303 – Quiet Times

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MEDITATION

Meditation has a rich tradition in biblical history. It helps a man focus, process his thoughts, hone in on his vision, and regain a sense of perspective about the world around him, assisting him in holding frame and maintaining an amused mastery of life and abundance mentality.

Although there is value in general meditation, as Christians we know there is greater value in focused meditation. Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” That’s right – you want a formula for prosper and success? Meditate on God’s Word and be careful to do everything written in it. That’s the path.  Just make sure you’re okay with accepting what God means when he says “prosperous and successful.”


QUIET TIME

A Christian’s time in the Word is his life blood. John 1 tells us that Jesus is the Word of God. We also know that the Scriptures are Spirit-inspired. They’re also a record of everything the Father has done. No matter how you look at it, if you want to know and love God, you’ve got to go through His Word to do it.

The most basic method of having a quiet time involves three steps. (1) Pray that God opens your heart to love Him and receive what He wants to show you. (2) Read a passage. (3) Prayerfully reflect on the passage and how it can help you be more like Jesus in very practical ways.

A quiet time shouldn’t be an in-depth research session. Put down the commentaries, concordances, internet references, and study notes. Just read casually and absorb what God has to offer. Then meditate on what the Spirit is trying to do in your heart through the passage – or maybe even through something else entirely that has been weighing on you, and the passage is merely a vehicle to orient your gaze back toward Christ. The reflecting should resemble the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

If you lack anything else in your faith – make this one thing a priority above all else. I believe you will find that emphasis on a daily quiet time will develop in you a compulsion for all other areas of the faith, and thus all other aspects of our walk with Christ cannot appropriately grow if one isn’t spending daily time in the Word.


RELATIONSHIP AND REST

The most often missed aspects of quiet times are the ways it’s meant to be intensely relational and restful. Most people see quiet times as a chore – something they have to do to keep learning new things about the Scriptures. This is not God’s design.

Relationship

Imagine being on a date with your wife. You ask, “Tell me about your childhood.” She obliges with a 5 minute story. You follow up with, “Okay, now tell me about your trip to Europe as a teenager.” She answers. You continue, “Okay, now tell me about your favorite concert,” and this is how the date goes. You get home and how’s she going to respond?

If it’s all about the information, you’ll never get to experience genuine intimacy – either physical or emotional. You need kino, flirting, teasing, isolation, escalation, etc. What’s the point of the date if it’s not leading anywhere? If you just wanted to gather information about your spouse (or her about you), couldn’t you have done that at home? Or couldn’t you have sent her a questionnaire from your office desk? The point of the date is to build the relationship.

Now, try going the next 3 months with no alone time with your spouse except maybe 15 seconds before eating a meal and see how well the relationship flourishes and how revitalized your bedroom gets. [Hint: It won’t work!] Have you spent some alone time with God yet today?

I once read that dates work best when following a simple pattern:

  • Initiate – Get the process started. Set some time aside, make a plan, even if it’s something simple, and just go.
  • Isolate – True connection, whether it’s emotional, physical, or spiritual, happens when we’re alone.  Think about when you were first dating your spouse.  Were you content to stay in large groups together all the time, or did your heart start to race once you were isolated from the group and had each other all to yourselves?
  • Escalate – Build the conversation to something meaningful.  Don’t stick to pleasantries about the weather.  If you’re married, hold hands, then hug, then kiss, then massage, etc.

God tries to initiate this pattern with us.  Although we’re meant to connect with him in community, he also wants to connect with us personally through our alone time with him.  And God is always trying to escalate.  He wants us to grow, to think and feel deeper, and to experience life with him in ways we couldn’t even have imagined.  Are you willing to receive his initiation, follow him into isolation, and let him escalate within your spirit? Can you take what God’s trying to do with you and implement those same tactics with your wife?

Or let me get to the point: maybe your wife isn’t responding to your initiation because you’re rejecting God the same way she’s rejecting you. She’s just following your lead. Show her how she should act with you by modeling that behavior with how you react to God’s initiation. That’s how you’ll lead her.

Rest

I can’t write about QTs without touching on this subject. Everyone complains, “I don’t have enough time!” or “I’m just not motivated …” Boo hoo. Man up and get it done is what I used to say. Now I realize that there’s a fundamental psychological problem that causes this type of attitude: we see it as work and not rest. It’s a chore that must be checked off our list, and it’s always more fun to procrastinate work. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Do you Netflix and chill at the end of a hard day? I can’t count the number of people I meet who say, “I don’t have enough time,” but somehow manage to have 20 minutes for a TV show. “That’s not fair,” they say, “you want me to give up my only down time during the week to do another thing?”

Therein lies the problem. Human brain chemistry has been so warped by the addictive noise we receive through our 5 senses that we dread the thought of giving it up for stimulation in our 6th sense – our spirit. Consider:

  • Touch/physical stimulation: working out, sex, “self-gratification,” massages, chiropractors, back scratching, long baths/showers, drugs
  • Taste: food, wine, pop/soda, beer, candy, ice cream, drugs
  • Smell: candles, cooking, camp fires, nature, perfume, cologne, body odor, deodorant
  • Hear: music, nature sounds, interpersonal conversations, OD-ing on sermons, books on tape, radio advertisements, white noise
  • See: porn, Netflix/Hulu, movies, billboards posters, video games

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord … Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. (Lamentations 3:25-28)


CONCLUSION

It’s easier said than done, but if you can learn to weed out the noise in life that fills your 5 senses, you will find your greatest rest in basking in what God has to stimulate your 6th sense – not the intellectual curiosity of what the Bible has to teach you, but the Spirit-filled peace that comes from letting your spirit rest.

