The Sacred Search, Gary Thomas
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Gary Thomas

The Sacred Search

Moses Wemegah
Moses Wemegahje citiraoпрошлог месеца
1

A TALE OF TWO TEARS

The faithful pastor’s face grew taut as he told me, “Let me be honest with you. My marriage has constituted the biggest cross of my life.”

The tears that slipped out of his eyes and rolled down his cheeks provided a sobering picture of the weight this man carries with him every day of his life. Instead of launching him into newer and bigger opportunities, instead of providing encouragement and sustenance and hope, his marriage is acting like dead weight. God continues to use him, but he walks his journey with a rock in his shoe that hurts him every step of the way.

A thirtysomething woman looked into my eyes and let tears of another sort flow freely as she spoke of her husband’s care for her. She’s had some health-related issues to contend with, and life has not been easy, but her husband has been another kind of rock, a source of tremendous encouragement and acceptance: “Next to Jesus, my husband has been the greatest joy in my life. I can’t even imagine where I’d be without him or how I would have faced all that I have without him by my side.”

Both of these scenarios are true. I’m sorry that they may reinforce gender stereotypes—the male leader and the woman needing support. Because they are based in fact I can’t, with integrity, change them. Look past that for a moment to see the real-life frustration and joy, respectively, that each person feels. One person is crying tears of pain, working as hard as he can to keep his marriage together, but his relationship is compared to a cross. It saps his strength, but he perseveres, because he knows it’s the right thing to do.

The other person is also crying, but not because she is struggling through a difficult relationship. She weeps because she is grateful for a man who loves her so well, so wonderfully, that she can’t imagine life without him.

Tears of pain and tears of joy.

A marriage compared to bearing the cross.

A union compared to a foretaste of heaven.

Ten years after you’re married, what kind of tears will you be crying? Will they be the stinging tears of pain or warm tears generated by joy? The reality is, every marriage has plenty of both kinds of tears, but it’s also true that some marriages are marked primarily by pain while others are marked primarily by joy. No marriage is easy, but some marriages build each partner up, while others tear each partner down. Every marriage takes time and effort, but some marriages sap the spouses’ strength, while others generate joy and enthusiasm and intimacy.

I’m writing this book because I want you to cry tears of joy on your tenth anniversary. I want you to be able to say, with all sincerity, “Next to becoming a Christian, marrying _______ is the best decision I’ve ever made.”

But here’s the thing that might shock you: the answer to this question may well be driven more by why you get married than by who you marry. It’s not that the “who” doesn’t matter (in fact, it matters very much); it’s just that asking and settling the “why” question first will set you up to make a wise choice about the “who.” Why do you want to get married? That’s what you need to ask before you decide who to marry.

It’s a particularly important question because if you make one bad financial investment, you can always start over, but biblical marriage is a one-shot deal. Many Christians believe there are a couple of biblically “accepted” causes for divorce, but these are limited and severe. In the vast majority of cases, should you become disappointed in your choice, your obligation as a believer will be to work it out instead of walking out and starting over. This fact alone makes it doubly worth the time, effort, and even the heartache of a breakup for believers to make sure they’re making a wise decision before they enter into marriage. Once you get married, every evening, every weekend, every holiday, every morning will be marked, for good or for ill, by that relationship.

The person you marry is the last person you’ll see every night before you go to sleep. Their face is the first one you will see when you wake up in the morning. Their words will encourage or discourage you, their humor will make you laugh in amusement or cry in shame. Their body will pleasure you or threaten you. Their hands will hold you or hurt you. Their presence will be a healing balm or a reminder of all that could have been.

Many years ago, when speaking at an event in California, I slipped out of a hotel ballroom in order to pick up an extra shirt at an outside mall (poor packing). Surrounded by beautiful people in a beautiful setting, I longed more than I can describe to see my wife walking toward me. I had a fantasy about my wife, but there was nothing sexual about it. I just wanted to see her walking out of that mass of people and smiling in my direction, to know she would spend the rest of the weekend with me. It was an impossible fantasy—Lisa was a thousand miles away, just north of Seattle, caring for our children, but there wasn’t a sight in the world that would have given me more joy that day than to see Lisa—my wife—walking toward me.

