The Elusive ‘Proverbs 31’ Ideal Today

When a friend recently asked me to share my thoughts on the “Proverbs 31” woman and man, it unexpectedly was a painful experience. As never before, I realized how cynical I had become on the subject of an ideal marriage. For far too many couples – even Christian couples – the marital ideal of “heaven on earth” has degenerated into something akin to hell on earth.

Solomon (or “King Lemuel”) asks, Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies”  (Proverbs 31:10). Right from beginning, he’s acknowledging that this kind of person is extremely rare and hard to find. And in the previous chapter, Solomon admitted that relationships between men and women were bewildering even to someone as wise as he was (Proverbs 4:18-19).

If it was hard to find a Proverbs 31 woman in Solomon’s day, isn’t the task even more daunting in today’s world? Believers are surrounded by a ME culture rather than a THEE culture. Even in the today’s church, the emphasis is typically on how YOU can have a more fulfilled life, not on how you can lay down your life to honor and serve your spouse or others.

So I ask: Is it even possible  to be a Proverbs 31 woman or man today? With very few observable precedents or role models, has that kind of marriage become something like an unattainable fairy tale?

My cynicism on the subject was compounded several months ago when Lysa TerKeurst, founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, announced she was divorcing her husband because of his infidelity. Hey, if the head of Proverbs 31 Ministries can’t even make her marriage work, how is there any hope for the rest of us?

I have numerous Christian friends whose marriages seemingly ended through little fault of their own. But while divorce among Christians is certainly a blot on the moral standing of the church today, perhaps there’s an even bigger  scandal: Why are so few marriages happy and thriving, not just surviving?

We all know people who are enduring unhappy marriages, just because they think it’s the Christian think to do. Yet just as divorce is a scandal, so is an unloving, unhappy marriage. Although neither  is a good witness for Christ, we often applaud the martyrs who “hang in there” with unhappy or even abusive marriages.

Back to Proverbs

The Proverbs 31 woman and man are portrayed in quite idealistic, perhaps unattainable, terms:

The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life
(vs. 11-12).

Trust is such a foundational ingredient in any healthy relationship. But who among us is trustworthy all the time? Even if we try our best, we will let people down from time to time. And if our life is characterized by pursuing our own selfish interests instead of dying to ourselves daily, we’re destined to be extremely  untrustworthy as friends or spouses.

She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.

 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants
(vs. 13-15).

She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet

 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple
(vs. 21-22).

She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness
(v. 27).

What a hard worker this Proverbs 31 woman is, staying up day and night to provide food, clothing, and a beautiful home for her family. She seems like a hybrid of Betty Crocker, Paula Dean, Martha Stewart, and Wonder Woman!

While it’s commendable that this amazing woman “does not eat the bread of idleness,” this statement worries me a little. I’m hopeful she also has the wisdom to take time for rest each week, and periodically to disengage from her many activities by taking a vacation. From the beginning of God’s creation of humankind, he instructed us to both work and rest. Idleness is a good  thing if done in sync with the Lord’s plan and workflow.

Also, when I read these verses, I can’t help wondering about the husband’s role, if any, in the domestic activities of the household. Did he ever do the dishes or help with the laundry? Just wondering…

She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard
(v. 16).

She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle
(vs. 18-19).

She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants
(v. 24).

In addition to caring for her family, the Proverbs 31 woman is a successful real estate investor and businesswoman. Wow!

She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms
(v. 17).

It even sounds like she somehow finds time to visit the gym to lift weights and keep her arms toned:

She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy
(v. 20).

On top of her incredibly busy schedule, the Proverbs 31 woman apparently takes time to volunteer for nonprofit organizations and reach out to the poor and needy:

Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness
(vs. 25-26).

