4 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Saturday my husband and I renewed the wedding vows we made a little more than 25 years ago. The service was scheduled to be outdoors at 4 p.m.

But then life happened. My hubby was still getting gussied up in his cute new outfit at the time I had hoped to arrive, so we skidded in on two wheels at 3:55 p.m. My daughter forgot her scripture reading at home, and my son thought it started at 4:30. When he finally showed up, about 4:20, he brought the rain with him.

I’d like to tell you this was an aberration, but it is so much a part of the fabric of our family life that it even has a name: “Getting Kirsched.”

In the midst of our messes, however, God is always faithful…He showed up even as we were getting our collective act together, and we gave Him the glory for creating our marriage and carrying us this far, and sought His guidance for the road ahead.

As part of the service my husband and I each offered reflections for our children and the handful of others who stood with and for our marriage. Mine is excerpted below for posterity and in hopes that what we have learned may help others seeking to “do marriage God’s way.”

Kirsch Fam 0422 2017

During our wedding, our friend and officiant, Father John Skirtich, delivered a message that “Love is a decision.” Somewhere inside I might have known it to be true, but it was in the same way I knew dessert or a favorite glass of wine was a decision…it didn’t come at a cost.

We were young and in love, and we believed our marriage would be a great example to our community of friends and fellow believers, and to our children.

But then Life Happened.

My husband always tells young couples that you never know what God will call you to walk through together or how much you will have to lean on one another. That certainly has been our experience.

Last fall, as our silver milestone approached the bumps in the road had all but obscured the path we had traveled together, and the love and joy that had kept us growing and changing together. Throughout this season the Lord kept bringing this verse to my mind:

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

I did not perceive it…

at least not right away. But looking back now I can see God’s faithfulness as He began to clear out the death and decay that had crept into the dark corners of our marriage and restored new life.

I want to share the four secrets that breathed new life into our marriage; the ones we are working to live out together each day.

1. Change Yourself.

To change your marriage you must change yourself…because that is the only person you can change. Once I stopped looking at what I wanted my husband to do differently and focused only on what I needed to change — and then he began to do the same — our marriage got healthier quickly. (Wives, accept that you will likely be called to make the first move here, but as you see how your husband responds you’ll know it is well worth it.)

Marriage is the only place where you reveal your true (bad) self, so God uses that space to refine us and teach us how to love more like Jesus—unconditionally.

2. Love is indeed a decision.

Sure, it begins with googly eyes and butterflies, but as Scripture teaches:

  • The heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • Out of the abundance of the heart our mouthes speak. (Luke 6:45)
  • For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7)

What I am about to share is true in all relationships, but it’s most visible and important thoughts-1in marriage: It is our thoughts that create our feelings, which lead to our actions.

Changing how I feel about my husband begins by examining my thoughts about him. As I replace any negative thoughts with what I love most about him– and how God sees him–my feelings warm and I act out of love. (Read Love is a Decision)

Once I understood this cycle, Paul’s instruction took on new relevance and importance:

Take every thought captive to Christ

2 Corinthians 10:5

3. The Power of Neutrality

There is no excuse for an angry outburst. While we inevitably experience anger, it is possible to diffuse it without hurting your spouse or relationship by following two simple rules:

  1. If you can’t say it neutrally you can’t say it. (That has created a lot more quiet in our marriage to be sure!) We are learning to voice our complaints, after the anger subsides, in ways that build up our marriage. It sounds corny at first, but it works:

State the complaint neutrally: Honey, when you don’t call me when you’re running late…

Name your feelings: I feel worried for your safety and disrespected regarding the value of my time.

Make a simple, forward-looking change request: In the future I’d like to ask that you call me if you are going to be more than 15 minutes late. Can you do this?

If your spouse consents, great; if he/she declines you can calmly discuss alternatives or drop the topic and try again later.

2. Our need as human beings is to be heard; it far exceeds our need to be right. That seemed shocking at first, but it is an incredible truth in practice. As we learn to listen to each other well, even if the issue doesn’t get resolved right away, we are learning how to love one another even in our differences.

