May 6, 2015

Despair or Depend

Gary Thomas — 

DespairorDepend final


“I’m done with this marriage, Gary. It has exhausted me, and I don’t have what it takes to make it work.”

Though they didn’t realize it, Alice and her husband Ian were on the precipice of a really good place, perhaps even a divinely ordered one. Sometimes, God has to take us to the end of our strength to do what He truly wants to do.

You are blessed indeed if your marriage is more difficult than you can handle on your own. You are in a good place when you come to the realization that you simply cannot do it on your own.

Let me explain.

When writing to the Colossians, Paul throws out an intriguing line: “May you be made strong with the strength that comes from His glorious power.” (1:11).

When Paul writes that he wants us to be made strong, the assumption is clearly that we’re not strong already, at least not on our own. In Paul’s mind—and since this is inspired Scripture, in God’s opinion—we are not strong enough on our own to do what God wants us to do. We need the strength that comes “from His glorious power.”

Paul’s observation is written in the context of reminding us how Christ holds everything together through this power: “For in Him all things in heaven and earth were created…whether thrones or dominions and rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together…” (Colossians 1:16ff.)

Since in Him “all things hold together,” we can assume marriage is one of those “things.”  What if God allows marriage to be so difficult in part to reveal to us the real power He makes available to us in Christ—to teach us how to access this power, to depend on this power, to put us in a difficult situation so that we learn the truth of allowing Christ rather than our own resources to hold our marriage together?

If I can lift a table on my own, I’ll do it. If it’s an ultra-heavy chest of drawers and Lisa wants to see what it looks like on the other side of the room, I’m going to have to call my neighbor over to help me. In the same way, if I can be married in my own strength, with “natural” patience and “natural” kindness, I’ll do it. That’s just human nature, isn’t it? But if it requires me to tap into a power greater than I possess, then I’ll be all but forced to look elsewhere, to Christ alone who can hold all things together.

The sad reality for many, if not most of us, is that we don’t turn to God unless we have to. We expend all our human effort and only after that fails, for perhaps the hundredth time, then we say, “Well, that didn’t work. Maybe I should try God.”

What if God wants to reverse this process and teach us to turn to Him first?

Learning to rely on God isn’t just for difficult seasons of marriage by the way. God has made achieving the biblical ideal of marriage impossible on our own.  I love the way Rob Rienow puts it in his book Visionary Marriage: “If you think you have it in you to be a godly husband, either you don’t know what God desires, or you have set the bar way too low.” God calls me to love my wife like Christ loves the church. What man truly does that?

And for wives? Paul says older women should train younger women to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). This assumes that the ability to love an imperfect man requires training, study, intention, and purpose. It doesn’t come naturally to any woman. No man is entirely easy to love, because all of us stumble in many ways (James 3:1).

So, yes, marriage may be difficult, but that’s its glory! It forces us outside of ourselves, to a spiritual dependence that sets things right—recognizing Jesus as the only uniting factor between a husband and wife, supplying the power to hold all things together.

Begin each day with an earnest admission and request: “God, I don’t have what it takes to be married today, but I’m placing myself before you. I’m on my knees admitting my need. Renew my desire. Set my sights even higher than I could dream. You want me to have a more intimate marriage than I’ve ever known—to better reflect Christ and the church, to be a witness to the world, to have a happy and spiritually rich home for our children. So here I am, with all that I’m not, asking you to fill up what I lack.”

After confessing our lack, we ask to be continually filled with His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  “Lord Jesus I need your power right now. Power to listen. Power to forgive. Power to be sensitive and kind when I want to be hurtful and harsh.”

This attitude—humility and dependence—and the practice of beginning each day imploring God for His fresh filling doesn’t come naturally. Our greatest sin is often our default practice of seeking to live independently of God. So if God is letting you be continually frustrated with your marriage, it might be because He wants to remind you to be continually filled with His Spirit.

You can face the rest of today and tomorrow with one of two choices: keep on despairing or learn to depend.  Which one will you choose?

When you subscribe to Gary’s blog, you will receive blog posts directly to your e-mail inbox. You will be one of the first to learn about the latest in Gary’s writing.

13 responses to Despair or Depend

  1. This style is steller! You obliuosvy know how to keep a reader amused. Between your current wit plus your videos, I has been almost moved to get started on my own blog (effectively, almost HaHa!)#) Amazing job. I actually loved what you had to express, and greater than that, how you presented it. Too neat!

