Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of My Spouse

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” – Romans 14:19 (ESV). 

The Bible often times uses marriage as an illustration of our relationship with God. We are expected to be loyal to God in the same way a husband and wife should be loyal to each other. Our relationship with God comes first and should be actively pursued because it will not automatically happen. We have to work at it in the same way a married couple should work on their relationship. If we do not pursue God, our relationship with Him will suffer. In the same vein, if we do not pursue our spouse, that relationship will suffer as well.

A funny thing happened on the way to the marriage ceremony. After the I do’s, we stop the pursuing activities that naturally filled the dating stage of our relationship. In the dating stage, we want our potential spouse to know that we are interested in them, but once we caught them, the pursuit sometimes ends.    

Pursuing your spouse tells him or her you are invested, you are interested, and that you care. Christ is my ultimate pursuit, but my spouse is number 2.  A marriage should be marked by constant pursuit: of Christ first, and each other next. And the fact is, that pursuit may not be as time consuming or tiring as some people may think it is. Sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference whether it is through words, actions or through being an example.

Certainly a key one is affirmation. We all crave it, we all appreciate it, and we all thrive from it; especially the guys.  Knowing this should motivate us to compliment our spouse and to let them know what they mean to us. But sometimes we forget to take the time for affirmation. We need to find the time to both affirm and encourage our spouse through our words. 

I hope that if you take nothing else from The Vow series, you understand that our spouse is worth our love and devotion. We should be pursuing them just as much as they desire to pursue us. Being intentional in investing in our marriage selflessly in this way will cultivate a healthy relationship between you. 

All of the little, seemingly miniscule and insignificant things we do make up a bigger picture. Making dinner, taking out the trash, taking the kids for a few hours, filing up the gas tank, buying flowers, those are all of the things that make up the lifeline of a marriage. If you want a thriving, healthy, fulfilling marriage, stop going through the motions, and start pursuing your spouse with purpose, passion, and love.

Discussion questions:

  1. What does pursuing your spouse mean to you? Why do you think it is so important to pursue our spouse? 
  2. What can we do this week as a start to pursuing our spouse?  

Praying Together

“When the going gets tough…tough couples PRAY.” – Kyle Gabhart

On Sunday, we talked about priorities, putting God first, your spouse second, and then protecting those priorities. One of those priorities should be prayer. Prayer has immeasurable capabilities to transform the reality around us. Prayer moves the hand of God. Through our prayers He moves, transforms, and heals us. Successful marriages have talking to God through prayer as its cornerstone. We should strive to pray daily for – and with – our spouse.

Prayer is the married couple’s declaration of dependence on God. When married couples don’t pray, it’s their declaration of independence. It’s the couple’s way of saying “We can do this without God.” The truth is we can’t do marriage well without God, and talking to God on a daily basis works like glue in a marriage.

Something amazing happens to our hearts when we pray for our spouse. The hardness melts. We become able to get beyond the hurts, and forgive. We are rarely phony or petty in prayer. We drop the excuses and masks. We open up and are vulnerable before God. Because prayer is intimacy with God, a natural by-product of praying together is intimacy with each other. Corrie Ten Boom said, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” 

The Bible tells us, “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). In order to do this, you must pray for yourself first, that you will be the person God wants you to be. You can begin with Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.” Only then, when we have a clean heart and a right spirit, will we be in the right place to pray effectively for our spouse. Then pray for and with your spouse.

Prayer is more personal and powerful when we accept prayer not as a daily or daunting task, but as a way of life. When we strive for closeness not only with our spouse, but closeness with God, we can ultimately deal with the everyday challenges we face. Pray that God will help and guide your marriage. Ask God to teach you and your spouse how to pray together so you can have the marriage He intends for you to have.

This Valentine’s Day, one thing will say “I love you” better than any card, outlive any flower, and be remembered longer than any romantic dinner: praying for and with your spouse.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is prayer in marriage? Do you think it is important to pray together rather than separately? 
  2. What can we do this week to start earning our black belt in prayer as marriage partners?    

God’s Marriage Knot

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12.

It makes sense that since God created marriage, He is interested in the outcome. And since only God has the ability to make a marriage as He intended it to be, it would be prudent to hand over our marriage and relationship to Him.  Because at the end of the day, a Christian marriage is the effort of two people to create for each other the circumstances in which each can become the person God intended him or her to be. 

It comes down to priorities. Are we living out our life as if God is in control? Are we handing over all our cares and problems to Him? Are we secure knowing He has a plan for our lives?  Are you enjoying the peace and joy that only a relationship with God can provide? Do you know that God will actually make a difference in your life?

