Patience Is A Virtue

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” – Romans 12:12. 

We’ve all looked skyward and prayed, “Lord, make me more patient—and do it now.”

Patience can evaporate in every facet of life: when we are late for a critical engagement while inching forward in traffic or when we get in a line at Walmart that looks like it is moving only to stall once we chose it. And of course, we lose our patience with our spouse.  

Patience is defined as the ability to endure graciously. We all have to deal at times with people or circumstances that try our composure – an ungrateful child, an unqualified boss, a spouse taking our hard work around the house for granted. How graciously do we behave in these circumstances?

The Bible says God will be faithful to complete the good works He began in us (Philippians 1:6). That implies there’s going to be some “in the meantime” when we’re all less than perfect and less than easy to love. This is where patience comes in. The apostle Paul instructs us to “…lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

We also have to exercise patience as we wait for God’s plan for us to unfold. At times we will wait for answers to prayers, for deliverance, and for provision. It helps to remember how very patient God has to be with us on a daily basis: “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”(1 Timothy 1:16)

This patience thing may take some time to develop, but we can learn to be more patient and graciously endure the process. There are intersections in Panama City that the light is red so long that I could read a chapter in a book waiting for it. It is difficult to be patient when cars 10 lights away go through the light before it turns green for me.  But then I think about God and about developing patience. The light turned green a few moments later, and I went on my way vowing to better embrace patience during my day and in my marriage, even if in a very small way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who in my life can benefit from me extending them more patience?
  2. How would becoming more patient change my day, my outlook, my health, or my relationships?

Overcoming Distractions

“Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.” – Proverbs 4:25.

 A great marriage has many benefits, but nobody reaps the benefits without putting in the work. The first rule of a successful marriage is this: work hard and stay focused. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? So why do we not do it? We get distracted. Distraction takes many forms in life today. Maybe you are preparing for a presentation you have to give at work. You are trying to get it done while you have the time and inclination when you begin to wonder if you should clean out that drain or whether the stock market is up or down. We chase “rabbits” that won’t be worth the reward once we catch them.

Distractions not only affect our marriage but our relationships with God. When we are distracted we have a diminished ability to think deeply about Him, to truly know Him as He is, and to grow more like Him. It is harder and harder to stop long enough to study the scriptures. We struggle with the attention needed to find quality time for God. Where prayer used to be the first activity of the day, we now begin our daily routine by checking our e-mail or checking our Facebook page. 

When you are doing something important, whatever that is, it requires your full attention: It is important that you don’t get distracted because typically that is when things go wrong. As followers of Jesus, to be at our absolute best, we must be focused, which means we must be focused on what matters most. For Christians, distractions can be a real threat to that focus. 

Jesus sets the standard that we should model on focus. In Luke 13:22-24 (MSG) we read: “He went on teaching from town to village, village to town, but keeping on a steady course toward Jerusalem. A bystander said, “Master, will only a few be saved?” He said, “Whether few or many is none of your business. Put your mind on your life with God. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires your total attention.”

Jesus was subject to all the pressures we are and yet remained completely disciplined, always giving His time to what was ultimately most important. He was constantly moving forward to the ultimate goal of Jerusalem. Jesus knew exactly what needed His attention. He knew what He was meant to be doing and where He was meant to be going.  

What really matters most, no matter who we are or what calling we have in life, is our relationship with God. If we allow anything to distract us from our relationship with Him we will never be able to be who He has called us to be, or do what He has called us to do. If there is one lesson we learn from watching Jesus it’s the fact that He never allowed His schedule to crowd out His time alone with God. He knew no matter what else was going on His relationship with his Father had to have top priority.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some distractions that can impact our daily walk with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to keep from being distracted and completely focused on God? 

All That Kid Stuff Is hard

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4. 

Bob and Jane hit a rough patch in their marriage, but not as a result of fireworks: there were no knockdown, drag out fights, no threats or ultimatums causing the problem. Rather it was a gradual erosion. The erosion was so gradual that Bob and Jane looked up one day and realized that their solid, happy, even enviable marriage was in trouble. 

