Archive for May, 2011

Who Would Like a Christian Society?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“If there were such a [Christian] society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression… Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from the total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself (p. 84-5).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I wonder what the “author’s original intent” was when Duct Tape was invented? How many ways did the nameless 1942 employee of Johnson and Johnson think his/her invention would be used? Was there any notion that this product was become synonymous with on-the-fly, amateur fixes?

Now countless people stand back from a household project completed with Duct Tape, beaming with pride, as if their “ingenuity” was the very purpose for which this versatile product was invented. There is a sense in which that is a good picture of what we do with God’s will. We creatively utilize part of God’s will according to our need and preference, then stand back as if that is what God had in mind before the foundations of the world.

Lewis tries to alert us to this tendency by raising the question if any of us would be comfortable in a completely Christian and genuine society. His answer is “No” because each Christian takes pieces of the kingdom and pretends they’re the whole thing.

It is like me when I finish building a piece of pre-fabricated furniture my wife brings home. I put it together paying attention to the directions (more or less). But at the end there are always pieces left over, which I try to quietly stash in the garage before I ask her to come brag on my craftsmanship.

Conservatives would think a Christian society was too liberal (and vice versa). Intellectuals would think it too expressive (and vice versa). Legalists would think it too gracious (and vice versa).

What is the take away? It is easy to reflect on something like this and cynically conclude that this void means the whole thing is hoax. But in the end cynics would think that a Christian society is too certain (and vice versa).

I would offer a different take away – let us talk more honestly and patiently with those with whom we disagree. If we recognize our tendency to call our castle the whole kingdom, then let us talk to those who live in other castles.

But the point of this conversation is not to concede that every castle is equally valid. The point is to gain an appreciation for the whole kingdom by talking with those who live in (specialize, treasure) other parts of it. We must be careful not to assume that the largest castle is the closest approximation of the whole kingdom. The earth is 2/3 water but we mostly track its history by what happens on the other 1/3.

Personally, this challenges me to a level of humility that makes me uncomfortable. When I engage in this kind of interaction I often wonder if I’m wasting my time or compromising my values. But when I have done so well, I usually come away with a renewed sense that I am merely a steward of one of the King’s castles in a vast kingdom and that I am not competing with any other castle steward in His kingdom, even when our perspectives are seemingly at odds.

Video: How Does the Gospel Speak to Sin AND Suffering

It is much easier to see how the Gospel applies to sin than suffering. Most of our preaching and teaching in evangelical churches points to Christ almost exclusively as the answer for our sin problem. This only accounts for half of the struggles we face in life.

On Sunday June 5, The Summit Church will be hosting our first EQUIP seminar of the summer: “One Gospel for Two Struggles: Sin & Suffering.” Our goal for this teaching time is to present how the Gospel speaks to both sides of the human dilemma: sin and suffering. The two videos below contain a preview of this seminar’s content.

I would encourage you to listen to these two videos to: (1) prepare yourself for what will be presented — we always retain more when we have “the big idea” of what we are hearing, and (2) reflect on who you should invite to this seminar.

Video One:

EQUIP Seminar “One Gospel for Two Struggles: Sin & Suffering” Promotion 1 from Summit Counseling on Vimeo.

 Video Two:

Untitled from Summit Counseling on Vimeo.

Why We Must Call Evil, Evil

It is easier to acknowledge something as evil from a distance. But when it’s up close and personal things can be confusing. Imagine being a child in a home where you were consistently unprotected. Perhaps it’s “only” neglect or it could be some form of abuse.

You are faced with a choice. (A) Acknowledge the fact that those given to care for you are too consumed with their own interest to care for you. (B) Believe that your parent(s) really are good people and make up an excuse for the neglect or abuse.

“A” is too frightful for most children to accept. “B” is a lie, but it provides a sense of safety when the mirage is all you can depend on. “B” fits with the imaginative world of child. “A” seems to contradict all the messages that life works best when you obey your parents.

“B” calls evil good.

“A” calls evil evil.

I counsel many people who are very hesitant to make statement “A.” The reason is not because there is uncertainty about the actions of their parents (or other significant figure in their life). The reason is because it feels un-Christian to make such a declaration.

Why is it important to make this declaration? I will state two reasons (others could be listed). These examples bridge more situations than the neglected/abused child scenario.

