Sheep racing and the altar

I read this today, and was very ready to dismiss it as irrelevant… I can’t remember the last time I prepared animals for sacrifice and I’m pretty sure my lamb optometry skills are a little rusty these days.

But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 1:6-8

So what on earth do blind lambs have to do with me?

Here’s something else I read today:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

1 Corinthians 9:24

Now this I can relate to… work hard, run hard, get prize. Simple.

But the more I’ve dwelt on it, there seems to be a connection between these verses somehow.

Paul in his passage is really writing about preaching the gospel – which for Paul was the fulfilment of his calling, and about making the necessary sacrifices to do that calling well.

So what about me – what even is my ‘calling’? What is the race that I should be running as if to win the prize? Is it my walk with God? Is it my family? Is it my “ministry/work”? Is it my service in my community? Or my witness to those around me?

Which one of these comes first?

You may have often heard the following discipleship principle: serve God first, then your spouse, then your family, then your work/ministry…

…but is that even Biblical?!

If I’m supposed to put God and my family first, surely then it would be ok for me to come to work one day and say:

‘sorry, boss – I didn’t come to that important meeting yesterday… I just felt I had to worship and play with my kids all day…’

It may just work once, but long term, it wouldn’t cut it…

Something linear like this just doesn’t seem to reflect the interconnected relationships in our lives, or the need from time to time to lay down the priorities of our immediate families to serve those in our congregations or communities.

In fact, Romans 12-14, Galatians 5-6, Ephesians 4-6, and Colossians 3-4 show life application to ALL of these areas: Personal life, Family, Congregation life, Work, Community life1. And Paul is pretty clear in Corinthians that our witness fits into that race too.

The Pentathlon

A friend once explained this to me using the image of the pentathlon… Just like in a pentathlon, where competitors can ONLY be successful if they can perform in all 5 areas. As believers, if wish to live a balanced life, we must place God first in ALL these 5 areas of our lives:

  • personal life
  • family life
  • congregation life
  • work
  • community life

There may be ebbs and flow across life, but if we are not sowing adequately in all areas, then as whole we are going to suffer.

That got me thinking: how often do I expend all my energy at work, leaving very little emotional energy for family?

Or: am I (and my family) foregoing our ‘felt needs’ from time to time to serve the wider community/congregation?

While ‘single discipline’ athletes can throw everything into that one final race, a quality pentathlete will compete with the full competition in mind – they would not expend too much energy in one competition if they knew it would leave none for the next.

That might mean sacrificing certain results for the sake of others, and it might mean that you don’t run, jump or throw as fast or as far individually than others around you (or even as far as you are able)…

So 5 races not 1?

Apparently so – but all these areas of our life make up one whole… To succeed, all of these disciplines require work, which in Hebrew is synonymous with worship: עבודה

The worship journey, in turn, begins with Sacrifice… and so now we’re back to that blind lamb again…

God is asking me to give my best in every area of life – with my kids, in my home, at work, before His throne, in my community.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3:23-24

Each area requires so much effort, but somehow I need to find a way to give my best to all in a way that  is holistic and sustainable, and doing this is worship! Even if I were to give my ‘fatted calf’ during the hours of 9-5, if I only bring my scraggly, lame lamb on behalf of my family or community – He says that the table is still despised!

So here I am mixing 2 entirely unrelated metaphors. Somehow we are both running races and doing eye tests on our sheep to ensure they can see straight, throwing a shot-put and fattening up our calves.

In the midst of this metaphoric confusion, I am beginning to ask myself these questions:

  • Am I bringing God my best offering in each area?
  • Am I running to win just one race? Or have I considered the prize that requires my best across the board?
  • Have I presented any lame lambs on God’s altar?
  • Do I need to slow down in one area to give a boost to another?

It might seem like hard work, but actually the sacrifices I make in any area are more than just that – they are acts of worship.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

1 Credit for Pentathlon: Discipleship Counseling Ministries

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Speak Life.

So words have power.

That’s awesome, isn’t it?!
Well, not when you’re not really aware of what you’re saying (or how you’re saying it!)

Have you sat back and listened to the things you’ve said in a day and thought of your positive:negative ratio?

Let’s put this into some maths terms…


If ((-ve words x10) > +ve)
- Wife = under valued


But if (+ve > (-ve words x10))

Wife = valued

Now clearly this is not the whole picture, but a good place to start!

And I’m being serious – negative words carry a weight far more than the positive ones, because they stick!

Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

I’m still learning this one. My ratio still isn’t great… But it is worth fighting for!

