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Posts tagged ‘Being other-centered’

BEING PERFECT OR — FULLY FUNCTIONAL

by Jan Johnson

Have you been bothered by that verse: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)? 

Many people are.

Some think it means we can or should drive ourselves with perfectionism. But perfectionism doesn’t lead to perfection—only to shame, as some of you have heard me say.  Others just give up and decide transformation is for someone else. Still others think that Jesus said things that just don’t make sense.

What if “perfect” means “fully functional”? 

The word for “perfect” there and elsewhere is telios, which means complete or mature.  It’s the word Jesus used on the cross in “It is FINISHED”  (looser translation:  we did it!).  Lately, Dallas Willard has taken to substituting “perfect” in these verses with “fully functional.”  Be fully functional, as your heavenly Father is fully functional.

So what does fully functional look like? 

The above verse is the summary statement from the “love your enemies” section of the Sermon on the Mount.  So to be fully functional is to be kind instead of crabby, to help other people out instead of wondering what’s wrong with them. To love difficult people means I’m fully functional, not taking the time and emotional energy to be offended by them or to judge them in my mind.

What a relief!

For days I’ve been connecting dots among the “perfect” verses and it turns out others relate to loving others as well. For example, several of the “perfect” verses occur in James, one of which describes the fully functional law (1:25), which a few verses later he calls the royal law and quotes Jesus’ great commandment (and OT law) and to love others the way we love ourselves.  (Don’t tell me you don’t love yourself;  if you’ve managed to feed and dress yourself in the last few days you’ve loved—or done what’s best for—yourself.)  To be fully functional is to love others as well as I treat myself.

Another dot:  When Jesus talks to the rich young ruler who obeyed all the laws, Jesus advises him that if he would be fully functional (perfect), he would sell all he had and give it to the poor:  radical love for others  (Matt 19:21).

Full functionality (maturity and completion) then seems to relate to moving away from self-absorption and thinking more about what others are going through. When I resent what you say to me or I choose to ignore you (not loving you), I’m not functioning with all of myself.  In fact, I begin to behave rather dysfunctionally:  self-pity, know-it-all, apathetic.  The heavenly Father is perfect in how God loves us fully. God invites me into that love and also invites me to ponder how I might love others a little more today than yesterday. Then I become a whole new me, one that is fully functional, able to stop making everything about me and willing to think about you with more generosity, mercy, and kindness.

With that in mind, Jesus’ invitation to be fully functional sounds like a really good idea.

Why I Never Drink Alcohol

SOURCE: MICHAEL BROWN/charismamag.com

I simply want to share with you why I have totally abstained from alcohol for the last 46 years, since I’ve often been asked this question over the years.

Forty-six years ago, in 1971, the Lord graciously saved me from a life from sinful destruction, which included very serious drug abuse and some heavy drinking as well. From that day until today, I have never abused drugs again or had a sip of alcohol, other than taking Communion with a taste of wine when that was the only option.

Do I believe that the Scriptures require total abstinence for all believers? No, I do not.

Do I believe that Jesus literally turned water into wine in John 2, even if the wine was not as fermented as today? Yes, I do.

Do I believe that some Christians can drink some alcoholic beverages in moderation without sinning before God? I certainly do.

So, I am not here as anyone’s judge or jury, nor am I trying to force my convictions on anyone else. I simply want to share with you why I have totally abstained from alcohol for the last 46 years, since I’ve often been asked this question over the years.

First, although I loved getting high on drugs and getting drunk before I was saved, I did not enjoy the taste of alcohol. Once I gave up getting drunk, I had no interest in drinking at all. There was no temptation or desire.

Things were very different for my wife Nancy, who was born again in 1974. She really enjoyed the taste of alcohol and also got drunk before she was saved. So, for her, there was no question at all that she should avoid even the taste of alcohol once she was in the Lord. Why play with fire? Drinking only had sinful connections in her life.

Second, the church in which Nancy and I came to faith practiced total abstinence, so this became our practice as well.

I honestly don’t remember the pastor teaching on it in those early, formative years. Instead, we learned it from the other believers, some of whom used to be heavy drinkers before they were saved as well. For them, too, it was quite natural to cut that cord of attachment with the world.

Third, I began preaching in 1973 at the age of 18, so I was quickly looked to as a leader on some level. What kind of example was I setting? If others followed my lead, would they be helped or hurt?

For me, this was another good reason not to drink socially, since so many believers struggled with drinking before they saved, and some continued to struggle after they were saved. Why put another stumbling block before them?

Fourth, I have heard the same sad story many times over the decades, and it gives me real pause.

A former alcoholic sees another brother or sister have a glass of wine with their meal, or they visit your house and see that you have beer in your refrigerator. They then think to themselves, “Well, if it’s OK for them, I guess it’s OK for me,” and they have one drink—just one—and quickly find themselves enslaved again, sometimes for years.

So, your liberty, which might be totally fine between you and the Lord, ends up destroying a precious brother or sister.

Paul addressed this in the context of food sacrificed to idols, but the principle is the same: “and by your knowledge [meaning, the knowledge that food itself doesn’t defile us] shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? When you thus sin against the brothers, wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat, least I cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:11-13).

The lesson here is that we should put greater emphasis on helping weaker brothers and sisters than on enjoying our liberty.

Fifth, I minister in many different church cultures, some of which also practice total abstaining, therefore I take the more stringent road as a way of life.

For example, I’ve ministered in Italy and England on 40 different trips, and on my occasions, I’ve had meals with other Christian leaders who enjoy a glass of wine or beer with their meals.

I’ve never seen them drunk, nor have I felt they were doing something wrong. It’s their culture, and this is between them and God. (If this seems to be in violation of my last point, it’s not. I’m sharing my own counsel and convictions, not imposing them on others.)

I’ve also ministered in Asia on more than 40 different trips, most commonly in India, and I’ve never once seen a believer drink alcohol there, nor have I seen it on my few trips to Africa.

Again, for my own life, I’d rather live the same way in both cultures. In that way, if I’m ever asked about my personal practices in the stricter environment, I can say that I never drink at all.

Sixth, we are commanded in Scripture to be sober and vigilant (for example, 1 Pet. 5:8), whereas alcohol can easily lead to sluggishness, impaired judgment, sloppy thinking and acting, and outright drunkenness.

Since I believe in fleeing from that which destroys (see, for example, 2 Tim. 2:22), I run towards sobriety and away from anything that leads to drunkenness.

Seventh, I do not want to be enslaved by any earthly habit. (For decades, I was a chocoholic. By God’s grace, I’ve been totally free that from enslavement, along with other food addictions, for more than three years now—and I emphasize the words “by God’s grace.”)

It’s so easy to become dependent on that one drink just to calm your nerves, that one drink just to take the edge off, that one drink to quiet your fears, that one drink.

Perhaps you’re leaning on that one drink rather than on the Lord? Perhaps you’re becoming dependent on it? Perhaps one drink will lead to two or three or more?

Despite the lies of the flesh and the world, sin never satisfies. Instead, it leads to more sin, then to worse sin, and then it enslaves.

Which direction is your drinking taking you? Are you now getting into alcohol in general? Are you now trying out harder and harder liquor and encouraging your friends to do the same? Are you even having some drinking parties where you glory in your “liberty”? Have you had more to drink than you planned, even getting mildly drunk?

Again, I’m not playing God here, and I’m not sitting as your judge. But if you said yes to any of these last four questions, I can almost guarantee you that you’re on a slippery slope in the wrong direction and that, soon enough, your “liberty” will turn to bondage.

That’s also why I have a personal problem with the whole “beer and Bible” approach to ministry.

On the one hand, I understand that churches want to meet sinners where they are and invite them to study the Word in a comfortable environment. But at what point do these sinners hear the message of repentance, which includes repenting of drunkenness? And how many former alcoholics in the church now stumble and fall because of this environment?

To say it again, I’m only sharing my personal convictions here, and I’m quite familiar with the argument that those who have learned to drink in moderation all their lives will not struggle with getting drunk.

For many, that is true, just like in traditional Jewish culture, where small amounts of wine are incorporated into various meals and rites.

But in a country like America, where there is so much drunkenness and decadence, I’d rather err in the opposite direction and simply have nothing to do with alcohol in this world. And yes, once more, these are simply my own views, which I share because I’m often asked about drinking.