Intellectual comprehension of Scripture is a good thing, but it is often the greatest enemy of our spiritual ability to escalate in our relationship with God, rest in His strength, and re-center our focus through meditating on His Word.

Similarly, if we employ quiet times with God in response to His initiation, which is ever present, I have found in my own life that my wife tends to follow my lead and is more responsive to my initiation, to resting in my strength, and to re-centering her focus away from the noise toward the focused path I am laying out for our family. Your wife is a reflection of you.  Be the bride of Christ the way you want her to be the bride of you.

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206 – Leadership Part 2

Leader vs follower concept

The last post on leadership centered around styles. That is, if you’re trying to lead someone through lecturing and they’re not responding, switch to life-sharing or delegating and see if that changes the result. I’ve had great success employing those methods in my own life. But this post will focus more on the process of leadership.


HOW JESUS DID IT

I’ve examined the Scriptures repeatedly to try to discern how Jesus started a movement and led his followers into becoming the apostles as we know them – flunkies who managed to turn the world upside-down. Here’s the general trend:

  • Tell them what: Jesus usually started by preaching. He laid out a road map and said, “Here’s what I expect of my followers.” He gave clear boundaries and enforced them. He said things like, “Anyone who doesn’t ___ cannot be my disciple” or “By this: ___, all men will know you are my disciples.”
  • Show them how: The next thing he did was to live by example. He put into practice what he preached. Others saw his life and wanted to follow in his footsteps.
  • Let them try: When they were ready, Jesus would give his followers opportunities to make a difference. He called Peter out to walk on the water in front of him. He asked the disciples to feed the 5,000. He let them try to cast out demons and heal people. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. He always gave feedback.
  • Send them out: After developing some competency, Jesus sent them off to practice on their own – outside of his presence. At first he sends out the 12, then shortly after he sends the 72. And he tells them that their being “sent out” would soon become a permanent endeavor. But he always gave feedback when they returned, answering their questions and continuing to train them.
  • Pass it on: His ultimate lesson to them was not merely one for their own benefit, but to help all the others who would be affected by their influence as well. In this way, Jesus would be like a grandfather to those that the 12 reached, and a great-grandfather to the people that the next generation reached, and so on. This is the core of generational ministry and what Jesus means by discipleship.

This process is repeatable.  It may take a while in some circumstances, but it’s easy to understand and employ.  I’ve used it with my wife, my kids, my co-workers … pretty much anyone who I want to influence for the better.  If you find you’re struggling with how to employ any phase of the process, go back to the previous post and check your leadership style to see if that’s the hangup.

 

205 – Leadership (Part 1)

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Although this was developed for group-leading, I apply these concepts in my marriage as well. I’ll try to keep it in that context. I’ll also assume I don’t need to go into the Scriptural basis for why men need to know how to lead – I think you’ve all got that part down by now. Also, if requested, I can provide Scriptural examples of God employing all of these leadership styles.

I’ve noticed 6 basic leadership styles at play. There may be more, but most everything can fit into one of these (or a hybrid).


THINKERS

Lecturer – Leader spends a majority of the time talking and answering his own questions. If he asks an open question, it’s either rhetorical or response time is limited. Lecturers are great at conveying lots of information in a small amount of time, and they function efficiently with silent spouses who are naturally submissive. However, if your spouse is naturally outspoken and has genuine value to contribute to the conversation, this can cause friction.

Investigator – Leader has a preset conclusion and asks directed questions to guide others to that destination, only revealing the answer if he is unskilled in his questions or others aren’t willing to play along. This works really well when there is an actual, knowable ideal destination, but that’s not always the case. It can cause minor friction if the other person feels like you’re just playing a game with them (i.e. the unskilled investigator), and it can be fairly ineffective if your spouse isn’t willing to talk openly to answer the questions at a particular time.

Coach – Leader asks directed questions to help point others in a right direction and resolve comprehension obstacles. Instead of discerning a clear answer, it’s more about moving in the right direction. This works well when applied to extremely emotional spouses who have a natural aversion to intellectualism (hopefully helping them overcome that aversion over time), but can really be stifling to someone who doesn’t have any life issues holding them back from marching forward in life.

FEELERS

Life Sharer – Leader communicates important information by relating it to personal life experiences (usually one’s own, but not necessarily). This works extremely well for sensors/feelers (Meyers-Briggs) and those who are unfamiliar with how to connect what they know to what they do. It comes off as condescending when people already have a solid connection between their head and heart. In a marriage context, it can look like guiding your spouse through a difficult situation by sharing when you were in a similar situation; or it could be like in spy movies when two secret agents are getting attacked and one says to the other, “Remember Fresno?” then they both know exactly what to do.

Delegator – Leader develops others by assigning tasks to develop a specific trait or otherwise to put them in positions that are necessary for their healthy functioning. So, if a wife is stressed out, the husband might say, “Here’s $50, go to the mall and have some fun” (delegating a task to address her immediate need). If she’s lacking patience, he might have her go to the grocery store and take all the kids with her. If she’s feeling insecure about her looks, he might have her go to the gym with him. This works extremely well for those who don’t know how to manage their own lives and for training them how to take charge in smaller areas without constantly calling you every time something goes wrong. It can be very damaging to those with no innate skill and aren’t ready for the tasks assigned.

