Pain in Marriage: For Your Joy

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Have you ever read Paul’s Letter to the Romans, particularly chapter one?

Because of our fallen nature and natural bent, we have not only rooted our worship wrongly so that now we worship things that are going to lead us into external sin and discontentment, but we often contrarily believe (despite the reality of our lives) that we know what’s going to bring us the most amount of joy, the most amount of pleasure, and the deepest amount of life. We tend to feel like we know what’s best, that we know better than anyone else, and so we make decision, after decision, after decision for our own pleasure and our own joy. Even when we seek advice, we take what feels best to us.

We don’t find contentment for any length or period of time, but we perpetually think that we know how to get there. We only seek help when the illusion of control comes crashing down on the rocks of reality, but even then we aren’t willing to completely give up this sense of control. Instead, we will grab some variation of a self-help book or talk to somebody we think has it a little more together than we do, and we’ll simply try to “do better” or clean ourselves up some, and “try harder” to live our life in such a way that will bring us more happiness and pleasure. But we continue to seek this better life through what we think is best, only taking advice if it fits within our already existing worldview, and only accept something if we think we can still control it.

We don’t really control anything other than how we react to what is beyond our control. And just about everything is beyond our control. God is certainly beyond our control, and no amount of good behavior will control His affection for you, and no amount of distance can separate you from Him. I will contend that every command of God in the Scriptures are not about robbing from you happiness, but rather it’s all about leading you into the fullness of it. Into depth, meaning, and joy that our naturally shallow minds couldn’t imagine without His help. I’m not saying I don’t struggle with living this out myself, or pretending this isn’t written primarily to myself… because it is a truth that I’m constantly reminded of when things don’t go as I want them to.

Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “There is nothing in the law of God that will rob you of happiness; it only denies you that which would cost you sorrow. “

I’ll give you an example out of my own life, a very personal example out of my own life. I grew up in a dysfunctional home, sometimes even a little abusive. It could be a difficult home to grow up in at times, but nothing unheard of as common in this day and age. And praise Christ that He has worked mightily in our family and we’re still one family. However, growing up in a hostile environment like I did, it helped to create and then further develop some baggage. I have some issues. Anyone close to me is aware of many of these issues, my sweet wife more than anyone.

So I’m coming from this, and my beautiful wife is coming from what I would just kind of label a “good girl home.” And what I mean by that is not that everything’s okay there, but at least it all appears that way. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not making any accusations or have any quarrels with her family; I’m just telling my perspective. Anyway, we got married somewhat young by today’s standards, I mean I know plenty who were younger, but the majority seem to be older. So, what happens when you take a young guy who’s not very self-aware, still maturing on a basic level, has a lot of issues and vices he isn’t even aware of, and you put him in a house with a woman who’s not okay, but who wants to pretend that everything is? Well, you get some very difficult years of marriage. At the very least, that’s what you get.

And I want to be real honest with you, with my wife’s permission. There were nights that I would lay in bed… and talking to myself, start to list out all was wrong with her, what all needs to change, what all I do that deserves to be reciprocated more… but really, the issue was me. I had a selfish, self-centered, lazy heart… and am definitely still working on it. And Kat had some issues too, but she couldn’t even begin to see them because mine were so big. I was asking her to satisfy something that she just couldn’t possibly fulfill. She just couldn’t possibly do it. And so my love was very, very, very conditional, which means I would do what was right as long as I got the reaction I wanted. But when I did something nice, and the reaction wasn’t what I wanted, then I would start to lose the motivation to keep doing what’s right.

Anybody else have that experience? Maybe? Or am I really all by myself in this? I doubt it… at least I cannot imagine I’m the only one. Because there were times when I was lying in bed after a few years of frustration, and I’m like twenty-five years old going, “I can’t do 50 years of this. This is marriage?” And you can’t help but go, “I guarantee you this would be easier with somebody else.” I mean those are just thoughts you have, thoughts I had, the whole time being painfully aware of God’s command on me in Ephesians 5: “You love your wife like I loved the church in that I gave My life for her, initiated it, did not expect the correct response to it. I loved freely, openly, unconditionally. That’s how you love your wife.”

I hated that text. That text haunted me. It still does. Because I wanted to be mean. I wanted to jab. I wanted to retaliate when I felt wronged. I wanted to wound when I felt wounded. I wanted to tell her what she was doing wrong. I wanted to receive grace and understanding, but still expected her always do what I felt was right, never get tired, never make mistakes, and live up to an impossible standard. And that went on for months. Years. We’ve be married six years as of this summer. And while I know some of you may be reading this and thinking, whatever rookie, come back to us when you’ve at least passed that 10-year mark… any amount of this pain is frustrating.

