Desiring God Roundtable

Chapters 7–8

Bethlehem College and Seminary

Welcome to Bethlehem again in our Table Talk. I’m surrounded here by about 25 seminary guys. We are here to talk about marriage and money, chapters 7 and 8 of Desiring God, and include you if you want to tweet us your question here at #DG25. There’s an amazing connection here, isn’t there? Most people know that money and marriage are all bound up together. There aren’t many marriage killers like money, and money can be a great blessing. So we want to jump into that and see where God takes us. So let me pray and see how God leads.

My question’s from Ephesians 5. So it’s about marriage and Christian Hedonism. It’s where Paul’s telling husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. And just recently, I saw that the verse keeps going. When I think of this verse, I usually think, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for. But Paul says also that he might sanctify her, that he might cleanse her, that he might present her to himself. And so I’m just wondering, are we as husbands supposed to take that comparison to all the things that Paul’s taking it to? And if so, how do we do that without being self-righteous? I don’t feel like I’m the right guy to sanctify my wife.

That is so unbelievably relevant to an email interchange I’ve been having this week about the function of households in our church and the roles of men, in particular, as the disciplers of their family. I’ve been steering a kind of middle course between what I think is probably an excessive view of a man being the sanctifier of his wife and a negligible view which would say it doesn’t have any relevance. I think it does. It’s always an analogy, it’s always a picture. So I’m not Christ. It’s really important to say I’m not Christ in my wife’s life. I’m a picture of him, a very flawed picture. She goes straight to Christ for her help, for her joy, for her sanctification. He’s her sanctifier.

Now, there are all kinds of means of grace in life: prayer and the word and worship and the body of Christ and husbands and wives. So I would say what you’ve noticed is something that should be noticed. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved [her]” (Ephesians 5:25). And then the answer to how it doesn’t become self-righteous is that it’s sacrificial through and through.

Anytime he finds himself rising up in a lordly way, he remembers how leadership was done by Jesus. Bound a towel around himself, washed their feet and he said the Gentiles, they lord it over those who are subject to them. “We don’t lead that way. We lead this way.” And so yes, I think husbands, though they’re threatened by this, I think our church guys will push back hard on this. I think we need to go here more than we do and say, “Step up to the plate, guys.”

Most guys think, “Look, my wife is more spiritual than I am. She knows the Bible better than I do. She can talk better than I do. She studies more than I do. You’re expecting me to sanctify her?” Yes, it’s just wimpy to say, “My wife’s ahead of me, therefore I shouldn’t do anything.” To say that our job is to labor toward loving her into Christ-likeness doesn’t mean we’re ahead of her. She may stay more spiritual, more Bible-informed, more articulate than us all our married life. And what a godly woman wants from a husband is not his superiority over her.

She wants him to “Step up. Lead the family. Take us to the word. Take us to prayer, take us to church, take us to a moral vision. I’ll join you in this. I’ll help you in this. I’ll come alongside you and I may give what you can’t give, but lead us in this for the sake of our holiness and our beauty.” So yes, don’t push it further than the image will let you push it, but push it that far I think. Where do we go next?

To Twitter, we’ll stay on the topic of marriage. What are core truths about the institution of marriage that you believe need to be communicated to engaged couples?

The core truth. Let’s just see what ones come to my mind. God created it. “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” This wedding ceremony and this exchange of vows and what is happening in this union is not, first, man’s work. It’s not a pastor’s work, it’s not a husband’s and wife’s work. It’s being done by God, what God has joined together. This is why it is so amazingly sacred. And that’s true for unbelievers as well as believers.

Marriage is a creation ordinance, not a redemption ordinance. It is valid for all people, which is why there is no such thing as so-called gay marriage. It doesn’t exist. I don’t think we should use the word or the term. I always am going to put “so-called” gay marriage in front of it. It is God’s idea. He created it. He puts a man and woman in the garden and he says, “Man shall leave his mother and father and cleaved his wife. The two should become one flesh.” This is a great mystery. Know this is the second truth. Paul says, “This created ordinance that God made is mysterious.” And the mystery is solved in Ephesians 5:25–33, “I take it to mean Christ and the church.”