Parent – Leader meets others where they’re at, modeling for others what he wants their life to look like. If your wife isn’t having daily quiet times, have them with her until she’s comfortable doing it on her own. If she’s yelling at the kids too much, step in and show her (not tell her) how you handle those situations. This works really well in most every one-on-one context, but is harder to implement in group settings. It can also come off as being condescending if the leader isn’t skilled.


I’ve already grouped these in terms of thinker/feeler. But it’s also important to note that I also ordered them within each category a specific way.

  • Lecturer/Sharer are the thinker/feeler ways of communicating information and expectations at/to someone with you as the primary actor in the conversation. You set the goal and tell them what it is; you process the information on how to get them there, then convey it.
    • The goal of these two is simply to relay information. The person will typically remain dependent on the leader for everything over which they have not yet received a lecture.
  • Investigator/Delegator are ways of getting someone to a predetermined destination by engaging them as the primary actor in the conversation. You set the goal without telling them, they process the information you present on how to get there.
    • The goal of these two is to teach others how to process information for themselves. The person will typically remain dependent on the leader for direction, but will learn how to accomplish that direction on their own without constantly bugging the leader with every new situation.
  • Coach/Parent are ways of guiding people in a direction they want to move, but haven’t been successful. They are the primary actor in the conversation. They set the goal, they process the information you present on how to achieve that goal.
    • The goal of these two is to help people learn how to function independently. The person will eventually cease to be dependent on the leader, but will develop a healthy appreciation for the leader’s role in his/her life.

NOTES:

Everyone gravitates toward one or two leadership styles as their natural skill-set and will inherently be weak at a couple, but learned proficiency at all of them is possible.

It’s also important to realize that not everyone will respond to every type of leadership. My wife responds best to life sharing, whereas I’m a natural investigator and sharing was my weakest. I had to become proficient in life sharing in order to help her through difficult times where a series of questions to reveal the core of the issue would have been much easier for me, yet would make her feel like I had no empathy.  Of course, I’m still far from perfect at this as I’m trying to function in a realm beyond my natural design.

It’s also worth noting that in group settings, there are different group purposes and functions. Each leadership style is more effective at accomplishing a specific function. So, if the purpose of the group is to introduce people to lots of new information about our faith that they may not have heard before, a lecturer or life sharer may be ideal. If the purpose is to go in-depth with studying a passage, the investigator or delegator may be more equipped. If the purpose is to share life together and bear one another’s burdens, the coach and parent are ideal. The list goes on (and not always in those pairings). This also holds true with your spouse, depending on the purpose of a given conversation or situation you may find yourself in.


EXAMPLE

Suppose your wife is struggling to have regular quiet times …

Lecturer: Here are dozens of verses that talk about why it’s important. Now I’m going to explain to you a series of techniques to help you set goals and stay focused, like setting a cell phone reminder.

Investigator: <Predetermines that the person needs to set a phone reminder> What, specifically, is hindering your efforts? I get busy, or just don’t remember. What do you do to remember things that need to get done at your job? Keep a calendar. What if you’re not at the office? An alarm goes off on my phone. Do you have your phone with you at all times at home too? Usually. <Light bulb goes on and they figure it out from there.>

Coach: Why is this important to you? What are things you’ve tried so far? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What other strategies could you employ to become more consistent in your quiet times?

Life Sharer: I used to have problems with consistency in my quiet times. I tried ___ and it worked really well for me.

Delegator: Set a phone reminder each night and try that for the next couple weeks. If that doesn’t work, come back and I’ll give you something else to try.

Parent: I love having quiet times. Why don’t we just do it together? That way I can help you remember and we can have fun chatting about what God shows us each day! [Usually uncommunicated intent: After a while, I’ll phase out and you should be able to continue on your own without me.]

303 – Fellowship

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Spend Time With Godly Men

A crucial aspect of both faith and masculinity is fellowship. If you want to be the kind of man God created you to be, you need to be around other strong, like-minded men. Paul says the same thing: “Join together in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17).

As believers in Christ, it’s not enough simply to be around other men in general, otherwise we’ll be led astray. 1 Cor. 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.'” Although you must be in relationship with non-Christians (to be discussed in a future post), if that’s your only or primary source of fellowship, you’re in trouble. Any effort to deny this falls in the “do not be deceived” category.

More specifically, you should have a fellowship of believers in person and not just online.  That’s a tough one for me, as I really enjoy the relationships I have with people in various online communities – ones that have developed into face-to-face interactions even.  But as Hebrews 10:25 notes, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Don’t let an online community (including Facebook) be a substitute for real life interpersonal relationships.  This also goes for online gamers.  Just because you happen to be friends in real life too doesn’t mean the screen time is magically the same as in-person time as well.


Don’t Overdo It

With that said, I used to think fellowship was somewhat of a blow-off lesson. Most Christians know how to spend time with other Christians, right? In reality, a few years ago a buddy of mine showed me that fellowship is actually one of the hardest of the 7 basics to master.

Hanging out with other believers is massively important. For a new believer, this is how they’re going to stay alive – even to the point that I would call this a priority more than any of the other basics. When a coal is removed from the flame, it burns out almost immediately. Put it back in and it lights on fire again – immediately! New believers should learn how to maintain a healthy balance of fellowship in their lives so they don’t lose the life that comes from the gathering of believers.

