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The Marriage Marathon: Finishing Well

In this Marriage UPGRADE, Dianne Barker shares some practical ways to face the things that bother us in our marriages.

“Here’s the big irritation in marriage,” Dianne says. “I don’t like you and I can’t change you.”

That would make me laugh, but I (Dawn) remember a few painful days in my own marriage when I thought that same thing. Haven’t you?

Dianne continues:

Why would anyone marry a person they don’t like?

During our two-year courtship, love, youth and ignorance hid the “red flags.” Both of us projected our best to impress and please each other. We managed to conceal major flaws all the way to the altar.

Marriage—living together 24/7—exposed our major personality differences, and I noticed James had a few characteristics I didn’t like. I got the impression he didn’t like me so much either.

We grabbed our tools and started to work, thinking we could actually change each other.

I can smile now, sorting through the attic of fifty years of spouse-improvement projects covered with dust. None of my attempts to change my husband worked, nor did his attempts to change me—although both of us had good intentions and determination.

Change came in my life, my marriage and my husband when I set my own heart to seek the Lord and obey Him.

Concentrating on my responsibility—to accept my husband, love and pray for him, and leave the results to God—brought astonishing change … in me. It began with one verse. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

My seeking the Lord has nothing to do with any other person or circumstance. As I learned to apply His Word to my daily walk, I discovered my obedience took care of many issues. My anger is my issue with the Lord. My critical spirit is my issue with the Lord. My stinkin’ attitude is my issue with the Lord.

If my husband has an anger problem, a critical spirit, a stinkin’ attitude, his issues are with the Lord, not me. I can do nothing about that except pray and respond to him in a Christ-like way.

When I became concerned with my individual, personal walk of obedience, I discovered doing what God says not only made me happy but also blessed my marriage. My sole responsibility is pleasing my Father’s heart.

Is your spouse all you desire? You cannot make your husband be kind, ambitious, or skinny. If you’re waiting for him to become all you desire before obeying the Lord, I have bad news. That won’t happen. God calls us to follow him with our whole heart…then He will work.

But you can do something! Pray your spouse into “better.” The Prayer of Jabez is a good place to start: “Bless him a lot today, enlarge his territory, keep your hand on his life, and keep him from evil” (see 1 Chronicles 4:10).

If you really want to change your husband, try these tools. 

Marriage is a marathon. Finish well!

Which tool will you begin using today to change your marriage?

Dianne Barker is a speaker, radio host and author of 11 books, including the best-selling Twice Pardoned and award-winning I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck Down the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore! Organizing for the Maximum Life. She’s a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, and Christian Women in Media. (Post adapted from Help! I’m Stuck and I Can’t Get Out! The Maximum Marriage Maintenance and Repair Kit, available soon at www.diannebarker.com)

Graphic adapted, Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.


Praying for Others: A Call to Commit

If you want to know someone with a tender heart, meet Julie Watson. In this unique Prayer UPRADE, she reminds us to be careful when we say, "I'll pray for you."

“Where, oh where, have all those gone who committed to pray for me?” Julie says.

OK. I (Dawn) just felt a pang of guilt. Did you? Instead of running from the conviction, I want to face it head-on. And Julie's here to help.

She continues . . . 

Praying for others is a vital and daily part of our Christian walk. Nowadays, with the popularity of social media, I now find myself praying for online unknown acquaintances several times a day. But, lately I have wondered, “Where, oh where, have all those gone who committed to pray for me?” 

Lately, I have felt forgotten.

I rarely ask for prayer for myself. I have always felt my needs were so small in comparison to the serious nature of others, I didn’t feel right to ask. I’m often the one asking, “May I pray for you?” At least, that was the case until recently. 

As my husband and I embarked on the most difficult journey of our lives two years ago, we knew we would need to be surrounded in prayer for every stage of this new adventure:  adopting children out of the foster care system. We had many people from all walks of life wrap their arms (literally and figuratively) around us in love, support and prayer. It has been an amazing experience to feel so cared for and to know that someone is always praying for us and our new children.

Now, let me preface the rest of this blog by saying:

Without a doubt, I know people continue to pray for us daily.

Without a doubt, I know we are on the minds and hearts of some wonderfully committed friends, family and church members.  

