Is ministry helping or hurting your marriage? Do you need the approval of others? Part 2 of 3

Crowd clapping (1)We continue asking an uncomfortable question in this series, “Has ministry helped or hurt your marriage?”

Last time we examined this question through the lens of self-reliance.  My assumption (and experience) tells me that self-reliant leaders trying to do God’s work under their own steam are a ticking bomb – one that will eventually implode, sucking their marriage into a vortex.
But it’s more than my opinion, Jesus was tempted in just this way (the topic of my last blog post).

There is a close relationship between marriage, ministry, and how we as leaders respond to the temptations sure to come our way.  A strong marriage thriving in a ministry context chooses trust and dependency upon God over self-reliance.

Ministry couples will also face the temptation to please people.  How we handle this test will go a long way in determining the health of our ministries and marriages.
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.” This was the second temptation Satan dangled in front of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 4. He took Jesus to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem and suggested he do something spectacular – jump off into the abyss and land in the waiting arms of the angels who would gently glide him back to earth, unharmed (to the roaring applause of all those watching).

Jesus was tempted to do something to impress the crowds, to make himself look good.

Are you a leader who craves the bright lights? Does your stomach twist into knots if you think someone isn’t happy with you? Do you cringe at the thought of others getting the credit for something you did?

The funny thing about approval seeking; we often care most about what the wrong people think.

The Bible tells me to love my wife sacrificially; the same way Jesus loved the church when he laid down his life for her. Of the six billion people roaming the face of the earth at this moment, I should be most concerned about what Sandi thinks of me.

  • Does she think I am attentive to her needs?
  • Does she think I love her enough to give up other things I may want?
  • Does she think that I am loyal to her above anyone or anything else?
Gaining God’s approval, and then Sandi’s approval should matter more than what anyone else may think or say about me, good or bad. But, so often this isn’t the case.

Here’s my dilemma (maybe you can relate). Sandi and I have been married for over 26 years. She is my wife, and she promised to love me and remain faithful to me for better or worse. If I’m a fisherman, she’s already in the boat!  I have already won her over – she has to love me, so it no longer counts in the same way.

Sound familiar?

Focusing on the approval of others in ministry can quickly become an intruder in your marriage and drive a deep wedge that is difficult to dislodge. Or worse, it can become a mistress that displaces the attention and affection that should be devoted to your spouse.

By personality type, I am not one who cares too much about what other people think of me. Most of the criticism I have received over the past 30 years in ministry has rolled off my back. In fact, I sometimes have taken a great deal of pride in my thick skin. But alas, I had deep father issues and was on a frantic search to find a father figure that I could please. So, I would zero in on one or two older men whom I respected and replay this scene in my mind: I am walking away from planting the best church on planet earth, but chose to leave before the celebration of my accomplishment. In humility and honor I allow the other staff to enjoy the spoils of victory. As I stride alone into the sunset my father figure comes up alongside me and puts his hand on my shoulder. Not a word is spoken – I can see the look of pride in his eyes and that’s all I will ever need.

I know, pretty messed up, isn’t it?

But the bigger problem is that Sandi took a back seat to this fantasy on more than one occasion. In fact, my quest for a father’s validation often trumped my allegiance to Christ. By seeking out the most impressive ministry assignment I could imagine this side of Africa I hoped to do enough to finally hear those words, “well done, son”. The irony?  As I strained to hear that message I grew deaf to Sandi’s pleadings to once again prioritize our marriage.

Jesus saw through Satan’s ploy.  Instead of looking to the applause of people for his identity and significance he looked to his father.  He actually believed that he was exactly who his father told him he was, a beloved and pleasing son.
Only as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus by finding our identity in the words and deeds of our Heavenly Father can we resist the pull to perform for the crowd.  And, only as we rightly value the opinions of others can we serve God and our spouse with our very best.

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