Here’s the problem, though: they go too far. They never learn a healthy balance of fellowship – they learn how to become obsessed with fellowship. New Christians become so excited about their new-found relationship with Jesus that they want to completely abandon their old life and dive head-on into the “church world.” Church people are so excited that one among them actually shared the Gospel and “it worked” that they’re all too eager to pull that person into everything they’re doing. And then that person becomes a “church person” and does the same thing with the next guy who comes around.  And those raised in the church are so used to being in the church all the time that they don’t know anything else.

The problem is that all these “church people” get so used to hanging out in their own bubble that they forget to build intentional relationships with other non-Christians around them. Sure, they have casual non-Christian acquaintances that they may say hi to every now and then, but conversation rarely goes deep enough for a true heart-to-heart.

The point here is that Christians like fellowship so much that they over-emphasize it and neglect other areas. As I often tell people, it’s possible to be “sinfully negligent” of any of the basics (more on that later too), but it’s also possible to be “sinfully overdosing” any of these as well.

To the new or “not yet mature” believers: build solid, trusting relationships with those you meet in the church, but don’t abandon your old friends who still need to hear about Jesus.

To the rest of you: learn how to re-engage with those in your world for the sake of the Gospel. Doing “the church thing” day in and day out isn’t why you’re here. Learn how to have an appropriate balance of fellowship with evangelism and not become obsessed with the church life. As I said, this is possibly the most difficult of the 7 basics to master – not because people aren’t good at it, but because they’re too good at it.


Critical Thinking Question

  • *What defines “good Christian fellowship”?

Consider the following scenario: Bob is hanging out with his church buddies at the bowling alley. They have some drinks, munch on some pizza, tell some jokes. Everyone is laughing and having a good time, swapping stories about stuff they’ve done recently. After a few frames Bob says before leaving, “Thanks for a good time, guys. It’s great to have good Christian fellowship.”

Is this “good Christian fellowship”?

302 – Bible Study

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TYPES OF STUDY

There are typically three approaches to Bible study:

(1) Mama Bird Studies – This is where a leader chews up the food for all the participants and basically spoon feeds it to them. The participants have almost no prep-work. They just come and learn, asking questions and making comments along the way.

  • Great for spiritual infants or those who simply aren’t disciplined enough for a true study.

(2) Off the Cuff Studies – This is where everyone shows up without any meaningful preparation and shares their thoughts on a passage or topic with one another. There may be a facilitator, but even the facilitator hasn’t done any significant preparation.

  • Great for topical studies or life-on-life groups, where you never know what issue someone will bring up that needs discussed.

(3) True Bible Studies – This is where all participants in the group have agreed upon what passage will be studied and have actually followed through with preparation.

True studies are incredibly valuable for anyone who has even a basic degree of competency in how to understand the Scriptures. That said, they are incredibly rare, as it is overwhelmingly difficult to find anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort to give the passage the level of preparation and dedication necessary.

By way of example only, when I study a single chapter (20-ish verses), I typically expect that I will spend a minimum of 3 to 5 hours with the material itself, 30 minutes in prayer throughout the process, and 15 minutes reviewing commentaries to discern whether or not my interpretations are reasonable. On average, this is about 4hr per week process. This process applies when I’m leading a mama bird study or in a true study. When “off the cuff” issues come up, I get a week off. I’ll typically maintain this for about 25 weeks out of a year (i.e. 100hrs of Bible study per year).

A general church group is typically lucky if everyone is wiling to spend 15 minutes skimming the passage and googling a few key phrases. This is unfortunate, but it is a sad reality for modern church-goers who do not prioritize in-depth understanding of the Scriptures. Take this as a challenge to man up. Work those spiritual muscles like you do your physical ones (if, in fact, you do at all).


THE INDUCTIVE METHOD

Rather than musing over what you think something means, the better interpretive method is to figure out what the author meant when he/she wrote it. The author is the one we agree was inspired by God in writing the Scriptures, not you in reading them. How do we figure out authorial intent?

BACKGROUND: Learn as much as you can about the culture and the context of the passage.

OBSERVATION: Once you have an idea of the context, make as many observations as possible.

INTERPRETATION: Once you have a lot of observations, start asking questions – then use the text to answer the question.

APPLICATION: Make it personal. How are you going to live differently now?


BACKGROUND

I typically advise people to avoid commentaries as much as possible until after their study is complete. When people rely too heavily on commentaries up-front they lose the ability to think for themselves. Instead of studying the Scriptures, it’s as if they’re sitting in on someone else’s Bible study and reporting the results to their own group. Or a more apt example: it’s like going to the gym with your buff friend, having him lift the weights for you, and then bragging to everyone around how impressive you are.

Instead, I recommend that people start by going through the entire 4-part process first and then refer to commentaries at the end to discern whether or not their conclusions are reasonably aligned with a scholarly consensus. The one exception I make is in the case of a passage where it is clear that historical context is going to play a major role, in which case there is some necessity to know this historical context in advance.

In place of commentaries, the up-front part of researching the background should be reading the passages before and after and addressing correlating passages that reference the subject matter. A cursory book overview is also immensely helpful.