And here’s what has happened in our marriage. Over these past couple years, God has been doing what we would call theologically “progressive sanctification.” Which means that, on the throne of my heart, I sat and ruled ruthlessly. Sometimes with honor, but mainlydisgracefully ruthless. And God had to put “king Samuel” to death. And continually crushing my rebellions. Do you know why? Because He loves me. When “little king Samuel” rules, it goes bad. It goes really bad. I will quickly wreck it all. So ignorant king Samuel has to die for their to be true worship, joy, life, meaning, love, and depth. So I had to die. I have to die to myself, my short-sighted wants, my stupid lusts, my ignorant desires, and my foolish cravings.

But how are you going to show an ignorant, arrogant king the error of his ways? Well, God has already done me a major favor, He gave me a wife. The Scriptures even say, “he who finds a wife finds what is good.” And here’s what I mean. Up until that point of marriage, I could make almost anything work. At least I felt that way and perceived life that way. Up until that point, I believed I could fix it. Up until that point, I could motivate. I could move. I could accomplish. I had nobody to answer to on an intimate level, and was free to succeed. I mean, until this moment, I FELT like most things I touched would work well… except now… I was such a failure… and at home…

It took marriage for God to slap the realization into my mind that to the degree I forget how fully I have been loved by God, I will always forget how to love others in my life. So when I am focused on myself and how to control my behavior with the expectation of getting certain results, I am forgetting how to really love my wife. When I am looking for ways to serve my wife to the purpose of getting things I want in return, or having things go the way I want them to, I’m not really serving or loving her. When I’m self-absorbed and focused solely upon my wants and “needs,” I begin to lose sight of the covenant I made with God; that I didn’t just make a promise to Kat on our wedding day. I made a covenant with our God to love and serve Kathryn until one of us dies, regardless of my feelings or her actions.

Now, nowhere in any of this am I saying marriage doesn’t require a lot of work, and all these issues just went away over night because I read a Bible verse or a marriage book. We sought counseling, older couples to spend time with, and began to work on our own hearts instead of trying to fix one another. I realized the problem was me. And she had the same realization for herself. But don’t assume that I’m saying that every struggle is behind us, and it’s all gonna be easy and painless from here on out. I’m not pretending that every heart issue I have is gone, never to be dealt with again. But I am saying, it’s been a huge relief to let go of some things. It has been extremely liberating to confess my darkest secrets, and to admit where I’m weak and need help. It’s still been pretty painful and scary to be that vulnerable, but in all its difficulties, having a wife is a lot of fun. Marriage really is a lot of fun.

The past year has really been unbelievable in comparison to the years before. I love going home and hate leaving. I love going home. I love walking into my house. When I get home, my sweet bride and cute little man are there waiting for me. I’m get to kiss her and say hello. And be tackled by my son. I love them, and I love going home. The best shot I’ll ever have at deep, sustaining love is not to leave, give up, antagonize her until she changes to what I selfishly want, to start over, look for the non-existent easier/better woman, but instead to stay and fight for my wife, not against her. To understand men should be tired at the end of the day, that the extra effort to do things even when you don’t want to doesn’t make you a super husband, that’s merely living the basic call on your role.
This is what the Scriptures say. That God is leading me into joy, even through pain, sorrow, frustration, and the realization that I’m an idiot, God is leading me, blessing me, correcting and disciplining me for His great glory, and my eventual joy. Because when God wounds, He wounds like a surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to you. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts. Marriage is a beautiful scalpel in the hand of our great God.

Bill Haggling

If you’re looking to cut some expenses in your budget, never settle for “retail” or the first quoted price on certain monthly bills. It can be tough and sometimes take a long phone conversation or two, but haggling on some of your monthly service bills is a great way to save on your bills. If you haven’t already done this before, you ought to try calling one or more of your bill providers to ask for a better rate.

We have managed to get lower rates numerous times and kept almost all of our bills from increasing since Kat and I have been married. (For example, we only have Internet service and actually pay less now than when we originally signed up and they’ve quadrupled our download/upload speed since then.) Here are some ideas and tips to get you started:

Cable & Internet: Call your provider and simply ask for a better deal. Don’t be afraid to let them know you’re shopping around and have found better rates elsewhere, and even ask for the appropriate rep to cancel your service if you aren’t getting anywhere with the first person you speak with. Sometimes you just have to jump through a few hoops and prolong the phone call for them to just give in and magically find that lower rate.