I want you to have moments like that—where, even when you’re apart, you wish you could be together. I don’t want you to be like so many couples I talk to whose fantasy is watching their spouses walk away.

It changes you as a person when a woman who calls you her pastor is crying on the phone because she’s worried that your work with her husband will cause him to stay. She’s exhausted by her marriage, disappointed to the extreme, ready for it to be over with—but she wants to honor God, so she and her husband meet with you. She then listens to you talk and thinks God might actually use you to convince her husband to fully repent and change his ways, and that’s what causes her to break down. She and her husband had a good nine months of dating, but there hasn’t been a good nine-month stretch in their entire ten-year marriage, and his divorcing her would feel like liberation.

I don’t want that for you. I don’t want you ever to be at a point where you think your happiness as a spouse depends upon my failure as a pastor to convince your spouse to stay. But, friends, that’s real life for a lot of couples. They rushed the process or made the decision for poor reasons and now are fighting the consequences every day of their lives.

LIFE-GIVING LOVE

So let’s briefly introduce the “why” of marriage to set you up to make a wise choice about the “who.” A home established on Matthew 6:33—“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (NKJV)—is a glorious thing. While this verse contains a command, it’s also an exciting promise of a rich and meaningful life. When husband and wife are committed in Christ, growing together in the Lord, supporting each other in their spiritual walks, raising children in the fear of the Lord, loving each other out of reverence for God, joy abounds and miracles happen. Selfish people become servants. Self-centered children grow up to become workers in God’s kingdom. Strangers become intimate friends. Daily life is filled with the drama of kingdom building. There are plenty of mistakes, lots of repenting, times of frustration, sickness, and even doubts. But in the end, God’s presence prevails, people are transformed, kingdom work is accomplished, and trials are overcome. If two people join themselves around this mission—if they make their marital choice based on the best person with whom they can accomplish this mission—they are far more likely to have a fulfilling and soul-building marriage.

On the other hand, I’ve witnessed how miserable people can make each other when they live for themselves. Though their initial sexual attraction might have been off the charts, it is usually only a matter of months until they are saying and doing awful, awful things to each other, so awful that they will call a pastor on the phone, someone they don’t even know, because they are so desperate to find another way to live. There was a time when they couldn’t live without each other; every second, they had to be together. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Now they can’t bear to live together. When they’re in the same room, or in the same car, or on the same telephone call, they can’t stop fighting.

It’s made me realize that the old cliché is all too true: a good marriage is the closest two people will ever come to heaven this side of eternity; a bad marriage is the closest two people in an affluent society will ever come to hell.

Such problems usually erupt from trying to build a life together without purpose, without mission, without something that not only establishes a connection but keeps you caring about each other for the next fifty to sixty years.

Can I be honest with you? There isn’t a person alive who can keep you enthralled for the next five or six decades. If they’re really funny, really attractive, and you’re really infatuated, you can be enthralled for a few years, but selfish people—even wealthy selfish people, or beautiful selfish people, or famous selfish people—eventually get bored with each other, and the very relationship that once gave them security and life feels like prison and death. No matter how intensely you feel in love now, the same thing will happen to you if you get married without a shared mission.

I want you to have a spiritually enriching marriage, a marriage that spawns life, vibrancy, intimacy, a lifetime of memories with your best friend, and the overwhelming joy of creating a family together. Family life is such a good life, and intimate marriage is such an amazing gift. The friendship that results from facing all seasons of life together, praying together, raising kids together, serving the Lord together, having fun, having sex, suffering heartaches and heartbreaks, overcoming setbacks and learning to deal with disappointments, growing together through all of them, creates a bond that no initial sexual attraction or romantic infatuation could ever hope to match.

The reward for making a wise marital choice is so tremendous that I don’t want you to miss it. The consequences of making a foolish choice can be so painful and lasting that I don’t want you to have to endure them.

I cannot overstate how crucial it is to be cautious and discerning in making such an important decision. You don’t want to miss out, do you? This is not a time for romanticized foolishness. If you remain rooted in Christ, fully engage your mind, and draw on all your resources—God’s guidance, Scripture, your family, your church, your sensible friends—and approach this decision with all intention, purpose, and wisdom, you are far more likely to enter a rich, satisfying, and soul-building marriage.