This woman’s accomplishments and work ethic are fantastic, but something huge would be missing if not for these additional descriptions of her character:

  • She was clothed with honor (which the coming verses point to as an important characteristic of this entire family).
  • She kept an optimistic and hopeful outlook on her family’s future. This is shown more clearly in the NASB translation: “She smiles at the future.”  The opposite of this is to be a worrier, always expecting the worst to happen. Pessimism and worry are traits that not only undercut a person’s relationship with God, but also their marriage and family life.
  • She was kind. This is an enormous character trait for a healthy marriage and family. Many husbands and wives are tremendously successful and productive in their accomplishments, yet they’ve never learned “the law of kindness.”  In contrast, when the Proverbs 31 woman spoke, people knew her words would be filled with wisdom and kindness. Too often, we use our words to win arguments, but this woman knew how to win people’s hearts.

What About the Husband and Kids?

The friend who asked me about Proverbs 31 wanted to know about the Proverbs 31 man too, not just the woman. Hmmm…I wasn’t sure I really knew much about that. The woman is clearly the central figure in the chapter, and I’ve seldom heard anyone comment about her husband.

But we’re given a few indications of what the man was doing while his wife was completing her heroic endeavors:

Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land (v. 23).

The city gates were the place of commerce and government back then, and we see this man sitting “among the elders.”  So, while the Proverbs 31 woman was diligently caring for the household, her husband was out being a leader in the community.

A couple of observations:

  • The husband wouldn’t have had the freedom to hang out with community leaders unless his wife was able to run an orderly household. Once again, we see the importance of the wife’s trustworthiness. The man knew he could safely delegate to her many responsibilities for the family.
  • If the family situation wasn’t reasonably in order, the husband wouldn’t have been able to gain the respect of the community leaders or be recognized as an “elder” (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4-5).
  • A man who isn’t honored and respected by his wife seldom has the self-confidence to successfully lead in the community or the church. As a former pastor, I counseled many men who had been emasculated by the disrespect of their wives. Solomon describes this in several of his previous proverbs, saying it’s better to live on the corner of a roof or in a desert land, than to deal with a contentious woman (Proverbs 21:9, 21:19). The Proverbs 31 man thankfully didn’t have to face that problem.

Although the woman is the hero of this story, the man certainly should be given some credit for helping to create a culture of honor and respect in the family:

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all”
(vs. 28-29).

Many children today have never learned how to honor and respect other people – not even their mother and father. The fact that the woman’s children in Proverbs 31 can bless her so wholeheartedly is an indication that they first observed their father doing the same.

You’ve probably heard that one of the five love languages is “Words of Affirmation.” While that’s no doubt true, let’s get real: We ALL desire words of affirmation, don’t we? The Proverbs 31 man beautifully modeled this heart of love and encouragement as he openly and enthusiastically praised the virtues of his wife.

Notice that the husband didn’t just tell his wife she’d done a pretty good job. He said, “You excel them ALL.”  In other words, this wise man never fell into the trap of unfavorably comparing his wife to other women. In his eyes, no other woman could ever compare with her.

This story ends with a fitting tribute, summarizing the lasting legacy of the Proverbs 31 woman:

Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates
(vs. 30-31).

This points to an important reason many marriages fail: Often the couple’s romance and marriage began with intense physical attraction, but the rest of the foundation was weak. Although this phenomenon has been true to some degree in every generation, it’s even more blatant and pervasive in today’s world of online dating, social media, and airbrushed magazine ads.

In stark contrast, this passage acknowledges that a person’s outward charm and beauty will ultimately pass away. A strong marriage must have a stronger foundation than that, based on the character  of the partners, not just their appearance or charm. Once again, as he has urged throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon says our reverential fear of the Lord should be the basis for our character.

What About the Song of Solomon?

If you’ve really been paying attention to the story in Proverbs 31, you may have wondered about another aspect of a happy and thriving marriage: What about SEX – the physical part of a healthy marital relationship? Yes, it’s great to lay a strong foundation of spirituality, character, friendship, and service, but what about ROMANCE – isn’t that important too?

Absolutely, it’s vitally important to nurture the flame of romantic love. Yet, for a number of reasons, this isn’t always easy. Many marriages begin with passion but then fizzle into apathy. Commitment and intentionality are required to keep the romantic fires burning. Physical attraction may have been easy during courtship, but now we must overcome such things as busyness, fatigue, offenses, and simply the deteriorating capacity of our bodies.