And even in biblical days, where alcoholic beverages may not have been as fermented as today and where most believers certainly did not practice total abstaining, we still have this warning: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).

The bottom line is that there are far more important things than food and drink, which is why Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

May we all pursue that “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” in a manner fitting as a kingdom of priests before our God.

5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Shaunti Feldhahn/Family Life

A few small actions carry surprising power in building a lasting relationship.

Not long ago, the marriage of some close friends—I’ll call them Daniel and Jessica—suddenly imploded. We did everything we could to stand with them in their crisis to speak hope for their future together. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t survive.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jessica one day. Through her sobs, she said, “He worked so hard for a year to take us on that amazing vacation to Hawaii. But all I really wanted was for him to put his arm around me at church!”

Huh? Do you think in the midst of all her pain that she was thinking clearly? Actually, I do.

I could fill in lots of other details, but ultimately the pattern is a sadly common one. You may have seen it too. Daniel was a godly, well-intentioned husband who showed his love in several ways, including working long hours to provide for his family and to do nice things for them. You see, for him, providing is love.

Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that what he was working so hard for wasn’t what Jessica most needed—and in some ways was actually robbing her of the closeness she needed the most. (And of course there were ways she didn’t know she was hurting him.) What she needed most, more than all the expensive vacations in the world, were a few simple, specific day-to-day actions.

But as simple as loving gestures in public? you wonder.

Yes! My research on happy couples showed that an extraordinarily high percentage of them were (often without realizing it!) doing a few little specific actions that were making their spouses feel deeply cared for. Jessica, as it turns out, is like nearly all other men and women in her deep rooted desire for these surprisingly meaningful gestures.

Day-to-day actions

Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s just enormous power in that!

For nearly every man or woman, the same few small, gender-specific actions not only matter but have a huge impact on a couple’s level of happiness. But these little actions take on even more power when accompanied by those that matter to your spouse individually.

Let’s begin with the few small actions that the surveys indicate matter a lot to almost every man or woman—what we might call the Fantastic Five.

When individuals were asked on the survey if a particular action made them happy, the affirmative response numbers were staggeringly high for five specific actions for each gender, even among the struggling couples. Close to 100 percent of all husbands and wives said these actions mattered, with between 65 and 90 percent of all husbands and wives saying these actions would deeply please them.

In other words, you are very likely to make your spouse feel deeply cared for if you make a habit of doing the same five things consistently.

The Fantastic Five for him

A wife will have a big impact on her husband’s happiness when she does the following:

1. Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. (For example, she says, “Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.” Or, “Thanks for playing with the kids, even when you were so tired from work.”) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

2. Says “You did a great job at __________.” This deeply pleases 69 percent of all men.

3. Mentions in front of others something he did well. This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

4. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. This deeply pleases 85 percent of all men.

5. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. (For example, she expresses appreciation for something he did for her with a smile, words, a big hug, etc.) This deeply pleases 88 percent of all men.

The Fantastic Five for her

On his side, a husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:

1. Takes her hand. (For example, when walking through a parking lot or sitting together at the movies.) This deeply pleases 82 percent of all women.

2. Leaves her a message by voice mail, e-mail, or text during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. This deeply pleases 75 percent of all women.

3. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public (at church, at a restaurant with friends, etc.). This deeply pleases 74 percent of all women.

4. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.

5. Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing. (This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry or need space; it means he tries to pull himself out of it.) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all women.

Keys that unlock any door

Did you notice that all these happiness-inducing actions are simple, learnable, and doable by any wife or any husband? If you put each of the five biggest little things to work every day, I’m betting your marriage will improve—in some cases, radically.

And here’s more great news: All these small but powerful actions matter regardless of what the person’s love language is. For example, most wives (82 percent) are affected when her husband reaches out and takes her hand, regardless of whether physical touch is her thing.

There’s no looking back for our friends Jessica and Daniel. But I’m so thankful that God is good. He is always at work to redeem our broken hearts—and I know He’ll do it for our friends. Still, a corner of my heart mourns the heartbreak that might have been prevented if they had truly understood the power of doing these best little things.

We all know that small, thoughtful acts are not a magic cure-all for every marriage problem. But having talked to so many who nurtured much happiness with simple but powerful actions, I know all of us can build that all-important foundation that helps us believe that our mate notices and cares.

Because as it turns out, believing that the other person cares is far more important to building a happy marriage than most of us ever realized.

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Adapted from The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, by Shaunti Feldhahn

How to Turn Your Pain into Something Positive

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Can pain ever be good?

That’s a fair question, but mostly an intellectual one to me, until recently. You see I’ve been blessed with good health and without much physical pain for most of my life. But a recent injury put me in a season of constant and intense back pain. For quite a while, I was getting just a few hours of sleep a night, sometimes feeling lost in an emotional fog. Even though it’s been a painful setback, it’s got me thinking about the importance of pain, and asking some big questions:

What will I do with my pain? How can I turn my pain into something positive?

Whether pain is physical or emotional, it can be used for good, to make a positive impact on others.

As I wrote about in my book, All Pro Dad, here are a few ways that pain can be used for something good and positive:

Pain can bring clarity to what is most important in life.

Yes, pain can create an emotional fog and make it hard to think straight. But it can also force you to an off-ramp in life for a while that can help you take stock of your priorities. As I’ve been working through the pain and fog, I’m also finding some clarity on things that are important in my life. It’s been a good time to take stock of my usage of time and resources to ensure I’m being a good steward of what’s been entrusted to me and my family.

Pain can be a bonding agent in relationships.

Pain allows you to identify with another person who is going through something very similar. Empathy is an important character trait of a loving leader. When you empathize with others, you experience similar feelings, thoughts, and emotions and then take action based on what you’ve experienced to meet the needs of others. It’s often the things we have in common that create or deepen our bonds.

Pain can change your trajectory.

Past pain can motivate us to look outward instead of just inward. Sometimes pain is paralyzing, and we get very self-focused as we deal with it. But as we do, pain (especially relational pain) can eventually help us to see the need to work towards helping others. Maybe it’s breaking a cycle of dysfunction or brokenness in a family tree that we’ve experienced, or picking up the pieces from an addiction we’ve battled that has hurt more than just ourselves. Eventually, we face a choice: stay focused on self or be motivated to help others.

Pain can give us credibility and opportunity to help others.

When we have endured pain we’ve never experienced before, we have the power of empathizing with others going through the same pain, not just those suffering in general. As a result, others are aware that we know what they are going through and will listen to what we have to say, perhaps even more so than others who try to speak into their lives but haven’t shared the same pain.

Pain can give us a future message of hope to others.

As we deal with the pains of our past or present, God gives us hope and healing that can become a very meaningful message to others. The pain can become a purpose for our voice as well as the message of hope our voice proclaims to the world.

Marriage: Don’t Fix — Feel

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

3 A’s of Empathy in Marriage

Sometimes, my wife, Susan, doesn’t need or want me to do things for her or fix things for her. Sometimes she’d rather I just feel things with her. That’s what empathy is all about. Empathy deepens a marriage through a shared understanding, perspective, or experience. I realized the importance of empathy from, of all places, an NFL coach.

As I shared in my book All Pro Dad, Coach Jim Caldwell, at the time with the Indianapolis Colts, once shared with me what he considers to be two critical components of leadership. The first one, expertise, didn’t surprise me. But the second one did: empathy.

Applying it to parenting, he said to me, “You must have empathy in both parenting and coaching. Whether it’s one of my players or one of my children, as a leader, I have to be able to put myself in their shoes. Being a coach has made me a better parent and being a parent made me a better coach. Having kids taught me how to empathize with others.”

Through the years, as I’ve thought about Coach Caldwell’s words, I’ve become absolutely convinced that he’s right…and that it applies to marriage as well. Empathy involves both the head and the heart. If you recognize the need to better empathize with your spouse, consider these three A’s to feel empathy:

  • Awareness — Be aware of what your spouse is feeling and what’s behind that feeling.
  • Agenda — Set aside your own agenda and focus on the needs of your spouse.
  • Action — Take action on meeting the needs of your spouse.

Let’s unpack each one of those a bit more.