Ask yourself: “Ten years from now, what kind of tears do I want to be crying? Tears of joy, or tears of pain? Do I want to be in a marriage that lifts me up, or one that drags me down? A union marked by a shared partnership, or one where we’re hiding from and hurting each other on a regular basis?”

Stick with me, and I’ll do everything I can to help you cry tears of joy.

STUDY QUESTIONS

1. Describe a marriage you respect: what is it about the couple that makes you admire their relationship?

2. Ten years after you’re married, how do you hope someone will describe your marriage relationship? Write out the “ideal” description of the relationship you hope to have.

3. Describe some of the marriages you’ve seen that you definitely do not want to model your own marriage on. What attributes of those relationships do you hope to avoid?

4. Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why do I want to get married?” Why do you want to get married?

5. How do you think getting married with the intention of “seeking first the kingdom of God” will change the way you pursue someone to marry, as well as the type of person you might consider?
Moses Wemegah
Moses Wemegahje citiraoпрошлог месеца
2

THE GREAT EXCEPTION

Can you help me out here? There must be a version of the Bible out there I haven’t read yet, one that has a mysterious exception clause.

I thought I had the bases covered in my research. I’ve checked out the King James, the English Standard Version, the New King James, the New International Version (both the 1984 and the 2011 editions), the Message, the New Living Translation, the New American Standard, and many others. None of them—not one—contains the exception clause I’m looking for, so if you find it, will you please email me and let me know which version has it? Because apparently it’s the version many singles read.

The exception clause I’m referring to is found in Matthew 6:33. Here’s how it reads in the New King James Version: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

The mysterious version I’m looking for, the one I see so many people following and memorizing, goes something like this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, except when you’re choosing someone to marry. In that case, you should follow your emotions, insist on a thrilling romantic attraction and overall relational compatibility that makes the relationship fun, and then all these things will be added unto you.”

Let me ask you: do you trust Jesus? Do you believe that He truly has your best interests at heart, that He would never mislead you—that if you follow His advice, you’re setting yourself up for the best, most meaningful, and most fulfilling life imaginable? Can you count on Him knowing what He’s talking about? Do you think it’s possible that the second most important decision you’ll ever make—who you marry—should be based on Jesus’s fundamental agenda for our lives: seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness? Do you believe every significant decision we make should be run through this grid? If our choice of marital partner is an exception, what wouldn’t qualify as an exception? If Jesus’s words aren’t relevant for such a crucial decision, why would they have any importance in any lesser decision?

I want to make a promise to you: if you will seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and let that agenda drive your decision regarding whom you choose to marry and refuse to compromise on that, you will set yourself up for a much more fulfilling, spiritually enriching, and overall more satisfying marriage. The degree to which you compromise on this verse is the degree to which you put your future satisfaction in jeopardy and open wide the door to great frustration and even regret.

WHY WE MARRY

If you’re under thirty years old, your generation is the first generation in about a hundred years not to assume that you need to call the phone company when you move into a new apartment or house. In my day, that was one of the first things we did—at college, and then afterward. We “hooked up the phones” so that people could get in touch with us.

Cell phones have demolished that assumption. Most people under thirty don’t even have what used to be referred to as “land lines.” If someone wants to reach you, they have your cell phone; why pay for a line inside your house?

And yet every month, millions of older people who own cell phones still pay thirty to forty dollars to maintain a home phone line, just because they always have.

You can laugh at your parents for not getting how the world has moved on, but there are a few things singles are susceptible to, things you take for granted, that just aren’t true either. Even so, you keep on doing them, because everyone you know blindly accepts certain assumptions—such as the belief that you should seek romantic excitement and sexual chemistry above everything else when it comes to choosing someone to marry.

Our culture is still stuck on viewing marriage through the lens of happiness first and foremost—defining happiness by romantic intensity and sexual chemistry. Since the 1960s, sociologists have found a steady progression of young American men and women who demand more and more of love—yet we’re getting less and less out of our marriages. In 1967, a study of college-age women found that 76 percent of women said they would marry someone if the man had every trait they were looking for, even if they didn’t feel “romantic love” toward them. In more recent research, 91 percent of women said “absolutely not.”1 That’s a huge shift. People have been pursuing such pairings for several generations now, and I’m asking you to be an astute and honest observer: how’s that working out for us?

