Shoes, Oxen, and Birds
We just returned from a nice anniversary supper at Ruby Tuesdays. Since we live out in the country, it was an hour drive to the restaurant. En route, I gave Dave an “audio” anniversary card. Instead of buying a card that someone else wrote, or typing my card in a word doc, I tried to express my thoughts to him about our marriage and what God has made us into over the past 36 years. He asked me to put my audio card into a guest blog to share with yall. If I were to put our marriage now into pictures, it would be in 3 pairs of things.
First, a pair of old shoes. Old shoes are those shoes that we are reluctant to throw out. They are comfortable. They have molded to our feet. They speak “home” and “relaxation” to us. They aren’t high fashion or flashy, but they go to the heart.
After all these years, we are no longer trying to impress the other. We aren’t demanding our rights as a spouse. We’re not trying to play the role and fulfill our obligations. By now, we’ve just molded into each other. We automatically reach for each other, fitting together like a pair of old shoes. We prefer each other to any other, because we fit together.
Second, we are like a pair of oxen. God has appointed us a field to plough. We aren’t looking inward, content with our own little world in our home, but God has given a view of work to be done in His Kingdom. He has linked us together for that work. I’m not ploughing one field and he another; we are joined by a yoke that fits, and by orders from the One who united us.
Within that yoke, we operate as individuals: each has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Turning the curves, he might be the anchor; his strength keeps us from flying off course. Sensing danger from a snake or a pothole, I might communicate caution. We view the field together; we know our assignment and our boundaries…and we work together, within the confines of our personal strengths, weaknesses, giftedness to accomplish the Work we’ve been appointed.
Thirdly, we are birdies. We are caring for the next generation. … the next generation of Kingdom Christians. Our spiritual children. We are learning to redefine “family.” Long ago, we accepted Christ’s teaching as He defined “adultery” (to extend to the heart of lust) and “murder” (to include anger)….but now we are learning to accept His redefinition of “family” to be those who are obediently following Him. I suppose many at our age in life rethink this, as they consider their passing from this life, and what inheritance they are leaving. We want to follow our Lord whole-heartedly, not picking and choosing those parts of His teaching, according to our culture or upbringing or emotions. We want to be fully obedient. And there are many, many teachings of Christ and the Apostles about our obligation to assist the next generation in the Kingdom way. This includes financial assistance, counseling, modeling, living Life in tandem. It means being intentional. It means sacrifice. It means focus.
Like birdies, we sometimes teach the next generation of Jesus followers where to find the worms; sometimes we actually bring the worm to the needy; sometimes we just cheer them on. The point is that at our stage in life, God has given us a focused ministry upon the next generation of Kingdom-believers, or Christ followers. And we do that as a couple.
This takes time. It takes the Lord’s grace. It takes the Spirit of God. It takes willingness to surrender to His word and His leading. It takes sacrificial living.
God is the God of Redemption…at all levels. Marriage is a picture of the Gospel. As with our personal salvation, in the early years, we are self-centered in marriage…. “What is God going to do for me? I want peace, joy, security, Heaven….” And we think we know all about it! We are wise in our own eyes. Pride keeps us from understanding that His ways are not our ways. So in the early years of marriage, we are looking for self-fulfillment. “What is my spouse going to do for me? Financial security, home, emotional satisfaction, good sex….” And we’ve read all the books, and think we know how this marriage thing is going to meet our expectations. But as God works in our hearts, to remove that deep self-centeredness and pride, our marriage becomes more centered on serving our spouse, instead of being served. And in that service, the shoes’ rough edges soften, and gradually they become the comfortable old shoes that we could never throw out.
God’s heart is for the world. Many voices are calling for making marriage and the immediate family into an end-all and be-all of life. It essentially becomes a “god” to us. Our identity, our security, our purpose, our salvation is said to be wrapped up in this family institution. But God is calling us to use this institution to touch the world with the Gospel. This means getting out of our comfort zone, and working “out there.” Sweating, sacrificing, giving up comforts, daring to be different, daring to accept risk. I can tell you that in working for the Kingdom, there is great, great joy and satisfaction and peace and joy. The One who appointed the field to be ploughed has said,
In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33). And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).
For many years in our marriage, we sought the American Dream…career success, houses and lands, retirement savings, the “perfect” family. This thrust was not at the total exclusion of Christ, but it was in addition to Christ. We fell for that great delusion of the Evil One -- that compromised living, that serving 2 masters, is a viable option. Praise God, He brought us through that delusion. We cannot serve both the American Dream and the Master who gave Himself for us. Christ did not live his own life and also try to win our salvation. He followed the Father in 100% surrender and obedience….and it was that decision on His part that made our salvation possible.
It is a great treasure when God opens our eyes as a married couple to the purpose of our marriage to reach the world with the Gospel…to plough the field we’ve been appointed…to plough in tandem, using our individual gifts and abilities for the purpose of the Kingdom.
And the joy to looking to the future…beyond blood, beyond memories, beyond the “rules” set by society or the Church…to see the future in terms of the Kingdom. Jesus said “I will build my church, and nothing will prevail against it.” That is an eternal proposition. It is a guaranteed return on investment. We cannot lose when we invest our time, our resources, our abilities, our wisdom, our energy in those who are eagerly learning the Kingdom way, and who are learning the joy of obedience to the Master.
To invest in His “retirement” plan by passing along the spiritual treasures He has taught us is such joy and security! And how thankful I am to Him for sending us couples and individuals who say “Will you be my spiritual Mom?” What an honor! What a privilege! What joy and satisfaction! As Paul to Timothy and Titus…passing the Kingdom to those eager to learn…this is great blessing and joy in our marriage.
So, my dear friend, consider your marriage. God can and does redeem us for His purposes. I encourage you to think beyond your “needs” and learn to serve your spouse…watch the hard shoe turn into a soft comfortable one. And lift your eyes to the purpose of marriage as an avenue of the Gospel to the world. Accept His field of work; work together, yoked with your personal strengths and weaknesses and giftedness for the salvation of others. And then redefine “family” to match Christ’s definition, so that you invest in the future generation of the Kingdom; don’t waste your time, resources, energy, wisdom on those who are not committed to Christ’s way, but are indulging themselves in self-centeredness, demanding their rights, following the American Dream, living the compromised life. Pour yourself into supporting and encouraging and training “faithful” young people, as Paul instructed Timothy. “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).
September 12, 2012