So often we make a promise to God and don’t at all understand what that promise is, whether it is a marriage vow, the choice to give birth, or accepting any other blessing. And then the training starts–we are made worthy of that blessing, able to fulfill that promise, aware of what we have committed to.
Greek thought values “knowledge” but Hebraic thought values “understanding” and while we can’t have the full understanding of God, we can grow into the understanding we need to complete a task. “Whom the Lord calls, He also equips” actually speaks to what we go through to be ready to do what we need to do.
Jacob stole the blessing from Isaac and then had to go through 20 years of a whole lot of junk that prepared him to carry that mantel–and Isaac was alive until Jacob got there. As father of the 12 tribes, patriarch of the Jewish nation, he had a very large mantel to grow into. And he didn’t end up perfect by any means, just able to do what he needed to do. Able to fulfill his role.
Joseph had to rule Egypt and save the Jewish people. But he was not mature enough or ready in youth for a variety of reasons. He had his dreams as a young man and offended his entire family in how he shared them. But God carried him through the process of power and humility in order to develop his character to what it needed to be for those dreams to come true.
And as husbands and wives we take a vow to go through whatever challenges lie ahead. “In sickness and in health, in times of want and times of wealth, in the good times and the bad . . . “ these are more than just the seasons of life, they are times when every married couple faces the choice to stay or go. Couples divorce while rich and poor, while sick and healthy. There is no one scenario for the breakdown of a marriage and if we could avoid that scenario it is smooth sailing. This is because it’s not the money or the lack of it that leads to divorce—it’s what both extremes bring out in each partner to the marriage. It’s about character.
Our character is the heart of who we are. It is what we are asked to turn over to the Lord for Him to remake into His image. If we all had the character of Messiah we would all live in echad (plural unity) with one another at all times. We would know when to hold a boundary, when to lay it down, when to turn someone away and when to invite them to join our journey. All believers are instructed to renew our minds, submit our will, and come to understand the change that took place in our heart when we were saved. And yet even this promise was one we took without full understanding. Every day we must take up our cross and follow Him. Every day we wake to choose this day who we will serve. And every day the challenges of life come at us and reveal what decision we have made.
In the Ancient Hebrew, the Hebrew Word Pictures, Satan and Shalom are easily contrasted. Satan is a picture of being consumed and surrounded by activity. Shalom is a picture of what destroys with authority the chaos. This brings the Apostle Paul’s writings about works and faith into a much deeper place. Do we understand that we are saved, by faith through grace, by the one who destroys chaos with His authority? Or do believe that we are saved by our own activity, by our works. Can we build that ladder to heaven or do we understand that Yeshua is the Way? Can we busy ourselves like Martha and become worthy of serving the Master? Or are we like Mary who chose the greater thing, and do we sit at the feet of the Master seeking to understand his deep teachings?
There is a lot of addict-speak out there and often it can create the idea that when we work those steps we can get to recovery. As I’ve come to understand submission to the Lord I hear them differently. Step one is the place where the world exists, not just addicts. Or maybe one could say we’re all addicted to sin. And in ourselves we are all powerless to overcome this addiction. Whatever we struggle with is going to be bigger than us, because the very act of struggling in our own strength empowers the chaos. We become part of the chaos, we exist in the chaos; there is nothing good in us. But when we acknowledge we are powerless and hold fast to the Higher Power of Yeshua HaMashiach who died that we might live, we’re moved into victory. We do not have the power to become a new creation. We have the power to live as the new creation we have become!
Enabling isn’t just what is done when one person allows sin to continue. It’s what we are doing when we think that our own efforts can change someone else. When our strength is enough to save someone, or stop an addiction, or remove a sin from someone’s life. We desperately want everything to be good and holy in a marriage. The enabler tries with all their might to set the right boundaries, create the right atmosphere, love enough, submit enough and, when desperate enough, give the perfect ultimatum that will cause the spouse to wake up and realize what they are doing with their choices.
This is a perfect example of what happened to marriage at the Fall. When God told Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, but he will rule over you,” (Genesis 3:16b) He was describing this very dynamic. Yes, sometimes the roles are reversed, but all too often the issues of the husband drive the marriage. The issues of the wife may be more obvious but too often this is because she is the one responding to the issues and her response gets the attention. It’s also very true that often the wife’s response is no healthier than the issue the man is struggling with. One that gets a lot of attention, especially in this age of internet, is porn and lust issues. But any issue can be used to illustrate this dynamic from drinking, compulsive lying, gambling, tv addiction, exercise—whatever is the focus of one’s own attention away from God and the marriage. It is not always the man who struggles, and for men married to women who are abusive and addicted there is often an extra level of shame at the human level that they must work through because most attention is given to helping women in these situations. Men need to know that it is not a weakness to need outside help for their own issues or for those that their wife may struggle with. When it is the man who struggles with these things it is the wife who is so devastated to learn of them that she forgets this is her husband’s personal nightmare. The very real impact to her is experienced so tangibly and is so real that the impact gets the attention. This is normal. This is human. But this is what must be worked through to get to victory as a couple.
