Category Archives: The Bible and Sex

5 Ways to Get Your Church to Address Sex

So your church doesn’t address sex. You’re not alone.

But if you’re like me, or you’ve read the Bible past Genesis 1 and know that God didn’t shy away from sex, you think your church should be able to have a grownup conversation about sexual intimacy in marriage. So how can you get people talking about this important topic in a respectful, helpful, godly ways?

Here are five actions you can take to move the needle.

Blog post title + basic illustration of a church building

1. Offer to teach or facilitate a class.

You know there’s a need, but many churches don’t know how to present material that encourages healthy and holy sex in marriage. Pastors are also in precarious positions, expected and even pressured to teach solely on certain theological issues.

Why not suggest an alternative within your current educational structure? Offer to lead a class or small group. I admit to being a bit nervous myself when I offered to teach a women’s class at my church, but my class was welcomed and well-attended. I came up with my own material, because…well…me. But if you’d rather facilitate, tap into some excellent resources where others will do the teaching portion for you.

Here are three I can recommend for wives:

Awaken Love Class. Led by Ruth Buezis. “The Awaken-Love class is available to women all over the world through our 6-week video series…Together you will watch the videos, read through Song of Songs and discuss the material. Opening up the taboo topic of sex with women you trust will help you uncover a new level of intimacy in your marriage as you learn to talk about sex.”

Passion Pursuit Study Led by Linda Dillow and Dr. Juli Slattery. “For each of the ten weeks, you will watch a 30-45 minute video of Juli & Linda teaching and then have 5 days of homework to complete in your workbook. Each group will need one woman to step up as the facilitator, but Juli & Linda will do all the teaching through the DVD & workbook.”

Boost Your Libido (affiliate link). Led by Sheila Wray Gregoire. “We’re going to have FUN—as I show you how you can move your marriage from BLAH to Blazing, just by understanding how your brain, body, and relationship all work together to impact your libido! This 10-module video based course has lots of information and awesome exercises that will get YOU anticipating sex more!” Now perhaps 70-85% of wives are the lower-drive spouse, but even as the higher-drive spouse in my own marriage (currently), I appreciated this course for addressing distinct ways that sexual intimacy works for wives. While originally designed it for individuals online, it would be easy to facilitate this course in a small group setting.

2. Gift resources to church leaders.

The following three things are true for a majority of pastors:

  • They didn’t receive much ministry training on God’s design for sexual intimacy.
  • They don’t know exactly how to address the topic of sex with their congregations.
  • They don’t make a lot of money, so they’re limited in buying products to research or consider.

Thus, if you want your pastor to address this topic or be an advocate for sex-positive programs and classes, maybe you could gift resources to your pastor(s) that address sex with a godly perspective. Let them see that Christians are speaking out in holy and healthy ways, and your church can do it too.

For instance, my devotional book, Intimacy Revealed, shows how Scripture can be applied to a number of issues couples face in marriage about sex, and even includes prayers for sex. I also have a list of recommended reads here.

3. Host an event.

Sometimes what can kick-off the conversation is an event that gets church members thinking and talking. In this case, you just invite the speaker to come in, and he/she will do the rest. At least during the event. Afterwards, it’s up to the church to follow up and follow through.

Here are just three great speakers you could host, who all speak to women honestly and biblically about sex:

Juli Slattery, clinical psychologist, author, speaker, Authentic Intimacy Conference and Ladies Night Out

Sheila Wray Gregoire, speaker, blogger, an award-winning author, Girl Talk Event.

J. Parker (oh, that’s me!), speaker, author, silly-joke-teller. And I’ve waived my speaker fee for the remainder of the year!

4. Give your testimony.

For years, I was scared to give my personal testimony, because I figured it would go like this:

Me: So perhaps the biggest area in which God saved me in my sexuality. You see, I was quite the tool before I got married—sheesh, half of you would barely recognize that girl!—and then there’s all the C-R-A-P my marriage went through, some of which was due to serious sexual baggage. But woo-hoo! God rescued me.

Them:

If you’re frightened to speak up too, I get it. I really do. But those faces are not at all what has happened.

In fact, when we confess our struggles to one another, most of the time we discover that others are struggling too and people are glad someone spoke up. You could be the first one to break that unspoken rule of silence that isn’t helping any of us and instead introduce honesty and a willingness to support one another, even one another’s marriage beds.