OBSERVATION

Here’s a challenge I give to every man I disciple: make at least 20 observations per verse on average over a passage. So, if you’re studying a 5-verse passage, try to make 100+ observations on it. Early on, this will seem almost impossible, as I once thought it was too. As you practice, it’ll become second nature and you’ll find that even 50+ observations per verse is quite doable.

What types of observations should you be making? I break them up into the following categories with the acronym GRAPES:

Grammar – Look for things like past, present, or future tense; if it says “and” or “or”; who is the object of the sentence? etc.

Repetition – If something is mentioned more than once, it’s probably important

Absence – This one is the hardest to process, but look for things that you would normally expect to appear but seem to be missing

Patterns – Look for different things that fit together; for example, if you see the “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” all in a few verses, that’s a pretty clear pattern that means something

Extratextual – These are observations based on things outside the text itself; it might involve observing what a Greek word dictionary says or what you noticed in a historical reference book; it most often takes the form of correlating passages outside the one being studied

Statements – This is the most common type of observation and it’s the easiest; simply put, you’re just noticing what the passage actually says and taking its word for it


INTERPRETATION

As with observation, I give a challenge: 10 questions per verse, then answer them. Let’s assume you’re studying a 20-verse chapter. You should now have somewhere around 400 observations made. Now, go back through all of those observations and ask 200 questions.

I’ve found that there are no less than 5 different types of questions. I will use Philippians 1:1 for each of my example questions: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons”

BASIC – Questions that are readily answerable by the text. – Ex. Who wrote Philippians?

INTERMEDIATE – Can be answered by the text or surrounding passages, but not immediately apparent from the verse prompting the question.

  • Ex. What is an overseer or deacon?

DIFFICULT – Answerable, but require significant research beyond the text itself. These types of questions usually require an understanding of the Bible as a whole and intimate knowledge of God’s character to answer.

  • Ex. Why is Paul writing this book to the Philippians?

CRITICAL THINKING – Usually don’t have a definitive answer, but are worth pondering because they alert us to aspects of God’s character of which we would otherwise be ignorant.

  • Ex. Why did God have Paul write this letter to the Philippians rather than just telling them directly or having someone in their own city write this book?

CATEGORICAL – This is the most important, yet most difficult type of question to address. They focus on observations that span multiple verses and connect them to a single point that can be succinctly summarized. All of your other observations and questions should be leading to this, as these questions (and their associated answers) are the core of what you’re trying to get at with Bible study in the first place.

  • Ex. What do verses 1-2 mean? What do 3-11 mean? What do 12-26 mean? 27-30? Based on each of those, what does 1-11 mean? 12-30? What does Chapter 1 mean? How does chapter 1 flow into chapter 2? How does it fit into the greater context of the rest of the book?

APPLICATION

An application references some way your life will change because of what you studied. Applications are worthless unless they are practical. My basic rule is that an application must be observable. It doesn’t have to actually be observed; rather it has to be capable of being observed.

For example, “I’m going to love my wife more this week” is not practical. “I’m going to love my wife more this week by doing __, __ and ___” is practical. That can be observed. The fact that she may never see you doing those things is immaterial. Your goal in loving your wife more shouldn’t be to try to get her to notice; rather, it’s to be the loving man God told you to be – covert contracts being destroyed in the process.

109 – The Comparison Game

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For those who are familiar with pop culture within mainline Christianity, the phrase “the comparison game” might not be new to you.  But let me hone it in more toward how it plays out in marriage dynamics.

HYPER-HYPERGAMY

In my last post (108), I noted that women are predominantly hypergamous. This means that they will generally be more attracted to higher-value men in their lives. If you remember the 102 post on the curse, you’ll know that women also desire to rule over their husbands. Putting these two concepts together, the woman’s real fallen-nature imperative is:

  • Find the best man possible, marry him, then leverage the relationship to rule over him.

To be fair, her God-given nature tells her the opposite: to find a man who is a qualified and capable leader, particularly who has already proven these traits in how he manages his own life before her (these contrasting imperatives are addressed more in 102).

But we do live in a fallen world and it is important for men to understand not only their own temptations, but that which their wives may struggle through as well, in order that we may be conscious, rather than ignorant leaders.  For her, it’s not about finding the best man just for the sake of having the best man. There’s a game to be won.  And, in fact, the traits that are desirable from the God-given imperative are often the traits that help her win that game.  But before I get too much further in explaining what I mean there …


SATAN’S PLOY

Satan did the same thing. From Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 we get the impression that Satan had great authority, but he was not content being master over angles. He wanted to master the highest value person he knew: God himself. So, he says, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14).

Flash forward to the first sin itself. Satan tells Eve: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Sound familiar? He’s tempting her with the exact thing that tempted and ruined him – but he’s not telling her the outcome, which he already experienced. Satan was cast out of heaven (Ez. 28:16) and Eve was cast out of Eden, but not before she tried to take leadership over her man by having him eat the fruit too (Gen. 3:6), just as Satan tried to master over other angels and bring them down with him. This is where the curse sets in: that Eve’s desire would be to rule over her husband, but that he would actually be the one to rule over her.

Satan imparted his struggle, his curse, on Eve, and the daughters of Eve have been struggling with this hyper-hypergamy ever since. It’s not enough to have the best man; they must also rule over the best man.


