When Marriage Is Miserable



There are days when being married is just downright miserable.

That’s true for even the healthiest, most God honoring marriages in the church.  If you go into marriage thinking it’s going to be an uninterrupted symphony of laughter, joy, sex and perfect holiday memories, you’re going to be disappointed.  And if no one tells you marriage is designed to expose your sin, teach you about grace and make you more like Jesus, you’ll bail when it gets hard.  Or, you’ll stay and be miserable.

As we talked about on Sunday at Restoration City, God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:16, NASB)  Even in circumstances where divorce is permissible, like sexual infidelity, it isn’t required or even preferred.  This means the church should be in the business of saving marriages.  But if we look at the divorce rates within the church, it’s clear that the strategy of prohibiting divorce and shaming those who are divorced isn’t working.  We need to find ways of upholding the Scripture’s teaching while building into the marriages in our churches.

So, what would I say to a couple trapped in a miserable marriage?  Let me offer three thoughts that work on bad days, bad seasons and even the days when you want to throw in the towel.

Look To Yourself

Nothing is easier than blaming your spouse for everything that’s wrong in your marriage.  You know them better than anyone else on the planet, including all of their sins, struggles and shortcomings.  So, it becomes really easy to pin the whole mess on them.  If he would just get in shape and earn more money, we would be happy.  If she would just spend less and have more sex, we would be happy.

But what if we were more willing to look to ourselves first and our spouses second.  Of course they aren’t perfect.  But neither are we.  Where is your selfishness, pride and lack of grace the real issue?  What could you change about you?

I wonder how many marriages could be saved by praying Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Look to God

God created marriage to make the gospel visible in our world. (Eph. 5:22-27).  There’s simply no way to do that without His grace and power.  And nothing accesses the grace and power of God like prayer.  Psalm 105:4, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”  Simply put, the power of God is found in the presence of God.

Couples who won’t pray together are hiding from the only One who can change hearts, work miracles and heal deep wounds of the soul.  Please don’t say you are doing everything possible to improve your marriage if you aren’t taking the time to pray for and with each other.

Look to Others

Careful with this one.  I’m not talking about texting the friend who always takes your side.  And I’m definitely not talking about calling your mom to complain about your spouse!  I’m talking about asking other couples, members of your Community Group or pastors to walk alongside of you.

There’s everything right with asking for help, seeking wise counsel and asking other couples to speak into your situation.  Seeing a counselor isn’t taboo.  Scheduling an appointment with a pastor who loves you isn’t a sign you failed.  Reading a book on marriage doesn’t show that you’re inept.

And, in some circumstances, seeking outside help is absolutely essential. Any form of abuse or physical safety requires outside help.  So do most mental health, chemical dependency and addiction issues.  Don’t allow fear to trap you into fighting on your own.

I’m not naive enough to think those three suggestions will turn every marriage around in three days.  Sometimes restoration takes months or years.  Sometimes it never happens.  But God didn’t design you to be trapped in a miserable marriage.  He called You to experience Him in deep and mysterious ways through the joys and struggles of marriage.

So, Why Can’t I Date A Non-Christian?


Our focus yesterday at Restoration City was on marriage, family and divorce as we studied Mark 10:1-16.  It’s a difficult passage that causes many of us to wrestle with some of the rawest areas of our hearts.  The message likely brought up some questions that many of us would rather avoid.  But that’s not how we grow.  So, I want to encourage you to engage the questions you have, press for answers, pray, think, discuss.  To help in that, I’m going to devote this week’s blog posts to answering some of the most common questions that came out of Sunday’s message.

So, let’s get started with, “Why can’t I date non-Christians?”  This question is interesting because it also frequently travels with a companion statement, “There’s no verse in the Bible that says I can’t date a non-Christian.”  If we sat down for coffee, here’s roughly how our conversation would go:

ME:  For the record, you’re right.  There’s not one single passage in the Bible about dating, yet alone dating non-Christians.  But there are several about who you should marry.  Let me give you the two that are most relevant to this question:

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:39)

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14)

So, it seems pretty clear that if you’re a follower of Christ, God’s will is for you to marry another follower of Christ.  In the first passage, Paul is reminding widows that it’s okay for them to remarry but clarifying it should be “only in the Lord.”  In other words, it’s fine for a widow to get remarried but only to Christians.  It doesn’t make any sense to say your second marriage should be to a Christian but your first marriage can be to whoever.  The second passage makes a broader point about the fundamental incompatibility of Christians and non-Christians in marriage by warning Christians not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers.”  Marrying a non-Christian is a formula for intense heartache and grief as you do your best to love Jesus in the face of your spouse’s apathy.  The Bible warns us to avoid the pain of heading to church while your spouse heads to the golf course or mall.

