Thursday, March 16, 2017

Spiritual disciplines for couples (pt. 2): The Word

     Every person ought to be able to study and understand the Bible for himself or herself.  That is the ideology that permeated many religious groups in the U.S. throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s.  It fit well with the independent, pioneer spirit, and in some ways, it was a good thing, prompting people to engage scripture for themselves rather than blindly accepting a theological position handed down from a church hierarchy.  But, as too often happens, the pendulum can swing too far and a mentality of “personal faith” supersedes scriptural discernment within the community of God’s people.  Taken to the extreme, religion becomes a personal thing with one recognizing no higher authority than one’s self.
     Scripture reading occurs on multiple levels.  It should happen on an individual level.  The Psalmist says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).  No one else can learn God’s Word for you, or put it into your heart.  Scripture reading also should happen on a congregational level.  Thankfully, the strictly-individualistic practices mentioned above are beginning to correct as more and more faith communities are engaging God’s word as a group, bringing their individual understandings and life experiences into a collective setting, allowing greater love, empathy, and attentiveness to God’s work among us.  But there is also a third often-ignored level on which scripture reading needs to occur, and that is a couple level.  If we want Christian marriages, we have to begin and end with God, so it is imperative that couples intentionally seek God together through his Word.
     If engaging the Word as a couple is a new venture for you, be aware of some of the barriers that can make it difficult.  First, if you do not believe you and your mate are at the same level of knowing and understanding scripture, it can be easy to be self-conscious (if you think you know less) or exhibit spiritual pride (if you think you know more).  It is important to remember what God is seeking when husband and wife come to Himboth humbly hearing His voice through the Word.
     Second, how do you study?  There are numerous ways to hear scripture—reading thru a particular book of the Bible, topical studies, word studies, memorization, chronological study, historical study, and on and on the list goes.  And, there is as good a chance as not, that you and your spouse won’t agree on what is the most profitable or most enjoyable way to get into God’s Word.  Still, the key is to just do it and trust that whatever method you use, God’s Word will begin to work in you and your spouse’s life.
     Third, any time we dive into scripture, there is fear, because God’s Word will convict me of things that need to change.  And while change is not always comfortable, it is necessary for a healthier marriage.  One strong caution that I would give couples—focus on the change within yourself that scripture is highlighting to you.  It’s always easier and more convenient to look at the change your spouse needs to make, but if you harden your heart against God’s Word working in your life, you will equally harden your heart against your mate.  When Hebrews 4:12 tells us the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” the analogy is to a surgeon’s scalpel turned inwardly to make me better, not a warrior’s sword turned outwardly for beating up my mate over what I perceive they are doing wrong.
     So, what can help you and your spouse take one of the most widely used disciplines and begin using it together, reading scripture on a couple level?  Because there are so many ways for couples to get into the Word together, I don’t want to outline a “right” way to do it, but here are some thoughts no matter what method you choose:

  • Make it a priority.  Find a time and place that this will really happen.  If it is a priority, it needs to make the calendar and be given adequate, distraction-free attention.
  • Let the Word speak.  Avoid the temptation to pull out everything you have previously heard or learned about the text you are reading together, and try to hear it fresh.
  • Listen.  What is God asking from you?  Don’t just read for information or check off a box.  Engage the text and listen to let God into your marriage.  Ask yourself, how is the Spirit prompting you?  How can you use this particular reading to bless your spouse, honor your marriage covenant, and show the world Christ through how you treat your mate?
  • Practice your faith at home first.  If you and your wife have just read, “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth but only what’s helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4:29), two days later are you speaking demeaningly to your wife?  If you and your husband read, “Love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4), do you berate him for an honest mistake later in the week?  Our light for Christ shines brightest when it shines with our mates.
  • Look for concrete steps toward change.  If a particular passage convicts you, talk with your mate about definitive steps you can take toward change.  It might be changes you are making together or changes you are making individually to better honor your covenant lover, but either way articulating definitive steps makes it more real, more achievable, and provides accountability.
  • Finally, give yourselves regular reminders.  Whether it is a particular verse of scripture or a whole chapter, have shared visual reminders—a card with scripture written out on it taped to the bathroom mirror, a shared text message with a verse of the day, an image on the lock screen on your phone that calls a particular scripture to memory—whatever the method, reminders help us to keep letting God’s Word work within our marriages.

     Remember, if this is something new, it might seem awkward and forced at first, but the more you and your mate engage scripture together, the more power God has to make your marriage something “beyond all you could ask or imagine” for the sake of His Kingdom.

(To read part 1 in this series of posts, click here.)

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