fullness that I had never really experienced before.
What if we committed—like, “God, I’m going to be in Your Word every day so that my heart is soft, so that Your Word comes alive”? And His Word will never return void; it will always take root in our hearts, and it will fill us.
Bob: I think there are a lot of us, at the end of 2020, who are feeling the emptiness/the loneliness for a lot of reasons. This is a book that will bring, not just comfort, but help for a lot of people. The book is called God Does His Best Work with Empty by Nancy Guthrie. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the title is God Does His Best Work with Empty by Nancy Guthrie. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Bob: In addition to your donation being matched, dollar for dollar, we want to send you a couple of thank-you gifts when you make a yearend donation. You’ll receive a copy of my book, Love Like You Mean It, which came out this year. It’s all about what biblical love looks like in a marriage relationship. We’re going to send you a flash drive/a thumb drive that has more than 100 of the very best FamilyLife Today programs from the last 28 years—programs on marriage, family, parenting; programs featuring Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Dave and Ann Wilson, some of the guests we’ve had through the years.
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Tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with Nancy Guthrie about where we turn when we are empty/when we’re lonely. We’re going to talk about how important it is to turn to God first rather than trying to find life somewhere else. Nancy will be back with us tomorrow. I hope you’ll be back as well.
I want to 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 Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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