YOU: “Ok, fine.  I won’t marry him but what’s wrong with dating him?”

ME: Let me answer that question with two of my own:

Why is it so important to you to play with fire?

If you know the relationship isn’t going anywhere, what are you hoping to get out of it?  And why are you putting yourself in a position to fall in love with someone you’ll never marry?  By the way, it’s amazing how easily we forget about the “someone you’ll never marry part” when the “fall in love” part starts to happen.  You’re honestly just flirting with temptation.

How would your date feel if you told them there was no chance of you ever getting married?

If the answer is relieved, you’re already in trouble on a whole other front.  If the answer is disappointed, you’re being deceptive.  You’re not honoring God or the other person by leading them on when you know this is nothing more than a fling.

YOU: Ok, but I have a friend who dated this guy and he started coming to church and now he’s a Christian and they’re happily married.

ME: I also hear about people winning the lottery.  It’s still a really bad use of your money.

YOU: Don’t be a jerk.

ME:  Ok.  But just because it worked out well for someone is no guarantee that it’s going to work out well for you.  If anything, consider your friend’s story as the example that proves the rule not a reason to pitch the Bible’s wisdom out the window.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with befriending someone who isn’t a Christian (it’s actually a really good thing), inviting them to church, introducing them to your other friends and praying they follow Jesus.  If all of that happens, then, by all means, date them.  But it’s just not wise to make dating your first move.

Did I leave out any other questions you might have on this one?  If so, post them in the comments below and I’ll respond…or just share your thoughts.

Up next: So, what do I do if I’m stuck in a miserable marriage?

Processing Paris


We’re all grappling with the hateful events in Paris this weekend.  Once again, the world’s attention is gripped by unfathomable evil.  All of the sudden a city that many of us have never been to is in the forefront of our thoughts.  We want to hope, to believe, to encourage but don’t know what that really means in a situation like this.  Maybe more to the point, our hearts are struggling to respond.  If it’s helpful, this is how the Bible is helping me respond:


If our zeal for prayer was as strong as our desire to hashtag about prayer, it would be a beautiful thing.  Prayer is more than a warm feeling about a group of people.  It’s a blood bought privilege that we must utilize as followers of Jesus.  We have the ability to approach the sovereign Lord of all creation and ask Him to move with justice, compassion and mercy for the sake of His great Name. May we truly pray that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” would comfort Paris in all of her affliction. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)


I’ve come back to Revelation 21:4 often since first hearing about these attacks, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  This broken world needs You.  Wipe our tears and declare the death of death.


Until Jesus comes back, He accomplishes His work through His church.  We honor the victims of Paris and the call of God on our lives when we shine the light of Jesus into our homes, neighborhoods, campuses and offices.  Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  We are the overcommers, the salt, light and hope of the world.  Don’t be afraid to love, to draw near and to point to Jesus.  He and He alone can put the shattered pieces of Paris  back together into something even more beautiful than before.

All of our hearts are with the people of Paris.  I pray Jesus will be visible through His church in these days in Paris, in DC and all over our lost, confused and broken world.

Crash Diet Spirituality

Crash Diet Spirituality

We all know crash diets don’t work.  But we can be so tempted by the possibility of quick results that we just can’t help ourselves every now and again.  Or maybe it’s desperation that drives us into a frenzied season of carb-free, extended sessions on the treadmill.  Initially, it seems like everything’s working as planned – pounds come off, energy levels increase and clothes fit better.

Then some friends invite you to join them at the hot new pizza place in town.  You spend the whole drive there meditating on, “I’m only getting a salad.”  But six slices of pizza later you decide to skip the gym for the evening.  Then the following day is busy and you grab a venti sugar laden something.  By the end of the week, you’ve gained a pound.  It’s depressing.

