Next Steps

Have you ever ordered something from a restaurant and they messed up the order? How did you react when you didn’t get what you expected? Did you roll over and take it or did you send it back? Are there restaurants you won’t go back to because they didn’t live up to your expectations? When our expectations aren’t met, there are real consequences.

So what do you expect out of marriage? How you answer that will go a long way to defining your success in marriage. Too often we fall victim to a cultural expectation of marriage that far exceeds anything God ever created it to be. We look to marriage to be the end all of happiness and purpose in life. We expect our spouse to be ‘the One,’ to be completely perfect, put together, to completely submit their needs and wants to ours, to assist us in the achievement of our goals, all the while filling us with the love, purpose, and fulfillment we have yet to be able to find. We expect our spouses to give us what only Christ himself can give us.

The myth about marriage is that it’s all about happiness. And if you’re not happy, if your expectations aren’t being met, if your marriage isn’t what you signed up for, then there will be an incredible temptation to hit the return button and try again with someone else.

But when you read Paul’s teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5:21-27, you’ll discover that Paul talks a lot more about holiness than he does about happiness. That’s because when God designed marriage, he designed it to be a lot more about holiness than happiness. If you pursue the myth that marriage is designed to make you happy, you’ll be sorely disappointed, because only Jesus can give you the deep-seated joy that you crave. And your spouse isn’t Jesus.

When you pursue marriage as a way to become holy, to learn how to submit, to sacrifice, to respect, to depend on God, you’ll gain not only a successful marriage, but along the way you’ll discover the joy and fulfillment you’ve been searching for all along.

I think most of us want to be happy. That’s a given. If we had a choice between being happy and being unhappy, most of us would want happiness, wouldn’t we? Happiness is so ingrained our culture that our nation’s founding documents promise us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (notice the Declaration of Independence doesn’t promise us happiness, only the pursuit of happiness).

And that is what our lives are: the pursuit of happiness. But too many of us believe a myth about happiness, namely that happiness is determined by outward circumstances. If our spouse is acting right, if our parents love us, if our kids behave, if the government leaves us alone, if our boss is pleasant, if we’ve got money in the bank and food on the table, then we’ll be happy. Yet the biggest problem with this approach to happiness is that it takes our happiness out of our hands and puts it in the hands of people and forces outside of our control. Very rarely do the stars line up in our favor, everything conspiring to make our life easy and pleasant. Life in reality is dysfunctional and broken relationships, consequences of bad decisions and other people trying to get ahead at our expense. And thus, we’re unhappy. But we shouldn’t be.

In the ancient book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul reminds us of an ancient truth: that happiness is a choice. It is not determined by outward circumstances. I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Paul found his happiness from within, namely from his relationship with Christ. Which is why he could command the Christians in Philippi to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Happiness is and always has been a choice. Happiness comes from within, from our relationship with Christ, not from outward circumstances outside of our control.

If you’re unhappy, it’s because you choose to be. Your happiness is your choice. It always has been.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

If you can change the way you think, you can change the way you live. When the Holy Spirit comes to reside in your life as a Christian, that’s the first area of your life where He goes to work: your mind. Here are five areas where God wants to transform your thinking:

1. God – The Holy Spirit wants to change the way you think about God. He wants you to understand that God isn’t a distant, demanding deity but a loving heavenly father. God doesn’t want anything from you, he wants things for you. God doesn’t love you because your good, He loves you because you’re His. Those small changes in thinking will radically transform your closeness to God.

2. Self – Satan is the father of lies and will constantly throw lies at you about your worth, your esteem, your value. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and will lead you into the truth of who you are in Jesus. When you get into God’s Word on a daily basis you’re fighting the lies of the world with the truth of Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform how you think about yourself.

3. Life – The Holy Spirit wants to give you an eternal perspective on life so that you make better and wiser decisions. He’ll help dads realize it’s not worth it to sacrifice the future relationship with their kids because they want the momentary rush of an affair. He’ll help teens realize that long-term purity has much more value than short-term sexual fulfillment. He’ll give you a bigger perspective on life.

4. Others – The Holy Spirit will go to work on your emotions, replacing anger and bitterness with forgiveness and joy. These emotional shifts will completely transform your relationship with those around you for the better.

5. Church – The Holy Spirit will help you see the church as He sees the church. Instead of a house of rules and regulations, He’ll help you see it as a spiritual family. Instead of approaching church as a place to be entertained, the Holy Spirit will help you see church as a place to serve and make a difference.

Many Christians grow up thinking that God wants something from them. God is up in heaven, deserving and demanding our worship. He wants us to sing, He wants us to read our Bibles, He wants us to give money, He wants us to teach Sunday School, He wants us to go on a mission trip. God wants something from us, and when we don’t give it to Him, He gets angry and zaps us with lightning.

That’s a jacked up way to look at God and if that were my understanding of God, I would rebel against it like many other Christians have. When Jesus came to earth, the Jewish people had twisted their religion to think that way about God. God was all about getting something from His people. And then Jesus came along and helped humanity rediscover God. He taught humanity to view God as our Heavenly Father.

Again, maybe you grew up with a selfish or absent earthly father, so that’s how you naturally think of your Heavenly Father. But God is heavenly, He’s a good father, He’s a perfect father.

And what does a good/perfect father want from his children? Nothing. If you love your kids, you don’t want anything from them, you only want things for them. That’s the one little word that can revolutionize your relationship with God, when you realize that God doesn’t want anything from you, He only wants things for you.

When my wife and I had our four kids, (I’m a flawed, selfish person), but even I never thought “we’re going to have these kids so they can take care of my needs and give me what I want and work for me.” We had kids because we wanted to give what we had to them! And that’s what we’ve done. The amount of money we’ve spent on ourselves over the past ten years is infinitesimally small compared to what we’ve spent on our kids. It’s the same for most parents. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Why? Because we’re not psychopaths. We’re good parents.

A good parent doesn’t want anything from their kids, they only want things for their kids. God doesn’t want anything from you. He wants things for you. Let that truth blow your mind today.