Monday, November 30, 2015

The Habits of Marriage: Establishing a Prayer Time

We said last Monday that we wanted to share five good habits for your marriage. A habit should be a regular practice, something you naturally do. While some habits might be developed subconsciously (biting your nails, for example), a good habit usually has to be fostered, developed, cultivated. In short, good habits come from intentional choices we make every day. 

Today I want to post about establishing a prayer time with your spouse. 

For some, this topic might sound challenging. You might think: We’re too busy; our schedules are off—I’m coming when he’s going; and by the time we get to the end of the day, I’m too exhausted to pray. If that’s you—I have some encouragement…

But others of you (wives, especially), might think the idea sounds amazing and spiritual—and now if only I could get my husband to participate, right? 

For our wedding, someone gave us a devotional book for married couples. I thought that sounded fantastic—Yes, let’s do devotions and hold hands and pray together, every. night. forever. 

But, like most of our first few years of marriage, myexpectations were ridiculous and unattainable (even for myself). I had a picture of what spiritual looked like, and we hardly measured up. 

For one, I could never get Howell to lead, no matter how much I nagged. What I didn’t know then is that my husband didn’t lead because I was busy playing boss. What I also didn’t know then is that he felt inadequate to lead because when I “reprimanded” him for being such a “terrible spiritual leader,” I was actually reinforcing what he already believed about himself. 

I thought having a prayer time with your spouse meant hours of praying together, praying in the spirit, pouring our hearts out. If the prayer time wasn’t long and if it wasn’t emotionally satisfying, then it was not enough

No wonder we weren’t consistent. No wonder Howell felt defeated. Who can perform like that every single day? 

I use the word perform intentionally—what I was looking for in Howell, and what I was doing, was in fact a performance. 

You see, the first step to establishing a prayer time with your spouse is establishing your own GENUINE, personal prayer time. 

And the first step to establishing your own personal prayer time is receiving by faith your status as a son or daughter, your righteousness, your new identity in Christ. 

When you see yourself as He sees you, you don’t have to perform for Him. Your works don’t please Him. Jesus already did that—on the cross; it’s a finished work. He’s already pleased. 

When you see yourself as He sees you, you don’t have to earn His love. Your works don’t increase His love for you; neither does your lack of devotion—the missed bible study, the forgotten prayer time—diminish His love for you. His love is immeasurable and complete; it already IS.

For Howell and I both, when we began to realize who we are in Christ, our righteousness, our status in His Kingdom, His love for us—then the way we approach Him changed, too. 

Prayer becomes a conversation, not a duty. 

Prayer becomes a way of life, not a task list. 

And a prayer time becomes less about an hour of our day and more about the daily seconds of each hour.

Dear friends—whether you’ve been married a long time or not, you won’t create a genuine habit of praying with your spouse until you have first created a habit of spending time with Your Father, Your Savior, and Your Helper. 

Not only did my personal prayer life change from performance to genuine connection, but also I stopped putting expectations on what Howell’s prayers should “look like.” As I began to encourage him, to praise him when he led us, to thank him when he prayed over me, he began to grow in confidence to lead. The problem was never Howell’s ability to lead; the problem was I needed to get out of the way if I wanted him to step into his God-given role. When I did, he did. 

And as he grew in learning who he is in Christ, he grew in leading our family. I didn’t do that. God did it in him. 

So if the first step is developing your own personal prayer time, then the next challenge might be to create time to pray with your spouse too. 

I understand busyness. I really do. You have to find what works for you and your partner. If you are both up in the mornings, pray together then—before the kids get up, before you go to work, before the craziness sets in. If you have different morning routines, then pray together at night—after the kids are in bed, after you’ve finished your day. 

Personally, we have different morning routines. We spend time with the Lord on our own in the mornings. And we pray together at night before we go to bed.

Some nights we pray longer. We share what God’s doing in our hearts. We press into where His Spirit is leading us. We desperately listen for Him to respond. 

But some nights, we don’t. Some nights we pray for less than a minute, and some nights, we forget to pray. (That’s okay, too! ;-))

Praying together doesn’t have to be dramatic—as I once thought it did. :) It doesn’t have to take a long time either. 

In fact, my busy-friend, my prayer is that if you put expectations on yourself for what praying together should look like, or if you feel burdened by praying together because you already feel like a failure—ask your Father to show you how He sees you, how He sees your marriage. I promise you’ll find that He’s pleased with you because of Jesus, and He is FOR you and your marriage. He’s not disappointed in you, and praying together or not praying together does NOT increase or diminish His love for you in any way. 

Let that be established in your heart! A good habit is not about fueling works righteousness. 

But we wouldn’t be emphasizing this topic if we didn’t deeply feel that it matters, so here are four reasons praying with your spouse is a good habit to cultivate: 

  • When you pray with your spouse, it’s hard to hold on to any unforgiveness or bitterness that is poisoning your marriage.  
  • When you pray with your spouse, you confirm the hedge of protection that God places around you to protect your marriage from the enemy.
  • When you pray with your spouse, you connect your hearts on a spiritual level.
  • When you pray with your spouse, your prayers of agreement move mountains in the Spirit realm. 

