The Top 5 TED Talks Every Ministry Leader Needs To Watch

I love watching TED talks.

They are often challenging and thought-provoking and it’s a novel way to get a fresh take on things. TED stands for Technology, Education & Design and was created in 1984 under the guise that an idea is a powerful force.

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It’s mission statement reads:

“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other”

For ministry leaders  and volunteers, TED talks are a brilliant resource. Very early on a mentor persuaded me that leading involves a consistent call to learn. I’ve found TED talks helpful tools in the learning process.

Here are my Top 5 TED Talks Every Ministry Leader Needs To Watch 

1. How Great Leaders Inspire Action – Simon Sinek

This is probably my favorite talk of all time by TED. It would not surprise me if my wife could recite the three concentric circles part of the talk purely by how often I have talked about it at home and in meetings. If you have ever led something that failed to gain traction, have a listen to this excellent talk. In it, Simon Sinek unpacks the difference between what every leader does and what great leaders do by looking at Apple, The Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King.

2. The Power of Vulnerability + Listening to Shame by Brene Brown

For many people, this is the greatest TED talk. It’s funny, personal and thought-provoking. In a world that is struggling with vulnerability and shame, it would be amazing to see the church lead the way.

3. Every Kid Needs A Champion – Rita Pearson

For anyone who works with young people, listening to Pearson is a treat. With 40 years of experience in education, she reminds me a lot of Jesus. My favorite lines is in a conversation she had with a fellow teacher. . Lots to take out of this for leaders of every age group.

Friend“They don’t pay me to like the kids. They pay me to create the lesson and kids should learn. I teach, kids learn. Case closed”

Rita Pearson: “People don’t learn if they don’t like you”. 

4. The Key To Success: Grit – Angela Duckworth

Ministry is a tough slog at the best of times. We do it because we love it, but that doesn’t make it easy. Jesus never said it would be easy. Angela Duckworth argues though, that one variable that difference-makers is grit, a combination of passion and perseverance. Difference-makers are those who have a long-term goal and do not deviate in passion and do not give up.

5. Everyday Leadership – Drew Dudley

Drew Dudley may be the fastest talking man on the planet, but it lets him get a wealth of information through in six minutes. He ask the question: “What if we thought of leadership less of changing the world and more of what we did every single day”.  Excellent.

What TED talks have really captivated you?


5 Easy Ways to Get More Out of Sermons

I hold a weird place in the church.

First of all, I am a pastor and a preacher. I work for a local church as the director of Youth Ministry and preach roughly 10 times a year. I know the challenge of wrestling with a difficult text, of spending upwards of 10-15 hours writing a manuscript and then hours more practicing delivery, tone and mannerisms. I know what it is like to see eyes glaze over with boredom and how it feels when you hit that right emotional note after practicing a line for hours.

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However, I am also a member of the church and I have remnants of childhood ADHD. I cannot sit still. My youth, egged on by my wife, often joke that the reason I love church is that I get to do a lot, otherwise I’d never sit still.

When forced to sit down, I fiddle, I day-dream, I think about what I am going to have for lunch and what has happened during the week.  All of a sudden, I realize that I’m in church and that the sermon is important and that I should listen in. Too bad, five minutes has passed, I missed the important build up and I have no idea what the preacher is talking about. Once again. 

I want to help us both out by giving some really easy helpful points that help me focus during sermons, and have helped me get a lot more out of sermons. There are many resources out there for preachers and public speakers to get better at delivery and to be engaging when they speak. There aren’t a lot of help for people to get more out of sermons.

Five dead-easy ways to get more out of sermons in 2015.

1. Pray for your pastor or preacher.

Something I try and do every single Sunday is to pray for my pastor, either with him or on my own. When I do this, it helps me remember that he is just a man, that he isn’t Jesus, and that it isn’t the messenger that I need but the truth. I need the truth, and he needs to deliver it.

I pray for God to direct his words, for my heart to be convicted and for me to turn to God.  When he stumbles over the words, or the message seems difficult to understand or contrived or the odd week that he hasn’t quite nailed the analogy or been able to spend enough time in the word, I remember that all week God has been talking to him and God is trying to talk to me through the spoken word.

I need the truth, not the messenger. Listen in.

