Option for the Poor

Option for the Poor
Photo Source: Free Images/ Jon Ng

In 1983, a young man by the name of Paul Farmer finished his college degree and applied to medical school. While waiting to see if he would be accepted, he traveled to Haiti to help with relief work. Haiti was then (as it is now) one of the poorest countries in the world, and Farmer soon found himself amongst the sickest and most destitute on the island.

When word came that he had been accepted into the combined MD/PhD program at Harvard University, he didn’t want to leave. He made an unprecedented decision to commute to school. He would study and work in Haiti, then travel to Boston whenever he needed to take a test or participate in laboratory exercises. Despite the grueling schedule, he maintained top grades and finished his dual doctorate in a mere six years.

Farmer went on to specialize in the treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV and tuberculosis, both of which were rampant in Haiti. His studies and work intertwined in such a way that he soon became a recognized authority on the treatment of those two particular diseases, and his expertise became increasingly called upon in various regions of the world whenever there was an outbreak of either or both.

But his influence was not limited to academics. He talked drug companies into lowering their prices for life-saving drugs by 95%. He found donors to help build schools and provide safe drinking water. He consulted with governments and influenced public policy.

A founding member of the charity, Partners in Health, Paul Farmer was relentless and indefatigable in his efforts to help those most in need. He essentially revolutionized the way health care for the poor is delivered. On BookBrowse.com, his biographer, Tracy Kidder, describes him thus:

I was drawn to the man himself. He worked extraordinary hours. In fact, I don’t think he sleeps more than an hour or two most nights. Here was a person who seemed to be practicing more than he preached, who seemed to be living, as nearly as any human being can, without hypocrisy. A challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you’ve never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish. In the past, when I’d imagined a person with credentials like his, I’d imagined someone dour and self-righteous, but he was very friendly and irreverent, and quite funny. He seemed like someone I’d like to know, and I thought that if I did my job well, a reader would feel that way, too.

The thing that has spurred Paul Farmer on is a concept he calls the “Preferential Option for the Poor.” It is the idea that the poor have a special place in God’s heart.

The poor have a special place in God’s heart.

In both the Old and New Testaments, God is constantly intervening on the behalf of the poor, giving instructions on how the poor should be treated, and promising rewards to those who act with benevolence towards them.

In Kidder’s biography of Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, there is a Haitian proverb: “God gives, but He doesn’t share.” God leaves the sharing to be done by those to whom He has given much.

He expects those He blesses to act as channels of blessing to the less fortunate.

Paul Farmer is one of those extraordinarily rare individuals who have learned to share, both generously and sacrificially. As you ponder his amazing example:

  • Can you think of other individuals who share with the needy in special ways?
  • Do we always agree with the politics or theology of those individuals?
  • Does our agreeing or disagreeing negate the good being done?
  • Can a person with imperfect theology still reflect the image of God when they help others?
  • Who will have a greater influence on the needy, a person with imperfect theology who helps lend a hand or a person with perfect theology who doesn’t?
  • Should people wait until they have their theology completely figured out before they help others?
  • Ideally, we should deal with both the physical and spiritual needs of those we are trying to help. What does the Bible say about addressing spiritual needs without first taking care of physical ones? (See, for example, James 2:15-16) What does Scripture say about focusing on physical needs without giving thought to spiritual ones? (See, for instance, Luke 12:23 and Matthew 4:4)

In John 12:7-8, Jesus points out that there will always be poor people. It is almost like saying that there will always be old people. By definition, someone will always be the oldest or the poorest.

  • Why is poverty always with us? Is it simply a mathematical truism or is it a function of our fallen nature? Is it a natural outgrowth of our free will?
  • Are there things that we can do to alleviate poverty? Can we defeat it completely? Should we continue to try anyway?
  • What are some examples of how we can fight it?
  • Are there things that can be learned from being poor that cannot be learned from being rich?
  • Are there character qualities that can only be developed by helping the poor?
  • Does God seem to have a special concern for the poor? Does the church as whole share that concern? Do we as individuals share that concern?

In these verses, Jesus is discussing the poor with Judas and points out that helping the poor is not the only goal.

  • What are some other goals?
  • Is it possible to get so caught up in serving the poor that one loses sight of other important things?
  • How does one find balance? Is the idea of a tithe useful as a guideline?
  • For most people the tithe is something they have to build towards and strain to achieve. Is it possible that for some, the principle of tithing acts as a restraint to keep them from doing too much? Is it possible to do “too much?”
  • If someone audited you checkbook and your calendar, would they say that you tend to give too little or too much of your money and time to helping others? Is it time to re-examine where you stand?

