Are You Ready for a Change?

So be very careful how you live, not being like those with no understanding, but live honorably with true wisdom, for we are living in evil times. Take full advantage of every day as you spend your life for his purposes. And don’t live foolishly for then you will have discernment to fully understand God’s will. (Ephesians 5:15-17, 21, TPT)

A new year always gives us a feeling of a fresh, new start. We may celebrate each new year with all kinds of ideas for getting started on a new diet or workout program. We decide that we’re going to drop some very bad habits, and we, excitedly, make promises to ourselves to improve our quality of life overall. I want to challenge you to put that same vigor towards improving your marriage this year, and that may require some real changes on your part. Here’s an important quote I refer back to often: “Change will never occur until the pain of staying the same is more painful than the change.”

We are living in precarious, unprecedented times! Unless you have been living off the grid for many years, you surely recognize that we are finding ourselves living a “new normal”. In another version of today’s scripture, we are reminded to “redeem the time because the days are evil (NKJV).” In other words, we cannot afford to waste time anymore.

Change is one of those things that happens to us whether we want it to or not. Sometimes, we’re in control of it, and sometimes, we are not. Unless they are very progressive-minded, most people don’t like change because it moves them out of their comfort zone. That’s why most people fail at keeping new year’s resolutions. Sometimes, however, we experience an event that requires us to make a decision whether we are going to change or not. The decision will be affirmative only if we feel that staying the same make us worse off. One good example is when one or the other spouse threatens divorce unless they commit to counseling. Even though something needed to change in the relationship, one was not willing to do anything proactive until the idea of divorce seemed much worse than the status quo.

Many of the couples who are struggling in their marriages don’t do anything about it because they are not willing to make the necessary changes to make things better. They get comfortable living the same way over and over again. They kind of hope things will change but are not willing to be actively involved in making that change happen.

When working out issues in a relationship, it can become quite uncomfortable; but it’s worth it if the end result will be a harmonious union that brings glory to God. And, ultimately, isn’t that our goal? Aren’t we trying to live in obedience to His Word? We sometimes tell our marriage coaching clients, “If you are not willing to do the things that will please your mate or to try to meet his or her needs, then do it out of a desire to please God until the feelings come and your desire towards your mate changes – because it will.”

Change can be our friend. It can launch us into a realm where we reach our full potential – in life and marriage. Let’s choose not to be afraid of it but to embrace it with joy. May this be the year significant change happens for you. Let me repeat a portion of today’s verse, “Take full advantage of every day as you spend your life for his purposes.”

Transparency With Love

Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the requirements of the law of Christ [that is, the law of Christian love]. (Galatians 6:2, AMP)

I remember when I first met my wife and the joy of finding a friend who brought such happiness to my life.  We were committed to each other and desired to help the other achieve what we believed was God’s call upon our lives.  It was, and still is, our belief that God allowed us to be joined in marriage to help us please Him better together than we could ever realize by being apart.

Our relationship began with trying to learn and appreciate as much about each other as possible. It was fascinating and so much fun to discover the likes and dislikes, visions, and plans for the future that we had made as individuals.  We, then, lovingly handled each other’s desires, always wanting to preserve and combine our goals to allow each other to feel and experience the value, respect, and honor of an open and transparent relationship.  We realized what it meant to assist the other in pursuing our determination to please God and each other. We came to an awareness that God had placed us in each other’s lives to be His physical and emotional representative of love. 

God knows everything about us better than we know ourselves; and in marriage, we must learn the intimate details of our mates over time..  This is where transparency is so vital to the health and continued growth and maturity of our marriages.  Being open with one another allows us to not only stumble upon but to see the weaknesses and strengths of the other.  Openness reveals the dreams and nightmares of your mate to help with nurturing, protection, and sharing.  Closeness is very difficult, if not impossible, without the vulnerability of open and honest communications – honest talk that is spoken always in love and a desire to bring healing.

The transparency that pleases God is not one of expressing any and everything that comes to mind but communication that conveys truth in a loving manner.  Thoughts that are hurtful, unkind, and unloving that would burden or bring pain to the receiver, should be shared with God alone.  The positive and the negative exchanges of words must all be done with the goal of stating and sharing love. Our determined purpose must be to be truthful and kind. Many of our difficulties arise simply from a lack of talking to each other.  Instead of talking, we are satisfied with trying to read each other’s tones, expressions, or even silence. We discover, most of the time, we are poor readers. Learn to ask clarifying questions when meaning or understanding is missing from your conversations and relationship.