4. The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Perhaps the most valuable secret of all is the tremendous, healing power of forgiveness. (Unforgiven) The turning point in the marriage retreat we attended last winter came when we were asked to write apologies that would speak to our spouse’s heart. It was a powerful, healing experience. James 1:19-21 (MSG) says:

Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.

So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

Now I Perceive It!

I wish I had learned these secrets sooner and put them into practice in my life and marriage. But as my husband and I strive to “do marriage God’s way” in our imperfect humanity, we hope to become a better example of Christian marriage and a testament to how awesome and faithful our Father is.

Baptism of the Stars.jpg

This beautiful painting was created by our friend and artist, Corey Mason. He calls it “Baptism of the Stars.” It is a gift of remembrance of the journey we have shared. The light and promise that dominate the darkness are from God, who is ever faithful to make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

“What is Truth?”

As a recovering people-pleaser I can relate to Pontius Pilate. This Holy Week, as we revisit the story of Jesus’ Passion, I’m discovering his story anew. And as I look at him, I see myself and my own weaknesses reflected back.

Outside the Governor’s palace, Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, denies three times that he knows Jesus. Meanwhile inside the palace Pontius Pilate, who had never met Jesus, three times proclaims His innocence and three times proclaims his kingship.

Yet, ultimately, Pilate fails to act on the truth he has been given…and that decision comes at a cost.

The Cost of Others’ Approval

Most of my failures in life have resulted from my desire to gain others’ approval, so I totally get why Pilate squirms under the crowd’s pressure to make a decision about Jesus.

At first he tries to duck the issue altogether. When the opposition forces his hand Pilate has a personal encounter with Jesus, who delivers a heavy dose of truth:

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18: 36-38)

 

What an invitation Jesus has just offered Pilate: to hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd.

You can sense Pilate’s yearning as he leaves Jesus and darts out to appeal to the Jews again, this time suggesting that he free Jesus as part of the Passover custom–a creative, but futile attempt. Next, he has Jesus flogged thinking this will satisfy them. But they sense his weakness and his need to appease them, so they refuse to compromise.

I know from personal experience, and perhaps you do too, that pleasing others is an elusive goal. Pilate is so desperate for this approval that he forsakes his own conscience, his judgment, his wife’s warning and the truth he has been given by God Himself.

When God reveals truth in our lives, He calls us to act on it.

Truth: How often have I been so desperate to be liked, to be recognized for my effort, to have my good intentions acknowledged that I’ve made an idol of others’ approval? 

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10 (NRSV)

The Cost of Self-Protection

Pilate might have risked the wrath of the crowd if he could have done so without such a high personal cost. Jesus’ claim to be the King of the Jews was one thing, that was manageable, it wasn’t really Pilate’s issue, after all.

But then the crowd told Pilate that the man standing before him had claimed to be the Son of God, the title given to Tiberius, son of Caesar and Pilate’s direct superior.

And worse yet they now threatened Pilate directly by saying, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” (John 19:12)

If word got back to Tiberius that Pilate had released a man who posed a direct threat to his authority there was no telling what the cost might be: his social standing, his governorship, quite possibly, his life. Pilate convinced himself he had no choice.

Truth: I am tempted to approach the hard places God calls me to half-heartedly(The Rock and the Hard Places) , tip-toeing into such assignments in hopes that I can “do the right thing” without risking my reputation in the world…even in small things (“If I offer to pray with a stranger will she dismiss me as a ‘Jesus freak’?”) Is it possible to serve God without personal cost? 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:34, Matthew 6:21

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

The Cost of Compromising Truth

The bottom line for Pilate that fateful day–and the bottom line for us today–is that there is a choice to be made about Jesus and it is a choice with significant consequences on either side.

When Jesus told Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Pilate’s next words betray the condition of his heart, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

After that Jesus does not speak to Pilate again except to make a final assertion regarding the folly of his choice:

You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.