And this is what I’d say to an engaged couple, “Young man, the unique call on your life in this relationship is to take your cues from Jesus as the leader, the protector, and the provider. Those three words are in this text, not the words, but the reality is in this text. So take your cues from Christ in relationship to the church. And young woman, take your cues from a godly mature church who loves Jesus.” And I said a minute ago, your husband isn’t Jesus. He’s a picture of Jesus and you’re a picture of the church and make the picture beautiful.

He does his part, loving, leading, providing, protecting, sacrificially, humbly in a Christlike way, dying for you. And you respond by coming alongside him and saying, “I’m excited about your leadership. I’m excited about your protection. I’m excited about your provision. I’m excited about your headship. I am for you. We’re going to make this beautiful together for the world to see.” So those two big truths are maybe enough. God’s idea, he created it. You can’t make it what you want it to be. And secondly, it models Christ in the church.

I will say one third thing that pops in my mind here because I wrote a book on this. It’s not forever, so don’t idolize it. In the resurrection, there’s neither marriage nor giving in marriage. And you may not want to write a poem about that because lots of poems are written about how “our love is eternal, blah, blah, blah.” No, it isn’t. Not as husband and wife. It is a parable of permanence, but it is a momentary marriage for this sweet, precious, painful life.

Otherwise, my father would be a bigamist in heaven because my mother died after 36 years of marriage to my father. He married LaVonne and they had 25 years together. Good years. I did the wedding myself. And they’re all in heaven right now. So whose wife does my dad relate to? Jesus was asked that question. That’s why it’s important. He’s not a bigamist because they’re not relating that way. Something deeper, sweeter, better. No worse. Will?

Pastor John, this is a money question. And specifically, how are we to look at investments as Christians? I guess, my particular question is, is there a significance to the way that we earn a return on our money in investments? Is there some things that we shouldn’t be a part of? I mean, are we going to be held accountable for the way that we earn our money if we’re invested in some company that maybe morally or ethically is wrong? I’m just wondering your thoughts on that.

Okay, that’s really important to ask that question. It just assumes so much, doesn’t it? That I’m not sure what I can assume with the folks that are watching. Let me just say a few foundational things before. And the rest of you, really feel free to press more on this, okay? Because I like other things to be brought out here that I may neglect to say.

Everything is God’s. He owns my money. So when I’m investing, I’m investing as a broker or a manager. It isn’t mine. That’s just so fundamental. No money in my bank account is my money. It is God’s money. The parable of the talents. He’s leaving behind ten, five, two, and he says, “Go.” And now the question: “Invest. Do something with it.” Because the guy who did nothing with it, he buried it. Jesus said, “You should have at least put it in the bank so it can get interest.” Which raises your question like, “Which bank? Or a bank that invests in planned parenthood or some racist institution or something that produces a drug that is illicit or whatever?”

And so I think the answer is yes, you should care about that. I want to be careful, though, because there are distances from causation, distances from effects that I think exonerate you. If you’re a janitor, you desperately need a job. You got four kids at home and you need a job and you just lost your job as a computer programmer and you’re saying, “I’m going to make money for this family. I’m not going to let us starve.” And you take a job of as a janitor at the only company that has it open.

I don’t think you’re probably responsible for the shenanigans at the level of the CEO. If he’s up there lying and cheating, you don’t know anything about that. And you’re benefiting from that while that’s happening and you don’t know it, I don’t think that’s your problem.

Now, as you go up the line and you become a salesman, manager, vice president, you start to get close to responsibility. And so as an investor, insofar as you’re able, I think we should do our homework. There are mutual funds that are vetted exactly that way. David comes and talks to us because we have ways of doing retirement funds here where investment can be put through channels where they simply don’t do this, this and this. They just don’t invest in those companies. I think that’s probably smart. And the reason it’s smart is because it’s God’s money. And not only is the return his and what we do with it really matters, but how we make that return matters to him, I think. Everything matters to him.

How do you determine the difference between wartime lifestyle and mere simplicity in your life?