God helps us because he knows everything, but He still wants us to ask for help.  In order for us to help one another, we must learn to share who we are with our mate.  Remember, we want to know so that we can demonstrate the love of God toward our spouse.  This requires a selfless attitude that invites the presence and help of God into our lives.  We must stay on task as God’s representatives and assistants to help our mates achieve their destinies and God-given purposes.  You will only be able to do this if you believe God is working for your good through your mate. This requires you to be wholly committed to love your mate as you believe God loves you. You are one in Christ.   

To accomplish this, you must encourage each other and spend time weekly sharing goals, aspirations,  and dreams, as well as hurts, failures, and feelings of inadequacy, mistakes, sins, and victories.  Be vulnerable enough to communicate what may seem obvious: that you love each other and are committed to the other’s success in life.           

When Iron Sharpens Iron, Sometimes Sparks Fly!

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. (Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

Sharpening is the process of creating or refining a sharp edge of appropriate shape on a tool or implement designed for cutting. It’s done by grinding away material on the tool with an abrasive substance harder than the material of the implement, followed sometimes by processes to polish the sharp surface to increase smoothness and to correct small mechanical deformations without regrinding. That is what happens when humans relate and interact (en.wikipedia.org).

Humans were made for fellowship, and what better fellowship opportunity can there be than a marriage relationship. When God created Adam, and placed him in the Garden, I’m sure they had wonderful fellowship; but God, Himself, recognized that it wasn’t enough. Adam was blessed with Eve because people need people.

The problem with people needing people is that sometimes, during their interactions, sparks fly just like when iron sharpens iron. However, it’s during those times that we should begin to help each other get rid of the dullness (insensitivity to the Holy Spirit), the imperfections (the areas we have not submitted to God), and the rust (picking up old non-fruit-bearing habits). The result should be brightness (shining forth more of the light of Jesus) and perfection (maturing in the things of God).

Trust me. You do not want to be like that dull knife you might find in your kitchen drawer. “Dull knives are more dangerous in the kitchen because they don’t bite into food as well as sharp knives, so there’s a higher chance the blade will shift or slip. In addition, blunt blades need a lot more pressure to cut, so if and when the knife slips, there’s a higher chance you’ll get hurt (simplelifesaver.com).” When we don’t allow the Holy Spirit, through our spouse, to sharpen us, our unregenerated tendencies and flaws remain on the surface and cause us to bring harm to our mate. We’re not as mindful of our words, or we are just unkind or selfish, in general. The sharpening process, though painful, is helping us develop into the image of Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it marvelous how God has put couples together to be a blessing to each other? Marriage is never about individuality. If, in our relationship, we never change to truly become one, there is no purpose in being married. We learn from each other, and we develop into better human beings as a result. I can think of so many instances where my life has improved by living with my husband. He has areas where he is stronger, and I have areas where I am stronger. I believe I shared this once before: Since I was a fairly young Christian when we wed, I wasn’t fully developed in my faith in God.  I watched as Adrian met every difficult class he had with an expectation that God was going to help him. I have since learned how important faith is in every instance and circumstance of life. Adrian, along with the Holy Spirit, was my teacher. In turn, my husband has shared with me how I have taught him to be more generous and caring.  

Your mate was placed in your life, not to frustrate you, but to bless you and help you become more like Christ. When the frustrations come, we should use them as opportunities to grow rather than excuses to throw in the towel.

Cooperation and Encouragement

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NKJV)

This scripture is applicable to any covenant friendship but especially pertinent to a husband and wife team.  The dictionary simply defines cooperation as working together and secondly as compliance.  As we look around our world today, the old cliché that said, “something is easier said than done” comes to mind.  Maybe you have experienced the difficulty of simply trying to work together with your spouse.  The synonyms listed with the definition were assistance, help, support, teamwork, aid, and mutual aid.  All of these actions should be our goals and practiced conduct as husband and wife.

The scripture above promises us that two are better than one, and their efforts lead to good rewards.  The idea presented poses that if one falls, the one can help the other up again.  The encouragement is that in two working together, there will always be the partner to assist.  This requires the two to agree on what their relationship paradigm is to consist of.  The team can choose to compete and sabotage each other’s progress, peace, and success or rather, negotiate on a path of compliance and cooperation.

It is much easier for two to lie together and accomplish the generation of warmth than to go it alone.  In our marriage covenants, we have promised to aid and abet our spouses in the pursuit of life’s many pleasures and challenges.  Mutual aid and support is the only way to succeed in being a God-centered, healthy, productive couple.  Let encouragement be one of your main tools of support for one another. Learn where each other’s strengths and weaknesses lie and provide encouragement when and where best needed and appreciated. The verse goes on to state that although one can be overpowered by attacking forces, two working together can withstand and become victorious.