Of course, there are lots of excuses and explanations for why a marriage is no longer fun or passionate. Some Christians imply that we just live in a sex-crazed culture, and we should be so spiritual that we don’t need to worry about ongoing romance. As long as they go to church together with their spouse, why should it matter whether they also sleep together?

Well, I believe it does matter. If you’re in your 70s, your physical relationship with your spouse probably will be different  than it was in your 20s, but hopefully it’ll never become nonexistent. Even if intercourse is no longer possible or no longer pleasurable, can’t there at least be hugs, kisses, cuddles, and other physical displays of affection?

That’s why Proverbs 31 shouldn’t be studied without at least some mention of the romantic side of the equation, described in the Song of Solomon. A healthy marriage is not just about food, clothing, finances, and house décor. Right from the beginning, a strong marriage must include a oneness of spirit, soul, and body – and each of these three elements must be cultivated along the way.

Conclusions

It’s not easy. If it was, there would be a lot more marriages that are happy, fulfilling, and lasting.

Marriage must have been easier before sin and selfishness entered the world in Genesis 3. Yet perhaps, even before that, God designed marriage as something meant to be difficult – only possible with His wisdom and help.

No wonder Solomon wrote that a threefold cord is not quickly broken”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Without trusting the Lord as the third strand of our marriage, our relationship is vulnerable indeed.

Let’s not forget that in order for a marriage to model heaven on earth, each of the partners must maintain their own heavenly relationship with Christ. Overlooking this key ingredient is why many books and sermons on marriage fall short of their intended outcome.

In order to reflect the atmosphere of heaven, today’s Christian families need a spiritual revolution. And that’s the kind of transformation that would occur if every couple started the day with this simple, heartfelt prayer: Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”  (Matthew 6:10).

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Shocking Dating Lessons from My Very Good Friend Ron

I’ve written before about my friend Ron’s dating escapades. He’s now in his 60s, and it’s been quite eye-opening to reenter the world of dating after a marriage of over 30 years.

At the advice of his kids, Ron signed up for Match.com after his divorce was final a few years ago. There he quickly found a Christian woman named Sherry, whose favorite books were Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer.

“This is my kind of woman!” Ron confidently told me before his coffee date with her at Panera Bread.

But things didn’t exactly go as he had hoped. The first thing he noticed was that Sherry looked at least 10 years older than the pictures she had posted. Hmmm…pretty disappointing, he immediately thought.

However, Ron is a nice guy, and he decided to at least engage Sherry in some friendly conversation. After some small talk, he asked, “So, how long ago was your divorce?”

Ron thought this was a pretty easy, straightforward question. But her answer stunned him.

“Well, I’ve been married four times,” Sherry informed him, “and for a while I also lived with a guy I wasn’t married to.”

Ron’s jaw probably dropped at this point. But she went on to say she had eight children and fifteen grandkids, attributable to her various marriages and boyfriends.

Yikes, Ron was getting queasy. How did things go so amiss in his attempt to find a wholesome Christian woman? While the conversation was running its course, he couldn’t help envisioning Thanksgiving dinner if he married Sherry. How would he be able to figure out “who’s who” among the kids and grandkids—not to mention remembering who everyone’s daddy is?

This was a rough start to his online dating experiences, no doubt. Yet Ron wasn’t about to give up. He continued spending time on Match.com every day, trying to find suitable prospects for dating and eventual marriage.

Uncomfortable Encounters

Things didn’t get any easier in the following months, though. One day he was having a nice phone conversation with a woman named Sarah, and they seemed to have some things in common. But he started getting uncomfortable when she mentioned her distress that her son was gay and had married his lover. Once again, Ron started envisioning Thanksgiving dinner, and he wasn’t sure how he would respond to the family dynamics of Sarah’s son and the guy he was married to.

