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Sunday, June 28, 2015

3 Keys to a marriage that sustains love 

I'm concluding my Faith, Hope & Love Series today with a post about love.

Sitting down to write this post I feel the difficulty of the task before me.

How do you write a single post about love in marriage that isn't a 10,000 word treatise, a theological expose' or a concise summary filled with trite sayings?

Impossible? Maybe. But here's my shot at it.

The Greatest is Love

Recall the scriptural basis for this series:

"Now faith, Hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13

The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 describes in great detail what love should look like. Most of us are well-acquainted with the words of the famous love chapter. Love is patient, kind and believes for the best. It is never jealous or rude or selfish.

I'm madly in love with my wife, yet I sometimes lose patience, say unkind things and behave selfishly. So to me, love is more than a set of good behaviors. It is possible to love deeply and yet fail miserably at showing it from time to time.

There must be more to love than "doing the right things."

Advice From A Prison Cell

I don't usually take marriage advice from people who have never been married. I make one notable exception, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and staunch anti-Nazi dissident. The latter caused his imprisonment and eventual execution while he was engaged to his beloved Maria.

From prison, Bonhoeffer wrote to his niece, engaged to his best friend, on the event of their wedding, which he was unable to attend due to his imprisonment. Among other advice contained in his "Marriage Sermon from Prison," he wrote this:
It is not your love that sustains the marriage,
but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
We have all heard the adage, "Love is more than a feeling." Here, Bonhoeffer takes that notion one step further. He is saying that we cannot count on the feelings of love to carry our marriage through. Feelings can be fickle and deceiving. But he adds to that the notion that love must be sustained, and what sustains love, according to Bonhoeffer, is your marriage.

It is marriage, that supernatural holy covenant union of two becoming one before God and man, that keeps love alive.

A Marriage That Sustains Love?

How do you ensure that your marriage sustains the love in your relationship? Sustaining love comes down to a daily choice - actually multiple choices - to serve and bless each other, even when you don't feel like it.

While there are dozens of ways to keep your love strong, here are three keys that will take you a long way toward lasting love.

1) See your marriage and your spouse as gifts from God.

Rather than look at your marriage as a problem (or set of problems) to be solved, focus and be thankful for the good parts. Even in the most difficult marriages, there are small gems that you can dig out if you look for them. Whatever you focus on will grow, so focus on the good stuff. It's not living in denial to be thankful for to good in your marriage and in your spouse. You can be thankful and still work on the  problems - the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a thankful attitude will actually do more to smooth out the troubled parts than will a bitter, resentful attitude.

2) Believe that you are one flesh, and live that way

Your marriage is not a competition, so don't look at it that way. Instead, remember that when you got married, you and your spouse actually became one. The notion of two becoming one is what the Apostle Paul describes as "a great mystery." Even if it doesn't feel like it, you two are one, so why not enjoy the benefits of being one with your spouse.

When you start to live in the reality of your oneness, score-keeping, battles for control and retribution make no sense. When you believe that you are one, self-focus gives way to other-focus and couple-focus. For more implications of what it means to enjoy the fruit of the one flesh reality you share, see "What If You and Your Spouse Really Are One?"

Are you afraid that being one means giving up your individuality? It doesn't mean that at all.  Read my "One Flesh: Unity and Individuality" post, and set your mind at ease.

3) Relentlessly Pursue Each Other Every Day

Never stop pursuing each other. Never. Jenni and I have just celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary, but we both know that we still need to pursue each other. Every day.

The problem most people have with pursuit is that we tend to pursue our spouse in the way we want to be pursued. That rarely works out well, because men and women tend to define pursuit differently. In order to pursue well, you have to become a student of your spouse. It takes some effort and a bit of trial and error, but there is a huge payoff!  The payoff is a marriage that sustains love and passion.

Pursuing your spouse says to him or her, "I still choose you." It also says, "I am willing to do whatever it takes to have you and to keep you."

For more on pursuing your spouse, see my posts on relentless pursuit for husbands and for wives.

What would you add to these three keys that sustain love? What do you do to ensure that your marriage sustains the love in your relationship? Leave a comment.

Related Reading:

Monday, June 8, 2015

Transformational change doesn't happen until you change the way you think.