First, until we call evil by its true name we will have a distorted category for “good.” Good is a meaningless word unless real people, events, and actions are contained in the category for “evil.”

For the person who ignores or mislabels being abused/neglected by a parent growing up, what does it mean to have a “good” marriage? What does it mean to rely on someone as “trustworthy” if no one can be called a “liar”? What basis is there for “hope” if no one can be declared “manipulative.”

The question is quickly (and most often sincerely) raised, “But wouldn’t this cause me to be judgmental?” That takes us to the second point.

Second, the first step in forgiveness is to declare that an evil has occurred. Forgiveness is not turning a blind eye. Forgiveness is not “being nice” in the presence of wrong. Before I can forgive I must declare that what was done was wrong.

Unless I declare a wrong action evil, I can only explain it away. Forgiveness doesn’t touch accidents. Accidents receive, “That’s okay.” Forgiveness doesn’t cleanse oversights. Oversights get, “I’m sure you had a lot on your mind. I probably would have done the same thing.”

Forgiveness is for moral evils (sin). When I say, “I forgive you,” I am saying, “That is the kind of action that required Jesus’ death and I am giving you what I received from Him.”

It is only calling evil by its right name that allows us to find any refuge in the word “good” and allows us to deal with evil in the way that God prescribed. As with any deception, calling evil by the wrong name carries a domino of effects that pushes us away from the Gospel and genuine peace.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Theology and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 5)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

Are men supposed to “lead” in sex as in other parts of the relationship?  Is there an appropriate balance for initiating intimacy?

This question hinges on what it means for a husband to be a “leader” of his family, and I think intimacy is a needed place for this facet of family life to be unpacked. There are many great questions embedded within these two short sentences. How should leadership be expressed? Does male leadership remove female initiation (not just in sex)? Is “balance” a word that works against biblical role definitions?

These questions beg more questions, but they give us a taste of the arena we are stepping into.  But with the broader context in mind, we will seek to answer these questions and break them down into three pieces.

What does it mean for a husband to lead? This is the pivotal question. If leadership means telling those “beneath him” what to do, then the initiation of sex (and other areas not covered in this post) becomes problematic. I will define leadership in marriage as assuming the responsibility to ensure that key elements of family life have been discussed and that there is a functional plan to accomplish those things that are most important.

With this said, the wife should not be put into a position to “nag.” Conversations should be initiated or invited by the husband as a primary expression of his leadership role. Once the conversation begins, leadership does not imply that the husband will always have the right answer or will assume the responsibility for carrying out the plan agreed upon. Leadership does not mean that the husband never defers his preferences. Often the strengths, weaknesses, and preferences of the one carrying out or benefiting from the plan will trump (because of wisdom and love not authority and hierarchy) the preference of the husband. With these practices in place, the husband will be trusted when times come that someone must have the “final call” on a decision in which there is not unity.

Leadership concludes with following up on how the plans were completed and evaluating what was good, bad, enjoyable, unpleasant, inefficient, new, modified, etc… in the plan. Leadership here is expressed by initiating conversation and then listening. Leadership may only reinforce the messages “you are not alone” and “what happens to you matters.” Leadership may also involve, but does not necessarily include, providing guidance.

What does this leadership look like in the sexual relationship of marriage? After three paragraphs treatment of a subject covered in many entire books, we turn to sex. Leadership begins (and continues) with asking good questions and listening well.

What do you like about sex? What aspect of sex is most affirming or satisfying for you? What prepares you to give yourself to me most freely? What fears or other negative emotions do you experience when we talk about or have sex? What things do you think about when you ponder “do we have a good sex life”? How can I approach you when I’m interested in sex that feels honoring and romantic to you? After sex, how can I affirm that I love you and am not merely enjoying the experience?

The conversations that emerge around these kinds of questions is what enables a husband to lead in the sexual relationship. It is with this information that a couple can be intentional, honor the other’s preferences, and maintain creativity. These conversations show leadership in that they allow the wife to feel protected, heard, and honored. These conversations should be had regularly throughout the marriage.

How does this leadership perspective affect the wife’s initiation of sex? Initiation of specific activities is no longer the focal point of “leadership.” Except for in a crisis, leadership happens long before an activity begins (in the absence of leadership there are more crises and it feels like everything must be settled on the basis of authority).