For starters: how many marriages do you see that are truly happy? I’m not talking about marriages that are less than three years old. Tell me—how many people do you know who have been married ten years or longer whose marriage you envy or even admire?

Notice the trend: most people marry on the basis of perceived happiness, but few remain very happy for very long. And yet, every year, hundreds of thousands of couples think they can be different, so they base their decision on the same premise: we “feel” something special, we seem to be happy together, we’re generally compatible, so let’s get married.

How many failed marriages will it take for us to see that this approach just isn’t working? Make this personal: why do you think it will be any different for you than it has been for the millions of other couples who have already tried this approach?

Are you willing to even consider that the Hollywood version of “falling in love” might just possibly be leading people astray? That, as powerful as romance is, it might not be the best reason to get married?

Here’s just one quick example of how sexual chemistry, apart from any other consideration, can lead us astray. Psychologically, women are more likely to experience romantic love with dominant men, even though dominant men typically demonstrate less ability to express the kind of companionship, relational skills, and emotional attachment that women ultimately desire in a lifelong mate. In other words, women, if you simply follow your feelings, you are more likely to fall in love with a guy who will thrill you for twelve to eighteen months as a boyfriend and then frustrate you for five to six decades as a husband.

Guys, on the other hand, are more inclined to experience romantic love with women they are attracted to physically, yet physical appearance is the thing most likely to change in a person’s life. Marriage isn’t about being young together; it’s about growing old together—and bodies change as we get older. If you don’t marry with that in mind, you’re going to make a major mistake—perhaps the biggest mistake of your life.

What draws most of us into marriage is rarely the ingredient that serves long-term happiness in marriage. Understanding this alone will help you make a wiser choice.

MAYBE BEING IN LOVE ISN’T ENOUGH

I had a sobering conversation with a woman my age. She’s been divorced twice. She was getting serious with another guy, but things had gotten rocky and hurtful. It was so bad, her boyfriend made her cry a couple of times a week. He could be forceful, say mean things, and though he wasn’t physically violent, he could scare her. There were, of course, several positive aspects about the relationship. He could be thoughtful, supportive, occasionally even poetic, but the negative things were, interestingly enough, the very same issues that had led to the breakup of her first two marriages, so you might think they’d be red flags for her. Why would she want to enter into another relationship that would make her miserable? To make matters worse, she wasn’t sure she could trust him—in fact, she’d overheard him telling another woman on the phone that he still loved her. On its own, this seemed quite a devastating analysis, but here’s the thing: she was still in the relationship.

I asked what seemed like some obvious questions: “Why are you still with him? What’s in this for you? Why do you put up with this?”

Her response was immediate: “Because I’m in love with him. I genuinely and deeply love him.”

I paused to set my tone on “as gentle as possible.” This was a minefield, but I was afraid that if I didn’t address the situation, this woman could make yet another serious mistake after already experiencing two blown marriages.

“Were you in love with your first husband?” I asked.

“Definitely. I was devastated when he cheated on me and then left me.”

“And what about your second husband?”

“Yes. It was different, I think, because he fed some ego needs, but of course, I was in love with him.”

“And yet both marriages failed.”

“That’s right.”

I took a deep breath and tried be as gentle as I could be when I said, “Maybe feeling like you’re in love with someone isn’t enough of a reason for you to get married. Maybe you need to set the bar higher, find something more.”

You won’t hear a character’s friend say this in a romantic comedy. Taylor Swift won’t sing this, Eminem won’t rap it, and Suzanne Collins won’t write it, but it’s true: just because you’re “in love” with someone doesn’t mean you should seriously consider marrying them. The next chapter will explain why I believe this is true, but for now I’m just throwing it out there and asking you to at least consider that romantic attraction, as wonderful and as emotionally intoxicating as it can be, can actually lead you astray as much as it can help you. I’m not talking it down; “connecting” with someone on that level is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it, revel in it, even write a song about it if you want, but don’t bet your life on it.

