What Does a Christian Marriage Look Like?

Part 4

As I revealed in Part 3, my husband and I heard Gary Thomas speak at a retreat on Sacred Marriage a few years ago. Two of the ideas he put forth changed our marriage. Today we’ll cover the second idea. When we can grasp this and keep it in our minds we will treat each other differently. Respectfully. Valuing each other. Loving as Christ loved. But when we forget, we get in a “crazy cycle.”

This second idea is simple:

2. View your spouse as God’s own child.

Your first reaction may be, “Well of course I view him that way. We’re all God’s children.” Or maybe, “That’s too simplistic. What difference does that thought make?” Or maybe even, “Lady, I’ve got real problems in my marriage. Tell me some hands-on tips to help.” I understand. We reject easy things because they seem too simple to offer any real help.

But let me share our experience.

As my husband and I drove home from Asheville after that marriage retreat at The Cove, we talked about this concept extensively. On a day-to-day basis we looked at each other as just another human. A person of flesh and blood. A person affected by stress and their own personal issues. A person who sinned and sought God. A person who was often selfish and unkind.

While that is normal, it is not totally accurate. We humans are more than just flesh and blood, thoughts and action, sins and good deeds. We are spiritual creatures created in the image of God. Not just my husband and I, but you every person on this earth (saved and 69001-creationofadammichelangelodetail-wikimedia.1200w.tnunsaved, American or from any other nation, male and female, and people of every race) bears the Imago Dei. This image of God in us is a reflection of His divine nature and unique characteristics and qualities that make us different from any other living creature. We are rational, creative, self-aware, and able to go beyond what seems physically possible all because we were made in the image of God. (Check out this article from Christianity.com for further info.)

 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27

 

On top of that, we who claim to be Christ-followers, Christians, have become adopted children of God Almighty. We become children of God at the time of our salvation and are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ Himself. You are God’s child. Your Sunday school teacher is God’s child. Your grocery store clerk who knows Christ is God’s child. That co-worker who knows Christ is God’s child. And Your husband or wife who is a believer is God’s child too, just like you.

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:7

So God not only made your husband in His image, your husband is also God’s little boy whom He loves dearly.

Now think for a minute as if God were a human walking this earth. The day you wed, you married the son of someone very important! God’s very own child. God became your father-in-law on that day. God, who knows all,  because He’s omniscient you know, knows how you teat His child. He knows when you’re kind and considerate toward him and when you’re… not. He knows when you use your mouth to pray for him and when you use it to shout at him. He knows when your heart is hateful toward him or tender. Your father-in-law is aware of your behavior and thoughts. And He is a very important person. He is the God of the universe, the One who created you!

As my husband and I talked through this whole concept I began to feel small and embarrassed. It was one thing just to be fussing at a man, but I had been fussing at God’s child! I had been discouraging God’s child by my words and behavior. I had belittled God’s child and wounded him and not supported the ministry God had given him, and I had not forgiven him when he wounded me. How could I of flesh and blood presume not to forgive God’s child when Father God had forgiven me so great a debt! As we allowed ourselves to meditate on this idea, and this concept to deeply resonate through us it was extremely humbling. It was a behavior-changing moment.

The next few weeks after we returned home found my husband and I behaving more gently, lovingly, and circumspectly toward each other. The problem with us humans, is that we that we are sinful and selfish by nature, and we are forgetful hearers. We hear a lesson from God’s mouth through a godly speaker straight to our heart. We are intent on learning it. However, we shortly forget and fall back into our sinful, selfish habits.

The good news is this: The Father wants us to live a new life even more than we want to for ourselves. So Father God sends us reminders of those lessons we learned and forgot. I get regular reminders that my Sweetie is God’s precious little boy, and I am humbled once again and reminded to treat my Man as the Beloved of the Father, an important Son of the King of Kings, and not just as any ole piece of flesh that we humans so easily disregard and devalue. No matter how old they are or what they did or didn’t do – they are God’s dear child.

In light of these thoughts I encourage you to write this idea down if needed and think on it. It will change the way we treat our spouses when we remember that 1) they are created in God’s image and 2) they are God’s very own little child. As our thoughts change, our behavior toward that mate will change as well.