Credit cards: Call your creditors and negotiate a lower interest rate using essentially the same principles as with your cable/internet service. Let them know you expect better rates/service or you will go elsewhere. (Credit card providers already make a killing on every single transaction because vendors have to pay small percentages on them, so they are just gouging you for additional revenue with high interest rates.)

Rent: This is not always possible, but it is definitely worth a shot every single time your rent lease is up. (We have managed to save thousands over the course of a year by haggling every year when the time came to renew our lease.)

Car insurance: Ask for a better rate or a discount (especially if you work from home), and inquire about all possible discounts available to you based on where you live, how much you drive, what type of car you own, etc. (We’ve never changed car insurance carriers because they have yet to be beaten when we actually have shopped around.)

Gym membership: Not an easy one and this is one of the most overpriced bills for most people, but if you go to a large chain gym like LA Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Lifetime, etc. then it’s always worth a shot to keep asking for a better deal. (We just use our local city gym in Allen, and there happens to be a free gym for me at my office, so we’ve managed to keep this cost way down.)

Anxiety & Depression (introduction to a research paper)

  
 
What is depression like? Well, it’s kind of like drowning. Except you can see everyone else around you breathing…

During my senior year of college I wrote a short summary paper over the topic of “Psychoanalytic Social Theory” and its failure to address our real, deepest need: Christ. I don’t know if you would consider the paper to actually be very short, but I tend to be a little long-winded in the written word; and I feel that this is brief for the immense issue that it attempts to summarize. For me, when I write, it is the greatest avenue of any outlet. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter, “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.”

That, of course, is a bit of an overstatement. However, writing really is a big help for a great many ailments, both in ourselves and in others. It is, perhaps, one of the quintessential ways of making sweet drinks from life’s sour fruit. Writing is readymade for those with some great angst. It’s appropriate for the anxious and the angry. Writing is for the lonely and the depressed and the misunderstood. For the frustrated and the fearful. For the poor in spirit and those who mourn. So, if or when I seem to come across as harsh or critical in my writing, please know that I am “preaching” to myself more than anyone, and these words are an overflow from my heart, from the grace that the Holy Spirit has overwhelmed me with.

This paper was one of the most therapeutic endeavors I have ever embarked upon; as I have suffered from bouts of depression most my life and have been diagnosed by different psychologists as bipolar, as having ADD, OCD, insomnia, and manic-depression… and with a family history of verbal abuse, physical violence, substance abuse, sexual sin, explosive anger, depression, anxiety, and many other dark things. I have had experience with multiple medications and seen numerous psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, therapists, etc. for help with these issues during the course of my life. I’m pleading with God to end these things in me and not pass them on to my children.

I have not seen any doctors for depression related issues for quite some time now, but I’ve had some really, really dark days in my life. And still do. Never any days where I thought seriously about killing myself, but would have welcomed death as an old friend if it came for me. I’ll just be honest and direct here, depression freakin sucks, anxiety can be so debilitating, and it seems to be so unpredictable and uncontrollable in a lot of ways.

Depression is also normal, it can affect anyone, and is as common an illness as the flu. Flu season seems to take place every year, but it can happen all year around. It can affect anyone, at any time. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. It doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter what age you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.

The flu doesn’t discriminate. It’s universal. It can happen to anyone at anytime. Depression plagues us the same way. For me personally, there have been times when everything is seemingly going great, and then the smallest thing, the faintest thought, turns my entire world into a dark spiraling pit of despair.

When I’m really struggling, my mind can quickly turn anything into the worst thing ever. I will feel the unbearable weight crushing down upon me, and only seem to increase the weight of everything by thinking of more stuff to be depressed about. I will take a compliment and see it as a back-handed, sarcastic cut-down. I will begin to worry about things out of my control, past mistakes, “what ifs,” and things that haven’t even happened yet, but they might… I’ve even been “bipolarish” in my depression, by wanting to either be completely alone or surrounded by as many close friends as possible. I will quickly forget the innumerable blessings our Father has so gracious given me, and focus so intensely on every way I’ve ever been wronged that it brings a whole new meaning to the idea of “tunnel vision.”