John 19: 11

Truth: Like Pilate I find myself tempted to take the easy way out. But my prayer as I approach the cross of Jesus this Holy Week is to invite more of Him to overtake me so that I can be faithful to the Truth, fearless in my obedience and relentless in love to the end.

When Jesus knew that all was now finished, He said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty’….When Jesus had received the wine, He said,

“It is finished.”

John 19:28-30

A Spa Day for the Soul

I attended a half-day silence and solitude retreat today. I had never done anything like it before, and I recruited my chattiest girlfriend to come along with me, secretly hoping we’d get kicked out early.

I was intrigued by the idea of spending that much time in silence, but as the day approached I found myself growing anxious, inventing excuses not to go, or at least to leave early; after all, I am a busy girl.

What I learned in those few hours of quiet could literally fill my blog posts for the remainder of the year; I am certain it will inspire my writing for some time. But let me offer you a few snapshots as encouragement of the importance of creating space to:

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

Lesson #1: Be

I decided the best way to share my experience is to write what I heard in my time with the Lord conversationally, not because I heard him auditorily, but because this is the closest I can come to characterizing how I hear Him speak to my heart.

The opening verse for the day was this:

My heart heard you say, “Come and be with me.”

My heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Psalm 27:8

 

See how quickly and easily you respond to my invitation to come, yet skip right over the be? It is easy as humans to do, but in your activity you are more likely to fall into the trap of control, independence and ultimately separation from Me.

Before the universe existed I/We were, in perfect relational unity. I experience complete fulfillment in simply being. My name exemplifies the complexity and beauty of this truth:

I am who I am.

Exodus 3:14

The good news is that Jesus opened the door for you to experience this too. He prayed this for you before his passion cleared the Way:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.”

John 17:20-21

Receive

I was sitting outdoors in the lightly wooded backyard of the host’s home, near a shack that caught my eye because it reminded me of the movie, “The Shack,” and I hoped for a similarly tangible experience with God. As I settled into the quiet my awareness of my surroundings heightened, and I took note of how all of nature proclaims God’s presence… and how often I am oblivious to it.

There is no need for you to move or act or do anything to be with Me. All I ask is that you open your hands and your heart to receive the good gifts I have for you; the gifts I desire to give you; gifts that, like breadcrumbs, draw you to The Giver. 

When you are on the move you pass by many of My gifts in the same way you stop hearing the birds after the quiet hours of the morning. Taking time with Me will help you remember how to abide in Me not just today but every day.

I became increasingly aware of how God uses anything–and everything–to reveal Himself and His heart for us. What I thought was going to be difficult was the opposite; I discovered God speaking easily and readily, like my girlfriend; I just hadn’t been listening well.

Notice

Suddenly my attention was drawn to the sun and the breeze. I had forgotten my sweater and I was shivering, resisting the urge to move indoors on this beautiful morning by turning my attention to the sun’s warmth on my back rather than the lingering chill wisping across my skin.

Do you notice, God whispered, how the breeze does not change the warmth of the sun, it simply makes it harder to feel its warmth? It obscures it only temporarily because the sun is true and constant. The more you focus on its warmth the less cold you will feel when the breeze blows.

The same is true of us. The more you focus your attention on Me, the less likely you are to be shaken when world blows cold, attempting to obscure my constant and reliable presence.

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!

Psalm 139:7-12

Love is a Decision

This week my husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage. The sermon at our wedding was, “Love is a decision.” It has taken me this long to fully appreciate the truth in that statement. That’s because one of the enemy’s most destructive lies to relationships is this one:

I can’t help how I feel.

Compare that to what God says of our feelings:

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

Jeremiah 17:9

Words Mean Things

Early in my study of the Bible I became aware of the connection between my heart and my words. 

Out of the abundance of the heart our mouthes speak.

Luke 6:45

But recently God has been doing a new thing in me, taking this idea up a notch, challenging me to begin with my thoughts, use wisdom to discern truth from lies, and rely on the power of my thoughts to direct my feelings and ultimately my behavior toward others.