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What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Part 3 – Happiness & Holiness

From the day of the wedding it is obvious. We’re different, husbands and wives that is. The picture above sums it up nicely without 1,000 words – we wear the white gowns and they the black tuxes. But that’s just the beginning of the differences. They build relationships by shared activity, we women more often by… you know the answer, … talking. They want just the facts, we have to share the whole story. They see the world through a totally different paradigm. That doesn’t make them wrong and us right, nor vice versa. It makes us, together, a great team with differing strengths, perspectives, and ideas, equipped by the Father to do the work He has prepared in advance for us to do.

However, it can be difficult to appreciate the differences when you are each coming at the same dilemma from two opposite points of view, and neither of you wants to give in. This is often the downfall of married couples. We begin to see decisions, trials, and everyday difficulties, home repairs and such, as battlegrounds where we fight to have our way. We can become more interested in gaining ground and having the power balance leaning in our favor, than in working toward a resolution, in compromising, and in being unified in living out Christ’s purpose for our marriage. We struggle to find that elusive happiness in marriage that all the Disney princess movies seemed to promise. That “happily ever after” that was supposed to be marriage.

Several years ago my husband and I heard Gary Thomas speak at a retreat on Sacred Marriage. The ideas he put forth that weekend greatly impacted our perspective on marriage. Specifically two really big take-away concepts. (The first one I’ll cover today.) When we can grasp them and keep them in our minds we treat each other differently. Respectfully. Valuing each other. Loving as Christ loved. But when we forget them, we get in that “crazy cycle” that Emerson Eggerichs talks about in His book Love and Respect (a topic for another day). You all know the crazy cycle I’m sure, whether you have read about it or not!

The two ideas we grasped help us to live out a marriage with a spirit of unity, living in one accord on a daily basis. The first idea is this:

  1. What if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than to make us happy?

So let me ask you, what IF God put you in that difficult marriage to make you holy? Are you willing to live it walking hand-in-hand with the Father even if it doesn’t make you happy?

When I started contemplating this question it was like I came to a fork in the road. I suddenly had to make a choice, was I willing to be unhappy and not have things always be my way in order to conform to God’s will? This question has since permeated my life beyond my marriage, but we’ll stick to how it relates to our marriages today. Am I more interested in God purifying me and molding me and refining me than I am in my own comfort? Holiness versus comfortable happiness, which would I choose?

Somehow we have let personal happiness become an idol in our lives. We Americans are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” right? But in God’s kingdom holiness trumps happiness. Joy and peace are promised in Him, but happiness is not a promise to us.

Happiness is a state of well-being and contentment based on external happenings: success, wealth, having friends, pleasurable or satisfying experiences. Happiness is a temporary feeling that can quickly be supplanted by negative experiences.

But holiness is an expectation for us of our Creator. Holiness is an attribute of God alone. It is His purity and perfectness and rightouesness in all He is and does that is unattainable in humans unless His Spirit is living in us. It is that set-apartness of God. In us holiness is that other-ness obedient Christians embody.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27

 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

This way of looking at our spouse (as part of God’s refining process for us) is probably very different than the average church-goers’ view. It is definitely different than the secular viewpoint. But when I choose, as a wife (or husband), to be more concerned about the personal holiness God is working in my heart than about my own temporary happiness, my marriage benefits greatly. My marriage becomes a reflection of Christ. It is a high calling. And it is not easy. What will we choose today?

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What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Part 2

Today, as we continue our look at the hopes and reality of a Christian marriage, prompted by a look at the married couple in the movie Overcomer, we have a singular focus:

Prayer.

One really sweet thing about the movie Overcomer is how it portrays the couple praying together. We see them as people who pray for their own heart and for each other, but also as intercessors for others God brings into their lives. The example set by the movie in this regard is both encouraging and a realisitic example of how to live – if a couple takes the personal initiative and follows the prompting of the Spirit to live this way.

