The Cart before the Horse?
It would be tempting to think that perhaps God got it wrong. Perhaps he really did get the cart before the horse. Think about it: wouldn’t it have saved so much heartache, conflict, hurt, and disappointment if God had done things another way? Why do we have to marry flawed people? Wouldn’t it have been much easier if God had worked it out so that we would be fully sanctified, then married? Who wouldn’t want to marry a perfected person? Wouldn’t that make marriage fundamentally easier and more enjoyable? Maybe God did get the order mixed up.
Now, the reason we tend to think this way is precisely because we are so captivated by the kingdom of self. We are drawn to order, predictability, comfort, ease, pleasure, appreciation, fun, and personal happiness. These things are not wrong in and of themselves, but they must not control us. We struggle with God’s plan because, at street level, we don’t really want what God wants. We want what we want, and we want him to deliver it. But that is not the plan. You see, God didn’t give us his grace to make our kingdoms work; he gave us his grace to invite us to a much, much better kingdom.
Think of the sturdiness of your allegiance to your own kingdom purposes. Let me help you see what I mean. Think about how little of your anger over the last month had anything whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God. Your anger seldom comes out of a zeal for the plans, purposes, values, and calling of the kingdom of God. When you are hurt, angry, or disappointed with your husband or wife, it is not because he or she has broken the laws of God’s kingdom, and it really concerns you. No, you are most often angry because your spouse has broken the laws of your kingdom. Your spouse is in the way of what you want, and that makes you mad, and it mobilizes you to do or say something that will rein your spouse back into service of your wants, needs, and feelings.
But God’s grace is intended to explode that. His grace purposes to expose and free you from your bondage to you. His grace is meant to bring you to the end of yourself so that you will finally begin to place your identity, your meaning and purpose, and your inner sense of well-being in him. So he places you in a comprehensive relationship with another flawed person, and he places that relationship right in the middle of a very broken world. To add to this, he designs circumstances for you that you would have never designed for yourself. All this is meant to bring you to the end of yourself, because that is where true righteousness begins. He wants you to give up. He wants you to abandon your dream. He wants you to face the futility of trying to manipulate the other person into your service. He knows there is no life to be found in these things.
Seeing Grace in Your Marriage
What does this practically mean? It means the trouble that you face in your marriage is not an evidence of the failure of grace. No, those troubles are grace. They are the tools God uses to pry us out of the stultifying confines of the kingdom of self so that we can be free to luxuriate in the big-sky glories of the kingdom of God. This means that you and I will never understand our marriages and never be satisfied with them until we understand that marriage is not an end to itself. No, the reality is that marriage has been designed by God to be a means to an end. When you make it the end, bad things happen. But when you begin to understand that it is a means to an end, then you begin to enjoy and see the value in things that you would not have been able to enjoy before.
When the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self, which rages in all of our hearts, is not being won, then we enter marriage driven by little-kingdom purposes. The problem is that our spouse does the same thing. So, it will just be a matter of time before the carnage begins as our little kingdoms of one collide.
It is only when a husband and wife each live in a purposeful and joyful allegiance to the plans, purpose, and Lord of the kingdom of God that their marriage can really be a place of unity, understanding, and love. Now free from the debilitating anxieties of the wants, needs, and feelings-fulfillment agenda of the kingdom of self, they are free to rest in God’s goodness, and because they are, they are also free to love and serve one another. Marriage is a beautiful thing that only reaches what it was designed to be through the methodology of a painful process.
Reconciling your marriage begins when you begin to reconcile with God.
Our problem is that we don’t like difficulty of any kind. We hate pain and despise suffering. There are many of us who would rather have an easy life than a God-honoring one. So before we ever battle with one another, we are actually battling the Lord. We are fighting his plan. We are critiquing his will. We bring him into the court of our judgment and find him unloving and unwise. We begin to wonder if what we have believed is true and if following him is really worth it. At the very same time, as our hearts are pondering these things, God is near and loves us with transforming love. He is carefully bringing us to the end of ourselves, and he is making us into people who find joy in loving others with the same kind of costly love he has given us.
So, as you read, I would ask you these questions: Whose kingdom shapes your marriage? Whose kingdom defines your dream? What really makes you happy? What is it that you want so badly for your marriage to be? Could it perhaps be that what you thought was love was not really kingdom-of-God, other-centered, other-service love? Could it be that what you actually wanted was for that other person to love you as much as you do? Could it be that your anger reveals how zealously committed you are to the purposes of your own kingdom? Could it be that the troubles you face in your marriage, both big and small, are not so much hassles as they are opportunities? Could it be that just when you thought God had abandoned you and your marriage that he is really very near, giving you the best gift ever—transforming grace? This grace rescues you from the one thing that you cannot rescue yourself from—you.
Reconciling your marriage begins when you begin to reconcile with God. It begins when you begin to pray this radical prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, right here, right now in this marriage as it is in heaven.” Good things happen as the result of that prayer!
This article is adapted from Marriage: 6 Gospel Commitments Every Couple Needs to Make.
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