The poor have a place and purpose in God’s kingdom and a special place in God’s heart. Relative to God, all of us are poor, whether we realize it or not.

Relative to God, all of us are poor, whether we realize it or not.

Whatever our condition, God is at work in our lives and has unique lessons He is trying to teach us through our circumstances. The goal is to discover those lessons, learn them well, and share with others along the way.

If you are interested in knowing more about the above mentioned ministry, please visit the Partners in Health website.

You can also visit the website for Compassion International, which has had a wonderful and distinctly Christian ministry to the poor since 1952.

NOTE: Life's Big Questions: Colossians Study Guide. Great for families!Life's Big Questions - The Gospel of John (Vol. 1) This post is adapted from my Life’s Big Questions Series, which encourages readers to examine all of life’s questions in the light of Scripture. Whether used for personal devotions, as family discussion guides, or in a study group, this series provides an invaluable resource for enhancing your spiritual walk.

The Gluten-Free Gospel

Gluten-Free Gospel

Mankind has been eating bread for thousands of years. It has been one of the cornerstones of nutrition since the dawn of time. Egyptian hieroglyphics show stalks of wheat and a “bread recipe” that has been used by modern researchers to recreate perfectly edible loafs. Grains have been considered one of the “Basic Four Food Groups” in the United States since before most of us were born, and they are a big segment at the base of the “Food Guide Pyramid” that came out in 1992.

Then something began to change. Life-giving bread gradually became the “bad guy” in our national dietary narrative. First it was the way we processed the bread. The big industrial machines were removing the fiber and the vitamins and leaving us with snowy white bread that looked and tasted good, but was missing much of its natural nutritional value. “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead,” became the new mantra.

Then we became obsessed with carbohydrates, the primary nutrient in breads and pastas. It was stimulating insulin production, making us fat, and giving us diabetes. We promptly came up with a myriad of ways to reduce “carbs.” There was the Adkins diet, the South Beach diet, and the Paleo diet. Everyone had a new approach to “busting sugar,” and it was hard to keep pace with the latest trend.

But then there came the trend to rival all dietary trends: the “Gluten Free” diet. In less than a decade, a relatively rare condition called Celiac Disease and its less severe cousins, Gluten Intolerance and Irritable Bowel Syndrome had swept the nation. One third of the United States population was suddenly afflicted and a multi-billion dollar industry had sprung up seemingly overnight. Gluten-Free living was touted as the cure-all to virtually every ailment that faced the modern man.

People quickly became divided into camps of “believers” and “skeptics.” The skeptics felt that the sudden popularity of the gluten-free diet indicated that, “peer pressure does in fact extend beyond high school,” as one blogger, commented. Yet, the believers gave personal stories of having their lives improved in every way imaginable ranging from mental illness to diabetes and everything in between. It was hard to know what to think.

Then two new pieces of data became available that indicated there might be some legitimacy to the concerns about gluten, only it might not be the gluten alone. First was an analysis of some blood samples that had been stored during the 1940s and 1950s looking for the chemical markers of celiac disease. It showed a dramatic increase in those markers in the blood of people today, compared to those from just sixty to seventy years ago. Something had changed. Then researchers at MIT showed there was a link between the increasing use of the chemical Roundup® on wheat and the subsequent increase in reactions to the gluten in that wheat. The new theory postulated that the Roundup® was somehow making people sensitive to the gluten that humans had been safely eating for thousands of years. Eliminate the Roundup® and you would eliminate the problem.

But why were farmers using Roundup® in the first place? There were two basic reasons. The first was to kill weeds. The second was to make harvesting of the wheat more plentiful and convenient. Farmers had noticed that poisoning wheat would actually cause the wheat grains to swell even as the plant died, thus leading to a more profitable harvest. Furthermore, by chemically killing the wheat, it caused the wheat to die in a synchronized fashion, which was far more convenient for harvesting than waiting on nature. It appeared to be a win-win for the farmer, but at what cost to the consumer, if the new theory proved to be true?

  • Do you or someone you know have a “gluten” intolerance of some sort?
  • Have you had it your whole life or did it just appear in the last five to ten years?
  • Did switching your diet help?
  • Is keeping track of your diet difficult or easy?
  • Do you sometimes miss getting to eat “regular” bread?