Mind over Matter

For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Proverbs 23:7

Our thoughts produce our feelings which prompt our behavior. So to change our behavior we must run the cycle in reverse and identify the feelings that drove our actions, and then go one step further and ask: “What thoughts are behind those feelings?”

thoughts-1

Note: The following incident is fictional; any resemblance to real life is purely coincidental. 😉

Imagine that my husband greets me in the kitchen with a cheerful, “Good morning, darling,” and it elicits only a grumble from me in reply.

If I step back and examine the feelings that prompted my reaction I realize I am feeling frustrated, resentful and uncared for. Wow. That’s a lot of emotion for a simple “Good morning.”

What thoughts produced those feelings?  Turns out it is garbage day and my husband forgot…again.

…Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may know what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

What if instead of reacting based on those feelings I consciously redirect my thinking: The garbage is my husband’s responsibility, so whether it goes out or not is up to him. I know for sure he doesn’t fret one second over the status of my laundry. And, I remind myself, my husband takes great care of many things for the kids and me.

Suddenly those positive thoughts, grounded in truth and love, wash those negative emotions away. Now, after just a slight pause, I am able to greet my husband with a respectful and equally enthusiastic, “Good morning!”

Mastering Our Thought Life

God intended for our minds to be masters over our hearts, not the other way around. And yet our human nature is to allow our fickle hearts to rule our lives far too often. The Bible is full of examples we can learn from beginning in Genesis.

Look at the thoughts that precipitated the Fall: Eve told herself first of all “that the tree was good for food,” “it was pleasing to the eyes” and it was “a tree desirable to make one wise.” (Genesis 3:6) Because we are talking about love, let’s look at these thoughts in the context of relationships:

God said she and Adam could eat from the abundance of the garden, just not from that single tree. How often are we drawn to forbidden fruit over the good things in our own relationships? How often do we look at other relationships and imagine them to be better than our own?

What is pleasing to the eyes is not always what is pleasing to God, in fact it’s often just the opposite.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4

This world defines beauty very differently from God’s definition, emphasizing the surface and the temporal over the deep and enduring beauty of heavenly things:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Finally and most perilously Eve convinced herself that the tree was “desirable to make one wise.” Well what could be wrong with that? Are we not all to pursue wisdom?

It wasn’t really wisdom Eve was pursuing, for this was the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Up to this point she and Adam had lived only in the knowledge of good, their focus fixed firmly on God and His provision.

Yet, how irresistible it is to want to “know evil.” Evil is love of self above love of God or love of others; it is pride. Selfish motives darken our hearts and lead us down the wrong path in our relationships. We want to be first, not last. We need to be right more than we desire to hear and care for the needs of another. We want what is good for ourselves more than what is good for another, even someone we profess to love.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

Philippians 2:3

The only hope for us is to make the decision to love. Fortunately, God in His wisdom gave us the perfect rubric by which to mind our hearts and think the thoughts that will produce loving feelings and actions in our marriages and families:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

 

Stress is a Heart Condition

Riding the wave of peace and tranquility from Friday I awoke on Saturday and hurried to the grocery store to pick up supplies for the morning’s Brown Bag Ministry. Five minutes late and a loaf short, I would spend the rest of the day trying to catch up.

I got home to find that my husband, who had just finished aerating, needed a ride to the airport and someone to take the aerator to its next user of the day, albeit three hours late.

I finished those errands and turned my attention to kids and dogs waiting to be fed, dishes to be washed and laundry to be folded. Frazzled, frustrated and fatigued I realized with dismay that it was just past noon.

How had Friday’s peace fled in less than 24 hours?

What’s on Your Mind?

A delicate tension exists between faithfully and lovingly serving my family, and overdoing it to the point that I find myself in an unholy place of resentment and exasperation … and it is in such times that I start sounding embarrassingly like my sister, Martha:

Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.

Luke 10:40

Jesus’ response isn’t an indictment of Martha’s busyness so much as her mindset, her words (and tone, I imagine) exposing the condition of her heart:

Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things...