Awareness. Being more aware of your spouse’s feelings starts with being observant around them. You can’t read their mind or heart, so you have to observe and ask and listen.

  • Read your spouse’s nonverbal cues, like their facial expressions.
  • Avoid making assumptions that whatever emotional struggles your spouse has are all about you. It could be they’re upset about something at work or the kids. When you assume the worst, you sometimes bring out the worst in your spouse.

Agenda. This is about being selfless instead of selfish. It’s about putting your spouse’s needs before your own.

  • Deprioritize your plans. If your spouse is struggling and you have plans, making their needs a higher priority speaks volumes to them. You can’t be selfish and empathetic at the same time.
  • Resist the urge to fix things. Sometimes your spouse needs to hear you say, “I love you and I care about you” more than a game plan for how to make their life better.
  • Set aside your agenda even if it’s inconvenient. I remember having my Saturday all planned out and thought it would go just as planned. So, when Susan wanted to share how she was feeling with me, I got frustrated and let her know that she infringed on my plans. I learned very quickly that my reaction was not only selfish but also didn’t do much to build intimacy in our relationship.
  • Hold your schedule loosely. Being late to church, a kid’s practice, or a dinner reservation may be a small price to pay to really connect with your spouse. If you choose your schedule over your spouse, you might bulldoze your spouse’s heart in the process.

Action. Find something you can do for your spouse that shows that they are your priority and that you understand them.

  • As the saying goes, Actions speak louder than words. There are certain things we can do that tend to be especially effective at filling the chambers of a wife’s or husband’s heart.
  • Actions speak louder than words, but attitudes speak louder than actions. Whatever you do for your spouse, do it with a cheerful attitude.
  • Do things with pure motives. If I see Susan heading into a jam-packed week and I say, “Hey, let me go the store or do laundry for you,” but I did it to get something in return, that’s not loving well.

Relationships: Are You a “S-O-G”?

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

Why Scare My Wife?

Corlette and I have very different depth perception. A car that I see as being a hundred feet away she sees as being a hundred inches away.

So when I’d make a left turn with a car coming towards us in the opposite lane, she would tense up, grab the door handle, and jam her foot against the floor as if there was a second brake pedal on her side of the car.

Her apparent lack of trust irritated me, so once we’d made the turn, I’d sigh loudly and say, “See, we had plenty of room” … which did nothing to diminish her sense of near disaster or reduce the adrenaline that had sent her heart racing.

Frankly, it didn’t do much for our relationship either.

All of this changed when the Lord prompted me to evaluate my behavior through the three lenses of relational wisdom: Self-awareness, Other-awareness, God-awareness (aka, the SOG plan).

As I thought about Corlette’s reaction, I realized that this was not a matter of trust; she was truly frightened by my driving. It wasn’t something she chose to feel. When I turned in front of an oncoming car, her brain simply processed the data in such a way that she was genuinely convinced we were in danger … thus the rush of adrenaline and reflex pumping on a nonexistent brake.

Although it was not premeditated, I finally saw that I was repeatedly subjecting Corlette to unnecessary fear.

This realization forced me to take an honest look at my own heart. Why, to save a mere six seconds of time, would I knowingly scare my wife?

The answer to that question was not pleasant to face. I was guilty of insensitivity, a lack of empathy, pride, selfishness … in short, a recurring failure to love.

Finally, I had to ask myself how God viewed my behavior. It took only a moment to realize I was not pleasing him. The Bible contains clear instructions on how to treat people in general and my wife in particular, all of which I’d been sinfully ignoring. For example …

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14:21).

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:24).

“I try to please everybody in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many” (1 Cor. 10:33).

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

“Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor …” (1 Pet. 3:7).

As I reflected on these verses, I realized that I had not been looking out for Corlette’s interest to feel safe. I was not giving up my driving preferences for hers. And I was certainly not living with her in an understanding way.

I finally saw that this wasn’t some small difference of opinion between her and me. It was a matter of me sinning against God. It was time for repentance.

So the next time we were driving together and I needed to make a left turn with a car coming toward us, I waited … and waited … and waited. By the time the car passed and I actually turned, it was obvious to Corlette that there had been plenty of time to turn ahead of the other vehicle.

Realizing I’d waited in deference to her, she reached over and gently touched my arm. With a warm smile and pleasant voice, she said, “Thank you. That was very thoughtful of you.”

Instead of the mutual irritation such turns had previously caused, I felt a wave of affection and thankfulness from my wife and for my wife …

Which moved me to ask myself, “Why did it take so long to realize that such a simple gesture would bless her so much?”

How about you?

Have you been ignoring ways that you scare, frustrate or disappoint another person?

Have you been oblivious to ways you could comfort, encourage, or support someone else?

One way to overcome such blind spots is to simply look at your relationships through the three lenses of relational wisdom: self-awareness, other-awareness, God-awareness.

Like me, you may find that major improvements come from very small changes … like waiting just six seconds to make a left hand turn.

Marriage: 50/50 OR 100/100?

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Family Life/Dave Boehi

The Futility of the 50/50 Plan

Don’t you hate it when you see a couple arguing in public?

Recently I was sitting at my gate in an airport, waiting to board a plane. Nearby was a young couple with a baby, and observing them was like watching someone open a can of Coke after shaking it for 30 seconds. I knew what was about to happen, and I wanted to duck for cover.

They were frazzled and frustrated. Each wanted to relax and let the other person take care of a cranky baby and a pile of carry-on items. The husband appeared to be one of those men who gets angry whenever things don’t go as he wishes.

As they walked down the ramp to the plane, the wife received a phone call. She wanted her husband to hold the baby while she talked, and he exploded. “I’ve been taking care of her all day long!” he complained (loudly). “You’re always on the phone.”

“You’ve hardly helped at all,” she replied. “And you’re never on the phone yourself?”

It went on from there, all the way down the ramp. I wondered how they treated each other behind closed doors if they acted like this in public.

Fortunately they calmed down on the plane, thanks to the intervention of a saintly flight attendant who showered them with attention and encouragement. She did everything she could to make the flight pleasant for them, and that seemed to relieve the pressure.

It appeared that this couple had no clue about how to resolve conflict in their relationship. But I found myself thinking about an underlying cause of their conflict: They seemed to be operating under the common worldly pattern of marriage—the “50/50 Plan.” She felt she was doing her part in raising their daughter, and her husband was not doing enough. He seemed to feel the same about her.

The 50/50 Plan is based on performance. Typically, couples work out some sort of agreement about how they’ll divide family responsibilities and household duties, declaring, “You do your part, and I’ll do mine.” Acceptance and affection is often tied to how well each spouse does his or her part. As Dennis Rainey writes in Starting Your Marriage Right, “Performance becomes the glue that holds the relationship together, but it isn’t really glue at all. It’s more like Velcro. It seems to stick, but it comes apart when a little pressure is applied.”

On the surface, the 50/50 Plan sounds reasonable—why shouldn’t both spouses pledge to do their part? But in the end, it won’t work, for a number of reasons:

  • You can never meet all of your spouse’s expectations.
  • Inevitably you focus on your spouse’s weaknesses and failures and lose sight of your own.
  • It’s impossible to know when your spouse has met you halfway.

The truth is that both spouses in a marriage are sinful, flawed human beings, and both want their own way. As Rainey continues:

What a marriage needs is the super glue of Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” It’s what we refer to as the 100/100 Plan, which requires a 100 percent effort from each of you to serve your spouse.

The Bible describes this plan well in Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There’s no closer neighbor than the one you wake up to each morning! And since most of us love ourselves passionately, we are well on the way to implementing the 100/100 Plan if we take a similar approach to loving our spouses.

Start by stating the 100/100 Plan like this: “I will do what I can to love you without demanding an equal amount in return.”

With the 100/100 Plan, both husband and wife are willing to step in and do all the work. At home, both are willing to get the chores done. At the airport, both are willing to care for a fussy baby.

The 100/100 Plan allows for the inevitable trials and difficulties that any couple will encounter during the different seasons of life. It keeps a family going when one spouse is sick or injured, or working odd hours, and is therefore unable to contribute as much. It allows for the richness of a relationship in which each spouse complements the other because of differing strengths, personalities, and abilities.

In short, it’s the plan that provides the best picture of a biblical marriage.