Like countless other couples, Bob and Jane had unintentionally let their day-to-day routine of juggling careers and parenting their three kids become a distraction to their marriage. The time they used to devote to the two of them is now being invested in the five of them.  

Raising a child is one of the most selfless things we can do. As a parent, there is no one else we would rather give our attention to than our children. It just seems to make sense. It becomes a distraction when we are spending so much time and energy on the kids that we do not have enough attention from each other to maintain a happy, healthy relationship.

Once children arrive, most couples find themselves spending less and less time together. Some of this was practical, a matter of convenience—one parent running their son to basketball practice while the other took their daughter to gymnastics. By the time the kids were delivered to and then picked up and a few errands were run in between there is little ‘us” time to spend with your spouse. The “us” time can start feeling like interruptions. 

All parents want their children to be happy. But many couples today go too far, letting everything revolve around their kids. This hurts the children and the marriage. The good news is you don’t have to choose between your spouse and your kids. They are not mutually exclusive, In fact, I would suggest that putting your marriage first actually produces happier kids.

The key is to guard the time you have with your spouse.  Fight against potential distractions in relationships by having a date night with your spouse. The benefits of date night are endless. Taking one night every week helps you reconnect and communicate as partners, and gives you the opportunity to have fun together.

The distractions we’ve discussed this week are only a few that will be thrown our way. Distractions do not have to destroy our marriage. We can effectively take action against distractions. And when we use them, our marriage will come out stronger than ever.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe children can be a distraction? 
  2. What can we do this week to ensure we don’t let distractions hinder us from having the marriage God wants for us.

Shiny, Beeping Distractions

“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.” –  Christian Lous Lange  

You know the drill. When waiting in Publix, or for the school bus to arrive, we naturally reach for our phone and begin checking things that you just checked the last time you had some time to pass.  It becomes almost a reflex action; whether we’re texting, checking social media, taking selfies, or playing games, we will drop everything to take a peek.  Jumping on Facebook to respond to a message costs me several minutes, but by then the person in front of me at Publix is walking out the door. Our technologically-driven culture has made it almost impossible to just be still.  

While technology makes many things in life easier than they’ve ever been, it also makes being distracted easier than ever. After all, who can resist those shiny, beeping distractions? And these shiny, beeping distractions can divert our attention from God and our relationships. We tell ourselves we can multitask and that we can keep up with technology and with our relationships.  But one usually suffers in the end. The better solution is cut out the distractions as much as possible.  

So how do we use the technology so needed in today’s world and yet keep it from distracting us from what’s important in our relationships? Technology itself is not evil. In fact, it has many good uses. God can use technology for good in our lives. But when we’re not careful, it can definitely become a distraction that gets in the way of what God wants us to do. I’ve talked with many couples who have allowed technology to interfere with their relationship. While eating dinner together, they also text. Or when they are enjoying their morning coffee, they are on their computers or using their smartphones. It happens to all of us because it is easy to do.  

In order to keep technology from becoming a problem, we should remember that we are created for more, so much more. We were created for more than drowning ourselves in social media. We were created for so much more than technology can give us. We need to put technology and its distractions aside and concentrate on our relationship with God and with our spouse. For some of us, this will not be an easy path. It will require dying to ourselves and our devices daily. But it will be worth it. God wants a different life for us. He wants us to be so fixed on His glory and so in love with His beauty that we live with all our might for Him. And he will be with us every step of the way.

Spend time with your spouse without your devices nearby. Ask family and friends to hang out in person — and then suggest that everyone put their phones away so you can avoid distractions. Invest in your spouse. 

We were not created for earth — but for eternity. We were not created to be liked but to show love. We were not created to draw attention to ourselves but to give glory to God. We were not created to collect followers but to follow Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is technology a distraction in your lives and marriage? How is it a distraction? Which technology devices are most distracting? Discuss things you might do to help each other overcome these distractions.
  2. How is technology helpful in your marriage? How can you use it to be more helpful and less distracting?
  3. How can you control technology in your life and marriage and not allow it to control you?