That’s a distinction taken from the book and I get it from Ralph Winter who’s now with the Lord, but he was once a great, or still is a great hero of mine in the way he was in a statesmanlike way and a radical way, a leader in the missionary cause. Simple lifestyle simply thinks about me and my little footprint on the planet and whether I should be all organic or spending my time doing this or that. It doesn’t have a strategic mindset. At least the way I’m defining it, it doesn’t. And if you define it differently, then maybe you’re already talking about wartime.

A simple lifestyle says just me and my family, we’re going to keep things simple. We’re going to eat a certain way. We’re going to garden a certain way. We’re going to dress a certain way, drive a certain way, live a certain way, and they never get to the question, “So what? Who cares what you do with your little pocket of humanity while the world is going to hell and people are being swept away into eternity?” If you’re not doing this for that, then your simplicity is just idolatry.

So wartime says, “Yes, think that way. Think about the car you drive and the house you live in and the clothes you wear and where you shop and what you eat and how often you eat out and how much leisure you do and what kind of computer you buy, and if you have a computer.” And what Winter said was in wartime, you may invest in a B-52 bomber, which costs whatever, a billion dollars to build and put all the computers in it, in order to win the war quicker so that the enemy doesn’t make as much headway. And everybody looks at that massive plane. That’s not simplicity. That’s complexity and expense to the max and it’s all designed to defeat an enemy.

So when I mentioned computers, I have one and I have a computer in my telephone and I am thinking, “Okay, I think in this world that I live in and the way we do ministry and the impact we want to make and the enemy we want to defeat, I think that’s a good thing.” Even though it costs 2,500 bucks or better to get one of these things. And how many people could that feed, right? How many years of rice could that buy?

I just think that’s the right question to ask. And therefore, we’re always thinking strategically. I’m not into helping people live simply as an in itself. I’m eager for a wartime lifestyle, which is not a simple thing. It’s just not simple to decide what things to invest in and how to dress and what to drive and where to live and when to eat out and when to go to a movie or not because all these things could be relieving suffering immediately.

So it’s clear that there is a call for a wartime lifestyle is not easy to decide what it is and we should cut each other a lot of slack. I’m just commending constantly. People just pray through this, care about this, think it through God will guide you.

Pastor John, connecting money and marriage, kind of like we talked about a little bit before we began recording, how does a spouse go about when the other spouse is anxious about money or ringing their hands over money? How do you go about speaking about money so to relieve anxiety? Is there ways that you can set up your budget or maybe just baseline things that are good to handle money in certain ways so that anxiety would be freed for maybe one spouse that’s more worrisome than the other?

I’m sure there are. That’s a really good question. And it’s a subset of questions about many kinds of differences, like one of them starts sensing and urging towards a certain mission field and the other doesn’t. One of them feels drawn to ministry in a certain form and the other doesn’t. One senses the call to live in a certain neighborhood and the other doesn’t. Or one senses the desire to live more simply and give more away and the other is anxious about that. What do you do?

I think the husband has an unusual responsibility here, although she may be ahead of him, she may be the one. I see that both ways. I’ve seen it both ways here at Bethlehem where the wife is ahead of her husband, and he catches up, and the husband’s ahead, and she catches up, and it may take time.

So I’d say this marriage matters more than that lifestyle choice. It does. And you don’t want to wreck it. You may feel I’m compromising my conviction, but I think the Lord will honor the higher priority. And if she feels that, she may feel more secure. Or he feels that, he may feel more secure in taking more risks. So valuing the marriage, patience, and realize that God may do in a year from now or five years from now what he hasn’t done yet in the spouse.

A third would be without nagging. I just think going back to it over and over, we will begin to feel like nagging, discerning what he’s nagging and what is periodic. Bringing up an issue in an appropriate way is very tough. It demands wisdom. So I’m saying discern the difference between nagging and sensitive discussion on the issue.

And then prayer, earnestly alone for God to work, studying together as much as he or she is willing, looking at models together of historic and present couples who are doing the kind of thing that you want to do so she can taste or he can taste what you are longing to happen in your own marriage. I’m sure there’s lots of more wise words that aren’t coming to my mind right now, but that’s where I am.

What words of challenge would you extend to those at either end of the spectrum on money, to those who make it an idol on the one hand, and to those who see it as evil on the other?

