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Handling Marriage Problems

Marriage problems are part of life on this side of heaven. Here are encouragements for dealing with them, and reasons they should be embraced!

Our marriage “problems” are only symptoms of the actual problem in our relationships with Christ. In my own marriage, for instance, the “problem” looked like I did not have enough time for my wife and children, but that was only a symptom. The problem was that I would not obey the Holy Spirit’s conviction to put my family ahead of the church, make my wife a priority, spend more time with my children, etc. Plus, I was being consumed with anxiety, versus trusting Christ like I should have. In other words, the marriage problems I was experiencing were directly connected to my relationship with Christ.

A couple’s marriage problems can only be fixed by focusing on their relationships with the Lord

This is why any biblical marriage counseling must address the husband and wife’s relationship with Christ. Couples I counsel are often confused when they share marriage problems they are experiencing and I respond by asking:

  • “What does your time in God’s Word look like?”
  • “How is your prayer life?”
  • “Tell me about your involvement in the church?”

A wife will say, “I just told you my husband yells at me. Why are you talking about his time in the Word?” Because the hope is that as a husband reads God’s Word he will become convicted of his sin and repent. He will become a more patient and loving leader. I do not have the power to change a husband’s heart (and apparently neither does a wife or there would be no need for counseling). A husband can only become a new man through a relationship with Christ.

Likewise, a husband will respond, “I just told you how my wife humiliates me in front of our friends. Why would you mention joining a small group?” Because other believers can provide accountability, vulnerability, and transparency. You can learn from others and be challenged by their examples. When you are not involved in the body of Christ, you will not receive the encouragement and exhortation God wants you to have. You will feel alone, as though you are the only couple having these problems. You will not have anyone in your life through whom God can regularly speak to you. We are made to have fellowship with other believers, and when we do not have it, that lack manifests itself in other areas, including our marriages.

Two situations I have witnessed a number of times…

A husband and wife are having marriage problems. They submit to Christ, and soon their marriage problems improve. Why? Did their difficulties simply disappear? No, those difficulties had been symptoms of the real problem—Christ was not supreme in their lives. When they put Christ first, the marriage problems were shown only to be symptoms.

Conversely, I have seen a couple plugged into church. The husband and wife pray and read the Word together. They are doing well spiritually, and their marriage is healthy. Then, for various reasons, they:

  • Get distracted from the Lord and their priorities shift
  • Start wavering in church attendance and spiritual disciplines
  • Fall out of fellowship

Soon their marriage suffers. Why? Their relationship with Christ was suffering.

So remember: Marriage “problems” are really only symptoms—or negative consequences—of not having Christ as the focal point in the marital relationship. If couples want a strong, healthy marriage, they need a strong, healthy relationship with Christ. When a couple’s relationship with Christ is weak and unhealthy, the marriage will be weak and unhealthy.

Handle marriage problems with these three encouragements

If we’re going to have healthy, joyful relationships, we have to learn to handle marriage problems that inevitably arise. These frustrations can actually increase as we become  more familiar with the Bible!  Since the standard set by God’s Word is so high:

  • A husband could easily become frustrated that his wife is not more respectful or submissive as God’s Word commands.
  • A wife could as easily become frustrated that her husband does not cherish her or provide the spiritual leadership God’s Word commands.

This is illustrated by a situation that took place years ago when I was teaching on marriage. While talking about husbands loving their wives, a woman stood up in front of everyone and criticized her husband for the way he mistreated her. I could have interrupted and said, “Can we pray for you two?” or “Why don’t we talk about this after the study?” Instead, I was caught so off guard that I did the worst thing possible—nothing! I simply stood there with my jaw dropped while the angry wife finished berating her husband. After that I decided it was important to give people encouragement for handling marriage problems…

First, handle marriage problems by remembering your own weaknesses.

Instead of keeping a mental account of all that your spouse does wrong, remind yourself of your own struggles. Instead of focusing on your spouse’s failures, focus on your own. We all have plenty of weaknesses to work on without obsessing over the weaknesses of our spouses. When we start to feel frustrated toward our spouse, we should think back about the ways we’ve failed. This will humble us and diffuse the frustration we’re feeling.

Second, handle marriage problems by thinking of ways to help your spouse grow.