Then he had another coffee date, this time with an attractive woman named Sheila. But her husband had died of HIV, her father had been shot to death and, once again, Ron felt there was just too much baggage for him handle.

Ron says one of his favorite dates was with a woman named Linda. She attended a good church and clearly had a strong relationship with the Lord. But the conversation took a difficult turn when she described her daughter’s bipolar personality disorder and the incredible anguish it had caused her. Some days her daughter loved her, and other days her daughter hated her, making Linda’s life miserable.

Another disappointing date occurred when Ron went out to dinner with a woman named Sarah. She had been a single mom for many years and was now agonizing that her 16-year-old son had become a neo-Nazi skinhead, hating Jews and believing all sorts of conspiracy theories. She had no idea how to convince the young man of his erroneous views—and neither did Ron.

5 Lessons

Eventually Ron had some relationships that were more than a one-time phone call, coffee date, or dinner. He says some of these were with very nice women, but he just couldn’t see himself spending the rest of his life with them.

Recently Ron and I took time to review his dating experiences, hoping to glean lessons for others entering the dating scene in their 50s and 60s. Here are five lessons we came up with, but perhaps you can add some insights from your own experiences:

  1. Dishonesty is rampant. While it’s understandable to “put your best foot forward,” it’s sad there are so many outdated pictures and misleading online profiles. Also watch out for the out-and-out scams that target online daters. Despite your hopes for “love at first sight,” be careful to verify that the person you’re dating is who they say they are!
  2. Baggage is rampant. Ron chuckled that many woman on Match.com describe themselves as “baggage free” and “drama free.” What a joke. He concluded that it’s virtually impossible to be a divorced person in your 50s or 60s without accumulating some baggage along the way.
  3. Our OWN baggage is rampant. Like many men, Ron initially thought all the baggage was on the female  side of things. Yet after some painful breakups, he had to admit that his own baggage was often a large part of the problem. Just like landmines under the surface of the ground, he discovered emotional scars that were triggered in pressure situations and close relationships.
  4. Sexual temptation is rampant. Ron was a virgin when he got married, but he admits that sexual abstinence is a lot harder these days. Perhaps this can be attributed to several factors: (1) Loneliness in being single after many years of marriage; (2) feeling like “time is running out” to have a close, intimate relationship; (3) the amazing willingness today of many women (even longtime Christian women) to engage in sexual activities with men they aren’t married to.
  5. Not everyone really wants to be married again. At the beginning of his online dating journey, Ron assumed anyone on Match.com or eHarmony was there in search of a marriage partner. Surprisingly, it turned out that many people were more interested in dating than marrying. Why so? Some are fearful. No one wants to enter into another unhappy marriage. And some prefer the freedom of not having to answer to anyone. Instead of being tied down, they would prefer to “keep their options open.” And, once again, Ron had to come to grips with his own commitment phobia. “I have a pretty good life as a single guy,” he told me. “Why run the risk of another bad marriage?”

What About You?

If you’re in the dating world today, my heart goes out to you. I sincerely hope you’ve had an easier time than my good friend Ron.

Although I could attempt to provide all sorts of spiritual platitudes and additional advice, let me close with just a simple reminder from Scripture:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths
(Proverbs 3:5-6).

I wish you well on this perilous journey!

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The Basic Incompatibility of Men & Women

Attractive young hipster couple on white background

A friend was surprised by my reply when he said that he and his wife were incompatible.

“Of course you are!” I said. “Apart from a miracle by God, men and women are inherently incompatible.”

“Hmmm… a miracle from God?” he wondered aloud.

Then I told this friend the result of my informal study on the subject. “Based on personal observations and lots of statistics, there aren’t nearly enough couples who ever receive that miracle from God,” I opined.

I recounted a conversation I’d overheard between two men, one divorced and the other married.

The divorced man was complaining about his lonely lot in life, all caused by the fact that his wife had left him for another man. Although he apparently thought he would get some sympathy from his married friend, that’s not at all how the conversation went.

“Don’t you realize, there are MILLIONS of men who would gladly  trade places with you?!” the married friend told him.