We are focusing on hope in marriage as part of my "Faith, Hope and Love" series.  In my last post we looked at how hope is more than mere wishful thinking.
True hope is the confident expectation that God will move on your behalf in order to satisfy your heart's desires, rescue you from difficulty or guide you to fulfill your destiny.
But how do we get from the wishful thinking kind of hope to the confident expectation kind of hope?

Getting a hold of true hope starts with changing how you think.

What You Think Matters

Here is an important fact about why what you think makes a big difference. Your brain tends to automatically filter and discount anything that doesn't line up with what you believe.
  • When you believe that your marriage is hopeless, it won't matter what your spouse does, you are going to see everything through the filter of hopelessness.
  • If you believe your spouse will never change, you will automatically discount any effort they make toward positive change.
  • If you believe your spouse is completely selfish, any selfless act will be met with skepticism and accusation about their motivation
  • If you believe God doesn't care about your marriage, you will miss seeing the hand of God move on behalf of your marriage.
  • If you believe you will never have the kind of intimacy you desire, you will miss every opportunity for you and your spouse to move closer to each other.
It is also true that when you chose to believe good things about your spouse and your marriage, you are much more likely to see them when they happen. You see, our brains also have a tendency to identify things that do line up with our belief system.

Start Simply

My daughter was recently going through a hard time, battling pain and hopelessness over a difficult circumstance. In processing things in prayer, the Lord revealed to her the only two questions she was to focus on in this troubled season.
  1. Do you believe I am good?
  2. Do you believe I am for you?
We (okay I) can have tendency to complicate things. Truthfully, it is much better for us to grab tightly to a few essential truths rather than to grapple loosely with dozens of truths.

So when you are trying to change the way you think, pick one or two areas where you sense that your thinking isn't in line with the truth. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to shine a light of truth into your heart. He will. God is a good Father. He longs to impart hopeful truth to your heart.

If you aren't comfortable listening to the Holy Spirit, or don't believe you can hear from God, start with the two truths my daughter was challenged to focus on:
  1. God is good and only has good intentions toward you
  2. God is for you and for your marriage
Don't Settle For Less Than Fullness

Maybe you don't have a general sense of hopeless about your marriage, but there may be specific areas of your relationship where you have set aside hope, where you have settled for less than fullness in your marriage.  A lackluster or non-existent sex life, financial struggles, in-law troubles, health issues, or lack of emotional intimacy.

Wherever there is hopelessness in your life and marriage, God wants to restore hope. I strongly encourage you to find a few simple truths that you can press fully into in a way that you start to change the way you think.

I recently came across a short video that beautifully expresses what it means to hope in God.  Here are a few quotes:
  • There are no hopeless circumstances only hopeless people. 
  • God always partners with someone who has hope.
  • The people who made a difference in the Bible were unreasonably optimistic.
You'll find the video of this very encouraging little three minute message on my Facebook page. Be sure to like my page while you are there!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

True hope is the confident expectation that God will move on your behalf in order to satisfy your heart's desires, rescue you from difficulty or guide you to fulfill your destiny.

Today we move from Faith to Hope, the second part of the trilogy of 1 Corinthians 13:13
Now faith, Hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest is love.
(In case you missed them, here are my first two posts in this series: "Faith in Your Spouse" and "Faith In Your Marriage.")

Faith and hope are inextricably linked. Faith gives legs to our hopes.

Here is how faith and hope are linked Hebrews:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 NIV

What is Hope?

Sometimes we cheapen hope by equating it with wishful thinking. "I hope it doesn't rain today." Even a nice sentiment such as "I hope my marriage gets back on track" doesn't really ring with the kind of hope we have in God.

Hope, as we understand it from a biblical perspective, is altogether different than wishful thinking. True hope is the confident expectation that God will move on your behalf in order to satisfy your heart's desires, rescue you from difficulty or guide you to fulfill your destiny.

When we lose hope, it's usually because we don't really trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God. When circumstances press against us and our reality doesn't appear to line up with the truth of who God is, hope can be elusive.

When we lose hope, we begin to doubt.  Does God really have my back? Does God actually work all things for good? Is it true that He will never leave us of forsake us? When we lose hope it makes us heartsick (Prov 13:12).

Never is this heartsickness more true than when you lose hope in your marriage.

Restoring Hope in Your Marriage

As I alluded to in my recent post "Renew Your Dreams", there are no magic formulas for restoring lost hope in your marriage. Whatever has led you to such a dark and despondent place is more than likely a path filled with hurt, disappointment and strife, maybe over many years.