Well, there’s a proverb that does that, that isn’t there? I wrote it down. What’s the proverb? Proverb, proverb, proverb. Balance. I wrote balance. Proverbs 30:8: “So give me neither poverty nor riches.” That’s the “Give me neither poverty.” I don’t think anybody should pray that God would bankrupt you so that your faith could be tested. That’s like jumping off the temple. And Jesus wouldn’t do it when the devil said, “Go ahead, prove yourself.”

I don’t think that we should pray to be rich. He “who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). The desire to be poor and the desire to be rich are both wrong. But it goes on to say, “But give me what I need so that I don’t feel poor and steal and dishonor the name.” And how the rest of it go? “Not riches lest I be full and deny you . . . or lest I be poor and steal and profane” (Proverbs 30:9). So not denying God and not profaning God, but finding the way in the middle.

So I’d want to say to the person who feels like they’re prone towards, “I want to make a lot of money,” be careful. It’ll kill you. The love of money is the root of all evils and it’s hard for those who are rich to get into the kingdom of heaven. Money is very dangerous. On the other hand, for those who are saying, “I want to be as poor as I can be,” you have to hear the text that along came false teachers saying you shouldn’t marry, you shouldn’t eat certain foods. And Paul responds by saying, “Everything God made is good and should be received with thanksgiving.”

Of course, it’s sanctified by the word and prayer, which means we shouldn’t feel guilty if he gives us what we need. I think he means for there to be an appropriate flourishing even in this life. And yet, I think the New Testament does lean — if you accumulate all the texts — the New Testament leans towards this “life is short” and it’s to be maximized for doing good to others, not maximizing ease for ourselves.

Pastor John, this is kind of a follow-up question to what you’ve already said, but the significant pushback for some husbands when they think about being a sanctifying force in their life is, on the one hand, some of them feel sensitive about being the Holy Spirit for their wife, “How can I guard against that?” And others might say, “In my attempt to study my wife and live with her according to knowledge, I realize she’s very super sensitive. And so what I say can be interpreted as being critical and being in disfavor.” How would you establish some safeguards in those areas?

Just like I said, we are not Christ. We are not the Holy Spirit. It’s very helpful to say that to ourselves, lest you have to say it to us, which means we shouldn’t entertain the notion that we can do this. And if we relax and say, “I’m not responsible for changing anything about my wife, God is.” I am responsible for not taking 1 Peter's phrase, “Living together with her according to knowledge” (1 Peter 3:7).

That would be knowledge of God in his word and knowledge of her, and therefore discerning her sensitivities, discerning what moves her, touches her, helps her. And probably for most of us, the number one way to be a sanctifying influence is to model holiness, not instruct holiness so that she senses, “I have a Christ figure to look at, not a Christ figure who is assuming the authority of Jesus to give me a lesson every night.” It will feel different.

And supplementing that modeling would be sharing, talking about what he’s learning. Probably, a wife can discern the subtle ways of getting at her that really aren’t authentic. “God has been teaching me and I’ve been broken and I am learning.” If she tastes that, “My husband is growing in grace, he’s meeting God. He’s refining him and he’s reporting to me. He’s narrating God’s grace in his life,” she could feel drawn into that probably more helpfully than if she were being pedagogically demeaned as an inferior or a poor little student who needs to be brought along here.

So it’s very delicate. Wives need to maturely receive leadership from their husbands, but husbands need to maturely not treat her as a child. They are fellow heirs of the grace of life. That’s in that same context with learn how to live with her according to knowledge. So she’s queen, he’s king, and they’re heading into the kingdom together. Fellow heirs of a common, magnificent destiny. So he’s exalting in that, and she’s, I hope, being drawn into that exaltation. And in a similar way, though a different shape, she’s doing the same thing. She is modeling a delight in Christ by the way the church responds to Christ and she responds to him.

How does Ephesians 4:28 relate to the Christian Hedonists’ approach to money? And I’ll read Ephesians 4:28: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

That verse became a paradigm for me for three ways to live. One is wrong, one is defective, and one is glorious. “Let the thief no longer steal.” That’s wrong. Don’t make your life by stealing.

