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Firstly, there is the daily need to love Every day provides close interaction which gives rise to the many opportunities to love. By living together you are virtually forced to deal with the problems of life.
Secondly, marriage is a covenant relationship rather than a convenient relationship. Covenants are legally binding agreements which help secure strong relationships. The strength of the covenant allows the spouses to be more honest with each other. They know it is for life. They work harder together for something that they cannot easily escape.
In all cases we gain our need for acceptance and help primarily from God and not the spouse. Those who do not know Jesus' love will think that they can do the same. They cannot. They do not have the love of God poured out within them as Christians do. We encourage all to believe and follow Christ. Only then they will be empowered with God's supernatural love.
"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Corinthians 5:14,15, NASB).
Notice how in the verses above that God's love first fills our need and then empowers us to live sacrificially for God and others. The marriage is to be a place of healing. Ideally we have worked through many of the sins embedded into our lives before marriage, but this is not often the case.
In this case, the spouse becomes the means in which our hates, anger, and bitterness are brought into sharp focus. Instead of being defensive, we need to look at these encounters as opportunities to get rid of our sins and replace them with love, kindness, forgiveness, and joy.
The effects will be gradual but sure. We will mention 7 objective steps that help facilitate this growth of love in marriages.
Each spouse should openly discuss and share their desire to love each other with God's love. This is often done at the wedding but with all the fanfare, it seems to be easily forgotten. The couple can repeat their vows or in their own words say to each other something like,
"I commit myself to love you with God's love. Please tenderly and prayerfully help me in this process."
After this commit yourselves to God in a prayer where you both ask God to lead you in this life long joyous process of growing in love. Every month, ask how each other is doing.
If we are prideful, the growth of love goes on ever so slow. Pride keeps us from learning from our mistakes so that we keep making them over and over. Pride always leaves us at a point where we could choose to love. . We need to be more quick in acknowledging our sins and offenses and consciously humble ourselves.
Oftentimes we do not realize the presence of our sins and weaknesses nor are we alert to their consequences. Instead of loving, we become defensive and unwilling to accept another person's nudge to apologize for our wrong. The best way to see these faults in our hearts is to ask God to open your eyes to your own sin.
Another exercise for developing love
The long lasting key to a learning heart is having a daily praying time and meditation on God's Word. If we see this as a life process, then we will accept the needed discipline to daily prepare our hearts for the challenges of each day. Men in the garage wear dirty overalls to protect them from the grease. We would do well to do the same in a spiritual context. (See Reviving Your Devotions for lots of help in this area).
Some of the biggest changes in your life will come unexpectedly. Usually, though, if you see you have a problem with any one area of life, then you can be sure it is one that God is working on. You need to talk seriously with Him and your spouse on what is or is not acceptable in such a situation. This becomes your standard. Then it is good to develop a possible plan on how to get there, and think ahead on what to do if you fail.
God will begin to show us our weaknesses - the places we don't consistently love. The tendency is to act defensively. "It isn't that bad." "I know I am a lot better than ..." "What about him ...!" Instead, recognize that God is building you up in His love. Change is a prerequisite to loving.
We will often feel that we cannot reach that standard. That is fine. You cannot. You never could. God is showing you that you need His divine love to animate your life, limbs and lips. This is where the life change comes in. He will ask you to do things that seem impossible. Do them. Trust Him.
When we say that it is God's love, we mean just that. We learn to love with God's love. In prayer, we tell God that it is hard to do what He wants, but you state your willingness and even eagerness to love your partner. Tell God that you can't do it without Him.
You need Him to give you this love. Ask if there is anything else you need to confess or areas that need to be cleaned up. Be thorough in clearing these things up through forgiveness. Refer to the confession section that helps clarify this process (see Clearing up the Mess).
Then ask Him for that love. In essence, we are casting our trust toward Him. We are saying He can provide what we so desperately need. Quote relevant scriptures about your responsibility to love (e.g. 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John, etc.), and tell Him that you will love him or her not because they are loveable but because He asks you to.