Keeping Focus In A World Of Distractions

Starve your distractions, feed your focus.” – Unknown  

We all have one thing in common: we all face distractions. Incoming texts, emails, calls, Facebook, Instagram, video games, or that series on Netflix we’ve been binge watching. Distractions have become omnipresent. So much so that many people work on their marriage with the leftover minutes we have after all the distractions.

When dating there is plenty of time together. And there is plenty of time in the early days of marriage as well. Our spouse is always there: at dinner, watching TV, reading the Bible, shopping, and taking walks together. As newlyweds, couples are typically addicted to each other.  But then come the distractions and the amount of time spent together starts to erode. We start spending more and more time with the kids. We invest more and more hours in pursuing that next promotion. Hobbies take center stage.

We tell ourselves we will get back to where we were once we deal with whatever distraction we are facing. “I’ll deal with it when the kids go back to school” or “once I get the corner office I will have it made.” That is why distractions are so dangerous and subtle at the same time. They eat up time previously invested in our marriage. And once they are present, there is never a convenient time to deal with them. We never intend for it to go on for that long, but there are always more distractions, lots more reasons, lots more stress. Months of distractions can easily turn into years of regret. 

One of the best ways to keep focused on God and each other is to spend time with Him individually and with each other. Plan for this time and make it a priority. Remember that Jesus did this in His busy life, and so must we. And also remember that Satan will do everything to keep you from it. 

One thing is for sure. Things won’t change on their own.  There’s never a convenient time to do what’s difficult. But there is no better time than now to deal with distractions and make your marriage better. Find some time to get away. Consider a time without the kids and other periodic short-term dates: a day trip, a weekend outing, or a long night out.  But not just to have a dinner or movie alone. Make it a time of dialogue, of introspection.  Ask the tough questions, assess our roles as husband and wife, father and mother, etc. And just enjoy each others company.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. When was the last time you and your spouse planned a time to really discuss and invest in your marriage?
  2. What things in your life distract you from God and each other?

Two Act As One

“For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.” – Ephesians 4:4-6. 

“ So honey, are we ready to take that step we talked about the last few weeks?”

“Which one?” 

The wife’s face turned down and a scowl took the place of the smile in an instant. “Are you kidding me right now, because I never know when you are joking.” 

“No, I am not kidding,…but you need to remember that I am cautious. OK, yes, I am in a permanent state of non-readiness. Decisions are hard. If I was a turkey you could put me in a 350-degree oven on July 4th, and I still wouldn’t be done in time for Christmas.”   

The wife was speechless but then whispered a few words to herself: “I guess this whole ‘becoming one’ thing is going to take a little longer than I thought.” 

Working toward oneness, making it a practice to think and act as one is an ongoing challenging process. It makes some people shudder and ask, “can I give up what I want for what I need. Will it stifle me? Will it hinder me? Will I be slowed down by this whole’oneness’ thing?”

If you cannot see what you gain by what you lose then the answer could be yes to some or all of those concerns. Admittedly, it is difficult. The two shall become one. No longer me and her, it’s we. There is no longer his life and mine. We now belong to each other. We don’t make independent decisions. We make all major decisions together and run most minor decisions by the other person. We value each other’s opinions and care deeply about their concerns.  The goal is to be of one mind on most everything. It’s not about what I want or what he wants, but what we want and what we are thinking. Unity means communicating your togetherness.

“Honey, I was thinking about our conversation and I am ready to take the next step.”

The wife looked skeptical. “OK…so are you being serious now?” 

“Yes. We have talked about this and I think God is calling us to foster kids, so I want to be in lockstep with Him and with you so let’s start the process and see where God takes us. Whatever happens, I am with you in the pursuit of this spiritual mission.” 

The smile returned to the wife’s face: “maybe this oneness thing won’t take as long as I thought.” 

It is not easy becoming one. No longer two. But one.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can we honestly say, “I love you as you are, without requiring anything to change?”
  2. Is there a way to prepare for becoming one when you get married? After you have been married for some time? 