In John 6:35-59, Jesus talks about being the Bread of Life. He refers to Himself elsewhere as Living Water. Bread and Water — they are food and drink in their simplest and most basic forms. No fancy multi-layered wedding cakes. No elaborate reductions, extractions, glazes, or sauces.

  • Is it at all surprising that Jesus refers to Himself as things that are as simple, yet as life-giving, as bread and water? Can you think of anything that would be more appropriate?
  • In Matthew 18:3, Jesus talks about coming to Him with faith like “children.” Was faith meant to be a complex intellectual response? Was it meant to be accessible by all, regardless of age, intellect, or culture?
  • Do we sometimes make the gospel more complex than it needs to be, both for ourselves and for those around us? What might be a consequence of over-thinking the gospel?
  • What are some ways we can “dial back” the complexities we have layered onto our faith and get back to the “bread and water” of the gospel?

Our bread today might appear strange to someone from Jesus’s time. The rough, stone-ground flour made by hand two thousand years ago would hardly be recognizable next to the uniform white powder we have now. The stuff we have may be prettier to look at, but much of the fiber and vitamins are gone as a direct result of the processing we use.

I recently travelled around the United States visiting various famous churches. One of the things that stood out to me was the uniformity across regions and denominations. Everyone was singing off the same sheet of music — both literally and figuratively. This may be a good thing, but it did have a certain McDonald’s-on-every-corner vibe that smacked of American consumerism as much as it did a “unity of the Spirit.” The music was from the top 40 countdown of popular Christian songs. The sermons were on “safe” topics with an upbeat spin. I got the distinct feeling something was missing.

  • Is it possible to “over process” our faith — to turn it into a uniform, white flour sort of thing? Can it become commercialized like Christmas?
  • What if the rough, ugly fiber portions of our faith turn out to be important? Should we try to reintroduce them into our diet?
  • What are some examples of “fiber” that we have removed from our Christian diet to make our faith more palatable?
  • What happens when we are accustomed to refined white flour and suddenly we have to eat rough whole grains? Does it taste weird? Do we care for it? Do we question the competence of the cook?
  • What about “carbs” or the sweet portion of our faith? Is it healthy to eliminate those things? Is it healthy to gorge on them? Is there a balance?

Lastly, let’s look at the Roundup® equivalents that we may have introduced into our faith over the years — often with the noble goal of a richer, more uniform harvest. One historical example is the use of celibate priests in the Catholic Church. The theory was that they were following the example of the apostle Paul by being fully dedicated to the gospel. I am empathetic to this calling and admire those who can pursue it. There is even a resurgence of this idea amongst young Evangelicals who want to be fully committed to Christ. However, to make a unique and difficult calling the “standard” to which all must comply, has had dire consequences for our brothers and sisters in the Catholic community over the years.

  • What are some things that Evangelicals have tried to add to the gospel over the years that have backfired to some degree? Were the intentions good at the beginning? Were the results good at the beginning? Were the harvests plentiful but ultimately poisoned?
  • How do we remove the spiritual Roundup® we are using? What if our harvest shrinks initially? What if things aren’t as synchronized as before and start appearing a bit haphazard? What if we no longer feel we are in control of the harvest?
  • Are there unique or difficult things that God has called you to do that maybe aren’t meant for all believers? Should you push those things on others just because they are meaningful to you?
  • Has God called others to do unique or difficult things that you can’t or won’t do? Are you “less” for not doing them? Are they “more” because they do? Do we criticize their choices out of true concern or out of jealousy and envy?

During Jesus’s time, many flocked to Him to feast on the Bread of Life. Nonetheless, the Scribes and Pharisees of His day seemed to be spiritually Gluten-Intolerant. There will always be those who are. However, we must make sure that we are not processing the gospel or adding to it in such a way that we are making it less nutritious or even poisonous to those we are trying to reach! Jesus said of someone who causes little ones to stumble that, “It would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6 NASB) That is a warning we should not take lightly.

Life's Big Questions: Colossians Study Guide. Great for families!Life's Big Questions - The Gospel of John (Vol. 1) This post is adapted from Life’s Big Questions: The Gospel of John, which encourages readers to examine all of life’s questions in the light of Scripture. Whether used for personal devotions, as family discussion guides, or in a study group, this series provides an invaluable resource for enhancing your spiritual walk.