I got an email from a fellow pastor the other day. Actually, it’s been a month or two ago, saying, “The most common way for employees to steal is by lying about their hours or taking 15 minutes longer at their break.” And he did the math. He added up 265 days of 15 minutes of cheating and it came to like several thousand dollars if you’re paid $25, $34 an hour.

So when I say, “Don’t steal,” you might blow that off and say, “Oh, I’m not a thief.” Well, you might be. You might be. You might be stealing from your wife, you might be stealing from your employer in ways you never dreamed by not living up to the contractual expectations that you signed on for. So that’s defective. Everybody knows stealing is wrong.

“Let the thief no longer steal, but let him labor with his hands that he may have.” That’s where most people live. It’s not wrong, it’s just defective. It’s like the simple lifestyle issue. If you think, “I work to have, I work to have, I work to have work to have to spend. I work to have to spend on what I want to have,” you just live like the world and like the devil. The text says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but let him labor with his hands that he may have to give to him who is in need.” So you can steal or you can work to have or you can work to have to give.

I just want to plead with people, don’t want to be poor and get employed. Work. “Let him who does not work, not eat,” Paul says. It’s a shame when Christians are negligent and lazy and not taking the opportunities that are at hand to work. But why? Why would you want money? Well, if all you say is, “To buy my clothing and to provide for my house and to get a car and to educate my kids and to clothe our family and to be reasonably comfortable and secure,” if that’s your answer, you just are worldly. You want to earn money for that as a platform to give and give, and that’s why you should care about making lots of money.

So when I said a little while ago nobody should want to be rich, I did not say nobody should want to make a lot of money, because keeping is the problem. Piling more and more and more into your bank, buying a bigger and bigger house, buying a bigger and bigger car, buying fancier and fancier clothing, buying more and more DVDs, getting richer and richer with the stuff that you’ve earned, that’s the problem. Making lots of money is not a problem.

We’ve tried so hard over the years, Noël and I, that as our salary’s gone up and we’ve resisted it going up too fast. As it’s gone up, we give more and more and more to the church because we want to cap our lifestyle for this simple reason, if you have it, you spend it. The expenses always expand to fill the income. Always. You just get by. You get by at $40,000, $50,000, $60,000, $100,000, $200,000. There’s a whole book written on getting by on $100,000 a year. Why? You’ve got to put fuel in your plane. You’re just skimping by.

So if you don’t set an artificial cap, it’s called the graduated tithe, then you’re going to wind up not living to give. You’re going to wind up living to have, living to have, living to have. And God says let the rich “be rich in good deeds” so that they might lay up for themselves a good foundation and lay hold on life, which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:9).

We don’t have much time here and we’re to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not on earth. And the way you lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven according to Luke 12:33 is by selling your possessions and giving alms. It is giving that lays up treasure. So devote yourself not to working to have, but working to have to give.

Pastor John, following up on that question and just going back to the idea of the wartime lifestyle in your book. Do you find budgeting to be an effective weapon in that fight? And do you budget? And if so, how should a Christian Hedonist budget?

I’ll be really honest here because it relates to the question about wives and husbands’ differences, okay? We budgeted, and I recommend budgeting. For about 8 years, we did that. That is, we still do it, but we do it differently than we did it. We drew up, “Okay, how much money is laundry going to cost us in the beginning? How much money is food going to cost us? How much money is rent going to cost us?”

We did it. I mean, I worked on it before I got married. I just worked and I knew I had that, “This is my job. I’m going to make this work. I’m not making much money as a seminary student,” right? “This has got to reach” at Fuller Seminary, 1968 to ‘71. And so we did it, and we did it in Germany, and we did it when we moved to False Road in Minneapolis and started teaching at Bethel.

And then reality set in, and the balancing of the checkbook almost destroyed our marriage. We don’t balance our checkbook anymore. Oh, I’m saying this on camera. We don’t balance our checkbook anymore. Our new way, that has become livable for us, given the way Noël and I are wired so differently, is that we cap our income, and then we just live under it somehow. We just give more away to make sure. You can’t spend it if you don’t have it, right? So if you set up an electronic gift of hundreds of dollars out of every paycheck to Bethlehem, what shows up in your bank account is what you can spend. It’s simple. And if it’s not there, you don’t spend it.