I’ve seen infatuation lead far more people astray than into satisfying marriages. I’ve seen people fail to pursue a relationship, even though they respected, admired, and loved another person, because there didn’t seem to be that over-the-top, make-my-knees-weak sexual chemistry. And I’ve watched people rush into a relationship that any objective observer could see had some serious problems on the horizon, but the feelings were so intense, it all felt so right, that two people were willing to bet their lives and their future kids’ happiness on it.

I believe both Scripture and science testify that making a lifetime decision about who to marry primarily on the basis of romantic attraction is a very foolish thing to do.

STUDY QUESTIONS

1. If you personally know anyone who has gotten married recently, discuss why you think they got married. Were their decisions based on good reasons? What can you learn from watching others?

2. Do you agree with Gary that Matthew 6:33 should drive your pursuit of a marriage partner? Why or why not?

3. What would make you consider someone as a potential marriage partner? What would definitely disqualify a person in your mind?

4. What was your reaction to Gary’s statement, “Just because you’re ‘in love’ with someone doesn’t mean you should seriously consider marrying them”?

5. How can you and your friends question your assumptions about why you should or shouldn’t be interested in someone as “marriage material”? What assumptions do you need to question? What will it take to do that?

NOTE

1 Debra Lieberman and Elaine Hatfield, “Passionate Love: Cross-Cultural and Evolutionary Perspectives,” in The New Psychology of Love, ed. Robert Sternberg and Karin Weis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 280.
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She is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”
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You can take this too far; as I already stated, I’m not suggesting you marry someone in whom you have no sexual interest at all. But the first priority, according to Scripture, is to find a spiritually compatible person, and then, under that umbrella, find a sexually compatible person. If you reverse those two categories, you can expect to find short-term satisfaction at the risk of long-term frustration.
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Focusing on marriage too much is, ironically enough, the best way to kill it
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Men and women, find a partner with whom you can seek first the kingdom of God, someone who inspires you toward righteousness, and when you do, “all these things will be added to you.”
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Don’t worry about finding someone to marry. If you just focus on God, He’ll bring someone along at just the right time.”
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We need something much more lasting on which to base a lifelong commitment—one that even has eternal implications
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The Bible tells young men to search for a woman of character; it reminds these men that while looks won’t last, godly character improves with age. It says nothing—absolutely nothing—about “feelings.” It even warns against putting too much emphasis on physical attraction or social grace. Instead, this verse makes a woman’s faith the defining characteristic of her suitability to be an excellent wife.
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Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Let the pursuit of marriage be one of joy, one you undertake with your closest eternal companion—God Himself—walking with you
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Such individuals marry on an infatuation binge without seriously considering character, compatibility, life goals, family desires, spiritual health, and other important concerns
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When a woman is motivated by kindness, compassion, generosity, and understanding; when she is good at forgiving (because I guarantee you, you’re going to mess up); when she is desirous to serve as Jesus models service, she’s going to be a very satisfying sexual partner and an overall kind wife as well
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Find a godly wife who is motivated by God, not just her own desires. God will never stop loving you, God will never stop caring about you, so if a woman is motivated by God and listens to God, she’ll keep loving you, too (including sexually), because she’ll get that love and motivation from God. And, not to be mean or anything, but there are times when you won’t be all that lovable. If your future wife isn’t motivated by God, there’s not enough about you to keep her interested.
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Men who are filled with the Spirit—they are alive to God, and God is active in them—and men who are full of wisdom. You won’t regret making a choice founded on that basis. Can this honestly be said about your boyfriend? “He’s a man full of the Spirit and wisdom”? If not, are you sure you want to settle
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Choose … men … who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.”
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You’re looking for character, not status; you want to find a man who is solid in his core, not just someone who has a solid title
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Falling in love can be a very dangerous game. Be careful who you play it with.
Coreen Robbertze
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work could be accomplished by two well-matched people working in harmony to seek the kingdom of God, grow in righteousness, and fulfill their unique calling in Christ.
Coreen Robbertze
Coreen Robbertzeje citiraoпре 4 месеца
have no idea how much kingdom time is wasted on ill-matched people trying to make their marriages a little less insufferable. I want you to gain a positive picture—a vision for how much kingdom
Coreen Robbertze
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When you accept a cross, you’re limiting your ability to carry other crosses, so make doubly sure you know what you’re doing.
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