Both husband and wife should regularly initiate sex and do so in ways that express their desire to be with and bring pleasure to their spouse. When leadership has done its job, then initiation of sex is a form of service. The one who is initiating is demonstrating the willingness to hear their spouse and put their spouse’s interest (preference, desires) ahead of their own (Phil. 2:4).

As the marriage continues and the husband leads in initiating or inviting important conversations, then the activities within the marriage (including sex) remain acts of service done in love rather than demonstrations of authority done to exert control. Sex can be a good place to begin implementing this style of leadership for a newlywed couple, because (1) there can be a prompt, pleasurable experience to reinforce the pattern, (2) it can be an area where neither person has a knowledge advantage, and (3) it can force a couple to talk through insecurities which would affect many other areas of marriage.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.

How Christianity Works

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“That is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and science: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal (p. 82-3).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How much “how to” does the Christian faith and text of Scripture provide? C.S. Lewis begins to answer this question with the assertion, the Bible does not intend to be an exhaustive work – covering every detail of every task to which it calls a believer. Those who try define “the sufficiency of Scripture” to imply prescribing the details of life ask more of the sacred text than it contains. The logical conclusions of this assertion begin to become silly.

C.S. Lewis concludes his answer by asserting that the Bible is (or should be) the director, energizer, and Lord of all human learning. Applying these kinds of principles has been the center of fierce debate within Evangelical Christian Counseling. What role does the Bible play in developing a Christian psychology? Or, vice versa, what role should psychology play in developing a robust application of the Bible?

If the Bible did not intend to be exhaustive even on points it addresses extensively, how do we engage the field of counseling under the direction of Scripture, energized by Scripture, and submitting to the Lordship of Scripture while studying a complex field like counseling? As complicated as it sounds, every believer does it (or at least attempts to) every day.

I think we start by acknowledging that none of us do it perfectly and that there are no pure systems or exact principles for this type of work. We should also acknowledge that the more involved we become in the life of real people’s suffering and sin, the less clear the process will become. The more “lives” our subject; the less exact our science. Hence, chemists are more reliable than weathermen.

To answer the question better, we must examine the nature of Lordship as we experience it in real life. Lordship expresses itself through continual repentance and learning. I know Christ is my Lord not because I obey Him perfectly, but because each time I fail, I repent and learn more of His character.

Similarly, academic submission to Christ’s Lordship (expressed through submission to biblical teaching) will be expressed through repentance and learning. We will strive to know real, hurting people and use Scripture to help them. Sometimes we will apply Scripture in artificially rigid ways. Other times we will offer practical, “common sense” advice without thinking that it contradicts Scripture. It is inevitable that we will do one or the other (probably both) repeatedly.

The mark of a growing biblical counselor (and there is no other kind) is the willingness to repent and learn. The standard of repentance will always be the violation of biblical teaching. The content of learning will always be the fuller application of Scripture. However, the context of both repentance and learning will be the willingness to love others by placing ourselves in messy situations for which we do not have pre-scripted solutions.

That is how Christianity works. It provides the grace to allow us to repent and learn as we strive to do the things it calls us to do, love those it calls us to love, and carry out the mission it says should define our lives. It is in that reality of grace that “fuels” (i.e., source of energy or is the life for) all forms of the human arts and sciences are practiced by those who seek to be “Christian” at their trade.

Anger is a Rushed Emotion (Expanded Repost)

This expanded re-post was also posted at the blog for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

Different struggles have different characteristic traits. Anger comes with a sense of urgency. When anger goes bad, it is usually trying to correct too much too quickly. In the process, this pace and intensity of the change does as much or more damage than the wrong which triggered the anger. Think of a few classic examples.

Three Examples

A teenager back talks his/her parent. The parent is incensed with the disrespect and wants to put an end to it immediately. The result is smacking the teenager across the face.

A husband and wife are in an argument. One person is unable to follow what the other person says. The response to having to repeat what was already said is a derogatory slam for being “too stupid to follow a conversation… no wonder we can’t get along when this is who I have to talk to.”

A boss is feeling pressure at work, because last quarter’s numbers were low. Everyone knows it’s the economy, but no one knows how long it could take for that to turn around. So, instead, a tone of criticism and sarcasm fills the work environment in the name of “motivation.”

These brief snippets may share many things in common, but the point being illustrated is that they reveal the “rushed” nature of anger and that sinful anger does more damage than what triggers it. We think we are agents of peace and righteousness, but we are spreading dissension and dishonor.