Building A Shared Vision

“The one thing that will determine how you order your money – and all your life really – is your unique vision as a couple” –  Ngina Otiende.

Every company has a vision. A vision is a mental picture of the result you want to achieve. A vision is not a vague wish or dream or hope. It is a tool that directs the future and informs and energizes the present. Visioning can be a very powerful tool. And sometimes they are pretty cool: For example, NASA’s vision is To fly What Others Only Imagine. But you would expect a pretty cool vision from a group that explores space and aeronautics.

If we want to improve our marriage here on earth we need to cast a vision as well.  A company’s vision does not just appear. It takes hours and hours of collecting, analyzing and interpreting data to determine the vision statement that will guide how the management team will run the business. Ditto in marriage. I believe that if you want a thriving marriage, you must be intentional about it and that starts with a vision. Developing a vision for your marriage requires time together to seek God’s guidance, to pray together, talk through issues that need to be discussed, and make decisions about family, marriage, careers and anything else going on in your lives. Think about it for a second: If you have no idea about your destination, then how do you know when you’ve arrived? How do you know when you’re on the wrong path?

To build that vision spend time praying and discussing where you want to go and the obstacles that will pop up from time to time. Come away with a written plan, that each spouse commits to sticking to. A vision can address careers, finances, goals, aspirations, children, etc. Once the couple agrees on a vision, the likelihood of arguing about those areas is greatly reduced. The married couple simply needs to be true to the vision God gave them and move forward.

The great thing about going to the Lord and getting His vision for your marriage is that it’s absolutely stable. You go through a discouraging or difficult time, and that vision stays before you as a testimony that God has a purpose for your life and marriage.

Discussion Question:

  1. Is it possible for a couple to believe they are on the same page only to find out that they are being naive?  
  2. How is being on the same page and being unified in vision different?

The Greatest Enemy Of Unity

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10. 

Adam and Eve is a great story. God knew that His creation would not function well on its own. God established marriage for the purpose of companionship. “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) God fashions a woman from and for the many. Adam & Eve had it all. They had a stunningly good, beautiful, pure, and right marriage in the Garden of Eden. And they all lived happily ever after. The End.  

Now the serpent…” The beautiful story of Adam and Eve takes an unexpected turn. The enemy of marriage was on the scene. A sinister figure appears over this spectacular Garden of Eden; “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” (Genesis 3:1) Without invitation or warning, but with destructive intentions, the serpent slithers into the scene and history.  The serpent singles out the woman and says, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). The serpent has sown a seed that takes root and will affect the yet-to-be-born, the entire human race. The serpent is still pursuing couples seeking to love and serve God today. After all, that’s all he does.

Ever since God created marriage, the serpent (Satan) has been trying to undermine it and cause divorce, separation, marital infidelity and turmoil. An enemy who hates the story marriage is meant to tell. We must never allow the enemy to destroy and take away what God has joined together. We should never allow Satan to remove the wonder of what it is to be “one flesh.” He will employ various tactics to do just that. Knowing this, we should all be vigilant to protect our marriages.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor during the time of the Nazi’s and World War II. While imprisoned he wrote a sermon on marriage for a couple from his prison cell. And had it smuggled out. He wrote that it is not love that sustains the marriage, but the marriage that sustains your love for one another and in order to defeat the enemy, God must be part of the marriage. He wrote:

“As much as we love ‘they lived happily ever after’ as endings to stories, life teaches us this isn’t always the case. Married life for the two of you will get hectic and crazy because of work, disagreements, expectations you bring into your marriage, and money, just to name a few obstacles. However, remember that third strand in your marriage, Christ. Remember the love He has for the two of you. He knows when we fall, when we are cold, when we are attacked. Because He loves us, He lifts us, warms us, and protects us so that we can do the same for each other. It is my hope and prayer that the two of you will remember these principles from God’s Word, and apply them in your lives for a lifetime of joy in your marriage!”

Discussion Question:

  1. What problem(s) in your marriage do you see as your responsibility? Which do you see as God’s problem? Which do you see as Satan’s doing?  

