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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Simple ways to support and encourage your husband's spiritual leadership without being controlling or demanding.

Welcome to Wives Only Wednesday. It's been a while since my last WoW post, so as a reminder, these are posts I do specifically for wives. Husbands can check out the related Men Only Monday post: 3 Simple Ways to Lead Your Wife Spiritually.

Most Christian wives I know are longing to have their husbands take up their God-given role as the spiritual head of the household. So how do you encourage your husband to lead? Many wives either have tried and failed or aren't sure what to do.

(Note: these suggestion are for Christian couples and do not address the situation of an unbelieving husband. Also note that the "What Won't Work" section is especially true for a non-believing spouse.)

What Won't Work

There is a principle that says you can't push on a rope. When you try pushing, all you get is a tangled mess. This rope principle applies to roles in marriage. Below are some examples of pushing.

Criticism - Many husbands won't step up and lead spiritually because they fear they will fall short or embarrass themselves. Criticizing your husband's spiritual life will only exacerbate his fear of failure and judgment from you. The higher the expectations you heap upon him, the less likely he is to step up. Communicating dissatisfaction will likely have the very opposite effect you hope for and cause him to pull back from expressing his spirituality to you. Be aware that he can easily view even well-intentioned questions as accusation ("Did you pray about that?").

Nagging - Demanding your husband be a stronger spiritual leader won't work. That is actually you usurping his leadership and will cause him to shrink back further. Nagging him about his spiritual habits will have the same negative effect. Such question as "When was the last time you had a quiet time?" or "Have you read your Bible today?" are actually just veiled attempts to control his spiritual life. It doesn't work.

Comparison - This is probably an obvious one, but pointing out what other husbands are doing to lead their families spiritually will only make him feel like a failure and inadequate in your eyes. Just don't do it.

What You Can Do

All of the approaches listed above amount to trying to control your husband. You and I both know that the only person you can control is yourself. Controlling amounts to pushing on the rope of your husband's spiritual leadership, and it will probably backfire.  So, what can you do to help create an internal "pull" in your husband's heart to want to grow in his headship role?  Here are a few ideas that are based on love and serving rather than on control:

Show Honor - Let go of your spiritual checklists and expectations. Your husband's spiritual life is most likely going to express itself differently from yours, and that's okay. My wife's quiet times and mine are as different from each other as they can be. Mine are less frequent, less scheduled and tend to be shorter than hers. It took me a while to realize that we are just different in this regard. Honor and respect his way of seeking God.

Value His Insights - Even if (and maybe especially if) you feel you are spiritually stronger and more knowledgeable than your husband, ask for his opinion on spiritual matters. Invite him into your spiritual struggles and questions. Ask him to pray for you about specific situations and thank him when he does. Acknowledge his answered prayers. This has two outcomes. First, it builds spiritual intimacy as you learn to share your hearts in a vulnerable fashion, and second it helps him build spiritual muscle.

Express Appreciation - Acknowledge every step your husband takes in spiritual growth and in leading your family. Affirm him by saying, "I'm so thankful to have you as the spiritual head of our home." Thank him when he opens up to you about spiritual matters or offers his perspective. Appreciation will demonstrate your desire for his spiritual leadership without you actually having to say it.

Seek Intimacy - Spiritual, emotional and physical intimacy are all connected. If you desire deeper spiritual intimacy, pay attention to your sex life and to how you act with him emotionally. There is not a formula, but fruit in one dimension tends to spill over into the others.

As I said, these actions are about showing love to your husband in language he can appreciate, and when you do these you invite his leadership by offering him your submission. The Greek word for submission used in the famous Ephesians 5 passage on marriage (hupotasso)  means to arrange yourself under. When you willingly show your husband honor and respect with your actions, you are arranging yourself under his loving spiritual leadership.

Of course you should pray for your husband, for spiritual intimacy between you, and for his headship in the spiritual domain of your marriage, but you don't have to just pray and wait. While prayer is vital and your number one strategy, there are also practical steps you can take that create an environment where his leadership can thrive.

These are my ideas for what will and won't work in your journey toward a rightly ordered spiritual dimension of your marriage.  I'd love to hear any ideas you have!  Leave a comment.

If you are reading this by email or on a mobile device, please take a minute to participate in my new survey. "What Do You Want More of In Your Marriage?"

Monday, December 28, 2015

Leading your wife spiritually is not as hard as you might think.