Luke 10:41

I understand where Martha was coming from. After all she likely spent days cleaning, shopping for food and coordinating the prep work to host their special guest. And she had been the one to get up early, despite her fatigue, to await the rabbi’s arrival in Bethany and extend the invitation to their home.

And yet it was Mary who now sat at the feet of Jesus, savoring the moment Martha had worked so hard to make possible.

The Greek word to describe Martha’s mindset, perispao, literally means to “drag all around, to be too busy, too distracted.” Anyone feeling Martha’s pain about now?

A Servant’s Heart

When Jesus speaks truth into our lives we can choose to reject it or allow it to change and refine us. It seems that Martha followed her sister’s lead in this regard and chose the better part, because later — when her brother, Lazarus, becomes ill — her encounter with Jesus reveals a very different heart.

She starts out in typical Martha fashion by saying, “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died.Only this time she follows what sounds like accusation with an affirmation of faith: “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus says, challenging her by His reply. 

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” Martha affirms a second time, faith pouring forth from her heart full of grief.

No doubt Jesus was moved by this little rock of a woman, for He blesses her newly refined heart with a monumental revelation and an invitation, calling her boldly into an even deeper relationship:

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.

Do you believe this?

John 11:25

Martha is confident in her response: “Yes, Lord, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11:27)

What a gift Jesus bestows on His faithful servant.

I love how the encounter ends because it is so human and so…female: “When she had said this, she went away and called Mary, her sister, saying secretly, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.'” (John 11:28) It seems that Martha chose to keep this special moment to herself, at least for a little while.

 

Life in the Balance

I know women with a heart like Mary’s, and many with a heart like Martha’s. But in truth, I believe most of us have hearts that beat like both, and the beat we follow can be as fickle as the day.

We relish days that we can sit peacefully at the feet of our Lord and fill our hearts with His truth and His love. Other days we find ourselves busy with many things.

Jesus’ message to Martha, and to us, is that it is possible to be busy without letting it drag us all around, causing us to feel too busy and too distracted.

Ultimately it is our responsibility to guard our hearts and ensure that whatever we do, we do with a joyful heart:

  • What do your words reveal about the condition of your heart?
  • Are you faithful in doing everything for the Lord, whether it is glorious — like sharing his Word with someone in need — or mundane like making a Tuesday dinner?
  • Are you equally faithful to seek time each day to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His Word?

 

 

Grace and Truth: An Eternal Question

all things are possible with God

He’d been waiting for this day. He hopped out of bed and quickly washed and dressed. He chose one beautiful, ripe piece of fruit from the assortment on the table and headed out the door.

He had heard about this teacher for months, and today, word was, he’d be passing through the village. He needed to meet him. He had a question that needed an answer.

He was the son of one of the most influential men in town, a sign of favor by God. Whenever he asked a question to the religious leaders in his town, they told him exactly what he wanted to hear. He was smart enough to know it, and keen to continue seeking the truth.

If fortune was a sign of righteousness, he reasoned, it was his responsibility to look the part. He had learned the commandments by the age of four, and had done his best to keep them. Yet in the quiet of the night he was plagued with doubt:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Romans 7:15

He hoped this teacher would be different, and that he would be the one to finally give him assurance. He walked the streets with growing urgency. As the sun rose higher in the sky his clothing, and his resolve, dampened.

He made a final turn, ready to give up and go home, when he saw them: A crowd following after a stranger. He was shocked by the sight of him; surely this was not the one they said might be the promised Messiah? Why, he was nothing but a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause anyone to take a second look. (Isaiah 53:2, The Message)

He brushed his doubts aside and stepped through the path they cleared for him. “Good teacher,” he said reverently. The question on his heart burst from his lips as if it would be contained no longer:

What must I do to get eternal life?

Mark 10:16

Why are you calling me good?” the man they called Jesus replied.

“You too?” the young man thought, relieved to find someone else harbored similar doubt.

“No one is good, only God,” Jesus said. “You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

“I do,” he said excitedly, his confidence growing. “Teacher,” he said, “I have kept them all…from my youth!”

“There’s one other thing,” the teacher said.

“Here it is,” he thought. “Finally.”