However, the numbers feel as though they’ve significantly dwindled. I have literally gone weeks, and even months, only hearing from a few dear friends. 

Many, with the best intentions, have said, “I will call you next week” or “Let’s get together for coffee and to talk/pray,” etc.—only to never call or check in again. 

While I know life is busy and throws us off track at times, there is significant importance to keeping our word in things we’ve committed to doing—especially in praying for others.

I’ve failed at this myself many times. I used to tell people, “I’ll pray for you.” However, I often didn’t remember to do so. I found life got busy and it wasn’t until I saw that person the next time that I remembered to pray for them.

So, in order to stay true to my word, I changed to say, “Can I pray for you right now?”  Or, “I am praying for you now.” This helped me connect with that person and address their immediate needs, hopefully showing them God’s love and concern for them in the process.

So, if you are struggling to stay committed to praying for others, here are a few suggestions to help you keep your word, build your own faith as you see others’ prayers answered and stand in the gap for those in need.

1. Don’t commit unless you are SURE you will do it.

Face it, your word is your vow. Show that it is not empty and spoken in vain. 

You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth” (Deuteronomy 23:23).

But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected…” (I John 2:5). 

2. Once you commit, make a plan to STAY committed. 

 Whether you need to plug it into your calendar, create a reminder on your phone or write Post-it Notes all over your bathroom mirror, make sure you do something that works for YOU to keep your word.

3. Check in REGULARLY with the person you’ve committed to praying for. 

How will you continue to know how to pray—or rejoice in an answered prayer—if you don’t check in with those you are praying for? Just put it on that calendar or phone or Post-it Note to check in within a reasonable amount of time.

4. Create a HABIT of praying for others as a daily routine. 

 Whether you have committed to pray for anyone or not, remember: God calls us to pray for others, period. (1 Timothy 2:1, James 5:13,16, Ephesians 6:18, Romans 8:26-27)

Whether I hear from others or not, I can rest assured knowing my Heavenly Father loves and cares about me. I know that praying for others is an important part of my walk and it’s essential to keep my word.

When I pray for others I will be personally blessed and grow in faith as I watch God answer prayer. 

Where are you struggling? Are you struggling with keeping your commitment to pray for others?  Or, do you need someone to wrap their arms and prayers around you today? 

Right now, go to the Father in prayer. He will provide the right prayer partner for you—trust Him!

Julie Watson worked in children’s ministries for 10 years and as an Executive Director and Grant writer before becoming a stay-at-home mom to three beautiful children. She and her husband Shawn know these children were hand-picked by God to be their own, and plan to adopt them as soon as they are legally allowed.

Graphic adapted, photo by Jordan Sanchez, Unsplash.com. 


The Secret to Surviving the 'Test'

Tests are a part of life. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, we'll consider how to "survive" these tests.

When I attended Bible college, my teacher walked between the desks, observing. But she didn't say a word. She couldn't give her students any answers. Though sitting in a room full of people, each student had to take the test "alone." 

This reminds me of a statement by an unknown author: "When you are going through difficulty and wonder where God is, remember: the teacher is always quiet during the test."

God doesn't tempt us with sin (James 1:13), but he does examine us through circumstances; He wants to know how we will respond. Simply put, God tests our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). 

Sometimes we feel alone in the midst of a test. But we must remember God is always with us (Psalm 139:7; Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10)—even in our toughest tests.

But . . . why the tests in the first place?

1. Our Tests Are for Our Good.

God uses our tests "for good" (Romans 8:28). They are meant to develop our character and mature us (James 1:3-4). God might grow our faith, for example, as we are tested.

The tests of faith are surely some of the greatest tests, because through them we learn to trust the Lord—even when we don't understand the purpose of His tests.

God wants us to learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Consider Abraham, obeying God by faith in a most severe test as the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice of his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2; Hebrews 11:17-19). 

Our trials teach us to depend on the power and grace of GodHis resources—rather than our own wisdom and strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Ephesians 6:10-13). As a result, our ministries are broadened and strengthened.

Tests can also bring us reward (James 1:12). The Psalmist, David, actually desired God's testing. He wanted God to see that his life was fully committed to Him (Psalm 26:2; 139:23-24). David believed tests are a valuable "refining" process (Psalm 66:10).

Peter echoes this concept in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:6-7); and James (1:2) tells us the testing of our faith is meant to bring us joy!