I hate this about myself…

Can I talk to you for a moment, just as a (possible) fellow struggler with depression? God’s given each of us a certain amount of vitality and energy to walk in joy throughout life. The thing about depression is that it so often becomes selfish and prideful in the way that we focus so much on ourselves; and it takes up an unbelievable amount of energy to do it. So the energy given to you and me to do life well is used up on trying to find a release, to numb the overwhelming pain, or just take our minds off ourselves for a moment.

King Solomon touches on all this in the extremely wise and weighty book of Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (2:24-25 ESV). “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” (5:18 ESV). “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do… Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that He has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (9:7,9-10 ESV).

Here’s another thing. It is impossible to truly love or receive love if no one knows who you really are, and you don’t have good friends and family walking through this with you. Because if anyone tries to love you, it will be too easy to deflect them and say that they actually love the version of yourself that you are presenting, not you. It’s hard to accept love when you think that if anyone really knew who you were, if they found out all the dark secrets of your past, your current struggles, and what is hiding in your heart, they’d run away from you faster than Usain Bolt… on steroids.

Let me try to explain some of this a little better. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 51, Mary makes this statement during her song of praise, “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” What happens to the proud, to the depressed, to the neurotic, is we spend the bulk of our day and the bulk of our mental capacity on “what could be if we would have just…” or “what could be if this would just…” So we go, “Oh, if I would have just taken Greek more seriously, I’d be fluent right now… Oh, if I knew then what I know now, how much better of an athlete, student, employee/employer, parent, friend, etc. would I be… Oh, if I would have just chosen that instead of this… Oh, if that relationship had just made it through that rough patch… Oh, if I would have moved there instead of moving here… Oh, if that opportunity would have come instead of this… If I would have avoided this person and gone with that person… If I would have just been there and not here… If a certain person would just do this or that, or not do this or that…”

So when we operate this way, all our energy is spent on “What if… what if… what if…” to the detriment of our present and maybe even almost to the damnation of our future.

There is no future if you’re stuck in the imagination of your heart. There is no joy when we are focused too much on ourselves. There is no future if all your mental vitality is stuck in “what if” land. You’re perpetually never where you really are, always wishing you were more, always wishing you had more, always looking back to a past to fix your present rather than there being any real energy today to have God do something mighty so that tomorrow you’re all that you hoped He could be in you. We will count the days instead of making the days count. It’s an endless crazy cycle. It happens to many of us. It certainly happens to me. I’m not saying I never struggle with this anymore; in none of this am I saying there’s you and then there’s me… We’re perpetually stuck in this imaginary world of “Oh, if I just would have…”

While addressing this issue, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to tell us in his letter to the churches at Philippi, “… do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
So, how about we just do now. Well, today kind of stinks… It’s still the morning and you already want to just go back to bed. I’ve been there. Today is painful and you don’t really like where you are today. Okay, my day hasn’t been perfect either, but that doesn’t get solved by fantasy. Science is not going to develop a time-machine, you’re not going to find a magic lamp in the desert, you’re not going stumble upon a hidden portal somewhere in the depths of the sea… so you’re not going back and changing anything! That’s why the gospel is so important. You’re not going back and changing anything. However, Christ has already, in the cross, redeemed whatever is lurking back there! But you’re not going back. The decisions you have made, you’ve made. The decisions you have not made, you haven’t made. That’s yesterday.

So, please don’t sacrifice today and tomorrow because of fairy tale “what if” land. Please let go of your pride, stop telling yourself that you’re too far gone, your past is just too dark, the pain is too severe, the depression is just too uncontrollable, please let it go and find some close brothers and sisters to walk with through this. And continue to walk with them (Galatians 6:1-5). Press into the Lord and pray for healing and hope like a stubborn, relentless child begging for a toy, and the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). God loves to answer our prayers and wants us to come to Him for rest, hope, and help. Please, remember there is always hope to be found and enjoyed in Christ Jesus. We find our grace-motivated strength not in our own willpower but rather in the fact that all of our sin (past, present, and future) all of our struggles, all of our shortcomings, and all of our failures were paid for, in full by Jesus Christ in the cross. We are saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:1-10).

