Invitation to Rest

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Marriage: The School of Spiritual Formation

Would you like to grow in your relationship with God? What if I told you about a course of study you could take that would help you improve your relationship like none other?  Does that sound good to you? If it does, read on!

This course of study is part of a unique school. The main entrance requirement is that you are married. As a matter of fact, the school IS your marriage.  Have you ever thought about your marriage in that way, a place where your relationship with God can grow?

Let’s start with a story. My wife and I received the following Anniversary card from a friend of mine congratulating us on our anniversary.  Arrow through the slide below to see the story on the card. Can you relate to this story at all?

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You might as well have put our names above the characters in this card because Wendy and I pretty much had this “discussion” on our honeymoon as we were driving from our wedding reception in Findlay, Ohio to our hotel in Columbus.  What a way to kick off the marriage!

Little did we know at the time that God was presenting us with an opportunity for spiritual growth. I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to love those that love me, but it is more difficult to love in the midst of a struggle or conflict.  Wait a minute, that sounds familiar:

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.”

Luke 6: 31-36 (MSG)

OK, I hear you Jesus, but do you really intend that for marriage?  I mean, my wife really isn’t my enemy so ….  Back to that honeymoon moment and to all of the many moments we have been married, God has presented us with opportunities to grow and learn how to live out the principles Jesus describes in Luke…. even if our spouse is at their worst!

A Degree in Spiritual Formation

I have been married for 36 years.  I have had the privilege to be a part of many marriages over the years. One of the fundamental conclusions I have come to is that marriage at its core is the ultimate place for a Christian to grow in their walk with God. There is no place quite like it where we can be presented with challenging opportunities which if embraced can move us to a place of surrender to God, to have our brokenness healed, and to experience the love of Jesus in a profoundly intimate way. Martin Luther described marriage as the “school of character”.

In the school of Marriage, we are working on a degree in Spiritual formation with a goal that looks something like this: 

"The end game of the spiritual journey is radical trust in and abandonment to God—first of all as it relates to trusting God for our salvation and then learning how to abandon ourselves to God in specific areas of our lives."

M. Robert Mulholland

A few additional things to know about the School of Marriage:

  • It is a lifetime commitment.
  • It’s classes never end!
  • The lessons and homework never stop.
  • The Bible is your primary textbook

Endless homework and never ending classes, doesn’t that sound exciting?  But no other school can offer you this:

  • To become more like Jesus
  • To love others like Jesus

The Marital Laboratory

It is one thing to read information in a book, but another thing to put what you learn into practice. In the school of Marriage, we are reading the best selling Book of all time with the power to transform our lives. But reading the Bible isn’t enough. We must put it into practice.  “Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22  ESV).

Marriage is the ultimate laboratory where we can put into practice what we learn in the Bible. Here are a few examples of the lessons we learn:

Lesson 1:  Pray for your Enemies: If we have conflict with our spouse and our Textbook says to “pray for our enemies”, we can experiment with that lesson and test it out in the laboratory of our marriage.  

Lesson 2:  Forgiveness:  In all marriages, there are times where we hurt each other and say and do things that can potentially damage the relationship.  Our Textbook says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). It is one thing to read that verse, but we have the opportunity to learn how to really forgive and to be kind and tenderhearted as we put forgiveness into practice.

Lesson 3:  Wholesome Speech: Have you ever stepped back and reviewed some of your conversations with your spouse?  Chances are there are times when your tone or the words you have used have not been the best, even though in the moment you may have felt rightly justified in your response.  Our Textbook says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come from your mouth” (Eph 4:29). 

 

These may sound like difficult lessons but think of it this way.  If we never have a rough moment, how will we ever get the experience to practice what we are reading how to live? I’ll never learn how to pray for my enemies if I don’t experience adversity.  I’ll never learn to forgive if I have never been hurt. I’ll never learn how to speak wholesomely if I am never in a position where I feel unwholesome! 

As we put our faith into practice in Marriage, we put ourselves in a position to experience the love of God in an amazing way.  We also get to experience a lifetime of enduring love with our mate, in the good times and even in the bad.  When we see the difficulties of marriage as a way to strengthen our love for God and our spouse, we gain a proper perpective:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

Practice

I once went to dinner with my Mom and Dad. My Mom suffered with Macular Degeneration and lost most of her ability to see.  At the restaurant, I noticed Mom holding the menu as if she was reading it, even though it wasn’t possible for her to do so.  I then noticed my Dad, looking at his menu and reading the choices to her.  If I was at another table and happened to see them together, I would just assume they were conversing about something while they were looking at their menus together. But, wow, there was so much more going on in that moment. My Dad gave my Mom the gift of dignity. He allowed her to enjoy a moment as normally as possible and treated her with such kindness and gentleness. If there was a grade for that assignment, I would say he passed with flying colors!

In a life of marriage, we experience all kinds of things, some great and some not so great.  But in all things, God is calling us to Himself, to learn what love is like from Him and then live in a way that brings life and blessing to our spouse.

Have you ever thought of your marriage as a school of spiritual formation? Are there any lessons in particular that God is having you work on at the moment?

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