Called to Stand: The Minneapolis Accords

It seems clear that I am not the only person in the world who struggles to stay faithful to the commitments that I have made. For the past few years it has been a great – undeserved – privilege to serve the church in ministering to people whose marriages are either 1) in serious trouble, or 2) completely falling apart. Just last week, I had the opportunity to listen to four different men who are either struggling through an ugly divorce or otherwise desperately seeking some sort of “road map” for healing their marriages…and their own hearts.

This may or may not be as true for women, but I do know that guys in serious emotional pain can’t always make do with a “Here, read this book” approach to solving their relational issues. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to suggest good Christian authors to people facing serious life problems; in many cases, that is exactly the right thing to do. I’m just saying that guys, in general, prefer to be about the business of “fixing things” that are broken. This approach to life is great – and much needed – when faced with leaky faucets and carbureator problems, but doesn’t always translate well when the broken item is the heart of a spouse.

Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but it seems to me that one of the major stumbling blocks we all face in our relationships is that, from time to time, we forget who we are. It’s like a form of temporary insanity grabs hold and allows us to entertain exciting new ideas about our own self-worth and fill us with self-exalting ideas that are nowhere to be found within the pages of Scripture. Once we have bought into anything that even smells remotely like “I deserve better than this…” we are well on our way down the slippery slope of finding fault; not within ourselves, mind you, but in everyone else. It’s actually rather humiliating to realize how quick we are to forget who we are in Christ, how easily we can be tricked into losing our grip spiritually, but this is exactly what James, the half-brother of Jesus, affirms:

James 1:22-26 (ESV)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

Whenever one of the Apostles uses a word as striking as “worthless,” it tends to get my attention. I really like how James uses the imagery of a mirror to affirm that we humans are terribly forgetful creatures, committing to do our level best when we wake up on Monday morning…and then completely forgetting about it by the time lunch rolls around. (If this has never once happened to you, you can stop reading right now.)

While our verbal commitments may have a pretty dismal shelf life, the written word has a power that transcends time and the creeping foolishness of our own darkened hearts. As the inspired Word of God, the Bible would be the single best example of this, of course, but I would like to suggest that we, too, can unleash God-honoring power in our own lives by taking the time to put a few things in writing. Having previously gotten the “thumbs-up” from my wife to share this publicly, I’d like to provide one notable example from our own broken, messy lives that may prove useful to others.

Shelly and I were remarried almost exactly six years ago, and both of us knew that we wanted to avoid the mistakes of our first (failed) marriages. One of the most serious mistakes we both made is that our first marriages were not rooted in Christ. Combining two broken families into one had all kinds of unforeseen results, none of which we could reasonably have predicted back in May of 2004. Suffice to say that by the time Sept. of 2007 rolled around, we were both feeling battered, assaulted, frustrated and confused. After three years, four months, we were feeling overwhelmed and beginning to “forget” who we really were…and what exactly we were committed to.

So it was God’s grace in our lives that we decided to attend the 2007 Desiring God National Convention in Minneapolis, both as a means of getting some time together (without the kids, much as we love them all) and as a means of strengthening our faith. Ironically, the theme of the convention that year was “Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints.” The speakers all addressed the difficulty and criticality of remaining steadfast and faithful in the face of challenges, trials…everyday life. It was after the final session on Saturday evening that we stared at each other from across our table in a local restaurant, recounted some of the challenges we had already faced together, and started jotting down the notes that would become what we now refer to as “The Minneapolis Accords.” For better or worse, here they are:

  • We are committed to worshipping and living out our lives for an audience of One (daily prayer and worship).
  • Moral failures are the result of not surrendering an area of our lives to Christ (arguments, profanity, anger).
  • We believe that Christ uses suffering/adversity to refine us; we trust Him to refine us as He sees fit.
  • We will seek to reflect Christ to our children better.
  • Nothing is outside the grasp of our spouse in our lives – transparency in everything.
  • We are an Ephesians 5 and 6 house.
  • We want to love Christ wholeheartedly, pursuing Him with abandon.

Simple, right? Nothing terribly confusing or difficult to grasp in these precepts, is there?

And yet, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times both of us have failed miserably to live up to these simple ideals, behaving as though these words carried little to no meaning. In the midst of difficult times and – let’s be honest – plain old fighting, we have more than once pulled these puppies back out and asked the other, “OK, so is it time to start crossing out anything on this list?” To date, and by God’s grace, neither of us has ever gotten bent out of shape to the point that we want to start “taking back” the promises we made before God and to each other on that day. Quite the opposite, we’ve found: After each failure, a review of these commitments we made to each other at that conference has only served, again by God’s grace, to strengthen our resolve.

Obviously, I am suggesting that it might help anyone who battles besetting sin – marital or otherwise – to jot down some thoughts as an informal “contract” with God and other affected parties. There are a few important points to consider before you build your own version of this list, though.

Shelly and I constructed the Minneapolis Accords when 1) both of us were in our right mind; 2) we were both – by that point – completely saturated in Scripture and worship; and 3) both of us were able to offer these things up out of our own free will (i.e. neither party was being in any way coerced, threatened or cajoled).

I’d like to tell you that simply by putting these precepts down in writing, we both lived happily ever after…but that’s not even remotely true. While our marriage has been blessed in tremendous ways, there have been tremendous challenges as well. In fact, one of the greatest, most gut-wrenching seasons of trial came upon us immediately after we had committed to these principles, a time of testing whereby God would show both of us how much we needed Him to stay faithful to anything, let alone the difficult work of maintaining a second marriage that is pleasing to God.

What I can tell you is that – by necessity – we have both returned to these simple written precepts again and again as unanticipated waves of despair, frustration, pain and temptation have rolled in on the beachfront of our marriage, causing great confusion and no small amount of second-guessing. For us, The Minneapolis Accords have served as the centerpiece of our marriage these past few years and have sustained us through multiple seasons of great tumult; some internal, to be sure, but many of them visited upon us by external forces. Whatever the source of trial, having these simple “non-negotiables” in writing has really helped us to stand firm whenever the arrows came flying over the wall.

Look, if large corporations can construct Mission Statements that help guide their decision-making processes as economic circumstances and geopolitical realities shift, there is absolutely no reason why we, too, can’t do the same with our marriages and other important commitments.

Yes, we must continue to read God’s Word and pray for his strength in difficult times, and His Word must always be primary in our hearts, but I think we honor God only when we respond to His Word by doing what it says, as James emphasizes. Writing out how we want Scripture to apply to the messy details of our own lives is one solid way my wife and I have found that really helps us to be not just hearers, but doers of the Word (though inconsistently, for sure). For anyone who is feeling confused, or knows that they can become easily “misdirected” during times of trial or suffering, having a touchstone such as this can make all the difference between choosing to honor God…or choosing to serve our own selfish desires.

Revelation 14:12 (ESV)
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

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