“We’re On A Mission From God”

“Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8. 

When Jake Blues gets out of prison, he and his brother Elwood decide to reform their band—The Blues Brothers Band—to raise money for an orphanage. As they travel the country searching for their bandmates, they tell people “We’re on a mission from God.” The duo is known for their reckless driving and they immediately attract the attention of the Chicago police and the chaos ensues. As married couples, we too are on a mission from God, but it probably does not involve wrecking 103 cars in high speed chases at night while wearing sunglasses. 

Developing a mission starts with the basic question: Why did you get married? There are numerous reasons people get married. Maybe you got married because everybody else did. Or maybe it was a calculated decision based more on convenience, status, money, or other reasons. Whatever the reason, marriage is all about looking at our goals for the future. If we aim at nothing, we will hit the target every time. 

Take the second law of thermodynamics; basically, the law states that left to themselves, things will decay. The same is true of relationships, especially marriages. If you don’t nurture and nourish your relationships, they will begin to wither. What starts out being comfortable can easily slide into complacency if we are not careful. We need a purpose, a vision and a mission to keep the marriage from withering over time. 

Setting marriage goals can be revolutionary for our marriage. When you have a plan, you are able to work toward and achieve a common goal together for the future. Couples need that common vision, and when you have it, it’s so much easier to bring up issues, like your parenting philosophies or how you spend your time and resources, because you can ask if what you’re doing now fits in with the vision. That vision should include a spiritual component. What are you passionate about as a couple? Where can you use that passion to serve others? 

I want to challenge you to think what would happen if the two of you stepped outside your comfort zone and led something together? A mission trip? A small group? A class on a subject that is close to your hearts? The possibilities are endless. If you do you will grow spiritually.  If you are leading and teaching about forgiveness you will become better forgivers.  If you are teaching about conflict you will have less conflict. When couples serve together they grow closer as a team and the relationship gets tighter. 

When you have a common mission and vision, you’ve learned to weave together your personal, family, and marriage goals in a way that compliment each other.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a mission, a vision for your marriage? 
  2. How can defining that mission in marriage dramatically improve your chances of getting where you want it to go? 

Pursue Unity

In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more fundamentally action than emotion.” – Tim Keller.

In John chapter 17, we read how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before His death. It becomes evident that unity was on Jesus heart. We see His desire is for His people to have visible unity.  If you’ve ever wondered why unity is so important to Jesus, we find the answer in verse 22-23. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” 

Deep, true unity is unmistakable and irreplaceable in a healthy marriage. Often a portion of the wedding ceremony includes two candles, which are joined together to light a third candle, thus symbolizing the unity of marriage. God’s word says “the two are united into one.” (Genesis 2:24). One flesh. Combined. Unified.

God created us for deeper unity with our spouses than any other human. While pursuing unity in marriage can be difficult at times, it makes perfect sense. Pursuing unity forces us as couples to think like your spouse, to put your spouse’s needs before your own and to have otherwise impossible conversations with each other. Unity creates a lasting bond. Conversely, things can be pretty rowdy where there’s no unity. And there will never be lack of fires to put out, or crises to address where unity is lacking.

Marriage is far beyond cohabiting. It means to be physically, spiritually, financially, sexually, materially united. And that’s what most married couples want. I don’t know anybody who wants to be less unified with their spouse. We want unity. It is in our best interest. Our circumstances can be bleak, the ground can be shaking underneath our feet, but if you and your spouse are unified and your marriage is healthy, you will survive every storm. That type of confidence is built on having God at the absolute center of our lives because when two people are on a mission for God it creates a synergy between them. 

Psalm 133:1-3 talks about unity: “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony. For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head… Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.”  

The question is not whether or not you want unity in your marriage, but rather, are you willing to do what it takes to build it? My prayer is that you and your spouse be unified on every level. We pray that as you are, your joy and love will multiply.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does “unity” mean to you in marriage/relationships? 
  2. What are some ways that you can start building unity in your marriage/relationships this week?