I gave a devotional / testimony type of thing at a Valentines Banquet tonight with some friends & family from church… along with a couple hecklers in the crowd. Wanted to get it jotted down in my blog so I can come back to it later…
When I volunteered to share a devotional tonight, I had one of those strange feelings where you know exactly what you want to share, but have absolutely no idea how you’re going to get it out of your heart, up your throat, and out of your mouth. Ever been there? In fact, as I thought about that, I realized I’m in that situation quite often, particularly, it seems, in my marriage. I have something great to say, to really inspire and encourage my wife, or just make her day, and how does it come out? Not at all as intended, that’s for sure. How about that one, am I alone in that one? Come on… let’s be honest… we’ve all been there… routinely.
Let’s start this off with a few prizes. We’ve got some books up here, especially picked for tonight, for your reading pleasure and marital bliss. Let’s start off easy… Who has spent the most time as a married couple with no children in the house? Both before your children were born, and after the last one left the nest, or if you simply haven’t had any. Ok, let’s flip that around… which couple has spent the LEAST amount of time as a two person family?
Let’s get a little more personal, and up the lines of what I want to share tonight. Who’s had the biggest fight and lived to love another day, or “who’s seen God bring their marriage back from the brink the most times?” Ok… we’ve probably all been there in our own way, right? So how about this? If you’ve ever had a fight and lived to love another day, if you’ve ever had to say “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you” to your partner, we want you to have one of these gifts. Because what you are fighting for, what you are living every day, is so much more than it seems.
I’d like you to think about some of your favorite fairy tales. I know, I know, that’s asking a lot. Think back to those days you read stories to your kids, your grandkids, or maybe even picked up a copy of the Brothers Grimm and read the stories of Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood. Perhaps you’re not so much a fairy tale kind of person, but would much rather sit down to a Lord of the Rings marathon. What makes a good story connect with us so well? What is it about these stories that captures our imaginations, offers us hope, and makes us want to step out of our shells and become something more than we are?
I believe it’s because every story we read, and the very stories we live, are part of a much BIGGER story, and that story is the story of God’s love and desire for us. The story of how we abandoned and betrayed the one who loves us more than anything. The story of a Kingdom that hangs in balance, a kingdom whose advance depends upon those who ran to spread of the word of its Hero, the Savior. Evil has taken hold, and is even seemingly advancing. Risk and Danger is everywhere. A risk that of exposing ourselves to our mate and being disappointed, or worse, betrayed. A risk of giving all we have to offer and it not being enough.
So much of that is what made marriage “hard” for me for quite some time. Difficult to the point that I considered it might be TOO hard, that I truly didn’t have what it takes, and that I’d either have to give up or would be given up on. That I would always be a disappointment to those I love. My wife… she wasn’t really all that perfect, either, was she? She rubbed me the wrong way sometimes… ok, quite a bit… and even if it was my problems that caused her to come across that way, marriage still seemed to be one of the most awkward types of relationships God actually expects and wants to work. The Bible says “Love never fails,” right? To me, it seemed like might be the most failure-prone relationship ever designed.
I’ve heard time and time again how a husband is “supposed” to behave, how a marriage is supposed to work. You know what I mean, don’t you? Let me read you a few verses from Ephesians 5 that just seemed to be pounded into my head during the early years of my marriage:
Among you there must be not even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity… or any obscenity, foolish talk, or course jesting, because these are improper of God’s people…. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure, or greedy person has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God…
Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church… so submit to your husbands, in everything…
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, to present her as blameless, without wrinkle, holy and blameless. Love her as you love your own body…
The only words in this chapter that made any practical sense to me were in the closing verses where Paul wrote, “This is a profound mystery.” Well, that’s the truth! Not a HINT of impurity? Her. submit to me? Me, love her like Christ loved me? Give myself up… for her? Me… make her holy? That’s not only dream-world, that’s simply impossible, isn’t it? No wonder so many marriages fail or turn into an awkward attempt to simply avoid conflict and live under the same roof.
