Confession: we have one of the worst backyards in our neighborhood. You are free to feel sorry for my wife. A couple times a week I think, “Gary, you really need to do something here,” but I never feel motivated enough to actually get going.
If there is any defense, I struggle to find a day off once a week. Working two jobs (what I’ve been doing for 18 years as a writer/speaker and now on the teaching team at Second Baptist, Houston), it’s not always possible to find a full non-travel day to get refreshed. So, I’m often tired and can think of a dozen other things that need to get done on that one day (or half-day).
Second, I just don’t enjoy that kind of thing. Some men live for their yards, with an arsenal of machines and tools and fertilizers and sprays that would make a professional gardener proud. Me? I kind of prefer to be surrounded by books.
Without the will and without the work, you get a backyard that looks like…ours.
There’s another place where the absence of will and work wreaks havoc, and that’s in marriage. Some of you may be in a relationship that your spouse values about as much as I value our backyard. If your marriage would just “happen,” they’d appreciate it and enjoy it. If they already had it, they’d be willing to delight in it. But they lack the will and they lack the work ethic to make the relationship grow. There are other priorities that drive them. Perhaps you’re the one who is not making your marriage a priority.
Today’s Scripture is an encouraging word in both instances, as it points us to that all-important “double dose of good.”
Philippians 2:13 promises us, “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
The two things we really need to build a successful long-term marriage, the will and the work, are the two things that Paul promises us God will provide (there’s actually a third element we’ll get to in just a moment).
Marriage changes when we stop doing it alone. When we stop trying to make ourselves feel something, when we stop trying to muster up some kind of hope, and instead go to the one sure Hope we have and pray, “God, please give me the will to make this marriage work, for your good pleasure.”
Do you think God will hesitate before answering that prayer? Do you think He might pause and say, “Hmmm. Not sure I’m ready to offer that”?
Not a chance. When we lack the will to build a marriage that gives God pleasure, He will be our most enthusiastic advocate. If you feel one-sided in your marriage, it’s easy to lose the will. If you’ve been unsuccessful in bringing about change, it’s natural to lose the will. If you’ve tried every trick you can think of and your bookshelf is filled with every book on marriage published in the last ten years and you still aren’t there, it’s natural to just give up.
Have you prayed for God to give you the will? Do you keep praying, living in an attitude of spiritual dependence, or are you trying to make yourself care? “God, I’m tired of trying to care. I need your motivation. I need your will, because mine is gone.”
And then we’re told God also enables us to work. We all know there is plenty of work involved in building and maintaining a marriage, and it’s just human nature that when there is work involved, we can think of a dozen other things to do. I could clip that bush that is growing out our back fence, or I could go for a run. I could take care of that outdoor cabinet with a door that has fallen off its hinge or I could catch up on that news show.
Paul promises us that God will work within us, if we go to Him, if we reverence Him (see v. 12). God enables us to work, a powerful divine force and energy lifting us above our apathy and limitations. God becomes the third partner, the uniting presence, the truest friend of our union.
The third element I hinted at is the joy: “for his good pleasure.” Why does God give us the will and the work? It pleases Him. He loves to see us live in unity. He delights in seeing us raise godly children in a God-honoring home. He rejoices when a marriage testifies to the relationship between Christ and the church. He finds great satisfaction in seeing two of His children share loyalty and love. Do you think God is content to have His children grow up in a home where Christ is a stranger, love is something the couple used to feel, and joy is a reality that visits on rare occasions?
So God wants this just as much as you do—in fact, He wants it even more.
I know–prayer seems curious at times; we are tempted to ask, “God, if you want this so much, why not just give it without us having to ask?” But that’s the way He works. He wants us to depend on Him on an ongoing basis. It’s the whole manna thing, one day at a time. Sacred marriage isn’t about shopping once a month at Costco while living in the suburbs (i.e., going to God every now and then to get re-charged), but rather going to the farmer’s market on a daily basis to get our vegetables. It needs to become a daily (and for some of you, hourly) experience. Don’t ask me why—I’m not the one who set up this world. It’s just the way God wishes it.
So, let’s go there, shall we? Let’s tap into this divine resource. We’re not alone in our marriages—not even close! God will give us the will, the work, and even the motivation. We’re not meant to live this life alone.
This post is adapted from Gary’s new book, A Lifelong Love: What if Marriage is About More Than Just Staying Together, available at Amazon http://tinyurl.com/mksuc37 and Christian Book Distributors: http://tinyurl.com/jwpe45n