Be careful how and when you spill your story, of course. But go ahead and talk about how God has worked in your sex life. I know my Heavenly Father has worked wonders in mine.

Be careful how and when you spill your story, of course. But go ahead and talk about how God has worked in your sex life. I know my Heavenly Father has worked wonders in mine. Click To Tweet

5. Be a positive voice for sexual intimacy.

Just be the voice among friends who speaks positively about sex. You wives know what I’m talking about: Sometimes the discussion among women turns to sex, and the comments are, sadly, negative. “Ugh, he wants it all the time!” “I’m too tired for sex.” “What’s the big deal anyway?”

Or they might in favor of sex in marriage, but still wrong: “You need to have more sex for your husband.” Um, how about more sex for your husband and you, since God made it a mutual thing we gals are also supposed to really enjoy!

You can slowly but surely start to turn the tide by being the positive voice in the room. Positive doesn’t mean pushy, but let others know that God is the author of pleasurable sex, that it’s an act intended to create and express intimacy, and that it’s worth pursuing a healthy and holy marriage bed.

Even if you only convince one woman, that’s one wife who now has incentive to seek God’s design for sex and has an advocate for her marriage—you. One by one, we make a difference.

What couples resources do you recommend for churches? What has your church done that has been helpful in promoting positive, godly sexuality?

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What Is Lusting?

You’d think defining lust would be a simple enough task. Just open up Merriam-Webster, read the definition, and you’re set. But it’s not that simple. At least there’s still a lot of confusion about what constitutes lusting. I receive questions about it fairly often.

Today I’d like to take a stab about clearing up exactly what lust means and what it doesn’t, as well as when lust is okay and when it’s not.

Blog post title with illustration of woman facing forward and a thought bubble coming from her head

What Lust Is and Isn’t

Dictionary definition

Let’s start with that Merriam-Webster definition. The first entry to consider is “usually intense or unbridled sexual desire,” and the second is “an intense longing/craving,” such as a lust for power. That should rule out a few things that people sometimes want to list as lust, such as:

  • noticing an attractive person
  • saying someone is attractive

Mind you, these may not be wise choices in certain contexts, but they aren’t lust. These actions are no more inherently dangerous than noticing a beautiful sunset or commenting positively about a work of art.

While God prioritizes inner beauty, our Divine Sculptor also made some rather appealing exteriors. I mean, if you can’t acknowledge that the Chrises — Evans, Hemsworth, Pine, and Pratt — are good-looking men, you don’t have eyeballs. Not to mention guys named Idris. But I digress.

Biblical definition

More importantly, let’s look at the biblical definition of lust. That’s what really matters to us, right? While there are other relevant scriptures, our concern about lust mostly stems from this verse: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus says lust = adultery. Obviously, that’s a line we don’t want to cross.

Now the Greek word for lust in this verse is epithumeó. This word appears 15 other times in the New Testament. Do you know how many of those times it’s translated in the NIV as lust? None. Not a single one.

In fact, you might be surprised to see the other verses where epithumeó appears, such as:

For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it (Matthew 13:17).

And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7).

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want (Galatians 5:17).

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1).

(See footnote below.)

As you can see, the word used by Jesus to mean lust isn’t strictly negative. It can have positive connotations as well. Epithumeó simply means a strong desire (that second Merriam-Webster definition), and the problem occurs when our strong desire is in conflict with what God intends for us to have — like someone else’s spouse.

Again, with these verses it becomes clear that lust isn’t merely noticing someone, but rather having a strong desire or longing. Lust happens when it reaches the level of coveting — when you think sexually about someone you’re not married to or dwell on their physical attributes in your mind.

Lust happens when it reaches the level of coveting — when you think sexually about someone you're not married to or dwell on their physical attributes in your mind. Click To Tweet

Revisiting my comment above, some celebrities are rather attractive men. But it’s one thing to recognize that, and another thing to seek out shirtless photos or flip through images in your mind or talk up how that person turns you on. No, no, and no.

Lust isn’t gender-specific

Did you notice all of my examples focused on women finding men attractive? Because one other thing lust isn’t — a purely male problem.

Too often when we talk about lust in churches or Christian circles, we assume that men struggle with lust and women really don’t. That’s balderdash.

First of all, not every guy struggles with lust, and second, plenty of women have issues with lust. Although Jesus speaks in Matthew 5:28 about men lusting after women, it’s pretty clear throughout the Bible — in stories and other verses — that women also have issues wanting what they shouldn’t have.

