I wanted to be a missionary when I was a little girl. Actually, I think I just wanted to be Christie from Catherine Marshall’s popular book. I wanted to be the heroine who was humbled by trying to teach impoverished people, but ultimately fell in love with and was adored by the people she came to serve. Basically, I wanted the accolades and glory of a life devoid of day-to-day faithfulness.
No one thinks making coffee, doing laundry, washing dishes, and serving meals is radical service to God. We watch touching videos and read moving stories about people who left suburbia for the inner city or foreign missions and think it’s radical. But as Nik Ripken said in The Insanity of God, “Serving God is not a matter of location, but a matter of obedience.”
Obedience is radical no matter where we are in life. But particularly in a culture that values independence and instant gratification, faithfulness in marriage is radical obedience to the call of God. My idealism about what it means to follow Jesus has never been challenged more than in my 26 years of marriage.
The daily self-denial of choosing resurrection life over temporary comforts
When I think of radical service, it usually involves leaving the temporary comforts of my American suburban life. But once there, I’d have to deal with the lack of trust I have in God to provide for me, and the dependence I’ve formed on having things I like. I’d have to deal with the sin that would rise to the surface. And in a real sense, we have to do the same in marriage.
You are going to have to deny your own wishes when the excitement over the newness of marriage has faded if it’s going to flourish. Choosing to follow Jesus into radical service means obeying his call to daily deny yourself. It’s looking past the cross of your self-centeredness and the unintended sabotaging of your plans by your spouse, to the resurrection and hope of Christ’s redeeming power. As Nik Ripkin said,
“If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.”
Want to radically follow Jesus? Sacrifice your comforts for the sake of your spouse.
The daily dying to self to serve your spouse
One of the most radical acts of Jesus was his descent to the feet of his disciples, washing them, and demonstrating the way we are to love and serve each other. My friends who have lived in the remote wilderness of Papua New Guinea for many years, translating the Bible and leading people to Christ, are an excellent example of this. It struck me as I was listening to them on one of their visits to the States that serving others is the posture of a disciple of Christ. It can be easy, however, to compare their act of service via international missions and feel like our lives don’t have the same opportunity for service.
Serving others is the posture of a sent disciple of Christ regardless of your location, and it can be particularly hard for the married believer. It’s easy to forget this posture in marriage. When the honeymoon feelings wear off and there are socks on the ground, a messy toothpaste tube on the counter, and sharp words spoken out of frustration, we tend to want to stand for our rights, for our way of life. But the radical focus of the Christian spouse is the day in, day out faithfulness to serve the other with the humility that Christ had when he lowered himself to wash even Judas’s feet. It’s when you feel the weight of your spouses’ sin and weakness that you truly have an opportunity to take up your cross and follow Jesus in serving him or her. It’s then that laying down your personal preferences and serving one another becomes radical in a me-centered society.
The daily investment of your life into your spouse’s
Investing your entire life into the life of others is at the crux of Jesus’ radical call. In marriage, the challenge really lies in how you, as a Christian spouse, will obey Jesus in investing your time, talents, and treasures in the life of your spouse. If your spouse is a Christian, spend yourself enriching their affection for Jesus. Pray with them. Study them to find out what increases their joy in Jesus. Join them on mission, side by side. Decide together what your lives will look like for the Kingdom.
If your spouse is not a Christian, pour out your life into theirs like an offering, praying God will save your spouse. Affirm the God-created good you see in them. Join them in something they enjoy like weight-lifting, hiking, cooking, or other projects. Encourage his or her endeavors to “subdue the earth” through a vocation, hobbies, and child-rearing. And if you spend your life doing such seemingly mundane things, no doubt, you’ll be living like a radical.
Obedience to the call of God to die to yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus is where any act done for the Lord becomes radical—whether it be mission work overseas, in the inner city, or in the suburbs with your spouse and kids in a minivan on the way to the grocery store. The day-to-day self-denial of choosing resurrection life over temporary comforts, dying to self to serve the other, and the year-after-year investment of your life into your spouse’s is a counter-cultural radical stance. With the adventurous heart of Christ in us, those of us who are married can be radically faithful in the everyday life of marriage.