2. Sing really, really loudly to prepare yourself.

From a young age, I made a weird promise to myself. I promised myself that I would be the loudest singer in every church I ever attended. It sounds like a silly thing, especially because I have a terrible voice that no-one wants to hear, let alone myself, but the truth is that I sing worship loudly because I have a deaf heart that needs to hear life-giving words.

I sing worship loudly because it gets my heart ready to hear those words.  I’m not always in the right head space to listen well to the sermon, whether it be through tiredness, a rough week or the sheer fact I have a short attention span. However, after spending time worshiping God, I know the importance of focusing in on the sermon.

3. Write key thoughts, ideas and themes down in a notebook during the sermon

I have the remants of childhood ADHD and sometimes, my mind wanders down through a forest of thoughts and rarely comes back unless called. One of the most helpful ways I have found to stay focused is to take notes during the sermon. It’s an effective learning tool for some, including me.

I write down quotes, maybe an important story or a section that has really picked up my interest. The most important part for me is taking a one-line summary of the sermon or the response I felt from it. Even if it’s something small like “Talk to Sarah about getting to know our neighbours‘ or spend more time praying on monday I find it helpful. It consolidates it into my mind.

4. Talk about it after the service.

I am a verbal processor. I drive my pastor and my wife mad with incessant questions about everything, but I need the wall to bounce my questions off to lead me into deeper understandings. A lot of the time this happens between me and my wife on the car ride home from the service, but I also send my pastor an email, a text or ask a question face to face, or, if it’s a deeper question that needs discussion, ask it at my weekly small group.

Faith hasn’t always been a private endeavor like it is now, it was something done in community. Being able to talk about it, discuss and argue and really nail it down is vital. Find someone you can talk about the sermon with.

5. Dig deeper into the verse in my own time. 

I am convinced that the reason I have learnt and grown so much in my faith over the years is not because I am especially intelligent or listen well but because I’ve written sermons a lot. Whether it’s writing sermons for youth and adults, spending time specifically in the bible and writing it out in my own words has made a massive difference to my walk.

So, in the week after the sermon, I read the text that he preached from a couple of times and try to answer these four questions:

  1. What does this mean in my own words
  2. What do other people think this means?
  3. What would the original people think this means?
  4. What would it look like if I lived this out?

This has helped me, a notorious fiddler and day-dreamer during sermons to hear the truth and apply it to my life.

What do you do to get more out of sermons? Leave a comment below. 


My 2014 Survey – Results

Last December, I launched my first Reader Survey. I did it because I wanted to get to know you, the readers, better and because it helps me improve the content that I create.

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If I boiled the results down into a “readers profile,” it would look like this.

  • My typical reader is a male or female (50% each) between the ages of 21-30 (94%).
  • They are mostly single, but not overwhelmingly so (53%). Many are engaged (26%) or married (26%)
  • They identify themselves as Christian (100%) and consider their faith very important (96%)
  • Most of the pressure in their life comes from places such as church, the family home, work and from themselves.
  • They would like to see more real stories from a variety of people, how to live as a Christian and Christian thought articles. They also wouldn’t mind seeing more articles on relationships and leadership.
  • They believe that in 2015, I should focus most on quality content, building an engaged audience, finding guest posters and seeking to guest post on other, well-known blogs.
  • If they had the ability to change one thing, they would make an archive of old posts to help search for older material, have more comments on the site and make sure there is a consistency in posting.

Based on my readers’ comments, I have come to five conclusions:1

1. Talk about faith more. One of the things in the back of my mind is to be ale to reach a broad as audience as possible, whilst still remaining true to who I am and what I believe. This is not to tone down my words when talking about Jesus, but I don’t want to make anyone feel excluded or like an outsider. This survey was a great confirmation for me that people want me to talk more about my faith, and that my tribe believe many of the same things I do.

2. Speak into the pressure points. My demographic is in the same life stage as me, but many of them face different pressures than I do: family, church and from work. This gives me a great insight into what you are facing in life and the ability to write into that. I’m going to spend more time working out to wrestle with the pressure points in peoples lives.

3. Post consistently. This has been one of the most difficult things to do over the last couple of years. Mainly, because I have not carved out a designated time to write for myself, so it can be weeks or months before I post. I relied on passion to get the job done, but I want to be more consistent this year. One of the things I have done is to make a perfect week (get a free copy here: day three) and to commit to writing once a week.