What’s the percentage breakdown of how the genders struggle with lust? I don’t know. Maybe it’s 70% of men and only 30% of women, but if you’re in the group that struggles, does it really matter? Don’t you just need an understanding that improper, selfish longing happens with both sexes and that God wants something much better for you?

Desire versus physiology

Finally in this section, I want to touch on an issue some worry about: When you see an attractive person and your body responds sexually, is that lust?

When you see an attractive person and your body responds sexually, is that lust? Click To Tweet

Let’s go back to Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Where does Jesus say the lust originates? It is in your eyeballs? In your groin? Or in your mind and heart?

God recognizes that we are physical beings here on earth. Having eyes that see a person doesn’t make you lust. Likewise, an erection or lubrication or a tingling in your nether regions could simply be a physiological reaction. What matters is the choice you make in your mind about how to view someone.

Now some might be saying that there’s not a conscious moment when you think, “Hey, I’m going to lust.” Rather, it just happens in a split second, as if your brain is responding to your genitals instead of the other way around.

As someone who mastered rationalization in my premarital promiscuous past, I’m just going to call you on that fish tale. Maybe you haven’t yet figured out how to interrupt the communication channel between your sexual physiology and your free-will brain, but you are making a choice and God calls you to make a different choice. He believes that — with intention and prayer and even support — you can do it, and so do I.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for having an arousal reaction that you cannot control, but own the part you absolutely can control — your decision whether or not to lust.

When Lust Is Okay and When It’s Not

Surely, after reading those examples, you can see that not all epithumeó longings are bad. Some are praised! Having a deep desire for something in line with God’s will gets a golden stamp of approval. In those cases, “lust” all you want after the thing God also longs for you to have.

Which means that lusting after your spouse is not only okay — it’s good. Deeply good. Godly good.

Lusting after your spouse is not only okay — it's good. Deeply good. Godly good. Click To Tweet

Sexual desire for your husband or wife is God’s intention for your marriage. When you think about their attractiveness, when you dwell on their physical attributes in your mind, and when you look longingly at your beloved, you’re in line with God’s will.

Go read Song of Songs and how often those spouses are basically like, “Hubba hubba, I love lookin’ at you, babe!” (Loose paraphrase.) Take, for instance, just these few verses from Song of Songs 7:6-8:

How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
  my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,
  and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
  I will take hold of its fruit.”

Wow, that husband clearly has a strong desire for his wife. And God made sure that’s in our Bible!

So perhaps we need to re-frame how to talk about lust. To summarize:

  1. Lust isn’t just about sex. It’s about strong desires that can be in line with God’s will or not.
  2. Noticing and acknowledging beauty isn’t lust in and of itself. It has to go further into desire, longing, coveting.
  3. Even the sexual connotation of lust can be healthy and godly when it’s in the right context — just like sex. God blesses both in the confines of a committed marital union.

A related Greek word, epithumia, is also translated sometimes as lust (most notably in 1 John 2:16) but also more often desire — because the sexual connotation that the word lust has in modern English simply doesn’t apply to many of these verses. Thus, translators moved away from translating epithumeó and epithumia as lust between the time of the King James Version (1611) and more modern translations such as the current New International Version (updated 2011). For a full list of these verses, click HERE.

Sex Chat for Christian Wives logo + forchristianwives.com

Q&A with J: How Is Solomon the Expert on Marital Love?

This is a question that landed in my inbox a while ago, and I wrote back a quick answer. But re-reading through emails, I decided I wanted to tackle the question of Song of Solomon here. Because I suspect many of you, especially women, have wondered how a rampant polygamist seems to be the Bible’s expert on sexual intimacy in marriage.

One thing I’ve been wondering about for a while now, is how frequently you and other marriage bloggers reference the Song of Solomon to cite evidence of how God is sex-positive. I fully understand that sex is a beautiful God-given gift that unites my husband and [me]. I just don’t get why Solomon is the Biblical expert on marital love when he had 1000 wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3). This doesn’t support the sort of fidelity that I sense that God wants from us.

blog post title + illustration of king's crown

Okay, I’m about to say something potentially shocking, but here it goes anyway: I don’t think Solomon wrote Song of Songs.

He might have, but it wouldn’t surprise me to someday be introduced to some other guy in Heaven who says, “Hey, I hear you’re a big fan of my book!” And then I’m all like, “Oh yes! Will you sign my copy and take a selfie with me?”