There are many things we can do to produce a healthy marriage, but there are some things that only God can do.  We count on our spouse to make us happy and to fill our life with joy.  In the final analysis, the only person who can meet your deepest needs is Jesus. If you are looking for a man or woman to do that you are looking in the wrong place. From the beginning of the honeymoon, all along the way, partners struggle with their weaknesses, their differences and with the crises that life brings their way. Every marriage sees conflict. Every marriage is a journey of hills and valleys, highs and lows. There are times when we argue over trivial issues or when we think our partner acts like a child. There will be times when we get frustrated because we cannot agree about something that is important to each of us. 

Many people seem to think that God needs a little help, so we must work our hardest and do our best and burn the candle at both ends because God will intervene in some cases, but ultimately it all rests on us to take care of all the details. Faith is something we give lip service to, but do we live it?  Here is the bottom line: God won’t make a difference until we start living by faith, knowing that He can manage anything better than we can.

God wants a healthy marriage for each of us that get married. But we must work at creating the environments that allow Him to do that. In loving God and loving each other, couples grow together – and become the people God wants us to be. We simply need to operate on faith that God has our marriage in His perfect plan.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where do you stand in giving God total control over your life?
  2. What problem(s) in your marriage do you see as your responsibility? Which do you see as God’s problem?
  3. What do you think God is doing in your marriage right now?

This Is Where I Draw The Line

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance! I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.” – Psalm 16: 5-8.

Boundaries. Fences. Partitions. They perform a vital role in our lives. Boundaries are designed to protect something, not to prohibit. A ski boundary line, a railing on a bridge, a divider on a freeway, directions on the back of a medication, these boundaries are not set in place to hinder you, they are set in place to hedge against danger. It is not always easy to figure out just what is and isn’t a healthy boundary.

Boundaries were established by God. God established the universe with a certain order and specific boundaries. “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” (Genesis 1: 6)  God created different animals, different plants and vegetation, different celestial bodies. Then He created man, and from man, woman. Boundaries are a fundamental element of any relationship, business, or organization. Since marriage was created to be the most intimate of all human relationships, shouldn’t it be given more careful thought when it comes to boundaries?  When boundaries are not established in the beginning of a marriage, or when they break down, marriages break down as well.

Boundaries are like fences that help control our behavior. They indicate where we must stop and change course. They define what belongs to me and what belongs to my spouse. They are edges that warn me if I come too close, or if I cross them, certain consequences will predictably happen. They are part of God’s order for His creation.

Boundaries are all about protecting something that deserves protecting. That is all boundaries are for, protection. I encourage you to place some boundaries on your marriage. Maybe it’s not still talking to some old girlfriends. Maybe it’s no dinner dates with someone of the opposite sex. Maybe it is not staying for longer than a few minutes. Maybe it’s not leaving your clothes all around the house.  Whatever it is, make sure your spouse knows your fears, thoughts, and concerns so they don’t “accidentally” find themselves wandering so far away that one day you both can’t find your way back. They are guardrails set up so you won’t go off the road in your marriage. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does setting boundaries make you selfish in your mind?
  2. How do boundaries relate to submission?
  3. What boundaries do you need to set in your marriage?

Second Fiddle

“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”  – Matthew 19:4-6.

Leonard Bernstein, director of the Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked what was the hardest instrument in the orchestra to play. The orchestra leader thought for a second and said “second fiddle!” As any musician knows, every instrument is vital to the total sound of the orchestra. The finest musician in each section of the orchestra always occupies first chair. However, there can be no orchestra without those playing second, third, and even fourth chair.

Being second fiddle in a relationship doesn’t sound all that good. Every one wants to be first, number one, the person who gets all the credit. Who doesn’t want to be center stage?  Many times, we aren’t all that willing to play second fiddle to God. We want to determine our destiny. We want to be in charge of our future. We want to make choices based upon what we know, what we want, what we think.

But when it comes to God, I’m not sure we can even be considered “second fiddle” players. And that includes marriage. While most people think of marriage as a union between man and wife, there is also a third entity in every marriage, God. When it comes to marriage, both the husband and wife should play the second chair to God. We think the key to our marriage is loving our spouse better, or them loving us better. But Jesus tells us that the first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:29-30). This means when God sits in the first chair, we see love differently, and can love our spouse in extraordinary ways. When we decide to make our relationship with God first in our lives, everything else will naturally fall into the right order. Our relationship with God should be a top priority.

