The refining pot of marriage

There’s a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since I first heard about it: Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas. The tagline for the book is ‘What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy’.

Wow.

After writing about Dating, marriage and lists last month, a friend of mine made a great comment,

“I strongly support the idea of having a list; you’re certainly right that it keeps us focused on what’s most important. But I also have recently learned the value in having a list also for myself if I have a list for my potential spouse. Who do I want to be to my future wife? Can you write one sometime on who you’ve striven to become before and in marriage?”

These ideas about marriage being an opportunity to refine our own character, and not simply a selfish ‘get what I want out of it’ union, is, I think, exactly what God intended.

Wedding

Young, in love and ready to be refined!

If we look right back at the beginning of time in Genesis we see that Eve was created not simply as a companion but as a helper for Adam. And so that the men reading this don’t get to full of pride and power, God clears up any confusion in Ephesians 5:35 where he says: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her’. The love referred to here is 100% sacrificial, guys – to the point of humiliation, torture and death.

One of Satan’s biggest, most successful lies is that being selfish (i.e. focusing on what I want before what I can offer others) is the way to happiness. Now there are many opportunities in life to find out that this is total rubbish, but perhaps none so effective as marriage. When you live with someone every day for the REST OF YOUR LIFE; when you are confronted with all their ugly character traits which you never saw during dating life (because don’t we all put on our best behaviour on a date?); when you are so vulnerable that you expose all your own ugly character traits – this is when true love kicks in.

Proverbs 117:3 says, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.” God is reminding us of the extreme value he places in making our hearts right before Him  And 1 Peter 1 tells us why. In verses 24-5 he says “All flesh is as grass,and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Emphasis mine.) We need to go through the refining pot because the spiritual is foreverThe physical – marriage – is ultimately temporal but it’s value in refining our hearts is eternal.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Perhaps the most famous love passage in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I once was told to read through this passage, replacing the word ‘love’ with my own name. Yikes! It was sobering. We are free with the words “I love you” to our spouse. But do we really know what love is? What if we measured our love against this description? We say, “I love you so much I would die for you.” But do we love our spouse enough to live for them? In the everyday frustrations of opposing opinions, of different priorities, of conflicting personalities? That is where we really learn to lay down our life.

Marriage is not there to ‘make us happy’, but when we let it make us holy, happiness happens. Take it from me – in my eleven years of marriage I have always been happiest when I have lived closest to God’s definition of servanthood. When (if!) we can conquer selfishness, there we find true joy.

Go read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with your own name. Pray for true love. Live it out.

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The window to your heart

“And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire.”
James 3:4-6

Words. Many lessons have been written on the power of words. The tongue has been called the strongest muscle in the body, and the Bible speaks of its power in the book of James, likening it to a rudder which can steer the whole course of a ship, or a fire which can cause devastation.

wordsAs a homeschooling Mama my kids hear a lot of my words! We talk about everything from history, to meals, to Lego, to toilet habits… I’ll stop there 😉  Being with my kids more than your average UK parent has made me think carefully about how I speak to them. I have noticed that it is easy to slip into the ‘I’m busy but I’ll nod and say “uh-huh” even though I have no idea what you said’ mode of conversation.  There are plenty of comic strips and Facebook images which joke about this. It seems to be a universal Mom thing. But it’s not funny. Now I know that you and I are busy people. But what do our conversations tell our children about our hearts… and their value?

When we speak to our children, we are showing them a little of our heart. Our words are a window. Not just our words, in fact, but our tone of voice, eye-contact, expression, and all those other non-verbal communication attributes. If I am staring at my computer and say the glazed “uh-huh” when Prince comes to tell me about how the latest GUP is the coolest thing, what are my words and actions telling him?Here’s a list off the top of my head:

  • I am selfish
  • I value other interests above him
  • I have no self-control
  • His effort is unimportant
  • He is not interesting to me
  • He is not high on my priority list
  • Computers are a god
  • It’s okay to ignore people

These are pretty shocking messages. Even more scary is the fact that even if I was doing something REALLY important, he is still getting these messages. As I see it, if I don’t want him to get these messages I have two options: 1) Put him first whenever possible: Stop, look at him, smile, appreciate, ask more questions (rather than hoping he hurries up and finishes talking), hug him, praise him. OR 2) if what I am doing is pressing and important: Stop, look at him, explain “I’d love to hear what you’re saying, but I’m just in the middle of something urgent. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, and you can tell me all about it, OK?” Now he knows that he is valued highly, but sometimes other issues need to take priority for a time. (Side note: we should balance this advice with make sure our children learn the importance of not interrupting, that they are not the only thing in the world which matters, etc. But in my experience this is a far less common problem, and what most of us really need to work on is giving the message of love and value.)

The busy mom syndrome is just one example of the way we talk to our children, but here are some other messages that our words & non-verbal signals may be telling our children:

  • I don’t like you
  • I’m impatient
  • I value obedience more than a right heart
  • I am inconsistent
  • You are stupid
  • You are insignificant
  • You should be perfect
  • My desires are more important that yours
  • You don’t deserve love
  • Anger can be expressed without love
  • What you do is not important
  • It’s okay to be rude
  • Self should be valued above others
I want to be my kids' best friend!