“We never keep ourselves to the present moment. We look forward to the future as too slow in coming, as if to hasten its arrival, or we remember the past to hold it up as if it happened too quickly. We are so distracting that we stray into times which are not our own and do not think of the only one that is truly ours.” – Blaise Pascal

Even if you love Jesus Christ though, it is very possible, even probable, that there will be days or seasons where you are like the Psalmist in Psalm 42. There will be dark nights of the soul where your tears and your snot are your only food, where you are in a ball on the floor, and can’t think weekly or monthly, or it would crush you. The thought of having to endure longer than today feels impossible. And I’m talking to those of you who know and love Jesus Christ. If you think that sounds crazy, just read about the lives of Job, Joseph, Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, James, Paul, even the life if Jesus Christ, and pretty much every other person mentioned in Scripture.

Are you not aware that we have an empathetic High Priest in the God-man, Jesus Christ? He experienced loss, hunger, temptation, pain, exhaustion, the death of a good friend (Lazarus), the deep betrayal of a close friend (Judas), rejection, being called a liar, His own family thinking that He was crazy and insane, He was spit upon, whipped, beat, taunted, slapped, mocked, stabbed, jeered, and crucified by the very hands of people He created. Jesus actually sustained their life and held their existence together all the while they nailed Him to a cross and cheerfully called out for His suffering.

Our God experienced deeper abandonment, rejection, pain, loss, and devastation than you could ever begin to even try to describe using every bit of existing vocabulary and every waking moment of the rest of your life. When we compare our pain to God on the cross, it is an embarrassment to us to try to belittle Him so. At the very same moment, it is a rich well of comfort to know our God is not immune to or ignorant of our pain and sorrow. He put on flesh and felt our deepest pains at such an astronomically deeper level so that when we approach our Father in our pain He can say to us, “I know… oh sweet child, I know… This world was never meant to be this way… My little child, I love you. Oh how I look forward to the day you will see Me crack open the skies and so fiercely reverse all this pain that your heart will be so on fire with joy it won’t even remember this present pain because gladness will have flooded your heart to such an extreme you will no longer be capable of feeling any sorrow. Until then, please, come to Me and rest. Rest in the work I have already accomplished for you.”

On the cross, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, He who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become His righteousness… The Son felt the cosmic weight of sin, rejection, abandonment, and loss of relationship from the Father, whom He had perfectly loved before time and throughout all time up until that point… and He isn’t looking down at you and thinking all the negative thoughts you might be putting in His mouth, rather God is lovingly looking down on your as a son, as a daughter, as a fellow heir who has suffered in pain… pain He came to eradicate someday… and our God is still working in your life to bring about His good work, His great pleasure, His predestined masterpiece.

Oh, that we would stop dwelling on what we do not have today, and think about how much our Father has already mercifully given us. The prophets only had the promise of a future Christ to come… we get to see the world through the lens that He has already come and defeated death for us! Now we await His return to announce the war has been over since before it ever began. Our God ransoms hearts with ferocious passion, zeal, and joy so that you may share in His inheritance… that we may taste that same joy. Don’t settle for less, you have no right to stay trapped in sorrow; for life, and life to the fullest, was purchased for you.

Peter could not be any more clear about all this than he is in his first epistle: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1st Peter 5:5-11 ESV)

The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not that in trusting Him everything goes just like you want it to go. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is we get God regardless of circumstance, and He’ll be enough. He will be enough. God is enough. Feelings and circumstances change, but our great God is faithful and He does not fail to keep His promises. When we doubt God and look to ourselves, this takes us back to enslavement.

Tim Keller expressed these truths well when he said, “Christianity does not provide the reason for each and every experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage, rather than bitterness and despair.”

Also, some of us are trying to use God to get something we want this very day. Well, again, that’s not the good news of the gospel, the good news is you get God. Now is God able to accomplish more than we could ever dream, or think, or imagine? Absolutely, He is! Can He restore and heal marriages? Historically, we’ve seen Him do it hundreds of times. Can He lead you out of financial ruin? Absolutely, He can. Can He heal diseases? Yes! But is that why we go to Him? If that’s why we go to Him, then what we want is not Him, but rather Him to do those things. We want the stuff God could potentially give us, but not Him… That’s idolatry, that’s not love. It’s like having a friend you only call when you need a favor, or having a spouse and not loving them at all or having much to do with them other than when they are able to provide some comfort or do something for you.

A.W. Tozer famously said that whatever comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Your real god and functional savior is what you most effortlessly think about. When you hear someone mention “God,” what do you think of? What image fills your heart and head when you think about who God is? As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” How can we possibly humbly serve the true God of this universe if we’re so busy with and captivated by thoughts about our own self or how “God” can serve us…

I’ve had to learn that truth hard way… that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” In the end, I’ve only ever found any lasting hope in one thing, well, a Person actually. You may know this Person too. Through everything I’ve gone through, even when I’ve been at what feels like the end of my rope, Jesus Christ has always been there through every dark day and circumstance, with grace that outshines the darkest depths of darkness this fallen world has ever known. His love will not be silent or overcome by anything.