Today in your marriage relationship, allow God to be the third strand of the not easily broken cord of your life and relationship. Dare to believe that God did not bring you and your mate together to compete with one another, but to complete one another.  God, with our cooperation, wants to assure your team effort will be a success that brings glory to Him and provide fulfilled joy to your heart.  Let God be the mediator of your discussions for agreement and planned strategy for marriage and life.      

The Right Perspective

The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17, CSB)

Perspective: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Do you remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? None of them knew what an elephant was, but wanted to experience it by touching it. They each touched different parts of the elephant and drew conclusions of what it was like based on what they touched. Each one was convinced that he was correct and argued his opinion. Their truth was solely based on what they encountered and none of them was accurate.

How easy is it to see something from someone else’s perspective? Many times it’s difficult because, somehow, we are under the impression that our way of viewing things is the most accurate. But is it really?

One of the reasons why strife breaks out in relationships is because we find it too challenging to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see their viewpoint. That takes too much work.

The story of Saul (later named Paul) immediately comes to mind. If you recall, Saul was a great persecutor of the Christians of his day. He was a Jew from the highest order and sorely believed that the preaching of Christianity was heretical. God had a plan for Saul’s life and later used his zeal for His own purposes. When Saul was apprehended by Jesus, he was able to see the truth. He, at first, was blinded by his encounter but was later prayed for by a believer “and immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight (Acts 9:18).” Saul was now able to see the truth about Jesus as the Messiah and changed his former stance and became a Christian.

Having the right perspective is vital. Otherwise, we can fool ourselves into believing that we know the truth. But that truth may only be from our perception. I’m reminded of the account of Elisha in 2 Kings, chapter 6. The king of Aram was waging war against Israel, and God, supernaturally, revealed the king’s plans to Elisha. The king found it out and sent a massive army to capture him. When Elisha’s servant saw the great horde of enemy forces surrounding their city, he basically freaked out, but Elisha wasn’t worried. He knew the truth, but his servant needed a new perspective. “Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see. So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2Kings 6:17, ESV).”Guess who now understood that there was nothing to fear?

Sometimes, in our walk with God, we experience things that could cause our view of God to be faulty. We must remember, however, that God doesn’t make mistakes and that He is true to His Word. If we encounter a disappointment we may think that’s the end of the story; but we can easily forget that God sees the end from the beginning. I love a statement that Adrian always says, “God can see around corners; we can’t.” In other words, there’s more to the story that just has not been revealed to us.

When it comes to life, just because we see something one way, it’s not always the right way. Our perspectives can be skewed by so many factors. What we perceive is strongly influenced by your past experience, education, culture, values and how we were raised.

In dealing with our relationships, marital or otherwise, we must recognize that our outlook may not be the only one and we need be open enough to ask Holy Spirit to give us a heart of empathy to put ourselves in their shoes to get a better understanding of where they are coming from. That requires listening more deeply with, not just the ears, but with the heart. Scripture says, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight (Isaiah 5:21, ESV)!” Let’s be humble enough to admit that we simply don’t know everything. We desperately need God to give us the right perspective. (Pam)

Make Understanding a Priority

And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted), forgiving one another [readily and freely], as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 AMPC)

Today’s scripture instructs us to be kind, understanding, and forgiving.  Today I want to focus on being tenderhearted or understanding.  To be understood is a desire that most all humans crave but seem to have less intentionality in providing it to the others we interact with or have relationship with.  One of our greatest challenges for pursuing understanding is with our spouses and children.

Most of us have very little understanding of other people including our mates. It has been said that it takes a huge amount of understanding to make a marriage successful.  Yet many of us, despite relational difficulties, have not made a concerted effort to truly understand those we say we love. 

Our marriages require accepting a life-long project and commitment to learn to understand each other. It is only in coming to understand the other that true love can exist and thrive.  If we can invest our time and energy into understanding our mates, the rest of life’s complexity will seem easy in comparison. In order to understand and really know your spouse, you must study them.

Studying our mates is to observe them as the unique and complicated being they are.  There are no two of us who are exactly the same because God has created us as unique individuals who are ever changing as life happens.  We need to note habits, likes and dislikes, humor, what pleases or upsets.  We need to know when encouragement, affection, admiration, confirmation, or calming support is necessary.  Simply put, we must know what makes our spouses tick.

By making our spouses the center of our attention, we will begin to understand them with their and God’s help.  We started with the directive to be kind, understanding, and forgiving.  In coming to know our spouses, we will know the thoughts and acts of kindness  we can provide for them. Understanding one another reduces the conflict caused by misinterpreted motives, and actions. When we understand, we can realistically love and forgive each other just as God does.

