“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Galatians 5:1-2 (ESV)
In times of crisis, we all have fallback coping strategies. As a professional counselor for twenty years and now as a professional coach, I have seen families try many ways of coping during times of difficulty. Sometimes these strategies bring the family closer; sometimes they divide and stress the entire family even further. One of the most effective ways of coping, and even thriving in times of stress, is to gather together and pray.
After the gruesome crucifixion and burial of their Lord and Teacher, the disciples gathered to do what Jesus had shown them to do and what He Himself did in times of crisis: pray. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” Acts 1:14 (ESV).
A family who gathers with one mind, agreeing in prayer, is strengthened and brought closer together, no matter the circumstances. They become more tightly bound, both emotionally and mentally, in the process. Just as the disciples gathered and followed Jesus’ example, families who follow Christ thrive when they gather together and pray on a regular basis. Begin to develop this practice in your family: at meals and bedtime, maybe in a family time of devotion, so that when facing any challenge, prayer will become your fallback plan of not just surviving, but thriving.
I love this song David wrote about God as a picture of loving father.
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” Psalm 103:8–13 (ESV)
David says the compassionate Heavenly Father does not always chide or hold grudges. His discipline is situational and corrective of behavior. He does not characterize or label His children by their sins. God’s model of a compassionate parent is one who treats children with love as great as the heavens and as wide as the east from the west. Moms and Dads who follow this description of God as a model for their parenting will experience the same devotion and affection David expresses in this Psalm.
Compassion strengthens the bond in families. A thriving family is full of compassion and love for one another. It does not ignore discipline, but bases that discipline in love for the person and a desire for redemption from sin. Let’s focus today on being slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
“All families fight,” says internationally-known marriage and family therapist, Sue Johnson. “But what characterizes families that thrive,” she says, “is how quickly and effectively they recover from times of conflict.” We set ourselves up for discouragement and weaken our ability to rebound from conflicts when we are not prepared with the necessary skills to work through difficulties.
In the gospel of Matthew, famous parables of Jesus and stories about how we should live are interspersed with clear teaching about conflict and restoration. Matthew quotes Jesus’ parable of a lost sheep (Matthew 18:10-14) before writing down what Jesus taught the disciples about how to resolve conflict (Matthew 18:15-20). Jesus followers should treat pursuing peace and resolving conflict as important as going after a lost lamb. Redeeming a valued relationship is a urgent as saving even the one, though you have hundreds more.
Matthew then follows the teaching on conflict with Jesus’ parable of an unforgiving servant. If we treat conflict as competition we have to win, instead of approaching the offense with the mindset of a servant who is willing to extend grace because he himself has been forgiven a great debt, we will not be successful in true redemption.
With what brother or sister in Christ, or what family member, do you have a lingering conflict? Matthew passes on what Jesus taught about resolving conflict to us. First, check your attitude. Do you value this relationship as a shepherd values the one lost lamb among hundreds of others? Are you willing to go to great lengths to save it? Do you have an openness to forgive as a result of the great forgiveness given you by God in Christ, which covered all your sin?
The idea of—even the word—“submission” has a bad reputation. This negative reaction seems rightfully earned through abuse, violence, manipulation, and destructive power struggles in marriages. Over the past 25 years, I have had the honor and privilege of helping thousands of husbands and wives rebuild conflicted marriages into loving and respectful marriages. I have also experienced the painful hurt of marriages caught in sinful power struggles, which ultimately ripped families apart. The difference between couples who rebuilt their relationships and those who ended them seems to come down to both individuals’ ability to repent, walk in love, and to continually offer themselves sacrificially to each other. The apostle Paul’s instructions to believers in various life stages and stations begins in Ephesians 5:1, where he instructs Jesus followers to be “imitators of God and walk in love as Christ loved us.” He is referring to the ultimate love, when Jesus sacrificed Himself. He submitted Himself first to God. This is the attitude that both spouses must have in order to avoid the kind of power struggles that have plagued marriages since the beginning of time. When specifically addressing husbands and wives later in Ephesians chapter 5, the author is very intentional about addressing and instructing both spouses in their attitudes toward each other. One attitude cannot exist without the other. They are mutually dependent on the other’s rightful attitude. When husbands sacrificially love their wives, then wives can be lovingly submissive in their attitudes toward their husbands. These attitudes are mutually dependent. Both attitudes begin with walking in love and submitting one to another (Ephesians 5:1, 21). Two individuals who walk in love and imitate the nature of God create a marriage that is thriving. Whether you are married, have experienced divorce, or you never married, this principle applies to you as a Jesus follower. If you are married, however, the principle of mutual submission is even more crucial: your marriage and your families’ health are dependent on it. Pray that God will reveal your heart attitudes and help you walk in love as Christ did.
Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” Matthew 7:12 (ESV). It’s called the “Golden Rule” for a reason. After all, the statement summarizes the entire Old Testament guidelines for living a life that pleases God (the Law and Prophets). That’s a pretty amazing summary. Jesus further taught that what is on the inside of a person’s mind and heart is as important (if not more important) than what they do or say on the outside. Our actions are birthed out of the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Respect is one of those attitudes that should live in the secret life of a person. If it does, it will eventually show up in the relationships. If there is no respect, the lack will most certainly affect the family dynamic. Jesus’ goes on to say that this is not the easy path. The easy way leads to destruction. The way of mutual respect and kindness is the narrow way that leads to life. Few actually take it and choose to live by God’s principles. Yet when we follow this rule of respect and follow Jesus in this matter, our families—including our extended church families—thrive. This week as you pray, ask God to teach you how to walk this narrow way. Ask Him to search your secret thoughts and feelings toward others. Are you judgmental or tender-hearted? Do you think of others as you would want them to think and feel about you? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you change your thinking, which in turn will lead to a change in your actions. You will soon find your heart free to love others as God loves you.