Let’s get practical. I cannot lead my wife well if I am not being led by Jesus. I’ll say it another way – I can only lead my wife well if I am being led by Jesus. Why? Because if Jesus is not leading me, that means I am leading myself, listening to my best advice, allowing my best ideas, feelings, and thoughts to direct my marriage. My heart is in charge, and that’s dangerous because my heart is selfish, it wants what is best for me and not my wife, it serves me and no one else. My marriage cannot survive my heart’s desires.
The battle comes down to our hearts, and we can deal with the tension in our hearts in two ways – we can either:
1) Listen to our hearts, or
2) Talk to our hearts.
Our culture tells us to listen to our hearts, that our hearts set us free and lead us to our own personal truths. “Your heart has all the answers. Find your own truth. Listen to your heart and follow it.” This is what our culture tells us to do. This is what the “Self-Help” section at any bookstore means. Your wants, thoughts, and feelings are what matter and nothing else. Do what feels right. All truth is within you, and if you just get negativity and the condemnation of others away from you, you can free yourself up to listen to your heart.
Can we just agree that this is a bunch of crap? All of our relationship problems are heart problems, especially when it comes to marriage. It’s true. You are the biggest problem in your marriage because you listen to your own wicked heart. You have to start here. If you don’t believe me, let the Bible convince you.
Jesus says to deal with your own sinful heart first in any conflict in Matthew 7:1-6. Get the tree out of your eye so you can see the speck of dust in your enemies’ eye. He said this because our vision is skewed. Our eyes cannot see past ourselves – we only see what we want to see. The Gospel knocks the legs out from under your ladder of pride, and deals with you first. Acts 20:28 tells us to “Pay careful attention to yourselves….” Hebrews 3:12 commands us to “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” You and I are far more wicked than we ever dare admit to ourselves. Our righteousness is like filthy rags, often we are like the Pharisees (pretty on the outside, but dead and rotten on the inside), and our best efforts only drive us away from God and others.
We must begin with our hearts. The purpose of a man’s heart are deep waters, and a person of understanding can draw them out. The problem is that we have to deal with our hearts all the time. I am constantly tempted to dwell on the fleshly desires of my heart: “My needs, my wants, my desires, my comfort, my way.” Our hearts are the problem, not the solution. I’m not the source of wisdom, Jesus is. I don’t have all the answers, Jesus does. I don’t have power, Jesus does.
God says the heart is deceitful above all else, that freedom is only found in Him, and there is One Truth, not many truths. So if you are listening to your heart, you are being deceived. If you listen to your heart, you are hearing thinly veiled lies permeate your soul, because our hearts are naturally full of anxiety, worry, fear, anger, selfishness, pride, idolatry, and shame.
Do yourself a favor – spend a day listening to your heart. What do you hear? What does your mind go to immediately when you wake up? My heart is always racing towards some false idol of peace, creating solutions to all of my self-centered problems, finding ways to calm my fears that are “Me-centered” and not God-centered. Our hearts are constantly in fear, worry, and anxiety. So if you and I listen to our hearts, we will naturally be anxious, worrisome, fearful, angry, selfish, arrogant, pursuing desires other than Jesus, and full of shame. I am prone to wander, bent toward anything and everything but God, and I’m desperate enough believe in anything that promises to satisfy me.
However, if you begin to talk to your heart with the truth of God’s word, you stop listening to yourself and actually listen to what God says about your fears, problems, shame, anger, pride, and idolatry. If you stop listening to the lies you tell yourself and begin listening to God in the middle of your fears, arguments, anxiety, depression, anger, or whatever you face, your heart will begin to change. Only in the light of God’s beauty, truth, and presence can my heart change. Let me give you an example.