It's been a while since I've written a Men-Only-Monday post. As the moniker implies, these posts are intended for husbands. Wives, come back Wednesday for your side of the equation on this topic.

Are you among the many men who feel unqualified to lead their wives and family spiritually? Do you feel like your wife has more knowledge, more insight, and more sensitivity concerning spiritual matters? If you are like most men, you aren't going to attempt things you don't feel you can excel at, which means that you might hold back from even trying to be the spiritual head of your family.

You don't need a theology degree or years of biblical study to spiritually lead your wife. Don't disqualify yourself for this important role that God has assigned you to. The way the Bible describes spiritual headship, as with other dimensions of headship, has nothing to do with being the "spiritual boss" or being in any way spiritually superior to your wife. It doesn't mean you need years of spiritual wisdom under your belt before you start leading.

Leading your wife spiritually is not nearly as hard as you might think it is. For the most part, it just means consistently pointing your wife to Jesus and inviting his covering over your family.

If the idea of spiritual leadership is new to you, here are three simple, easy ways to begin stepping into your God-ordained role.

1. Pray

Maybe you aren't that comfortable praying out loud in front of others, maybe even with your wife. If that's the case, just ask your wife what you can pray for her about. A simple "How can I pray for you today?" text message will work great! Then do actually pray for her and let her know you did. Even this simple little step will bless her more than you know.

If you can muster your prayer courage, I would urge you to actually pray together. Prayer builds spiritual intimacy like few other things can. If that seems too difficult for you, start just by praying together silently. Maybe conclude with the Lord's prayer, if spontaneous prayer doesn't come easily for you. You can also pray the "Apostolic prayers" right out of the Bible . A few examples are Ephesians 1:17-23, Ephesians 3:16-21, Colossians 1:9-14, Philippians 1:9-11, Romans 15:13. These are great prayers for when you don't know what to pray.

2. Read, Learn & Share

Pick a book on a spiritual topic that interests you. It doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it is something that speaks life to you or challenges you in some way. Devotional books can be good, because they tend to be short easily digestible. I'll admit that I've never been a regular devotional reader, because I prefer books that drill a little deeper into a topic, but that's just me.

I also encourage you to read the Bible regularly. If you don't know where to start, you might consider a topical Study Bible. If you are looking for a life-giving translation, I suggest the Passion Translation Series. If you are new to Bible study, start off with the Gospels. If you feel you have a hard time understanding what you read in the Bible, pray for revelation and understanding. The Bible says the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16:13), and He is eager to do it (Luke 11:11). Just ask.

A few times a week, as you come upon something that gives you a new insight or seems helpful to you, or when the Lord gives you a particular revelation, share it with your wife.

Your wife will feel safe and protected when she knows you are pressing into a deeper understanding of God. This is one dimension of God's instruction to husbands to wash your wife with the water of the word (Ephesians 5:26).

3. Invite Her In

As I said, headship does not imply superiority. I describe the relationship between husband and wife as described in the Bible as an ordered partnership, where husband and wife are of equal value but willingly take on different roles to support and honor each other.

Good leaders invite the full participation of those they lead and encourage them to employ all of their talents and capabilities. So invite your wife into partnership with you as together you discover God's heart and plans for your marriage and your family. Lean on her spiritual discernment and sensitivity to the things of the Spirit. Invite her to bring her spiritual gifting to your partnership.

Intimacy comes from being fully known and knowing you are completely loved. Spiritual intimacy is no exception. Be real, honest and willing to be vulnerable with your wife about your life in God. Invite her to do the same. It's not a competition to see who is more spiritual. It's about encouraging each other to walk in your God-given destinies and to grow in the knowledge of who God is. 

If you are the stronger one, spiritually, never use your position to browbeat or speak harsh judgment to your wife. Rather, speak grace and truth and encourage her toward who God says she is.

Now it's your turn. What simple tips do you have for husbands who want to take a more active role in leading their wives spiritually? Leave a comment.

If you are reading this by email or on a mobile device, please take a minute to participate in my new survey. "What Do You Want More of In Your Marriage?"

Note: book links above are affiliate links that support this ministry

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tip #3 - Choose to focus more on relationships than on things

Christmas is about relationship. We are celebrating the gift of a Savior, Jesus, who came to save us from our sins. But ultimately, the purpose of Him leaving heaven and coming to earth was to win a bride for himself. Jesus came in order to have relationship with us, both now and forever. In order to have us, he had to take care of the sin, but an intimate relationship with you and me was the ultimate eternal plan of God in Christmas.