And if, in using your plastic, here’s danger, right? Big danger. Visa cards are dangerous. So we stripped away every single card except one. We do use one card. And I’m always on it electronically. You can do this now. You can follow it. Every day you know what that thing is producing, and you know what’s in the bank and say, “We’re done. It’s over. We’re not going there or whatever.” So it is real fuzzy. Real fuzzy. I don’t recommend it unless you have to save your marriage. It works for us.

The key thing is you must live within your income. Don’t go into debt except for things that appreciate, that’s only one, houses, and maybe a little bit for your education. But I groan when I see the massive debt, especially credit card debt, that just kills couples for 10–20 years into their marriage and keeps them off the mission field. So I would just plead with all of you younger guys here, do whatever you can not to go into debt and to live within your income. And budgeting is a very crucial way to do that. Otherwise, it slips up on you real, real quick.

What are some practical ways in which you pursue your joy in the joy of your beloved?

We spent 8 months on leave last year. A fourth of the reason for that leave was to think through pace issues, marriage issues, parenting issues, ministry, and marriage issues. So, my first answer to the question is attend to it. Say the question again. I want to make sure I get exact.

What are some practical ways in which you pursue joy in the joy of your beloved?

So attend to the issue. Don’t sweep it under the rug as though all is well when it may not be. Just attend to it. Second, talk to her relentlessly. I’m talking to guys now. Talk to her relentlessly. We do this, okay? Ask, “What do I do?” I’m taking her out on a state of the marriage date every Monday to Old Country Buffet where people are just like us, old sloppy people, or Leanne Chin where everybody’s cool. And you go there. And it’s cheap, by the way. At Leeann Chin, if you get the child’s portion, it’s only four-something. Both of you can eat for under $10. So you get a drink, you get rice, you get peking chicken, and it’s all under $10 for both of you. Parenthesis, advertisement. They can send me whatever they want.

I forgot where I was going. Oh, yes. Date each other and talk about this. And this is real relevant because we were sitting in our small group on the pastor’s wives retreat day before yesterday, and I said this in a group. I said, “Noël and I.” It’s just crucial when the BCS guys asked me how to help balance marriage and ministry. My first and only answer usually is, “Talk to her. Talk to her. Stay in touch with her. She’ll tell you.” And Noël, my wife, is sitting at my left hand. She said, “That’s not enough. Because I’m not always going to tell you the truth because I love your ministry too much.”

“Okay, Noël, what more?” And the answer is look for more, probe more, discern more. If you married the right woman, she cares about your ministry. She doesn’t want to complain. She doesn’t. She doesn’t want to make your life hard. She doesn’t want to tell you often what she really feels because she knows you’ve got enough burdens on your own. You’re studying. You’re trying to put food on the table. You’re dreaming ministry and she doesn’t want to be a ball and chain around your neck. So you guys got to care enough for her to figure that out. You got to penetrate through to that. So talk.

Then, quote C.J. Mahaney. And I’m going to quote him and then say I’m working on it. He says, “Sacrifice and surprise.” Okay, thank you, C.J. “Sacrifice for your wife. Let her see some sacrifice.” That may mean coming down early or going someplace or fixing something around the house or filling up the thing so she didn’t have to fill it up or whatever. So a little sacrifice for her. And then surprises to make her feel special. “Come on, we’re going. I’ve already made the plan. Baby sitter’s ready.” And you’re off, and she’s feeling cherished for the surprise.

Noël is a lover of being together without much being done. So what she wants from me in an evening is, “Come downstairs so I can talk to you if I want to. You don’t have to have an agenda. It doesn’t have to be Scrabble tonight. Doesn’t have to be watching a video tonight. You read your book. I read mine, but sit there, I’m here. And that’s good because now if I have something to say, you’re there. You’re not upstairs in your study.”

That’s one of the things she really enjoys from me. She said flat out to that group day before yesterday that one of the languages of love she has is that when Johnny fixes things around the house without being told. And I realized, “Oh dear, the back door’s been that white splotch on it from supposed to be painted last fall. I haven’t gotten around to it. So here I need to make my wife happy by painting the back door and making sure it doesn’t jiggle when it’s locked, it closes the way it’s supposed to. A few examples.