I want to be my kids’ best friend!

Again, a shocking list. And again, it’s even more scary when you stop to think that it’s not just the ‘bad’ parents out there giving these kind of messages. It’s us. We need to stop and take a good look at what we say and how we say it when we talk to anyone – but especially our children. We must not assume “they know that I love them”, but rather SHOW this in the way we talk. We must let our kids know that we respect, like, love, and appreciate them. How many kids would choose to be friends with someone who preferred the company of Facebook over them, who lost their temper with them on a daily basis, who expected them to be perfect and never thanked them for a job well done? I sure want to be my children’s best friend. And one step to this I believe is learning to speak to them in love all day long, as a friend, mentor and mother.

Our words are a window into our hearts that our children look through each day. Sometimes this window may not reflect accurately what is inside, but it is still what our children see. And sometimes this window is more accurate than we like to admit.

The God of Second Chances

 ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
Ezekiel 33:11

I love this verse. I remember the first time I read it, printed on the back of our bathroom door where my Mom regularly put up prayer lists and encouraging Bible verses. What stuck me then, and continues to strike me now, is the desperate love God has for His people. He desires so much for them to take strength and try again, and He wants more than anything to show them mercy.

God's love and mercy are endless!

God’s love and mercy are endless!

I also love the Veggie Tales movie Jonah. It does a fantastic job of bringing out the themes of compassion and mercy, and uses the story of Jonah to demonstrate that God both shows these to us and desires us to show them to each other. As Christians we know that God is forgiving, and that His love is never-ending, but I think this head-knowledge doesn’t always translate into heart-knowledge. The Bible is full of examples of human failure followed by Divine forgiveness:

  • Adam & Eve brought sin and death into the world – yet the world has been saved through Jesus
  • David committed adultery and murder – yet is a lasting example of a man after God’s own heart
  • Nineveh was a city full of wickedness – yet it is a story full of hope and forgiveness
  • Paul was an infamous persecutor of the church – yet he became an honorary apostle and prolific church-planter

With such a heritage of sinners and such examples of forgiveness, it should be easy for us to remember that this grace is for us, too! But sometimes, it isn’t easy. Perhaps we have a tendency to get too bogged down with the sorrow of sin. We dwell on the wrong we – and others – have done for too long. Whilst sin is always serious and requires repentance, when remorse inhibits joy and renewed enthusiasm to ‘try again’, I think we are falling into another trap which Satan puts in our path.

There are many things I fail at frequently. Some of them may not even seem important to others, and some of them are more obvious.  A personal example:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

I was thinking the other day that it has been too long since I incorporated prayer into my devotional time with my kids. I know how important it is, yet it had been months since we included that aspect into our devos! So yesterday, we started again. It is great! Do I wish I’d never stopped? Yes. But God is a God of second, third, fourth, fifth…. chances. So when I realise my mistakes, I have joy in knowing I can be forgiven yet again and move on with renewed intentions.

So if you have let your housework get out of hand and feel a little guilty – say sorry to whoever needs to hear it then stop feeling guilty and take the chance to try again. If you have forgotten to read your Bible in weeks… months… years… – pick it up and thank the Lord for another chance to read. If you go to bed tonight and realise that today, like most other days, you have not been patient with your children, don’t dwell too long in the sorrow of this – ask forgiveness then praise God for His grace and for a new chance tomorrow.

And if you see someone who seems to have it all together and you start to feel guilt and jealousy creeping in – remember they are just another David, Paul, or Ninevite, who has taken another chance from the God of grace. May we always take joy in the steadfast love of the Lord, and His new mercies each morning.

Pressing on

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

Paul had his priorities right. He valued Christ above all else.  In chapter 1 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (v21)  Here in chapter 3 he says that if anyone has a right to boast in the flesh, it is him – and yet he considers his worldly advantages to be as “garbage” compared to belonging to Jesus.  This is Paul’s goal: to attain to the resurrection from the dead, which Christ Jesus has offered him.

“There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives.”

I, too, have this goal.  But as a mom, it is not just for me, but for my children also. There is nothing I want more than for my children to love God and give Him first place in their lives. Yet daily I mess up. I fail to live up to the opportunities given to me; I make selfish choices; I prioritise worldly values; I model sinful attitudes. I am sure you fail too. And God knows this. He knows we are helpless – so he gave us a gift: infinite grace.

Because of grace, reaching our goal does not depend on us achieving perfection here on earth. We will not be saved on the merit of our motherhood, our ministry, or our self-imposed laws. We cannot save our children, either, no matter how many hours a day we spend teaching them of His love (don’t mistake me here – we should teach them this, it’s just that we cannot save them). We, and our children, can only gain the prize of salvation by accepting it. Christ Jesus came to offer us freedom and eternal salvation because of His perfect life. When we begin to understand this concept, we are blown away.

None of us have reached this goal yet, but there is hope. I want to encourage us all, to forget what is behind, and press on to what is ahead. Start each day – even each hour, each minute – anew.  Accept the grace of God, and look forward. Don’t dwell on the mistakes and failures of the past. Persevere in your faith; pray for your children. There is hope in the future.

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