4. The past matters. It’s easy to be embarrassed by my earlier writing, whether it be by grammar, topic or writing style. I know that I have improved a lot since I first started writing almost four years ago but I also know that there was some jewels amongst the thorns. One of the most consistent pieces of feedback was the ability to search for old posts that people enjoyed. I’m going to rectify this by making an archive of all my posts, first by topic and then by date so that you can search through posts. I’ve also re-added a search function on the right-hand side of the page.

5. Honesty is the biggest drawcard.  The greatest draw card is honesty and passion. The posts that have gone viral this year (this, and this and this) have all been indepth, raw and emotional posts that revealed something that most people wouldn’t know about me, my marriage or my life. People want more of that. Overwhelmingly, the most popular topic to focus on for next year was real stories from real people.

I’m thankful for everyone who took the survey.


The Bible Year

Have you read the bible? 

Bart Erhman, prominent atheist scholar, asks his Survey of the New Testament class at the University of North Caroline three questions every single year.

  1. How many of you believe that the bible is inspired by God?
  2. How many of you have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?
  3. How many of you have read the entire bible?

Almost everyone raises their hand to the first question. Again, most raise their hand for the second. No-one raises their hand for the last question. Ehrman goes on to say, ‘I understand why you have read the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown is a good author. There is something I do not understand though. You are telling me that you think God wrote a book and you have not read it yet“.

bible-reading

Guilty as charged. I have not read the entire bible. There are books that I go back to all the time, like Romans and Philippians, but there are huge chunks of the Old and New Testament that I have not even glanced at. I am willing to bet that a lot of Christians are like me. 

God doesn’t command Christians to read the bible everyday, instead he lists the benefits of doing so. He tells us that his word will be a light to our feet (Psalm 119), that knowing the truth will set us free (John 8), that it will help us fight temptation (Matt 4) and that in it, God has revealed everything about life and Godliness (2 Peter 1)

God wants us to have a spirit-filled, abundant life and reading his word is one of the primary means of grace.  Time and time again though, I find myself looking elsewhere for advice than God’s word. When I need advice, I read a book, article or listen to a podcast. I read what other people think God has said instead of letting him speak to me directly.

Bible Year: My Challenge This Year

I want to challenge myself this year (and anyone else who would like to join me) to put every book but the bible on the shelf, until you have read the bible all the way through. You can read straight from Genesis to Revelation, like I am going to do, or follow any series of reading plans (fellow blogger and pastor Dave Miers has a fantastic list here).

Throughout the year, I am going to post Facebook and Twitter updates of favorite verses & insights I have with the hashtag #bibleyear. If you want to join me in having a bible year and posting about it online, I think that would be great and a real encouragement to each other. It would be fantastic to build up each other with what we have read and learnt throughout the year. I’m excited to see what God will show us.

Rules of the Challenge

  1. Read every single book of both the Old & New Testament
  2. Do not read any other book, either physical or e-book, until you have finished.
  3. Tell people about what you are learning! #bibleyear
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every god work”.  (2 Timothy 3:16)

 

If you want to have a #bibleyear this year, comment below and tell us that you are in!

Why Your New Years Resolution Will Fail (and How You Can Change That)

Every single year, most people will fail in making their New Years resolutions into reality.

A recent survey of 1000+ Australians showed that 69% intend to make at least one resolution in the new year. These resolutions are based around things such as weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking, being more frugal with money, working towards a qualification and/or addressing problems that have been causing problems in relationships.

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Let’s be honest. We’ve all made resolutions that haven’t stuck. I’ve made countless commitments to lose weight, increase my fitness, save more money and do more interesting things in the new year. Heres the thing, I want to actually finish them. 

The shocking truth is that a quarter of all resolutions don’t make it past February. 60% are dead by June and by December, only one in 10 people will have made a change in their life. The average person will make the same resolution about ten times without succeeding.

What is the cause of all these broken dreams and failed resolutions?

Simply, most of us are not very good at making resolutions that are achievable. We make resolutions that require large investments, determination and hard work but can’t plan the steps in between. Then, we lose passion and give up. I think we can change that though.

When I was a young boy, I was once told that I wouldn’t finish high school, get a degree or have a family due to a chronic illness. Ten years on, I’m on my second degree and been married for a yearI have an aversion to being told that I can’t do something.