As justified as you might be to feel as you do, I implore you not to remain stuck in hopelessness. Don't resign yourself to live in the marriage you have today. And please, please don't head for the exit!

We have this promise from Romans:
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:5
The strength you need to sustain your marriage in hard times is found in the love of God, poured into your heart by the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.  Paul Miller, in his book A Praying Life, describes his own battle with hopelessness, which he describes as cynicism, this way:

"Both the child and the cynic walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The cynic focuses on the darkness; the child focuses on the Shepherd. Cynicism feels more like bondage to me now. Jesus sets me free to love by showing me the dark, self-serving agenda I cling to in my cynicism. I am well aware that the journey is far from over, but I am learning to live in hope. I just need more practice. The Shepherd’s presence in the dark valley is so immediate, so powerful, that cynicism simply vanishes. There is no room for an ironic disengagement when you are fighting for your life. As you cling to the Shepherd, the fog of cynicism lifts."

Cling to the Shepherd

If you feel your marriage on its deathbed, or in "in the valley of the shadow of death" as Psalm 23 describes it, fix your eyes on the Good Shepherd. He has a table set before you in this very season.

I love how beautifully The Passion Translation casts fresh, life-giving light on the very familiar 23rd Psalm.

1  The Lord is my Fierce Protector and my Pastor.
    I always have more than enough.
2  He offers a resting place for me In his luxurious love.
    His tracks take me to an oasis of peace,
    The quiet brook of bliss.
3  That’s where he restores and revives my life.
    He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure,
    And leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness,
    So that I can bring honor to his name.
4  Lord, even when your path takes me through
    The valley of deepest darkness
    Fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
    You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
    Your authority is my strength and my peace.
    The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
    I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.
5  You become my delicious feast
    Even when my enemies dare to fight.
    You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit;
    You give me all I can drink of you until my heart overflows.
6  So why would I fear the future?
    For I’m being pursued only by Your goodness and unfailing love.
    Then afterwards— when my life is through,
    I’ll return to your glorious presence
    To be forever with you.
(Psalm 23 TPT)

As we'll explore next time, restoring hope starts with changing your thinking. If you are in a season of struggle, I encourage you to read this Psalm every day. Wash your mind with the truth of it. Pause after each phrase and let your mind and spirit absorb the truth of it.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What do you believe about your marriage? 

Just as faith launches your spiritual journey with the Lord, we come to the marriage altar full of faith too. We believe that our covenant will last a lifetime. We believe our spouse is "the one" for us. We believe that God will bless our sacred union. We believe for a good future together.

Then life happens. And faith wanes.

Do you still believe in your marriage? Maybe it would be better if I asked it this way: "What do you believe about your marriage - right now?"

It's not a rhetorical question.  What you believe about your marriage is just as important as what you believe about your spouse, the topic we covered last time in Part 1 of this series.

What you believe about your marriage will largely determine the path of your future relationship with your spouse.

3 Important Beliefs

There are dozens of suggestion I could make on what you should believe about your marriage, but to keep it simple, I'm only going to offer three here:

1) God is For Your Marriage - Most Christians would agree that God is for marriage. After all, He's the one who created it in the first place. But did you know that God is for YOUR marriage in particular. He cares about the health, passion, intimacy level and longevity of your marriage, and He is wanting to actively partner with you to help you have the marriage you dream of.  Pray for your marriage and your spouse. Ask God to lead you by the Holy Spirit in the way you speak, act and think concerning your marriage. He is anxious to help. Your marriage matters to God. Believe it.

Related Posts:
2) Intimacy is the Goal - Have you ever asked yourself what the purpose and goal of your marriage is? My opinion is that intimacy is the ultimate goal of any marriage. I'm talking about intimacy in all its forms: spiritual, sexual, emotional, financial, recreational, intellectual... Intimacy in the whole of your beings. Intimacy that comes from being fully know and fully loved. When you got married, you and your spouse became one, so why not live like it is really true. Forget scorekeeping, stop struggling for power and to "win," put away selfishness and anger. These all tear at the fabric of your oneness.

