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’.


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.


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.


Guest Post: Laying Strong Foundations

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Matthew 7:24-25

Hi! In this family I am known variously as Sinead, Sineadanne, Tobe (pronounced ‘Toby’) and Aunty Tobe – I think that covers it! We have been so blessed by God to have one foster son (adult) and four precious princesses (ranging in age from 7 to 12). We love God, family, music, nature, being creative, food & laughing together!

I was thinking the other day about some basic concepts it is helpful for children to know. It was a useful process for me: taking a step back to survey our parenting focus from a ‘big picture’ viewing point. Below is what I came up with, vaguely grouped but in no particular order of importance.

I thought I would share these ideas in the hope that God may be able to use something to help someone somehow 🙂


Laying strong foundations is important in parenting.

Laying strong foundations is important in parenting.

– God loves them and desires that they love Him
– Our value comes from the unchangeable fact that God made us and loves us; we & God belong together
– Jesus is a friend like no other they will ever know – even us, their parents – and He demonstrated this on the cross
– When we do wrong things, we deserve to be punished by God. God keeps a record of every wrong thing every person does – but Jesus’ sacrifice means that a Christian does not have to take their punishment as Jesus has already taken it for the
– Following Jesus includes:

  • Putting God first
  • Putting other people before ourselves
  • Showing grace (a simple definition = undeserved favour)
  • Being humble
  • They can talk to God about anything

– Sometimes things are hard/bad things happen – this is actually good in the end as God uses these situations to train and strengthen us


– They can talk to us about anything
– We love them and like them  (Note: these are connected but different things and they need to know BOTH)
– God has given them us, their parents, to look after them and teach them about His love & His ways – THAT is why it is wise & beneficial for them to listen to us
– Our love is unconditional and we will support & encourage them through the ups and downs of their lives
– Unlike God and just like them, we make mistakes (this gives us an opportunity to role model humility, repentance & the joy of God’s grace)


– Our purpose on earth includes:

  • to love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul
  • to love others as we love ourselves
  • to fear God
  • to serve God
  • to praise God
  • to honour God

– Our lives (time, words, actions) are created by and for God, not ourselves

Take joy in everything!

Take joy in everything!


– God will take care of problems and help us cope in hard times, which means there is nothing we can’t get through in life with Him = JOY!!
– Christians go to heaven = JOY!!
– All good gifts come from God and He gives us many every day = JOY!!
– God wants us to look out for these good gifts all the time and be thankful to Him and others for them = JOY!!
– CHOOSE joy – in the end it is always better to look on the bright side


– God will meter out justice (so they don’t have to!)
– Do good to others as much as you can, especially if they are unloving to you
– Imagining what others might be thinking/feeling is useful in knowing how to bless them
– Show grace & forgiveness as you have been shown grace & forgiveness
– Wisdom is seeing things as God sees them & it is something good to desire
– Think BEFORE you speak or act
– It is great to be an encourager/helper

  • Everybody needs one
  • It is good for everyone involved e.g. helper & ‘helpee’.

– People make mistakes – including us and them – it doesn’t make the people less lovable: God forgives them (and us) so we should forgive them (and ourselves) too

Wow – that ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be! This may seem overwhelming to some of you but let me encourage you; when I start to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the responsibility of parenting, I have learnt to remind myself that there are THREE parents: God is working tirelessly to lay strong foundations in our children’s lives – we are just His helpers! Furthermore, we have surprisingly many opportunities in the day to gently teach & reinforce these foundational concepts.

I am sure there are others, too – probably some obvious & important ones – this was just a mind dump with a little revision. Can you add any ideas on foundational concepts children should know? I’d love to hear them 🙂

Brick image courtesy of Kai4107

Remember the Easter story

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘Easter’? Hopefully you said something like ‘Jesus’ or ‘sacrifice’ or other words related to the reason behind the season. Hopefully you didn’t say ‘chocolate’. But the truth is, most of us have a very strong association between Easter and chocolate. Whilst I’m not against buying Easter goodies (I confess to being rather a chocoholic…), I do think it’s very sad that eggs, chicks and bunnies have taken precedence over Jesus at this time of year.