I started the Radical Change four years ago because I wasting my time doing something that was unimportant rather than chasing my dreams. I hated that, so I quit Facebook (the unimportant thing) and wrote up a list of everything I wanted to achieve. It took me four years, but slowly and surely, I knocked them off the list.

Whether your dream is long, short, hard or difficult, you can achieve it in 2015.

Earlier this month I developed a free 7-day email series aimed at helping you chase your dreams, crush your goals and achieve more in 2015. There has been a bunch of people sign-up so far and get a head-start on their resolutions but there is no reason for you not to join them.

Don’t live the same year 75 times over and call it a life.

Sign up RIGHT NOW and make 2015 the best ever. 





Santa vs. Jesus: Who Has The Better Christmas Story?

It won’t be long now.

Santa Claus has left the icy peaks of the North Pole in his reindeer powered sleigh, beginning his trek around the world to deliver joy to children of all ages across the globe. Tomorrow morning, the world will wake up and rejoice, presents will be unwrapped and everyone will eat and drink too much. Christmas is here.

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For a long time, Christmas has been my very favorite time of the year. Mum often recounts how I would wake up at 4:30 am, put socks onto my hands and feet and glide silently down the halls to check the bevy of presents Santa had left that year. I really, really, really loved Santa.

Over the last few years though, the excitement I feel around Christmas time has changed. I can only describe it like a young boy who loved football, who grew up and discovered that love was more fulfilling and true. It’s not that Santa has failed in his mission to bring joy to the world, it’s just that there is a far better story on offer than the one he tells.

Santa

I don’t want to be too harsh with the jolly red man. He brings happiness and joy to millions around the world and displays a generous spirit that more should follow. My main, and only, frustration is that he is a poor imitation of the real deal. 

I’m not opposed to many things, but one thing I am against is trading a better story in for a weaker one. When it comes down to it,  Santa has a weaker Christmas story than Jesus. 

Santa brings presents, but it’s dependent on our behavior. If our record throughout the year doesn’t stack up, Santa himself, the jolliest of jollies, will bring judgement against us and deliver us coal. As an energy-filled, vase-breaking blur of a child who constantly flirted with being more naughty than nice, this caused serious anxiety to me around Christmas time.

Santa turns up once a year, brings joy to the world over the course of a day and then heads back home to rest up his feet. No-one wants to hear about Santa in April. He’s a bit of a flash in the pan like that.

I like Santa a lot, but I believe that there is someone else with a better story to tell.

Jesus

So what does the holy man from Nazareth have to do with it?

I think he has a better story to tell. 

I’ll admit, the Jesus narrative seems like a bit of a tired tale, one that gets rolled out to appease those who want people to remember the reason for the season and all that jazz. Like I said, that doesn’t bother me. I want the better story.

Here is what I understand about Jesus and his story:

  • This world is intimately broken from the inside out.
  • Jesus came to fix the broken and restore things to the way they should be.

There’s a whole bunch of other stuff floating around, the book written about Jesus (the bible) is pretty big but when it comes down to it, that’s the main story. That story has changed everything about my life.

The fact that the world is broken is something I can get on board with.

At a very young age, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. You don’t have to convince me very hard that our bodies are broken.

Every single week I hang out with teenagers and I can see it in their eyes. They carry it with them through bitter relationships with their parents, anxiety, depression and working out who they are. You don’t need to convince them that the world isn’t as it should be.

Late last year, I got married and if anything, being married has shown me how broken I am and how I am no-where near as good as I thought I was. I fall short, often – ask my wife.

Jesus speaks into that brokenness in a way that Santa never can. He says, I see what you are facing and I am going to do something about it. I am going to set the world back in order. I am going to put you back together – slowly and carefully but completely. 

Jesus has a plan for this world to become restored. That’s why the story written about him calls him the light of the world (John 8:12). That story of brokenness becoming whole is the dominant story line in my life and it is all because of Jesus.

It’s something I will celebrate this year, and every year. When I was a little kid, the story about Santa was good, but to be honest, the story about Jesus is even better. 

Whats more?

It’s real.


Chase Your Dream: 7 Days to Crush Your Goals & Achieve More

Every single person I know has chased their dream and failed at some point.