The Press of Things

It's very easy to get caught up in things during the holiday season. Gifts, both given and received. Food, both prepared and consumed. Decorations. Christmas cards. Lots and lots of things get our attention and time.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with these things in and of themselves. They can be great sources of enjoyment and satisfaction. But these things can also be a source of stress and discontent if we allow them to take over. Things should always be subordinate to the people in our lives.

It's People That Matter Most

It's a week before Christmas Eve. Maybe you are feeling the press of things and all the doing that yet needs to be done. It's not too late to double-check your priorities and make sure that those closest to you are getting the focus they deserve. Chances are that what they want from you has more to do with you being present than giving presents.

What can you do in the days ahead to keep your relationships, and most especially your marriage, in proper focus?  Here are some ideas:
  • Set aside time to sit quietly with your spouse and talk. Talk about something other than what needs to be done before Christmas, like about your marriage and the things your are thankful for.
  • Bundle up and go outside for some fresh air and togetherness. Go for a walk or build a snowman together.
  • Engage in random acts of kindness. Send a note of encouragement to a friend via text, email or old fashioned letter. Buy a cup of hot cocoa for the guy who rings the Salvation Army bell at the local grocery store. Pay for the meal of the person behind you at a fast food restaurant drive through.
  • Find a charitable cause that serves people and give of your time or finances (a food bank, a nursing home, a homeless shelter, etc.).
  • As hard as it might be with all the busyness, have as many meals together as a family as you can in the week ahead of the big meal you'll likely be sharing on Christmas Day (or Eve).
  • Snuggle up with your spouse and watch a Christmas movie - let him or her pick.
  • Be intentional and generous with kind words and warm hugs for your family and those closest to you.
By encouraging you to focus more on your relationship than on things this Christmas, I'm certainly not trying to put more items on your to-do list. Rather, I'm suggesting that you consider scratching a few less important items from your list in order to make room for what really matters: people.

What will you do in the next week to focus on the relationships in your life? Leave a comment.

Want to catch up on the other Christmas Crazy posts in this series:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tip #2:  Enjoy the doing and not just having it done.

Christmas is a time of lists. Christmas wish lists. Shopping lists. Lists of names for Christmas cards and party invitations. Menu and grocery lists.

I'm a list maker, and not just at Christmas. I use an app to keep all my lists organized (Wunderlist, in case your are curious) that syncs to my phones, tablet, various desktop computers. That means my lists are always with me.

I love checking things off my lists. I've even added an otherwise missing, just-completed item to my to-do list, just for the pleasure of ticking it off.

In Tip #1 I cautioned against  letting your plans overtake your priorities.  Tip #2 is a similar, though slightly different caution about lists. Make sure you take time to enjoy actually doing the things on your list, and don't just take pleasure/relief in checking them off.

Watchfulness - Finding Meaning in the Mundane

I write a lot about being watchful. The simplest way to explain it is to say that watchfulness means taking yourself off of autopilot. It means paying attention to things that otherwise might go unnoticed.

Here are a few Christmastime opportunities for watchfulness.

Be Present in the Presents - Giving and receiving gifts is a big part of many people's Christmas traditions. But it can also be a source of a lot of stress and distraction. You've hear it said about gift giving, "it's the thought that counts." While it is true that the thought isn't always appreciated, be thoughtful as you plan, buy and wrap for those closest to you. Ask yourself what attributes about them stand out the most to you. What makes them a unique part of your life? How have they blessed you? What are you thankful for about that person? Think of giving a gift that speaks to one or more of these thoughtful questions, even if it's just a hand written letter to that effect. While time will certainly not permit you to do this with every person you give gifts to, consider whittling down your list to those in the center of your life. This will allow you to put more thought into fewer gifts.

Include Prayers with the Postage - We don't always send Christmas cards - some years are just too crazy. If sending cards is part of your tradition, consider praying for each family or person you send a card to. Maybe get the kids involved by dividing the names among your immediate family members. Is there a Scripture promise or blessing you could include for them? Don't just check off the names, but take time to actually to engage your heart as you send your cards. Another idea is to pray for the senders as you receive cards in the mail.