Prayer is a paradox. It is at once an elementary thing, simply talking to God, yet, at the same time it can feel extremely complicated. Any 3-year-old can offer a genuine prayer on behalf of one they love, while we mature, educated, Christian adults often stammer and stall when trying to voice a prayer. At some point in our life, most of us have dreaded praying out loud, probably because of a fear that others listening will think we’re not doing it correctly. But even in our personal prayer life, in those unspoken heart prayers, we may struggle. We may feel at a loss for what to even pray. Our desperation, fear, and need may leave us without words. We may grow weary and give up while waiting for the Father’s timing of His answer. We may pray words in doubt and worry, rather than in faith. We may feel as I’ve often heard others express, that “my prayers didn’t seem to be getting past the ceiling.” The good thing is that they don’t have to get past the ceiling! God is not “up there.” His Holy Spirit is in your heart. He hears.

In the early years of my marriage I felt awkward praying out loud with my husband. I’d been raised a Christian, but prayer had always been private. I struggled to know how to open up to that deep intimacy with God and my husband together. I guess I worried that my husband would see the real, sinful, selfish me if he heard my earnest prayers to the Father, because folks I just get real and talk with God. None of the thees and thous and have-your-own-ways. I just talk like it is my real, fleshly daddy I’m talking to. I have been known to ask God to straighten that person out, to tell the Father how mad I am at someone, or even to gripe about my disappointments with my husband! Not the kind of talk that I wanted my young love to hear. Therefore, I would typically allow him as “the spiritual leader” – at least that was my excuse – to pray first and then I would rubber stamp it with a “me too Lord” kind of prayer.

But through the years as my husband has gotten to know the real me and not just the facade I put up so he would want to marry me, I have opened up in praying aloud with him. And what a blessing it is! He hears my heart’s desire poured out to the Father and joins me in agreement. He is strengthened by hearing what I pray for him as he heads out to work or faces a tough decision or struggles with change. I’ve learned to pray for him just like I pray for myself, and he encourages me when he does the same. We’ve prayed through many a family crisis with tears pouring. We’ve prayed and fasted together for spiritual changes in our children, and we’ve seen God move dramatically. We’ve prayed joyful, laughter-through-tears prayers of celebration and rejoicing. We’ve faithfully interceded side by side for our church body and leaders, our friends and family, and many, many sick, grieiving, hurting, broken lives that are dear to us. Our prayer life has become a rich, valuable facet of our marriage. I treasure it so much that I didn’t even grouch at him this week when he woke me up at 5:20 before going to work to pray over some things going on around us.

arabic-belief-black-and-white-1487953Below are a few concepts to keep in mind about praying with your spouse and 4 powerful portions of scripture that have been the foundation of my belief in prayer as a key component of a healthy marriage.

1 – Intercede for your spouse. Pray for him on your own. In depth. Specifically. Pray scripture. I daily pray Proverbs 3 for my Sweetie. (Praying scripture is a powerful way to pray for your husband, because God’s word will accomplish what He desires and achieve His purposes! Isaiah 55:10-11) Pray for his work, his walk with the Lord, your home, his health, his success, his friendships, and anything else you can think of.

2 – Pray in all situations. Pray when you’re worried, in doubt, sick, fearful, needing answers, seeking the Father to act on your behalf or when you’ve sinned and need to come clean and be forgiven. But also pray when you’re happy, thankful, praising Him, and celebrating His goodness. And especially when you are trying to forgive your spouse.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:13-16 NIV

3 – Intercede together for others. There is no better feeling than praying together for God to move and then seeing Him act! You celebrate together and can’t quit talking and reveling in the mighty acts He performed that you got to be a part of together. It is much harder to be selfish and see your spouse as an enemy if you have experienced tangible answers from the Lord to your humble prayers.

