Is this the Real Peace of God?

Peace2bOver the years, I’ve had the privilege of counseling many people from both the church and at Foundations.  When going through struggles personally or in marriage, many of the clients shared at some point that they felt at peace with God. What is baffling to me is how people can feel at peace when their actions have been contrary to the Word.  What exactly does this mean?  Can there be a peace from God when actions are contrary to Scripture? Or is there only peace when one is acting in accordance with Scripture?

In the spirit of Paul’s explanation of “Godly Sorrow” vs “Worldly Sorrow” as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:10, I’d also like differentiate Peace in the same manner:  Godly Peace vs Worldly Peace.

Godly Peace, or peace that comes from God, occurs when our actions are consistent with His Word.  Our actions, of course, stem from an internal belief that God is trustworthy, loving, all knowing, all powerful, faithful, all present, etc.  When our decisions are based in our trust on His character, then no matter what happens, we are at peace because we know His way is best, wise, in accordance to His will, and that all will work out for our good.

Fourteen years ago my one son was only a day or two old when he had multiple surgeries.  We received a phone call from the Doctor stating that he took a turn for the worse.  I remember praying to the Lord and receiving that peace that passes understanding (Php 4:7).  This is the peace that you get when the situation seems bleak, but you feel at peace because you know it’s in God’s hands.  At that time, I simply trusted in Him.  I didn’t know the outcome of the situation, but I knew Who held the outcome. Whatever the outcome was going to be, He would turn it into my good as He promised (Rom 8:28).

Trust in the One who is good and faithful is where Godly Peace comes from.  It is not looking at any possible outcomes, but at the One who will turn the outcome into our good, and for His glory.

Worldly Peace is the peace that comes when our consciences and hearts have become hardened to God’s Word.  We see this often in those who have not proclaimed Christ and live their lives apart from Him.  They don’t see God’s Word as Truth, as God’s Word of Love to be obeyed, but instead have set up separate morals and values and feel at peace when they follow these morals.

But this Worldly Peace is not simply a peace that is experienced by those outside Christ, but it has also been experienced by those inside Christianity as well.  One example I have seen too frequently is when a wife leaves or divorces her husband for reasons that are not mentioned in Scripture (it can be the other way around, of course).  There has been no infidelity or abandonment by the spouse, nor has there been abusive situations at all (this reason isn’t specifically mentioned in Scripture, but one can make a really good case for it), but the wife, after prayer, etc., comes to the conclusion to leave her spouse and feels a peace about it.  At times, even claiming that this peace if from God.

Where does this peace come from?  Can this peace come from God when it contradicts His Word?  Would the Holy Spirit give someone peace when they disobey God?  I would argue that such peace is not a Godly Peace, but a Worldly Peace.  It is a peace that comes when one deceives themselves into thinking that God wants them to be happy. It occurs when passages of Scripture are twisted to fit into justifying what someone really wants…to be happy.  This person is essentially doing what they feel they need to do for themselves.  Often conclusions are made and Scriptures are found and interpreted in favor of the person so that he or she believes their actions are OK with God.

When this happens, the person then believes that their peace is a Godly Peace.  The self-deception continues and lives and relationships are broken when decisions are made as a result of this peace.

So, how can we know our peace is a Worldly Peace or a Godly Peace?  Approach the answer In humility.  If you are honestly asking the question, be ready for honest answers.  Ask the Lord for His wisdom when interpreting Scriptures.  Ask Him to search your heart and mind.  Would you honestly be willing to do whatever His Word says or do whatever He wants but __________?   Ask a mature believer, pastor, or Biblical Counselor their thoughts and interpretations of various passages you are looking at to see if you are justifying your position or decision.  Since Worldly Peace comes from a hardened heart, ask Him to give you a heart of flesh towards the person you are angry with.  Pray for them.  Do loving acts for them.  Ask God to help you to see them as He sees them.

So, is the Peace that you feel a Godly Peace, or is it a Worldly Peace?

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly.

When You Are Disappointed in Your Spouse

couple6[1]As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, disappointment has been a regular occurrence.  Just when my hopes would raise on a great play, someone fumbled or threw an interception.  Real fans remain fans, even in such disappointment.  When there is continual disappointment, however, faith begins to wane and hope becomes hidden in the sea of disappointments .

As a married man, I can say that disappointment occurs on a regular basis.  Sometimes such disappointment is my feelings towards my wife, and other times it is my wife’s feelings towards me (I think even moreso).  It’s an occurrence that happens more frequently than I’d like to admit.  And as a marriage counselor, I can also say that disappointment occurs in every marriage to some extent.