Taking the first question a step deeper, ask yourself (or even better, your kids) – What is the first thing your children think of when they hear the word ‘Easter’? If they are only little, you may be inclined to be more understanding if they answered ‘chocolate’, but I think this is just more sad. They have had less time exposed to the commercialism of the world, and are more influenced by us. What are we teaching our kids? Are we actively and intentionally teaching them about Jesus’ gift to the world, or are we letting them grow up to think of Easter simply as a time to buy chocolate?

The commercialised world we live in puts an unthinkable amount of money and resources into strengthening our association between Easter and buying chocolate – and baskets, and stickers, and cards, and fluffy chicks, and stuffed bunnies and anything else it can think of. But nice as these things can be, they have nothing on the awesome events that we are actually celebrating this Easter. How can chocolate compare to salvation?! As parents, we should be passionate about teaching our children the real, eternal significance of the events that took place on the first Easter.

But how can we do this? Teaching our kids to think of Jesus before chocolate isn’t always easy! I think the answer is twofold:

  • Firstly, we need to emphasis the Easter story to our kids. Tell it to them over and over. Write it down, make crafts about it, draw pictures of it, sing songs about it, watch movies on it, play games about it. Get it into their heads and hearts every way we can think of.
  • Second, we can make use of commercialised products, and teach our children to associate them back to Jesus. We must help our kids to see Easter eggs, chicks and bunnies, and immediately think of ‘new life’ and what that means to us as followers of Christ.

At our house this year we had an ‘Easter Story Treasure Hunt’. I wrote down a simple version of the Easter story, and along side each section I put a clue, helping them to find the next part of the story. At the end of the story was a prize.  Below are the story and clues I put together, which you are free to copy and edit for your own use, and some pictures of my kiddies enjoying the hunt!

About two thousand years ago something amazing happened. God came to earth in the form of a baby boy – Jesus. As Jesus grew up, He became wise. God was pleased with Him.

The next clue is somewhere that Princess goes every morning when she gets dressed.


When Jesus was a man He taught people about God’s love, and His plan to save them. After a few years, Jesus knew it was nearly time for Him to die.  He went to a garden one night to pray.

The next clue is in hiding with some sweet food.


Jesus was very sad, but He told God that He would do whatever God knew was best.  Soldiers came and took Jesus away.  Lots of people told lies, saying Jesus had done bad things.  They decided to kill Jesus.

The next clue is with your Word friends.


After Jesus had been beaten, He was nailed to a cross where He died.  But this is not the end of the story!  After three days Jesus came back to life again!

The next clue is somewhere cold.


Today Jesus is still alive.  He left us the Holy Spirit and the Bible so that we can learn about Him, and about how we can have a new life after we die, too.

You will find your prize somewhere warm and snugly.


Fun on our Easter story hunt 2012.

May we all remember to delight in the joy of the Easter story, and pass it on faithfully to our children.

Selfless mothering

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:4

One of the men at church yesterday spoke about this verse in Philippians, and it got me thinking about parenting. Of course, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of looking out for the needs of others when He selflessly sacrificed Himself on the cross for our sake. But I want to look at this verse in relation to being a mother.

Prince, 18 days old.

Becoming a mother is one of the best ways to expose your inner selfishness. Even the most selfless of women will be put to the test as they enter the world of motherhood. As a new mother we find ourselves constantly having to attend to the beck and call of a tiny new person. Whether we are sleeping, eating, reading, cleaning, cooking or even using the bathroom – we are on duty and must be ready to drop our own agenda to fulfill the ‘interests’ of our babe.

As our children get older, they become more able to tend to themselves. At first this comes as a much needed break (at last! We can shower more than once a fortnight!), but I have also discovered that it can be a dangerous time. Dangerous, because it’s so easy to slip back into our old selfish ways and miss this wonderful opportunity to curb selfishness long-term.