“Go, sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

The man’s heart skipped a beat.

He hadn’t seen this one coming, but he’d recognized it as true the moment he heard it. His mind raced with defenses and denials, but he remained silent, struggling to process what he had heard.

Could he really just walk away from it all? He had never known hunger or scarcity. He had never been regarded as less than. His gaze fell to the dirt between them. It was a lot to ask.

He had no words. Slowly he turned toward home. His life may not satisfy his heart’s desires, but it satisfied most of them, more than he had realized, and more than he was willing to sacrifice.

Jesus, his heart filled with love, felt the pain of his divided heart; he knew this man had many things.

“Do you have any idea,” he said to the friends gathered with him, “how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?”

They couldn’t believe what they were hearing; it was the opposite of what they’d been taught all their lives, but it wasn’t the first time he’d turned convention upside down to reveal an undeniable, if shocking, truth.all things are possible with God

“You can’t imagine how difficult,” he continued. “I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”

“Then who has any chance at all?” they asked one another and him at the same time.

Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

 

The Next Step

How often in our own lives do we give God everything…except?

What stronghold stands in your way of a closer walk with the Lord?

Ask Jesus to search your heart and reveal the truth you’ve worked so hard to hide from yourself. (Read Speaking Grace and Truth for more on this.)

Pray that your response will be to trust and obey so that you may move every closer to the One who saves.

 

Speaking Grace and Truth

Search me God

 

 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1: 14, 17

One of my spiritual gifts also has been my greatest flaw and source of sin for most of my life: Speaking truth.

Growing up I was told often enough to believe it that I had an ability to speak truth with clarity. I also was told, but failed to hear, that I sometimes missed God’s call to balance truth with grace. Even though I was called “blunt” and “harsh,” it took years and many mistakes for me to realize I was not using my gift as God intended…for His glory.

Jesus provides a perfect example of how to use our spiritual gifts. As soon as I considered how He spoke truth to others myriad examples popped to mind, but one stood out:  The time he used truth to convert the town home wrecker into a powerful evangelist.

Parched

As she heaved the empty, yet still heavy jar to begin her trek to the well she glanced back with resentment at the man sprawled sleeping in her bed. How she longed for someone to take care of her, or at least to love her.

Her routine was to wait until noontime to replenish her water supply. It was the hottest time of day, but also the most deserted. None of the other women would be there to help fill her jar, not that they ever helped her anyway. At least this way she would be spared the glares, the whispers and the judgment. They didn’t know her story, but that never stopped them.

As the well came into view she was surprised to see a shadow leaning against it. As she drew closer she could see it was a man, and she wondered if she should turn around. It was immoral for a man to be alone with a woman, and she had enough rumors floating around about her already. But she was parched.

So she kept walking, hoping he would leave. A few yards away she could see that he was a Jewish man. She was conditioned to be wary of any man’s motives, let alone Jews, who notoriously hated Samaritans. And yet, she needed water; she was weary of men interfering with her life, her plans, her survival.

Will you give me a drink?” he asked as she approached.

His question startled her. She expected something lewd or crude, not a simple request. She made eye contact with him for the first time and replied bluntly, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Grace

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” he said.

Who did he think he was?  A string of comebacks came to mind, but something in his eyes told her that he was different, so instead she said, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

His words struck hard. What could she say without revealing her disgrace?

Truth

“I have no husband” she said, doing her best to keep a neutral tone.

You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

What? How could he possibly know? He was not from here; she was certain she had not seen him around before. He had just spoken what others only whispered, and yet somehow it sounded different from his mouth; it was truth without judgment. And he even affirmed her honesty in the midst of it.

Life

She didn’t understand it all, but she knew enough. She felt a sudden urgency, borne of compassion, to bring others to this man and his invitation of “living water.” She left her water jar there beside the well and ran the dry, hot stretch back to town. She sought out others, the ones who had shunned and judged and despised her, but this time they saw her, they heard her and they followed her.

This woman whose beauty and charm had been used to destroy families and lives in her community now used her powerful charisma to direct them to her life-giving discovery.