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:16-20 NASB

4 – God’s power and presence are multiplied in your marriage when you pray together. God’s ways are not ours. For some reason there is added power through agreement in prayer. And the bonus as we see in the verse above is that He will be “in their midst” – in the middle of you two as a couple. But His presence isn’t there just to keep us from being a meany as a spouse, Ecclesiastes reminds us of the practicality of including God in our marriages.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NASB

5 –  Pray when you don’t have the words. At some time in your life, you have been so broken hearted or confused or desperate that you simply had no words to pray. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will at some point. My first experience with this came through a heart-rending, emotional circumstance with one of my children. My deep grief overwhelmed me. All I could do in my prayers was to call out to Him, “Lord!” My husband was in the same place. When we needed to pray the most – nothing. Looking back on this I learned 2 things.

First, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t pray or don’t know what to say. Romans 8:26-27 tells us,

“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

We don’t have to have human words. We have a translator for those heart prayers that can’t be adequately expressed.

Secondly, we need a community of believers around us. The Christian man and wife are not a self-sustaining island. We are a unit. But we are members of a greater unit – the body of Christ. As such, we need to have our close community who is willing to know us and pray for and with us. (James 5:13-18) I’ll never forget at that crucial point in our life when I couldn’t pray, I went to a ladies meeting where a godly woman prayed a prayer over our family that I didn’t even like. It was one of those whatever-it-takes kind of prayers. Scary! But that prayer of a righteous woman was powerful and effective and was the turning point in our situation. So I encourage you, wife, have your people to pray with. Husband, have yours as well.

Prayer is powerful and effective, not only in the life of an individual Christian, but also for a couple and a family. Our enemy wants to keep us from the work of prayer to make us ineffective as a family unit. Remember his goal – to kill, steal, and destroy. Your emeny is seeking to destroy your marriage, your home, your kids, and the image of Christ your marriage presents to the world. Besides having our Creator in our marriage acting on our behalf when we pray, another benefit of praying together is that we are strengthened as individuals, as Christians, as husband and wife, and we are woven together with God, that third strand to our rope of marriage that makes it strong!

Take time to pray together today. You can’t take the risk of not praying together.

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What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Our life group went to see Overcomer this week. (It’s a really uplifting movie by the way! You should see it.) Although the movie is not about Christian marriage per se, two of the central characters are Christians who are husband and wife. As the storyline has the characters face challenges and oppostion, the audience gets a glimpse of the producers’ concept of Christian marriage, a glance at how this fictional couple interacts and how they handle their family and the stuff of life. Scenes that touched the heart and drew out the tissues. We all left the theater declaring it a great evening out.

But that was not the end of my evening. The 7:15 movie start time got me home way past bedtime for my 58-year-old body. As I was settling in for the night, a random question popped up on my phone. A sweet younger mom who had been at the movie asked, “Is that what a Christian marriage really looks like or is that just Hollywood fluff?” Woah! A valid question, but difficult to answer in a quick text. I told her I’d have to think on it a bit and get back to her. I still haven’t answered. It’s been a couple of days. I guess I’m trying to process it here.

As I viewed the movie, I had identified with the married couple. I laughed at the little mistakes they made that hit too close to home and teared up over the tender moments I could relate to. I identified with that Christian couple on screen. But was it realistic? Or was it more an ideal of what we hope to be as spouses but rarely live up to? Did it project a healthy view of marriage for this younger generation, many of whom haven’t grown up in a home with both parents and therefore don’t have first hand observations of what a Christain marriage is supposed to look like? Or was it sugar-coated and overly idealistic? I won’t make a judgment on that.

But focusing on real life because of my friend’s text, I realized something. More important for me than the movie’s depiction of the marriages of believers was my recognition that I was now the “older woman” of Titus 2:3-5, and I was failing in my God-given role to teach the younger women what I’ve spent my whole married life struggling to learn on my own. Wouldn’t my pain and wisdom learned through the montains and valleys of married life be made somehow more worthwhile if other people benefitted from it without having to go through those same tough mistakes themselves?

What does a real Christian marriage look like?

I realize that this topic cannot be conquered in one short blog, but perhaps this will be a first in an ongoing look at strengthening marriages and families. It surely goes hand-in-hand with the idea of homebuilding and constructing our lives on the principles of God’s Word that we have been discussing at GFBC this year. For today, let’s touch on a couple of the more important “looks” of a Christian marriage.