After a heart attack, only 1 out of every 7 people will change their lifestyle. The average person makes the same New Years resolutions 10 times without ever achieving success. A quarter will abandon their resolutions after one month, whilst over 60% will still be hustling after six months. Only 10% will actually achieve their goal.

I want to help you change that.

Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc

Imagine, for a moment that you have been given a magic wand. This is no ordinary magic wand, this specific wand gives you the ability to change the things you do not like about yourself, waking up the very next day to a life exactly as you would like it to be. One drawback though, you could only change yourself – not anyone else.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about yourself?

The difference between making that dream a reality and remaining where you are is to harness the power of goal setting. Over the past month, I have been hustling hard to create a 7 day email series to help you chase your dreams and crush your goals. I want to see you achieve your goals in 2015. 

It’s called 7 Days To Achieve More Than You Ever Dreamed Possible.

There is nothing more common than someone who has a dream and never achieves it. All it requires from you is to be average and all that average requires from you is to not die. I want you to discover awesome and leave behind average.

You will need to destroy something though.

It is the word someday

Someday I will write a book.
Someday I will work on my marriage
Someday I will have a better relationship with my kids
Someday I will get in shape
Someday I will launch that business
Someday I will build that house
Someday I will be famous

Do you want to know the real and ugly truth of someday however? Someday does not exist. It is a figment of our imagination that we have conjured to protect ourself from the fact that what we really mean is that we will never accomplish that dream.

I will never write a book
I will never work on my marriage
I will never have a better relationship with my kids
I will never get in shape
I will never launch that business
I will never build that house
I will never be famous.

Don’t let someday be the final word in your dream.

Sign up here, chase your dreams and achieve more than you ever dreamed possible.


My 2014 Readers Survey

I want to make my blog better and more relevant to your needs and interests. To do that, I need to know more about YOU. As a result, I have created my 2014 Reader Survey.

I really want this blog to be about equipping you to live a life of unconditional love, courageous faith and radical change.  This survey will help me know who you are, what you’re feeling, and what you want to see. It will help me write content that will be relevant to you and what you are going through.

Please help me doing that by filling out this brief 10 question survey. It will take less than three minutes.

 

Would you please take a few minutes to fill out the survey? By doing so, you will ultimately be helping yourself because you will be helping me make my content even more interesting and relevant to you.

I would really appreciate it,
Jimmy Young


Finding Your Tribe: Punch Loneliness In The Face

There was once a man who had 10 good friendsThese men would do anything for him, even die. But this was not enough. He wanted more.

So he campaigned and lobbied and raised support so that he could become famous.

Soon, he had a hundred friends. Then, a thousand. Pretty soon the man was a rock star, with millions of adoring fans, following every move he made.

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At first, the attention was nice. But soon he found that there were expectations associated with his new-found status. People asked for favors and handouts, wanting special attention. They made demands he couldn’t meet.

He felt trapped, overwhelmed, and confused. Isn’t this what he wanted? Why was he so discontent?

Not knowing where to turn, the man went in search of his true fans.

He weeded through the crowds of countless admirers and “yes men,” looking for a few, dedicated followers. Finally, he found 10 people. They were his original true friends. Turns out that was all he ever needed.

Together, they went and changed the world.

The Paradox of Building A Tribe by Jeff Goins

Why are we so disconnected? 

We live in the most connected generation that has ever existed. Nothing is a surprise anymore. Everybody knows everything about everybody, but nobody knows anyone on an intimate level. It’s my conviction that this is both a result of, and a symptom of being connected but not in community.

There is roughly 1,184,000,000 active Facebook users across the world. Factor in the hundreds of millions of Twitter accounts, three billion+ hits per day on Youtube and countless other active users on LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Instagram Pinterest and Tumblr. This is the most connected generation that has ever existed. 

For all this connection, there is so little community happening. I have a multitude of friends across many different platforms, but when it comes down to it there are only a handful of people who know when I’m having a rough week. It’s one of the reasons I gave up social media for four years.

There is something missing from our current experience. For all the connection around us, it seems the biggest challenge facing people in the 21st century is how to conquer loneliness and isolation.

Anne Hathaway, freakin’ Catwoman has this to say: “Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me”.

In the most connected generation ever exist, we are crying out for community. Why?

