When Marriage Is Miserable

alone

 

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?

Date

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?

Breathe – Starting This Sunday At Restoration City

Breathe 1

I absolutely can’t wait to start our new series, Breathe, at Restoration City this Sunday.  We’re talking about the three things that seem to create the most anxiety in our lives – time, money and the future.  I’m trusting God to use these three weeks in massive ways in the life of our church.  We’re doing this series for two reasons:

1.  We Need It As A Church.

I feel like there are a lot of us burning the candle at both ends, running on empty and not experiencing the fullness of joy Christ promises because we’re spending so much time worrying and filling up our lives with things that don’t really matter.  My biggest prayer for this series is that we would all have room in our lives to say “yes” to the things God is putting in front of us in 2015.  This series is a chance for all of us to make sure we don’t miss out on everything God wants to do in our lives this year.

2.  Your Friends Need It.

This series is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to invite people to church.  Yes, we want every Sunday to be welcoming and accessible for people who are new to church and Jesus.  But there are a couple of times every year when we want to be especially intentional about that – new years is one of them!  So, don’t just plan to be at church this Sunday.  Pray about who should be there with you…and then invite them!  Would love for this to be a month of us welcoming new friends into the Restoration City family.

If we all rally around this series, it could be a game changer for our church.  Don’t miss out on Breathe!

Restoration City Church Sermon Podcast Is LIVE

We’ve officially launched the Restoration City Podcast!  You can search for it in iTunes or just follow this link.  I’m so grateful to the team of people that has worked to make this happen – Ben, Tyler and Dan, you guys are the best!  This is a huge win for us as a church for two reasons:

1.  When people are looking for a church, they want to know what’s being preached.  A sermon gives people a really clear sense of our doctrine and our culture as a church.  So, use this as a tool to tell friends about Restoration City Church.

2.  It enables you to catch up when you miss a Sunday.  That’s a really big deal in general but specifically for our amazing RCCKids volunteers.  We have a group of people who give up being in our gathering on a Sunday morning to serve our kids and this podcast means they can still track along with the sermon.

Right now, we have two old messages posted.  The message from last Sunday will be up over the weekend and then we’ll get in the habit of posting weekly.

Praying this resource serves our church and city well.

Our House

We’re starting a three week series this Sunday at Restoration City Church called, “Our House.”  I’m praying God will use these messages to unite all of us around who we are as a church, what we’re trying to build and the mission we’re pursuing.

From the beginning, I’ve felt like the mission of our church could best be condensed into three statements:

  • Live Through Jesus
  • Live In Community
  • Live For Restoration

Over the next three weeks, we’re going to take those statements one at a time, put a biblical foundation under each one and talk about how it shapes who we are becoming as a church.  If you call Restoration City home, you need to hear these messages.  If you’re considering getting involved with us, these next three weeks will give you a really good picture of what we’re about as a community.  Either way, you need to make a point of joining us for the next three weeks!

RCC Summer Sabbath Devotional Guide

Introduction

Welcome to Restoration City’s Summer Sabbath.

Today is a huge gift to our church from God. He’s led us to lay down our schedules, lay down our commitments and simply sit at His feet and receive from Him. The goal of this time isn’t to complete a devotional. The goal of this time is to be with Jesus and to hear His voice. When this guide is helpful in that, use it. When it’s not, follow the Spirit’s leading in your life. Either way, I pray you encounter God in a really unique way today.

Decelerate

Our souls are a lot like boats. When you turn off the engine on a boat, it doesn’t stop moving immediately. It takes time to decelerate and come to a complete stop. My guess is your soul is still moving as you’re reading this. There are things on your mind. Maybe today isn’t going the way you had hoped. Maybe you’ve already fallen into sin today and you’re tempted to write the whole day off as a result.

Wherever you are now, take some time to decelerate. Shut your phone off. Sit silently for a few minutes. You don’t need to do anything, pray anything, think about anything or say anything. Let silence and stillness work into your soul. As you sit, things are probably going to pop into your mind – if they are things to do, jot them down in your notebook. You can come back to them later. For now, just write it down and forget it.

Silence and stillness were regular components of Jesus’ life here on Earth.

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”

– Mark 1:35-37

 Jesus was a busy guy. People would hunt Him down while He was off praying – they needed things from Him, they had things for Him to do, He was in demand. But He also knew He needed time with His Father more than He needed to fulfill those demands. Jesus didn’t have time to rest. Jesus made time to rest. He woke up early, snuck away and spent time with the Father.

If Jesus needed that space, how much more do we?

Take a few minutes to pray and ask God for the grace to slow down. Ask Him to slow the boat of your life down so you can hear His voice today.

Recapture

Rest cultivates gratitude.

When we neglect rest, one of the first casualties in our lives is gratitude. Thankfulness erodes and stress, worry, anxiety and fear start to creep in and fill the vacuum. All of the sudden, we’re more aware of what’s wrong with our lives than what’s right. Grumbling and complaining replace receiving and rejoicing.

As we rest, we recapture gratitude.

I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;
I will tell of all Your wonders.

 I will be glad and exult in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.

– Psalm 9:1-2

King David wrote those words thousands of years ago. He was acutely aware of how much He had to be grateful for in His life. He had seen God do wonders. His joy in God was rooted in gratefulness to God.

When was the last time you reminded yourself of the wonders You have seen God work in your own life? Take some time and write out the ways God has blessed you in the last week, in the last month and over the last year. Think about answered prayers, new insights into the gospel, ways He’s molding your character, times He’s fought for you, unexpected blessings and little evidences of His grace and provision in your life.