 1. Selflessness.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:3-8

I struggle with this verse in my interactions with society in general as I guess we all do. Could I be selfless and let that other person have my parking spot at the mall? Could I rejoice with a co-worker who got the promotion I wanted? Could I let go of my one-upmanship tendancies when hanging out with my girlfriends and bragging about what our 18-month-olds are doing, or not doing? Could I let the other person break in line or cut into traffic without it igniting my anger or road rage? Yep, those times are difficult to learn to lay down our self-will.

But those things paled in comparison to learning to lay down my selfish will to my husband! These verses destroy me because they relfect to me the sinful, self-serving wife I really am! I’m more concerned with what he didn’t do than with my own failures. I speak angrily and harshly to him, worse than I would ever speak to my friends. I want my way in the household, and often berate him for NOT doing it my way. Instead of being a humble partner in life, I come at him as bossy and controlling. I must say that in the middle of an argument with my husband I rarely even consider having the mind of Christ. And to humble myself to the point of death for my “Sweetie”! No thank you! Not when I’m in my selfish frame of mind. Now when I’m in my loving mood I might say I’d do anything for him, but that’s a lie. Because when I’m living in my selfish, fleshly state I won’t give an inch!

I truly believe I could spend my whole life working on trying to live out just these 6 verses in my relationship with my husband and never conquer it. I’m to do nothing towards my husband out of selfish ambition or conceit! Nothing! Do I humble myself and value him above myself? Do I put his interests before my own? What a generous way of relating! Do I have the mindset of Jesus when I interact with my husband? Do I serve my husband as Christ served the world, humbly and gently, laying down my life for his?

It takes this selflessness to be able to love unconditionally, and it takes unconditional love to be able to be truly selfless.

Unconditional Love.

beautiful-blur-bridal-256737Our notion of love in American society is often based on movies, books, or Disney fairytales. Outside of the Christian community there is a lack of understanding of what love truly is. Romantic love hyped by Hollwood is seen as true love. Sex is viewed as love. Rarely in modern secular society do you see the idea of laying down your will and your life as a crucial component of real love. Conversely, you often hear, “I just don’t love him anymore; he’s not meeting my needs.”

When it comes to modern examples of agape love (God’s true, genuine love) we have few to none. People want to be served not to serve, we want things our way, we love others as long as they do what is desired, and we get angry when others dissppoint or let us down. To have a healthy marriage based on unconditional love we have to go against the flow of society and grasp the teachings of Jesus that seem so contrary to life these days. Ideals that tell us the least will be the greatest, the last will be first, a leader must be the servant of all, to save our life we must lose it, and a man must lay down that life for those he says he loves. A thriving marriage must become an incubator of this kind of authentic, agape love.

We must first, as two autonomous individuals, each choose to love well. We must work on it, practice it, and pray for more of it. As we grow individually in this respect, we will also begin to live that unconditional love out to others: our children, our extended family, friends, acquaintances, and those who have wounded us, our enemies. When we each allow God to work in our hearts to make us love more unconditionally, we will see our marriage becoming a sweet reflection of the sacrificial love of Christ, and it will be a testimony to the world around us and will draw others to Our Savior. The world is looking and longing for that unconditional love of Christ. We as His image-bearers must be vigilant about the picture we are painting of God the Father and His great love for humanity.

Check out what Ephesian 5 has to say about love and marriage:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality,… Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord…. 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, … 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. … 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5 NIV

  • Imitate Christ.
  • Walk in love.
  • Give your self up as a sacrifice to God.
  • Be light, not darkness.
  • Please the Lord.
  • Be careful how you live.
  • Be wise.
  • Make the most of every opportunity.
  • Submit to one another.
  • Love each other.
  • Respect each other.

These things cannot humanly be done. But a heart fully given to Christ is filled with His Holy Spirit and thereby made able to conquer the unwilling flesh.

I challenge each of us this week to love our spouse unconditionally and walk selflessly, putting the interests of our spouse ahead of our own self-interest. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. The cross wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. As we follow in Jesus’ humble servanthood and self-sacrifice, we will be a light in a dark world and an encouragement and role model for those younger women needing to see how Christian marriage works. We will become a living picture of Christ. In today’s cultural lingo, let’s be the icon, the avatar, the meme, or the GIF that diplays a glimpse of Christ for all to see.