The Bible is not split into one section for husbands and another for wives. The passages on marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7, contain intertwined exhortations for both spouses. This encourages a husband to be familiar with the instruction for his wife, and a wife to be familiar with the instruction for her husband. If a husband knows what is expected of his wife, and a wife knows what is expected of her husband, they can help each other fulfill their biblical responsibilities. We should ask ourselves:

  • How can I help my spouse be a better husband or wife?
  • How can I encourage my spouse to fulfill the role God has given him or her?
  • Is there anything I can do that will make being married to me easier?

If you cannot think of any answers to the last question, you are not thinking hard enough!

Third, handle marriage problems by turning them into prayer.

Take any feelings of hurt, betrayal, or disappointment, and pray that God will help your spouse grow in the area that is upsetting you. Pray also for God to help you be as forgiving and gracious as necessary. When it comes to our spouses, we far more likely to complain, gossip, yell, threaten, pout, or ignore than pray. If we would spend as much time praying for our spouses as we do on these other things, our marriages would be much better. Instead of focusing on:

  • What your spouse does wrong
  • How you shouldn’t be treated the way you’re being treated
  • How you deserve better

Every time you start to feel frustrated, pray for your spouse.

Why you should actually embrace marriage problems!

Have you ever considered that tension in your relationship can be a good thing? Often God is introducing areas that need to be improved. He wants you to embrace these marriage struggles. The best way to do this is by asking each other tough questions:

  • A husband might say, “Outside of the Lord Himself, do you feel like you are taking second place to anything in my life?”
  • A wife might ask, “Do you feel like I respect you?”

Then there are right and wrong ways to respond to these questions:

  • Imagine a wife answers that she does not feel that she is the supreme relationship in her husband’s life. He should not try to talk her out of the way she feels or persuade her to see things differently. This will make her feel even more misunderstood.
  • Imagine a husband answers that his wife makes him feel disrespected. She should not argue with him and try to convince him he is wrong. This will make him feel even more disrespected.

Instead, each spouse should listen to the other, apologize the right way, and try to make the appropriate changes. When couples ask each other these difficult questions, they should expect some painful discussions. That’s great.

A helpful way to view marriage struggles…

Some years ago I hurt my lower back. It’s a recurring injury that reminds me I’m getting older, so I returned to the chiropractor. If you have ever been to a chiropractor, you know they can be pretty forceful. There’s pushing, twisting, snapping, and popping. Sometimes you’re left feeling sore, but this is supposed to happen. That is how the chiropractor makes adjustments and straightens things out.

What if you went to the chiropractor and all he did was rub your shoulders, pat your back, and tell you everything looked fine? Maybe after that, he sat next to you and asked how your day was going. How would you react? I know how I would react: “This is not why I came here. I know if you are going to help me, you are going to have to apply some pressure and do some pushing and pulling. There is going to be some tension. There will even be a little soreness afterward.”

Likewise, if we are going to embrace our marriage struggles, there will be some discomfort. There is going to be some struggle and frustration. We should not be alarmed, because this is part of the natural healing and strengthening process as God works in our relationships.

What is the alternative to embracing your marriage struggles?

Be lazy. That’s the simple answer. Choose not to:

  • Ask each other the tough questions
  • Talk about the tough issues
  • Take your marriage seriously
  • Improve as a husband, a wife, or a Christian

If you avoid discussing your marriage struggles, it’s true that you won’t have any tough issues with which to wrestle. But you will not grow either, and your marriage will not be strengthened. Even if you avoid the difficult discussions and the discomfort that accompanies your marriage struggles now, you will more than likely experience even tougher, more painful situations later.

So I want to encourage you to embrace your marriage struggles because of what they can produce. Romans 5:3–4 says:

We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.

Glory in the problems you are having, knowing that they are producing something good as you, your spouse, and your marriage are refined!