A few months ago, I was picking up a sweet older friend in my car. Her husband had been my mentor for 18 years and my wife and I love hanging out with her. My car had been giving me trouble, so I had to take it into the shop several times that month. It was finally ready to drive, so I to picked up my friend and took her to Braums to get some of her favorite ice cream. I was driving down the street when, out of nowhere, the car lurched, stalled, and came to a stop. I got instantly angry, upset, and worried. I had already dropped hundreds and hundreds of dollars into fixing this car that month, was strapped for cash, and had no idea what to do. Out loud, I began to voice my fears, anger, and worry. My heart revealed itself. “What in the world? I can’t afford this! This stupid car was supposed to be fixed. What am I going to do? We have to have two cars! How are we going to get to work now? We can’t afford a new car. What am I going to do?” Do you hear the mixture of fear, anxiety, and a desperation for peace, comfort, and an answer? This is my heart.
As I was verbalizing the fears of my heart, something really amazing happened. My friend asked me to pray with her, and before I could answer, she began praying out loud. “God, you are good. We know you are good. We have seen your goodness and provision over and over and over in our lives. Not only that, you sent your Son, Jesus, to rescue us from sin and death, but also our fears, anxiety, worries, and shame. Jesus bore our sin and shame on the cross so that we no longer have to live in fear and anxiety. Help us, God. Our hopes cannot be in money, a good car, or financial security. Let Phillip’s hope be in You now, Lord. You are the hope of our souls. You have all the answers we do not have. Help us to trust you now.”
The shift was amazing. All of my fears and anxieties dissolved in light of the Gospel. My heart started to dwell on God’s Word, His beauty, His bigness, His promises, and His power, and not on the ugliness, power, and “bigness” of my problem. I began to see how small this problem was in reality of God’s goodness and provision. How am I supposed to lead my wife if it is by my own strength, wisdom, experience, and effort? Because all my heart could think of at that moment was my security, my need for control, my need for more money. I can’t. I’ll fail every time. I need Jesus. I need Someone bigger and better than all of my fears, insecurities, and worries. I need promises that last. In the midst of arguments, anger, disagreements, and the disappointments of everyday life, are you running to Jesus? Do you listen to your own anxiety and heart, or do you listen to God and His Word? When your wife feels like a roadblock to your happiness, do you listen to your heart and fight for your “rights”, your “peace”, your “happiness”, or do you remember God’s word to “love you wife as Christ loved the Church, giving Himself up for her, washing her in the water of the word…” Do you believe that God will never give you more than you can bear, and that He has given you everything you need for life and godliness through Jesus Christ? Do you believe that your response to conflict reveals your own sinful heart, or that “my wife MADE me angry?” This is so difficult to do, but we should make this the goal of our hearts to believe and trust in Jesus and His Word over our own selfish, claustrophobic, tiny “Me-centered” kingdoms.
After you have addressed your heart, your laziness,your pride and idolatry, and are pursuing Jesus, do it again. Never get past the Gospel. Never “graduate” to the next level. You can’t. We can move toward reflecting on some practical, everyday steps to drive you and your spouse more towards Jesus and unity, but it is all based in, rooted in, and founded in the Gospel. This is about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self. If you continue to operate in the kingdom of self, you will be ruled by your wicked heart. And your marriage will continue to suffer.
The beauty of the kingdom of God is that you cannot do any of the things you need to do to love your wife. And you can admit it! “God, I am not where I want to be. I’m not the man I want to be. Please help me look more and more like Jesus today.” God can change your heart.
The most convicting part of all of this is that if you and I continue to choose our selfish kingdoms over the Kingdom of God, if we keep listening to our hearts instead of God’s Word, if we defend our rights, desires, and comforts instead of loving sacrificially … we don’t know what love is. If you continue to argue and fight and go to bed angry and do not resolve conflicts and refuse to budge, we have to get to a terribly convicting truth – you do not actually love your wife. And coming to this realization could be the beginning of a glorious change in your marriage. Because even if we do not know what love is now, God can change our wicked hearts to begin to truly love our spouses. We will talk about this in the next post.