I recently read a portion of two books on Christian, biblical marriages. What I read blew me away. It is fair to say that most single, Christian guys understand marriage requires hard work and effort. However, what I read went beyond what I thought. It is so much more than what we think.
It seems there is no rest. A good marriage requires continual sacrifice daily. I would sum up marriage as continually dying to yourself daily. The Christian husband must always lay aside his personal wants, needs, desires, and ambitions and put those of his wife and family first.
Again, this is something most Christian men know, but do they understand the extent of it and what it really means? I now do.
How does one prepare for this? How do you get there? How do you get to that level of humility? How do you become a servant like that?
I've sacrificed and poured into others within the church, but in a different context. I've taken leadership roles that have taught me how to lead in a biblical manner and be a servant. Now that I know what marriage requires I realize what I did before doesn't match up. How can I ever get there?
Well, I don't know which books you've read, so I can't comment on them specifically. But generally, yes, in countless ways marriage turns out to be much, much more than anyone could ever comprehend when uttering those two simple words, "I do."
But any book or message that doesn't get you past the sacrifices (and yes, there are many) to the thrill and deep joy of getting free from one's pride and selfishness isn't giving you the full scope of what God is up to with marriage.
Your question was how does one prepare for that level of sacrifice. You really can't. Nothing prepares you for what marriage calls upon you. Incredibly though, God has wired it such that marriage itself (and especially parenting) brings more love out of us than we ever knew we were capable of.
In my all-time favorite book on marriage, The Mystery of Marriage: Meditations on the Miracle, author Mike Mason describes marriage as Love coaxing you into a room alone with this other person, then locking the door and swallowing the key. Those individuals thrive who let go and let Love have His way, sharpening us with the warm, soft flesh of another human being. Those who resist the Potter's pushing and prodding and chiseling through spouse and children will miss the thrill and adventure of letting go of his (or her) pride and selfishness and abandoning oneself into the hands of our Great Lover.
In marriage and parenting — in love — we can either try to struggle free, or relax and let love do what it wants to do, which is to swallow us up in itself and transform us into lovers, to teach us more about love than we ever wanted to know.
Mason says, "Love convinces a couple that they are the greatest romance that has ever been, that no two people have ever loved as they do, and that they will sacrifice absolutely anything in order to be together. And then marriage asks them to prove it."
Marriage (and parenting) turns out to be both a catalyst for experiencing God and a mission to the world. It's a catalyst in that it speeds up the process of bringing to the surface our deep need for supernatural intervention on a moment-by-moment basis, and in doing so speeds up the process (if we'll let it) of our transformation from haters into worshippers.
Marriage is a mission to the world in that it is the supreme earthly metaphor for the kind of union that Christ is developing — and will one day fully have — with His children, the church. Take the strongest passion, the deepest love, the highest sacrifice any two lovers have ever experienced together, and it is only a shadow of the depth and height of the love of Christ for His Bride.
This view of marriage assumes, of course, that we embrace the truth that all of life (and therefore marriage and family) is not first about me and for me, but about Christ and for Him. I am undoubtedly a great beneficiary of this God-glorifying union, but it doesn't exist for my self-affirmation. But in God's hand what it does for me is mysteriously way beyond any good I could ever imagine for myself.
I wrote this down some time ago, and I think it originated in something John Piper wrote:
As we might imagine, God's view of marriage is much more grand than our puny, worldly, culturally-contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, unbiblical views of marriage and family. The greatness and glory of marriage is beyond our ability to think or feel without divine revelation and without the illuminating and awakening work of the Holy Spirit. The world cannot know what marriage is without learning it from God. The natural man does not have the capacities to see or receive or feel the wonder of what God has designed for marriage to be.
Sadly, most Christian marriages (and even more sadly, Christian teaching on marriage) represent nothing more than re-packaged psychology and Hollywood nonsense wrapped in a few Bible verses, with a vision so low it's no wonder half of them end in divorce.
How I long for Christ-followers to experience the stunning views of God from the top of the peak of marriage! Unfortunately, most are stuck in the climb, whining and complaining about not getting his or her "needs met," which is for each of them the highest goal of marriage they've ever known.
Don't fear the sacrifices of marriage and parenthood, my young friend, abandon yourself to them and let Love do its mysterious work to bring you into the very experience of encountering God through the tsunami that is family. You will never regret it.
Copyright 2010 John Thomas. All rights reserved.