Outcome-Based Obedience?

womanOn several occasions I have been approached by women who really are pretty fed up with their husbands. Some women have a right to be fed up. Sometimes they are struggling along, trying–really trying –to be godly wives and, for some reason or excuse or other, their husbands are just determined to make Christianity hard for them. Husbands, sometimes, flatly refuse counsel. Sometimes husbands just will not step up to the plate and be spiritual leaders in their homes. Most of the time, of course, they’re not leading because, well, you just can’t lead where you will not go. Sometimes husbands are verbally abusive to wives and children or perhaps they are never home due to complete absorption in career or sports. It’s just tough sometimes to keep hanging in there.

Sometimes, though the scenario is different. Sometimes the women who are having a difficult time in marriage are in relationships that were sinful in the first place (Matthew 19:9).

So every now and then, a wife will come to me and explain why she never should have married her husband in the first place. She will elaborate on why he did not have a biblically approved reason (fornication of the spouse as per Matthew 19:9) to divorce a former wife. “Thus, his marriage to me is an adulterous union,” she says. She will go on to tell me how bad things have gotten in the relationship (There is no intimacy or there is pornography.There is yelling or there is a lack of communication and tenderness, etc…) In short, she will tell me all the things that have gone wrong with her adulterous marriage and that, now, after all these years and all this misery, she wants to do the right thing and divorce her husband.

I was reminded of this scenario as I was reading the book of Daniel earlier this week. Have you ever noticed that character named Melzar in chapter one? He was the steward of the king who was responsible for the princes Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He was the one who was supposed to make them eat the king’s meat. But Daniel persuaded Melzar to give them a ten day trial–to allow them to eat just pulse and water–and see if they weren’t just as healthy as the other princes.

As you will recall, at the end of the ten days, they were fairer and fatter than the others, so, in view of the fact that the pulse was producing the result that would make Melzar look good to the king, He allowed the four Hebrew princes to continue eating the pulse–the God-approved diet.

Notice that Melzar’s compliance to the will of God had nothing to do with trust or devotion to God. In fact, we have no indication that he even believed in Jehovah. His motives were purely mercenary. He saw that God’s way was in his own best interests, so he did this diet thing God’s way.

So, am I saying that a woman who is living in an adulterous marriage, but fails to repent until that marriage falls apart, should remain in that miserable marriage? No. At whatever point one decides that she is violating the will of God, she should stop disobeying. I am saying that repentance is sometimes complicated when procrastinated.

What if Melzar had come to trust God and had decided to do the diet God’s way BEFORE the ten day trial? Well, then his compliance to God’s system would have been obedience, plain and simple. But because his decision was predicated by proof that compliance was in his own best interest, he was actually acting in his own behalf, rather than in submission to God.

What if a woman decides to get out of an adulterous marriage when she learns the gospel, but is desperately in love with her husband? What if he is loving, funny, handsome and caring? What if he is everything she wants, but she know she has no right to be married to him? Well, then, her sacrifice of the adultery she commits is a real act of submission. It is a huge price to pay, in this life, for eternity with Jesus. Would anyone question whether or not such a woman was penitently submitting to the Lord?

Whatever the right thing to do is, it is still the right thing whether it results in relief or misery. But when one searches her heart, she must be sure that she is being obedient because she loves the Lord; not merely because she wants to escape a situation that is burdensome emotionally or physically. It is just harder to clear the conscience when my repentance comes at a convenient time for me. Can I be forgiven when repentance is delayed until it benefits my current lifestyle? If I am truly penitent as I turn from sin, I can. But convincing myself of my own sincerity may be the difficult and haunting aspect of my life changes. Pragmatic repentance may leave little room for godly sorrow.

If you need to repent of some sin, do it now. Procrastination often muddies the water. It can become extremely difficult to have the godly sorrow that works true repentance, if our sorrow is such that would characterize even someone who is of the world (II Corinthians 7:10). The sorrow of the world works death.

If I do the right thing because of some present torment, I may risk eternal torment. If I do the right thing and suffer for it, I will be glorified with Him (I Peter 4:15,16).

Melzar’s decision to allow the diet of pulse was quite different from, say…the three Hebrews’ decision to stand when the music played. Melzar chose what would insure his own prosperity. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose what would get them in a very heated situation very fast. True submission is not outcome-based, at least not in the short term. True submission is eternity-based.

Early Detection: One Divorce in Your Church is Too Many

Last night I spoke on the topic “What to Do When You First Think There Might Be a Marriage Problem.”  That was a tough topic for me because you do not want 200 ladies to leave the room in horror because they all see some of the symptoms you list as signs that there may be marital problems. On the other hand, every counselor has lamented “If only we had recognized this earlier, the marriage might have been saved.”  So finding the balance was important and challenging.

Here are a dozen indicators I mentioned that may signal a growing problem in your marriage. Some of these are very serious and should be immediately addressed. Some can find compromise or resolve more easily with early detection. But if several of these are occurring simultaneously in your world, find help yesterday. Your marriage, children, souls and service to the Lord are worth all expenditures to address the security of your sacred union.

