God gave us a call to give up everything in order have a life with him, but how can one repeated image in the Bible help us understand how that practically should look in our lives?
Thanks to the pandemic, 2021 and 2022 are slated to be record wedding-heavy years. The planning couple should be well aware that the average cost of a wedding varies wildly between states. The price tag of a run-of-the-mill wedding in New York or New Jersey hovers around $50,000, which should surprise no one. An equivalent wedding in Wyoming costs just under $20,000.
Those prices, though, are for the budget-savvy. A few more zeros can easily be tacked on to those prices depending on what venue the wedding party chooses or how many guests are invited. The biggest problem with weddings, however, was succinctly pointed out in a Buzzfeed article on advice to singles or newly engaged couples.
One contributor wrote, “Too many people don't understand that the first ‘I do’ is the first of a lifetime of daily ‘I dos’ required to make it work.” Another added, “Make sure you want a marriage, instead of just an awesome wedding.”
For far too many, the wedding becomes the end goal rather than a significant mile-marker. What comes after the cake cutting, dances and sparkler farewell often isn’t taken into consideration until the couple are standing on opposite sides of the living room having their first screaming match. What if the months before the marriage weren’t viewed as just the ramp up to the wedding but as a serious preparation period for life together?
It’s a question well worth considering as we read scripture that describes the church as Christ’s bride and our ultimate redemption as the great feast at the end of time. Life here on earth is not just the waiting room before the heavenly wedding party.
How are we preparing for marriage?
Taking Up Our Crosses
In his sermon “The Queen in Gold,” David Wilkerson reflected on how wedding imagery is used throughout the Bible to describe the church and our end-times reunion with Christ. However, believers rarely consider all of the more sober responsibilities that such an image entails.
He noted, “What the Holy Ghost is saying, what this voice is saying to the bride, ‘You're about to commit to him now, when you marry him. And when you're with him, what is going to be your mindset when you're married to him? Are you going to give him just lip service? Are you going to give him your body perfunctorily and go through the motions, and your mind is going to be back on your old life, on your old things, old friends, an old lover? Something in your past?’”
This was why Jesus told the crowds following him, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him….
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-29, 33, ESV).
The idolatry that takes hold of our hearts in these modern times obviously does not involve tiny statues made out of silver or wood. Now our idols are whatever we give the lion’s share of our time to or something that occupies our thoughts.
Even more dangerous, as David points out in his sermon, is that the idols of our hearts are often beneficial things. “You see, it's not the bad that's the enemy to the Christians. It’s the good. It's family; it's a career; it’s a job.” We can easily become wrapped up in our children or serving our church or spending time with our friends. These are all good parts of life, but when they begin to overshadow time with God, prayer and meditation over the Word, they poison our souls.
Here is where Jesus’ stark command comes into play. At times, we must make choices to prioritize God or follow Christ’s call in ways that will look and feel like hatred to our family and friends. If we are not willing to obey a command that may cost us other relationships, we are not truly following Christ.
The Tension Between Two Poles
As we consider this command, it’s worth noting that Christ’s call to follow him at the expense of everything else has been terribly misinterpreted and abused on occasion.
“This is not a call for you to leave your wife,” David emphatically said. “Some people have used that excuse. Some guys run away to the mission field — ‘God told me to leave everything’ — and he just wanted to escape a marriage. This is not an excuse to forsake your obligations and family. In fact, the Bible is full of these challenges and commands to provide. ‘If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Timothy 5:8).”
The Bible clearly commands believers to work hard and care for others in their community, to be dutiful parents and loving, respectful spouses. Jesus did not cancel out any of those commands with his order to bear our crosses and devote our lives to him.
“The Holy Ghost is saying to the church bride, ‘If you'll put aside everything, this man becomes the focus of everything. If you're ready to pay that price and lay everything in this world down, lay it down in your mind… You still have to make a living. You still go through this, but that's simply to make a living so you have time to prepare your heart. You're adorning yourself as a bride, getting ready. Everything you do, you're adorning yourself.”
Our daily work and relationships are the preparation grounds of our marriage to Christ. How often should we submit to God’s Word and the Spirit’s direction in the middle of a contentious staff meeting? How often should we internally turn to Christ with desperate fervor as our two-year-old has a Chernobyl-level meltdown in the supermarket?
God should be the reason why we step up to the plate and are faithful in our work and relationships. The living Word inside us should be the reason why we meet the demands of every day better than anyone else.
We must not use our dedication to Christ as an excuse to flee our responsibilities as parents, spouses, coworkers or friends. Neither should we allow these relationships to creep up onto the altar of our hearts.
Preparing for Our Wedding
Before we walk down the aisle, there are a few discussions, meetings and events we probably want to have happen first. It’s vital to talk about religious beliefs, finances, future aspirations and whether or not both parties involved want children (how many children, how soon, parenting styles or how to approach very present children from previous relationships). We should probably get to know our future spouse’s family and close friends. We may want to have an argument or two in order to see how we handle conflict.
A successful marriage will be based on constant, clear communication and a continual choice to love the other individual.
Our relationship with God should be no different. We must constantly choose communication and to seek out intimate time with Christ. We must make choices that we know will honor God, lean into the loving actions whether or not we always ‘feel it’ in the moment.
Every decision, conversation and idle portion of time is an opportunity to prepare ourselves for marriage in heaven, a life beyond the grave with Christ. No pursuit could be more worthwhile in this world.