Regrettably, this scene has been repeated many times in pastoral counseling. The husband and wife come in to talk about their marriage. As they sit down the wife positions herself with her back slightly turned away from her husband. The husband responds by inching away from her to increase the standard buffer zone between seats. I am writing a couple of things down in my notebook while looking up to observe. They are both looking away from each other, avoiding any interaction.
“What is going on guys?” I ask. “We are having issues.” The wife says, as the husband lets out a sigh like air from a slashed tire. The room gets increasingly tense as they both get louder and more defensive. In time I ask some simple questions and find out that this couple hasn’t spoken in weeks, they don’t sleep in the same room (let alone the same bed), and neither seem willing to make a move in humility. As they talk neither listens to what the other is saying.
You don’t have to be a professional counselor to conclude that this is not a healthy relationship. In fact, you would quite easily conclude that this is a dysfunctional relationship.
What is so troubling to me is how many professing Christians have a similar relationship with God, let’s call it a dysfunctional relationship. In every counseling situation and in an alarmingly high rate of regular conversation with Christians, I have observed that many people do not pray regularly, read their Bibles …
We know pastoral ministry is hard, but it is also tricky. In a given week a pastor can get the following comments:
Your preaching is blessing me greatly. I am learning to love Christ more and more!
Your preaching is too theological, it is not helping me.
Your preaching is too emotional, you need to be more doctrinal.
Sometimes this type of thing will cause you to spin in circles asking, “What am I doing? Is this working?”
I’ve heard John Piper speak of this and he talked about feeling like he is looking in one of those mirrors at the carnival. As you look at one angle the head is small, at another the head is big, etc. No matter which way you turn you get a different view. Ministry can be like this and the pastor can begin to think he is viewing his ineffectiveness in a carnival mirror.
One great, but often neglected resource for encouragement and straight-shooting is the pastor’s own wife. In this case they may not want to seem weak, complaining, or whatever. However, I would encourage pastors to talk to their wife. There is no one who knows you better (for better or worse) and no one who loves you more and wants what is best. You can trust them. So ask questions. Encourage honesty.
What’s more, take note of your wife’s growth in godliness. Many times we take for granted that our wife is going to be godly and growing in godliness. We should never presume upon grace! Instead, …
At the end of a football game often times the defensive team will collapse back to prevent a big play in order to preserve their lead. This defensive scheme is appropriately entitled a “prevent defense”. The goal is to prevent the big-play that would jeopardize their lead. The concession, of course, is that they are willing to give up some yards.
This defensive strategy works for short periods of time and only in particular situations of a game. It would be a laughable strategy for the entire game or if you were losing. There is simply too much yardage conceded and the game clock would become an enemy.
When we think about marriages, it appears that many people, particularly men, rely upon a “prevent defense” approach. Their philosophy is that the outcome is secure and they are simply trying to prevent the big-play. They are “playing” to prevent divorce, major unhappiness, or personal discomfort. This is deadly for a marriage. Marriages that employ this scheme are in trouble because, instead of actively trying to improve, they are characterized by a slow decline or are content to just “hold the line”.
I remember reading Ephesians as a newer Christian and being shocked as I came across the Apostle’s words in chapter 5:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
I quickly became nervous because my wife was a brand new Christian and I was about as biblically literate as a flannel board. My first thought was, “This can’t mean what I think it means.” And my second thought was, “How in the world am I going to sell Christie on this?”
The first question was answered with a “yes” and a “no”. The concept of male leadership, even headship, was correct. However, I had this wrong perception of some type of bizarre patriarchal suppression of the wife by the husband. In my mind leadership and submission seemed to demean rather than provide for her flourishing.
We all know that women are very different then men. However, we don’t always appreciate it.
Over the last several years I have watched my wife prepare for birthday parties, holiday seasons, or other special events. She, like many women, gives considerable time and attention to the details. In particular she works to ensure that the colors, design, and even the most minute matters are covered. I’ve seen gum balls color-coded, paper cut outs, cup cakes and napkins match, balloons, sparkly soda, snow sprinkles on a red table cloth, swirly straws, and even a big metal bucket filled with ice to so people will feel “festive” when they get their drink. This is what women do. Men on the other hand, we think function. We reuse our forks, wipe our chin on our sleeves, and pass on the straws. We skim past the details without noticing.
In the past I have noticed the details and asked, “why?” My wife lovingly instructed me that it is an expression of creativity, joy, and love. It is festive.
While struggling to pull this type of thing off my self, I have come to appreciate it. What’s more, I’ve come to baptize it into the spiritual realm so as to love my wife more, appreciate our differentness, and marvel at God’s design.
