Bitter of Sweet? – Part 2

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We are continuing a series on marriage. We receive a fair number of e-mails where the main issue has to do with marriage difficulties, and that greatly saddens Teri and me. Surely all marriages begin with great anticipation of the union being joyful and if Christians are marrying, they desire it to be Christ-honoring. Yet, everyone encounters bumps in the road. When the road becomes rough, what happens? Will the couple hunker down, determined to do whatever it takes to smooth things out? Whether your marriage is smooth, bumpy, or severely pothole-ridden, Jesus Christ brings hope that every marriage can improve. He has given us His Spirit and His Word to encourage and equip us so that we might walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Are there some practical ways to walk in the Spirit toward one’s wife?

Let’s look at a foundational passage directed to a husband regarding his relationship with his wife. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). As husbands, we think we know the importance of love for our wives, but do we really understand love from God’s perspective? Men are most easily drawn to emotional and physical love, but God’s command to us through Paul in verse twenty-five can be most enlightening and maybe even a little scary. The more we study this verse, the more we might be tempted to say like the disciples said, “. . . If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (Matthew 19:10).

The love a husband is commanded to have for his wife is agape love. Vine’s Expository Dictionary describes agape love as the type of love God has for His Son and for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also the love for believers to have for one another and for all mankind. Agape love is the essential nature of God. In our society, we are used to everything being dumbed-down and disposable, but God is calling us to the highest standard possible in how we are to love our wives. In the same way God loves me, He commands me to love my wife.

The more we understand agape love, the more impossible it sounds for us to love that way. We need to realize that in the flesh we can never love our wives that way. As we prayerfully declare our weakness to the Lord, He will enable. When we are weak, He is our strength. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When God commands, He empowers. If we have any hope of loving our wives with agape love, we must be saved. Then the Holy Spirit can work through us to love as God has commanded us to love.

Why would God call you to love your wife with agape love? One reason is that it requires us to depend on Him. No one can love another with agape love in their own strength. The greater our dependence on the Lord Jesus, the better. Agape love will weather any storm or trial; it is not only divorce-proof but joy-filled. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Here we see how the Lord ties in our emotions. When we love with agape love, we will be highly investing in our wives, and as we invest our time, effort, and choices, we will have great treasure invested in them. Hence, our heart will follow our efforts. If that is true, and it is, then we ought to look more closely at agape love.

Maybe the primary passage on agape love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It would be great to memorize and meditate on these four simple, but powerful verses that summarize how God calls us to love. If we live out these verses, they will have significant impact on a marriage. As we read them, notice that agape love is a choice and can only be known by the actions that it prompts. Warm thoughts and a good attitude just aren’t enough!

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

We don’t generally use the word charity when talking about love in our modern English, but it is the King James word for love. Charity suffers long means love is patient, not just when everything is going well, but also when we are tired, hungry, or have had a bad day. I believe patience is one of the greatest measures of our Christian maturity. Is it any wonder it came first in the characteristics of agape love? If the love of our life is late again, and it is time to leave, are we patient or angry? It really is a choice that we can make that she is more important than being on time, and it doesn’t matter what others think of us when we are late. Even better would be for us to take the initiative and help get the children ready early so she isn’t struggling to get it all done before it is time to leave. We are to be a team, pulling together to get the job done. What actions do our love prompt, or is love just an empty word that sounds good when we say it?

Are we kind? Would our families describe us as being kind? Our family’s view of us is objective when in reality our evaluation of ourselves would be quite subjective. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? Our hearts are deceitful and can’t be counted on to give us right information about ourselves. We are prone to make excuses and justify, but our families are unbiased as they experience the fruit of our words, attitudes, and actions. Are our words pleasant and gentle without a motive of manipulation? Kindness carries with it actions of benevolence. It is one thing to have a kind attitude but entirely something else to act kindly. Are we likely to do things for others in the home? If your wife is in bed before you at night, do you ask her if she needs anything before turning out the light? Perhaps, it’s Bible time; do you get the Bibles out for everyone if they are already sitting down? If someone needs something from the other room, do you pop up and get it for them? Do you ever clear your wife’s dishes from the table and then work together with the family during cleanup? Family time is filled with opportunities to show kindness.

The next characteristic of love from 1 Corinthians 13 is that we aren’t to be envious. In a study of “envieth not,” I discovered it means to be content. Maybe a key application of this, in the context of loving a wife, is being content with her. Just as we each have our weaknesses, our wives will have their personal weaknesses as well. I show agape love toward my wife when I am content with her in the face of her weaknesses. Rather than wishing she were different, I love her, weaknesses and all, just as I want her to love me despite my failures.

We didn’t even finish verse four in this Corner, but there is so much to think about in this portion alone. We are commanded to be patient. If your wife is late and you end up waiting on her, practice patience. If she has excuses as to why she is late, practice patience. If she is having trouble explaining herself, practice patience.

She deserves to be treated with kindness. Are you doing so? There is no place for envy when I agape love my wife. Rather I am to be fully content with her. She is a treasure from the Lord of great, great value. Am I loving my wife with agape love? Are you loving your wife with agape love? We will continue this topic next month.

By the way, Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to show agape love to your wife.