Make understanding those you love a priority so that true love can be expressed in kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.  Give your spouse the gift of being able to say, “I get you”.  (Adrian)

Imprisoned by a Grudge

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9 NLT)

Why is it so difficult to let go of the hurts inflicted upon us? Being hurt by the people we love, most especially our mates, can be hard to overcome. But why is that? Could it be just a matter of acting out our natural impulse to protect ourselves, or is it a need for retaliation? Is it a matter of withholding forgiveness to use as a power tool?

There is a part of our natural humanness that wants to protect ourselves from future hurts and pains. Think of falling off a horse. It is painful and disturbing. The memory of such an incident may cause you to never want to get on another horse as long as you live. However, what is typically said? “You have to get back on the horse, immediately.” Why is that? If you don’t, you will have the opportunity for the memory to linger; and as you dwell on it, the fear of it grows more intense. The same thing is true in our relationships. When we are hurt, unless we freely forgive quickly, we have a tendency to dwell on it giving the devil a foothold and causing a rift.

Focusing on an offense imprisons us. It invades our thought life; and if we are not careful, we will start planning our vengeance. It allows the enemy (Satan) to convince us that we have power over the offender by not forgiving. The fact is, we couldn’t be more wrong. Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand, but the inability to forgive does not affect the offender as much as it affects us. We are the ones who suffer. It tears us up on the inside. Consider the following quote: “The failure to forgive fosters debilitating attitudes of resentment and rage. Many research studies show significant correlation between resentment and anger and the reduction of the efficiency of the immune system–the effect of which is to increase our vulnerability to illnesses ranging from the common cold to AIDS. Other people, unforgiven, literally make us sick” (Robert Caldwell, The Difficult and Compelling Art of Forgiving).

The sad fact is that we, ourselves, hold the key to the prison door. It’s a decision we must make to let the offense go and seek God for healing; and it’s not to say that the feelings will just dissipate into the atmosphere. It may take time, but we still must remind ourselves that the decision has already been made to let it go.

Because we have been born again, we no longer have to rely on our “natural humanness” to muster up the courage to let go of a grudge we may be holding against our beloved.  Remember that “you belong to God, my dear children…the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world “(1 John 4:4, NLT). God’s Spirit empowers us to do the “unnatural” thing.

Let’s break free from the prison of grudge holding. Let’s always be willing to give to our mates the same thing God gives to us – unlimited forgiveness.  Let’s allow our love to prosper by forgiving our spouses faults. Besides, we probably have many more than they do. (Pam)

Choose To Accept

to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV)

I’ve written a lot about choices we need to make in order to effectively follow God’s word, and here’s one more: Acceptance. This scripture lets us know that because of God’s mercy and grace, which is His nature, He has made us accepted in His Son Jesus Christ (the Beloved). Acceptance here is defined as to be endued with special honor or is highly favored. It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and receiving Him as Savior, that we are reconciled and accepted by God. God made a way for us to be included in His family despite our continued imperfections because it is a gift of His grace not the result of our works.

In our marriages and other relationships of life, one of the most challenging ways of expressing our love is through true acceptance.  In a world of social media where everyone seems to have an opinion, and an associated criticism, people are afraid to tell you who they really are.  The truth is that, if they share who they really are and you reject them, that is all they have to give.  Most people will not open up to you unless they feel accepted.  Many will only risk vulnerability if they know they are accepted with all their faults, hang-ups and idiosyncrasies.  The truth is that acceptance is a perceived feeling.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, if God can accept us because of the work of Jesus with all our imperfections, why can’t we choose and learn to accept the people we say we love.  In our marriages, the differences between spouses is what makes for a fuller experience of life and shared love.  I am so glad for the different talents, perspectives, humor, sensitivities, opinions, tastes, and appearance of my wife.  I realize that I am a better person and enjoy life more as a result of my involvement with someone very different (but determined to be a blessing) from me. 

In our attempt to be more accepting we might ask ourselves how many times a day  we ask our spouse or friend, “Why?”  You know, why did you do this or that? Consider that the question of why may be intimidating or even threatening.  Have you considered that it may be an indication of your level of acceptance? As you go through the day, count how many times you ask why. Evaluate whether it is an indication of genuine curiosity or just your way of voicing subtle disapproval without actually saying, “I wouldn’t have done it that way,” which signals a lack of acceptance.  To express your acceptance of other’s differences, work to reduce the number of times you ask why. 