Related Posts

3) The Best is Yet to Come - Society and the media will tell you that marriages ultimately decline. It's a lie. If you walk in the truth of beliefs 1 and 2 above, then it is entirely possible to continually grow closer regardless of how long you've been married. Don't believe the myth that marriages eventually end up in roommate status no matter what you do. Work to keep your sex life vibrant, to continue to date your spouse, to give yourself fully to your spouse and marriage, to invest in romance and other emotional dimensions of your relationship. You can and should keep your marriage on the Path of Intimacy.

Related Posts:

Yes, what you believe about your marriage really matters. Your beliefs drive your thoughts, actions and words. Give some thought to the things your are believing about your marriage these days and ask yourself if these beliefs will take you where you want to go.

What key  marriage beliefs would you add to my three? Leave a comment!

PS  Take a minute to give this fabulous song a listen, God Believes in You by Pierce Pettis.
Remember as you listen, that God believes in your marriage too!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Just as faith is important in your walk with God, it's also important in your marriage.

Yeah, it's that whole bridal paradigm spiritual/marital thing again.

Faith is obviously a critical component of our life in God. But did you know that faith is also critical to the life of your marriage?

Springing off my last post, "Renew Your Dreams," I'm  starting a series today entitled "Faith, Hope and Love" in which I'll be covering each of these three topics in the coming weeks.

So let's get started with faith!

Faith in God

Our faith journey in God begins when we choose to believe in Jesus and in what he did for us at the cross. But of course that is just the start of our amazing lifelong adventure in God. Faith goes way beyond our initial salvation.

The Bible describes faith this way:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
At its core, faith is about what we really believe in our hearts, even when the evidence runs contrary to the truths we profess to hold.

Faith requires knowing. For example, faith in the love of God, when it doesn't "feel" present, requires knowing who God is, knowing that his very nature is love. That's why Paul implores us in Ephesians 3 to get to know this unknowable love of God. He goes on to say that it is the key to fullness in our faith journey.

Knowing God's love, really knowing it, carries you through when you aren't feeling it.

Faith in Your Spouse

Admittedly, sometimes faith is a struggle, even when it comes to faith in a perfect and unchangeable God.

Faith in your fallible spouse, who isn't necessarily always walking in full maturity of their identity in Christ, is even more difficult. And the larger the gap between their behavior and who God says they really are, the more we will struggle to see and believe in the "real" person inside.

This brings me to the key scripture upon which we base this series.The context is Paul's familiar and detailed description of what love looks like. Then he concludes by describing what "mature" love looks like.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:11-13 NKJV
Matthew Henry notes in his commentary that faith is primarily expressed towards God. Hope, on the other hand is on behalf of ourselves.  Love, he says, is expressed mostly in loving others.

I agree that faith is firstly a spiritual matter, but as with most spiritual principles, I believe there is a marital equivalent.

What you believe about who your spouse is at their core - the way God sees them - matters a lot. Faith is important in your relationship with your spouse, because if you don't know who your husband or wife truly is, how can you partner with him or her in reaching their destiny in God?

Jenni and I have recently started watching the series Friday Night Lights. There is a great scene of marital faith in the second show of the first season. Without going into too much detail, the coach of the football team is despondent because his star quarterback, on whom a championship season had largely rested, is injured and out of the picture. The second string quarterback is wholly unprepared for the responsibility that suddenly falls to him.

The dejected coach says to his wife, in essence, "I can't do this. There is no way I can bring this kid up to speed in time." His wife calmly yet adamantly encourages him that yes, indeed he can do this. "It's who you are.  It's what you do." She reminds him of what he's done in the past. With her encouragement, rather than giving up and admitting defeat, he takes on the challenge. Without giving you a spoiler, I'll just say that the new kid makes incredible progress in an amazingly short time thanks to the way the coach pours himself into the young QB.

Your belief in your spouse has great power to call him or her back to their destiny.

I'll close this post with some questions to ponder regarding faith in your spouse:
  • Have you asked God to give you divine insight into who your husband or wife truly is - as God sees them?
  • Do you have faith enough in your spouse to extend grace to the them when their actions don't line up with who you know they truly are?
  • Are you able to remind your spouse who they are when he or she is unable to see it for themselves?
  • Do the words you speak to your spouse line up more with who God says they are or with their latest misstep?

What does faith in your spouse mean to you? How does it work it's way into your marriage? I'd love to hear. Leave a comment below.

Next time:  Part 2 - Faith in Your Marriage

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