Satan Knows Your Bliss Point

The fact that we crave sweets is no surprise to anyone over the age of two. What is surprising, however, is how precisely food scientists have pinpointed our cravings.

Satan knows your bliss point. Don't let him use it against you.
[photo source]

To make any food taste better, just add a little sugar. Add a little more sugar and it will taste even better still, but only up to a point. Too much sugar and we start to feel the food has become “too sweet.”

The trick for the food manufacturers is to find that perfect amount of sugar for any given food that will make us really, really crave it. This is referred to as the “bliss point.”

The bliss point varies from food to food. It also varies with race and gender and is typically higher for children than for adults. Kids, as a rule of thumb, like their foods to be twice as sweet as adults do. This is why sugary cereals are so often marketed to youngsters. Some cereals are actually so sweet that they risk being relabeled as cereal flavored candy!

Over time, our foods have been slowly “optimized” for maximum flavor as the food manufacturers have gradually found the bliss point for nearly every food out there, then carefully targeted their marketing to the appropriate demographic.

Unfortunately, keeping our taste buds happy has come at a price.

Obesity is at all time highs, and in children, obesity has reached epidemic proportions. The current generation of children is the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents, almost exclusively due to obesity.

Diabetes is up. Blood pressures are on the rise. Basically, the foods we love so much and crave so strongly are slowly killing us.

  • What is your favorite food?
  • Do you think of it as sweet?
  • Have you ever looked at the label to see how much sugar it contains?
  • Even foods we don’t think of as sweet such as bacon, hot sauce, and pickle relish often contain added sugar. Are the food manufacturers wrong for making their foods as delicious as they can by adding a little sugar, even if that might pose a long-term health risk?
  • Aren’t they just giving us what we want?

The third chapter of the Gospel of John contains the most well known verse in the entire Bible, John 3:16. It is followed by several lesser-known verses that give it some context:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
(John 3:16-18)

The passage clearly states that Jesus’s purpose in coming to Earth was not to judge, but to save. The judgment part has already happened. It is built into the system.

If you don’t believe in Christ, if you want to have nothing to do with Him, then fine, you get to have your way, but being separated from Him is the judgment. He is the lifeline; He is salvation. When you reject Him you reject your only hope.

Sadly, people have a hard time distinguishing between who is judging them and who is trying to save them.

For example, if a man goes into a casino with cash in his pocket and a smile on his face, the first thing the casino owners try to do is to judge how much of that cash they can get out of his pocket and into their own. If they judge the number to be significant, the man will get the VIP treatment – little perks to make him feel special and lower his guard.

They may even arrange for him to win a little, so that he starts to think of himself as “lucky.” When they judge that they have squeezed him for all that they can, say ten thousand dollars, they will give him a free room for the night and maybe a limo ride home in the morning, lots of little things to keep him happy and hopefully coming back. It is a good investment from their perspective.

When that same man starts to have financial problems and turns to his parents or siblings for help, one of them will likely raise the question about his gambling. Invariably, his answer will be, “Don’t judge me!” But the judgment and sentencing have already taken place; they occurred back at the casino; they are built into the system. The family member is simply trying to help in the aftermath of the gambling losses, yet somehow the gambler always manages to believe that the family member is his enemy and the casino owners are his friends.

We see a similar pattern play out with other vices:

  • Are smokers happy to hear that smoking is bad for them?
  • Do alcoholics want to be invited to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting?
  • Do drug addicts welcome interventions?

It seems clear that the judgment for something like smoking or drinking is built into system in the form of disease and early death. Why do you think that people who are addicted to these things would rather “shoot the messenger” than address the problem?

Let’s look at the rest of the passage following John 3:16 and see if we can find some clues.

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)

And there is the answer to every mystery of self-destructive behavior you will ever encounter: Men love the darkness and hate the Light. We come prepackaged with a sin nature.

That sin nature will manifest in different ways based on age, gender, income, culture, and any number of other variables, but manifest it will. And when it does, Satan will be right there to cheer us on.

He has been doing market research on the human condition for thousands of years. He knows the “bliss point” for every sin. He has judged us to be weak, susceptible to his trickery, and an easy mark for his ploys. He has judged rightly, for so we are, all of us having “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

The only question that remains is this:

When Christ comes knocking on the door of your heart, will you shoot the messenger or embrace Him?

