Sometimes in life you just need to take a step back and look your circumstances with a fresh perspective or at least make an attempt to get things organized. Life is busy for all of us and full of uncertainty, doubt and at times chaotic. Most often it’s really not anybodies fault but just the result of not knowing how to say, no. At other times it is our fault, in that we find ourselves chasing after things that always seem just outside our reach and oft-times it’s just as well. When we find ourselves chasing after the things of this world… money, power, position and pleasure…often, even if we overtake them, there is little in the way of pleasure or satisfaction. Maybe for a time you may enjoy the perceived benefits of your accomplishments but ultimately, in this world, someone else will want what you have and the chase begins all over again.
The answer is not, and no where does Scripture teach, that we should be without ambition or cavalier about our lives. Quite to the contrary, both the Old and New Testament testify to God’s desire that we should work hard and be dedicated to His purposes. The issue is whether or not we are busy at what produces real happiness and satisfaction, while at the same time, glorifies God. At the end of Ezra chapter two and the first verse of chapter three we are told what the people of God did once they arrived back in Jerusalem to begin the work of rebuilding the temple. We are told that they numbered over 50,000 and that doesn’t include the thousands of head of livestock they brought with them. It kind of reminds of the old Hollywood westerns that depicted cattle drives and wagon trains all headed west and the settlers all looking to stake their claim and settle in a new land, hoping to build a new and prosperous life. It most likely looked more like those in the movie Exodus, depicted in the 1956 classic film by the same name. In any event there was much to do before the construction of the temple could begin and Ezra tells us that it took months for them to settle in and get their houses in order.
Before we start the work of rebuilding or repairing the relationship with our husband or wife we should begin by taking a step back, engage in a little honest self-examination and “put our own house in order (Isaiah 38:1).” Just as with an old house, over time we often neglect or ignore known problems, ones that if we had identified or hadn’t ignored in the first place wouldn’t be contributing to our larger problem in the first place. Sure, sometimes things come up suddenly and without warning but for the most part, there is usually a warning sign or two. Let’s look at a few examples.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapters four and five, he identifies three basic problems that cause the most harm in a marital relationship; they are sexual immorality, greed and anger. Any of these three can lead to other related problems such as, “bitterness, rage, brawling (physical violence) and slander, along with every form of malice (4:31).” The reason I say that you need to address these before going to your spouse to begin the reconciliation process is that these are your problems…your sins… not your spouse’s. Put your own house in order first and then seek forgiveness and reconciliation, if you don’t it will only cause more enmity and delay the process of rebuilding. This isn’t my opinion, but what Paul tells us to do, “Get rid of all of them!” Then begin the rebuilding and restoration by “being kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you (vs. 32).”
Sexual immorality or infidelity is a big one in any marriage and is not hard to identify. It certainly doesn’t require a great deal of introspection in order to come to the conclusion that it is wrong and must stop immediately. The more subtle forms are pornography, usually the on-line variety, fantasizing and masturbation. Sometimes, the world will tell you that it’s alright because it’s victimless, as long as nobody gets hurt, or in other words you either lie about it or share in the guilt! This is, of course, nonsense. Even if your spouse said it was alright, which is highly unlikely, it is still a sin against God and will eventually lead to greater and greater sin and chaos in your marriage. Another sexual sin that is often overlooked is when you withhold intimacy with your spouse either for selfish reasons or as a means of punishment. Again, Paul addresses this with no ambiguity; it is wrong and must not continue (1Corinthian 7:3-6).
Greed is not hard to identify either, it is simply when you want something that someone else has and don’t care how you get it. Sometimes it’s holding on to something you already have and are unwilling to share with those who are in need. There is nothing wrong with having much; only if you aren’t willing use it for God’s work and foolish enough not to give credit to God for your abundance. In either case, you will either not have it for very long or gain no real satisfaction in possessing it; or possibly both! Money problems are notorious for causing problems for couples, especially when the problem is perceived as not having enough of it. In reality however, it usually isn’t a supply issue, but a spending problem. Don’t point your finger at your spouse, but instead be an example of propriety and self control in your own financial dealings. Get your own house in order, before you invite your spouse in for a talk about rebuilding or repairing your relationship.
Some believe that having an anger problem is more about a personality trait than making a conscious decision to be angry. All of us have heard it said, “They’re just hot-headed.” This may be true, but it is no excuse, it just means that in this area of your life, you need to practice greater self-control. It’s not that you should feel OK about things that get under your skin, only that your response should not be striking back in anger or rage.
There is nothing wrong with righteous anger, but be very careful about how you define being right and how you respond to your spouse. I’ll bet that your response is anything but righteous, if it is done in anger. Remember, that when you were married you became one, and lashing out at your husband or wife is like a self-inflicted wound. The Apostle James, in chapter one, verses 19 and 20 instructs us to “take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Get hold of your anger problem first, or it will just reappear time and time again, driving you farther and farther apart. Anger is one of those things that can come upon you suddenly. But if know it’s a real possibility, take it to the Lord in prayer and don’t be surprised when the peace of Christ, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit takes its place. “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea (Isaiah 48:18).”
Tool #272 You wouldn’t be comfortable inviting a stranger into you house if it was in shambles, so first get your own house in order before you meet with the one you love most.