1. Sex is not occurring regularly between the two of you.
2. Your conversations together are not deep and meaningful, but superficial.
3. You take separate vacations, by choice.
4. One of you has an attraction to someone other than your spouse. You find yourself looking forward to being in his/her company and you want to look nice for that person.
5. One spouse’s hobby is off the radar in terms of dedication to it, and/or money and time spent on it. (Money may be spent on the hobby that is needed for bills, etc…)
6. Arguments are never settled, but are allowed to “pile up” and resentment mounts.
7. One spouse is afraid of the other.
8. A spouse is caught in lies.
9. There is some part of a spouse’s world to which the other is denied access (can be computers, phones, or a room in the house).
10. A spouse is secretly on the computer in the night.
11. A man is able, but unwilling to provide financially for his family.
12. There is any child abuse occurring in the home.

May God grant us wisdom and boldness to find His grace and fulfill his holy purposes in our marriages. He is so good to provide the plan for this earth’s ultimate happiness. May we follow his blueprint in joy all the way home!

Worth a Reprint: The Marriage-Saving List

A few years ago, a very dear friend came into my life at a time when her marriage was falling apart. She was battered…not by an angry husband, but by several years of falling into the mire of self-pity and revenge whenever it was her turn to lose in the selfish tug of war that was daily occurring in her middle class marriage. It was time to throw the dirty towel into that mire and walk away. Thankfully, though, the Lord came into her life and she and her husband honestly assessed the critical situation and slowly rebuilt the marriage with the building blocks of Ephesians five. They are now living “happily ever after.” It was this friend, who, once she had come out of this darkness, first called to my attention this article by Becky Zerbe. My friend found some answers she needed in this article. The article has been often reprinted. I rarely include the writings of others in this blog, especially things written by those I don’t know. But this is real. It’s powerful. And it might be a list that some of us need to make.

Although, I couldn’t ever (without scriptural reason) offer to assist my daughter in getting a divorce, this mom was, otherwise, pretty wise in her counsel. Read on…

The List That Saved My Marriage
What an inventory of my husband’s shortcomings taught me
By Becky Zerbe

The day had come. I’d lasted as long as I could in my marriage. Once my husband, Bill, left for work, I packed a bag for myself and our 14-month-old son and left our home. It was the only year in our married life when we lived in the same town as my parents. Obviously the convenience of being able to run to Mom and Dad made my decision to leave Bill easier.
With a tear-stained, angry face, I walked into Mom’s kitchen. She held the baby while I sobbed my declaration of independence. A washcloth and cup of coffee later, Mom told me she and Dad would help me. I was comforted to know they’d be there for me.
“But before you leave Bill,” she said, “I have one task for you to complete.”
Mom put down my sleeping son, took a sheet of paper and pen, and drew a vertical line down the middle of the page. She told me to list in the left column all the things Bill did that made him impossible to live with. As I looked at the dividing line, I thought she’d then tell me to list all his good qualities on the right hand side. I was determined to have a longer list of bad qualities on the left. This is going to be easy, I thought. My pen started immediately to scribble down the left column.
Bill never picked his clothes off the floor. He never told me when he was going outside. He slept in church. He had embarrassing, nasty habits such as blowing his nose or belching at the dinner table. He never bought me nice presents. He refused to match his clothes. He was tight with money. He wouldn’t help with the housework. He didn’t talk with me.
The list went on and on until I’d filled the page. I certainly had more than enough evidence to prove that no woman would be able to live with this man.
Smugly I said, “Now I guess you’re going to ask me to list all Bill’s good qualities on the right side.”
“No,” she said. “I already know Bill’s good qualities. Instead, for each item on the left side, I want you to write how you respond. What do you do?”
This was even tougher than listing his good qualities. I’d been thinking about Bill’s few, good qualities I could list. I hadn’t considered thinking about myself. I knew Mom wasn’t going to let me get by without completing her assignment. So I had to start writing.
I’d pout, cry, and get angry. I’d be embarrassed to be with him. I’d act like a “martyr.” I’d wish I’d married someone else. I’d give him the silent treatment. I’d feel I was too good for him. The list seemed endless.
When I reached the bottom of the page, Mom picked up the paper and went to the drawer. She took scissors and cut the paper down the vertical line. Taking the left column, she wadded it in her hand and tossed it into the trash. Then she handed me the right column.
“Becky,” she said, “take this list back to your house. Spend today reflecting on these things in your life. Pray about them. I’ll keep the baby until this afternoon. If you sincerely do what I ask and still want to leave Bill, Dad and I will do all we can to assist you.