Life's Big Questions: Colossians Study Guide. Great for families!Life's Big Questions - The Gospel of John (Vol. 1) This post is adapted from Life’s Big Questions: The Gospel of John, which encourages readers to examine all of life’s questions in the light of Scripture. Whether used for personal devotions, as family discussion guides, or in a study group, this series provides an invaluable resource for enhancing your spiritual walk.

Husbands: Be Careful with Female Friendships

Couple Dining

We all have friends and colleagues of the opposite sex, and it is important that we learn to interact with them in a healthy way — especially once we marry.

If you’re newlywed, then you have likely spent a good portion of your life trying to “find” the right girl to marry. Now that you’ve found her, you must get out of “search” mode. The charm and flirtatiousness that served you so well when you were single is now a liability, not an asset.

If you have been married awhile, then you’ve probably already figured out a lot of the things I’m about to discuss. Nonetheless, the occasional reminder can be helpful, since many of us tend to forget or neglect the basics as the years go by.

To begin, let me state that being married doesn’t make you a monk. You don’t get to live in a monastery somewhere, shielded from any association with females outside your family. You still have to live in the real world, work a job, and interact with living, breathing human beings, roughly half of which are women.

For this reason, a few basic rules of engagement are in order. Four basic principles should guide a husband’s interaction with women other than his wife:

  1. Protect Your Reputation
  2. Reputations, as they say, take a lifetime to build but only an instant to destroy. This is even truer in the modern era where people thirst for negative news and are quick to believe the worst. Superimpose the lightening speed of modern communications, and you have a recipe for disaster. Don’t let it happen to you.

    There are several simple ways to avoid this problem:

    • First, do not be alone with any woman who is not your wife.It may sound a little old-fashioned, but this sound advice may someday save your reputation and very likely your marriage if only you will follow it. Why risk ever becoming embroiled in a “he said/she said” misunderstanding when it can so easily be avoided?

      Life is too full of traps and temptations as it is, why set snares for your own feet unnecessarily? Once there is an asterisk by your reputation, it never goes away.

    • The second principle is a corollary to the first: Don’t spend an excessive amount of time with a woman who is not your wife, even in public.
      When your co-workers or friends notice the two of you together all the time, either laughing and joking or engaged in deep, serious conversation, they begin to wonder why? Their imaginations will quickly answer that question for them, regardless of how innocent your relationship may be. It’s no longer a “he said/she said” situation, but becomes instead a matter of what “they said” — behind your back.

      Steer clear of clandestine rendezvous with friends or acquaintances of the opposite gender. Always be honest and forthcoming with your wife concerning what you do when you’re apart from her, and with whom. Keeping secrets spells trouble no matter how you slice it.

    • Furthermore, some subjects should be off limits for discussion between you and someone of the opposite sex.
      Bawdy humor is an obvious example. Another is the discussion of marital discord, either yours or hers. Such discussion, if necessary, should always be redirected to a trusted friend or counselor of the same sex. Expressing dissatisfaction with a spouse very commonly becomes a pretext to finding solace in someone else’s arms. Don’t take that chance.

    I don’t mean to imply you cannot have female friends, nor am I advocating making such relationships weird and awkward. I’ve known people who refuse to even look members of the opposite sex in the eye, lest they come across as being too familiar. In my opinion, they’ve let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, making it hard to have even the simplest of exchanges.

    Interacting with other women is both possible and necessary, but you must be careful how and where you invest the bulk of your time and energy. It’s more a question of degree — if your dearest and best friend is a woman who isn’t your wife, then it’s clearly time to reassess.

  3. Guard Your Heart
  4. Tread cautiously when relating to female friends and acquaintances. Affairs don’t happen in a vacuum, they develop over time. Don’t let them.

    Remember, also, that not all affairs are physical ones. Honoring your marriage vows means remaining faithful in thought and word, as well as in deed.

    It’s understandable that we would become close with our coworkers. After all, we spend forty hours or more together every week. In some cases, this may mean we actually spend more waking hours together with them than we do with our spouses.

    Some of those coworkers may be single. Some may be happily married. Some unhappily married. Many of them will be smart, attractive, kind, filled with many admirable qualities that your spouse may or may not share. But at the end of the day, no matter how wonderful your female colleagues may be, none of those women are your wife, nor should they be treated as such.

    Your wife is the only woman with whom you should cultivate physical, spiritual, and emotional intimacy. She’s the one you should live with, confide in, depend on, and bare your soul to. The harsh reality is that the woman at work or the gym who seems to get you only does so because she doesn’t have to live with you. She’s only observed the “fitness” version of you or the “dressed up and working hard” version of you.