This is not something we want to have inside of us, but we’d like to be happy with our spouses and the choices they make on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, though, this is not the case 100% of the time.  What causes such disappointment in our spouses and what can we do about it?

Disappointment in our spouses (or at any time) is often caused by three things:  Our expectations for them, our expectations for God, and other’s actions.

1) Expectations for Them – If our expectations are high, then chances are others will not meet them and of course, we will be disappointed.  We have set standards for our spouses and they remain unmet.  Sometimes certain standards are high and also appropriate.  For example, it is appropriate to have a standard that you will not be physically hurt by them, that they will remain faithful, that they will treat you with love and respect, etc.  It is inappropriate, however, to expect your spouse to do what you want when you want it.  If you come home and expect the house to be cleaned, laundry done, for them to clean up after themselves at all times, kiss you when you desire, be open to talk when you desire, etc. then you are clearly having inappropriate or high expectations.  You will be disappointed.  Our happiness is never found when others meet our expectations.  A happy marriage is not when others meet your expectations.  A God-honoring marriage is when spouses practice forgiveness, over-look offenses, and they recognize that their spouses are fallible – meaning that they are not designed to measure up to our expectations.  How could they?  They are self-centered sinners, just like us (see #3).

2) Expectations for God – Sometimes we look at God as the cosmic Santa Claus or the Soda/Pop Machine where we give Him our prayer dollars and expect to receive what we want when we want it.  We want God to live for us so that we become happy in this life.  If our spouses make us happy and do not disappoint us, then we are happy.  If there is no suffering, then we will be happy.  If we are disappointed, then we say that God did not hold up His end of the deal.  The death of a loved one, an unfaithful spouse, sickness, loss of job, whatever that may be – we blame God for not meeting our expectations.  Isn’t he a loving God?  Well He allowed this pain and suffering to happen!  If God allowed such pain and the end result of my prayers do not end as I would like, then He failed or God “didn’t work.”  In our marriages, we will be disappointed.  We may also be disappointed that God hasn’t “changed” our spouse or answered our prayers in relation to our spouses.  Perhaps this would be a good time to recognize that “His ways are not our ways,” that He has never promised us that we would not go through suffering, but that He has promised he would be with us always (Mt 28:18), even in our suffering.  The time of never-suffering will come, but not until we are with Him in eternity. (For more on this, read Philip Yancy’s “Disappointment with God“)

3) Spouse’s actions – Truth be told, we will be disappointed in our spouses…and probably many times.  We will be disappointed not only because we have high expectations, but because they are like us; sinners in need of a savior.  Their hearts are like ours, self-centered.  Their loving actions towards us are like ours towards them, tainted.  Some actions are out of pure love, some loving actions appear to be loving, but are self-centered.  And sometimes there’s a mix of both.  They also have expectations for us and when we don’t meet them, they get disappointed and angry, too.  As sinners, they will not only be focused on themselves, but they will intently harm us with hurtful words, by ignoring us, or by doing something they know we will not like .  When they purposely do these things, we are hurt.  We are disappointed.

The one thing we can expect in marriage is that we will be disappointed.  This disappointment is sometimes our fault and it is sometimes our spouse’s fault.  When we are disappointed, first we need to look at ourselves and our standards and expectations for our spouses and also for God.  We must understand that our spouses’ goals, as well as God’s goals, do not surround our expectations as though we are at the center of our lives and others exist to please us or meet our expectations.  On the other hand, we must recalibrate our lives and recognize that God is at the center and then practice forgiveness, adjust our expectations, over-look certain faults in our spouses, and love and honor our spouses.  We must also recognize that we are sinners first and we are in desperate need of a Savior.  If we solely focus on our spouses faults, we will place ourselves above them, judge them, and we will fail to recognize the change we need in ourselves…and we will remain disappointed.

For more in the “When You Are Disappointed…” series, click on the following links:

When You Are Disappointed in God

When You Are Disappointed in Your Life

When You Are Disappointed in Yourself

Praying With Your Spouse

Image

I had the pleasure of speaking at a Couple’s Seminar this past week and spoke on a topic I had previously not spoken about: Praying together as a couple.  Not a week later, I was approached about this topic on two other occasions.  Taking the hint, I figured it would be best to write about it.

Many Christian couples have a difficult time praying together.  It is especially difficult for some who have never grown up in the church or prayed out loud.  It’s just…awkward.  “What do I pray about?” “What if I don’t do it right?” “Will my spouse be better than I am?” “How do I do it?” “What if my spouse laughs at me?” “What do we do if it’s awkward?”