Manipulative Double Messages

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

One of the most effective ways to undermine a relationship is to use double-messages to manipulate other people.

This all-too-common process was perfectly illustrated in a recent edition of Baby Blues, one of my favorite cartoon strips.

Double Message

Wanda has clearly mastered the art of “control without coercion.” By saying “It’s fine,” she gives the appearance of being reasonable. But she long ago loaded those words with another meaning: “Go if you want to, but later on you’ll pay the price of a cold and irritable wife.”

As the last frame shows, both her husband and his friend know exactly what her words really mean … and they give up their plans to avoid a conflict.

I’m embarrassed to think of how many times I’ve used these kinds of double-messages to manipulate people in my life, especially my wife.

I’m good at saying words that sound right on the surface, but it’s all too easy to add a subtle tone of voice or facial expression that sends a contradictory message … one designed to bend others to my will without overtly exposing my selfishness.

How about you? Is this something you do as well? If you don’t think so, ask the people closest to you for their honest opinion.

If this is a habit in your life, there are three things you can do to overcome it.

First, confess it to God, as well as the people you’ve manipulated, and ask those closest to you to bring it to your attention whenever you do this again.

Second, pray that God would press ahead with his promise to conform you to the likeness of Christ by giving you an active hatred for this sin and by replacing your desire to control others with a genuine joy for serving and encouraging them (Rom. 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:22-24).

Third, develop the habit of intentionally using all of the means of communication God has built into you (words, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language) to send honest and congruent messages to those around you, especially when they might have some doubts as to your real intentions.

Had Wanda done this when her husband wanted to play ball with his friends, she would have first needed to go through a quick internal examination and adjustment of her own heart:

“I’m feeling disappointed and irritated. Why? I was really hoping Darryl would spend the morning shopping with me. But that’s selfish; it’s all about me. He’s been working really hard lately, and I know he doesn’t enjoy shopping. It would be good for him to get some exercise and have fun with his friends. Since I’ve punished him in the past for not following my plans, I need to make an extra effort to assure him that I really want him to go with Mike.”

Then she would have turned to her husband with a genuine smile, and with a warm and encouraging tone of voice said,

“I always enjoy it when you go shopping with me, but today I think it would be great if you had some time with your buddies. You’ve been working really hard lately, and I’d love to know you’re doing something you enjoy. I’ll have some ice packs and a cold drink waiting for you when you get home and look forward to hearing about all you great shots!”

An affectionate kiss would be a nice reinforcement.

These simple applications of the READ and SERVE principles would have blessed her husband, added a big deposit to their “relational capital account,” and set a positive example for their daughter, who (as you can see in each frame of the cartoon) is carefully listening to … and learning from … every word her parents speak.

May God give both me and you grace to renounce manipulative double-messages and use our words only to bless the people around us–even if it means giving them freedom to shoot hoops instead of going shopping … or vice versa!

Six Lessons in Good Listening

SOURCE:  Desiring God/David Mathis

Listening is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do, and one of the hardest.

In a sense, listening is easy — or hearing is easy. It doesn’t demand the initiative and energy required in speaking. That’s why “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The point is that hearing is easy, and faith is not an expression of our activity, but our receiving the activity of another. It is “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2, 5) that accents the achievements of Christ and thus is the channel of grace that starts and sustains the Christian life.

But despite this ease — or perhaps precisely because of it — we often fight against it. In our sin, we’d rather trust in ourselves than another, amass our own righteousness than receive another’s, speak our thoughts rather than listen to someone else. True, sustained, active listening is a great act of faith, and a great means of grace, both for ourselves and for others in the fellowship.

Lessons in Good Listening

The charter text for Christian listening might be James 1:19: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” It’s simple enough in principle, and nearly impossible to live. Too often we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. So learning to listen well won’t happen overnight. It requires discipline, effort, and intentionality. You get better with time, they say. Becoming a better listener hangs not on one big resolve to do better in a single conversation, but on developing a pattern of little resolves to focus in on particular people in specific moments.

Freshly persuaded this is a needed area of growth in my life — and possibly yours as well — here are six lessons in good listening. We take our cues from what may be the most important three paragraphs on listening outside the Bible, the section on “the ministry of listening” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, as well as Janet Dunn’s classic Discipleship Journal article, “How to Become a Good Listener.”

1. Good listening requires patience.

Here Bonhoeffer gives us something to avoid: “a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say.” This, he says, “is an impatient, inattentive listening, that . . . is only waiting for a chance to speak.” Perhaps we think we know where the speaker is going, and so already begin formulating our response. Or we were in the middle of something when someone started talking to us, or have another commitment approaching, and we wish they were done already.

Or maybe we’re half-eared because our attention is divided, by our external surroundings or our internal rebounding to self. As Dunn laments, “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view.”

Positively, then, good listening requires concentration and means we’re in with both ears, and that we hear the other person out till they’re done speaking. Rarely will the speaker begin with what’s most important, and deepest. We need to hear the whole train of thought, all the way to the caboose, before starting across the tracks.

Good listening silences the smartphone and doesn’t stop the story, but is attentive and patient. Externally relaxed and internally active. It takes energy to block out the distractions that keep bombarding us, and the peripheral things that keep streaming into our consciousness, and the many good possibilities we can spin out for interrupting. When we are people quick to speak, it takes Spirit-powered patience to not only be quick to hear, but to keep on hearing.

2. Good listening is an act of love.

Half-eared listening, says Bonheoffer, “despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” Poor listening rejects, good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist, and to matter. Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Good listening goes hand in hand with the mindset of Christ (Philippians 2:5). It flows from a humble heart that counts others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It looks not only to its own interests, but also the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). It is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).

3. Good listening asks perceptive questions.

This counsel is writ large in the Proverbs. It is the fool who “takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in exercising his opinions” (Proverbs 18:2), and thus “gives an answer before he hears” (Proverbs 18:13). “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,” says Proverbs 20:5, “but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

Good listening asks perceptive, open-ended questions, that don’t tee up yes-no answers, but gently peel the onion and probe beneath the surface. It watches carefully for non-verbal communication, but doesn’t interrogate and pry into details the speaker doesn’t want to share, but meekly draws them out and helps point the speaker to fresh perspectives through careful, but genuine, questions.

4. Good listening is ministry.

According to Bonhoeffer, there are many times when “listening can be a greater service than speaking.” God wants more of the Christian than just our good listening, but not less. There will be days when the most important ministry we do is square our shoulders to some hurting person, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and hear their pain all the way to the bottom. Says Dunn,

good listening often defuses the emotions that are a part of the problem being discussed. Sometimes releasing these emotions is all that is needed to solve the problem. The speaker may neither want nor expect us to say anything in response.

One of Dunn’s counsels for cultivating good listening is: “put more emphasis on affirmation than on answers. . . . [M]any times God simply wants to use me as a channel of his affirming love as I listen with compassion and understanding.” Echoes Bonhoeffer, “Often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously.” At times what our neighbor needs most is for someone else to know.

5. Good listening prepares us to speak well.

Sometimes good listening only listens, and ministers best by keeping quiet, but typically good listening readies us to minister words of grace to precisely the place where the other is in need. As Bonhoeffer writes, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

While the fool “gives an answer before he hears” (Proverbs 18:13), the wise person tries to resist defensiveness, and to listen from a non-judgmental stance, training himself not to formulate opinions or responses until the full update is on the table and the whole story has been heard.

6. Good listening reflects our relationship with God.

Our inability to listen well to others may be symptomatic of a chatty spirit that is droning out the voice of God. Bonhoeffer warns,

He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life . . . . Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

Good listening is a great means of grace in the dynamic of true Christian fellowship. Not only is it a channel through which God continues to pour his grace into our lives, but it’s also his way of using us as his means of grace in the lives of others. It may be one of the hardest things we learn to do, but we will find it worth every ounce of effort.

Marriage Isn’t For You

SOURCE:  Seth Adam Smith

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.  Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided we no longer wanted to be just friends. 🙂 I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and anguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.

Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

 

15 Ways to Please Your Husband

SOURCE:  Barbara Rainey/Family Life

Romans 15:2-3 tells us, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself…”

Who is your closest neighbor?

Your husband.

How can you edify (build, improve) your mate and thereby enhance his self-worth?

By discovering—and doing—what pleases him.