    She has never seen the “flatulent, half-dressed, hair a mess, haven’t bathed in two days, sports-watching, short-tempered, forgot to pick up the milk, bring in the mail, or pay the bills on time” version of you. And that version of you isn’t nearly so attractive.

    Your wife sees and knows all of you, not just the cherry-picked, carefully polished facets of your personality. She knows you as a real and complete person, not some smoke and mirrors illusion. That other woman doesn’t.

    In similar fashion, the notion that you’ve found a “soul mate” other than your wife is pure fantasy. That woman at work or the gym only seems amazing because you don’t have to live with her annoying idiosyncrasies, her inexplicable mood swings, her spitefulness when upset, or any of a myriad other things that can so quickly extinguish the hottest flames of passion.

    Men who stray eventually come to realize the grass on the other side of the fence isn’t as green as they initially thought. Unfortunately, that realization often comes after it’s too late. Don’t destroy the hope you have for happiness in your present marriage by seeking happiness elsewhere. All meaningful, lasting relationships take work. They demand intentionality.

    To know and be known requires an investment of time and energy. Invest in your wife.

  5. Consider Your Wife’s Feelings
  6. The third rule is to be considerate of your wife’s feelings in how you relate to other women. Sounds simple, but it can be more complicated than it seems. How men view certain words or actions and how their wives view them can vary significantly. Beware the landmines!

    Such consideration comes in two varieties: how you interact with other women and how you speak about other women. The short version is: don’t be too positive or negative in either situation. Relative neutrality is key.

    Let’s start with how you interact with other women. When your wife is present, assume her radar is up. You shouldn’t eyeball the gorgeous woman in the skimpy outfit who just walked into the room, even in your wife’s absence, but when your spouse is sitting right beside you, you certainly better refrain from gawking.

    The same goes for such women in the movies or on television. Your wife needs your assurance that you have eyes only for her.

    Likewise, don’t get enmeshed in a two-hour conversation off in the corner at a party with that cute new girl from work, as steam slowly pours from your spouse’s ears. And, most importantly of all, never ever ever flirt with anybody but your wife!

    Of course, you can be kind and hospitable without being flirtatious, and I recommend you do so, especially when relating to your wife’s friends. Her friends are constantly judging you and providing feedback, solicited or otherwise, and it would serve you well to be in their good graces. This really isn’t that hard. Common courtesy and small talk can go a long way. While you don’t want your wife’s girlfriends to think you’re coming on to them, neither do you want them to think you are rude. Learn to walk the line. Be friendly, not flirty.

    But how you behave toward other women is only half the equation, and the more straightforward half, at that. The really tricky part hinges on how you speak about other women.

    You obviously can’t be too complimentary — especially about looks. However, if you are too dismissive of unusual beauty or talent, your wife will become suspicious and question your judgment, including your judgment of her.

    A good rule of thumb is to compliment talent without gushing, but say nothing regarding looks, unless she specifically asks. If she does ask, be careful — she is testing you. The correct answer is to mildly acknowledge beauty, so as not to appear dense, but to include a modifying caveat, so as to reaffirm your loyalty.

    You might answer, for example, “Yes, she is tall and thin, but it makes her seem frail. I have always preferred a more athletic build, like yours. It just seems healthier and more robust.”

    Again, you must also be cautious with the flip side. You should not be overly critical of other women, especially of their appearance. The most serious and stoic of women are highly self-conscious about their looks. In their minds, criticism of one woman translates into criticism of all women.

    This is especially true regarding weight. If you casually mention some other woman has gained weight, your wife will immediately assume that you are insinuating she, herself, has packed on a few too many pounds, as well. Just don’t do it. That discussion is a tar baby made with extra sticky tar.

  7. Be Considerate of Significant Others
  8. All humans are territorial, and men particularly so. It doesn’t take much to instigate jealousy or even anger in their partner if you aren’t careful. You don’t want the spouse/fiancé/boyfriend of your female friend or co-worker to view you as a threat or a competitor. You should be neither, and your behavior should reflect that fact.

    A moment of cuteness or flirtatiousness on your end can translate into a lot of heartache and misery on hers. Don’t do that to a friend.

    Just as you should avoid flirting with other women, you should also take appropriate measures to keep them from flirting with you. Neither engage in it yourself nor encourage it from them.