Let me give you a few points to consider when you desire to pray together.  These aren’t original, but ideas I have gleaned in research.

1.  Praying together can bring a couple closer together through physical touch and uniting hearts in humility seeking the Lord.

2.  Praying together often involves both partners feeling “safe” to pray.  If your relationship is characterized by criticisms, judgments, arguments, etc., now might not be the right time.  But you can pray by yourself that the Lord will change you to         become a safe person and that the Lord will change them as well.

3.  Praying together will seem awkward at first.  Keep going.  It will become more natural.

4.  Before praying together, have a list of things to pray for so you know what to pray for together.

5.  You can start by silently praying together, holding hands and squeezing the other’s hands when you are finished.

6.  Take only a few minutes to pray (5 minutes max) at first, this will limit the “awkward time” and help people not fall asleep.

7.  Dedicate a certain time of the day that best fits your schedules together and be committed to that time.

8.  The Bible does not command that you do this together as a couple, yet it is encouraged that people pray together.  Do not treat this as a “law” you must do nor demand that your spouse pray with you.  This does not bring about the best prayerful attitude.

9.  Do not pray AT your spouse.  In other words, don’t do this: “Dear Lord, please change my self-centered spouse and help him to love me as he ought.” or “Dear God, please help this woman I married to give herself to me and submit to my leadership.”  Just not a good idea.  Prayer is about seeking His will as a couple and not about asking God to do what you want Him to do.  It’s not to be used as a manipulative tactic to change your spouse.  Pray WITH your spouse, not AT them.

10.  Feel free to pre-write your prayers if you feel nervous.

11.  Talk about the obstacles to praying together and work together to overcome them.

12.  Hold hands.

13.  Seek prayer requests from your spouse and pray specifically for your spouse.

This is not an unusual problem for Christians.  It is a good desire to have to pray together, yet it is a horrible demand.  Praying together is not the temperature gauge for a Christian marriage, yet it certainly can be beneficial for the couple and can be very meaningful as well.  Some will refuse to pray together.  This does not mean that they are not Christian or that they don’t pray, simply that they choose to be personal in their faith “me and God”.  Though Scripture does not encourage such an approach (it encourages community), you may continue to pray for them and occasionally ask that they pray for you (even if he or she won’t pray with you).  And please, don’t take it personally.  It’s just where they are in their walk with God and it is up to God to move them if they are willing.

A Grace-Based Marriage

Two gold rings - reflected candlesIs your marriage based on works or on grace? Let’s be real, shall we? You are married to a sinful person. Your partner is not only imperfect, but they can be self-centered, lazy, forgetful, vindictive, make poor decisions, and well, fill in the blank. Now let’s get more real. You’re not the picture of perfection either, are you? For some reason, that seems far less of a concern because your spouse is worse, or at least, “causes” these…imperfections to come out in you.

Throughout the Scriptures, there are several common and related themes mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. First, we (believers in Christ) are the Bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom. Second, our marriages are a reflection of the greater marriage between Christ and the Church. Third, our relationship with God is characterized or built upon grace and not upon works. Therefore, if our marriages are to reflect the greater marriage, than our marriages must also be built upon grace, and not upon works.
How do we have a marriage that reflects God’s grace and not upon works? Let me offer one question to ask yourself:

Do you have expectations for your spouse?  Are you focusing on what your spouse is doing or not doing?  If so, you are focusing on their works.  You set up standards for them (law of works) and your attention is drawn to whether they met them or not.  If they fail, they will be punished (by you) based on their failure (being yelled at, dirty look, no sex, etc.).

Then, is it wrong to have expectations for your spouse?  No, not necessarily.  Obviously, it is appropriate to have certain expectations for your spouse.  For example, you should expect them to be faithful, to treat you with kindness and respect, to love you, etc.  However, there are standards and expectations that may be placed so high that they become idols in your heart.  In these situations, you become high king or queen of the home and your spouse becomes your subject that must meet your expectations.  Your focus then is placed from yourself and then onto them and their actions.

Instead of focusing on what they are doing or not doing (and whether they meet your standards/law), focus on 1) how gracious God is to you by forgiving your sins (or you not measuring up to His standards); 2) ask His help to love your spouse as He loves you (not based on your actions); and 3) give your spouse the grace (the unmerited favor) He has given you.  Unmerited favor is just that – favor, mercy, or love that is not based on what they have done, but on who they are (at minimum, being created in His image or being a child of God).  Though you may find this difficult to do, seek the Help of His Wonderful Counselor.

May the God of grace empower you to do as He wills through Christ our Lord.  Amen.