So sad, but so true. Not only are many people unhappily divorced, but there are also countless people who are unhappily married.

Remember what I said about needing a miracle from God in order to have a different outcome than this?

When I look at what the Bible says about this difficult subject, here’s what I conclude: God made men and women inherently different, but not inherently incompatible. The incompatibility didn’t begin until sin and selfishness entered the equation in Genesis 3.

You know the story. Eve was deceived  by the serpent into disobeying God and tasting the forbidden fruit, but Adam apparently did so quite intentionally. Why? My guess is that he didn’t want to be separated from Eve, the wife he dearly loved.

But here’s where the story gets quite ironic. By disobeying God in order to be with his wife, Adam created an ongoing state of friction (incompatibility) within the marital bond.

We see this when the Lord confronted Adam about his disobedience. Instead of immediately repenting and accepting responsibility, Adam chose to throw Eve under the bus, blaming her for his decision: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). And notice that Adam found a way to blame the Lord  as well…

By choosing to embrace the woman instead of obeying God, Adam unwittingly created a barrier to his relationship with both. Apart from a miracle, there would never be harmony again between men and women, or between humankind and God.

But thank God for His miracles! Through the cross of His Son Jesus, He broke down the wall of separation and alienation, making it possible for us to freely enter His presence.

That same cross solves the incompatibility between men and women. You see, the only hope for marital bliss is for the partners to die to themselves. Like Jesus, they must set aside their own interests and lay down their lives for each other.

The good news is that God makes this miracle readily available to those who will embrace the cross. Yes, it ultimately takes TWO to have a happy marriage, but it always starts with ONE. Someone has to take the first step, trusting God to work His miracles in their partner’s heart as well.

Are you willing to go first? You never know whether a miracle might come, replacing incompatibility with harmony, and maybe even some bliss.

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Brokenness, Vulnerability & Scrambled Eggs

eggs broken

I have a new theory—I would even call it a discovery—about two of life’s greatest mysteries. The two mysteries are related, and my theorem explains both.

The first mystery is why there are so many unhappy marriages, and the second is like it: Why is it often so difficult to find fulfillment in the modern-day churches we attend?

I call both of these “mysteries,” because God intended something far better. He created marriage and the church to be enjoyable, life-changing institutions.

So what has gone so terribly wrong?

That brings up my theorem, which I discovered while cooking eggs for breakfast recently. I’ll start by applying my discovery to churches, then proceed to marriages.

Most modern churches are like a carton of eggs. People come and sit together in neat rows of stadium seats, never touching, never relating, never sharing their hearts. They just sit there and observe the show, which probably would be more enjoyable if popcorn were served. After an hour or so, it’s time to leave. But the churchgoers, like eggs still in the shells, are usually unchanged by the experience.

How sad! No wonder millions of Christians have chosen to opt out of the egg-carton church experience. They’ve concluded that they might as well stay home and listen to a podcast.

Here’s the problem with this scenario, as my theorem so beautifully illustrates: Life-change only happens when there is vulnerability, and vulnerability requires brokenness.

Put simply, the eggshell must be cracked open if anyone is going to enjoy the egg. I don’t know anyone who eats the shells—it’s what’s inside that counts.

So if you’re going to have a meaningful experience with other believers, there must a touching of hearts (involving the egg whites and yokes), not just a superficial touching of the shells. That’s why so little transformation occurs while you sit, unengaged, as a spectator in a church congregation. The experience failed to reach your heart, will, or emotions in a meaningful way.

That brings us to an even more illuminating application of my theorem: unhappy marriages…

Last year I overheard a conversation that really troubled me. A recently divorced man was complaining to a married friend, saying he didn’t like being single. The married man just smiled and said, “Brother, do you realize how many million men would gladly trade places with you?!”

Ouch. The statement reflects today’s common view that it is preferable to be single than to be in an unhappy marriage. It’s a pretty sad commentary, but King Solomon reached a similar conclusion (Proverbs 21:9, 21:19).

