Apr 11, 2017

Hunger vs. Ambition

Our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ is not faithfulness—the method is faithfulness—but to be fruitful. In Jesus’ parable about the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), it is fruitfulness that garners affirmation from the Master. For even the servant who buried his talent was faithful in protecting the investment. It is just that he did not steward its growth.

A life of faithfulness without fruitfulness is, in other words, a passive existence. Jesus calls his disciples, therefore, to a life of hunger. Hunger is “a craving or urgent need for [something]” (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). It is about being hungry for more of God, pressing further into the center of His presence. Pressing more into him, we become more fruitful.

What does it mean to be fruitful in following Jesus? To begin with, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Faithfulness in the presence of God begets fruitfulness—connecting not only with Him, but with other people through His Spirit—which in turn begets more faithfulness.

Hunger is not to be confused with ambition, however. Ambition is defined as “an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power; desire to achieve a particular end; a desire for activity or exertion” (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary), which often is about circumnavigating the presence of God in an aim for acclaimed productivity. For example, when leadership only measures its church’s growth or the effectiveness of its ministry techniques quantitatively, which is also an exercise that tempts ego, there is a great risk of neglecting God as the compass—not to mention overlooking the more mysterious, subjective, and qualitative wonders of human relationship (i.e. spiritual fruit).

The journey of Jesus Christ’s disciples and Church, therefore, must principally be to press ever further into the heart of God. Hunger looks to engage in relationship, in presence, in encounter—faithfulness. But pursing the presence of God is only the first part of the story. It must lead to fruitfulness to find wholeness. Relationship with God must lead to relationship with others, ripe with all the blessings that Paul addresses in Galatians 5:22-23. For when that happens, life brightens like a sunrise with renewed purpose and beauty.

Soli deo gloria. Amen.

Inspired by Andy Robinson's sermon, “Called to Fruitfulness” (Kings Church Horsham, 9 April, 2017).

Mar 8, 2017

When to Marry Someone

Of course, the literal date of a marriage ceremony is usually determined by a myriad of factors subjective to the lives of the affianced couple (e.g. preferred season of the year, work responsibilities, availability of family, venue, etc.).

What I am interested in asking, however, precedes that discussion. I want to know what brought a couple to the point of proposing and saying “Yes,” to the confidence of committing to that most binding of relationships called marriage. Simply put, the question asks, “Why now?” which is meant to welcome a holistic discussion—one that presumes the presence of a very conscious choice in the matter.

The fact that not everyone can specifically answer the question is both curious and sometimes disheartening.

Granted, there can and probably should be a subconscious instinct sparking the choice. It could be called inspiration, an indescribable sense of goodness or rightness in the relationship. It could be interpreted as an affirmation of the heart, a feeling or even spiritual influence. For the Christ-follower, that inspiration could be deemed a sense of revelation or divine blessing (guidance). It could be called faith: being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

While this less conscious layer of choice is certainly valuable, it seems more trustworthy when grounded on firmer, deeper-rooted affirmations about the relationship—from the couple’s community and absolutely from how their love is growing in friendship and intimacy. These foundations help answer the question, Why marry someone?

However, the When still remains, and should not be ignored. Aside from the more peripheral variables included in stage of life—and without addressing here the subjects of dating or cohabitation—the title question should be approached conscious of personal wounds—whether relational, emotional, or spiritual—and their healing.

The journey of healing can be difficult and winding, and is certainly unique to each person’s story. While I will not address the nature of that journey here, it seems healthiest for one’s wounds to at least have begun to heal before marrying someone. It is not that simple, of course, but that is the ideal.

A wound left to fester, ignored or buried, is dangerous to the relationship. It is dangerous because it can infect the marriage with fear, too often driving one toward self-made and self-serving bastions founded on ego (i.e. pride). Unchecked by humility, active awareness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity toward win-win outcomes, fear and ego will rot love to the core of the relationship—every pillar of friendship and intimacy. Too often intimacy is the first to suffer the torturously slow or bitter relational collapse. From there, the likelihood of marital ruin tragically increases.