“Come,” she said. “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

“They came out of the town and made their way toward him. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (John 4: 39)

When the Samaritans came to Him, they urged him to stay with them, and He stayed two days. And because of His words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4: 40-41)

Today

Like my Samaritan sister God was faithful not only to call out my sin, but to redirect me. I heard my BSF teaching leader when she said, “The words you use show the condition of your heart.”

When I began my ministry in earnest a poll of my friends led me to the value proposition that anchors my writing today: “Journeying to the heart of what is true.” Search me God

  • What are your spiritual gifts? Are you using them as God intended?
  • What truths is Jesus speaking into your life to help you more effectively lead others to Him?
  • Are you mindful that your call is to invite others to meet Jesus, and leave conviction, conversion and redemption to Him?

Learn more about how to do a little Soul Cleaning.

I encourage you to give a listen to Craig Groeschel’s three-part sermon series on Dangerous Prayers, an excellent resource for exploring these questions further for yourself. They include: Search Me, Break Me and Send Me.

 

 

Time for a Little Soul Cleaning?

Did you ever notice how clutter has a way of sneaking into your house, crouching in corners, hoping you won’t notice (or muster the energy to do anything about it if you do)?

Last week I declared war on clutter. I was doing my best to straighten up when I suddenly felt overwhelmed:  There wasn’t a room in our house where I could enjoy a peaceable sense of order anymore. All I could see was clutter. How had I let this go for so long?!

Saturday morning I lay in bed delaying the inevitable grind ahead of me. As I procrastinated, planning and dreading my day, God gave me this blog post; grace sprinkled over my mess.

Your Heart is My Home

Junk has a way of piling up in your heart just like it does in your home…especially if you’re not vigilant. For awhile you can keep your eyes on the clean spaces. But eventually there is nowhere else to look; that’s when it’s time for a little soul cleaning.

And there’s no better catalyst to such an awakening than having a friend or neighbor over — one you know keeps a beautiful home — to make you see your house through their eyes.

Isaiah had just such an experience when confronted with the clean, pure presence of a holy God in Isaiah 6: “…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim…calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the

Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of His glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

In another example Peter encounters Jesus for the first time after a frustratingly unproductive night of fishing. Jesus instructs Peter to cast his nets one more time, and they immediately fill to the point of breaking.

 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,

“Go away from me, Lord;

I am a sinful man!”

Luke 5:8

It’s no coincidence that God exposed the junk in Isaiah’s and Peter’s lives just before sending them out into the world to draw others to Himself.

Rewarding Work

Clean garageThe good news is this:

  1. While soul cleaning can be laborious — especially if you haven’t done it in awhile — God doesn’t ask us to work alone. My daughter helped me clean up our outdoor space. As we worked side by side we remarked on how the work can be almost fun when you’re doing it with someone else. God is happy to come alongside us, we need only to ask.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

2. He focuses our energy. Cleaning frenzies can be exhausting. If we try to do too much at once we become discouraged, and when the effort is too great we are reluctant to tackle it the next time. God makes sure that the tasks He gives us do not overwhelm us.

For my yoke is easy

and my burden light.

Matthew 11:30

3. God never shames us for making a mess in the first place; He is happy to remove the junk for us. My last task of the day was to drive my truckload of junk to the dump. When we confront the messes we’ve made in our spiritual lives, Jesus takes the wheel and removes it for us.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

Becoming More Tidy

Cleaning house has a spiritual term, it’s called repentance. Yet repentance comes with its own junk. As modern Christians we prefer to focus on spirituality and growing our relationship with God. But just as weeds choke healthy plants, our junk clutters our ability to experience God fully, and certainly makes us hesitant to invite him into the messy inner sanctums of our hearts.

In his book, “The Secret Life of a Fool,” Andrew Palau (@AndrewPalau) shares his Isaiah 6 moment, when he prayed for the Lord to reveal whatever junk was standing in the way of a closer relationship. God laid open to him his sinfulness in the same devastating, life-changing way that He did for Isaiah.