When we love God first, our relationship with our spouse will transform. This should come as no surprise given God’s tremendous love for us through the death of His only Son, and the fact that God loved us first. What greater foundation can you have with your spouse than one that is formed by the presence of God’s unconditional love? 

If your spouse has put God in the first chair and you in the second chair, that is a good thing. Putting God center stage is the foundation for a stronger marriage.

Discussion questions:

  1. A lasting and fulfilling marriage will require a significant investment in your relationship with God and your spouse. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. How does the idea of playing second fiddle play out in other relationships?  
  3. Ask God to give you wisdom as you seek His instruction and apply it to your life and marriage this week and year.

Are You Off Center?

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” – Deuteronomy 6:5.

Steve Maraboli, speaking on priorities said, “when someone tells you they are too ‘busy’ it’s not a reflection of their schedule, it’s reflection of your spot on their schedule.”  The point is this: If God is not our priority, it is not a reflection of God, but a reflection of the spot we put God in our schedule and in our priorities. God longs to be and should be the center of the universe and will always be the center of our lives.   

Most Christians when establishing a list of priorities, include God, spouse, children, others, job and ministry, howbeit, in different orders. Making a list of priorities doesn’t mean that we neglect the lower things for the upper things.  All of these things are things that matter to God and thus should matter to each one of us. But in life and in marriage, the list begins and ends with God. The number one priority in our life should be God. But it should be deeper and more inclusive than that.

I don’t want God to be just a priority in my life. He should not be relegated to a bullet list of things that really matter to me. Because when we simply place Him on the top of the list, we are claiming that He is part of our lives. If we make God another line in a list, we are suggesting that God plays a role, albeit large role in my life. But God shouldn’t be a role player, or another component in our lives. God should be our lives. To be a follower of Jesus means that God owns my life. There’s nothing outside of Him. It means giving up ourselves and desiring God’s will above all else.

I don’t want to compartmentalize God. I don’t want to think of Him as separate from any aspect of my life. Instead, as I think through each “priority”, I want to consider how that part of my life is critical to Him. How does He want me to use that part of my life for His glory? When we establish a list of priorities, God is the list, because the whole list comes out of God. My priorities are established through Him. In fact, my prayer is that the list is actually a list of His priorities.

Marriage will test our desire and ability to put God in the center of everything in life. There will be job callings and job problems, a sink full of dishes, a gazillion loads of laundry, and trash bags full of dirty diapers, unpaid bills, lack of sleep to name a few. Although encountering problems in this life will never cease, our lives can be dramatically simplified, purpose-filled, joyful, and effective the moment we begin to live with Jesus as the center of our lives.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-8)

Discussion questions:

  1. How can we put God in the center of our lives?
  2. What are the obstacles to making God the center of our lives?

One Step Away

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” – James 4:8-10 (NKJV).

Drawing near to God involves getting close, in much the same way you wish to be with those you love. The good news is God is always close.

Isaiah proclaimed, “Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6).Jeremiah 29: 13-14 says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord…” 

It is nice to have that person we can trust by our side to help us make decisions and to figure things out. But nobody can be by our side all the time except God. God is always there. Wherever we go, God is there with us.   

In fact, God is one big step closer than anyone else ever can be; He’s there in you. He’s there in the room with you. And when you sit in that meeting with a customer, and your mind is working a million miles an hour trying to understand problems and develop solutions without resources and in spite of office politics, He is there. When family problems mount, He is there. In the toughest moments in life, we can have the incredible, indescribable joy and peace because God is in that place. Jesus wants to guide our way through life, but we have to be willing to let him. We need to have faith in Him and in His promises.

We don’t need an international mobile phone to talk to God; we can talk anytime, anywhere, because He is there. We can ask for advice, help, guidance, wisdom and then trust that He will guide and lead us in the way we should go.

God is with us, leading us, guiding us, loving us, providing for us — all with His unlimited resources. What do we need? Do we need strength, peace, love, joy, or hope? He has it all. He is longing to pour out His favor and blessing. We need to be open to Him and to trust Him.

This is why the Bible tells us that we can now cast all of our burdens and cares upon the Lord – because it is now His job to take full and complete care of all of us from the moment we fully surrender everything over to Him. Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.”

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe God is always there? How have you experienced that?
  2. What can we do this week to make his presence real in our lives?    

Failure Can Be A Stepping Stone

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Failure is part of life. It is often the bottom line in our fears. We fear failing, but for some people, failure is a stepping stone. Their failure makes them stronger and results in greater success. We see that played out in business, research, sports and every other aspect of life. For others, however, failure is not easy to overcome and stays with them for years to come. It causes them to shy away from taking the steps God wants them to take because they just might fail. The truth is, you may fail taking the next step. You may fail taking the next step after that. And the one after that.