Also, one more thing, as much as I’d like to think there’s a chance I’ll never have another day bogged down by any level of depression, deep spiritual depression is actually a part of the Christian life. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones began his book, Spiritual Depression, by putting it this way: You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind, and spirit. The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time and there are great illustrations of this in the Scriptures.

A particular sign of hope in knowing you’re not alone in feeling this way and having these struggles comes from the account of Christ’s temptation in Luke 4. Notice Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the desert.” He didn’t do anything to get Himself there. The Holy Spirit led the Lord Himself into the desert for a specific purpose. This should set us on a journey to find out more about how to understand and address our depression. Sometimes we will actually walk away from seasons of deep depression and anxiety with new understanding in life, and be a stronger person because of it.

Lloyd-Jones continues in saying that some of us by our nature, and by the very type of struggles to which we are bent, are more given to this spiritual disease referred to as “spiritual depression” than others. But take heart, we belong to the same company as Jeremiah, Isaiah, as John the Baptist and Paul, Luther and Lewis, and a great many others. That’s a pretty good group of believers to relate to. And while you cannot fully belong to it without being unusually subject to this particular type of trial, it ends well.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” – Proverbs 12:25

Discipling Men to Lead

  

Literally every ministry in the history of the Church has had struggles raising up good leadership. Jesus Himself founded His church on twelve highly-flawed men (Ephesians 3:20-21). And with all of our weaknesses and shortcomings we have a great commission to carry out (Matthew 28:18-20).

So with the tough question of, “How do we raise up people, specifically men, to accomplish this task?” You might first ask, “Where do we start?” Many of the men in our church are currently going through a course together called Yokefellows. In this course we can begin our attempt to answer the question in essentially three words: finding, training, and sending.

Finding



Change the culture. The first step to raising up men in the church is finding them. In a culture that has commercialized church and stupefied manhood, many men have simply never been told (let alone had it explained) that they were created to lead. Many come to churches as consumers and to their relationships as passive participants.

Raising up men in the church means reclaiming the Bible’s radically barbaric, countercultural view of manhood. We first have to model, teach, preach, and celebrate a picture of the God-man who sacrificially, patiently, passionately led and laid His life down for His bride.

This will involve the intimidating task of gently but strongly stating and explaining the biblical view of manhood that our culture and many of our churches simply don’t want to hear.

Change your expectations. Church leaders too often are guilty of having unrealistic expectations. God uses different means to nurture His Church, and one of the most surprising means is His use of fallen people (after all, Numbers 22:22-41). If you’re raising up leaders it often means the men you’re looking for aren’t yet in leadership.

If the story of David’s anointing teaches us anything it shows us that our external judgments of leadership are often flawed. Look for men who are teachable instead of impressive (Proverbs 12:1), spiritual and unpretentious rather than notable (John 1:47). Don’t ignore people’s gifting, but don’t overlook people because their gifting isn’t readily apparent. We’re all broken vessels that God uses for His great purposes.

Training



Make the time. The bane of any church leader’s existence is the clock. Between our multiplicity of responsibilities it feels impossible to fit in the time to raise up leadership. Here we are tempted to make a fatal error. Training up men isn’t outside of the work of ministry; it is the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16).

Christ, while ministering at times to thousands, gave surprising priority to training twelve men. In the midst of enormous pressure, He still withdrew to explain His ministry to a few. In addition to being crushed by the clock, we are often duped by our own pride.

Let’s face it. We’re given to a perfectionistic savior complex. We feel that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done right. I certainly struggle with that, to the point of absurdity at times. Part of raising up leaders means being willing to let inexperienced, as yet untested, men take certain leadership roles, and doing so means loosening up a bit on the reins. It also means giving them a little leeway to fail at times or not always do certain tasks exactly how you think they should be done.

Seize the time. The training of leaders will take a plethora of innovative and varying forms. To change the culture you’ll need teaching time. Places to start are incorporating biblical thinking on male leadership into your preaching. Start a men’s Bible study. Meet with a few men weekly for coffee. Join a city Rec league and play some ball together. Whatever works.