    That’s why it’s so important — not only for your own marriage, but also for others’ — that clear boundaries are set. Rarely if ever do these boundaries have to be explicitly stated. Usually just talking about your children and your spouse in glowing terms early on and repeatedly thereafter will clarify the situation for everyone involved without things becoming unnecessarily uncomfortable or awkward.

    The same principle holds true in social settings — especially whenever alcohol is served. I remember attending an out-of-town, obligatory social event several years ago at which a woman who’d obviously had too much to drink came over to me, draped her arms around my neck, and asked what I’d be doing later that night.

    When I politely explained that I would be talking on the phone to my lovely wife and our eight kids, she dropped her arms in stunned surprise and quickly moved on in search of a more receptive companion.

    A couple months later, the woman was divorced. She evidently found somebody who shared her lack of concern for maintaining proper boundaries or showing appropriate consideration of her spouse.

    If you want your marriage to last and your wife to feel loved, you’ll have to do better than that.

25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife -- by Doug Flanders, MDThe above post was adapted from a chapter in my marriage book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife. Each chapter is followed by action points that makes it easy to apply what you are learning. My wife has written a companion volume, 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband. These books make a great couple-study for husbands and wives wishing to strengthen their marriage and improve communication skills.

What to Do When Your Wife Won’t Sleep with You

I received the following question through my blog last week. Since it deals with a problem nearly all husbands face at one time or another, I decided to share my response here, in hopes of helping others.

Help! My wife won't sleep with me.


My wife and I love you guys. We are reading your books, and they are helping us. She is reading 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband, while I am reading 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife. They have really helped our marriage — we were almost breaking up.

My wife has been disinterested in sex for over a year. We only have it once every two weeks. She says she doesn’t feel like it.

I’m deeply stressed and don’t want to cheat on her. I have talked to her a lot of times about it, but nothing changes. I can’t talk to her about it anymore.

We have even seen a marriage counselor, but she is still not interested. I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do. Kindly help.


Let me start by saying you are not alone in your frustration.

If I had to pick a single issue that challenges married men who love God and want to honor Him in their lives and marriages, this would be it — wives who have lost interest in sex. I would not be exaggerating to say that it is something every marriage faces at one point or another.

  • Sometimes it is a new bride who finds sex terrifying or painful.
  • Sometimes it is a new mother who feels embarrassed about her post-baby body or is simply exhausted from being up all night nursing.
  • Sometimes there are trust issues if the husband has been unfaithful or is addicted to porn.
  • Sometimes there are trust issues that have nothing to do with the husband at all, such as a wife with sexual abuse in her past, which is alarmingly common.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same: a husband trapped in a marriage where his need for intimacy is not being met.

The default solution to this dilemma usually involves looking for intimacy elsewhere. Affairs, mistresses, prostitutes, and, in the last few decades, online porn are all variations on the theme of finding intimacy outside of marriage. I could give a laundry list of why this is a bad idea, including sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and further deterioration of trust issues, but the bottom line for the Christian is that the Biblical standard is complete and lifelong faithfulness in marriage.

It seems a cruel trick, that God commands a man to have sex only with his wife, knowing full well that at some point, the woman he married will refuse to have sex with him! Why would God put virtually every Christian couple into this horrible conundrum?

The answer is this: God wants us to be fully dependent on Him and also to learn to put our spouse’s needs ahead of our own.

Trusting God and serving others are recurring ideas throughout Scripture. In this particular area, they are precisely what He is asking husbands to do, because He has given us no other option. We cannot change a spouse’s heart, only He can. We can’t even change our own heart. We must therefore turn to Him in prayer.

I have actually prayed with men about their wives and seen such sudden and dramatic changes that the men quickly forgot that there was ever a problem in the first place. Sometimes the change is slower and more progressive. Whatever the timetable, always start with prayer and continue in prayer. It is the real secret. God loves to show Himself strong, to lift us up when we are weak, and to answer when we call out to Him.

The second thing is to pray that God would open your eyes to your wife’s needs.

  • Is she too tired for sex? Maybe you can arrange for her to have some help around the house or to take a relaxing vacation.
  • Is she insecure about her appearance? Maybe you need to reassure her that you still find her attractive.
  • Does she have unresolved trust issues? Then dig deep, seeking to understand the source of her fears and lovingly address them.

On some fundamental level, a wife’s denying sex is a cry for help. Through God’s enabling Grace, you can be the help your spouse so desperately needs.