Pastor John, this is a question kind of back to what we were talking about with money, and it relates to faith versus prudence. So I’m kind of in a financial situation where I’m just getting by, and yet there are ministries that I’m involved in that I’ve invested my heart into, and there are ministries that don’t pay a whole lot. And so, how do you find a balance between stepping out in faith while obligating? Because I feel like there are financial obligations that I need to honor. And so if I have those financial obligations, I don’t need much else. But if I can barely make those obligations, what’s the balance between stepping out in faith and saying, “This is what God has called me to. And wait a second, we got to find something else that pays.” Or, you know.

I hear you. Oh my. I mean stories come to my mind of people who have stepped out on faith because of a call of God where there was no guarantee of income. Hudson Taylor-type people, China inland mission. “I’m going to pray in the rice bowls and then the sex and the chickens. They’re going to be here for us, honey.” You got to have a certain kind of wife and a certain kind of soul to live like that. And so, I just want to say if a couple feels that call, I’m not going to say it’s foolhardy. I’m going to say discern carefully. Your parents are going to go berserk maybe if I tell you that I’m supporting you in that.

On the other hand, if there’s a guy who comes to me, and this has happened here at Bethlehem, who says, “I feel called to a street ministry,” and he’s out talking to people on the street every day with zero source of income. His wife is at home with four kids and there’s nothing coming in. I’m going to try to discern this call. I don’t think God calls a person to take his family into destitution. And if he says, “Well, she’s not believing, that’s why the money’s not coming here” or something, that’s not an answer. Your job is to provide for her. And if it’s through risky faith means, so be it. But if that risky faith means doesn’t produce the support, I don’t think God’s in it. He’s not in it.

The work done in God’s way, in God’s time will have God’s provision. Did Hudson Taylor say that? Somebody did. And that’s, I think, right. So I want to encourage risk-taking. I’ve got three sermons that I’ve preached on. Risk is right. “If I perish, I perish,” Esther said. There are kinds of risks that we take, but if a man does not provide for his household, he is worse than an unbeliever, Paul said. And so boy, I’m just really careful to say, “Go ahead, husband. Take whatever risks you want.” Make sure that it’s of God.

We have several questions from singles who are desiring marriage. Maybe I’ll take one particular one, and if you want to say anything more general about singleness. This person writes, “I’m currently single. How do I best pray for my wife that I may not have yet met?”

I want to avoid two things and try to steer us down the middle. The danger that comes to my mind with that question is having the mindset that there’s one woman out there and I’ve got to be sure to find her and not marry the wrong woman. Now, in the sovereignty of God, from his perspective, that’s true. He knows who you’re going to marry or not. Our job is not to discern her any more than we discern who’s elect. You don’t try to figure out who’s elect than witness to them and win them to Christ. You witness to everybody and then you discern by the effects of the witnessing, whether they’re saved.

Now in marriage, the analogy would be, you start looking and praying. So now this is the other side. You are praying, “God, I pray that you would bring me the woman.” But you don’t try to spy out, “Is she the one?” You just say, “Here are the things that I’ve been dreaming and hoping and praying toward.” And you consider her against that dream that you think God has given you there. And then I’ll tell you what happens or I think is very healthy if it happens, is there rises up in you a very strong affection for this woman or man. And that affection is always balanced with this list you’ve got, because she or he is never going to fit this list perfectly. And if you think they do, you just haven’t loaned them long enough because after you marry, they won’t be the same. And they certainly won’t be the same in forty years. They’ll look differently and they’ll be different.

And so you discern, God, “Is this person the person that is inside my criteria of a godly woman or godly man who could be the wife who could lead and protect and provide me? Is this a woman who would support and care for and come alongside me?” And if in that sphere you sense she meets enough, the affections that you have for her are going to rise up and cover all the rest. And then you marry, and the covenant sustains the marriage.

The romance does not sustain the marriage. The covenant sustains the romance. And the romance comes, it goes. It comes, it goes. And if the covenant is kept, it can always come. If the covenant is broken, it will never come again. And the next try you make will probably not be any better. So the covenant is kept. Look for the man or the woman who is a covenant keeper and pray that God will lead you to that wonderful, rugged, deep, strong firm covenant keeper.