Three Examples Revisited

A parent should correct disrespect, but “putting a child in their place” with random, sniper-esque violence does nothing to teach respect. The teenager grows to covet the power to treat people how you like and blame them if they don’t like your lack of self-control. Come to think of it, that is probably what started the argument in the first place.

It is reasonable for a spouse to expect to be understood. But when the ability to follow a conversation becomes the measure of whether you deserve the basics of mutual honor, then the foundations of trust and security have been eroded. Now fear and resentment will impede the ability to listen in future conversations and anger will escalate because, “You ‘never’ understand what I say.”

A boss does provide income for his/her employees by motivating them to perform at a level which consistently earns a profit for the company. But the residual impact of a negative environment and unrealistic expectations makes the term “success” a cruel fairy tale.

One Implication

So what’s the point? Consider this one take away (but feel free to brainstorm others). Godly anger recognizes the pace at which change can take place. Out of grace-filled, realistic love for the person, godly anger looks to influence change in a way that does not destroy or demean the person experiencing the change. Godly anger always wants redemption more than destruction.

The cliché application of this point is to “count to 10.” But if you don’t know why you’re counting to ten, then your tongue will just be 10 times sharper when you finally do speak. We pause because we want to accurately represent our God. We recognize the greatest offense is not the wrong we are responding to, but a willful misrepresentation of God in the name of righteousness.

Consider this picture of God’s response to injustice.

Exodus 34:6-7, “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (emphasis added).”

It might be better to memorize this passage and repeat it to yourself instead of counting. As you repeat it to yourself, add the following brief prayer, “Lord, I am tempted to be rushed to anger. Help me represent you in both mercy and justice, in what I say and what I don’t say. If I must choose between sin and silence give me the grace to choose silence until I can honor You.”

Three Examples Revised

Now the parent realizes fire should not be fought with fire. Dominance does not defeat disrespect; it makes dominance more attractive and increases the desire to attain it. The parent realizes the short cut of aggression is a lie like the short cuts offered to Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11). The parent would need to respond with strength marked by “power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).” But until such words and actions are found, representing God must be valued more than guarding personal respect.

With this in mind, the spouse realizes the pride and self-centeredness of his/her desire for efficiency and condemning words. Creating an environment where it is safe to misunderstand is essential to being consistently understood. But until the pace of his/her expectations slow down, this will seem like a foolish contradiction (1 Cor. 1:20-25).

Our boss can now realize that prolonged motivation by fear inevitably degenerates into despair. Fear is an effective motivator, but not one that our souls were made to perpetually endure. Like duct tape, fear fixes things, but only for a short time. Truth spoken in love (“Without increased production not all of us will keep our jobs”) can then be allowed to sustain what negativity always drove in the ground.

Join the Conversation

  • What other applications would you draw to help counter the rushed nature of anger?
  • As you consider your applications, reflect both on the situational (“in the moment”) and lifestyle changes that are necessary to combat this dynamic of sinful anger.
  • How do we protect and foster the good qualities associated with anger’s strong call to action?

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Anger” post which address other facets of this subject.

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 4)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

What’s a good way to honor my wife in sex? What common things are dishonorable?

There is a common saying that “sex starts in the kitchen.” The principle behind this statement applies this question as well. Honoring your wife during sex has a lot to do with whether you are honoring her before and after sex. The seven points are not exclusive to the time of intercourse.

1. Crude language – Referring to sex, body parts, or fore play in language that is vulgar is a way to dishonor your wife. Demanding that your wife use this language because you find it stimulating magnifies this dishonor. The question becomes, “What is vulgar?” For starters you should include any curse words, most of what you’ve heard in a locker room, and anything you learned from watching porn. Beyond this, anything your wife finds to be offensive. The general principle for our speech in Ephesians 4:29 applies to talking about sex with your spouse. The goal is to build up the other person and to give grace to the specific audience. You should seek to find a variety of ways to speak of sex that makes your wife feel affirmed, safe, and honored. This may vary from couple to couple.

2. Not understanding the affects of conflict – In general, men can recover from conflict to being ready for sex faster than women. For men, sex can often be the key indicator that “everything is okay, so let’s have sex so I can know this conflict is behind us.” Frequently, men try to initiate sex before their wife has recovered from a disagreement and then feel rejected which leads to the next conflict and extends the problem. “Now all you care about is sex. Why would I want to make love to someone like that?” Part of leading your family is to ensure that conflict has been resolved before trying to cover the issue up with a pleasurable distraction.

