Sunday, August 7, 2022

Put Your Anger to Bed: Five Lessons for Young Couples

Put Your Anger to Bed

“Don’t go to bed angry.” How many times have you heard some version of this marital proverb? Many bright-eyed couples hear it in premarital counseling and happily nod along in agreement. Those who’ve been married for a while may chuckle at the naivete. We’ll see if they’re still smiling and nodding in a few months.

Once you’re married, the counsel quickly becomes more complicated, uncomfortable, and costly. Sometimes, dealing with anger before bedtime can feel like finishing the basement before bedtime. My wife and I know firsthand, having fought hard over seven years to subdue our anger before exhaustion subdues us. Achieving a cheap, superficial peace may be easy enough, but meaningful reconciliation typically takes meaningful time and energy and, well, work.

The counsel really is good counsel, though, because it’s God’s counsel: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). The command covers all relationships, but marriage may be the hardest place to apply it. For many of us, marriage carries the most potential to make us most angry (or at least angry most often).

Counsel for Couples Battling Anger

This heightened tendency toward anger isn’t a defect in marriage. It’s actually a consequence of what makes marriage beautiful. Marriage has a higher and more consistent capacity for anger because marriage has a higher and more consistent capacity for intimacy. Sin hurts more when we’ve opened and entrusted all of ourselves to someone. The proximity and vulnerability can make even small sins feel like acts of war.

So how can couples fight to put their anger to bed? While many (rightly) turn to Ephesians 5 for a vision for marriage, the verses immediately before that chapter also hold valuable weapons in the fight to love each other well.

1. Anger is a good emotion that we often express sinfully.

Be angry. (Ephesians 4:26)

You won’t often hear those two words together in premarital counseling (or any counseling, for that matter). Before we try to put away our anger for the night, we need to remember that anger can be a healthy and godly response to evil.

Many of us have developed a map of our emotional life in which anger is always out of bounds. We tend to assume that anger — especially any anger directed at us! — is unwarranted and wrong. This was my bent coming into marriage. God’s word to us, however, is not, “Never be angry,” but, “Be angry, and do not sin.” Has your marriage made room for some righteous anger over an offense? Does either of you ever say, “I was wrong. I sinned against you. And it’s right for you to be angry about that”?

Many marriages suffer because we assume that anger is always bad — or that our anger is always justified. Often, we assume the former when it comes to our spouse’s anger, and the latter when it comes to our own. The rest of chapter 4, however, puts checks on the anger that inevitably arises in marriage.

2. Strive to put away all anger.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

Wait, isn’t this a blatant contradiction? Didn’t Paul just say, “Be angry, and do not sin”? There is a tension here, but not a contradiction. Much of maturity and wisdom in marriage (and in the Christian life in general) is found in the ability to know when to apply seemingly opposite commands — when to correct offenses, and when to overlook them; when to speak, and when to stay silent; when to be angry over sin, and when to put away anger.

The message should be clear: anger has a place in healthy hearts, but it’s a limited and temporary place. It’s right to feel angry over evil, but only within a life that’s actively, persistently laying anger aside — and not just most anger, but all anger (“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger . . . be put away from you”). God gives even our righteous anger an expiration date — and that expiration date is today.

3. The 24-hour day is a mercy for marriages.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. (Ephesians 4:26)

Have you ever wondered why God made each day 24 hours long? Surely there are hundreds of good reasons, but he himself tells us at least one of them here: because it checks our anger and keeps it from breaking into a quiet wildfire. In this way, the 24-hour day is a great mercy for marriages. As the sun crosses the sky each day and begins to bury itself on the horizon, it steadily carries us toward reconciliation. It draws a line in the sand that forces us to choose between submitting to God and seeking reconciliation or refusing his counsel and coddling our hurt.

Many marriages suffer because we let offenses harden into bitterness that slowly erodes trust and intimacy over days, or weeks, or even months. Trust is the currency of intimacy. Spouses can squander that trust in big, obvious ways that we could all name. Trust is also squandered in more subtle ways, though, and perhaps the most common way is by carrying and stoking offenses. The initial hurt or anger may have been completely warranted, but the warrant has long expired, and yet the bitterness quietly remains and wounds and separates. So God pushes the sun around the earth, each and every day, to give us a golden opportunity to put away all our anger.