Pause the Preparation - Stop once in a while, in the middle of all the buying, baking, wrapping and cleaning to just be. Grab a cup of tea or coffee (or something stronger) and consider the meaning behing all that business. Find ways to enjoy yourself and take pleasure in the middle of all the doing. Spend quality time with your family. Pause to take a mental snapshot and give thanks in the moment (you don't have to post everything to Instagram or Facebook). Try not to be so busy and distracted that opportunities for meaning slip by unnoticed.

It's okay if none of these particular ideas work for you. The important thing is to find ways to make the doing meaningful and and enjoyable and not just stressful. Find ways to experience true joy, peace and enjoyment this Christmas.

What might you do differently this Christmas to find more meaning in the middle of the madness? Leave a comment.

Next time: Tip #3 - Focus on Relationships More Than on Things

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tip #1 - pick priorities over plans

I've got plans. Big plans. Lots of big plans.

My plans for this marriage ministry include a brand new, completely redesigned website. (I know some of you are saying "It's about time!" Thanks for putting up with my rough and ugly site for so long!)

I've got a bunch of writing projects that I'm very excited about. Stuff that is going to make a huge impact on a lot of marriages. I can't wait to share these with you! I want to start doing some videos, maybe even a podcast. Some day.

If you are at all like me there is a slight down side to having lots of big, exciting plans - they can make you completely miserable if you let them.

Balancing Plans and Priorities

What I have to keep in mind as I plan, is that I can't let my plans mess up my priorities. That means keeping God at the center of all I do. It means keeping family priorities high. It means making sure I'm not so busy writing about marriage that I neglect my own.

In the same way, I also have to balance plans and priorities when it comes to fighting off the Christmas crazies.

As we make plans this Christmas, whether it be parties, church activities, shopping, family gatherings or whatever, let's not let our non-seasonal priorities slip by the wayside.

In the press of plans and many opportunities for festivities of all kinds, let's remember to keep our first things first:

Keep Christ First in Christmas - It's easy to lose track of the real reason for the season among all the trappings. Consider what you might do this year that intentionally keeps the holiday centered on the miraculous gift of God to mankind in his Son, Jesus. Observe Advent. Do a Christmas devotional study. Read over the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story as a family, spreading the readings out through the remaining days until Christmas. Have periodic candle-lit prayer times, either personally, as a couple, or as a family, where you intentionally focus on the light of Christ that came into the world and it's meaning for your daily life. Have a child-friendly nativity set that you can play with together with your children as you explain the story.

Keep Your Marriage First in Your Family - There is a tendency, especially at Christmas, to make it all about the kids. It's fun to focus on them and their wide-eyed wonder, but remember that your only covenant relationship, outside of the one with Christ, is with your spouse. Don't let December craziness cause you to neglect date nights. Christmas can be an extremely romantic time of year. Take the time to snuggle by a roaring fire, maybe with a glass of wine or eggnog, and connect about your relationship (this is not the time to compare to-do lists or talk about holiday plans - this is a great time to kiss and hold each other).  Reflect together on the goodness of God and take turns expressing thanks for the good things in your life and relationship. Keep your marriage first in your extended family as well. Protect each other and be a refuge for each other from the drama that so often comes with extended families.

Keep Your Family First Above Others - There is research to support the fact that families who observe holiday traditions together have happier, healthier children. But the research also shows that this effect is only true when these traditions are filled with meaning and full family participation (including, and especially fathers). In other words, it's not about going through the motions of tradition. I encourage you to keep and/or establish some thoughtful traditions this year for your family to enjoy. Make family time a priority as you sort out your other plans.

Let Some Things Go

In my family we often joke about certain family members having ATMS (Afraid To Miss Something). It's what causes college students to stay up late at night, not wanting to risk sleeping through some potential fun, spur-of-the-moment outing. It's what compels others to attend a party that they aren't really all that interested in because something fun might happen without them.

So this Christmas season, say no to ATMS, and say no to too much activity. Saying no to some activities and plans is saying yes to your most important things. Let some things go. You don't have to do it all. Don't allow the expectations of others to press you into a frenzy of activities. Just. Say. No. Respectfully explain that you are keeping activities to a minimum this year in order to keep your priorities in line.

Plans are great. Plans can be fun. But too many plans, when they end up competing with your first priorities, can cause you needless stress and misery. I'm going to take steps to keep my first things first this Christmas, how about you? 

What might you do differently this year to avoid the Christmas crazies? Leave a comment!

Next time: Tip #2 - Enjoy the Doing, Not Just the Being Done

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