Discussion questions for husbands and wives:

  • What marriage problems are “recurring injuries” for your and your spouse? In other words, what problems or conflicts do you continue to experience that need to be embraced so they can be “straightened out”?
  • Why should you expect discomfort as you and your spouse discuss your marriage struggles?
  • In what ways can this discomfort be beneficial?
  • Why do marriage passages, such as Ephesians 5:22–33 and 1 Peter 3:1–7, intertwine instructions for both spouses? In other words, why should husbands and wives be familiar with Scripture’s commands for their spouses?
  • After looking at the verses above, what things do you struggle with that are preventing you from fulfilling your role in marriage?
  • How can you encourage your spouse to fulfill the role God has given him or her? Provide three examples:
  • What can you do to make being married to you easier? Provide three examples:
  • How will you pray for your marriage differently?
  • While remembering to focus on yourself, if a “marriage doctor” were to examine your marriage, what are three “symptoms” he would observe?
  • What does your time in God’s Word look like? If you are unsatisfied with your answer, what changes should you make?
  • Are you involved in a church? Notice the question is not, “Do you go to church?” Or “Are you a member of a church?”
    • If you are involved in a church, in what ways do you share the marital challenges you are experiencing so God can use your church family to help you?
    • If you are not involved in a church, what changes need to be made so you can be active and involved?

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God's plans for our lives…

This past Sunday during the morning service I preached on 2 Kings 5, which discusses an Israelite girl that became one of the greatest unwilling missionaries in history. She was captured by the Syrians and made a servant to the wife of Naaman, the commander of the army. By the end of the chapter Naaman made a genuine confession of faith, and second only to the prophet Elisha, God uses this young girl to see that happen. I didn’t really discuss her in the sermon, because her story didn’t relate to the topic. Plus, I had to remove a large amount of notes, and she ended up a victim. Fortunately, she experienced some redemption in the form of this blog post! Although, the way people talk to me about my bulletin letters and blog posts (usually something like: “Don’t write about me!!!”) makes me think she might not see that too redemptive-ly.

Anyway, God beautifully used this girl to accomplish His purposes; she was captured by the evil Syrians, probably wondering why God would allow something like that to happen, and through her circumstances He brought about one of the greatest conversions in the OT. It wouldn’t be too much to say many people have probably felt like her at times, only to later be used by God in dramatic ways.

For example, Joseph’s brothers tried to murder him. He found himself thrown in a pit, then in prison, but before it was all over, he ended up as the savior of the known world, second in power only to Pharaoh. Daniel was captured by the Babylonians and brought into exile with three of his friends, but he ended up being the right hand man to multiple kings in two different kingdoms (Babylon and Persia). Ezekiel spent his life training to being a priest, but he must have figured his ministry was ruined when he was taken into exile. That’s when his ministry really began though, receiving the most famous and dramatic visions in the Bible, second only to The Revelation given to John. David killed Goliath, but then he went from being Israel’s greatest and most popular hero to a fugitive with his life daily in danger. By the time it was over though, God had delivered him through it all and he became the greatest king in the Old Testament.

Recently one of my heroes, Chuck Smith, went to be with the Lord. Last week I watched an interview between him and Greg Laurie that took place after he learned he had the lung cancer that would end up taking his life. Toward the end of the interview Greg asked him, “If you were going to do things over again, would you do anything differently?” and Chuck replied, “I think that the Lord had charge over the whole thing, so I wouldn’t try to improve on His program.” This really stuck with me, and reminded me how God has plans for our lives, but they don’t always take the route we’d expect (or often prefer).

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Frustration in Ministry

Frustration in ministryRhea recently got the training wheels off her bike. She loves to come over to my office and have me watch her ride around in the parking lot. When I was growing up we always looked for exciting places to ride like hills, valleys, puddles, etc. For a while the leadership has been discussing fixing the church parking lots, but I found a great benefit to its current condition: it provides great terrain for kids’ bike riding!

I was watching Rhea race around – because in her mind the faster she goes the more impressed I’ll be – and she wrecked and scraped her knee. The rest of the day she dramatically limped around and when she overheard us talking about Beach Camp over a month away she said, “I hope I’ll be okay by then.” To her it was a pretty serious accident! We told her the only way she’d be able to completely avoid getting hurt in the future would be to completely stop riding her bike.