Let me add one important qualification here: full reconciliation may be unrealistic some days. Releasing our anger does not mean all is well in the relationship. That’s why in our home we talk about pursuing meaningful reconciliation before bed. A little bit of time and sleep can actually be great allies in the process. Insisting on full reconciliation in a short time often will just prolong the pain and discord (again, I’ve learned this firsthand). That doesn’t mean, however, that we should allow ourselves to harbor anger or settle for less than real forgiveness and reconciliation. It just means we’ll have to be patient at times for the warmth and harmony to fully return. The important lesson here is that both spouses resolve to regularly, even daily, put away all anger.

4. Unresolved conflict opens a door for the devil.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)

Maybe we would be quicker to resolve conflict in our marriages if we could see what Satan can do with unresolved conflict. It’s not simply that he can poke and stir unresolved conflict and make it worse over time; it’s that unresolved conflict gives him access to every other area of our marriages. An open wound in one area eventually bleeds onto every other area. Sleeping together gets harder. Praying together gets harder. Parenting together gets harder. Scheduling together gets harder. Serving together gets harder. Just existing together gets harder.

Many marriages suffer because they ignore the spiritual war against marriage. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood” — including the flesh and blood lying beside us in bed — “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Every marital battle is first and foremost a spiritual battle, and we’ll inevitably lose that battle if we think we’re only fighting each other.

5. Treat your spouse’s sin as Christ has treated yours.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

How many marital crises and divorces might have been averted if these fifteen words had really taken hold?

Notice, Paul doesn’t merely say, “Be kind and forgive one another,” but “Forgive as God has forgiven you in Christ.” God didn’t just overlook our sin and begrudgingly move on; no, his Son bore our griefs, he carried our sorrows, he received our thorns, he was crushed for our iniquities, he was wounded to heal our wounds, he was cursed, all so that we might be forgiven. So forgive as you’ve been forgiven. Nothing you or I suffer in marriage will ask or demand more of us than what Christ bore for our sake on the cross.

Many couples who have practiced this verse have made a startling discovery: conflict is actually an unusual opportunity for intimacy. Why? Because when we treat each other’s sin as Christ has treated ours, we both get to see and experience more of him. For sure, we get to see and experience him on the days when we get along, but how much more present and real does he feel when we extend and receive meaningful forgiveness, when we receive harshness with kindness, when we stay and love when we could reasonably leave?

The moments in marriage that make us most angry can become the clearest pictures of Christ and his church. What else could make a husband so kind, even now? What else would compel a wife to forgive him — again? Where else would a love so selfless, so patient, so resilient even come from?

So, husband and wife, be angry over the sin in your marriage, and don’t go to bed angry.

from Desiring God
via DG

Water from the Rock for Undeserving People

God promises us his life-sustaining presence, even as he leads us into waterless regions of suffering and loss.

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from デイリーブレッド

Saturday, August 6, 2022

How Often Do You Think About Heaven?

How Often Do You Think About Heaven?

Wait a minute. That can’t be right, can it?

If you’ve taught the Bible a few times, you’ve had one of these moments. The construction of a biblical sentence just doesn’t look right. More often than not, you find that your concern was unwarranted or could be explained. But for me, one of these moments changed everything.

I had only been pastoring for about five years. We were preaching through the book of Colossians, and it was the second week in the series when I read this in my study:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love of that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:3–5)

I thought to myself, “No, no, this translation must be off. Paul wouldn’t ground his thanks in the hope laid up for the church in heaven, would he? He must mean to say that he thanks God for their love for all the saints, and their hope in heaven, because of their faith in Christ Jesus.” Nope. Paul wrote it just as both he and the Spirit of God intended. It changed my life. Paul was grounding their love and his thanksgiving in the Colossian church’s hope in heaven. Heaven was (and is) that foundational. That important.

I met with a young college student later that afternoon and asked if he ever really hoped in heaven. Later, I asked some other guys I was discipling, and a couple days after, some pastors I was meeting. For the next four days, I asked more than twelve Christians if they hoped in heaven. One of them said that he did hope in heaven from time to time; the rest said they hardly ever thought about it. They immediately recognized the problem without me even bringing it to their attention.

I began to see the massive blind spot in my preaching, discipling, evangelizing, counseling, and praying. I’m still learning not to miss it.

Our Common Hope

Fast forward four years, when my church graciously gave me and my family a sabbatical. I took the two and a half months to study the hope of heaven. Not heaven itself, but the Bible’s use of the hope of heaven.