Whatever shape the fear takes, rooted in whatever wound—whether a feeling of abandonment, loneliness, or insecure identity, for example—it must be identified for healing to begin. Fortunately, the stirring hope and power of a relationship is how it can expose one’s wounds and fears to the light.

For example, what about the other person or about your relationship triggers a sense of anxiety in you? What triggers frustration? These kinds of triggers can help point to the need for healing.

More specifically, in communication, are there times when you or the other is deafened to truly listening? Have you found yourself filling in a conversation, assuming the outcome before it even happens or despite what the other person is actually saying? What fear or stronghold of pride does this attitude echo?

Overall, healing must begin personally—between oneself and God—before it can expand relationally with the greatest strength. Otherwise, the relationship is at risk of having one person rely too much on the other or the relationship itself for meaning, which is too large a burden for any one person to bear. Any one person, that is, except Jesus Christ. Only God can provide that kind of transformation—that kind of love.

Deal Breaker
By the gracious power of God, healing is always possible. But it is not always so with that particular person.

A trigger can take the form of a “red flag” in the relationship, a characteristic cautioning of a surmountable or insurmountable barrier on the way toward intimacy. One’s significant other could directly or indirectly influence it; or it may be entirely separate, rooted in another relationship or experience, such as with a family member. I am not referring to the obvious problems, such as a propensity to verbal or physical abuse, which should likely be immediate deal breakers, but rather to more nuanced concerns that may materialize, such as hints of insecurity, irresponsibility, or indecisiveness. Still, each of the latter “red flags” can become a “deal breaker”, a reason to end the relationship. But not always.

The essence of love is selfless sacrifice. Therefore, if one or both in the relationship are unwilling to engage his or her wounds, if one or both are unwilling to seek healing and grow, the relational foundation will not be not strong enough to support a marriage. Therefore, until that trajectory of change begins to occur, it is probably best not to marry—at least not yet.

While I understand the intent behind the saying that each of us should just be accepted for who we are, the idea is too often used to justify immaturity—for selfishness, doing things the way one wants to do them. With “red flags”, I am not talking about personality, but integrity of character.

Now, it can be dangerous to enter a relationship with the agenda to change someone, for only God can truly transform a person. The strongest love is inspired by the goal of growing together, and personal growth connotes change in the depths of each person’s being. It is both a gradual and subtle maturation, and another full subject.

How long one should wait for another to change—to heal, reframe, and/or be free from a burden—is a difficult question, and one with its own series of subjective responses. Regardless, a lack of growth will surely stagnate a relationship. Furthermore, waiting indefinitely for change while enduring an unhealthy relationship may suggest another wound that needs healing (e.g. fear of being alone).

In Conclusion
Again, it is difficult to address the subject in broad terms. My point is that an unwillingness to grow individually as well as relationally most often indicates a relationship unprepared for marriage. More so, it suggests a relationship that may not be approaching marriage seriously or with awareness. Such unwillingness and unconsciousness may even be cause for a break in the relationship, whether temporary or permanent, to reexamine motives and priorities.

There are many facets to consider in each scenario. But the truth is that the state of one’s heart and mind, one’s state of maturation and being mended, is a fundamental indicator that the timing is healthy and good for a relationship to enter marriage.

For without an awareness of our need for growth, and actions that demonstrate that understanding, how can a marriage hope to succeed? Without that kind of intentionality, the couple chooses a more trying road. Marriage is challenging enough when the couple has found or begun to find healing, when it is intentional about personal growth and sacrifice. So why plummet into marriage with extra burdens, handicaps, and risks?

This discussion is about the timing of marriage. It is about making a thoughtful holistic decision to say “I do.” Whatever relational stage each of us is in, whether married or unmarried, may we all find the healing we need. May we all grow in the awareness and capacity to love. And may we together identify the important questions to ask.