My counsel to Rhea made me think the same could be said of ministry: the only way to make sure you never get hurt is to make sure you never serve. Sadly this is the approach some people have taken. Whenever you’re involved in ministry whether it’s VBS, camp, a Bible study, party, play, home fellowship, etc. there’s potential for frustration and hurt usually from…

  1. People letting you down: they don’t do what they say they’re going to do…or they don’t do what you ask them to do…or they don’t show up on time…or maybe they don’t show up at all…or they don’t pay on time…or they cancel last minute…or they do things their way instead of the way you want…and the list goes on…and on.
  2. People criticizing: they don’t like the time, place, music, length, schedule, activities, and if you’d done it the way they wanted others would be unhappy.

Here’s what we need to focus on to prevent frustration:

  1. For every person that lets you down or criticizes, there are a number of others serving and working hard to see the ministry go well, being blessed by your effort, appreciating what you’re doing, growing as a result of your service.
  2. Most importantly: Colossians 3:17 & 23 Whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man. If we’re honest, when we’re frustrated it comes from having taken our focus off the Lord and putting it on the people around us. The reality is if our service is done for the Lord, His approval, and the blessing of serving Him, that should be enough to turn any amount of frustration into encouragement.
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Arguments on Facebook

I don’t know when I’m going to learn. I tell myself I’m not going to get into religious debates with people on Facebook because they always leave me feeling frustrated…but I let it keep happening. It always starts with a simple statement that’s clearly supported by Scripture. It’s never about nonessentials or grey areas, because then I could understand the discussion (aka argument); in fact I’d expect it.

The problem is I put something up that practically reads like a few different verses (hoping perhaps my words will sound reminiscent to something they’d read or heard before in Scripture) and the next thing you know there are thirty comments and a bunch of different angry people. I should be clearer though, because I’ve realized what it is that specifically frustrates me. It’s not people disagreeing with me. It’s not foolish comments. It’s the comments from people calling themselves Christians. Worse, it’s the comments from people who actually use Scripture to argue against other truths plainly taught by Scripture. I don’t expect unbelievers to be familiar with God’s Word and/or believe it. If they did, they’d be believers. It drives me crazy though when people calling themselves believers deny or argue with the plain teaching of Scripture.

For example, let’s say someone has a post up saying everyone goes to heaven. Lacking the necessary self-control, I put up one a number of verses in Scripture discussing hell and the reality that a number of people will find themselves there in the future. I don’t care that a bunch of people argue with me. I don’t care that a bunch of people believe hell isn’t real. I don’t even care if people make personal attacks about me.

What I care about though is when people claiming to be Christians start arguing that hell isn’t real, nobody goes there, etc. What gets me even more frustrated is when these same people start yanking verses kicking-and-screaming out of context to support their positions. The comments are almost always made with verses about God’s love, forgiveness, graciousness, mercy, etc. I guess people have a lot of trouble understanding how a loving, merciful, forgiving God, could also be just, holy and wrafthful. As a result of the seemingly mutually exclusive attributes of God, they embrace one group and discard another.

The last frustrating discussion occurred when I quoted two verses from 1 Corinthians 6 (verses 9 and 10) in a post where people were arguing homosexuality isn’t a sin and one person wrote back…I’ll put the exact quote, “By quoting 1 Corinthians regarding homosexuals not going to heaven, you are also contradicting the very heart of the gospel-that salvation is through grace alone. I would suggest this is heretical-the gospel message is clear again and again there are no t and c’s to God’s amazing grace gift. Romans 10:9, John 3:16, ephesians 2:8.” So certain verses in Scripture contradict the Gospel?

If the person had said, “homosexuality isn’t a sin…there’s nothing wrong with it…they can’t help it…” I wouldn’t have cared, because that’s the kind of response you expect from someone who doesn’t recognize the authority of Scripture. This person though quoted Scripture to argue that homosexuality isn’t a sin. The situation I just discussed took place about 40 comments into the post. Nothing was changing and I was too tired to continue arguing; however, by then the damage was already done: I was frustrated.

The funny thing is my letter to the church on the back of last Sunday’s bulletin (September 30th) addresses this very topic. You’d think I’d listen to my own advice. I was actually counseling the church on how to avoid unnecessary frustration by seeing themselves simply as messengers (or watchmen) and not concerning themselves with other people’s responses. If you happen to see me on Facebook falling back into this pattern again, please remind me of this post to save me from the frustration.