Monday to Friday, I would pray and study from about nine in the morning until noon. The most important work I did was to read a handful of chapters from the New Testament every day. I’d circle every verse where I saw the author counseling the hope of heaven. No conclusions were made; I’d just circle the verse, and at the end, handwrite that verse in a journal.

When I finished, I found an astonishing 387 verses that used the hope of heaven the same way Paul did in Colossians. Out of 7,957 verses in the New Testament, almost 5 percent counsel the hope of heaven. For perspective, there are some 150–160 verses on hell, and some 30–40 verses about marriage. So, even if I’m half right, the hope of heaven is far more common than we might have thought.

Heaven for All of Life

Think of the Beatitudes. Most of them motivate present behavior in view of some future reward. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Or think about Paul’s conclusion to the Corinthians. After all his teaching, exhorting, and correcting, he lands the plane on the final resurrection, and only then does he say, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). The future resurrection provided confidence for their work.

The models of faith in Hebrews 11 instruct us because they were “looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26). Peter counsels suffering Christians that they could rejoice because God was guarding their inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:4–5). James commended patience without grumbling by reminding his readers that the coming of their Lord was at hand (James 5:7–9). Then we have Revelation, which ends the entire canon of Scripture with those beautifully haunting words: “‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

Saved in this Hope

None of these examples struck me more than when I came to Romans 8. I was basking in the sun of Naples, Florida, in February. It was in the upper 70s, and I was going to the beach later that afternoon. Heaven already seemed to be breaking in when I read,

We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:22–24)

It was a similar moment to my time in Colossians 1. I circled the verses, but I couldn’t help lingering over the implications of those words. I had read that passage many times, but this was the first time I saw that the hope of our salvation looks not only back to the cross, but also forward to the day we will worship a resurrected Savior in resurrected bodies on a resurrected earth.

According to these verses, we evangelize by pointing people’s gaze to the restoration of all things as well to the cross. Yet few of us regularly preach, sing, pray, or evangelize about heaven.

Losing the North Star

Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, documents that John Calvin, Reinhold Niebuhr, William Shedd, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Louis Berkhof said little about heaven even in some of their most monumental theological writings (8).

Alcorn shares a quote from A.J. Conyers that I’ve never gotten over:

Even to one without religious commitment and theological convictions, it should be an unsettling thought that this world is attempting to chart its way through some of the most perilous waters in history, having now decided to ignore what was for nearly two millennia its fixed point of reference — its North Star. The certainty of judgement [and] the longing for heaven. (9)

Lord, have mercy. If you are still in doubt, go and ask your fellow church members how much the hope of heaven informs their daily lives as Christians.

Matthew Westerholm studied the difference between songs used in American churches from 2000–2015 and those used from 1737–1960. His conclusion? “Among many similarities, one difference was striking: the topic of heaven, which once was frequently and richly sung about, has now all but disappeared.”

Something so central to the New Testament’s counsel and the renewed imagination lives faintly in the consciences of many Christians. Perhaps this might explain why so many are so anxious: we’ve placed in the periphery something meant to be central. We’ve been working so hard to make this world home, just as it is. But we are sojourners. This isn’t home — at least not as it is right now. Not yet.

We’ll Be Home Soon

As we wait for our true home, beloved, call to mind the great treasure of heaven. Jesus says that the pure in heart shall see God (Matthew 5:8). We are told by John that “we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2) — not as he was but as he is. It will be the same Jesus that suffered and bled, but we will see him in the effulgence of his infinite glory.

Gone will be the veil that led him to hunger, thirst, suffer, and moan, while rejected by men. Present will be the Jesus who, through those sufferings, has triumphed and taken on a new body dripping with kingly power, beauty, and love. This is the Jesus awaiting us in the splendor of his kingdom. This is the Jesus to whom we say with all the saints of old, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:21). His presence will be our home — heaven on earth.

Brothers and sisters, regularly draw your attention to this heaven. Pray heaven. Preach heaven. Sing heaven. Counsel heaven. Make heaven so much a part of your local church’s culture that on the brightest day or the darkest night you can say together with confidence, “Jesus is coming, and he will make this right. Once and for all.” Drink it in: He’s coming, as sure as that sky that you look upon now. And when he comes, justice and everlasting joy will come with him.

Join me in prayerfully redirecting our lives and ministries to that great North Star. We’ll be home soon enough. Oh, the joy.

from Desiring God
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