In order to understand their role they’ll need to see it in Scripture. But scheduled meetings, while essential, are not enough. This is where creativity is critical. Bring men along. Involve potential leaders in visitation, sermon prep, evangelism, and meetings. Ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it can’t… and so ministry training shouldn’t either.

Sending



Give them a high call. As leaders start to distinguish themselves by their spirituality and teachability, it’s time to start giving them real responsibility. On this point we’re often tempted to be timid, but the Bible is not so. The Bible calls real men to real challenges. Give potential leaders tasks that are large, that they can use their skills to rise to.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint

Give them the grace to make mistakes, but give them goals that will stretch them and cause them to grow. Provide them with gentle, but honest feedback. Don’t sugar coat the task of ministry. We don’t want to create men who put their hand to the plow and then look back (Luke 9:62). The way is hard, but the reward is amazing.

Pray, Pray, Pray. This should occur before and during the process, but we end with it to keep it fresh on our minds. No process or program will bring spiritual change in the hearts of the men in our ministries; only God can do that. Start and finish your task with prayer. Pray that God would bring you men, give you the wisdom to see it, and then give you the grace to raise them up. The Church is His bride; let’s go to Him in prayer, asking for the Spirit to raise its leaders.

Shout Your Abortion?

  
  

The mantras claiming “my body, my choice” and “my life is more valuable than potential life” are currently being shouted with vigor across social media, and it seems anyone who replies with any disagreement will be trolled, mocked, and shamed in response for their views. (Ironic, considering what the “movement” claims to be about.) In our prevailing American culture where individual freedoms are held sacred above all else, death has become celebrated.

While reading through social media posts and articles online trying to get a better understanding of what is being shouted, it is clear that there is a massive misunderstanding of the pro-life view for starters. The consistent misrepresentation and strawmanning of the “pro-life” view to absurd degrees as to imply the view is nothing more than a horrible war on women meant to oppress them by robbing them of all their freedom or that such proponents of any opposing views do not care about people once they’re born is ridiculous, distracting nonsense. By trying to rebrand anyone’s view that doesn’t celebrate the “choice” of abortion as hateful “anti-choice” is not adding anything helpful to the conversation. I also keep seeing people ask how it could possibly be better for the child to grow up in poverty than just killed in the womb… I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I haven’t come across very many people who would honestly rather have been killed before having a chance in life than to grow up poor.

Sadly, we all too often lose sight of the real issue at hand with the abortion issue though, and begin to view other people as enemies. The true adversary that needs to be addressed here is this prevailing idea of individualism that is rampant in our culture.

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. . . At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ – to their irrational impulses.” — C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man

Before rolling your eyes and closing the browser, please let me try to explain. This society-eroding idea of individualism snuck its was into American thought early on and has only snowballed. It came to us via liberalism. Liberalism (think liberation, liberty, freedom) was born out of an 18th-century revolutionary movement in France and America that stressed individual liberty and rights. It brought together deist and utilitarian philosophies, and while ushering in great, countless positive advancements for civilization, it also led the way for a potentially monstrous society of individualism. If God simply set the world in motion (deism) and left sinful man to follow what gives him pleasure (utilitarianism), then society naturally gets built on individual rights… rights that are to be secured at all cost.

Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think ourselves as highly irreligious. Because of this inordinate amount of value our culture places on individual freedoms, we distort our lives, and in turn further warp our society.

“True freedom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die.”

In this broken arrangement, everyone inevitably becomes an intruder. When an individual’s “rights” are ultimate, injustices abound, and citizens make demands of the State. In the case of abortion, both sides claim an enormous injustice.

On one hand, a woman, aware that parenting is life altering, may fear that her ambitions will be aversely affected, that her ability to pursue life, liberty, and happiness might be severely hindered. To someone making the difficult choice of abortion, the innocent child is seen not just as an unwanted presence but as an intruder. The mother feels she has the right to defend her personal interests… after all, she’s an individual with rights first, a mother second.

The fetus, on the other hand, in no way responsible for his or her own “intrusion” and unable to defend against any attack, also claims injustice. The same inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness belongs to the unborn, but they’re unable to speak up. Termination would thus be the ultimate intrusion.

Such a divisive conflict like this will always result in a frustrating stalemate as long as liberalism (from all sides) gives birth to individualism. Individualism is the real enemy.

“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint. Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. . . . Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” – Edmund Burke, 1791 ‘A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly’

It’s been over 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, and we’re still talking about the sanctity of life because the mere mention of it generates a moral friction on our human souls – souls fashioned after the Creator God who makes human beings distinctive among His created order.