Fortunately, my egg analogy helps to explain the demise of marriage in our culture, and it also offers hope for better outcomes if we learn its lessons.

The Bible says marriage involves TWO people who become ONE (Genesis 2:21-25, Ephesians 5:22-33). However, this phenomenon is often misunderstood, as my egg theorem shows:

  • Eggs in a carton are like individuals who live in close proximity, yet never interact on an emotional or spiritual level. This could describe singleness for many people, but it also helps to explain unhappy marriages. Many husbands and wives today start with prenups, move on to separate bank accounts, and end up with separate bedrooms. They are under the same roof, but become more akin to roommates than marriage partners. Do you see why this would be unsatisfying? The eggs are together in the carton, but they are back in their shells.
  • At the other extreme are scrambled eggs. Although many people think churches and marriages are supposed to model this kind of extreme “oneness,” that is NOT what the Bible teaches. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “one” but retain their separate identities, so it is with happy marriages. The husband and wife each have a unique role and some individual interests. They have not become “scrambled eggs,” where their identity is forever lost. No, God made us to remain distinct, “male and female” (Genesis 1:27)—and marriage is meant to enhance that fact, not erase it. You are who you are, and getting married shouldn’t radically alter your God-given personality or love languages. So if you’ve allowed your identity to be swallowed up in a relationships that resembles a pile of scrambled eggs, it’s no wonder your unhappy. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always preferred my eggs cooked over easy, touching and overlapping in some ways, but still separate.

If you are unhappy in your marriage or church, I wish I could sit down with you and apply my theorem to your specific situation. The good news is that it may not be too late to unscramble your scrambled eggs. But there’s no time to waste.

To rediscover the joy of intimate relationships, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Make sure you are broken and vulnerable in your relationship with the Lord. Let Him get past your hard outer shell and deal with the issues of your heart. You’re never going to restore your marriage or find a life-changing church experience unless you first have a tender heart before God.
  2. After you’ve been broken before the Lord, you can expect a new fragrance to emerge in your life, affecting all of your relationships. In a pivotal story in the Gospels, a woman broke an alabaster jar of perfume in order to worship Jesus. The resulting fragrance filled the house and changed the entire atmosphere (Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8). The same can happen with the atmosphere in your home or church.
  3. As hard as it may be, you must let down your guard (i.e., remove the eggshell) and expose your heart and your emotions to the people closest to you. Men tend to have an especially difficult time with this. Too often, we come home from work, curl up on the couch to watch our favorite sports event on TV, and never take time to become emotionally vulnerable. Hmmm…no wonder that scenario doesn’t lead to a satisfying marriage.

Wow. There’s so much more I could say about my eggshell theorem. I’m praying for you to regain your tender heart and the joy of true intimacy—starting with God and then working outward to your marriage and close friendships. You’ll be amazed by how the atmosphere can change.

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The #1 Cause of Failed Marriages & Churches

Lately I’ve been pondering what’s the primary reason so many marriages and churches ultimately fail. Is it because of self-centeredness? Narcissism? A refusal to die to our own interests so that the love of God can reign in our hearts?

I guess we could debate this all day. All sorts of core issues could be cited, and entire books have been written to analyze the subject.

However, I’ve been increasingly focusing my attention on an obscure passage in Nehemiah 4:2 that seems to describe where much of the problem lies. Nehemiah and his followers wanted to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, but their efforts were ridiculed by critics as impossible: Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:2)

The imagery here describes people who want to build something grand and glorious, but the available building materials are seriously flawed. Rather than coming directly from some manufacturing plant, the bricks have been drawn from a “rubbish heap.” No longer in pristine condition, they are charred and broken.

This explains a lot about the difficulty of constructing healthy marriages. While the bride and groom typically dress up in their finest apparel on their wedding day, underneath the tux and gown are flawed, burnt, and broken people.

You may not want to own up to the fact that you’ve been “charred” by your life experiences, but we ALL have. We’re in this together, so we might as well be honest. If “original sin” wasn’t a big enough problem, we’ve all been scarred by imperfect childhoods, toxic relationships, poor choices, or mishaps in our career.