That’s my opinion based on my study of the issue. But there are three main positions on whether Solomon was the author of this erotic book in the Bible.

1. Solomon’s favorite wife

King Solomon had a special affinity for this one wife, so he wrote about how that special relationship. Scholars say this was likely early in his youth, perhaps his first wife, before he was tainted by the many wives and concubines he took throughout his reign.

Song 6:8-9 does say:

Even among sixty queens
and eighty concubines
and countless young women,
I would still choose my dove, my perfect one—
the favorite of her mother,
dearly loved by the one who bore her.

But as a woman and wife myself, I’m rather distressed by this idea. If I was such a peach of a wife that this beautiful book of love was penned about me, why would my husband go marry and bed 139 other women? And calling me your “favorite” among 140 women sounds like reaching into the Dove Dark Chocolate bag, eating one, and saying it was the best. How can I trust that statement when you plan to eat the whole bag?!

Image result for reverend fun marriage

All that said, it really was a very different time. So applying our cultural standards to the time in which Solomon lived and the position he held (e.g., some of those marriages were politically motivated for kingdom peace) isn’t likely to give us a full understanding. If Solomon did write the book, we should place this story in the context in which he existed.

2. Solomon wrote from observation, not experience

Solomon wrote the poetry to describe passionate love he observed among two lovers he envied. This view says that essentially Solomon saw what another had, noted it was beautiful relationship, and creatively captured the essence of it to celebrate godly, sexual love.

At first, I thought, Well, that’s creepy. So he was enviously stalking some couple and writing about their sex life? But then I realized that I also write fiction, and I kind of did that with my book, Behind Closed Doors: Five Marriage Stories. My stories aren’t nearly as erotic as Song of Songs, but storytelling authors always put themselves in the shoes of someone else (fictional or nonfictional) and convey the message from that point of view.

And most of the time, envy isn’t the motivator; rather, the author wants to tell a story they find intriguing and useful to others. Perhaps that’s what King Solomon did — tell a story he liked, hoping it would inspire others to greater love and intimacy in their marriages.

DESCRIPTION: Guy hitting on a girl using Song of Solomon for inspiration CAPTION: YOUR HAIR IS LIKE A FLOCK OF GOATS

3. Solomon didn’t write the book

Rather, Song of Songs was written by someone else in his kingdom about his own marital love. Indeed, some ancient texts bear the name of the person to whom the writing was dedicated rather than the author itself, as a way of giving the work greater weight.

Back then, they didn’t look at plagiarism the way we would. You writing something and attributing it to a well-known figure could be viewed as praise and honor of that person. It was more like ghostwriters these days, who share the glory or even give it to the person whose name appears on the book cover, but they get a book out and get paid.

For recent examples, Donald J. Trump’s The Art of the Deal was actually written by Tony Schwartz, while Hillary Clinton’s popular It Takes a Village was written with the (uncredited) help of Barbara Feinman. And if you think all those celebrity memoirs were written by the celebrities themselves, think again.

Mentioning King Solomon within the book and attributing it to him would have been seen as a compliment or a gift. Certainly, this book was embraced by the people and Jewish scholars, and perhaps Solomon himself.

Does it really matter who wrote it?

It’s uncomfortable being unable to verify biblical authorship. It’s so much easier when you have a letter from Paul directly saying, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17). Well, there’s no doubt there who’s talking.

Instead, it’s possible Solomon didn’t write Song of Songs, but it’s quite possible that he did. We just don’t know for sure.

Regardless, I feel confident that Solomon wasn’t sitting among his harem penning this book as a hypocritical act.

Consider this: If you traveled back into my past and said, “Hey, that girl is going to have a lot of good stuff to say about Christian sex,” a lot of people would have laughed, including me. The idea would have been preposterous! Who was I to say squat about godly sexuality? But at this season of my life, God seems to be using me to do just that.

However, I know people who had great stuff to say about God earlier in life and got off track later. You can find plenty of examples of those people in the Bible. Didn’t God still use them? Perhaps that’s where Solomon fits. 

But whoever wrote it—and the most prevalent, traditional view is Solomon—God made sure it was included in our canon. Song of Songs is part of the inspired Word of God.

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Additional reading: Insight.org (Chuck Swindoll) – Song of Solomon; ESV.org – Introduction to The Book of Song of Solomon

Is the Church Failing Sexless Marriages?

After writing what turned out to be a controversial post on faith and sexless marriage, I spent a lot of this weekend thinking about my next Q&A post, which I would like to be about practical steps you can take to address a sexless marriage.

