He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose. – Jim Elliot
An Appeal to the Future
I hope to look back one day celebrating the hard decision I made over something I knew God wanted. This is the sort of conversation I have with couples considering divorce who are blindly driven by only what they can see. I urge them to look forward, beyond now, and imagine what they will say about their past and about the lasting impact of the decision they are about to make.
Parallel to my ministry with pastors and ministry leaders, I also on occasion provide family and marriage counseling to assist local pastors, who either don’t have the time or gift to counsel. It is not uncommon for me to be the only one fighting for the marriage. I wonder sometimes if couples come to counseling looking for justification to walk away.
I don’t make it easy for them.
I often appeal to the future. Imagining together a time when they will look back over this hard season, either kicking themselves for giving up, or cheering exuberantly that it was worth the pain of obedience. Will they choose what is right, choose what God wants over what they want, for the luxury of one day looking back and saying it was worth it? Or, will they follow their fleshly impulse and act out of the selfish desire for immediate relief, foregoing that promise that remaining strong will mean great reward. To press this home and hard, I ask the couple to describe to me what their lives will look like ten years from now if they give up. With painful expressions they describe children wounded and angry at them, complications that come with sharing those children, and the sad legacy of a story of brokenness carried on for generations.
That picture, framed ugly, is never appealing.
Motivated by Obedience
I then ask to imagine what it might look like if they stay together, motivated out of obedience to what God wants. Usually this first takes a whole session reviewing again what a gospel-driven and gospel-centered marriage looks like. In the end, with the exception of the irretrievable damage caused by adultery, or for the protection from an out of control, angry spouse, it really comes down to two options: what I want versus what God wants.
This part of dreaming is fun.
The smiles are not forced as they describe their future-family full of life and love, healthy and growing. The prospect of all of them still living under one roof, vacationing together, sharing the ups and downs of boyfriend and girlfriend drama, weddings and grandchildren is too appealing to now not consider this option.
It’s the trajectory of obedience.
It’s really good for all of us to imagine our lives ten to twenty years from now, determined (or destined) by the choices we make. I know when my son died, I did this. I fought off bitterness for the possibilities of being better by it. I pictured myself an old bitter man, and I did not like what I saw. I then pictured who I’d be if I embraced that pain, and I liked the prospect.
All of this is very biblical. God repeatedly told his children what it would be like for them if they chose to obey him. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. (Exodus 19:5)
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.. (2 Cor. 4:17)
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:3,6)
Obedience is hard.
It forces us to put aside our selfish impulses, but the trade for eventually being blessed is well worth what is given up. It takes courage to do what is right, but we will have all of eternity to celebrate what Jesus did with what we gave him.