Facing facts

Leaving my luggage and son, I drove back to my house. When I sat on my couch with the piece of paper, I couldn’t believe what I was facing. Without the balancing catalogue of Bill’s annoying habits, the list looked horrifying.
I saw a record of petty behaviors, shameful practices, and destructive responses. I spent the next several hours asking God for forgiveness. I requested strength, guidance, and wisdom in the changes I needed to make. As I continued to pray, I realized how ridiculously I’d behaved. I could barely remember the transgressions I’d written for Bill. How absurd could I be? There was nothing immoral or horrible on that list. I’d honestly been blessed with a good man—not a perfect one, but a good one.
I thought back five years. I’d made a vow to Bill. I would love and honor him in sickness and health. I’d be with him for better or for worse. I said those words in the presence of God, my family, and friends. Yet only this morning, I’d been ready to leave him for trivial annoyances.
I jumped back in the car and drove to my parents’ house. I marveled at how different I felt from when I’d first made the trip to see Mom. I now felt peace, relief, and gratitude.
When I picked up my son, I was dismayed by how willing I’d been to make such a drastic change in his life. My pettiness almost cost him the opportunity to be exposed daily to a wonderful father. Quickly, I thanked my mother and flew out the door to return home. By the time Bill returned from work, I was unpacked and waiting.
A new outlook
I’d love to say that Bill changed. He didn’t. He still did all those things that embarrassed and annoyed me, and made me want to explode.
The difference came in me. From that day forward, I had to be responsible not only for my actions in our marriage, but also for my reactions.
I think back to one of the items: Bill slept in church. The minute he began to doze always marked the end of my worship time.
So often I thought he was rudely uninterested in the message—and my dad was the preacher! It didn’t matter that Bill was unable to stay awake any time he sat for a longer period. The entire time he spent nodding, I spent fuming. I’d squirm in the pew, feeling humiliated. I’d wonder why I ever married this man. I knew he didn’t deserve a wife as godly as I was.
Yet now I could see myself as I truly was. My pride was hampering a valuable portion of my life—my worship. This problem wasn’t Bill’s; it was mine. When Bill fell asleep in church, I began to bathe that time in gratitude and prayer. I took my eyes off Bill and myself and looked to God. Instead of leaving the services in anger, I left in joy.
It wasn’t long before Bill noticed a difference. He remarked at lunch one Sunday, “You seem to be enjoying the services more lately. I was beginning to think you didn’t like the preacher.” My immediate instinct was to explain how he’d ruined so many services for me. But instead, I accepted his statement without defense.
Remaking the list
There have been many times through the years I’ve had to remake the list. I’ve continued to ask God to forgive my pathetic reactions and give me his wisdom in dealing with my marriage.
Fifteen years later, at the age of 49, Bill was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He had to quit his teaching job, leaving me to support our family, which has led to trying days and nights of worry. Watching him fight to maintain abilities to function daily has been inspiring to my sons, as well as to me. We’ve had to depend on our faith that God is in control—especially when we feel so out of control. We’ve searched the Bible for answers to questions we struggle to understand. We’ve spent hours with every emotion from anger to grief. We’ve asked, “Why?” We’ve claimed God’s peace that passes all understanding.
Regrettably, many days I’ve run short on patience, even though I know Bill can’t prevent himself from doing things that try my nerves. I realize my responsibility is to respond with the love God would have me show. I cry to God to love through me—because I know I’m not capable of loving Bill as God is capable of loving him.
Many times I’ve thanked God for a mother who was a spiritual mentor. Though she must have been tempted, she didn’t preach to me or offer her opinion on my behavior. She guided me in discovering a truth that’s saved a most treasured possession—my marriage. If I hadn’t learned to respond as a Christian wife to Bill’s small problems, I wouldn’t be able to respond appropriately to his larger ones now.
My son came home one day and asked, “Mom, what are we going to do when Dad doesn’t remember us?” 
My reply was, “We’ll remember him. We’ll remember the husband and father he was. We’ll remember him for all the things he’s taught us and the wonderful ways he’s loved us.”
After my son left the room, I chuckled. I was thinking of all the things I’d remember about this man who loved his family and his God. Many of those enduring memories are those same annoying little habits that made their way onto a list of bad qualities so many years ago.
Becky Zerbe is author of Laughing with My Finger in the Dam. Becky has been married to Bill for 29 years.

Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today International/Marriage Partnership magazine.

A Reader Responds: Child Abuse

In response to a recent post called Ten Lessons Learned from Troubled Marriages (Feb.8, 2010), I stated that children are generally better off in marriages of conflict than in situations of divorce.  A kind note from a reader pointed out that in situations of abuse, children are better off isolated from the abuser. I should clarify that I do not believe parents should ever place (or keep) their children in a position to be victimized by an abusive parent. Child abuse is a sin of the devil and every child should be protected from its horrors.

I still do believe, however, that children are generally better off in marriages where conflict exists than in situations of divorce.  The word generally is a key word, though, and by conflict I did not intend to imply or include situations of child abuse.

If you doubt the validity of the statement I made, I would recommend your reading the book Between Two Worlds, by Elizabeth Marquardt (Crown Books, September 2005). It is a well documented and disturbing study of adult children of divorce.
My thanks to the reader who suggested clarification.