In preparation, I Googled that subject and found various posts on the matter of sexual refusal as a sin (which yes, I believe it is). Many of them were posts written by fellow marriage bloggers I’d already read, but there were some additions.

Here’s what stopped me short, though: In pages and pages of my search, I found almost no posts or articles written by pastors or biblical scholars on sexual refusal in marriage.

How is that possible – I thought – when I know that it’s an ongoing issue for too many in the Church?

Blog post title + two pairs of feet in bed turned away from each other

Most of the posts I did find suggested the prescription of addressing your spouse’s sinfulness according to Matthew 18:15-17. The steps as described are:

  • Speak directly to the person who has sinned against you (your spouse)
  • If they won’t listen, take one or two others along as witnesses (being careful whom you choose)
  • If they still won’t listen, bring the matter to the attention of the church (not really the whole, but church leaders)
  • If they still refuse to listen, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (remembering that Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors as outsiders but not enemies)

And I agree with all of that. It’s in the Bible! Spoken by Jesus! How could I not?

But here’s where the prescription, sadly, seems to break down in real life: How do I tell those in you in sexless marriages to go to your church for help with this issue, when I know full well that many of you will find precious little support there?

I’ve had spouses write and tell me that the Christian counselor they went to see brushed off the total lack of sex in their marriage, choosing instead to concentrate solely on communication issues or even saying that sex wasn’t that big a deal. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve begged their minister to preach or teach about sex in marriage, including the need to address sexual refusal, and they get waved off. I’ve had spouses tell me that they’ve approached church leaders and explained the heartache they’ve experience in their marriage, only to be told to suck it up, pray harder, and love their spouse more.

Poet Robert Frost famously said, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” And that is how I feel about the Church. My community of believers has been an anchor for me in many of life’s storms, and they feel like family in so many ways. I love the Body of Christ.

But I also get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage.

I get frustrated with our shortcomings, especially in the arena of sex in marriage. Click To Tweet

These sad, true stories above have been told to me both through my ministry here and personally. Moreover, my Google search on the subject demonstrates how silent the Church as a whole is on this topic. So where are the ministers and church leaders willing to speak boldly for the sake of all kinds of intimacy in marriage, including the physical intimacy God clearly wants spouses to have?

I know they’re out there. But their numbers aren’t large enough yet. We still have work to do in the Church.

Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jesus’ prescription for dealing with sin. Our Lord knows what He’s talking about! It’s a beautiful process done well and has turned back many hearts to God.

And if your spouse’s sin was adultery, I suspect the vast majority of you would receive compassion and support from those in your local church. But what if your spouse’s sin is the unfaithfulness of refusing you for years and years? What if they have cut off the physical intimacy entirely in your marriage and won’t even talk about it? What if your heart is a gaping wound in your chest that just happens to involve your private parts as well? Will you get the support you should get?

I want to say yes. I soooo want to say yes.

Because I love the Body of Christ.

Yet I’m a realist, and I know that too many churches, too many Christians, have failed in this area. We have left a large segment of emotionally pained spouses with nowhere to go.

We can’t accept that status quo. Something has to change.

So today, I’m just throwing this out there and asking my readers to answer any of the following:

  1. Have you personally experienced a church leader or counselor brushing off your concerns about a sexless marriage? If so, would you calmly share what happened? (Note: I don’t think berating individuals will help and just adds our own sin to the mix.)
  2. Has your church taught or preached on sex in marriage? If so, was sexual refusal included in the message?
  3. Have you helped someone in your church address a sexless marriage? What did you do, and was it (in any way) successful?
  4. If you’re a pastor or church leader, why has it been difficult for you or others to address the issue of sex in marriage head-on?
  5. What do you think needs to happen to make the Church more willing, competent, and compassionate in dealing with sex in marriage?

Where this goes, I don’t know. But it’s past time we talked more positively about healthy and holy sex in marriage and more honestly about all the sexual sins that can entrap us and damage the intimacy of our marriages.

And I want to be a part of the conversation that changes our churches for the better.