THE COMPARISON GAME

Female Social Dynamics

Basic hypergamy revolves around instinctively comparing men to each other in order to determine their relative value and attraction. The comparison game applies similar principles within the female social matrix (i.e. women hanging out with women). For men, individual achievement is valuable for its own sake (or more accurately: for pride’s sake); but for women their achievements matter primarily to the degree that it affects their relationships with others.  Most women can’t handle being less than their peers. Like crabs in a bucket, if one starts to rise above the others, someone will pull her down to the collective norm.

There are countless books that detail this phenomenon, and even more that discuss how this happens even between spouses.  A typical example is when Betty hears about Sue’s husband taking her on a romantic vacation to the Bahamas.  Instead of being happy for Sue for her own sake, Betty’s gut reaction is either to become resentful toward her own husband and nag him to do something similar, or otherwise she will simply retort to Sue about some other great feat that her husband did … or in other cases will knock down the prospect of the vacation a few pegs (“That’s nice … just be prepared to deal with a lot of rain, and don’t let the locals rob you blind”).

Despite these comparisons, women naturally want to be on a path of improving and betterment.  This is the hypergamy at work again.  Stagnancy in life is not satisfactory – there must always be some positive progress or development.  In practice, this often translates to them wanting to be the crab that starts to rise above, possibly escaping the bucket into the more beautiful world beyond. Although there is a sense of communal interest instead of self-interest, most women still want to know that they’re the one setting the bar for that communal interest. For those in lower-end social classes, or even those who are simply timid or shy, they’re even satisfied just finding a way to be part of the “in crowd” in the first place (at first) – i.e. transcending their current social class to be welcomed by the more “popular” people with open arms.

Let the Games Begin

In short, women have an inherent drive to outdo other women in aspects of their lives that matter to them. The quality of their man always matters.

Something like how good a woman’s job is might not matter at all to a housewife, so she won’t feel the need to compete with a working mom on that front. Instead, she will compete with her on how happy and successful her children are – because this actually does matter to her.

  • Peggy: “Jane just got another promotion.  That’s great that she’s doing so well in her profession, but I’m happy that I have as strong and loving a bond with my children as I do.  I couldn’t make her sacrifice.” [Notice the negative comparison in the undertones, despite the seemingly positive tone overall?]

Because the working mom presumably cares about the upbringing of her children, it becomes a two-way competition, increasing emotional investment in the outcome.

  • Jane: “It’s great that Peggy has the time to coddle her kids every time one of them hurts their feelings.  Fortunately my kids don’t have to worry about that type of bullying at their private school.  Besides, I can afford to give them the types of clothes and accessories that will help them make friends and be popular, so they won’t be lonely.  After all, the popular people are the ones who get ahead in life.  But good on Peggy for being so available for her kids.  I couldn’t make her sacrifice.”

COMPARING HUSBANDS

Because all women care about the quality of their own husbands, women are extremely emotionally invested in perceiving themselves to have the higher value man. Women may not articulate these comparisons to one another, but they certainly experience them. Because perception is reality for most people, if two women perceive their own man as the higher-value man, the two will get along in perfect harmony, regardless of the actual relative value of each man.  As described in 104, actually being in a relationship with a high-value man gives the man she’s married to a distinct advantage because she sees his value in practice (of course, this principle works in the reverse for low-value men). But as soon as one starts bragging about her husband, the game is afoot.

Preselection

Preselection is immensely important here.  Preselection is the notion that if other women find a man desirable, the first woman assumes there must be something about him she doesn’t know yet – a greater value than looks alone could imply. At first blush, this seems only relevant to her perception of a “new” man who she’s never met, as that’s the easiest way to gauge the non-looks aspect of a man’s value before actually meeting him – by trusting the attention of other women. After all, if all women have the same drive to be with a high-value man, then why would these other women be wasting their time if he really didn’t have some value that the onlooker has yet to discover?

But this applies to marriages as well. When a husband begins improving himself, other women take notice – particularly ones who did not know him in his pre-improved state (remember: changing perception from the status quo is difficult and takes time). At first the wife may brush this aside, saying, “Hah! They don’t know him like I do!” But the improvements manifest and the attention is more consistent – specifically when a guy starts getting his act together.  This creates cognitive dissonance with his wife between (a) what she thinks she knows about him based on the history of the relationship and (b) how he is actually behaving in the present.  She begins to wonder, “Maybe there’s something more to his improvements than I’ve noticed.”

Framework

The comparison game is the primary motivator for women to keep a separate framework for running their lives independent from their husbands.  It’s a reason to strengthen those frames, and to force their husbands into those frames. On an EXTERNAL level, they will appear to other women as having won the comparison game.  From the outside, they are able to present their husband as a high-value man because he behaves exactly as she believes a husband ought to behave – and then she can let other women see this.

Ironically, this is counter-productive because on an INTERNAL level the wife will know that her husband is not as high-quality as she brags about him being.  She must manipulate him into keeping up appearances, which is a sign that the public facade is not an actual reality in the relationship.  He is weak and following his wife’s lead rather than leading her within the relationship.  She brags (even to herself) about how great a leader he is, when in reality she is the one lobbing softball leadership decisions at him, or otherwise throwing opportunities for decisiveness upon him with clear cues as to which decision he must lead her into following … and if he doesn’t lead her down the path she wants to be led, she’ll mark that as a unique exception, run down that path on her own, expect him to follow, and then either (a) get mad when he doesn’t or (b) lose attraction for him when he supplicates, although she is emotionally happier in the short-term because her comforts were met (see 102 for more info on the attraction v. comfort dynamic).