  2. Rodney Johnson May 21, 2015 at 3:29 am

    I “felt” much the same as Jason and since reading the blog especially the comments, I am more encouraged to turn God and seek His face in all I do.
    Gary! I want adopt all God’s biblical teachings inspite of eveything I face. I must be honest that from where I stand I don’t know where to begin but I am truly (since reading evryone’s encouraging posts)…..committed to staying in my marriage and like you Jason I’m ready to allow God to make me the husband that He wants me to be AND TO LOVE MY WIFE AS CHRIST LOVES THE CHURCH.
    Please keep us in your prayers, thank you and God bless you all.

  3. I would love for this to be true, I really would. I came to God quite awhile ago pleading for him to make me the husband he wants me to be and to repair my marriage. I pleaded with him for so long. But nothing happened. Things have just been steadily getting worse. Now I feel like there’s no hope and have given up. It feels like now I’m only focused on surviving each day, which is harder and harder to do.

    • Hi, Jason

      I am so sorry you’re hurting so much and feel like there is no difference, but don’t limit God by giving up too soon. My mother waited 33 years for change in my father – she divorced him, and all that she had prayed for is now coming to pass. And my Dad’s girlfriend is garnering the best of what he has to offer. My mother needed to wait on God’s timing and had she done so, all her prayers would have been answered.

      For the full explanation, read my comment here:

      Don’t give up just yet – keep praying, keep believing, keep persevering. And if you need to get outside help, a Christian counselor or pastor, please do so. God does tend to work through people.

    • Hi Jason,
      I am so sorry for your heartache and the daily struggle you are experiencing. I felt like you just a few short years ago. Please don’t give up. God is hearing and seeing all that is happening and He will restore what the locusts have eaten. Trust that He is at work in your life right at this moment. Focus on being the person He wants you to be, regardless of how your spouse responds. Treat her with His love and allow Him to love her through you. You have to want to stay committed to your wife more than you want relief from the pain. Live out His Word in Ephesians, being kind and tenderhearted, forgiving her just as Christ has forgiven you. Live out His Word in James, being quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. Jesus is your reward….keep running the race with your eyes on the Prize, seek Him and His strength. He is for you, He is in you and He is with you. He will pour out His blessings upon you because He is faithful to all of His promises and His love endures forever. Today is a new day and His mercies are new. Walk in His ways and follow Him. He is worth it.
      Praying for you!

    • Jason, one of the New Testament’s key teachings is the need for perseverance. (Luke 5:18; James 1:4 are two of many key passages). We don’t “try out” biblical teachings; we adopt them, live by them, stay with them. Many key biblical leaders lived through decades of faithful obedience before seeing the fruit (and some never saw the fruit). I encourage you to do a word/concept study of “perseverance” in the New Testament

  4. Thank you Gary for this blessed message,God has been prodding me these last 6 months a lot on depending totally on Him through very difficult circumstances, but oh what a slow lesson to learn, now my mom went to heaven 3 weeks ago,my prayer cover and counsellor, the world is spinning around me,I have a precious 7 yr old boy and the task of being a good mom,working and helping my dad seem impossible to my task oriented mind,tx for the reminder that I can use God’s power rather than my clever plans. I will really go to Him and ask for help and His power to deal with what lies ahead. Bless you

    • So sorry, Mara, for such a great loss. I’m praying you’ll continue to seek refuge in God’s arms as you learn to live without the direct support of a loving mom. As much as this hurts and will continue to hurt it can also usher you into a new dependency on, and intimacy with, God.

      • Thank you Gary for The encouraging words. It sometimes just feels like God could wait just a bit longer before the next wave strikes, its only 6months that I was forced to move out from a 14yr marriage (long story) and start on my own with my little boy. I was just starting to find my feet and now this. Surely His ways are higher than ours…… but I will read and re-read those verses often because deep down I know God is the only One who can take me from here, tx again, This has really blessed me

  5. ” So if God is letting you be continually frustrated with your marriage, it might be because He wants to remind you to be continually filled with His Spirit.” What a great way of stating what has taken me far too long to learn. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider that it would take me 20+ years to see that marriage is not about achieving a level of happiness… that is a byproduct of seeing God work in both of our lives and changing us into more of his image. Thank you for allowing God to use you to bless others through your writing, Gary. So grateful!

  6. Thank you so much for this encouraging reminder today. Marriage is so hard and I need to make it a daily habit of admitting my inadequacies, inability and lack of resources and look to Him, asking for His power to hold us together. Thank you for your ministry!

  7. Thank you for this timely word, Gary! It’s oftentimes more difficult to truly serve those inside the walls of our own homes than it is to serve those outside of our homes. I fail daily.
    As a result, I need a daily filling of His Spirit, but fail to ask for it. I do not have because I do not ask.
    Your post was exactly what I needed to hear today. Who else but God could have known that? His grace is amazing! Thank you for allowing the LORD to use you so powerfully.