Q&A with J: “My Sexless Marriage Is Making Me Lose My Faith in God”

Today isn’t one reader’s specific question, but rather a topic that comes up from time to time among people who comment here or email me. Below is a fictional, composite version of the query:

Sex has always been in an issue in my marriage, with my spouse rarely if ever wanting to make love in our 25 years of marriage. For the last eight, I’ve been in a sexless marriage, and when I try to talk to him/her about it, s/he just says that s/he doesn’t need it. I’ve done my part around the house, taken care of the kids, regularly compliment him/her, and try to woo my spouse as much as possible, but apparently my needs mean nothing compared to his/hers. We tried counseling, but he/she quit going after two sessions.

I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed about this for years, but nothing has changed. So that’s it. I’m done with church and with God. And if things done change in the next few months, I’m done with my marriage too. I wish I’d left sooner. I’ve wasted all these years with a woman and a God — if He even exists — who don’t give a flip about me.

Where’s the question in there?

  • Is there a god?
  • If there is a god, why doesn’t He intervene?
  • How can I believe in a god who’d let me suffer so much in my marriage?

Blog post title + man sitting in pew, from behind

I’ve long believed the theological question Why do bad things happen to good people? is usually Why do bad things happen to me? Or a close loved one. Because our life experiences impact how we view the existence and goodness of God.

A sex-conflicted marriage, especially a sexless marriage, is such an emotionally painful experience that it feels cruel to be made to endure it. Especially when you’ve done everything you can think of to be loving, to be faithful, to cry out to God for deliverance. When nothing changes — or gets worse — your core belief in God can be shaken. Your faith falters.

Let me first assure you that I’ve been there. I was raised in the church, a preacher’s daughter, but I faced a faith crisis in my early 20s. Did God exist, or was religion simply wishful thinking? After much study and reflection, I decided that yeah, there was something.

But I didn’t immediately rush back to Christianity. Instead, I studied different versions of god professed across history and cultures. It was a slow walk back to God and then to Christ. So I recognize what it feels like to doubt, to question, to even shove off what you previously thought was true and suspect it’s not truth after all. Questioning your faith doesn’t make you a bad person. It puts you in the company of many Christians across ages who long for “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

But let me address the questions you have with real answers.

Yes, God is there.

It’s hard to feel like God is there with you in your pain. Although He’s omnipresent, He’s also invisible to us. You can’t slide over on the couch and say, “Have a seat, God. Let’s talk face-to-face about my problems.” While some Christians say they always feel God’s presence, many of us don’t. Plenty of us reach out to God and end up identifying with these poignant lyrics from BarlowGirl in “Never Alone”:

I waited for you today
But you didn’t show, no no no
I needed you today
So where did you go?
You told me to call
Said you’d be there
And though I haven’t seen you
Are you still there?

I cried out with no reply
And I can’t feel you by my side…

When you’re still in the pit, when your pain is deep, when you can’t feel Him there…how do you believe that He is?

The truth is, I can see God’s presence in my life more clearly when I look back on things than when I’m in the moment. But more importantly, a lot of whether I felt God there depended on how much I truly invited Him in. Did I want God to just come fix things? Or did I want God to use that experience to draw me closer into a relationship with Him?

Isaiah 43:2 is the verse I lean on, over and over in my life:

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

The Bible tells us repeatedly in one way or another that this life will suck. Not every moment or every day, of course, but there’s a substantial amount of suckage involved in taking the journey through human existence. God doesn’t promise to take away those times when we have to “pass through the waters” and “walk through the fire.” But our Lord says, “I will be with you,” and He will get us through those tough times if we recognize Him, invite Him in, and lean on Him.

That’s why the chorus of “Never Alone” ends with:

So I’ll hold tight to what I know
You’re here, and I’m never alone.

But free will means others can hurt you.

You know how much you want your spouse to express their love through sexual intimacy? God recognizes the same thing: Love and goodness shouldn’t be coerced. In the Genesis 2 account of Adam and Eve, God’s first words to Adam are, “You are free…” God then describes that Adam can eat from any tree in the garden he wants, but it would be super-bad idea to eat the fruit of one particular tree.

Of course, we all know how the story turns out. Adam and Eve sin — and we all would have done the same if we’d been in the Garden of Eden ourselves. Likewise, we mess up a lot in our own lives, free to make choices that hurt us and others around us. You have that right from God … and so does your spouse.

That’s why I’ve said about a hundred times on my blog that the only one you can change in your marriage is you. Don’t get me wrong: You have influence. You can clam up or communicate. You can enable or set boundaries. You can seethe in anger or reach out in kindness. But you can’t make your spouse want to have sex with you. And if you think God enforced it, you’re asking Him to take away your spouse’s free will. Which, it seems biblically clear to me, He won’t do.