Pastor, I was wondering, you mentioned the concept of B-52s in wartime living and sometimes investment is necessary to win the war, but I also know for me it’s always a danger. It’s easy to rationalize almost any sin, including a big investment, saying, “Well, think of how I could use this for the kingdom if I had this thing.” So I was just wondering if you could give more guidance in terms of how can you discern if you are thinking about making a big investment. I mean, whether it be just a nice computer or a second house or something like that, how can you tell whether or not you really are just wanting a nice thing and it’s not wartime lifestyle or maybe you really are sincere in thinking of ways that you could use this for the kingdom?”

Number one, and my initial answer is I don’t have an answer. I don’t think there is a final external set of criteria I could give you. And you say, “Oh, good, I ticked off those five things. Now I know.” I don’t think it works like that. But there are things, number one, that you’re aware of it is a huge thing and you plead with the Lord not to be self-deceived, “God, don’t let me be self-justifying in anything inappropriate.” You just pray like crazy.

Secondly, in as much as you can see the future, you do look at the spinoff of this decision. If it’s a house, if it’s a car, if it’s an investment, if it’s a ministry, where would it go? Where is it going? And try to think through all the implications, not just the ones you like, the subjective ones as well as the objective ones. Like, “This car can get me to work.” Yes, but does it have to be $30,000? “Well, I make enough to afford that. And all my vice presidents have that kind of car and it symbolizes my status.” Yes, that’s true. Good, bad. Just a Chevy might do. Copper will do.

Third, look at the world. Look at the world. Go to YouTube and type in “poverty.” Or better yet, get on a plane and spend 2,000 bucks and spend a month in a place of extreme poverty so that you feel the reality of the world. I think most of us Americans are okay with what we do because we are just here. We’re just here. So we’re not exposed to the realities.

Most people come home from mission trips resolved, never to complain again, and to be more careful in the way they spend their money. And within a few weeks, bang, all the emotional effect of that’s gone. So I think in a global village like ours, it’s easier to find out and it’s harder to live because you’re always aware of things you weren’t aware once upon a time because the news is immediate with a tsunami or with 173 people killed in Atlanta and Georgia this morning.

So those three things. And the fourth thing would be, talk to other people who you think are good models of stewardship and get their input.

Our last question: What is the best thing you have done for your marriage? Looking back, what do you wish you would have done more that you didn’t do?

How much time we have? A couple minutes. The best thing I’ve done is to stay married. That’s number one. I’ve kept my covenant at that level. And that is rock bottom important because having been married now for 42 and a half years, I have seen the rise and fall, the ebb and flow of affections. I’ve seen times where we both have been just frozen in sorrow and in pain. Frozen. And if you had asked at that moment, “Is this good?” We’d say, “Not good.”

“Is this got a future?” God says so. So during those times when Noël is frozen out at me or I’m frozen out at Noël for all kinds of sinful reasons in me, we stayed married and a lover for it. That would be number one. Within that rock-solid commitment that she and I share, we have striven to serve each other and to seek to find what the other loves and give. Noël has stood by me through ministry, thick and thin, and supported me every decision, every travel decision, every living decision, every peculiar purchasing or non-purchasing decision.

Every late night, every stress, she stood by me. And I’ve tried. “Now what does she love? What kind of vacations does she love? What kind of eating out does she love? What kind of evening does she love? What kind of Mother’s Day celebration would she like?” Trying to discern the ways to make a wife feel cherished or treasured or special.

And I’ll just be honest, for a long time, my language was to do that with poetry and gifts. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthday, anniversary not discerning how practical my wife is. And when I said earlier, she probably would rather have the back door painted than for me to write another poem this afternoon. If it takes me three hours to write this really nice poem that I think is so good, she would say, “Why don’t you just paint the door?” So it’s taken me a while to my vision of what the romance coming from me might be. And so I’ve tried to adapt.

So maybe the last thing I could say is grow. Don’t be afraid to grow. Forty-two years into your marriage, there’s little time left. And maybe the last decade between 42 and 52 years would be the sweetest of all. I think it will be.