Too many parents treat their children as an inconvenience. They complain about the strain kids put on their finances, their time, their relationships and their fun. Even those who don’t openly complain might show selfishness more subtly. Whilst there are some things that us adults need (including time alone), I find that more often than not the needs of children are ranked as secondary to those of parents. This, I believe, is wrong.

As parents, we sometimes spend too much money on our house, cars or clothes, then don’t have enough to feed our children healthy food.

As parents, we might indulge in things that we enjoy, but rarely make time to take our kids to play in the park.

As parents, we can be tempted to spend hours watching T.V, but hardly ever make time to play games with our kids.

As parents, we might prefer to leave our children with other people while we go to work or out with friends, rather than sacrifice time, money or entertainment and shoulder the responsibility of raising and training them ourselves.

Whilst none of the things a parent might do for themselves are (necessarily) wrong, they become so when done regularly at the expense of the needs of our children. Parents, we have a duty to consider the individual needs of each of our children and meet those the best we can. We must be willing to sacrifice our often-selfish desires and serve the interests of our kids. If we read on from Philippians 2:4, we see this example set for us:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:5-8)

As a mother, I need to humble myself. In my parenting, I am to have the same attitude that Jesus had when He denied His right to equality with God, and died on the cross to save mankind.  As a mother, my first and foremost motive must be the care and nurturing of my children.

Let’s leave a legacy of selfless love.

Leave it to God

‘[Jesus] said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”   But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.”
Luke 5:4-6

Sometimes we try and try and try to do things on our own, and they just don’t work. We try to be a good parent, or a good friend, or a good spouse, yet we fail again and again. We lose our temper, break a trust, or act in selfishness and pride. When I read this passage in Luke today it reminded me that we are nothing on our own strength – but everything with God.

Would you go back out in the boat?

I love the total faith and obedience Simon Peter shows in his response to Jesus’ command to go back out fishing. Although he acknowledges that he had already tried this on his own, he doesn’t hesitate to go and try again. I think my response would have been more along the lines of, “You’ve got to be kidding?! Don’t you know I’ve been trying this ALL NIGHT LONG, and there’s not a fish there! It’s not going to be any different this time. I might as well give up.” Certainly, this is how I’ve felt at times in my life.

Now, I’m not a fishing person (worms? raw fish with the eyes still in? EW!) But I have my own ‘fish’ to catch. I’m trying to get a firm hold of patience, and wisdom, and peace, and righteousness. And too many times I go fishing on my own, exhausting myself in a futile attempt to catch them by myself, believing that if I just try harder I will do it this time.

To make it more practical (since I’m a girl after my Dad’s own heart), here are some areas that I find myself slipping out of God’s strength and into my own:

  • Teaching my children to love the Lord.
  • Figuring out financial problems.
  • Trying to keep my family healthy.
  • Inspiring people close to me to love God deeply and follow Him sincerely.
  • Dealing with sin in my own life.
  • Educating my children.
  • Showing my husband support and encouragement.

Whilst there is no ‘three step plan to relying on God’, there are some things I have found that make it easier for me to remember to draw strength from Him:

  • Read the Bible regularly.  However, don’t let this become another check box on your list of things to do. Rather let it come from a heart that earnestly desires to know God more.
  • Pray with passion.  It’s easy to quickly pray before meals, before bed, or at church. This is all good, but it is no substitute for prayer that comes from deep in your heart. Pour yourself out to God.
  • Relax.  When we try to work things out for ourselves, we get stressed, fatigued and burnt out. We need to take a deep breath and look to the example of Jesus, who loved to the point of death because He relied on God. When we take the pressure off of ourselves and turn our face to Him, we find a new strength, an endless hope, and a joy to see us through.

Praise God for His faithfulness. When we offer Him the little we have, He gives us the same power that can raise the dead back to life! With Him, all things truly are possible.

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