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? 

Is Good Enough Good Enough?

“Love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.” – C.S. Lewis. 

There are people who settle for and are happy with a “good enough” marriage. This is the group that wishes to be happily married, but is only mildly interested in working toward a great marriage. A good enough marriage is when people do enough to get by. Neither spouse is willing to go for the gold preferring instead to be in the middle of the pack somewhere. 

This reminds me of a prevent defense in football. This defensive strategy is designed to prevent the big-play that would jeopardize their lead.  This defensive strategy works for short periods of time and often gives up the lead it is trying to hold. Married couples can also find themselves playing a prevent defense. They are “playing” to prevent divorce, major unhappiness, or personal discomfort. A good enough marriage is better than a bad marriage.   

This is not how God created marriages to be. God is in the business of scripting beautiful love stories. God wants our marriages to only grow stronger and more beautiful. God wants you and your spouse to not only be in love, but to stay in love. That can happen when we choose to keep Christ at the center of our lives. Instead of looking to our marriage to meet and fulfill our needs and desires, we need to look to Him as our ultimate source of joy and security. Making Jesus Christ our “all in all” is the secret sauce that keeps marriages thriving.

This does not mean we don’t have to work at it. We do because love is a verb. We will need to put the thought and energy into building your marriage that a top scientist might invest in an important new invention. Truly happy and successful couples never take their marriages for granted. They pray for their marriages and they study the Bible for ways to improve their marriage. And they make a mutual commitment to make their marriages last.  

When someone loves us, they make a point of showing up for us. And showing up is verbalized in the big and little actions we take every day to show your spouse you care for and love them deeply. It is verbalized in our commitment to be selfless and love your spouse sacrificially just as Christ loved us. God wants more than good enough and so should we.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you were younger, how did you view marriage? How has this changed? What kind of marriage do you want to have? What will it take to make that happen?
  2. What steps can we take short and long-term to strengthen our marriages/relationships?  

Don’t Jump To Conclusions

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7.  

The reality is that when you have been married for a period of time, you start to make some assumptions. In addition, you start to speculate more and more. Here is the $64,000 question: do you always assume the worst or do you give your spouse the benefit of the doubt? Over time there seems to be a rush to judgment in marriage. We think the worst. I wonder how many marital arguments between spouses would be avoided if we default to giving one another the benefit of the doubt by resisting the urge to jump to conclusions.    

It’s easier to do the right thing when our spouse does the right thing. It’s not rocket science, it’s just human nature. You be good to me and I’ll be good to you. But when there is a bump in the road – we all make mistakes – we tend to believe the worst of our spouse, not the best.  Proverbs 11:27 tells us that we get what we look for:  “If you search for good, you will find favor; but if you search for evil, it will find you!” So as followers of Christ, we need to ask ourselves, are we searching for evil or searching for good?

Even if I did not know the “whole story” of your marriage, I do know one undeniable fact: you’re both married to an imperfect mate. If you left your spouse, interviewed two hundred “replacement” candidates, put them through a battery of psychological tests, have follow-up interviews conducted by your closest friends, spent three years dating the most compatible ones, and finally selecting the one that seems to be your perfect match in every way; still not convinced, you spend the next six months praying and fasting about this person, you’d still end up with a spouse who disappoints you, hurts you, frustrates you, and stumbles in some sort or fashion. The perfect spouse does not exist. 

We will make mistakes. But, we also do a lot of things right. Unfortunately the bad usually outweighs the good.  I can overlook a husband who forgets to take out the trash or a wife that can’t make pancakes as mom did. I can love the way the husband fixes anything that breaks in the house and I can love how impeccably clean the wife keeps the house. Marriage is a journey.  And along the way, there will be confusion, money problems, children, miscommunication, and interference from unforeseen and unwanted circumstances in life. But there is so much good in the journey as well when we remember that we love our spouse and look for the good rather than the bad.  