If you are creative, pleasing your husband may be a natural part of your personality. But a less creative person may need some coaching in becoming a partner pleaser. And all of us need an occasional cue card to remind us to reach out.

Here are a few ideas–and with Father’s Day coming up, perhaps this week is a good time to implement one of these:

  1. Write him a letter and send it to his office, or put a love note in his lunchbox or briefcase.
  2. Prepare his favorite meal.
  3. Arrange an evening out for just the two of you.
  4. Wear his favorite dress with your hair done the way he likes it.
  5. Purchase something small and frivolous for him that he won’t buy himself.
  6. Give him a nicely framed picture of yourself, or of you and the children, for his office.
  7. Surprise him with an all-expense-paid trip to do something he likes, such as golf, fishing, or hunting trip.
  8. Put the children to bed early and prepare a candlelight dinner.
  9. Do something that especially pleased him when you were dating.
  10. Read Scriptures and pray with him regularly.
  11. Take walks together.
  12. Keep your junk out of the garage.
  13. Greet your husband warmly after work.
  14. Wear his favorite negligee or buy a new nightgown to add sizzle to your evening attire.
  15. Clean out the car for him.

Sometimes the smallest gestures can make the biggest difference in your marriage. Pick out something you haven’t tried before; don’t give complacency a foothold in your marriage relationship.

7 Ways to Encourage Your Wife

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

I’m not a perfect husband…

I would write that 100 times, but I think you get the message and I’d probably lose most of you at number 27. That’s the average number of times you’ll read the same thing. (I just made that up… :) )

But, I’m not a perfect husband…

I have learned a few things and I continue to strive to be a better husband. I know, for example, that part of my happiness is found in Cheryl being happy. That’s not a “if momma ain’t happy…nobody’s happy...” joke…it’s a reality. I love my wife enough that I want her to be happy.

Obviously, I can’t control all the things which happen in a day for her. I can’t stop people from being rude to her as she drives to work. I can’t help the co-worker who is having a bad day to take her bad day out on Cheryl. I can’t stop the pressures and stress Cheryl will encounter by being a pastor’s wife or by being a friend, mother, daughter, sister, or husband.

All I can control is the way I respond to Cheryl and the things I do that encourage her happiness. I have found that just as I strategically think for my ministry, I should strategically think how to encourage my wife.

Here are a few ways I try to encourage Cheryl:

Send flowersWhen they aren’t expected – This seems so trivial, but I honestly have to remind myself to do this. Flowers on a special occasion are nice, but I have found the ones she enjoys the most are sent on the days she’s not looking for flowers. (This could be something besides flowers if your wife isn’t into flowers that much, but I’ve also discovered many of the practical-minded women who say they don’t want flowers actually love receiving them occasionally.)

Reserve a day…just for her – I do this every Saturday. I let few things interrupt this day and none without consulting with Cheryl first. You may not be able to do this once a week and it may not be for a full day, but it should be consistent enough that she can anticipate it. During the times when life is most stressful and you are pulled in different directions, these reserved times give her something to look forward to and reminds her you’ll “catch up” soon.

Give a gift…that keeps on giving – This idea is brilliant, I must admit…but I love to give a gift that takes a while to receive. When the boys were at home and getting away was more difficult, I would give Cheryl a trip for Christmas every year. We would take the trip in May. I would usually pick a location, request brochures, and give them to her as her “big” gift at Christmas. We had months to plan for it, which built positive emotions leading up to the trip and then anticipating the next Christmas trip. (Plus, many of these expenses were paid outside the Christmas spending frenzy, which helped our budget.)

Be a responsive listener – I realize whenever Cheryl says something there is usually a deeper meaning, so I listen for the deeper meaning. I try to understand her thought process.(Girls, guys really do talk in simpler facts, which makes it more difficult for us to understand you sometimes.) Instead of dismissing what Cheryl said, because it wasn’t clear or assuming I know what she’s saying, I ask questions for clarification when needed. (Don’t argue this one guys…Just do it.)

Give her details – Okay, I know, this will hurt…just being honest, but it shows your love for her. Again, I’m not the perfect husband here. (Do I need to write that again?) I’m getting better at allowing Cheryl to ask me questions and I’m trying to tell her when I’ve told her everything I know. I realize details are more important to her than to me. (This may be opposite for you and your spouse.)

Listen without fixing – This is my toughest, but just last week I did this. I hope she caught it. :) I am a fixer. I fix problems everyday. Give me a problem and I’ll be quick to race to a solution. I realize that many times Cheryl simply wants my ear…not my expert insight :)

Brag to others – Let your wife hear you bragging about her to other people. She’s wonderful, right? Let her know you recognize it. Of course, this should be genuine, but I know Cheryl appreciates hearing me affirm her to others. (And Cheryl is wonderful…you heard it here first :) )

7 Ways for a Wife to Encourage a Husband

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Ron Edmondson

Here are 7 ways to encourage your husband:

Give him a break from sharing details or emotions – Unless the situation demands it or he wants to share them, let him share the basic facts and information in a non-emotional way. It may be all he knows, has observed or remembers. Give him times when “That’s nice” is enough for an answer.

Brag on him – Especially to your friends… Let them know your guy is the greatest! Be sincere, but do it often and make sure he hears you.

Appreciate his interests – If he likes golf…learn a little about the game…enough to encourage him on a good day. If it’s fishing, cars, or football…well…you get the idea… (Bonus points: Give him hobby time – Most men love knowing they have your permission to enjoy a hobby, without wondering if they should be doing something else.)

Understand his work – A man is often more defined by what he does than anything else in his life. Know enough about his work to recognize his accomplishments.

Be available to him – And occasionally without a lot of effort on his part… Remember…you asked…or at least some of you did.

Assure him you’re okay…and he’s okay – On this one, I have to be honest…many times we are left wondering if everything is okay. We can’t read emotions as well as you do, but we know when you’re NOT okay. You can encourage him by assuring him nothing is wrong, even if you can’t process at the time how you feel or “what’s wrong”.

Let him fix something – This is not just with his hands…unless he can do that sort of thing…(I can’t) but with his mind. He’s wired as a fixer. Give him an actual problem to solve…and let him solve it without your help.

Is Your Spouse Abnormal?

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey

You’re snuggled in your warm bed, about to drift off to sleep. And then comes that dreaded question from your wife:  “Honey, did you remember to turn out all the lights and lock all the doors?”

That was our story during our first year of marriage. We lived in Boulder, Colorado, where the winter nights were cold and we loved our toasty electric blanket.  I remember the night when I collapsed into bed, totally exhausted, and Barbara brought me back from the edge of oblivion with a light poke.  “Aren’t you going to turn out the lights?”

It occurred to me that I’d been getting up for the past two months and experiencing mild frostbite and that perhaps it was her turn.  “Why don’tyou turn out the lights tonight?” I retorted.

Barbara replied, “I thought you would because my dad always turned out the lights.”

Whoa!

A shot of adrenalin cleared my head like the sun piercing the fog.  And I shouldn’t have said it, but I did:  “But I’m not your dad!”

Well, that turned out to be a night when we practiced the scriptural admonition to not  “let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).  You see, two forces clashed on that cold Rocky Mountain night—Barbara’s sense of normal and my sense of normal.  She felt it was the husband’s duty to turn off the lights because that’s what her father had always done.  That was normal to her.  But in my family of origin, that task was not irrevocably assigned to the male species.

When normals collide

Each of you brings a different background and a different set of expectations into your marriage.  Your family did things a certain way, and your spouse’s family did things a certain way. Often you don’t even realize what’s normal to you until you get married and suddenly your normal collides with that of your spouse. On these issues, you need to realize that your spouse is not abnormal–just different.

For example, let’s examine some of the normals surrounding dinner time:

  • Was it normal for you to eat dinner together as a family on most nights?
  • What types of meals did you normally eat?
  • What did you drink?
  • Who cooked the meal?
  • Who cleaned up?
  • How did you normally dress?
  • Did you open the meal with prayer?
  • Did you start eating when you were seated or did you wait until after you prayed?
  • Was it normal to get a debrief from everyone’s day or was the television turned on and the dominant force?
  • If someone called, was dinner interrupted to answer the phone?
  • Was it normal to have friends over for dinner?
  • How often did you eat at restaurants as a family?

