Saturday, January 28, 2017

Why Ministering out of your marriage matters

Most of my time is devoted to training people to make disciples who make disciples, to planting churches that plant churches.  Motivating people who call themselves disciples to get active in obeying the command Jesus gave us to make disciples rather than just being content to be a disciple...well, its what I do with 90% of my work or ministry hours.  Its what I'm passionate about. 

Today I returned from a trip to South Asia.  I was so glad to get home after an overnight flight, hours waiting in airports and crazy schedules.  My biggest joy of the day today was getting to share the story of Jesus with a taxi driver who when I asked him said "I have no idea why Jesus had to die" and who said he thought it was impossible for him to go to heaven.  What fun it was to share with him the story of how Jesus came, died and rose again to make a way for him to receive salvation!  Like I said...this is the stuff that I'm usually thinking about and motivated for...this is what excites me! I read some weeks ago the excellent Mission Frontier's article about the important qualities of URGENCY and GRIT in the life of a movement leader (see for the full article). I forwarded this article to those I lead because its so true that these qualities are needed in our lives as we pursue the release of movements among the unreached.

Today, though, I feel impressed to write about something else that is very important in our lives if we are to be disciples who make disciples.  That is ministering out of our marriage or singleness.  I've been influenced here by the writings of Pete Scazzero and his story.  In his books "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality" and "The Emotionally Healthy Leader", he tells of his fast growing church where many were coming to Christ daily, but how one day his wife told him she wasn't going to attend his church anymore.  He then writes about his journey of discovery in living an emotionally healthy life and ministering out of that abundance. This is in contrast to the idea of trying to have a growing ministry and separately keeping your marriage and family healthy enough that it doesn't disturb your ministry aims. I'm not trying to write a book review here, though I do recommend Peter Scazerros' books and resources.

What I want to address specifically, is the importance of being what we proclaim, of living the truth of the gospel as we share the story of Jesus with others.  When our own inner lives, when our marriages and families are not places of abundance, life and peace, our message becomes false somehow, weak and possibly even hypocritical.  Its so easy as passionate leaders and church planters to allow our sense of urgency and our determination to reach the God given goals in our lives, to take priority over living the life Jesus died to provide for us.  The article from Mission Frontiers talks about how many apostolically gifted leaders who see movements don't live "balanced" lives.  Instead they are driven by the sense of urgency to reach the lost that makes them look "unbalanced" to the world around them.  This is not wrong.  I fully agree that often what looks "balanced" to others is not what Kingdom "balance" looks like. We need to be careful not to misunderstand this article however.

When there is no life flow in our marriage or singleness, no pleasure, only endurance - you are staying married (or enduring being single) because the alternative is simply not an option-  this is not Kingdom and this is not the gospel.  No, God wants to give us life and life abundant in our marriages, singleness and in all aspects of our personal lives.  He loves us.  Perhaps not really understanding the depth of His personal love for me is why in my own life for so long, I was content to have joy in ministry but little joy in my marriage.  Oh our marriage was "okay," no one thought we had a bad marriage.  We convinced ourselves we were "normal" though "normal" was far from "happy."

My husband and I faced a crisis a number of years ago when we realized how mediocre we had allowed our marriage to become in the name of sacrificing for ministry.  We realized how little life, joy and pleasure we had flowing to us from our marriage, not to mention the pain that seemed to often flow strong.  It was a crucial turning point for us when for several months, we stopped ministry activities and gave ourselves to going deep into resolving the long standing issues, and unhealthy patterns that had gotten us to where we were at that point. 

A key lesson that came out of that time for us was this.  God really wants our marriage to be pleasurable and this needs to be a top priority for us. This pleases Him.  God is made joyful when our marriage brings us joy.  A pleasurable marriage that gives life to us, is actually worship to Him.  He died to make that possible for us and when we live short of that, it grieves His heart.  He is literally sad for us. Do we want to make God sad? No.  Of course not.

In order to see change, we had to change our beliefs about marriage and God's intent.  Out of that belief change came behavior changes as well.  We began to prioritize daily communication that was high quality, we began to see taking time to love one another well as being just as important as sharing good news with someone who had never heard. We went deep, and worked hard on learning new skills of listening to one another and sharing with one another. Joy began to flow into our lives in a new way.  This joy strengthened our passion for the didn't weaken it.  This joy showed that there was truly an abundance, a transformation in our lives, a healing of brokeness that we could testify to the truth of.  The disconnect between our message and our inner lives began to come together in new ways.

This blog is getting long, but what I am trying to say here is that its not either or, its both and.  God wants us to have healthy, pleasurable marriages, families, friendships and lives.  This is his natural desire for us as our Father.  He delights when we delight cause He is our daddy.  He isn't only pleased when we produce fruit or sacrifice for him, or wake up at 5 am to pray, or plant a bunch of churches.  He is just as pleased when we enjoy intimacy with our spouse, express our love and affection or take time to really think about what we can do to make our husband or wife feel loved today.  This too reflects His glory and demonstrates His kingdom come to earth.  His kingdom comes when we do this, just as much as when we pray for a paralyzed person and they begin to walk.  Its a sign to the unbeliever that God is alive, AND, even more importantly, it is God's pleasure and will for us!

Let's not think either/or- either I will be passionate for the Lost and give myself fully to the task of reaching the unreached OR I will have a good life, healthy marriage and family.  NO!  Jesus died to provide us with both- lives full of purpose and meaning flowing out of our lives full of pleasure and peace.  Not the world's peace and pleasure, but the kind that comes from the Kingdom invading and transforming all of our lives.

Go share the gospel today with someone who has never heard!  Also, go today and enjoy the wife or husband God gave you. Be a blessing to them! Laugh together.  Do something fun together.  It pleases your Father greatly.

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