Marriage is not about performance. It is about love. Love is patient and kind. It bears all things. It believes all things and it never fails. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you assume the worst?  
  2. What can we do this week to dwell on the positive more than the negative in our relationships?  

The Heart Of Marriage

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” – Proverbs 4:23. 

Have you ever said something and wondered where that comment came from? Or maybe it was an idea that came out of nowhere. Or maybe you did something completely out of character and ask yourself, what was I thinking? We read in Proverbs that everything — our words, our thoughts, our choices, our decisions, our priorities — comes from our hearts. And that is true of our relationships as well. When we don’t guard our heart, the things that can harm our walk with God and our spouse find an entrance. As your heart goes, so goes your life.

King Solomon possessed the wisdom to govern all Israel. But King Solomon lacked the will to govern his own heart. It makes you wonder how one of the smartest people in history could manage to be foolish in some areas of his life. Like so many in the Bible and throughout history,  he paid the price for his obsessions and an unguarded heart.

A practical way to guard your heart in your relationship is to stay alert. The Psalmist tells us to keep vigilant, specially in those times when there is turmoil in our relationships: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you“ (Psalm 42:5-6)  Our heart belongs to God. Only God can have the permission to lead, guide and instruct our heart. That is why we must safeguard it.  

 When you guard your heart in daily life, you choose not to listen to conversations that are critical or wrong. You avoid sinking into bouts of complaining or criticizing, and you don’t allow depression, anger, bitterness, self-pity, or self-hatred to overwhelm you.

It’s one of the most disappointing, heartbreaking, and shocking things to believe that you will be with someone you love forever…only to experience some bumps in the road. But if we want to stay in love, if we want to make love a verb, we must learn how to guard our hearts so we make healthy, wise decisions in our relationships.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why is it so important to guard your heart? 
  2. According to Luke 6:45, how does our heart affect our actions?

Mutual Submission

“ Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” — Romans 12:10 (NIV).

Submission is fundamental to Christian living and healthy relationships that honor God. Yet, the concept of submission has been misunderstood and distorted by many people, including well-meaning Christians. The Bible teaches that our relationships should be characterized by humility, love, and respect. These are the hallmarks of submission. The problem is that many believers have emphasized submission as a requirement for some, but not for others. We have made “submission” about “obedience,” rather than about sacrifice, love, and trust.

The Bible does not call wives to obey husbands or husbands to obey wives. It calls husbands and wives to trust and love one another so much that they become intertwined as one flesh. The Bible is calling for mutual submission. 

What does mutual submission mean and better yet, how can I apply it in my life? In simple terms, mutual submission means “I’m going to leverage my resources, my time, my talent, etc. for your benefit.” Regardless of who we are or what role we have, this is God’s standard for relationships. Godly submission looks a lot like love. If both husbands and wives submit to one another as commanded, we enter a never-ending, life-giving circle of mutual submission and love.

Mutual submission in marriage is not blind obedience; it is loving sacrifice. It is turning the position of one’s heart towards the needs or desires of another’s heart. This is why the Bible calls husbands and wives to submit to one another: “Ephesians 5:21, says, “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Husbands and wives are meant to be a team. Teams operate best when one member does not demand authority or superiority over another member. Philippians 2:3 reminds us, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”

When husbands and wives submit to one another, checks and balances are in place and all parties can feel safe to express their needs, desires, and callings. 

Living in the way of Jesus is not about being above another or overriding the heart of the other… It’s about loving well in a marriage that seeks to reflect the person and actions of Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In marriage, what does mutual submission look like? What part do you play in that?
  2. What is the difference between obedience and submission?
  3. What can we do this week to practice mutual submission?

Love In Action

My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.” –  1 John 3:18 (GNT). 

Fiddler on the Roof is a musical that debuted in 1964. It is a story about Tevye, his wife Golde and their 5 daughters. There is a scene where the husband asks his wife if she loves him. She is shocked that he would even ask such a thing, and replies that for 25 years of marriage she has cared for him, took care of the house, made his bed, cooked his food, and reared their kids. And then says, if that isn’t love, then what is? This playful interaction between husband and wife illustrates a basic building black of true love; that love is an action verb. 