If you have a notebook with you, start writing. Make a list. Be specific. Don’t rush through this.

Look back over that list and spend time praising God just like David did in Psalm 9. We’re not trying to forget the hard stuff but we are reminding ourselves of the grace we’ve received even in difficult seasons.

It’s only when we’re aware of just how good God has been to us that we can truly rest.

Process

If the trail of our gratitude doesn’t lead us to the gospel, we’ve missed the most significant thing of all.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:13-14

Our sins are forgiven. We’ve been purchased. King Jesus has given us life that will never end. We once walked in darkness but we now we are children of light.

Take a minute to read all of Colossians 1 in your Bible.

The words we just read aren’t some philosopher’s opinions. They are promises from God. We don’t want to just read His Word. We want to pray through how that Word speaks into the current circumstances of our lives. Here are some questions you might want to consider:

  1. Where are you in need of “knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding?” (Col. 1:9)
  2. Where are you currently struggling to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”? (Col. 1:10) Confess specific sins to God and receive the forgiveness that is ours though the gospel.
  3. Verse 17 says all things are held together by Jesus. What are some specific places you need Him to be working in your life; places where you need help holding everything together?
  4. How conscious are you on a daily basis of “Christ in you, the hope of glory”? (Colossians 1:27) Are you living like this is true?

These questions are meant to prompt you as you meditate on Chapter 1 of Colossians. But don’t feel constrained by these questions – respond to the text however God is leading you.

Receive

We want to end where we started – back in Mark 1.

He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby,so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”

– Mark 1:38

Don’t miss the significance of this. Jesus comes away from His time with His Father with a renewed sense of clarity about what God is calling Him to do in life. He doesn’t simply respond to the demands of the crowd. He doesn’t even go where people expected Him to go. He goes where His Father is sending Him and He does what His Father is telling Him to do.

Rest renews clarity on our mission.

In this last section, we want to spend time hearing from God and asking Him to speak vision into our lives. This isn’t so much about asking Him to bless our plans but much more about asking Him to fill us with passion for His plans.

This fall is going to be amazing for all of us. We’re going to have the privilege of seeing a church come to life. We’re going to celebrate baptisms as a community and, by God’s grace, see people transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. There’s so much ahead for us this fall.

What is God asking you to do? What’s His vision for you in this upcoming season?

Spend some time dreaming, thinking and praying about what these next few months could look like if you lived in the power of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Conclusion

Feel free to linger with the Lord or jump into the rest of your day. Whatever you do, I hope it’s restful. I hope you enjoy it. I hope it fills your soul with life.

Rest Requires Preparation

There has probably never been a group of people more uncomfortable with the idea of rest than the Israelites during their time in the desert. After fleeing Egypt, Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. As you might imagine, food and water were a pretty big deal for them during that time.

Just to make things more interesting, God Himself was providing for Israel on a daily basis. Here’s how God explained the arrangement to Moses, “ Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.”(Ex.16:4) The idea was simple – go collect what you need for the day but nothing more. The test for Israel was whether they would trust God for fresh provision the next day or try to store up extra from today in case God didn’t come through tomorrow. In case you’re wondering, Israel failed that test pretty badly and quickly discovered that the bread, called manna, went bad at the end of the day on which God had provided it so hoarding really wasn’t an option. (Ex. 16:20)

Here’s where it gets interesting. While all of this was going on, God commanded Israel to observe a weekly Sabbath. He wanted them to take one day per week and devote it to Him – to rest and to worship. (Ex. 20:8-10) That’s perfectly lovely but how were they supposed to eat on the Sabbath? The bread from the day before would go bad but they were not allowed to go collect more on the Sabbath and there was no other food source available.

Fortunately for them, God had already thought that one through. “On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Ex. 16:5) If Israel prepared properly, they would have plenty of bread to eat and a day off!

Even today, rest still requires preparation. Our issue isn’t collecting additional food. Our issue is planning to carve out space. Today’s preparation paves the way for tomorrow’s rest.

As a church, we’re not gathering tomorrow so we can rest. But that rest isn’t going to happen without a little preparation today. So, take some time now to plan what rest is going to look like for you tomorrow. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Decide now what chunk of time you want to devote to resting and to being with Jesus. Maybe you’ll block out an hour or a morning or the whole day. The length doesn’t matter – what matters is designating that time now and protecting it.
  • Where can you go to be alone and connect with Jesus? Maybe it’s a park, a lake, your back yard, your room or a coffee shop. It doesn’t matter where – just make sure it’s a place you love and a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • This is the one that might induce a panic attack – you need to shut your cell phone off (also, your Blackberry, your computer, your iPad or whatever else keeps you connected). Leave it in the car, put it on airplane mode, power it down, do whatever it takes to disconnect for your designated rest time. Trust me, both you and the world will be just fine.
  • Approach rest with the expectation that you’re going to meet with God. Bring your Bible, a pen and a notebook. Print out the devotional guide I’m posting tomorrow morning. But approach all of this with excitement – you get to be alone with God!

The reward for our preparation is undisturbed time with Jesus.   Israel knew the joy of receiving bread from heaven. We know the joy of communing with the One who is the bread of life.(Jn. 6:35) Manna satisfied hunger. Jesus satisfies souls. If Israel cherished God’s provision, how much more should we cherish Jesus knowing that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Deut.8:3)

Tomorrow we rest. Today we prepare.