You will get off track if you focus on your feelings. Instead, remember that love works itself out practically. Do what He asks. For example, if the husband is finding his wife rather hard and unwilling to talk, you might talk to the Lord this way.
Dear Lord, I really want to have our relationship restored. It is so hard for me when she treats me worse than a rock. But you said love is patient and kind. I don't feel like treating her patiently and kind, but this is what I will do. Help me to be the best husband possible. Let your love flow through me. May she sense Your love and kindness through my life. I know I can't do this. Please fill me with your love. And please, restore us soon. In Christ's Name I pray, Amen.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8, NASB).
True love has two goals:
1) Keep preferring your partner over yourself and
2) be consistent in your love.
We understand the common situation where one partner will 'use' or manipulate your touches of love. This is okay, only keep an excellent attitude in your heart. We do not know how God will use our love. That is His business. Of course it is our concern, but we must let Him be in charge.
We focus on our duty of loving. That is hard enough. He will always give you grace. This includes activities in bed as well as in the car or at the table. Love is super practical. We must keep loving even when we do not receive love back. This is tough but that is when our partner usually realizes that he or she has been rather nasty about things (Eph 5:25-27).
Your partner might be terrible at times so your chief joy must be to serve God by loving your spouse rather than receiving his or her love.
"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."" (Acts 20:35, NASB).
The scriptures emphasize the husband's need to love. The wife is to show her love by submitting to her husband in the Lord. The husband, for example, would love his wife to treat him with love and tenderness instead of that, "You want it; you get it attitude."
He must nobly ignore his desires at this point and focus on meeting hers. He needs to treat her nicer than she deserves. This is the sacrificial aspect of love. You will be tempted to use a unserving spirit to force the other to serve, but this does not work. You will feel like you need to demand your rights for if you don't speak out for your rights, then no one will. But you must give your desires to the Lord. Tell Him and cry out for help.
When your chief joy is to please the Lord by serving her, then you can tolerate being ignored, overlook her stubborn moods, be kind when treated rudely, patiently listen as you hear her raging accusations. Your chief joy is in pleasing the Lord. The Bible calls this dying to oneself. When this happens, we are like Christ in His death. He died for us so that others could live. We die to self, we come alive in Christ so that God's love might touch the lives of our spouses through our own lives.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. (Romans 8:11, NASB).
At times I find myself in very frustrating times and situations, but then I remember this truth about the opportunity to show Him my love to Him by serving my wife. A real joy surges up in my soul. I am pleasing Him and ultimately doing the best thing for my wife. I usually need to wait a while, but the power of constant love is amazing.
We can love only as much as we have faith. If we live by what we feel or see, we will not love. For then our selfish tendencies will rule our decisions. Only when we believe (have faith in) that His Word is best and ultimately works out will we see this love come through.
Keep loving. It is our chief goal in life. We love others to bring God glory. Even if my wife doesn't love me back, my Lord's love is always sufficient. Any time that He sees I have some special need, He will always care for it.
The evil one will come by at times and whisper, "This is crazy." "What a fool you are!" He will say the same things as he did to Jesus. You just come back the same way He did. "Not my will, but Your (Heavenly Father) will be done."
Spiritual growth and receptivity to the Lord comes through generous prayer. You need to pray specifically for the areas that you would like him or her to open up to the Lord. Pray for each other. By praying together, we become accountible to each other. We can share about our problems when we are not angry or depressed. And of course, we can bring these special requests right to God.
This might seem awkward at first, but it is so rewarding. We have been doing it from before our marriage started (24 + years).
God will surprise you by real heart changes. It does work. Be prepared if it takes a lifetime, but more than often you will see some real changes before the end of your life. God's love is too strong, and it melts the hardness like the flame softens the wax. Always talk gently. Remind your partner that your love is still there. Tell them it is God's love not really you. (Give Him the glory).
This mini-series ends here but do check out our study questions and see what you really learned!