And you might not be as good a spouse as you think.

Judging your own performance as a spouse, you might come out looking like a Grand Champion. You certainly feel like you’ve done everything a loving mate would do, and yet it’s made no difference whatsoever.

But what if you’re doing the wrong things? For instance, you might not be speaking your spouse’s love language. Perhaps you’re performing many acts of service, when your spouse wishes you’d put down the tools or the fry-pan and spend time with them.

You could be misconstruing the underlying problem that keeps your mate from jumping into bed with you. Maybe you’re trying to make the case for why sex is important in marriage, but your spouse has real physiological obstacles or sexual baggage that make her view sex as untenable.

Or you might just be in a pain in the patootie about the whole issue: You think you’re being reasonable and persuasive, but you come across as nagging and demanding. Your unpleasantness in this specific area might make it not so much fun to live with you in general. Which means you lose your overall appeal, further making your case for “let’s have sex” a tough sell.

Look, I’ve been there, done that. So I know that it’s possible to believe you’re doing great when it doesn’t feel that way to your spouse. That’s why it’s important to ask your spouse how they think and feel, and then shut up and listen. We reveal ourselves to others when we feel safe and heard. So be a safe person for your spouse to communicate with, and recognize that it takes time to reach that point.

It comes down to this: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). You want to see God working? Let Him work through You to change how fully you love your spouse.

Finally, the blessing isn’t always obvious.

It seems fair for God to reward us in the area where we’ve been faithful. When we pray for our marriage, behave as a faithful spouse, and pursue righteous sexual intimacy within that covenant relationship, shouldn’t God show up? Where we are most hurting? Where we most welcome God’s divine intervention?

Galatians 6:7-10 says:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

We will reap what we sow, but not always in the same season or the same field. Plus, our motives and perseverance matter.

Even if we are entirely faithful toward our spouse regarding sexuality, it’s possible we don’t reach the sexual intimacy that God ideally wants us to have. It’s not because He doesn’t care. He does, but see the free will point above.

But here’s the thing: As much as it stinks to wait and wait and wait, and to suffer through a sexless marriage, I don’t believe sex is better than Heaven. No one gets to Heaven having endured that kind of hardship while still being Christ-like to their spouse and says, “Man, if only I could go back and have an orgasm!”

It was pointed out to me in the comments that the refused spouse isn’t struggling with lack of orgasm but the emotional pain of rejection. Yes, that was an extremely poor word choice on my part — which doesn’t even reflect what I believe. As I’ve said many times, if it was just about the physical release, your spouse could get that without you. But sex has deeper meaning, and those in sexless marriages experience it as a rejection of their desirability, their identity, and their love. Ask a number of refused spouses how they feel, and you’ll hear the word lonely a lot. That is the heartbreak of a sexless marriage.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do everything within your influence to address the sexlessness in your marriage. I say quite the opposite all over my blog. However, taking an eternal perspective, just because you can’t see the reward right now in the area where you most want it at this moment doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a very worthwhile reward for you.

Hebrews 11:6 puts it this way: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Sexual intimacy is important to your marriage. But not as important as your faith in God and our Savior Jesus Christ. I pray the Spirit will reveal to you how God is there in the midst of your pain, how you can continue to be faithful, and how you will be rewarded in due season … if you do not give up.

Can I plead with you to just sit down honestly with God and ask for His strength to keep your faith going? To speak to mature Christians who can answer your questions? To pursue fresh ideas and ways of dealing with the sexlessness in your marriage?

After a few complaints in the comments section, I want to clarify that I am NOT saying you shouldn’t use your influence to pursue sexual intimacy in your marriage, because you should. In other posts, I’ve spoken clearly about talking to your spouse, my belief that ongoing sexual refusal in marriage is a sin), and how just saying to pray for your marriage isn’t enough. I’ve addressed the issue of sexless in marriage, tried to explain how hurtful it is to the refused spouse, and explained that sex is 100% part of the marriage covenant. But none of that goes against my assertion in this post that God is not to blame for the emotional pain you’re going through, and in such troubled times, we should draw closer to Him, not further away. Please, if you are in a sexless marriage, keep pursuing righteous intimacy, but also pursue righteousness simply in your relationship with God. – added 10/13/17

I can’t say I know what’s it’s like to be you, but I know it’s tough. Please know that my prayers also go up that you will hold onto God and not lose your faith.

same pic as above, sized for Pinterest