So what happens when two flawed, broken people come together in holy matrimony? Well, ideally, God’s healing process can begin. But too often, the opposite occurs: The flaws and brokenness come to the surface in even greater ways than before, and the couple has no idea how to handle them.

And no wonder it’s so difficult to plant healthy churches these days. People may bring their “Sunday smiles” to church, but during stressful times their dysfunctions emerge. Unity is strained, because everyone wants to get their own way.

Yes, it’s hard lay a strong foundation when you’re working with charred materials.

In case you think I’m being far too negative, let me also point to one reason for hope. God knows all about our flaws and imperfections, and He loves us anyway. The whole point of the Gospel is that the cross of Christ provides both forgiveness and a remedy for our sin-wrecked nature.

However, here’s the problem: In order for the Gospel to do its restorative work in our lives, we have to acknowledge our brokenness and sincerely want to change. Otherwise, our inherent flaws will be compounded rather than healed.

If you’re feeling like a charred stone today, don’t despair. You aren’t alone. There’s hope for a turnaround when you cry out to the One who’s able to make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5).

And I almost forgot to mention another very encouraging fact. Despite his persistent detractors, Nehemiah and his team were successful in rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall—even though their building materials came from the rubbish heap. With God’s help, you can build something beautiful as well.

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Things Too Wonderful to Understand

It seems a person of my age should have figured out everything by now. But in some ways the opposite is true—I’m more aware than ever of life’s mysteries.

The writer of Proverbs 30 seemed to have a similar experience, marveling about the things he couldn’t really understand:

There are three things that amaze me—
no, four things that I don’t understand:

how an eagle glides through the sky,
how a snake slithers on a rock,
how a ship navigates the ocean,
how a man loves a woman
(vs. 18-19 NLT).

This man was humble enough to recognize he didn’t “know it all.” He was still in awe of God’s wonder-filled creation.

First, he watched an eagle soaring high in the sky, without even flapping its wings. That’s impossible!  the writer thought to himself. The eagle is flying higher and higher, without exerting any effort at all.

Of course, eagles are a picture of our lives as believers. The Bible says we can gain new strength and rise up as eagles when we wait on the Lord, relying on His power rather than our own (Isaiah 40:28-31). Just like the mystery of an eagle’s flight, the Christian life is meant to be supernatural and amazing, rather than a matter of strain and struggle (Colossians 1:27).

Next, the writer of Proverbs 30 sees a snake rapidly slithering across a rock. How does it do that?!  he wondered. Snakes have no legs, after all. Like the effortless flight of eagles, the movement of a snake seems almost magical.

The ability of ships to navigate the oceans was also bewildering for the writer. If ships could only go in the direction of the winds, that would be understandable. However, he observed that ships frequently travel against  the headwinds and the ocean currents. They are able to make progress toward their intended destination even when circumstances make matters difficult.

This is another great picture of the Christian life. We don’t have to drift helplessly in the water, nor must we be blown about by the shifting winds of our culture. Against all odds, we can set our sails to catch the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can set our rudder to achieve our life’s purpose.

Finally, the writer comes to the most humbling, most baffling, most incredible mystery of all: love between a man and a woman. Even if you can figure out the wondrous mysteries of eagles, snakes, and ships, only a person of extreme hubris claims to fully understand the dynamics of male-female relationships.

Well, actually, I used to understand women pretty well—when I was in my twenties and still single! I even recorded a Bible study message explaining it all. Yes, I had women figured out back then, and I was happy to tell anyone who would listen.

Oh well…

Hopefully I’m not the only one who is still struggling with life’s mysteries. Are there still some things “too wonderful” for YOU to understand? If so, that’s fantastic! May you never lose your sense of wonder and amazement. And may you always recognize your need to rely on the Lord rather than on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: In this life we’re destined to merely know “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Someday in heaven, though, we’ll be able to ask God about all the mysteries we were never able to figure out.

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