I modeled that prayer after reading Andrew’s story, not believing I had any blindspots; God likewise opened my eyes. I invite you to consider praying a similar prayer, but first, put on your apron and get out your dustpan, because cleanup will ensue.

Another tool for shining God’s light on the cobwebs of your heart is One Word. This great little book encourages you to prayerfully ask God for one word to guide your year, ideal timing as New Year’s approaches. This process allows God to expose your blindspots while also redirecting your focus. (Read about my first experience with one word here.)

While the labor of this past weekend lingers in my bones, this morning it is accompanied by a lightness and peace that make it all worthwhile. I am pleased that I did the hard work to restore order and simplicity in my life. I look forward to having friends over this holiday without needing to push them past the trouble spots or apologize for my neglect. And I enjoyed rest, a good, deep satisfying rest, when I finished my work.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened

and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

The Great Weaver: A Story with a Punchline

 

To bestow on them

a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called

oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3

Last week I shared this verse as one of several to which God had pointed me recently. He has not stopped leading me back this powerful verse. I share my journey as an example of how God uses His Word to weave our lives together, one to another. My hope is that this story will resonate with others striving to hear God more clearly in their own lives.

Strong Roots

My sons and a couple of their friends have unified in prayer recently, and I shared the passage above with them as a daily verse. I was unfamiliar with it before attending She Speaks last summer. There I met a woman who was so strongly rooted in faith you could feel God’s Spirit on her. In our speakers’ small group she spoke of how God had used this verse to restore her “oil of joy” following the death of her son.

She shared in a recent phone conversation that she had not planned to speak on that verse. She had prepared another message and was frustrated that the Spirit was pushing her so strongly in this direction. She found it encouraging to learn that her message had become a source of comfort and inspiration to others.

While I was still on the phone with her I received a text from another She
SIsaiah 61:3peaks friend who had just purchased a ring a few days prior inscribed with, you got it, Isaiah 61:3. When she saw last week’s post referencing this verse she knew it was more than coincidence.

Tiny Acorns

Following She Speaks I published a post called, “May I Have a Word Please?” about how God had given me a word at the conference to focus my ministry for the coming year; it was brokenhearted. It’s a word that appears only twice in the Bible: In Isaiah 61:1 and in Luke 4:18 when Jesus proclaims an “Amen” over it, claiming Isaiah’s prophesy for himself:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted

I have remained open to the relevance of this word in my life, and realized that brokenhearted connects me with parents whose children are hurting. The pain over a child’s suffering is far deeper than anything we as parents experience directly.

How like God it is to introduce me to this notion through a woman who survived the ultimate heart break of losing her child. God’s promise in verse 3 is rooted in His desire to heal the brokenhearted.

Mighty Oaks on the Rise

When my sons and their friends embarked on this recent prayer journey I encouraged them with James 5:16:

The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.

I challenged them to consider how powerful and effective their prayers could be together since they are all righteous men. As I looked more closely at Isaiah I realized that they, and the friend for whom they are praying, are being grafted together through this experience:

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

And Now for the Punchline

So from the mighty oak of a woman of faith to me, an acorn by comparison; and from me, like all parents, called to be an oak of faith to my children and their friends, rising oaks in the faith.

God’s word is alive and active in those who believe in him. As we share His word and pray together, God works beneath the surface to bless and refine us all, individually, and relationally with others and Himself. You can feel all the layers of stories happening in this one verse, can’t you?

The end for now is to remind us that we are part of God’s grand design. We see only our small piece at the moment, but God is a grand weaver, crafting a divinely intricate tapestry through our lives and the lives of others. We are threads held together by His Word.

In contemplating this metaphor I researched weaving terminology, wanting to know the word that refers to the starting point of the tapestry, metaphorically, the origin of God’s grand design. And it is this:

Cross

The figure eight made at one end of the group of warp threads used to keep those threads in order during the threading and sleying process of dressing the loom.

God’s grand design stretches to infinity (represented by the figure eight), and it always begins at the cross.

tapestry of the cross