3. Not understanding the connection between sex and romance – Often men can mistake sex for romance. That is like mistaking the vacation with the road trip you travel to get there… and, yes, getting there should be half the fun. Over the course of a lifetime (and that is the perspective you should have on marriage and sex), if you allow sex to be a stand alone event of affection and affirmation it will wither into a briefer and briefer form of recreation that is increasingly less satisfying for both of you. This is not just a “woman thing.” Most men who have a relational affair say of their mistress “we just had so much more spark, energy, and affection in sex.” That is because the “forbidden period” in the growth of an affair forces a time period of romance that marriage does not have unless you are intentional about it. Implication: never dishonor your wife by ceasing to romance her.

4. Keeping sex stats – “We have only had sex one time this week. I thought if I did that extra work in the yard, you’d pay me back with a little action (see #1).” These kinds of measurements and bargains for sex are dishonoring and, therefore, ineffective. You should avoid them because they are dishonoring, not just because their ineffective. The point is not that frequency is unimportant, but that it is not the best measure of a good sex life. The more you place an emphasis on frequency in conflict, the more it distracts both of you from the things that would make sex enjoyable and, therefore, more frequent. It is better to ask open ended evaluative questions such as, “Are there ways we need to manage our time and schedule better to allow more time for each other romantically? Do I love you in ways that foster your desire to be with me intimately? Are there pressures you’re facing that distract you from being able to enjoy or think about intimacy?” This is Matthew 7:3-5 applied to marital conversations about sex.

5. Demanding sexual actions that feel demeaning – The principle from Ephesians 4:29 applies here as well. Pornography has introduced a variety of sexual actions performed by professional sex athletes into our social consciousness. Demanding a sexual activity that your wife is not or not yet comfortable with is dishonoring and eats away at the trust essential to a healthy sex life. It is good for a couple to “try new things” but you should be patient if your wife is cautious about this. A good book to help cultivate honoring variety is The Celebration of Sex by Doug Rosenau.

6. Demanding apparel that makes her feel uncomfortable – Sex is most enjoyable when your wife feels sexy. If your desire to see her in certain types of lingerie makes her feel self-conscious, then whatever additional arousal you experience will be at the expense of the mutual sexual satisfaction. If you demand that she wear things she is uncomfortable in, you begin to deliver the message that you don’t want to be with her sexually, but that you want her to be with the kind of woman who would wear what you like. Part of growing in love for your wife is to find appealing those things she feels attractive in so that she is affirmed and feels freer during foreplay and intercourse.

7. Bad initiation of sex – Pinching your wife on the butt and raising your eye brows is bad initiation. This is where finding affirming language to speak about sex is particularly important. You might ask if your wife is interested in a “date” or “rendezvous.” You might light a special candle in the bedroom or play a song you know she likes to alert her to your interest. Giving forethought to how you initiate and how she will receive that initiation is an important part of honoring your wife during sex.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.

Quacks, Cranks, and Moral Teachers

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that… The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see (p. 82).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Life is not as complicated as it is difficult. C.S. Lewis builds a defense of Christianity from a line of thought that is typically used to discredit Jesus – many other religions teach very similar moral principles. The point is that the uniqueness of Christianity is not in its moral code, because Christianity is not primarily about a moral code.

The point of Christianity begins with the last phrase of Lewis’ quote, “we are all so anxious not to see.” Our problem is not that we lack information (even that which can be found in a Holy Book). Neither is our problem that we lack self-discipline, self-love, or good examples.

The thing that amazes everyone of us (in our moments of “sanity”) is how much we resist seeing the thing we know to be true in moments those things are most applicable. We know our anger or anxiety will not only make a situation worse, but in a time of moral blindness, we do it anyway. We know that lying always complicates things, but in a pinch we fool ourselves into thinking we can get away with it.

The “inspired” part of Jesus’ moral teaching was not made evident by its superior list of do’s and don’ts.  Rather the inspiration of Jesus’ moral teaching is displayed in its unique ability to open willfully blind eyes to their own sinfulness.

Jesus was the Word he taught. As the God-man who came to live out righteousness we were supposed to live, Jesus was the mirror of true humanity that allows us to see ourselves rightly. We see this in even lesser examples. When we admire someone’s character we give their moral advice more weight. We see our failures in their example more clearly, their character builds trust that tears down our defenses, and we are inspired to believe that right living might be possible.