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The Gift of Disappointment

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5

I sped into the gravel parking lot. Tires skidding on the grey rocks. Flinging the door open, I bounded out of my minivan. As I looked across the lot, I stopped. A dull ache began in my chest as my eyes landed on an obviously despondent man standing by his truck. This just-shy-of-six-foot, strapping, strong, handsome husband of mine stood with his head hanging, shaking in disbelief. As I got closer I glimpsed the tears dropping, as he looked up I saw the anguish and pain. He was broken. Crushed. Confused. Angry.

After many moments of holding each other. He finally found the words.

“Things didn’t go like I hoped. I thought this would be the answer. I don’t know what to do next.” Every word tinged with despair and discouragement. Disappointment pic

That day still twinges in my soul. But looking at a distance, I realize that moment, that agonizing, heart wrenching moment, marks a pivotal point in our marriage. It was our “miry pit.” The place where you’re sunk so deep in the dredges of disappointment your mind is clouded and you see no way out. You’re stuck. All your failures and shortcomings and foolish choices playing on repeat. And there’s no one who can hit the rewind button; no possibility of a do over. Stuck.

In the days and months and years after I stood in front of my anguished husband, I slowly began to realize the Lord was giving us a gift. The gift of stripping away everything we thought we knew. The gift of realizing our lack. The gift of desperation. He gave us the gift of disappointment. We certainly didn’t understand or appreciate the gift. In fact, we’re still trying to grasp what a precious gift we were given. It took us years to unpack all the lessons we’ve learned. And maybe, well, likely, we’ll be unpacking those lessons for a lifetime. But here are the most vital gifts we opened because of that awful, wonderful day.

sun-heart-autumn-leaf-39379Set Your Heart on Things Above. Disappointment is the result of unmet expectations. We set our hopes on things that are seen instead of things that are unseen. We crave and we desire and want. We are selfish, stubborn creatures. We think if things would just work out the way we think they should. We live in a world of our own making. Always looking to what we wish we had, what is just around the corner that will make us happy or fulfilled. For my husband, it was a failed business venture. His heart was set on what he thought would be the answer to his questions about provision and purpose. When that venture failed, those dreams were lost. His heart was crushed.

We put our hopes in the temporal stuff all the time. If I could just get this position or this degree or this house or this car, or if I could get the relationship I dreamed of, or even if I could just find deep friendships, or if my kids would just obey, then everything will be better. Then I will be happy and fulfilled.

But anytime, every time, we put our hope in anything but in the love of God in Christ, we will be disappointed. Even the best job comes with the tedious and mundane. Stuff breaks and wears. And anytime two sinners are in relationship, whether it’s husband and wife, mother and daughter, or close friendship, you’ve got a sure recipe for disappointment and discouragement. Jesus Christ is the only One whose love will NEVER disappoint you. His love brings truth and confrontation and conviction, so it might not look like the weak, fickle, emotion-focused love our culture has falsely fashioned. But His love is patient, not jealous, not rude, not selfish, not irritable, not resentful, rejoices with truth, bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. HIS LOVE NEVER FAILS. His love gave you the greatest gift of all. LIFE. Not the fragile, fallen life of this temporary place, but the forgiven, forever love of God in Christ. The love that came at the greatest cost.

people-2604165_1280.jpgSet Your Mind on Things Above. When my husband and I fell into that foreboding pit, the only thing we could do was look up. As our heads turned to the light, we saw one beautiful, nail scarred hand reaching down to us. Jesus was the only One who was strong enough to not only drag us out of our pit, but set our feet upon a rock and make our steps secure. (Psalm 40:2)

