An Unequal Yoke

The Bible tells us not to be unequally yoked in marriage with someone who’s not a Christian. It seems pretty obvious advice. How can someone of another faith or no faith understand the nature of a relationship we share with Jesus that by necessity for the health of our marriage should come before the relationship we have with our spouse?

It’s beyond a tricky question, and the answer is simple: don’t get involved in the first place.

But what happens when circumstances change during a marriage? What do you do when your spouse begins to question what you hold – and more importantly they hold – as the core of their being?

The picture is a bit extreme, nobody in their right mind would tether an ox and a donkey, but we run the risk of ending up in that situation every day. What unsettles one partner slightly may derail the faith of the other completely. The result is a very uneven spread of the burden of marriage.

I’m not going to pretend I can cover all aspects of marriage in one single posting here, so this will probably be one of several over the next few weeks.

Imagine a couple who have been married for several years. One day they hear that one of them has a terminal illness. How do they respond?

The “right” answer is to run to Jesus and live happily ever after.

99.99% of the time that just won’t happen.

In an equal yoke, each spouse takes on a role that supports the other, irrespective of who has the diagnosis itself. But sometimes faith is a fragile thing. Getting the diagnosis may shatter what faith one or other has. How then do we move forward?

What generally happens is that the stronger one shoulders the load while the other regains their footing. That is what partnership is about. It is what marriage is about. But for how long?

Imagine five years later one partner still cannot deal with the situation. What then? By that time the other is being weighed down. And during that time the Enemy has ample opportunity to whisper to the standing partner that they “can’t ask for more help” from outside, not even from close family members because of what they have done already. Perhaps the healthy spouse has had to stop working to care for the sick one. It was imagined to be a temporary situation, but now it’s five years later. Medical bills are piling up and income is dropping. Assets are liquidised – not always voluntarily – to pay for the mounting debt in the hope of a solution.

How do we maintain hope in this?

It’s not easy.

Depression worms its way into the daily life, robbing the sufferer of hope and shattering faith as a result. It could be the sick spouse or the healthy one who becomes despondent. It could be both.

But by the time we admit it’s there, depression has often left us with an unequal yoke. One focussed on the hope of healing and the other on the despair of the loss.

The yoke we carry often becomes unequal as a result of events in our lives. Hopefully it’s only for a short time, but that time can feel like eternity while you’re in the middle of it.

We need to hold on during those times to Hebrews 11:1 and remember that Faith is the result of hope. We need to hold fast to the hope Christ gives us even if our husband or wife loses sight of it. It takes time, but holding to that hope yokes us with Christ and allows Him to carry the load. His burden is easy and we need only focus on Him.

It sounds trite to say it. Almost a cliche in fact, but it’s true nonetheless.

Hold onto hope. It balances the yoke.

Ordinary Life…

The last couple of months have been explosive for Eagle’s Wing Ministries to say the least, and we want to take the opportunity to say thanks to everyone for their interest and contact with the ministry.

That being said, I feel the need to say a few things as part of my testimony within this project…

The vision for EWM came about in 1999 to be a support for the Church, not any specific denomination, providing teaching, testimonies and advice (both solicited and unsolicited) for leaders and church members alike.

The organisation started with Isaiah 40:31 as a prophetic verse to give direction to the vision. We were to “wait on the Lord”. It seemed simple enough at the time, but days turned into weeks turned into months turned into 2011…

That’s where the testimony comes in:

EWM is my passion, but I am a simple man with normal human failings that God gives me strength to overcome. One of these is a strong tendency to procrastinate – hence the delay from 1999 to 2011 – and (though I hate to admit it) the constant feeling that I am not good enough to do what this ministry is called to do. I first felt called to write at the age of 19, some 24 years ago. I didn’t feel I could fill the shoes being offered to me so I ignored the call and did other things, none of which made me feel fulfilled.

I was offered the chance to speak occasionally at my local church – several over the years – and when I spoke unhindered by structure and from my heart I could feel God’s pleasure. Looking back I guess that was where the first inclinations of EWM began.

My heart has always been to encourage the church to truly become disciples themselves, and to make disciples. I felt in recent years that there was a huge gap between what we were called to do by Jesus – make disciples of all nations – and what we ended up doing: making converts. I found people regularly who would tell me they were “saved” twenty years earlier, but they lived very much in an infancy faith, their churches never being equipped to make disciples or never having attended a local church regularly. I’ve heard preachers refer to these as the “saved and stuck” people.

Billy Graham’s crusades for decades have drawn tens of thousands into Christ, but after the crusade moves on many simply fell backwards without the tools to grow. I must stress I in no way am speaking against the crusades campaigns as the church has benefited massively from them. More recently, HTB in London devised the Alpha course, a wonderful tool for leading through to faith and beginning the road to true discipleship. I’ve been privileged to help lead a number of these courses over the years and have seen the churches running them move from strength to strength.