But we should not use this to conclude that it was merely Jesus’ example that made His teaching more powerful than other moral teachers. We are simply illustrating that Jesus’ example is part of what God uses to allow us to see ourselves rightly (even as we naturally resist).

Seeing our condition (willfully blind) allows us to understand the rest of Jesus’ teaching and person. Jesus came as a substitute. Jesus did not come to teach us to live right. Jesus came to live right in our place, die in our place, and call us to live the rest of our lives for something bigger than ourselves. That is more than information from a sage; it is transformation by a Savior.

When we understand Jesus’ moral teaching correctly, we understand why He was necessary. It is not the moral teaching that is unique; it is the view of human nature and the remedy that it unique. Most moral teacher’s messages can be classified as self-improvement. That is where Jesus parts ways with other “great moral teachers.”

Common grace allows great and average moral teachers to reach the same conclusions. It is the “quacks and cranks” (Lewis’ words) who fall out of step. Calvary grace is the unique element of Jesus’ moral teaching which allows His followers to move from good intentions to new lives with radical character transformation.

Spiritual Muscles by Paul Tripp

When God asks you to wait, what happens to your spiritual muscles? While you wait, do your spiritual muscles grow bigger and stronger or do they grow flaccid and atrophied? Waiting for the Lord isn’t about God forgetting you, forsaking you, or being unfaithful to his promises. It’s actually God giving you time to consider his glory and to grow stronger in faith. Remember, waiting isn’t just about what you are hoping for at the end of the wait, but also about what you will become as you wait.

Waiting always presents me with a spiritual choice-point. Will I allow myself to question God’s goodness and progressively grow weaker in faith, or will I embrace the opportunity of faith that God is giving me and build my spiritual muscles?

It’s so easy to question your belief system when you are not sure what God is doing. It’s so easy to give way to doubt when you are being called to wait. It’s so easy to forsake good habits and to take up habits of unfaith that weaken the muscles of the heart. Let me suggest some habits of unfaith that cause waiting to be a time of increasing weakness rather than of building strength.

Giving way to doubt. There’s a fine line between the struggle to wait and giving way to doubt. When you are called to wait, you are being called to do something that wasn’t part of your plan and is therefore something that you struggle to see as good. Because you are convinced that what you want is right and good, it doesn’t seem loving that you are being asked to wait. You can see how tempting it is then to begin to consider questions of God’s wisdom, goodness, and love.

Giving way to anger. It’s very easy to look around and begin to think that the bad guys are being blessed and the good guys are getting hammered (see Psalm 73). There will be times when it simply doesn’t seem right that you have to wait for something that seems to be obviously good to you. It will feel that you are being wronged, and when it does, it seems right to be angry. Because of this, it’s important to understand that the anger you feel in these moments is more than anger with the people or circumstances that are the visible cause for your waiting. No, your anger is actually anger with the One who is in control of those people and those circumstances. You are actually giving way to thinking that you have been wronged by Him.

Giving way to discouragement. This is where I begin to let me heart run away with the “If only _____,” the “What if _____,” and the “What will happen if _____.” I begin to give my mind to thinking about what will happen if my request isn’t answered soon, or what in the world will happen if it’s not answered at all. This kind of meditation makes me feel that my life is out of control. Rather than my heart being filled with joy, my heart gets flooded with worry and dread. Free mental time is spent considering my dark future, with all the resulting discouragement that will always follow.

Giving way to envy. When I am waiting, it’s very tempting to look over the fence and wish for the life of someone who doesn’t appear to have been called to wait. It’s very easy to take on an “I wish I were that guy” way of living. You can’t give way to envy without questioning God’s wisdom and his love. Here is the logic: if God really loves you as much as he loves that other guy, you would have what the other guy has. Envy is about feeling forgotten and forsaken, coupled with a craving to have what your neighbor enjoys.

Giving way to inactivity. The result of giving way to all of these things is inactivity. If God isn’t as good and wise as I once thought he was, if he withholds good things from his children, and if he plays favorites, then why would I continue to pursue Him? Maybe all those habits of faith aren’t helping me after all; maybe I’ve been kidding myself.

Sadly, this is the course that many people take as they wait. Rather than growing in faith, their motivation for spiritual exercise is destroyed by doubt, anger, discouragement, and envy, and the muscles of faith that were once robust and strong are now atrophied and weak.