While Jesus snatched us out of the black hole of disappointment, we found marking our steps on that firm foundation required daily workouts. We realized our most vital weapon was the Word of God. So we’ve made sure, sometimes not so perfectly, that we daily dig deep in the truth. Filling up our pit with truth was the only way we could avoid falling into the dregs again. We learned, and are still learning, how to take every thought captive and bring it into obedience in Christ. From that truth we learned the secret to contentment was depending on Christ for everything. (Philippians 4: 12-13). We learned that admitting our weakness meant depending on Christ and His strength and power. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) We learned that hardships and trials are meant to grow us up in Christ so we lack nothing, and we can find joy in the struggle if we keep an eternal perspective. (James 1:2-4)

That powerful, painful moment in that gravel parking lot. That moment we were thrown into the pit of despair. That moment was truly one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us. The gift of disappointment transformed our relationship with Christ, which transformed our relationship with each other. It is transforming how we view the world (temporary and transient) and how we view God (eternal and essential). It is a discipline to turn our hearts and minds heavenward. But oh how beautiful, how magnificent is the love of God. A God who loves us enough to let us walk through earthly disappointment so we can rest in eternal hope.

Close up of woman hands holding red gift box for special event

Unwrap your gift of disappointment.

 

 

 

 

My Story: Underestimated Peace

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.

by Guest Contributor Lisa Greene

Depending on the season of life, my roles have varied from daughter, sister, mother, wife, school principal, teacher, daycare administrator, missionary, pastor’s wife, and business owner. Through all these roles that God has given me, I have claimed Phil 1:20, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

Those roles are all a part of who I am, but as with all of us, I am sometimes a hidden person on the inside that people never see. Being very blunt, openly honest, I am a naturally negative, sometimes fearful, quite anxious, and a controlling person who has learned some very difficult lessons at the Hand of God. All of these led to a low self-esteem for years, a feeling of never being able to measure up, never being good enough, always fearful that someone might see who I really was on the inside and see how terrible I was. In reality though, it was a sin condition that led to who I was and am on the inside.

It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of God’s peace that I came to understand how His peace could change my life. It’s what I call God’s underestimated peace. It truly is a peace that is far beyond all human understanding, but it is attainable and absolutely necessary for our relationship with God. Just as we sometimes underestimate the power of God, I believe as children of God, we underestimate how God’s peace can change our lives and deepen our relationship with Him.

I wish I could say that my journey to attain God’s peace in my life began at my salvation at the age of 12, but it actually began about 15 years after that. During that time in my life I had been blessed with a wonderful husband, two beautiful children, and a church that was supportive and nurturing. God had opened doors and Sam and I were entering full-time ministry on staff at Liberty Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Fl. We were happy, we were following God’s leading in our lives, we were fulfilled. All should have been peaceful, right?

baby-2922564_1920.jpgWhen our children were about 7 and 5 years old, God began to stir my heart to have another child. My husband couldn’t understand this and I will never forget him saying, “We have a girl and a boy, what else could you want?” When I realized he was not going to be a pushover in this area, I became what many of us wives become when we don’t get our way – a nagging, whiny, selfish woman – like the woman that Proverbs 21 talks about – “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a contentious woman in a wide house.” I began to back my husband into a corner, trying to play God. He in turn was not swayed by any of my whiny, manipulative ways! Our home, my heart, during that time was anything but peaceful.

I was discontent, not thankful for what God had already given me, filled with worry that God would not give me what I asked for. Little did I know how much more He wanted to give me, but He knew I had lessons to learn before He could give me more. At around the same time, I was asked to participate in leading a Bible study at our church. The study was on being a content woman of God! You talk about a struggle! Praise God, it was through that study I learned about God in a way that I had never seen Him before. He became my ENOUGH! He became my FULLNESS! He became my ALL! For the first time, I took complete ownership for my relationship with God. Though my husband was the spiritual leader of our home, I learned that I was accountable to God for my own spiritual growth and relationship with Him. Most of all, I learned contentment.   It was during this time that I claimed another verse in Philippians that God used to help me realize that I was worthy and He was enough — Phil. 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

This verse began to affect my relationship with God in a way that made me realize that I had worth, I was somebody in God’s eyes, I had a special purpose. Through this time God taught me that He was enough for me AND I could be enough as I was. I did not need to be controlling of my circumstances and those around me, because He was in control. I did not need to be anxious, because He was the Great Provider! Presenting myself to God as a living sacrifice just the way I was became my first step toward the Peace of God.