The mentality goes something like this: (1) if they can convince other women that their husbands are the cream of the crop, (2) all the other women will wish they had such a great guy, which (3) triggers the wife’s preselection senses in the hope that she might actually start to like her husband (the condescending feminist being one possible exception to this pattern).  Unfortunately, this pattern never works as intended.

This man, of course, is his wife’s trophy. She waves him around town proving that she is the champion of the comparison game. But if the trophy is external-only (i.e. she’s the one sculpting it), then she knows she has cheated; that her husband is not really the trophy she pretends he is, and the victory is hollow. Result? She’s flirty and impressive in public but a wretched shrew at home, resentful of the fact that her husband is not really who she pretends to everyone else he is. But if her man is the real-deal – a true alpha – then she has won for real and experiences the fullness of this victory over the other women.

TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY?

It’s probably very tempting for husbands to want to help their wives win the game in the hope that it will foster pride and respect for her man, and maybe increase her desire for him. This is a trap – just as the game itself is a trap for the woman. When she wins in one arena, there’s always a new competitor just around the corner. The man will also find himself a slave to the game’s rules, which are made up mostly by his wife’s perception, meaning he’s living in her framework for how the relationship should be run. Bad idea.  Moreover, it sets up a pattern of competition among men within the church, when in reality we should be functioning cooperatively – in unity as one body of many parts.

Solution? Don’t play the game. The comparison game/trap is a framework created by social constructs (which in most societies are created by our enemy) that literally defines a woman’s identity in the absence of a better option. The better option is when the true alpha man invites his wife into his frame, letting her mold into his shape, ultimatley abandoning her need to succeed in the female social matrix because her husband is on a mission and needs help – and that’s more important than proving a point to Silly Sally or Prude Peggy.

THE FINAL BATTLE

We all have a sinful nature. That is who I am in my core self apart from Christ. God had to save me from myself.  In my 105 post on Non-Negotiable Attraction I noted that without God giving us a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17), we will always be ruled by our sinful nature (Romans 3:9-18).

Similarly, unless God or a husband gives his wife a new identity, she will always be ruled by her hypergamy and the comparison trap (because we now know it’s not just a game). When we rest in God’s frame, we assume His identity. Likewise, when your wife rests in your framework for operating the relationship, she assumes your identity – the identity God gave you.

I previously quoted 2 Cor. 10:12. The next verse says, “But we will not boast beyond limits [our frame/boundaries], but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us.” That is, your wife’s only concern should be what you have delegated to her within your frame – and she will be free to boast about this: that she is fully pleasing to her man, making her a great wife with a great man.  In the same way, Paul boasts about his weaknesses and limitations because that’s when he knows that Christ is strong in Him – that the one who he follows is greater than whatever he could have come up with on his own (2 Cor. 12).

A strong husband’s frame will destroy his wife’s women-friends’ frames every time. They can’t convince him to do things their way because he’s not playing a comparison game with them. He’s not trying to one-up them. He is his own man. He doesn’t care who is better at what or who has the best husband or wife. When a wife rests in her husband’s frame, she stops playing the comparison trap and appreciates what she has for what it is. Why? Because that’s what he has told her to do (with his actions, not only his words – words will always fail with that instruction).  But a man must be high-value to have a strong enough frame to protect his family safely inside.

Incidentally, this ends up winning her the comparison game anyway. It is the wife’s version of outcome independence (see the end of 101). When she stops caring about comparing herself to others because she rests in her man’s frame instead of battling her own frame against other women, that is the only way she will get the kind of life she really wants – the kind of life God has designed for both of you. When she has that, she will win the comparison game incidentally.  But the power is in your hands, men, as the husband and leader to pave the way for your family and to invite them with strength, security, and stability – so that they know they will be safe, protected, and cared for when operating under your headship … a task much easier said than done.

108 – Hypergamy and Polygamy

comparison

 

HYPERGAMY DEFINED

Wikipedia defines hypergamy as “a term used in social science for the act or practice of a person marrying another of higher caste or social status than themselves.”  In an ideal biblical relationship, women are designed by God to be hypergamous.  After all, how can she follow him and help him in his mission if she’s further along than he is?  This is a good thing.

More practically, hypergamy is the notion that, in general, a woman wants to date/marry up rather than down.  Many tall women, for example, feel a need to marry a man taller than themselves.  Muscular/fit women want to marry a man more muscular/fit than themselves.  Financially successful women want to marry men who are more financially successful.  Individual factors may deviate, but this is generally true on the whole.  For example, a woman may marry a man shorter than her if he is more financially successful and this is a higher priority to her, or perhaps he is more spiritually mature and that is more alluring.

Most women also practice this not only in comparison to themselves, but with respect to comparing men to men.  So, all other things being equal, a single girl will generally preference a financially successful man over one who is not, or a spiritually mature man over one who is not.  We all have standards.  There’s no use denying that.  But the trickiness comes in the fact that everyone has pros and cons.  So, while Bob might be more financially successful and have a better head of hair, Jack might be more charming and have a more positive, supportive attitude, or Danny might have rock hard abs and be wise beyond his years.  This is what makes finding a spouse so confusing … at least for women.

POLYGAMY DEFINED

Men, on the whole, are polygamous.  This means that we desire to have relationships with multiple women.  Dating up or down doesn’t matter as much as “different.”  We might have a type, but in the end variety reigns supreme.