The reality of waiting is that it’s an expression of God’s goodness. He is wise and loving. His timing is always right and His focus isn’t so much on what you will experience and enjoy, but on what you will become. He is committed to using every tool at His disposal to rescue you from yourself and to shape you into the likeness of His Son. The fact is that waiting is one of his primary shaping tools.

So, how do you build your spiritual muscles during the wait? Well, you must commit yourself to resisting those habits of unfaith and with discipline pursue a rigorous routine of spiritual exercise. What is the equipment in God’s gym of faith? Here are the things that he has designed for you to build the muscles of your heart and strengthen your resolve: the regular study of his Word; consistent godly fellowship; looking for God’s glory in creation every day; putting yourself under excellent preaching and teaching of Scripture; investing your quiet mental time in meditating on the goodness of God (i.e, as you are going off to sleep); reading excellent Christian books; and spending ample time in prayer. All of these things will result in spiritual strength and vitality.

Is God asking you to wait? What is happening to your muscles?

Taken from A Shelter in the Time of Storm by Paul David Tripp, © 2009, pp. 88-90.  Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 3)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

If sex is painful for my wife, how do I help her through it? How can I practically serve, respect and honor my wife on the first night?

This is a great question from a husband-to-be who gets what sex is about. I would go so far as to say, if you do not naturally ask this question (pre-martially about the first night or martially about each encounter thereafter), you need to pause here. Instead of reading further for an answer for a good question, pray that God would give you the heart of a servant-leader who would seek to serve his wife even in the midst of your own most intense pleasure.

To state the same thing a different way, the first way that you serve, respect, and honor your wife is to let her know that you are concerned about these kinds of questions. Foreplay and sex can be an intense time. You might get a “crazy look in your eye” as you get closer to enjoying your wife. It is important for her to know that you have mentally prepared for her comfort and enjoyment in that moment.

While the advice that I give below will be tailored to the first night and honeymoon, the ideas do not cease to be relevant once you get home and go back to work.

First, in the words of C.J. Mahaney, “We [husbands] must touch the hearts and minds of our wives before we touch their bodies (p. 53 in Sex Romance, and the Glory of God).” On your wedding night you are setting the stage for what your wife can expect of you before and during sex. I would suggest that you take a moment to take out a towel and wash her feet before you begin to consummate the marriage. Tell her, “I want you to feel safe with me in every way, including sex, and know my emphasis upon being a servant-leader is paramount in cultivating your trust.”

Second, always make sure that you allow appropriate time for foreplay so that your wife can physically prepare for sex. Men are physically prepared for sex as soon as they become erect. Women are not physically ready for sex until their intimate region is lubricated. This is why foreplay is more than “being romantic” to woo the heart of your wife. Foreplay is a time of protection when you protect the body of your wife from experiencing pain during intercourse.

Third, (this advice is more exclusively for the early days of marriage) you may only want to partially enter your wife when intercourse begins and ask when she is prepared for you to enter further. This may be frustrating and will require self-control, but remember, you are setting an expectation of safety and other-mindedness in these early days that will allow for a greater experience of freedom and pleasure as the marriage matures.

Fourth, (this advice too is more exclusively for the early days of marriage) to the degree that you are able to express control of it, you may want to climax early during intercourse. This allows whatever stretching or pain that occurs to be briefer. After you climax, you may want to remain inside your wife as the erection fades to allow for the stretching to continue but less intensely. This can also be a time when you learn the pleasure that comes from being together and verbally affirm one another in the midst of an experience that is new to both of you.

Fifth, as you progress through the honeymoon and life, the two of you will learn what frequency of sex is mutually desired and allows for the optimal enjoyment. You can provide protection by openly talking about this with your wife without defensiveness or imposing certain numerical expectations. On the honeymoon, your wife may not be able to withstand the same frequency of sex she will enjoy later in marriage. However, if you set the pattern of demanding or pouting about frequency, the tone will be set that you care more about your pleasure than the marriage or her personally.

Sixth, talk about things you enjoy with your wife other than sex. It is easy for sex, because it is new, to dominate your conversation and thoughts. The danger is that you begin to give the impression that you loved your wife as a person during the courtship and now love her as a body during marriage. Always make sure that you delight in the full character and activity of your bride and not just her body.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.