It wasn’t until the last two or three years that God began to get ahold of my heart in this area. I began to get a sense of the fact that this truly was what God was calling me into. This is what He wants, even expects and longs for, from His children. My marriage is not going to survive, much less thrive, if I simply try to love God, love my wife, and hope it will all work out. While that’s an extremely popular view of marriage, it’s tremendously naïve, isn’t it? In reality, and even in those stories we love so much, every love story is lived in the midst of battle, of a desperate struggle to do more than just survive.
I read this in a book this week, and found it very true:
God gives us marriage to illustrate his heart towards us: healing, redemption, and love. Courage, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears. He is fighting for the hearts of His people.
God is a great lover, and He created marriage to play out on this earth a living, breathing portrait of the intimacy He longs for with his people. Gulp. This is why marriage has such a central role. It’s a kind of incarnation of the love and union between Jesus and His beloved.
Look at the stories God writes. They are almost always stories of desperate battles against insurmountable odds by the most unlikely heroes. And nearly always, there’s a last minute rescue. Stories like that of Noah, Moses, and of course, yes, even Jesus.
So yes, I can see how God wants to see more come from a marriage than just two people content to sleep in the same bed and occasionally come to the same decision. But could He really get me from here to there? Can he really make me the kind of man, and my wife the kind of woman, that can live this out?
This past fall I returned to a men’s retreat I went to a few years earlier. I can’t remember what it was that triggered it, but I decided that if I was going to take the commands of the last few chapters of Ephesians to heart as a lifestyle worth pursuing, I’d better read them in context of the first several chapters as well. How did these commands fit into this bigger picture I’ve been learning so much about?
That’s when it all became clear. Clear that I had missed something, and that I had missed something BIG. I was living a life, and participating in a marriage, under my own strength, in hopes that somehow I might just “get it right.” But that’s not at all what God has in mind. The first three ch
apters of Ephesians tell us not what to do, but who we are.
Listen to this… this is who God says we are. Not who we need to try to be, not who we’ll be when we get to heaven, but who we are… right here, right now, because of how much he loves us and the extent he’d go to GET US BACK:
I am a saint. I am chosen. I am holy. I am blameless. I am part of the faithful in Christ. I am adopted. I am a son. I am forgiven, redeemed, and sealed. I was dead, but now am raised up, even seated with Christ. I used to be a stranger, I used to be an alien, but I am now part of a temple. And that’s just the first chapter! Talk about a confidence booster.
I have nothing to prove to God. There is no condemnation. There need be no more guilt.
The man, the husband, the father, that God asks me to be… I can be, because I already AM. Living a life of purity, loving my wife as I should… those things don’t make me the kind of man God wants me to be, those are the things that will flow out of me because of the man He has made me to be, if I’ll only let go of the reins and let Him lead. The same goes for my wife. She is the very climax of creation, the highlight of this world, and nothing she can do or say will ever take that worth away from her. She is captivating, worth pursuing, and well worth the risk of whatever cost may be asked of me.
I wrap up with one more reading from this book, aptly titled, Love and War. These words were given during a wedding for a couple who, like many of us years ago, had very little idea what they were truly getting themselves into. I have a feeling this connected as much with the audience as they did with the couple everyone came to see.
The scariest thing a woman ever offers is to believe that she is worth pursuing, to open her heart up to pursuit, to continue to open up her heart and offer the beauty she holds inside, all the while fearing it will not e enough.
The scariest thing a man ever chooses is to offer his strength without knowing how things will turn out. To take the risk of playing the man before the outcome is decided. To offer his heart of strength while fearing it will not be enough.
A lie is going to come to both of you, in subtle and not so subtle ways. “It can’t be done. It’s too hard. We had unrealistic expectations. It isn’t worth it.” The lie to you, Megan, will be, “You are nothing more than a disappointment.” And the lie to you, Daniel, will be, “You are not really man enough for this.”
And so, I have two words for you today. Words that I want you to keep close in your hearts as you go forward. YOU ARE. Megan, you are radiant, you shimmer, you shine, you are a treasure of a woman, a gem… you are. Daniel, you are a man, you are strong, and you are valiant. You have what it takes.
Hold this close to your hearts.
It can be done. And it is worth it.
Book quotations are from Love and War, by John and Stasi Eldridge.