Bible Reading, Justice, and Marriage (Q&A)

Lessons on Living as Exiles, Part 15

I have four questions that I was just handed. This will take a few minutes and then we’ll see what we can do in the last 20 minutes.

How do I fall in love with the Word and stay committed to reading it every day?

Maybe the most helpful thing I could say is a little simple acronym that I use: IOUS. I pray it, not every day, but lots of days. And I pray it because that question is urgent for me. When I was a pastor, I knew if I fell out of love with the Word, a lot of people were going to suffer.

And it’s true for everybody. The more dishes are on your tray when you stumble, the more dishes you break. But it hurts when anybody stumbles. THe acronym is IOUS.

  • I — Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Psalm 119:36)
  • O — Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (PSalm 119:18).
  • U — Unite my heart to fear your name (Psalm 86:11).
  • S — Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14).

What comforts me and helps me is that the psalmists asked this question: how do I fall in love with the word and stay committed to reading it every day? Because all four of those prayers are prayers to God for the inclination to read the Bible. Isn’t that amazing? So suppose willpower can get you to your prayer bench in the morning, just willpower and there’s not a lot of desire. What do you pray? What do you do? You say, “Oh God, I’m so sorry that my heart is so far from your word this morning.” And then you pray, “Incline my heart.” What does incline mean? It means take my heart and push it upward. Incline my heart to your testimonies.

And then O is for “open my eyes.” We start reading and all we see are black marks on a page. There’s nothing wonderful here. The Psalmist had that experience, otherwise he wouldn’t have prayed, “Open my eyes so that I might see wonderful things.” So I pray that. Then comes U. My heart is scattered. It’s going to my kids, my wife, my church, my finances, my health. My heart is just going every which way, and there’s no concentration at all. And so I pray, “Unite my heart to fear your name.” And finally is S because what I want to happen at the end of my devotions is that I want to be more satisfied in God. I want him to be my all. I want you to be my treasure. So those are four prayers that I use and ask the Lord almost every day that he would do.

How do you find the balance between trusting in God’s vengeance and standing up for others, that is, bullying done to others around you, or people taken advantage of by others?

The question assumes a good thing, namely that there’s a difference between stepping in to advocate for somebody else being treated wrongly and getting your back up about you being treated wrongly. This question assumes that and is asking about balance.

I suppose the term balance would only come into play if it seemed like I and the person I am now going to defend were so close it would feel like I’m really defending me. That’s where the call would be tough. To me, it’s not a very tough call to advocate for another person. I think Christians ought to do that regularly and often. There’s a spirit in which we’ll do it that might be different from others. But to look at another person being, let’s say, beat up on the street or slandered at work or criticized on a Facebook account or whatever, just to see that happening and to blow it off, saying, “Oh, they should learn to tough it up and return good for evil,” isn’t right. Well, yes they should, but you’re not in that position right now. You’re in a position of loving another person, and to love another person would mean that you want kindness shown to them and not ugliness.

So you will go to the boss, you’ll go to the superior, and you will say, “I don’t want to be out of line here, but I just thought the way you treated her wasn’t good. We don’t want to do that here, do we?” You’re going to step up. You’re going to go do that. So I would say the only time you wouldn’t be inclined to do that is if maybe your whole church staff has been slandered, and as a unit you’re going to take it, because you represent one thing and you just discuss together how you’re going to respond. You say, “We’re going to lay low and we’re not going to respond, at least unless we legally have to here. We’re just going to let our own reputation stand for what it is.”

How do you determine which issues in marriage to actively work to solve versus which issues to put in the compost pile?

There are several kinds of answers. Number one, if it’s a sin issue, a deep sin issue, you keep working on it because you shouldn’t make peace with sin, whether it’s his sin or her sin. So you keep at it. However, there’s a little qualification on that. What about when one of you thinks it’s a sin and the other one doesn’t? My guess is that sooner or later that has to go in the compost pile. And you just trust God that you’re not complicit in sin. If you’re the one who thinks it’s a sin and she doesn’t or he doesn’t, then you say, “Lord, I think I would destroy this marriage if I keep pushing on this, so it’s going in the compost pile.”

Another factor would be time. I’d say for Noël and me, I think I’m a slow learner. So I just think time shows you what the chances are that things are going to be different. And you say, “Okay, this isn’t what I thought it would be like. This isn’t the way I thought it would go in the communication. It’s the way we’re wired and we will be dealing with this until we’re dead. And so this is going into the compost pile.” At least, the negative responses to it are going into the compost pile. So time is another factor.

Sinfulness, time, and I suppose seriousness with regard to consequences is another one. How is it affecting the kids? And you go through seasons, right? You have seasons where you get kids, and this particular feature of the conflict is having bad effects on the kids. So for that season, extra effort might need to go into it because of the way you perceive things. So consequences, bigness of consequences might be another one.

I mean, the fact that there has to be a compost pile is a failure, right? We’re all sinners. I mean, in a perfect world, there would be no compost piles. The fact that there is a compost pile means there are two sinners living together. And every time you put something there, you feel like there’s been a failure in you, in her, in us, and that’s true. And this is why we love the gospel, right? You don’t just love the gospel because here’s a sin, I saw it, I confessed it, I got forgiveness, and I moved on. Sweet.

But rather, here’s the sin. I saw it, I confessed it, and I struggled with it for the rest of my life. So when you come to the end of every day and know that the same thing you’ve been struggling with all your life happened in some measure again — I’m thinking mainly of verbal stuff here for me, attitudinal stuff — you go to bed at night thinking, “If I didn’t have Christ to cover all my sins, there’s no way I could keep going. No way. Surely not in the ministry and not in life.” So the gospel is very precious. It’s not an excuse. Don’t hear me saying it’s an excuse to keep on going. It’s the power to keep on fighting.