Tests may come in many ways.

  • A relatively small (everyday) irritation that tempts us to become impatient, angry or discontent.
  • A tough affliction that wearies and frustrates, especially when it seems unending (Isaiah 48:10).
  • A deep attack from the enemy (Job 2:7) that threatens to "undo us."

Study the life of Job and you will see test after test after test. Satan's attempts to destroy the Patriarch were limited by the Lord's sovereignty, but they were undeniably tough. The wonderful thing about Job's story is this: Though he didn't understand his circumstances and he understandably struggled in them, he recognized God's greater purposes were at work in his life.

Job not only survived the tests, he honored God in the midst of them (Job 1:22; 16:19; 19:25; 42:2). And that brings us to the next point.

2. Our Tests Are for God's Glory.

God's purposes are often beyond our comprehension. He is not only working all things according to His will (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11), He created a people and designs circumstances to bring glory to His name (Isaiah 43:7; Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:4-6, 12, 14).

When we are tested, we often feel weak or insufficient for the test. Rather than become overwhelmed in the test, we need to learn to trust God's sufficiency (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When we are weak, God is strong in and through usand that brings Him glory!

And there is a third point about testing.

3. Our Tests Can Bless Others.

When we are tested, we have an opportunity for a greater testimony. When we respond to our trials joyfully, trusting the Lord, people will see God's power working in us (Matthew 5:16).

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says when we are comforted of God in our tests, we have a greater capacity to comfort others. We can empathize better, and we have wisdom about life to share. 

We may even have an opportunity to win other people to Christ (2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Timothy 2:8-10).

So when tested, don't forget:

The important secret to surving tests is to remember they are for our good, are meant to bring God glory, and are often designed to bless others.

Are you struggling in a test (trial, affliction, tough circumstance) today? How might knowing "the secret" help you not only survive your tests, but thrive in them?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Ministries, is the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices TodayLOL with God, and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in MInistry (NEWIM San Diego). Dawn co-authored LOL with God and contributed "The Blessing Basket" in It's a God Thing. She and her husband Bob have two married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.


A Woman after God's Own MIND

Nali Hilderman delights in helping women become confident, Biblically-solid women of God. In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she offers an interesting twist on a familiar scripture.

“While it is easy for us as women to desire to be a woman after God’s own heart, and much Christian literature is directed toward this notion,” Nali said, “I suggest that the foremost way to pursue this is first to become a woman after God’s own mind!”

As a woman who encourages biblical thinking, I (Dawn) appreciate Nali’s perspective. God can only transform us as we align our thoughts with His.

Nali continues . . .

Many of us have probably heard the oft-quoted phrase from scripture that David was a man “after God’s own heart, one who would carry out God’s will” (Acts 13:22). If you’re anything like me, you’d love for that to be your epitaph—what a high and laudable attribute! 

We want to "carry out God's will," but how, exactly, do we do that?

Romans 12:2 says that it is the transformation and renewing of our mind that helps us to know and do the will of God.

There are two key areas where women need to be “after God’s own mind”: the first is in His thoughts towards ourselves, and the second is in His thoughts towards the world around us. 

If we focus on guarding and girding our minds in these two areas, I believe it will lead us straight to the heart of God and we will become women ready to carry out God’s will.

1. We have to change the way we think that God thinks of us as His daughters. 

We must look at how God, through the person of Jesus Christ, interacts with women in the gospels and remember that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). 

Scripture says there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) and that His thoughts for us are greater than the grains of sand on the seashore (Psalm 139:17-18).  If we are followers of Christ and have accepted his atoning work on the cross then we are found in Him and are co-heirs of the Promise (Romans 8:16-17)! 

If we could truly know and understand His mind toward us, then a radical and profound transformation would begin in our lives.

Take some time today to reflect on whether you’re thinking God’s thoughts towards you as reflected in His Word, or if your thoughts align more with the Enemy.

2. We need to change the way we think regarding the world around us

Paul says God is reconciling the world to Himself through the person and work of Jesus. We are His ambassadors and have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Scripture also says “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). 

Sisters, we are called of God to join Him in the work of bringing Christ’s redemption to this world. Let us learn and be intentional about the areas where we can get involved. We have exciting work to do! 