Nehemiah was an old testament figure living a thousand miles from Jerusalem. He had risen to prominence as the cupbearer to the king of Persia, and was living the high life. One day, he asked some friends who had visited Jerusalem how the people in the city were doing. Their answer would change Nehemiah’s life:, “They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3) When Nehemiah heard this, it was like a shot to the gut. For days he mourned, fasted and prayed to God. Nehemiah had a burden to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. 

I believe God is doing exactly the same thing in the hearts of His people today. God is calling us to step out of our comfort zone and to do something. You don’t have to be a pastor, a missionary, or a super-spiritual star or hero. All you need is a willingness to overcome your fear, step out of your comfort zone and trust Him.

It may be something as simple as just walking across the room to talk to someone you normally would have ignored. Or inviting your neighbor over for coffee or taking a co-worker to lunch to see how they’re doing.

Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone like Nehemiah did and live for something bigger than yourself.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Failure can be a negative or a potential positive. Which applies to you? 
  2. What can we do to step out of our comfort zone this week?

Jumping Ship

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them, walking on the water….Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” – Matthew 14:24-25, 28:31.

What is so astonishing about this passage is that Peter actually jumped out of the boat. Peter was willing to do something that no one else was—jump. And by jumping he had the amazing opportunity to do something no other human being has ever been able to do then and since – walk on water. The whole experience was predicated on getting out of the boat.

If God has given us a burden for someone or something, we need to jump ship if we are going to use our God-given gifts to affect others. Nothing will happen if all we do is talk about jumping into life-changing opportunities that God has put right in our path, but, we never actually jump.

Reluctance to jump is the default reaction for many people.  After all, who wants to jump off a boat in the middle of a storm. We prefer staying in our comfort zone, amidst the status quo. Remember that Peter was the only one of the 12 disciples who jumped out. Peter was the only one that experienced walking on water. 

Step one is taking the first step. If you want to experience the type of moment that Peter experienced then you have to take a step into the adventure He has put on your heart and get your momentum moving, and God will then empower your next step. It could be something as small as joining a small group, or going on a mission trip, or trying to patch up a splintered relationship. Sometimes taking the smallest step in God’s direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe if you must, but take that first step.

I encourage you not to miss the God-given opportunities because you are too comfortable and safe to jump out of the boat. It is time to jump ship.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Has there been a situation where you felt the urge to jump out of the boat? If you didn’t what kept you from jumping?
  2. Is there something today that is calling you to jump out of the boat?

A Small Wonder

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”  Zachariah 4:10.

Soul surfer Bethany Hamilton is an example of small steps leading to big dreams. If you didn’t see the movie Soul Surfer, Bethany Hamilton was a natural talent in the sport of surfing. At age 13, an almost deadly shark attack resulted in her losing her right arm. She was back on her surfboard one month later, and after two years of small steps forward she won first place in the Explorer Women’s Division of the NSSA National Championships.

When we think of responding to God’s call, we often remember the dramatic stories: Gideon defeating an army with 300 men, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and Paul struck blind to name a few. But what about all us “ordinary” followers of Jesus? 

Sometimes in life, we get so overwhelmed by the enormity of our goals that we give up before we even start trying to achieve them. If our goal is to get out of debt, that number may seem so large and so daunting, that it keeps us from even taking a first step in the process. Or we may dream about being the CEO of a company, but just the thought of starting at the bottom and working our way up through the ranks seems almost impossible, so why even bother?

But God never intended for us to do everything at once. In fact, that’s not how He works through us either. God usually doesn’t reveal His whole plan to us. He may give us a small piece of the plan or just give us a direction to follow, but we may not know the rest of the plan for quite a while, if ever. All He wants you to do is trust Him, and step out in faith.

Chances are we will not become, Gideon, Elijah or Paul in 2018, if at all. No one expects us to be like them. They didn’t have to have everything all figured out at once or even be able to see the end picture in its entirety. But what they did do is to take that first step and then another.

God wants us to keep taking steps toward our goals and to listen for His guidance along the way. So put aside any worry or guilt that might be holding you back and commit to taking small steps each day, week and month as we progress further into 2018. That could mean getting baptized, committing to digging into the Bible each day, discovering how God wants to use you to help others, or just learning more about God’s plan for your life.

Discussion questions:

  1. How do you define small steps? What makes it a small step rather than a big step?  
  2. What can we do this week to start taking small steps?