Especially when we do the same thing spiritually.

After a season of sin, despair or distance from God, we resolve to get our act together spiritually.  We start making vows, promises and commitments: wake up at 4am, pray for three hours, listen to a podcast a day, never miss church, lead one person a day to the Lord and go on the next mission trip offered.  We permanently renounce lust, pride, anger, bitterness, fear and greed.  We even vow to start making our bed and keeping up with the laundry – all part of the new and improved version of ourselves.

And then we fall.  And start the cycle again.

Don’t get me wrong – repentance is a good thing.(Ps. 51)  It’s a neglected thing in the church.  In some ways, we’ve gotten so good at pivoting to the grace of the gospel that we fail to take stock of the horror of our sin.  There’s everything right with seeing how far we’ve fallen and turning back to the Father who loves us.

But the journey to spiritual health is a long and winding road.  It’s going to take sustained energy, resilience in the face of setbacks and patience with ourselves.  Becoming more like Jesus is a marathon, not a sprit.  The path to spiritual health is one of small daily decisions repeated for weeks, months and years.

Please don’t misunderstand me – this isn’t an invitation to complacency.  Fight sin.  Embrace Jesus.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Serve.  But fight for the long term transformation over the short term mirage.

Long term transformation comes through the constant renewing of our minds in Scripture (Romans 12:2) and increasing reliance on the Spirit of God.  You’ll know you’re on the path to a healthy, sustainable relationship with Jesus when the road ahead is both beautiful and intimidating. When we see all that Jesus is inviting us into, we want to follow Him.  At the same time, we realize we’re totally inadequate for all He’s leading us into.  We need His grace, His power, His Spirit to carry us.

Real health and lasting change comes in that moment of awe inspired surrender.  Don’t look for shortcuts around that moment.  Embrace it and allow Jesus to meet you there.

Young Christians, Don’t Be Afraid of Veteran’s Day


Every year it seems like Veteran’s Day produces some low grade angst in many young, urban Christians.  Very few seem opposed to the holiday (especially if they get the day off from work) but there seems to be a lot of hesitancy about how vocal we should be.  Many of the questions I’ve been asked are good ones from well meaning followers of Christ:

  • If my citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), should I dial back on anything that could be seen as patriotic?
  • Could thanking veterans erode my ability to reach the international community in my city?  Maybe my thanks won’t play well with people from countries where troops have been or are currently deployed.
  • Not everyone in my church is American.  I don’t want them to feel marginalized or isolated.
  • I want to maintain the ability to reach people with all kinds of foreign policy views, so I don’t say anything that could ever hinder that objective.
  • The military just isn’t my thing.  Jesus is my focus.

Rather than answering each of these questions point by point, let me offer two simple thoughts:

Settle Down.

Most of this angst comes from overthinking the situation and overestimating our own importance.  Nobody thinks that you saying thank you to our troops is somehow an endorsement of every military action ever taken by America.  You’re not endorsing an interventionist or isolationist foreign policy.  You’re not making a statement about budget priorities in Washington.  You’re saying thank you.  There’s everything right with taking a day to say thank you to our military families who sacrifice so much on our behalf.

Focus On What Matters.

I promise you the great obstacle to reaching people from the other 195 countries on the planet is not Veteran’s Day.  It’s our self absorption the other 364 days of the year.  The best way to demonstrate our citizenship in heaven is by loving across cultures, borders and barriers on a daily basis.  The world is desperately waiting for the church to lead the way in bringing hope, justice and life to every nation, every tribe and every tongue.  We are to be the ones who love the alien and stranger, the widow and orphan and the least of these.  The world needs us actively engaged in the mission of God, not looking for ways to compensation for and distract from our disengagement.

You can see the Pentagon from where our church gathers on a Sunday morning.  I have the privilege of pastoring a number of military families and I’ve seen first hand the sacrifice, bravery and service that define their lives.  I love Jesus and I love these families.  I’m grateful for the blessing of being an American and I’m grateful for a day to honor those who defend our nation and our freedoms.

Happy Veteran’s Day!