Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Can I Work on Improving My Marriage?

In Part II, "Remodeling", of his "Staying in Love" series, Andy Stanley. Falling in love requires a pulse, staying in love requires a plan. Falling in love is about attraction while staying in love is the right action.

The Juno question from last week was, "Is it possible for two people to fall in love and stay in love forever?" When some of us hear that question, we think it is possible even though it is against the grain of society. That's God's thumbprint on us to want that. Remember that, in order for us to stay in love we have to make love a verb and we have to "do" love. Then, remember, that Jesus said to love one another the way that He loved us.

In Phillipians 2, we find a letter from Paul who is summarizing much of what he saw in the way that people who knew and witnessed the life of Jesus responded. In verse 3, it says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit".  In essence, if you want to stay in love, don't compete. The next verse is the heart of the message and what Andy believes is key, "but in humility consider others better than yourselves". Value others above yourself. Literally, act like that person is more important than you. Make decisions as if he or she is more important than you.

Have you ever been around anybody who is more important than you? Have you ever been to a wedding where everyone stood in line to see the groom or bride but no one noticed when you walked in? It's the same way when you go to the boss's company party or when you are somewhere that honors a national hero. So, if we think about these people, how do we treat them? We often defer to them. We don't correct them. We laugh when they're not funny. In that moment, the key is respect. We pay attention to what we say and how we say it. That's how Paul says we have to treat our spouse. Every day, all the time, we have to treat them like they are more important.

Think about your most valued possession. You keep it clean, cared for and you watch out for how others treat it. There's a sense of awe in it. When we first met our spouse, this was what we had for them. We were awed and in love. So, we know we know how to do it.

Yet if this weren't enough, verse 4 says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Andy says that this is particularly hard for him and us because we are naturally interested in certain things and not naturally interested in some of the things that our spouses are interested in.

Recently, Sandra has put Andy to the test because she is very interested in growing a garden. "Part of the reason I'm not interested in gardening is because she doesn't want to plant anything that I want to eat....I don't know where this goes and all of the sudden I'm feeling threatened." So, Andy said it's a decision he has to make, although not a big decision. It's not a decision about who is going to garden when the other can't or is Andy going to eat what she plants. Rather the question is; Will he find a way to become interested in the garden and express interest?

"It's funny when I ask women what their husband's do...I remember asking this one woman and her answer was 'I don't know but it has something to do with wires.'...That's about all she knew. She really needs to come up with a better answer or learn to be interested in what her husband does!"

We need to get out of our comfort zone. We know how to do this. When we first fell in love, we'd say things like "Oh, I love to run, I'd love to go fishing or I'd love to meet your parents." All of this is so ideal and we might say, "Yeah, Yeah...I got all that", but at this point, Paul takes us to the part where Jesus says love one another the way I have loved you. He points out the fact that the model isn't our parents' example, but Jesus' example. verse 6 & 7 say, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

In essence, Jesus, although He was God never leveraged his position as God. He never commanded people to move at the dinner table even though He was the most important. Every time he came into the room, He was the bride, hero, writer, boss or president, but He never used His position. Rather, Jesus "emptied himself". Jesus decided to place Himself under us. He subordinated His own will to us.

Did He humble himself by coming home early for dinner, by paying attention in conversation, by staying within the budget or by picking up the kids from school? No, of course not. What He did was, He submitted Himself even to death. Now, Jesus inherently had a dilemma. He could either maintain His rights, the respect due Him, His correctness in all situations, getting all that He truly deseverd on earth or He could fulfill His purpose on earth. But He couldn't do both. Jesus put our greatest need ahead of what He rightfully deserved. He put our salvation ahead of His glory. He opted for relationship over respect.

We can't have it both ways either. That one thing that God has given us a desire for requires that we die a little to it. We've had relationships before, but they didn't require the same things. We can't kid ourselves and think we can do a long term relationship any other way. The key for us is in God's Word.

The other day, after their kids' baseball games, Andy and Sandra were heading back to the car. He and she heard a woman telling her husband, "and get the chairs...get the bags...". She turned to Andy and said, "I can't imagine talking to you that way." Everything the woman said was true, but it was demeaning. It sounded like an awful marriage. You can spend the rest of your life being right, winning the arguments, getting them in shape, but you will not be in love at the end of your journey. Thank God Jesus did not come into the world to be right. He could have walked around calling everyone sinners and condemning them, but He didn't. He loved us.

Find me two people who've decided to treat each other more importantly than the other and I will show you two people who will be in a marriage that lasts. It's hard, but it's a lot easier than a bad marriage.

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