It is this imago Dei (image of God) imbued to human beings (Genesis 1:26-27) that makes us human in the first place. This is the genesis of the biblical worldview: that God created and imprinted His image upon each person, giving dignity and value to every single human life despite its stage of development.

James tells us we kill because we “desire and do not have” (James 4:1-4). These impulses are birthed and fueled by our Genesis 3 desire to put ourselves in the place of God where no such warrant exists. We do great evil when we use or destroy lives to suit our whims and warped worldviews. When our society values happiness and feelings over truth, nobody really wins.

“We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire.” – Jonathan Edwards

So when someone stands to pray, defend, and cry out for the unborn and oppressed in the face of this celebration of individual freedom, they are calling for us all to refuse the lie of individualism. Autonomy, being a law unto oneself, is no basis for life together. Community is the only way forward to better change. Society must protect both women and the unborn in a way that doesn’t pit them against each other. The debate cannot center only on individual rights but, instead, must address the duties and responsibilities of, not just the biological parents, but the families, friends, neighbors, churches, and social services that can nurture and support them. The burden of pregnancy, especially pregnancy out of wedlock or for women in crisis, should never disproportionally fall solely on the pregnant mother. She still has a claim on the community, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy. The community still has (in these cases, often extraordinary) obligations, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy.

A community that models mutuality and solidarity affirms life in a way that dispels notions of children being intruders to personal pursuits. Life together where families and marriages are valued and where freedom is about stewardship rather than unlimited potential turns fear of intrusion into hospitality. Rather than see a baby as a burden, we see it as a life to be welcomed into community, a responsibility to be shared, a joy to be experienced. Any agenda to end abortion must include a vision for mobilizing community to function as it should.

There’s an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” There is a lot of truth to that, and we should stop expecting women to go through it alone. Every abortion done under the banner of freedom and convenience is a failure of humanity: failing a human being in crisis and a human being in utero. Creating and protecting life is fundamental to human flourishing, but community is equally important. Both of these are indispensable, and individualism is an enemy to both.

How to Help Improve Your Marriage in Just a Few Minutes Each Day

  

As husbands and fathers living in 2015, our lives are busy and sometimes even downright hectic. We have careers, family commitments, community and church activities, and a host of other things pulling from our time every day. Finding time can be difficult, perhaps even feeling impossible far too often.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. If you you sleep 6-8 hours each day (I wish, right?), that means you are awake roughly 1,000 minutes each day. How many of those minutes are you spending with your wife? How many of those minutes spent are used purposefully to engage, pursue, and woo her? What if I told you that you can drastically improve your marriage in just 15 minutes each day. Yes, spending a mere 1.5% of your waking hours each day can help you have a better marriage. Here’s a few things to consider:

1. Make time for it.

As mentioned, we all have about 1,000 minutes per day while we are awake. The first thing you should do is put 15 minutes into your schedule as designated, purposeful time. Discuss this with your wife, pull out your calendars, and block some time off for the two of you.

2. Guard your time like your life depends on it.

We’ve all seen enough spy movies to know that nothing is safe. But there’s always somebody else trying to make something impenetrable. Treat this 15 minutes the same. Guard it from any and everything that can stop it or steal it. (But know that emergencies happen, and adjustments will need to be made at time… just strive to make this the exception, not the rule.)

3. Start talking.

Initially, don’t have a set agenda. Just talk and listen. Set the phones to silent and put them down. Be sure to give your wife as much, if not more, time to share and talk as she needs. Be attentive to everything she says. Ask more questions than making statements early on. Use this opportunity to truly learn more about your spouse.

4. Fight, if necessary.

It can be easy to avoid or cancel your 15 minutes if there is some conflict brewing. But if you have to fight (disagree), then disagree. Conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, it can be a healthy building block for your marriage. So use that 15 minutes to “fight” if needed.

5. Play and have fun.

Your 15+ minutes each day doesn’t have to just be talking or fighting. Play some games and enjoy one another. When is the last time you’ve played cards, a board game, or even video game with your wife? Use your allotted time to do that sometimes.

Simply pending at least 15 minutes per day focused on one another can change your marriage forever. Make the time, spend the time, enjoy the time, and watch your marriage get better. So when will your 15 minutes per day take place? Get to thinking about it and make it happen. Stop with the excuses, and just do it.*

*I’d also recommend going beyond this, and establishing a regular weekly/bi-weekly date night.