Do you want to cultivate and enjoy a great marriage?
Do you want to be more energized and less discouraged, regardless of what is happening around you and how others are treating you?
Do you want to see God use you in tremendous ways?
In one sense, it all begins in your head. What do you think about?
During my Cherish marriage seminars, I make the case that those who are able to sustain a cherishing marriage with an imperfect spouse (of course there are no perfect spouses) meditate often on the kindness and grace of God; those who give up cherishing their spouse meditate often on the faults and failures of their spouse. A high-functioning marriage depends largely on what direction our minds are pointed: “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2).
The same is true for effective parenting, or for any lasting and great accomplishment for the Kingdom of God. How we think about life will encourage or discourage us on an hourly basis, growing hope or sowing the seeds of anger and fear.
I’m not advocating the power of positive thinking; I’m advocating the power of focusing on God. One of the most helpful, joy-producing disciplines for me over the past two and a half years has been learning and re-learning to set my mind on who God is, what he has done, and what he promises, rather than the fears I am facing.
You’d think thinking about myself would make me happy. It doesn’t. In the past I have spent entirely too much time obsessed with myself, my circumstances, and my obedience, or (more commonly) my lack thereof. Meditating on myself is the certain path to discouragement because I’m not all I want to be, whereas God is everything we need him to be and so much more.
What we think about most often will usually determine how we feel most often.
I am currently going through the entire Bible writing down every positive statement about God, transferring that onto a list, and spending time each day meditating on one of those affirmations:
“God has reconciled you through Christ to present you as holy, without blemish, and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22). This is great medicine for a day in which I feel I’ve blown it.
“God rewards us” (Colossians 3:24). This is great encouragement for when I feel taken for granted by others.
“God will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). This is a much-needed reminder when I feel I am under spiritual attack.
I could have learned this decades ago if I had just listened a little more closely to my theological mentor and advisor in seminary, Dr. J.I. Packer. In A Passion for Faithfulness, he urges us to follow Nehemiah’s example and focus our thinking on the beauty, power, glory, and might of our God. This was the discipline behind the strength, motivation, and empowering presence that fueled Nehemiah’s incredible accomplishment of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall in just fifty-two days:
“The God of Nehemiah is the transcendent Creator, the God ‘of heaven’ (Nehemiah 1:4-5; 2:4, 20), self-sustaining, self-energizing, and eternal (‘from everlasting to everlasting,’ Nehemiah 9:5). He is ‘great’ (Nehemiah 8:6), ‘great and awesome’ (Nehemiah 1:5, 4:14), ‘great, mighty and awesome’ (Nehemiah 9:32)… Lord of history, God of judgment and mercy, ‘a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love’ (Nehemiah 9:17; see Exodus 34:6-7). God was to Nehemiah the sublimest, most permanent, most pervasive, most intimate, most humbling, exalting, and commanding of all realities. The basis on which…Nehemiah attempted great things for God and expected great things from God was that…he had grasped the greatness of God himself.”
To do great things, meditate on a great God.
To build a great marriage, meditate on your great God.
To overcome great challenges, spend more time meditating on your great God than your troublesome trials.
Don’t focus on how weak you or your family are or how desperate the situation is with one of your children. Focus on the greatness of your God. It’s entirely reasonable to do this, as God has already saved the radically rebellious in numbers too many to count, so yes, he can save your loved one. He has emboldened the cowardly; he has healed the sick, given wisdom to the foolish and even made this amazing world out of…nothing. He raised Jesus from the dead! A God who can do all that is a God who can do whatever needs to be done in your life, family, or ministry.
Think less of the problem, and more of God’s intelligence; less of the challenge, and more of God’s provision; less of your sin and more of God’s grace; less of the need and more of God’s promised provision. Begin your prayers thanking God, end your prayers adoring God, and never let a significant point of time go by without celebrating the wonders of God.
God’s excellence in every way is the surest platform from which we can face every challenge.