Wherever your specific sphere of influence is today, ask yourself if you are an ambassador for Christ and His work of reconciliation in that sphere. 

As we continue to pursue changes in these two areas of our mind, we will continue to find the renewal of our hearts and become more like the Lord.

As you consider whether you are a woman after God’s mind, which thoughts need to change? Thoughts toward yourself, or thoughts toward the world?

Nali Hilderman is a professor of American history at San Diego Christian College and Director of the college’s Dr. Henry Morris Leadership Program. She studies women’s history and Christian theology, trying to make sense of how to be a confident, successful Christian woman who does not buy into the secular feminist mentality. She attends Journey Community Church in La Mesa, CA.

Graphic adapted, Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.


Choosing More than 'Grin and Bear It'

Kathy Collard Miller encourages women to trust God so they can make wiser choices. In this Attitude UPGRADE, she challenges a popular statement with a more biblical perspective.

“Things are tough but that’s OK," Kathy says. "I’ll just wait it out and it’ll get better.”

When I (Dawn) find myself in the midst of struggles, I see this as an opportunity to trust the Lord — most of the time. But I'll admit there have been some situations where I tried to "gut it out" myself. And that never works!

Kathy continues . . . 

Have you ever considered your trials and found comfort through thinking, “This too will pass”?

That phrase sounds benign enough, but I’m wondering if it leaves out God in some way. Because, at least for me, it supports in my heart an attitude of, “I’ll just grin and bear it until this trial goes away.”

It doesn’t support, “God, even if I have to persevere through this trial for a long time, I’m going to call upon you and not depend upon my own inadequate power.”

Would you like to embrace the second attitude? Here’s how:

1. Recognize how “Grin and Bear It leaves out God.

I became aware of how I was leaving out God because of that attitude some time ago. As I struggled to trust God for His provision of joy and contentment in the midst of being my mother-in-law’s caregiver, I thought, “This too will pass.”

And then on the heels of that thought came, “If I just knew how much longer Audrey was going to live, I could be more patient and kind.”

I was thinking I could be more patient because I would be gritting my teeth, just waiting for the trial to end. But that’s not depending upon God.

2. Choose active joy not passivity.

“This too will pass” is very passive. It’s allowing circumstances to dictate our responses rather than looking to God.

James 1:2-4 give us the key to active joy:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trial, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (NASB).

That verse contains active and “being aware” words, not closing our eyes to God’s help. Being active is when we pay attention to the purposes of difficulties.

Problems become God’s vehicle to growth. That can’t happen if we’re closing our eyes to what God wants to do.

3. Be aware moment by moment.

In the midst of caring for my mother-in-law, I examined that phrase, "This too will pass," more deeply. I saw that I wasn’t living in real time but in the future when things were guaranteed to get better. But there’s no guarantee life will get better. Life doesn’t become perfect until we enter heaven. Each moment and day of our lives is an opportunity to see God’s love strengthen us.

No wonder God doesn't tell us the future.

If we knew a trial was going to last a long time, we'd give up. If we knew a trial was going to be short-lived, we would grin and bear it.

We're supposed to relax in God's power moment by moment, depending upon Him, allowing Him to provide all we need. And then He’ll receive the glory, not us!

These three truths began to transform my thinking. No longer was I depending upon my limited knowledge and my strategy of passivity, but I was seeking God more passionately and seeing His hand of provision. I became more patient with my mother-in-law and saw how God was doing a work in me.

When my mom-in-law left for heaven, I knew I hadn’t been perfect, but I knew God had transformed my life now and it wasn’t in “the sweet by and by.”

That was affirmed when, a short time later, I became the main caregiver for my own mother. God took what He’d taught me and applied it to this new challenge. God never wastes anything, but we won’t see that if we’re just grinning and bearing it.

Examine your own life. Are there ways you have the attitude “this too will pass?” What is God inviting you to do about it?

Kathy Collard Miller loves to help women trust God more through her 50 books and her speaking in over 30 states and 8 foreign countries. Her website/blog is www.KathyCollardMiller.com. Kathy's newest book is Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today(Leafwood). It gives insights into the underlying reasons for unhealthy choices and how to have increased trust in God to make wiser choices. It contains biblical principles, insightful stories, and helpful instruction. It also offers individual and group discussion questions.

Graphic adapted: Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.