If you were to comb through your Old Testament you would find that God is a God of detail. You have chapters and chapters of detail about the tabernacle in Exodus. We have dimensions, colors, types, …
Wise and helpful diagnosis here from Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect? He is noting how often a couple will ask, “What happened to us? How in the world did we end up here?” The answer is not acute but a chronic problem.
It feels to them that they have driven into some kind of marital fog. It feels that what was once bright and sunny has suddenly gone dark. But nothing has been sudden. The changes of their marriage have taken place in progressive, little steps. In those unremarkable moments that occur in every marriage, wrong thoughts, desires, words, and actions changed the character and direction of their marriage; they took place in little moments, and no one was paying attention.
We all do it.
It’s not that we suddenly quit loving one another. No, that’s not what typically happens. Marriages don’t typically change with an explosion. Marriages typically change by the process of erosion. Even where marital explosions take place, they usually take place at the end of a long process of erosion. The movement of a marriage from an active commitment to an active lifestyle of unity, understanding, and love rarely takes place in one step. Rather, this movement takes place in ten thousand little steps.
The problem is that as these changes are taking place we tend to be asleep at the wheel. What we once committed to value and protect has progressively become the thing we take for granted. What we were once deeply appreciative of, we have become used …
Sound words for marriages plagued by isolationism.
Marriage really is a human covenant of companionship. God wasn’t so much giving Adam a physical helper for the work in the garden as he was giving him a companion.
God knew that he had created a social being, and because of Adam’s social hardwiring, it was not good for him to live without the companionship of one made from him and made like him. You could argue that this is the most basic reason for marriage. God created a lifelong companion for Adam, and his relationship with Eve would exist on earth as a visible reminder of God’s love relationship with people and as the God-ordained means by which the earth would be populated as God designed.
So the character and quality of the friendship between a husband and wife always functions as an accurate measure of the health of their marriage. It is also an accurate barometer of trust. When trust is present between two people, their appreciation and affection will grow, and as these things grow, friendship flourishes. Tripp, What Did You Expect?
I wrote an article for the Ligonier Blog on the gospel and marriage. Here is the intro and summary:
When a new leader is appointed in an organization change is inevitable. The incoming boss will set policy, establish tone, and reflect an attitude in their organization. The same is true for our marriages. The new leader I am referring to here is not a new husband but rather the true husband, The Lord Jesus Christ.
We know from the Scriptures that a Christian marriage is never simply a union of two people but two people united together in Jesus Christ. This is another way of saying that Jesus is our head, the Lord and the life-giver of our marriage. When a couple embrace the truth of the gospel, whether in conversion or sanctification, there are always corresponding changes associated with Jesus being the head of the marriage. Below are three of the more common changes that Christ works into a marriage as he rules it through the gospel.
The three changes are:
1. From Selfishness to Service
2. From Laziness to Engagement
3. Self-Righteousness to Humility
You can read the rest of the article here.
It seems that everyone has an opinion about Gay Marriage, and these opinions are rarely ambivalent. Christians have (and rightly so) been outspoken in their opposition to a redefinition of marriage. This recasting of the institution of marriage is not, we would argue, a progressive and healthy advancement but rather a disastrous detour from what biblical, therefore, right and good.
At the same time and while marriage is on the front burner, particularly the undermining of God’s plan for it, let me ask a question. Are Gay and Lesbians the only ones who undermine God’s plan for marriage?
The answer is, “Of course not!” Just because you are hetero-sexual does not mean that you are reflecting God’s plan for marriage. You don’t get a pass just on marriage because you are not Gay. The basis of a marriage reflecting God’s plan is how it reflects the gospel. In other words a marriage is reflective of God’s plan in so far as it reflects the marriage between Jesus the husband and the church the bride.
This is where it gets quite personal for us inside the Christian camp. God’s plan for marriage includes the following:
We have all heard the expression, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” This may be good advice for elementary school children but it is not preferred for husbands.
Am I saying, “Feel free to insult your wife.” Hardly. Instead I am saying that we need to try harder, look deeper, pay more attention.
Along these lines Timothy Witmer writes to husbands in his book Shepherd Leader At Home, (p.40):
You should thank her just for her willingness to have hitched herself to you!…There are plenty of (other) things you can say to build up your wife. When is the last time you complimented her appearance? When is the last time you thanked her for all she does in taking care of you and the children? Even more important is taking the opportunity to praise her for her character qualities. Be sure to be specific. The writer of Proverbs 31 was very specific about the praiseworthy traits of an excellent wife. She is praised for everything from being a good seamstress to being a good businesswoman. However, the summary statement focuses on the most essential thing. ‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.’ (Prov. 31.30)