Inside, Outside, Upside Down

why self-effort makes having a happy marriage more difficult

Maybe you remember the Berenstain Bears’ Inside Outside Upside Down. I know it well because I read (past tense) it to my three sons. The title describes the way many of us have been misinformed about how to have a successful marriage.

Looking over my journals for the last 20+ years, I can clearly see how much time I’ve spent whining and begging God to do something for me that He’s already done. I’ve pleaded with Him to be with me, to take care of me, and to bless what I’m trying to do.

In short, I’ve looked at my life from a place of need. Trying to talk God into making my life better, even as I tell Him what it should look like. I’ve determined what the outcome should be, rather than asking Him to show me what He has planned and to teach me how to partner with Him. But that is changing. Quickly.

TAKING through self-effort

Many pastors and counselors actively encourage couples to use a “Bottom-Up” model that is totally inside outside upside down!

  1. Tell your mate how you feel and what you want.
    Unspoken assumption: I should get what I ask for.
  2. Plead with God (whine and complain) until He listens to you.
    Unspoken assumption: I need to work hard at getting close to God.
  3. Beg God to do something about your spouse and bless your marriage.
    Unspoken assumption: God must fix your mate before you can be happy.

This approach is not only self-focused, it emphasizes what is wrong. It is past-present focused. And we all know you can’t be looking behind while you walk because you’ll surely stumble and fall.

RECEIVING through Abiding

My journals look a lot different nowadays as I’m learning to abide, to receive, and to give thanks for what God has done for me in Jesus, is now doing in my present circumstances, and has planned for me. In other words, my approach to my relationship with Him is now present-future focused. Hallelujah!

You don’t have to beg God to give you something He’s already promised. Just learn to abide in His love.

  1. Abide means “to remain in, comply with, obey, observe, follow, keep to, hold to, conform to, adhere to, stick to, stand by, act in accordance with, uphold, heed, accept, go along with, acknowledge, respect.”
    Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
  2. Receive means “to be given, presented with something.” God is the Creator and Initiator of all things. He freely gives us His Love in His Son (John 3:16) through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Plus he freely give us grace (Ephesians 1:6), peace (John 14:27), and wisdom (James 1:5).
    Paul wrote:Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:35-36)
  3. Gratefulness means “warm or deep appreciation for kindness or benefits received; thankfulness for something received from another.”
    Paul encouraged: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

BOTTOM LINE: Abiding, receiving, and being grateful takes your focus off what’s wrong and puts it on what’s right. Whatever you think about will be magnified, not only in your mind, but in your heart and your actions as well. And it’s the only way marriage can be truly enjoyed for a lifetime … in case you were wondering.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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