You could probably add to that list.  And that’s just one set of normals.  How about breakfast and lunch?  What were your normals regarding family entertainment?  Vacations? Birthday celebrations?  Christmas gifts?  Pets?  Handling finances?

Reader feedback

After I first wrote on this topic for an issue of Marriage Memo, a number of readers wrote to tell about the struggles they faced with this issue.  One wrote:

I mostly have a problem with my wife when it comes to turning off lights and celebrating birthdays and having parties all the time. I prefer the light to be off when I sleep but she prefers the opposite.  Again, my wife believes that every birthday (including that of our children) must be celebrated with a lot of presents (if it’s the children, then they must have a party at school, which she does all the time).

Another described a conflict that arose when she and her husband were celebrating their seventh anniversary.  They had a new baby, and this would be the first time they left the baby with her mother while they went on a date.  The baby was fussy at night, so she felt they should go out for lunch, but her husband insisted on dinner.

We finally sat down and talked about how both of us were feeling.  I was upset because I did not feel he understood how nervous I was, and I did not understand why we had to go out for dinner instead of lunch.  It turned out that that was not his “normal.”  His family rarely went out to eat, and they never went out for lunch. You just had a sandwich for lunch at home. It did not seem romantic or special to go out for lunch to him. On the other hand, my family went out a lot more frequently and it was for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I always loved going out for breakfast growing up, but my husband and I never do.  Now I understand why.

Creating a new set of normals

No matter how long you’ve been married, one of your priorities is to create a new set of normals in your relationship. And it’s especially important early in marriage.  In their book, The Most Important Year in a Woman’s Life, Susan DeVries and Bobbie Wolgemuth write, “Over the years we’ve seen couples in conflict over money or sex or in-laws, but what they’re really fighting about aren’t those things at all.  They’re really fighting about normal.”

A good first step is to commit to understanding each other’s normals.  Make it part of your vocabulary.  If you find yourself disagreeing about an issue, ask yourselves, “Is this a question of differing normals?”  You can create a spirit of discovery, where you can talk about normals in a way that doesn’t feel threatening.  Remember that, in most cases, different is not bad—it’s just different.

It’s amazing how honest communication, plus a good dose of flexibility, can help resolve conflict. In the above story about the couple celebrating their anniversary, the wife wrote that once she understood how their normals were colliding, she agreed to put aside her fears and go out for dinner.  “The baby was just fine with my mom,” she wrote, “We were able to enjoy our evening together because we had talked about where we both were coming from beforehand and were on the same page.”

A second step is to make choices together that reflect your priorities and values.  Let’s say that you grew up in a family that gave each other inexpensive birthday gifts, while your spouse’s family splurged and spent a lot more money.  As you consider how to celebrate your birthdays, this is an opportunity to make your own choices that reflect the importance you place on birthdays, and the number of banks you have to rob so you have enough to spend.

As you make these decisions, follow the guidance of Romans 12:10, which tells us to “give preference to one another in honor” (NASB).  In most of your decisions, your sense of normal will not be superior to that of your spouse.  If you both determine not to hold too tightly to what’s comfortable and familiar, you will find ways to compromise and honor each other and create your own normal in your new home.

So … who’s going to turn out the lights in your family?

Every husband who wants to improve his sex life should learn to spell!

SOURCE:  Sam Black/Covenant Eyes

The Path to True Intimacy and Better Sex

Typically, guys spell intimacy S-E-X, said Dr. Dan Erickson. It’s not entirely our fault. Our sexualized culture has encouraged the misspelling, and it has distorted the definition too. Intimacy in our culture often describes a “what,” Erickson said, whether it is sex, intimate encounters, intimate clothing, or an intimate evening. The list goes on.

But intimacy is not about a “what,” it is about a “who,” he said. Intimacy is better spelled “in-to-me-see.” The point is to look into another person and invite them to look into you. Intimacy can be found in deep platonic relationships, and in marriage intimacy allows a husband and wife to open their hearts and minds to each other. Intimacy is a free gift that you give and receive.

“It’s amazing what that will do for your life,” said Cathy Erickson, Dan’s wife. “Men, if you are intimate, and loving, and caring for your wife, you will get all the sex you need.”

Intimacy Requires Your Time

Intimacy didn’t come easily to the Ericksons’ marriage. They had been married 19 years when Dan was inspired by a sermon to ask Cathy to rate their marriage on a scale of 1 to 10. He approached the question with bubbly enthusiasm while she stood in the kitchen cleaning after Sunday lunch.

“I said, ‘What marriage? You really have to be here to have a marriage,’” Cathy recalled. “That was kind of a shock to him.”

Dan had looked at himself as a driven and accomplished man. He had earned his master’s and doctoral degrees, and was the executive pastor of a Phoenix, Arizona, church that drew 3,500 people on Sunday and which boasted the largest Christian school in the state. He coached his kids’ teams and served in the community. He sought to win the hearts and admiration of everyone…except his wife.

His time had been given elsewhere and he had defined intimacy with his wife as sex.

For years afterward, Dan said he did not preach on how to have a good marriage, because he knew he had to figure it out for himself and develop that deep level of intimacy in his own marriage. Today, Dan and Cathy provide seminars across the nation to share their story and paths to a rich marriage.

Intimacy Isn’t Sex

A common refrain is that men give love to get sex and women gives sex to get love. Any marriage based on that equation will suffer, and both parties will be disappointed.

True intimacy allows open communication, it invites a person to see you as you are, warts and all, and it means that you will be vulnerable to each other. True intimacy comes with trust, time, and confidence in the relationship. It is about giving and sacrificing for your spouse, putting their emotional needs ahead of your own, and seeking ways to show love without expecting something in return. The aim is to make your spouse feel treasured, respected, and loved without hidden motivations.

During a period of physical problems with his heart Dan was unable to have sex and discovered not less but even greater intimacy with his wife. He often asks guys if they could be more intimate with their wives if they were physically unable to have sex.

That concept sounds foreign to many men, because we need to change our view of intimacy, said Dr. Brad Miller of Restoration Counseling Service. “True intimacy can be emotional, spiritual, or physical, but rarely sexual,” he said. “True intimacy seeks to answer: ‘How can I know you better?,’ ‘How can I meet your needs?,’ and ‘What can I do for you?’”

“Intimacy in marriage is the duct tape that steadfastly binds a husband and wife together, even when it feels like things around them are falling apart,” Miller writes. “Additionally, it is this same intimacy that glues an elderly couple together in ways that defy our cultural mindset, even to the point of one spouse selflessly insisting on caring for the other who is handicapped by a debilitating mental or physical disability.”

Building Greater Intimacy

Though there are others, Erickson encourages people to include four ingredients in their recipes for intimacy.

1. Affection and caring. Non-sexual touching, hugs, and kisses are important. If your wife anticipates you want sex when you hug or kiss her, you have a problem that needs time and trust to correct. Also, pray for each other. Take time for each other, and show each other love and respect.

2. Vulnerable communication. Marriage should be a place where spouses can share anything, including their childhood, their pain, their crazy dreams, their disappointments, their hopes, and anything else in safety. Safe and vulnerable communication is non-judgmental and one spouse shouldn’t be trying to “fix” the other.

Listen more and listen well. God gave you one mouth and two ears, so use them accordingly.

3. Mutual living. Intimacy includes a desire for spouses to be together and share their experiences and daily life. Certainly, everyone needs time for solitude or personal hobbies, but there should be an intentional pursuit of enjoying time together. Often love and affection are measured in both the quality and the quantity of time you give.

4. Mutual giving. Do you look for ways to please your wife? For instance, Dan took over doing the laundry and washes the dishes and cleans up after meals. Do you seek ways to relieve her stress, to serve her, and make her feel special? Plan special dates with her, and let her know ahead of time so that she can be ready.

Finally, God will make you a better spouse if you are open to his Word and instruction.

“A couple’s marriage is a reflection of their intimate relationship with God,” Erickson said. “The more intimate their relationship with God, the more intimate they become with each other, and the more intimate they are with each other, the more intimate they can be with God.”