Creating the habit of a prayer time looks different for everyone, so don’t put yourself or your marriage in a box. And you or your spouse may be at different places spiritually—that’s okay too. Don’t put your spouse in a box either.

But when you can come together and pray—if not daily, then weekly or monthly—I promise you’ll see God move in your heart and move in areas of your life where you seek Him. 

We’ve said, commitment plus consistency equals results. Practicing this first habit will produce positive results in your marriage.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thankful Heart: Remembering God's Goodness

Happy Thanksgiving—a day of gratitude! 

I blogged last Thursday about how my heart is full of gratitude, and that theme continues to run through my mind. 

At Holiday Happening last week, I bought this sign to hang in our living room:

I love putting reminders in front of me to be grateful, to find joy, to have a thankful heart. In Psalm 84, it says that God withholds no good thing from us, and in James, we’re told that He gives good gifts. He recently told me that He actually delights in our asking Him for gifts—for the desires of our heart. 

What good Father doesn’t love to lavish His children with gifts—with unexpected surprises that bring squeals of joy? 

The hard lesson—at least for me—has been the process of asking for gifts, believing God for answered prayers, but not putting expectations on Him.  

If your expectations are in the thing you’re asking for rather than in Him, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. 

If you feel disappointed in God—that He’s holding out on you or that He has not delivered on His word, then your expectations are in the thing you’ve asked Him for rather than in Him. 

In February of this year, I heard Danny Silk preach in Amarillo, and his sermon topic was Expectation versus Expectancy. He called God’s goodness, His blessings, “The River of Expectancy.” We should flow in this river, operate in this river—and anticipate, always, that God has good things in store for us. 

Again—He is a good Father. He withholds No. Good. Thing. And He delights in our asking. 

But expectations are like a box that we put God in when we tell Him to perform or else. When we put demands on Him, when we restrain how or what He can do in our lives, when we put restrictions on the miracle—that it must look like this and not that—we have created expectations. 

We’ve moved out of the river of expectancy and into the quicksand of disappointment. 

Howell and I have several areas in our life where we are believing God will move. If you’ve read Mark Batterson’s The Prayer Circle, he calls it circling your prayers—your specific requests. My favorite quote from Mark’s book is that the things we’re circling must not become ‘to do’ lists. (Again—that’s like a box of expectations.) Instead, he says, we have to pray for God’s will, God’s way. I love that! 

Putting expectancy versus expectations into practice is harder than it sounds—or maybe, for some, it's as hard as it sounds. :) Last May, I asked God, “How do I pray into these areas of our life, how do I continue asking and believing to see You move, to see a miracle, without putting You in a box or putting my hope and expectation in the thing?”

His answer to me? 

God’s goodness is inherent in His nature—He is a GOOD GOD. And when we remember His goodness, we remain grateful. We remember the blessings. We remember His faithfulness, His answers, His gifts.

Remembering God's goodness is the antidote to hopelessness.  A grateful heart overcomes feelings of disappointment.

What are you believing God for today? Have you put Him in a box with expectations—a timeline or a set of parameters in which He is supposed to perform?  Or is your faith—the foundation of your belief—rooted in gratitude and in the inherent goodness of God? 

I encourage you, friend, on this day of Thanksgiving—and every day, have a thankful heart.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Habits of Marriage: Introduction

Since Laura and I have started blogging about marriage, we’ve covered several good techniques and attitudes to use in your marriage on a daily basis. But what does all that mean if you only use it for a few days or even weeks before you fall back into old habits? In our marriage, I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to revert to my old ways; once things are going great, I get complacent. Being an extraordinary spouse requires the same amount of effort and determination over time that being great at anything else requires. Seeing results over the long term requires two things, commitment and consistency.

Commitment + Consistency = Results

When something is important to us, commitment is the easy part. Every spouse wants to have a wonderful marriage. If you didn’t want a good marriage, you wouldn’t have chosen this person to spend the rest of your life with you. Having a wonderful marriage isn’t that easy though, which is why I’m writing about being married and not about choosing a spouse. So what does commitment mean in marriage? It means being unselfish. Most people, whether they want to admit it or not, are generally selfish in their marriage. All of us are selfish at least some of the time, but being conscious of it and committed to change is key. 

What is commitment without consistency, though? I have a personal goal of being healthy. I am committed to exercising daily, but I don’t do it consistently, so I don’t see results. A study at the University College of London showed that it took 66 days of doing something consecutively to create a habit. That is consistency. You must remind yourself of what your goals are and why you are trying to accomplish it. Let’s be real: having an extraordinary marriage will be very difficult, seemingly impossible.  But great marriages exist. We’ve all seen at least one. So what’s the key to consistency?

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it takes one foundational choice: spending time with and trusting in the Lord. As imperfect people, we lose patience and steadfastness, and as a result, we lose our consistency. We get the energy, patience, and fortitude to continue toward the goal of a wonderful marriage only when the Holy Spirit is our source. His will is for you to have a wonderful marriage, and with discipline and commitment, He will help you stay consistent with good habits. 

We want to spend the next few Mondays blogging about 5 Good Habits for Marriage:

Remember, commitment plus consistency equals results. Hopefully, you are firmly committed to your marriage, and through the Holy Spirit, you can learn to be consistent and create good habits for developing an extraordinary marriage.