Many of the contacts I’ve received in the last months have been from pastors, church members and representatives of groups of churches wanting to join the church of Eagle’s Wing Ministries.

It’s a huge honour to be in contact with all these people from across the globe and if you’ve not heard from me personally it’s purely because of the amount of correspondence I have to deal with – don’t worry, I promise I will reply personally as soon as I can!

What this whole message and the ministry boils down to is one simple truth: I’m an ordinary guy, no more special than anyone else. People have sent me messages of encouragement for which I am incredibly grateful, but some have said how they wish they could be like me.

I put off writing for many years using the excuse that I wasn’t CS Lewis or John Eldridge or Max Lucado. I kept praying and God kept telling me to write what He gave me and I kept resisting. Eventually I felt Him saying to me “David, I have a CS Lewis, John Eldredge and a Max Lucado writing for me already. I don’t need you to be them – I need you to be YOU!”

It was a revelation. That night in 2011 I began this blog and started to work on the book He inspired me to write. The book is a work in progress as I can only write it part-time, but I try to make time to grow this web page as often as I can.

The Truth is that God has spent thousands of years working through normal, everyday people like you and me to do incredible, extraordinary things.

Don’t settle for a “normal” life. Don’t be “ordinary”.

God wants us to be extraordinary, and if we’ll listen and act then there’s nothing He calls us to that we can’t do.

Hope

I first wrote this in 2011, just after my family had received shattering and life-changing news.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Faith. Today I find my thoughts dwelling on Hope.

According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, Hope is one of the three things that is eternal, the other 2 being Faith and Love.

The last month, for reasons I’ll not go into right now, has been one of te hardest of my life. Harder than my brother’s death. Harder than my father’s cancer and death.

The thing that has kept me moving is Hope. It’s fragile. It’s sometimes just out of reach. It gets put off.

We all live in a constant state of hope. We hope we’ll get the promotion, win the lottery, get the girl. These little hopes keep us moving. Then there’s the bigger ones. We hope the test result will be positive, or negative, or neutral. We hope it was a mistake. We hope it wasn’t. (whatever “it” is!)

But these hopes are not exactly what was meant. The “Hope” Paul speaks of is Eternity. But it’s not the only time Hope is referred to in the Bible. Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”. And so often we have to live with a deferred hope.

This 21st Century is filled with deferred hope. It’s the trademark of modern life. Hardly surprising then that there are more people diagnosed as depressed now than at any time in history, and medications to counter the effects of depression are handed out to children like candy.

Now I’m not opposed to antidepressants. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve needed them in the past. I used them for over 2 years to help me get through a deep depression a few years ago, and my friends who got round me and helped me through that time can testify to the state I was in. And to my attitude to these meds before and after I had to take them.

But this isn’t about medication. It’s about Hope.

Hope when I was depressed, was a continually elusive phenomenon. Always just out of reach, and always “tomorrow”. It was soul destroying. I struggled with suicidal thoughts (and a few tries) and self-harming when the emotion was too strong. The hope I had was that the pain would stop.

Christ suffered pain and emotional torment in the Garden before the crucifixion. He sweated blood and cried out to God to let the cup pass from Him. Ultimately He regained His Hope by handing His despair over to His Father. It took me several years to be able to do the same. Jesus’ victory may have been finalised on the Cross, but the greatest battle, arguably, took place in Gethsemane.

And Hope won out.

Jesus’ human nature didn’t want to be crucified. Who would? His human hope was the passing of the cup. His Godly Hope was us. We were the Joy set before Him. Our salvation and restoration of relationship was His Hope.

We must lean on God, accept His Spirit as the Comforter, and look to His Hope for our lives. We must live as though now is the only moment we have, because it is. We are only guaranteed this heartbeat. But Hope for our Eternal Future is what we must hold on to.

Hope is sometimes all we have. Paul and Silas hoped God would move in the Jail Cell. Paul chose to stay in this world when he wanted to go to the next for our benefit, but that too was a hope. At times all the apostles had was the hope of what would come in the next world, and it gave them peace in this.

“Let not your hearts be troubled” is a recurring theme in John 14, 15 and 16. Jesus repeatedly said to the disciples not to be troubled. Then He went out and was crucified. The disciples temporarily lost hope because they missed what He had told them. To avoid anyone else having to go through that John wrote a detailed account of what Jesus taught them that night.

He pointed out how important perspective is. Hope is based on perspective. We cannot be hopeful if our perspective is wrong.

Hope is eternal. It is tied to eternity. But it is easily overthrown in this world. The Enemy is an opportunist, and since Hope leads us into Faith and Love, he seeks to destroy it.

Guard your hearts, for they are the wellspring of life we are told be the writer of Proverbs – possibly Solomon. Hope feeds that spring. God speaks to us through the Heart, and we must guard it. Hope gives us life.

Hope made us ask Jesus in in the first place.