The more we can make people feel accepted, the more they will open up to us and allow us to see and get to know the real person.  One of the true enjoyments of life and relationships comes from experiencing the freedom that is created through acceptance.  Let’s share God’s acceptance of us with others.  (Adrian)

Living Face to Face

And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. (1 Thessalonians 3:12, New Living Translation)

We often hear of couples who say they’ve just grown apart, and therefore, find little in common with one another anymore. More than likely, what has happened is that they lived their lives side by side instead of face to face. Some couples can live in a house together, raise children, even attend church and other events together. Yet they never take the time to really notice what each is doing.  Married life was never meant to be just a series of activities and duties that couples do together in the same house. I’m certain God meant it to be a rich, fulfilling experience, to be a daily, loving encounter with Him and each other.

Living face to face means paying attention to each other. It means noticing when one or the other is down or going through a rough patch. It’s also sharing in the triumphs and victories in your lives. It means, “I see you at your lowest and your highest.”

Think about how often you and your mate actually make eye contact. All too often, couples are so involved in the minutiae and busyness of life, they neglect one another.  With that neglect comes a slow death of the relationship. No, it doesn’t happen all at once, but little by little, perhaps, a trickle at a time; but as each bit mounts up over time, you can start to see the beginning of the end. Remember when you were first dating and getting to know each other? You made spending time together a priority, and you couldn’t wait for each date. Your heart raced at the thought of seeing each other again. Then life happens. You get married and all your attention now goes to the responsibilities of managing a household, paying bills, parenting and the list goes on and on. Now you no longer enjoy the experience of just being together.

The scripture above encourages us to allow God to make our love for one another not only grow but overflow. That means that there should be such an abundance of growth that it overflows to other people.

There is a tried and true method for keeping your love from shriveling up. Remember the idea of a weekly date? I know some people “pooh pooh” the whole concept, but having that weekly, set-aside time for just connecting with your mate is invaluable. It’s a commitment that has to become a priority.  It’s an opportunity to look into each other’s eyes and share who you are again. It’s an occasion to notice the growth and maturity in each other, to rediscover the gifts you both bring to the relationship, to begin to see past the titles of “mother”, “father”, “business man or woman” and, instead, see each other as partner, lover, friend.

If you find that you are living life side by side with your spouse, I encourage you to turn and face each other and determine that that is how you will now live and do life together. You may find that you will rediscover some interesting and wonderful things about each other or even notice new things. I believe I shared before about how I, sometimes, found my husband just watching me; and when I inquired why, his response was, “I find you fascinating.” Who could not feel about that! But that’s the benefit of living face to face. With God’s help, you can do it.

Choose To Listen

A [self-confident] fool has no delight in understanding but only in revealing his personal opinions and himself. (Proverbs 18:2, AMPC)

Life today is filled with so many choices that, sometimes, we find it overwhelming.  The challenge of choice is to choose the path that leads to our desired destination or result. Christ came to earth to live, die, and rise from death that we might have the opportunity to choose Him as our personal Savior and have our sins forgiven.  This choice restores our relationship with Father God and allows us to live life in fellowship with Him. Fellowship with God through Jesus Christ provides access to constant help and assistance in doing His will daily.

One of the many choices to be made every day is choosing to listen with the purpose of understanding.  In our marriages and other relationships, we find ourselves trying to communicate with others without really listening to them.  Typically, while talking to someone, we are already formulating our response without focusing on what they are actually saying.  Proverbs 18:13 (AMPC), says,  He who answers a matter before he hears the facts—it is folly and shame to him. When we find ourselves sitting on the edge of our chairs, perched, just waiting  for someone to finish talking so we can express our thoughts, this is the time God reminds us that a fool does not delight in understanding but only in revealing their own mind. This is the time to choose to listen to understand, with God’s assistance.

Ask God to help you learn to listen without interrupting the person who is speaking.  Interrupting others is a habit that’s detrimental to listening.  If we can practice listening without interruption and then share what we believe we have heard, this will allow confirmation of what was said by the speaker.  The talker can then, possibly, correct any reception errors allowing you to properly respond from a position of understanding. This is basically “Listening 101”.

To have a real conversation requires both parties to listen to each other. If you find yourself trying to converse with someone who appears to not be listening to you, perhaps you need to examine yourself to determine the reason why.  To discover the reason you are not being listened to, may require you to ask God to help you search your heart and thoughts to uncover bad habits, unkind word or critical attitudes that may be causing them not to listen to you.  God can help us to be the type of people others desire to hear and be worth listening to.  Proverbs 10:11 says, The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;…

Choosing to listen and to be heard is essential to successful communication.  God wants to help you to have good communication with your spouse and others.  Allow God to be your partner in evaluating any hindrances to your listening skills or to having others listen to you. Listening is a valuable skill once it’s learned, but it takes a great deal of practice. (Adrian)