When His peace came into my life, it came with a contentment. I began to pray God’s will, not mine, and ultimately I began to pray more specifically, “God, if you want us to have another child, please change my husband’s heart. And Lord, if you don’t want us to have another child, please change my heart and take the desire that I have away.” I prayed that prayer for many months, learning more about God’s peace, and the contentment and the perfect rest that comes with it. You see, it wasn’t that God didn’t want me to have the desire of my heart. It was that He knew I needed to learn to rest in Him and grow in His grace and peace before I could handle what He wanted to give me.

Little did I know how at the same time, God was working in the heart of my husband. One day, out of the clear blue (I had been praying, but not talking to him about it) he came and said, “I think we should have another child!” In March of the following year God gave us a son. Two years later he gave us the daughter that would complete our family of six.

PeaceThrough this time in my life I learned what God’s peace really is. How it demonstrated itself inside of me was life-changing. It is a PEACE that passes all human understanding. It is a PEACE that is possible regardless of circumstances (in us OR around us). It is a PEACE that dispels all negativity. It is a PEACE that comes to those who ask for it and believe. It is a PEACE that produces a rest within us. It is a PEACE that triumphs over fear and anxiety. It is a PEACE that proclaims God’s power and God’s presence.

Just as I have come to learn what God’s peace is, I have come to understand how my worry is an actual affront to Almighty God. Worry is me saying that I don’t think God can handle it! As the Psalmist David said, “Lord, when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” (Ps. 56:3). Worry is simply being afraid – of the future, of the past, of the present. We can have victory over the worry that often claims us by using the weapons of warfare that God has equipped us with.

In Tony Evans’ book, Prayers for Victory in Spiritual Warfare, he states that we have to put on the shoes of PEACE to combat Satan, and have victory over fear and anxiety. When we trust in Him, He exchanges our fears for His PEACE. We put on the shoes of peace by trusting in His presence and power and seeking Him in the midst of our fear and anxiety. Dr. Evans further explains by saying,

“I put on the shoes of PEACE by humbling myself. I recognize my inadequacy and my lack of control. Much of fear stems from a need for control, but ultimately I do not control anything. Being anxious on an airplane does not keep it in the sky. Being fearful of ill-health does not keep me healthy. Being afraid that my marriage or relationships will deteriorate does not keep them strong. This is because ultimate control is in His hands, and no matter what happens, He will use it for good when we love Him. Humility allows me to acknowledge that He knows better than I do.”

It was a difficult season in my life but one of the most rewarding times of growth in my relationship with God. By humbling myself to His authority, I gained His peace as a companion in my spiritual walk. I can claim I Peter 5:6-7 (“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the Mighty Hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”) as a promise that He has fulfilled in my life. I have lived it, and continue to live it and claim it each day. Some days, some trials, some valleys, are easier to claim it in that others, but through the lessons of the past I am reminded of His promise.

When God closes a door, it is this PEACE that reminds me that He is in control. When I face struggles in relationships, it is this PEACE that reminds me that I am His, wonderfully made and created in love. When financial difficulties come, it is this PEACE that triumphs over my fear and anxiety to remind me that He is my Provider and He has a plan to prosper me. When I lost two brothers last year within six months of each other, it was this PEACE that brought me through the valley of despair and reminded me that I have a Heavenly Father whose loving arms are always open wide.

We have no excuse as believers to not live a life of peace. We have been given every tool we need to conquer negativity, dispel the darkness around us, and defeat Satan. The Word of God has been given to us full of promises that, if we live and abide in them, will lead us into a peaceful relationship with our Heavenly Father where we can rest in His loving arms. David, the Psalmist, in Psalm 4, so sweetly pictures it for us, “I will both lay me down in peace and rest, for thou, Lord, makes me dwell in safety.” By allowing the peace of God to rule our hearts and minds, we are able to present ourselves to our Heavenly Father as believers of faith and love, always confident in His power and keeping.

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I will both lay me down in peace and rest, for thou, Lord, makes me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8