This is presumably a result of the curse, although it could have been part of original design; I really can’t prove one way or another with Scripture alone.  That said, I do know it’s illegal in most countries today, so by virtue of Romans 13’s compulsion to submit to our governing authorities, I’ll presume actual polygamy is sin for any of my readers.

I suppose if I were contemplate the issue further, Christ only has one bride: the church.  So, if we are to model our physical marriages after Christ’s example, we should only have one bride as well.  That said, just as Christ’s bride is made up of many people/parts, I’ve heard people argue that a husband can have many wives who collectively are his “bride” (singular), as each fulfills a different function in the familial relationship … and round and round we go.  Bottom line: if your country legalizes polygamy, send me a private message and we’ll chat; otherwise, assume it’s sin.

The fact of male polygamy means we don’t care so much about whether or not the woman we’re marrying is of higher status than us.  We’re just interested in different women for variety’s own sake.  What turned us on yesterday might not be the same thing that turns us on tomorrow.  Even in the context of a monogamous relationship, we want variety – a break-up from our ordinary daily routines – at least as far as relational attraction goes (we may have other reasons apart from our relational drive for wanting consistency).

EFFECT ON ATTRACTION

Women

When evaluating someone as a potential spouse, an internal hypergamous drive to seek the most competent, highest-value man makes the woman’s job really hard – particularly when she is of the faith and understands that she is subject to her husband.  She had better make darn sure that she’s attaching her life to someone worth following.

But it also leaves a vulnerability.  In my practice of divorce law, I often find that women (whether they ultimately cheat or not, it doesn’t matter) will contemplate how much better off they might have been if they had married some other guy.  That “other guy” is almost always someone who, according to her perception, has a better balance of positive as compared with negative qualities.  When these higher-value men are present, it is a struggle (sometimes an impossible one) to avoid comparing them with their husbands.  Result?  Her attraction level for her husband goes down.  In extreme situations, she may actually end up leaving her husband for the “higher-value man.”

Men

For men, evaluating the potential spouse isn’t as big a deal.  It should be, but for most guys it simply isn’t.  They just want the hottest girl they can find who isn’t going to nag them to death … and in our sinful nature, even after marrying her, the internal attraction to other different women remains.  Realistically, even his wife (with whom he is monogamous, despite his flesh) is not ideal in many areas that are important to him, if he is a skilled enough leader, the responsibility is really on him to lead her/disciple her into becoming the helper he desires and needs.  After all, this is why she’s marrying him in the first place (or at least should be).

Of course, the polygamous nature of men also leaves a stark vulnerability: he is easily bored.  So, without variety within the context of the relationship itself, men will either retreat to pornography or sinful lusts (see 201), they may end up cheating on their wives, or they may end up just letting themselves go as the lazy response.  That is, they may adopt the mentality, “I shouldn’t cheat on my wife, but if I’m bored with the relationship, there’s no sense working hard to keep being a high-value man.”

THE NEGATIVE CYCLE

In light of the above, I see relationship after relationship fall apart because:

  • The man gets bored, won’t cheat (rightfully), gives up on the relationship [P], the woman meets a higher value man who shows her some interest, and she ends up leaving her deadbeat husband for prince charming [H].
  • The man withdraws from his wife into pornography/lust/cheating to have his desire fulfilled outside the marriage [P], the wife experiences the weight of the relational disconnect and either leaves him because of his sexually inappropriate behavior, showing how low-value of a man he is or ends up responding in kind [H].
  • After the wedding, the wife starts seeing all the flaws in the man she married and realizes that he’s not as high value as she once believed, so she loses attraction for him and tries changing him, utilizing her sexuality and emotionality as weapons to effectuate this plan [H]; the husband becomes secretly resentful and ultimately starts looking at other women as a coping mechanism to avoid his wife’s behavior [P].
  • After the wedding, the wife starts seeing her husband’s flaws; another high value man comes along and sweeps her off her feet because she hasn’t known him intimately enough to see his flaws yet (and yes, all people have flaws); she tries to stay faithful, but her husband resorts to supplicating behaviors in an effort to keep her, rather than improving himself to becoming the highest value man in her life, so she loses even more attraction and she ultimately leaves him for the higher value man or they both live miserably until one or the other can’t take the lack of attraction anymore.

Obviously there are far more scenarios than this, but these are some common patterns I see day in and day out.

CONCLUSION

Bottom line?  Men, be aware of the fact that your relative value matters to your wife.  Be a high value man – the highest value man in her life.  Although she sees your flaws and weaknesses, the fact that you get to show your value in action (whereas for other men it’s only hypothetical value), you have a distinct advantage.  Give her a reason to stay faithful.  Give her a reason to be totally into you.

As for your own desire for variety, your wife is just following your lead.  If you don’t do anything to communicate what you want in the relationship and you take no action to move it there, it’s your own fault for not getting what you want.  Bored with your day to day routine?  You be the one to schedule the vacation.  Bored with your sex life?  You be the one to initiate something new.  Bored with your conversations?  You be the one to research a topic that you find interesting and chat with her about it.

But above all, let your relationship with God be that which satisfies you.  God is more than enough.  For women who are hypergamous, there is no higher value man than Jesus Christ.  For men who are polygamous, there is no greater variety than the man who created everything in the known universe and has things in store that our senses can’t even imagine.  This is where your satisfaction must be found.