A guide to what’s allowed in the bedroom

SOURCE:  Louis and Melissa McBurney

Christian Sex Rules

When it comes to sex, most married Christians just do what works for them. If they have been blessed enough to have discovered something that brings satisfaction, pleasure, closeness, and climax, they most likely will continue that practice.

However, some are plagued with guilt because they wonder if what they’re doing is sinful.

[We] receive many, many questions from Christian couples who want to know what is and what is not okay to do sexually. Unfortunately, churches tend to ignore this issue, small groups usually don’t talk about sex, and most Christian books deal with more “spiritual” ideas.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a list of sexual practices categorized by “sinful” or “okay”? Is there such a list? Would everyone agree with the list? Is there a solution to this dilemma?

We think the answers to those questions are: yes, no, no, and probably not—in that order.

We’d really like to create such a list that could settle once and forever the niggling doubts about sexual practices. But that’s not possible.

Different communities of Christians have different understandings about sexual practices that are based on a few general biblical principles. No list would be accepted by all Christians. Still, we do want to provide some guidelines that we hope will help you enjoy the gift of your sexuality to the fullest. That’s what we’re convinced God wants for each of his children.

We doubt that God’s surprised by the intensity of our sexual desire or of its fulfillment. Seeing us enjoy the passion and pleasure seems to fit with his creative nature. There are some definite boundaries, however, that were identified through his Word. These are established to protect and enhance the maximum enjoyment of the gift. We think it’s like our giving our kids bicycles. We’d teach them the safety rules right away so they could delight in the ride without being run over by a car on a busy street.

First, we’d like to point out the obvious—the Bible is not a manual on sexual technique. We’ve heard some people say that Song of Solomon describes acceptable sexual positions and behavior. We see it as a poetic love song that clearly embraces the joy of sexual play. We don’t think it is an attempt to outline any specific sexual practices.

Second, we want to emphasize again that there are some specific sexual behaviors that are forbidden in scriptures. Adultery, that is having sexual intercourse with another person’s spouse or a partner other than your own spouse, is a sin. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, deepens the importance of marital faithfulness by extending the prohibition of infidelity to include a lustful thought life as well as the physical act of intercourse. Looking into our minds and hearts is an important principle for safeguarding the delights of intimacy.

Scripture is also clear about the evil of fornication—premarital sexual intercourse—which most of our culture accepts as normal and irresistible. We see many couples suffering from the consequences of their early promiscuity. The “sexual freedom” of our time isn’t free and usually carries some pretty heavy costs.

The Bible also lists other practices that are “abominations” to God (Le v. 18, Rom. 1:21-32, I Thess. 4:1-8, and I Cor. 6:12-20). These include homosexuality, bestiality, and incest.

And last, there is a vast array of possible sexual practices for married couples that are not mentioned at all in Scripture (we can find no reference to Internet pornography, vibrators, or videos). So, since we aren’t likely to find a definitive answer, the best we can do is find the principles God has given us and apply them to the cultural setting we’re living in. As we look for those you may not be surprised to find that we’re not much different in the twenty-first century than how mankind has been since creation. We have the same anatomical equipment, the same physiologic hormones, the same mental capacity for lust and fantasy, and the same relational needs that have always driven men and women to seek sexual pleasure and intimacy. As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun,” except maybe the vast array of new toys.

Exclusivity

Many studies have confirmed what biblical commandments imply. That is that becoming one flesh with one partner provides the best setting for satisfying sexual intimacy. Sex is neither a spectator sport for group indulgence nor an event to test a person’s ability to score with multiple partners. Casual sex as a way to prove one’s prowess or simply achieve physiologic relief of sexual tension only confirms that his or her ability to copulate is intact. Although providing some pleasure, it fails to meet the deeper need for intimacy that sex was designed to give.

A couple in a long-term committed relationship enters into a more secure and trusting territory with each sexual encounter. In that bed sex can truly become “making love” rather than just having sex. Multiple partners create mistrust, performance anxiety, and comparison evaluations that are barriers to the deepest levels of intimacy.

Mutuality

It is obvious to most couples early on that men and women are significantly different in their sexual interests and drives. Men usually have a desire for more frequent sex and greater variety in forms of sexual play. Women usually want more emotional connectedness through tender touch and conversation and prefer more consistent love-making technique. These differences often lead to tension over positions for intercourse, frequency of sex, and experimentation with different sources of stimulation.

This creates enormous opportunity for a couple to develop mutual submissiveness in their relationship. Each individual will have ways to show respect and give a meaningful gift of love to his or her mate. We feel that giving that respect to each other is a huge way to guide your choices of sexual play in the direction of genuinely mature love.

Doing only what is mutually agreeable sexually means that each partner will make sacrifices for the sake of intimacy. A wife may give herself more frequently or try a variety of sexual experiences that go beyond her comfort zone. A husband may relinquish some sexual fantasy or adjust his demands for intercourse twice a day just to show love to his mate. Those exercises in personal restraint are not easy, but help build the oneness of intimacy.

Specific behaviors that often fit this criteria are oral sex, rear-entry vaginal penetration, initiation of sexual activity, positions for intercourse, and mutual masturbation. We find no scriptural injunction against any of these or of frequency of intercourse. The Old Testament command of not having intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period does seem to have the medical benefit of avoiding some infectious processes. Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians not to withhold sex except by mutual consent seems to fit with this general principle of mutuality. It acknowledges the legitimacy of sexual desire and reinforces the boundary of sex within marriage.

Pleasurability

Sexual play should be enjoyable!

If an activity you’re doing doesn’t bring enjoyment to both partners it will cause resentment and distance between you. That’s not part of the design for “becoming one flesh.” It may be that some forms of your sexual play create pain for one or both of you. That should be evaluated medically. If something is creating discomfort, it is probably treatable (such as vaginitis or painful erections). This can certainly produce barriers to intimacy.

At times couples may want to explore the areas of sado-masochistic sex or bondage fantasies. We feel that these behaviors move sex out of the arena of selfless love into that of power or domination fantasies. In those neighborhoods sex becomes an invasive, controlling behavior in which one person is violated. That is a sexual perversion and is likely to create shame, humiliation, and ultimate devaluation of one (or both) partners. When domination is a necessary ingredient for sexual pleasure there tends to be development of tolerance to the level of excitation. Hence increasing levels of the stimulation are required for the same sense of gratification. This is seen in its extreme in pornography that includes rape and even murder as forms of sexual stimulation.

Relationality

Duh! You might think. Well, of course, sexual intimacy includes a strong relational component.

Unfortunately, that ain’t necessarily so.

One of the most destructive forces we’re seeing these days is the increasing frequency of sexual addictive disorders. When having sexual release becomes an addiction driven to levels of compulsive behavior, the relationship with a marriage partner may be replaced with various stimuli that are essentially fantasy based. We have seen men deeply hooked on Internet pornography (or other forms). They are compulsively driven to increasing exposure to pornographic stimulation and masturbatory release of sexual tension. We have seen women equally hooked on romance novels or chat-room sex talk for sexual release. These disorders displace the relational dimension of sexuality.

Marital sex, if maintained at all, takes place mechanically with mental fantasies from the artificial relationships providing the only sexual stimulation. That robs marriage of the most crucial part of intimacy—the blend of relational and sexual connectedness.

The use of pornographic films from whatever source introduces this possible danger into your sexuality. Explicit sexual materials can provide sexual excitement and arousal, but that form of stimulation may erode your enjoyment of each other. Those images may also create a basic sense of dissatisfaction with yourselves since most couples don’t maintain or ever achieve the sensual appearance of porn actors and models. The whole industry is based on illusions and those lies can lead to death of your relationship as well as your sexual satisfaction.

Perpetuating Genital Union

We delight in sexual playfulness and creative ways to pleasure one another, but unless it is not physically possible for a couple, we think nothing you do should completely replace genital union. The symbolism of having the embrace of vagina to penis and total giving of the erect penis to the welcoming vaginal canal is a recurring reminder that we were created for each other. The intimacy of that connectedness should awaken our most primitive desire for oneness. To enjoy sexual release in that most passionate form of embrace welds us into oneness like few other experiences.

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Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., Real Sex columnists for Marriage Partnership, are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples.

Marriage Is for Holiness — Not Just Happiness

SOURCE:  Paul and Halee Scott

How our marriage has made us better people

Neither of us “needed” to get married.