When we first fall in love we usually say things like,  “I love you” or “I want to be with you.” The early focus in marriage is on the “I” part of the equation. But staying in love requires taking the actions necessary to meet the needs of our spouse.  Falling in love is only the beginning. It’s the first step in an amazing journey where two people become one. But the extreme feelings of intimacy first felt will eventually start to diminish unless we do the things necessary to constantly kindle the flames. Love is more doing than feeling. 

Most married couples begin their marriage with lots of loving words and actions. Over time life gets busy and the words stop. Worse yet, our actions no longer match the words. We may be thinking all the right things.  But love has limited value until it is expressed and demonstrated. Those positive feelings for your spouse must find their way out through your mouth. 

Show your spouse not only in what you say, but also in what you do. It reminds me of a note a man wrote to his girlfriend some decades ago before most people had cars. “I would wade through barbed wire for you,” he gushed. “I would climb a sheer mountain wall just to be where you are. I would walk through fire just for the privilege of gazing into your eyes. P.S. I’ll see you tomorrow night if it doesn’t rain.” The air came out of that balloon quickly. His words and lofty intentions mean little without action. 

The love you give your spouse is not just in what you choose to think. It’s not even in what you feel about him or her. He’s all about the action. Love is a verb.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. In John 13:34, Jesus identifies love as a verb, not a noun. What are some concrete differences between feeling love and showing love through your actions?
  2. What steps can you take this week to proactively love someone rather than reacting to what someone else does or does not do for you? 

Tethered To God

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5. 

At about 3:45 p.m. on June 3, 1965, orbiting somewhere above the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, astronaut Ed White opened the hatch of his Gemini 4 spacecraft and stepped out on the first-ever spacewalk by an American.  Now in space, there is no resistance to one’s movement, so when White stepped off Gemini and began floating in space, he might have kept floating away were it not for a 26-foot tether attached between his spacesuit and ship.  That tether was crucial to the success of the space mission. 

Being tethered to God is just as important for the Christian. We tend to drift to places we don’t want to go when we are not tethered to God. Life can be hectic and there are times when we are so busy we forget the importance of being tethered to God. So instead of waiting on Him, we tend to try to solve life’s problems or circumstances with our own abilities. Instead of waiting for Him to shed some light on some confusion in our life we rush on ahead. Often that approach ends up in failure. When we are not tethered to God we can forget that God gave us talents and abilities, and He wants us to use them well; but He doesn’t mean for us to become sufficient in ourselves. We were created by God to rely on Him not only for the things we need and the choices we make, but every part of life.  

If you are looking to make a fresh start make sure that fresh start starts with being tethered to God. That is the best way to make the life changes you seek to make.  A fresh start means you have to launch out into new territory. The Bible says that the key to changing anything is faith. If you want to change your circumstance, it takes faith. If you want to change your personality, it takes faith. If you want to change anything in your life, you have to have some faith. And faith comes from being tethered to God.  If you act in faith then you will do something positive to ensure that you don’t repeat the same mistakes over. The faith that I am talking about is an affirmative faith that takes positive action coupled with the help of God to change your life.

If you want to be tethered to God tether yourself to God’s word. Psalm 1: 1-3 (TLB) says, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God. But they delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on his laws and thinking about ways to follow him more closely. They are like trees along a riverbank bearing luscious fruit each season without fail. Their leaves shall never wither, and all they do shall prosper. “ The more you meditate on God’s word, the better you will be tethered to God and the better the fresh start you wish to make.

What does it mean to be tethered to God? It means we are to become like Him. We are changed by Him. We are making the changes that represent visible life change. We would become more loving. We would be more forgiving. We would show more mercy. We would be more generous. And this character would begin to be evident in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define being tethered to God? 
  2. What could we do this week to be more tethered to God?