How we respond to good news…

This is one that I struggle with, but I’ve never heard it so well put as I read here:

http://www.businessinsider.com/lasting-relationships-rely-on-traits-2015-11?IR=T

I definitely need to work on the whole ‘active constructive’ approach – I think I often fall between the passive-constructive/active-destructive schools of response… In any instance – work to be done!!

In one study from 2006, psychological researcher Shelly Gable and her colleagues brought young adult couples into the lab to discuss recent positive events from their lives. They psychologists wanted to know how partners would respond to each other’s good news. They found that, in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”

If her partner responded in a passive destructive manner, he would ignore the event. For example, he might say something like: “You wouldn’t believe the great news I got yesterday! I won a free t-shirt!”

If her partner responded in a passive constructive way, he would acknowledge the good news, but in a half-hearted, understated way. A typical passive constructive response is saying “That’s great, babe” as he texts his buddy on his phone.

In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”

Finally, there’s active constructive responding. If her partner responded in this way, he stopped what he was doing and engaged wholeheartedly with her: “That’s great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take first semester?”

Among the four response styles, active constructive responding is the kindest. While the other response styles are joy-killers, active constructive responding allows the partner to savor her joy and gives the couple an opportunity to bond over the good news. In the parlance of the Gottmans, active constructive responding is a way of “turning toward” your partners bid (sharing the good news) rather than “turning away” from it.

Active constructive responding is critical for healthy relationships. In the 2006 study, Gable and her colleagues followed up with the couples two months later to see if they were still together. The psychologists found that the only difference between the couples who were together and those who broke up was active constructive responding. Those who showed genuine interest in their partner’s joys were more likely to be together. In an earlier study, Gable found that active constructive responding was also associated with higher relationship quality and more intimacy between partners.

The Love Book

This one is a tried and tested tip that I just wish I remembered myself most of the time… The Love Book. Yes, it does involve getting in touch with (and communicating) your more sentimental side, but also yes – it does make a difference!

It is really what it says on the tin – a book. It can be any kind of book, big, little, lots of pages, no pages – anything you can write in. And it’s purpose? To write things in! Encouragements, verses, kind words, praise, prayers, thank yous, pictures, art work, love poetry, songs, whatever takes your fancy… We’ve even used ours to deliver the odd surprise present, or start a good old fashioned treasure hunt…

My saddest admission right now is that the book that we started writing in when we got married almost 10 years ago… Has only just been finished. In 10 years. One measly book. Not proud of that.

So – in my new found desire to be a better husband, I went out and bought not one, but two today!

(That’s a double whammy – gifts and words in one. Jackpot)

I even wrote my first entry… My aim is to write in it at least once a week – it shouldn’t be too hard to say something nice that often, should it?!

Couple of nice words, tactically placed book on the pillow, and hopefully Bob’s your uncle and you have one blessed, loved & valued wife.

Simples.

Oh, and word of warning. Don’t. Ever. Use the book to try and give some ‘constructive criticism’. It is NOT the right place for it.

Day One – Making a battle plan

So today I’m sick. Useful start! With the family out of the house, I can start making a battle plan.

For anyone into the 5 love languages scene, my wife is a GIFTS person. Gifts Gifts Gifts Gifts Gifts, through and through.

Me? There is almost not a gift-giving-caring-receiving bone in the entirety of my body.

Tension point for marriage? You bet.

One year, I came up with an amazing plan to give my wife one gift a month for her Christmas present – pretty good, right?

Wrong. I lasted until about May – and have been repenting ever since.

So, what is my strategy?

I know my wife is struggling in 2 areas with me: not being loved/romanced/valued (ie. I’ve not done the whole gift-y thang) and not being affirmed/valued in the home – this means that I’ve been undermining the things she says to the kids, treating her as if she’s my daughter and not an equal etc.

My problem is – these things can’t be changed overnight – they need consistency.

So, as forced as it may sound – here’s my first set of solutions (and I’d love to hear any other ideas at this point).

  1. Daily reminder – bless wife.
    1. I can’t imagine how many marriages smartphones have ruined – mine is going to save mine!
  2. Weekly plan
    1. Yup – each day of the week is going to be something else – whether it’s a prayer day, an encouragement day, a gift day -these things don’t come naturally to me, so I’m going to have to start by force
  3. Pray. Pray. Pray.
    1. Fully believe it – every great move of God started with a move of prayer. Someone wise once told me that – if God is going to change my marriage, I better get praying!

So. Off I go and do all of that. I’ll let you know how it goes!