The reason is that in the pain, in the emotion, and in the focus on the personal impact, the reaction is to work very hard to remove this sin. Her desire is for her husband (to be free of this issue, to be able to have the intimacy with her that she desires and to be able to commit in a deeper and needed way to the marriage) but he rules over her (by continuing in whatever issue he struggles with and which now controls her very existence). She seeks out popular material for wives and finds everything from the world telling her to get rid of her husband because she is better off without him and his issues to Christian books that admonish her if she would just submit more he wouldn’t struggle with these things—as though the power is within her to control this issue. She goes through all of the stages of grief including anger, bartering (with God, with her husband, with herself), denial . . . ultimately moving to acceptance where she may become bitter because the reality of accepting and living with an active sin issue that affects your marriage and your family and your entire life is an exhausting prospect.
But God is the God of creation and the One who brings Order to our chaos. He is the one who raises from the dead! There is NO reason to merely accept a sin issue. There is no reason to resign yourself to live with active sin in your marriage. There is simply a need to realize YOU cannot get rid of it. Only God can. This requires answering a very important question: Are you willing to stay married even if nothing ever changes? Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the answer has to be no. Where there is abuse that is ongoing and where it is not safe to live with a spouse it is important to have a boundary that keeps yourself and children safe. This may be a choice made by a man or a woman depending on who has what issues. Women can be abusive and addicted and carry burdens that are so dangerous that a man must remove his children from the situation. No one is immune without the power of Messiah reigning in their lives. But this does not remove the need to pray for that person. They need God’s power to move in their life. And for issues that do not involve active and ongoing abuse, the choice to give up is too often made from within the pain instead of realizing that the pain has become the sacrifice we can bring to God that He can redeem for us.
In Hebraic thought a blessing is not given because you have earned it. It is given so that you may become worthy of it. Marriage is a blessing. Children are a blessing. The reason that Paul says to choose elders and deacons who have homes that are well ordered and respectful is because a home reflects the character of the one leading it. The spouse and children are the ones who know the character of that person and when they lovingly respond to them, when they seek their wisdom and reason together with them even as adults, this is the character of someone who is capable of leading others. Too often the families of those aspiring to congregational leadership are abused to create the appearance of order (works) when Paul is telling those choosing a congregational leader to look deeper—for how one leads their home is how they will lead the congregation.
So if you are in a marriage, or if you have children, you have made a promise before God. You have submitted yourself to be used by Him in whatever way needed to bring this spouse and these children to maturity in Him. Most people do not understand this promise when it is made, or the mantel that comes with a blessing when it is given. And their own maturity may look like what had to be endured by Jacob, or his son Joseph, before they are ready to carry out their calling. They may find themselves working for Laban and having their wages changed 10 times or sitting, forgotten, in a prison of their own emotion. They can rest assured, though, that the one who brings Shalom, the One who has the power to consume and destroy your chaos, has not forgotten you. And the purpose of submission is not to force change on someone. It is to bring change to yourself.
Read Ephesians 5 and what comes BEFORE verse 21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Messiah.” Our submission must first be to Messiah. We must lay all of our old habits that die hard at His feet. We must allow Him to make us worthy to uphold the promises we have made, worthy to carry the blessing we have been given. We must be made over into His image. It’s about us in that boundaries are not to control the other person, but to reflect our maturity. Removing ourselves from a bad situation isn’t to punish the person doing wrong; it’s to keep ourselves free from sin (the sin being done and the likelihood that in our anger over it we will sin). We must take every burden we have and lay it at the foot of the cross . . . and leave it there.
The thing is–getting to the point of understanding doesn’t mean the rest is smooth sailing. We may still go through things that will take us to the end of ourselves and have us crying out to God for relief. David’s Psalms come to mind. BUT we can know at every step of the way that we are on this path by choice. We are not a victim. We are a Valiant Ally (ezer) to a spouse who is going through their own journey and discipline. It affects us because you are echad with them. His battle IS your battle because you became co-carrier of his burdens. Her battle IS your battle because you chose her as your ally. You are just ready to carry your weight in this battle and to take your orders from the General who is leading you both in the battle together.
So through the highs and the lows of whatever lies ahead just remember that this is the journey, and the journey is what it’s all about. The destination for all who believe is the Kingdom. And we’ll get there in His timing. But the journey, the journey is where we are now, and what we’re doing now, and what we’re enduring now, and what is preparing us for the Kingdom. So embrace it and live it and love it, even when it’s tough. And trust that He will do what He has promised to do, and we need to do our part, not try to do his.