Both of us were independent and for the most part, content in our singleness.

Paul dreamed of living alone on a boat off the coast of Newport Beach, California; Halee had plans to travel the world teaching English overseas. Yet there we were, barefoot on a sandy beach outside Santa Barbara, making our vows to the sound of rushing waves crashing on the shore.

Make no mistake, we were (and still are) head over heels for one another, but neither of us needed marriage to make us happy because we were already happy in our singleness. We understood—even then—that our marriage was ultimately more about our moral development than personal satisfaction and contentment. And that day, we washed each other’s feet in the surf to symbolize our commitment to serve each other to that end.

For most of human history and in most societies, the goal of marriage was to provide economic security through family alliances and to serve as a context for procreation. To marry for personal happiness (or love) was considered a selfish act that disregarded the needs of the broader community. It wasn’t until the 12th century that the troubadours (a group of traveling poets) introduced the concept of courtly love as we know it today.

Still other groups have emphasized the spiritual goals of marriage. The Catholic church believes marriage is a sacrament because the relationship between husband and wife represents the union of Christ to his bride, believers. In 1930, Pope Pius XI proposed that the primary purpose for Christian marriage was not procreation or sacrament, but to serve as a context for moral development. He writes, “This mutual molding of [spouses], this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony.”

The trouble—even for contemporary Christians—is that we often approach marital issues in an individualistic way.

In the cornucopia of Christian marriage self-help books, the guiding questions seem to be along the lines of “What can I get out of this?” or “How can I cope in this marriage?” rather than “What are we forging together?” or “How can our marriage make us each more like Christ?”

It’s not that God doesn’t want our marriages to bring us deep satisfaction and happiness, it’s just that marriage is bursting with opportunities for deeper spiritual growth—opportunities we may be missing if we’re not asking all the right questions.

But what do these opportunities look like in everyday life? How exactly can marriage make us more holy? Here are a few small, specific ways God has used marriage to carve virtue into our character.

Prudence.   Often translated “wisdom,” the word prudence comes from the word providence, which means “to see ahead.” I (Halee) can be candid to a fault. I’ve always had a knack for saying exactly what I think at the very moment I think it—regardless of the impact it has on the hearer. Early in life I’d seen how damaging it was to bury emotions, so in an effort to avoid that mistake, I made the equal and opposite error of expressing myself without a great deal of forethought.

But when we married, I noticed that my honesty was more divisive than it was beneficial to our marriage. I saw the impact my words had upon Paul, and I started to pay attention to how he communicated with me and with others. Paul knew what to say and the right moment to say it. He spoke thoughtfully, ensuring that his words contributed to the well-being of others. The truth didn’t always have to be painful.

Because of his daily influence, I’ve learned how to be more tactful in the way I say things. It was a difficult transition, especially in the beginning. During this period, Paul taught me his “three-day rule.” When I was tempted to respond to someone quickly and brashly, I took three days to think it through and pray. Eventually, I didn’t need to practice the three-day rule in order to exercise prudence in my daily interactions with Paul and others. I was able to “see ahead” and discern what words would best build up the other person.

Courage.   C.S. Lewis called courage “the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Courage isn’t the absence of fear as much as it is the willingness to move forward despite fear. Throughout our marriage, I (Paul) have seen Halee demonstrate courage over and over. She applied (and was hired) for jobs I thought she needed more experience for. She speaks regularly in front of hundreds of people even though she’s terrified of public speaking. The night our daughter was born, I caught her crying for a single minute (when she thought I wasn’t looking) as the labor pains intensified. She went on to brave 16 hours of labor to bring our daughter into the world.

I don’t like to get out of my comfort zone, but seeing Halee exercise courage over the years gave me the courage to quit my job in the middle of the recession. I’d been working for the company for 14 years, and I’d known God was calling me to leave the company for a long time, but I couldn’t imagine leaving after all the years I’d put into the company. I was afraid, wondering how I would be able to provide for my family. But eventually, I did quit and moved into the work that God had called me to.

Temperance.   St. Augustine wrote, “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” Temperance is the ability to practice moderation in action, thought, or feeling. I (Halee) have never been good at moderation; I always seem to operate in extremes, whether in work or play. It wasn’t enough to have one job while going to school when I had time enough for two (or three). It wasn’t enough to run three miles when my daily goal was five. It wasn’t adequate to pick up the clutter around the house when the floors needed to be mopped and the baseboards scrubbed.

It wasn’t long into our marriage when I discovered Paul didn’t share this “value.” He was a diligent worker, but he didn’t feel compelled to put in excessively long hours. When we took the same course in graduate school, he was content with an A- (or even a B+!) while I sweated it out for an A+. When he cleaned the house, he didn’t always dust or mop or polish the leather couches. When we climbed mountains, he didn’t need to go to the top—he was content with going halfway. For him, it wasn’t so much about the destination as it was the journey along the way.

Believe it or not, this difference in our approaches to things was one of the biggest sources of conflict in our marriage. But more often than not, his temperate approach was the better way, and even if it doesn’t always come naturally, I’ve learned to practice moderation in various areas of my life.

Charity.   Charity is the highest, the most important of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity). Charity is agape love, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Thomas Aquinas describes it as “the most excellent of virtues … the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” A mistake many people make in marriage is fighting for their “rights” when charity—or love—requires that we lay down our “rights” for God or for the sake of others.

For example, guys sometimes think they have a “right” to their own space or their own time (like a night out with the guys), but I (Paul) realized that the perceived “rights” I had were really selfish aspects of my character that God wanted to change through our marriage. When I surrendered my rights—like cutting short a night out with friends to take care of Halee when I knew she’d had a long day at school or work—I became more diligent, motivated, and sensitive to others’ needs.

Marriage provides a daily context for spiritual growth because it gives us opportunities to put away sinful tendencies and practice more virtuous behaviors. The Roman lyric poet Horace wrote, “To flee vice is the beginning of virtue.” Every action we take has a consequence for our character. Our actions become habits and habits, like grooves on a well-worn path, become our character.

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Paul Scott is a registered therapist specializing in drug, alcohol, and sexual addition. Prior to this role, he served in leadership for Every Man’s Battle for 13 years. Dr. Halee Gray Scott is an author, independent scholar, and researcher.

10 Things to Pray for Your Wife

SOURCE: Taken from an article by Jonathan Parnell/Desiring God

It is a beautiful thing — a miracle — when we become as invested in the sanctification of others as we are in our own.

And, of course, the best place to start is with our spouses.

So men, here are ten things to want from God (and ask from him) for your wife:

  1. God, be her God — her all-satisfying treasure and all. Make her jealous for your exclusive supremacy over all her affections (Psalm 73:24–25).
  2. Increase her faith — give her a rock-solid confidence that your incomparable power is only always wielded for her absolute good in Christ (Romans 8:28–30).
  3. Intensify her joy — a joy in you that abandons all to the riches of your grace in Jesus and that says firmly, clearly, gladly: “I’ll go anywhere and do anything if you are there” (Exodus 33:14–15).
  4. Soften her heart — rescue her from cynicism and make her tender to your presence in the most complicated details of dirty diapers and a multitude of other needs you’ve called her to meet (Hebrews 1:3).
  5. Make her cherish your church — build relationships into her life that challenge and encourage her to walk in step with the truth of the gospel, and cause her to love corporate gatherings, the Lord’s Table, and the everyday life of the body (Mark 3:35).
  6. Give her wisdom — make her see dimensions of reality that I would overlook and accompany her vision with a gentle, quiet spirit that feels safe and celebrated (1 Peter 3:4).
  7. Sustain her health — continue to speak your gift of health and keep us from presumption; it is by blood-bought grace (Psalm 139:14).
  8. Multiply her influence — encourage and deepen the impact she has on our children. Give her sweet glimpses of it. Pour her out in love for our neighbors and spark creative ways to engage them for Jesus’s sake (John 12:24).
  9. Make her hear your voice — to read the Bible and accept it as it really is, your word… your very word to her where she lives, full of grace and power and everything she needs pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
  10. Overcome her with Jesus — that she is united to him, that she is a new creature in him, that she is your daughter in him. . . No longer in Adam and dead to sin; now in Christ and alive to you, forever (Romans 6:11).

And then a thousand other things.  Amen.

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