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Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Journey Through the Book "The Marriage Builder" Part 4: Ministry or Manipulation?

After establishing that human beings have real personal needs for things like security and significance and showing us that these needs are met fully in Christ, Crabb invites us to examine our motives in marriage---are we motivated to manipulate our spouse into meeting our own perceived unmet needs or are we motivated by love to minister to our spouse’s needs so that our spouse may experience the reality of the fact that his needs are met fully in Christ? (I think this same question could be asked of any friendship.)
The motives behind our actions can be subtle, mixed, and not always something of which we are even aware:
As we attempt to specify the motivation that should characterize our interactions with our mates, we should remember that we will fail to see the point clearly and to make needed personal application without the Holy Spirit’s help. The deceitfulness of our hearts renders us incapable of accurately identifying our real goals without supernatural help. In its fallen state the human consciousness is a marvelous instrument of self deception. It is capable of selectively attending to only those motives that preserve our cherished image of ourselves as good and kind and of disowning or at least disguising the ugly, self-centered objectives to which we are really committed. Only the Spirit of God unfolding His truth as revealed in Scripture can cut through our lying hearts to expose our selfish motivation. P. 52
I love this observation of what marriage ought to be:

Husbands and wives are to regard marriage as an opportunity to minister in a unique and special way to another human being, to be used of God to bring their spouses into a more satisfying appreciation of their worth as persons who are secure and significant in Jesus Christ. P. 55
He goes on to further explain:
Notice an essential point in this principle: It is Christ who provides us with security and significance. My love for my wife does not in the slightest degree add to the reality that she is thoroughly and eternally secure in Christ’s love. Nor does my failure to love her as I should diminish the fact of her security. But my tangible, touchable, physically present love can bring to my wife a deeper experienced awareness of what it means to be loved. I cannot add to the fact of her security, but I can add to her feelings of security. P.55
On page 60, Crabb lays out three important elements to help us turn from manipulating our spouses for ourselves to ministering to our spouse out of love and concern for his welfare:
Element 1. A decisive and continuous willingness to adopt the commitment to minister.

Element 2. A substantial awareness of your partner’s needs.

Element 3. A conviction that you are God’s instrument to touch those needs.

Regarding the decision to minister, Crabb says:

All of us face various character-molding decisions every day. To speak with my spouse, I must consciously and deliberately think: “My purpose right now must be to help my wife realize her value as a person. What can I do that will accomplish this?” My insides may urgently scream with a compelling desire to defend myself, criticize her, or make a decision to do what will help her feel loved. As I make the choice, the Spirit of God provides the power to make it real—but I must make the choice. The natural resistance to truly giving ourselves to the other is rooted in our stubborn fear that if we really give, with no manipulative purpose, we will be shortchanged. Our needs will nto be met. At best we’ll be disappointed; at worst, we’ll be destroyed. P. 60
And yet, Crabb reminds us of this essential point:

But God is faithful. We are to trust His perfect love to cast out fear, believing that as we give to our spouses in His name, He will supernaturally bless us with an awareness of His presence. And He will. But it may take time—perhaps months—before we sense His work in us. The willingness to give unconditionally does not come by simply deciding to be selfless. The stain of self-centeredness requires many washings before it no longer controls our motivation. Many commitments to minister and much time spent with God will transpire before we know what it means to give. Our job is to learn faithfulness and to press on in obedience, not giving into discouragement or weariness, believing that God will always honor the conscious and persevering motivation to serve Him. When a spouse becomes more critical, drinks more heavily, or rejects efforts of ministry, we are to continue in our obedience, believing that our responsibility before God is to obey and to trust Him for the outcome. P. 61
In addressing the awareness of our partner’s needs, Crabb actually calls us to vulnerability. This might sound counter-intuitive. Why would we be called to vulnerability regarding our own self while our focus is ministering to our spouse’s needs? Perhaps this is because one of the goals of marriage and one of the ways that we minister to our spouse’s needs is by fostering real intimacy and oneness.

Crabb says:

I am convinced that most husbands and wives have little awareness of the intense yearnings crying from their partners’ hearts. Too often, one of the protective layers people hide behind is the layer of “apparent togetherness” of “I can handle things” or “I’m OK and I assume you’re OK.” Confident smiles coupled with spiritual platitudes about “all things working for good” often mask a deep longing to be accepted. We fervently desire someone to know us as we are—worried, shattered, scared, angry, lustful—and to accept us anyway. Therefore I regard an honest sharing of who I am with my spouse as consistent with the principle of ministry. I am not to complain about how bad I feel; rather I am to remind myself that my needs are met in Christ and to share with my spouse how I feel in our relationship. My goal in sharing is to vulnerably reveal myself, legitimately desiring, but never demanding, a loving response. P. 61
Crabb points out that we frequently avoid being vulnerable and drawing our spouses out because we either try to protect ourselves or we think our spouse is fine:
Because many husbands and wives see no evidence that their ministry can be meaningful to their partners, it is essential that they develop an awareness of their spouse’s deepest needs. We can create a climate of non-critical acceptance to encourage our spouses to risk becoming vulnerable. If our partners will no open up, we must realize that because they are made in God’s image, deep needs do exist, even if they are well hidden. We must pray for wisdom to know what to do to touch those needs. P. 62
 Crabb’s point here is that just as God is a God of intimate community—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God has created us in His image to experience community with Him and with each other. God wants us to experience oneness with Him firstly. He also wants us to experience oneness with His people—especially and uniquely with our spouse. As we experience oneness with our spouse, we in turn reflect God’s image to others and we glorify God. This cannot be experienced with out vulnerability so that we can know and be known. Even the most seemingly self sufficient person is designed in this way.

From here, Crabb calls us to reflect upon the fact that:

Christians are called upon to believe that in spite of our confusion and incompetence, our sovereign God has made no mistake in assigning us the ministry of touching our spouses’ deepest needs. Regardless of the circumstances under which people were married, God affords each married partner a unique opportunity to minister in a special way to his or her mate. P. 63

Wow. How many times do I actually consider the fact that God uniquely created me to minister to Kristian’s needs in a way that no other human being is actually called to do? Instead, more often, I reflect upon the thought that Kristian and I are so different--surely God could have given him a wife with a personality different than mine and gifts different than mine that are better suited to minister to his needs. But, as Crabb rightly reminds us:

….the condition for effective ministry is utter reliance on God that grows out of a sense of our inadequacy for the task. Admitted weakness makes it possible for us to abide in Christ, trusting Him for fruit (John 15:1-8). P. 63
John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

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