But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:7-9
One Saturday morning I was reading overnight email when one grabbed my attention. The stander began her message, “Today, God opened my eyes.” Those five words suddenly had my undivided attention. What had happened to this wife was exactly the experience Charlyne and I pray each and every man and woman seeking marriage restoration will seek. One more person had been touched to do things God’s way and not the world’s way.
After reading that brief message, I moved on to a number of other emails, but each one was distinctly different from that first message. The difference that made that email stand out was exactly what brought me home over 25 years ago. Please let me explain.
I was brought home, not by the changes God made in my life, because they came after the fact. I started looking toward home, first out of criticism, then out of curiosity, and finally out of conviction, because of sincere, heartfelt changes in my wife’s heart that I witnessed and heard about from our kids.
I know now, having read Charlyne’s journals from those days, that she was praying and fasting for changes in my life. But even greater, my wife was allowing God to change her in every area.
Most of our email, especially prayer requests, deals with the change the stander is asking God to make in the life of a prodigal spouse. It is rare to receive a message where a man or woman is asking God to change them. The number of messages we receive in which someone is praising God for opening their eyes is not as common.
What is the first step in marriage restoration? I think a person must ask God to literally turn them inside out, revealing and exposing anything the Lord desires to change in every area of their being. Certainly, the stander prays and fasts for their prodigal spouse, but the focus, the main area of concern, transfers from “them” to “me.” Allow God to work in your life and give Him the responsibility for your prodigal spouse.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, will attract the attention of your prodigal spouse like the Holy Spirit being allowed to work in your life. The starting point for that to happen is forgiveness. Once you have started the day-to-day process of forgiving your spouse, there is not much to put in an email prayer request because there is not much fault left.
Charlyne had a hundred and one reasons to hate me, starting with adultery and abuse, and continuing right down through the alphabet. Nevertheless, she chose to forgive me, for all the past, as well as the future. The day she called me asking me to forgive her for her part in our marriage failure, was only the start of changes I would observe in the woman I had married 19 years prior.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
Before you attempt to run a play from my wife’s play book and fumble, be warned, there is nothing we prodigals can spot faster than cries of forgiveness that are only skin deep or a relationship with Christ that is lived out in word, but not in deed. If you attempt to make minor adjustments to your life, intending that your prodigal will take them to be from the heart, the cause of your marriage restoration will be severely damaged.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10
Why would anyone desire a superficial relationship with Christ or to do less than forgive from the heart and in all sincerity? Once you surrender your life to the Lord and He starts changing you, someone you love will do as I did with Charlyne and start to take notice.
Please allow God to change you first. Then He will change your prodigal spouse and one more marriage will be on the road to restoration. Granted, it may be slow going, with many detours along the way, but, thank God, you are on the right road.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
Because He lives,