Unwanted Feelings – Part 4

As we continue our discussion of unwanted feelings, I want to share with you a beautiful example of how one mom applied what we have been talking about in this series in her life. But first, I’ll refresh with the e-mail that began these articles:

I woke up hurting and aching about the adoption this morning, and the feeling never left. Seeking HIM and seeking the peace and clarity that only HE can give.

Could you please pray for me to find my comfort in Christ? And to trust HIM. If you have time, could you please send me a Scripture that brings you comfort in times of loss? I will meditate on it. Amy

The first three articles in this series can be found here. If you haven’t read them, you will want to do that to have the complete picture concerning the process of dealing with unwanted feelings.

The following testimony fits well with our introductory e-mail because the events that led up to the testimony involve a difficult pregnancy, pre-term labor, and a premature birth. Read the following as a different Amy, Amy E., shares her heart through this process.

Dear Maxwell Family,

I thank you so much for your prayers on my behalf and for your notes of encouragement!

Back at Christmas time, I began asking the Lord to give me a new “theme” for 2012—a focus for my objectives for the new year. Reading in Genesis, I came across the verse where God said to Abraham, “. . . Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1). I meditated on that verse for some time and concluded that while we know that the Lord was about to do a lot of awesome things through Abraham’s life—in this verse, He was ultimately offering HIMSELF to Abraham as the reward in the end. A couple days later, I came to the verse I chose as my theme. It was: “And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12). I concluded that God knows we fear Him when we don’t withhold things from Him. I chose my memory verses for the year based on the things I tend to withhold from God and manage myself, areas where I wasn’t trusting Him.

A week later there was a bend in the road that I hadn’t seen coming, but the Lord had faithfully prepared me to go that way with these verses. It all started the first day in January when I was admitted to the hospital at twenty-three weeks along and discovered that I had no amniotic fluid, increased bleeding, and various other factors. Before long we learned that HUGE numbers of people were praying. It made me wonder what God was going to do that He was getting so many people on board for. Maybe this was going to be a miracle baby?

Over the next two weeks the Lord used my Bible time and a book I was reading to encourage me. Being removed from my normal environment (the hospital was an hour from home), He also gave me the opportunity to “try out” my resolve about not withholding things from Him. I could control nothing that was going on—nothing at home, nothing with the children, nothing with my body—NOTHING! He is so good!

I verbalized to several ladies that came to see me one day that the baby was not the ultimate end. I shared my verses and my belief that the end was the LORD—baby or no baby. He wanted to show me Himself as I had never seen Him before. The book I was reading said that we can’t know Him as the God of victory unless we face a battle. We can’t know Him as the God of all comfort if we don’t experience deep sorrow. Though my hope was that the Lord was going to see this baby through, I did consider that maybe He was going to use the baby to show Himself to me in a different way. Whenever the Lord gets many people involved in a situation, it is so that He can show His power, and that His name would be declared throughout all the earth! I thought surely the Lord is going to show Himself mighty by saving this baby!

That very evening after sharing with my friends, I abruptly went into labor. They moved me to labor and delivery and couldn’t find a heartbeat. The doctor found him in the birth canal (a place they never wanted him to be because he wouldn’t be able to handle delivery being so premature). His heart rate was 40 bpm. They moved me to surgery to have a C-section. He was born bruised and small. His little lungs just weren’t developed enough to breathe yet. They disconnected his tubes and wires and handed him to us. He was beautiful, and he smelled so good! He passed on immediately as we held him. He never opened his eyes in this life; the first face he ever saw was the Lord Jesus!

In summary, while this ending was not what I had in mind, the Lord has not ceased to show Himself mighty! I boast in Him as much as if He had sustained our little one. Words cannot express what the Lord has been to me. I have been under the shadow of His wings. I have found that God has lavished Himself on us exceeding abundantly! Every time a meal walked through our door, I felt as though it was from the Lord Himself. The Lord has shown His love so much through other people’s ovens, letters, phone calls, checkbooks, and especially the Scriptures. It has been exceedingly abundant. He has sent the right words of comfort and encouragement when we needed them. He has reminded us of His love all these days, hour by hour. I have seen His face as never before. I love Him more than I did before. And I am so full of thanks for all He has allowed.

I write this because with so many people praying and knowing that the Lord gets many on board so that they might know His power, I purposed that I would declare to as many as possible that there is truly none like Him in all the earth. We serve a mighty and wonderful God. Though my eyes fill with tears from time to time, and my arms are empty, I can say with a full heart, “Thank You Lord for this experience! I love You all the more because of it!”

I mentioned that I started reading in Genesis back at Christmas. As the Bible goes on, I am now in Exodus soaking in each verse, and I get excited to read, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself” (Exodus 19:4). I feel like I’m there in the account with those people, for their God is still working mightily. I have experienced Him. I hope that you will be like Jethro, who after hearing all that the Lord had done in Egypt, rejoiced in the goodness of the Lord, blessed His name, and worshipped.

In Jesus’ precious Name,

Amy E.

I am delighted that I am able to send Amy’s testimony beyond the boundaries that she anticipated it going. I am praying that her words and example will highlight what we have been discussing in these articles concerning negative emotions. Amy sought the Lord in her pain, and she found Him to be sufficient. I believe He is sufficient for each of us in every circumstance that brings unwanted emotions. Amy came through her trauma not overwhelmed by her pain but overjoyed by her Savior. May each of us do the same.