Guard your heart. It’s fragile. But strong when it’s filled with God’s Hope.

Get Out of the Boat

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.” [Matthew 14: 27-29 NKJV]
Picture the scene. For hours the disciples have been battling the wind and waves of a severe storm on the Sea of Galilee. They are swamped with water. The little fishing boat is filling with water.
They know they are going to die.
Suddenly they see a figure walking over the sea towards them. He calls a greeting to them. The sequence of Jesus’s greeting is significant. First He tells them to be of good cheer. Then He identifies Himself. Then He tells them to not be afraid.
Imagine you were in that boat. Soaked, half dead from exhaustion. Now this figure defies everything you know from years of working the sea and walks to you over the surface of the water. Which way would you lean?
Eleven of the disciples go the “sane” route. They cling to the mast, the bulkhead, anything that’s still in one piece on the boat.
Peter calls out to Jesus.
Be careful what you say to God in times of trouble. Peter says “If it is you”. He paints Jesus into a corner. He forces God’s hand. Jesus can either deny Himself or call Peter to Him. “Come”.
The other eleven must have thought Peter had lost his mind as he climbs out of the sinking boat. But then imagine their incredulity as Peter walks on top of the water, just as Jesus was doing. He looks Jesus in the eye and walks towards Him. He’s nearly there when he realises what he’s doing and fear starts to grip him.
But immediately as Peter begins to sink, Jesus has His hand there to lift him out. Immediately.
They return to the boat and climb back in.
Hang on… They return to the boat? How often this little nugget gets missed in the story. They don’t teleport. There’s no cry of “Beam me up, James”. They return to the boat, walking on the water. The storm lifts as they climb into the vessel. Peter returns with Jesus to the boat.
He walks back.
Calling to Jesus in his desperation restores his Faith. The miracle of walking on water is restored. Presumably he walks either hand-in-hand with Jesus or alongside Him. But he walks.
Every day I get up out of bed to face the day. It’s not easy. I suffer several major illnesses that by God’s strength in me are not getting worse for the first time in years. I trust in time I will see improvement and eventually healing for all of them, but for now I have to fight these agents of the Enemy every morning. I start my day with tea, eggs and medication. If I don’t, diabetes causes me to feel too ill to function, my mind cannot focus as ADD takes hold and I sink into deep depression.
I have my storms. You have yours. Maybe you don’t have the daily reminders I do, but you have your storms. They may be financial. Like me, they may be illnesses. They could be a feeling of helplessness as you are forced to watch someone you love suffer with terminal sickness.
We all have our storms. And we all have our boats.
But Jesus walks over the very things trying to kill us. Just as He walked over the sea through the storm to the disciples, He walks to us through the middle of our battles. Just as He called to Peter “Come” He calls to us. He calls us out of the storm. He reminds us we are not subject to the wind and waves, that they are subject to Him.
If we listen.
Faith comes like a muscle grows. By use. We can’t (usually) go from not believing for $1 to believing for $1,000,000 in one step. Muscles just don’t grow that strong that fast. We can’t (usually) believe for healing of cancer or AIDS if we can’t believe for healing of a cold. Faith and Miracles are different. I’ll cover that another time.
There are always exceptions, times when a full-on miracle occurs. These are few and there tends to be little if any form of logic to the miracle. It just seems to happen.
In general we need to be patient. If you’re broke now and have been for some time it could be cataclysmic if God were to suddenly drop millions into your hands. First He needs you to let Him change your mindset. Once you’ve done that you can step out of the boat.
Peter saw Jesus on the water. A fisherman by trade, he realised if he stayed in the boat he was a dead man. So he trusted. They had seen Jesus save the sick and demon possessed. They had seen Him feed 5000 men plus women and children with a packed lunch. He took the chance that he would see Jesus save him from death by doing something “logic” said was insane.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” [Proverbs 14:12]
It looked like staying in the boat was the right thing to do. It seemed right. But stay in the boat and you drown. Peter saw that.
In the situations we face every day we have the same dilemma. Do what everyone else does in this circumstance or try something that looks crazy. Like taking a heart from a dead man and putting it into the chest of another. But today a heart transplant is almost a routine operation. Investing in a time of recession seems crazy by the World’s logic, but there were more millionaires at the end of the Great Depression than there were at the beginning of it because they had the recognition that it couldn’t be a permanent slump. Their investments looked crazy.
These are Worldly examples of course. But Peter grabbed the hands of a cripple and pulled him to his feet in Acts
. To a man without Faith, an insane act. To an imitator of Christ, a simple command.
We lose sight of the fact that we have been given Christ’s authority over earthly matters. Health, finances, family. We need to get back to basics.
We’ve spent our lives on the fence, watching others who have walked on the water and marvelling at the “special anointing” they have. But that’s what Christianity – imitating Jesus – should look like. We need to take the chance He gives us.
We need to get out of the boat.