Well, connection is shallow, skin deep and the truth is, you can connect with someone and yet be completely invisible to them. For most of us, we have confused connection with what we truly need, community. We have mistaken knowing about someone for knowing them as a person.

I don’t want a network of people who want to hear what I am doing, I want a tribe of people who want to do it with me.

I think we need to rediscover our tribes.

Who’s Your Tribe?

A tribe is historically, a social group existing before states and nations developed as we know them today. Many anthropologists used the term ‘tribal society’ to refer to societies organised largely on the basis of friendship and where you feel you belong.

Having a tribe is all about being around people who are like you, who you connect with, where you fit in and where you can express who you truly are. It’s where you grow and where you feel at home. The people whose feet find their way onto your couch and take food from your kitchen without asking, that’s your tribe.

The people who cruise the streets with you belting out the words whilst listening to your favorite tunes (T-Swift to Jose Gonzalez, no hate here), that’s your tribe. The people who hold you accountable to be a better person when you’re acting out of line, that’s your tribe. Your tribe has your back – they’re loyal and protective. If you have a tribe of six friends – that’s fantastic – and if you have a tribe of one real mate, that is all you need.

American journalist and writer Jane Howard is credited with the following quote: “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.””

If you feel tribe-less, don’t stress. Your tribe is out there, and you most likely already know them.  If you know your tribe, celebrate them. I think if we spent more time hanging out with our tribes, instead of connecting to people who don’t even know us for who we are, this generation would stop loneliness in its tracks.

Tribes matter. I think they’re the secret sauce to punching loneliness and isolation in the face. What do you think? 

Do you belong to a tribe?  What are you going to do to find your tribe? 


Our First Year of Marriage: What We Learnt (a lot)

It’s almost been a whole year since Sarah and myself got married. We thought it would be useful to reflect on what we’ve learnt in our first year of being husband and wife and share it with you, as there are so many friends of ours who have recently been or soon will be married.. There is so much more to learn, yet I feel like we’ve gained so much in such a short space of time.

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We had not lived together before we got married, so there was plenty of change for our relationship. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but for some reasons, this hasn’t been the case for us. This is not to say we haven’t had a tough year, but it has been less difficult than we anticipated, relationally. Amongst all the chaos that life brings, it is important to stop and reflect on the fact that we are not who we once were, nor are we who we will be in a year’s time.

We decided early on in our dating relationship that we wanted our friendship to be the most important thing. We did our best to create a solid foundation for our relationship, anchoring it in our faith in Jesus, with his mission in mind. Part of this mission, we have realised, is learning to love one another like he loved us. However, when you have two people who are, by default, concerned with their own wants and needs this can get tricky. When sin entered the world, it broke everything, including relationships between people. This is no different once you get married. If anything, once you get married, you get to see more fo the flaws in yourself and your partner because you spend so much time with them

We wanted to share what we’ve learnt over the last year.

Little things can really add up

Jimmy: “I’m constantly surprised by how much little things matter over a long period. I mean, everyone tells you that the little things matter but it’s not until you see it in action that you finally go, ‘Ohhh, that’s why everyone says that‘. Example, Sarah really, really appreciates it when I give her undivided attention as soon as she comes home, not 10 minutes after she comes home I’ll often be home up to an hour before Sarah because of where we work and start writing, or reading or (more likely) play FIFA or NBA2K to relax after work. Sometimes I wouldn’t jump up immediately and greet her but I quickly learned that was a recipe for her to feel unloved (duh). I’ve lived with mates before, and no-one got upset if I didn’t talk to them for hours,  but this was really important to Sarah.

Little things like giving her 5 minutes of undivided attention as soon as she comes home, trying to pick up my dishes within an hour of using them or unpacking the dishwasher are really easy to overlook during a relationship when the bigger things – the way you make each other laugh or how happy they make you feel – attract your attention. In the long run though, those little things make a huge difference to how you work as a couple. It’s the small acts of everyday kindness, respect and love that keeps a marriage running. Romantic gestures like flowers or a date night are great, but in the long run, the sexiest thing you can often do is to clean the toilet, vacuüm the floors and unpack the dishwasher”.

Marriage will make you more like Jesus

Sarah: Most people know that they think about themselves a lot. We all tend to focus on our desires and needs. I was aware of this before getting married, but it wasn’t until we got married that I discovered how much I thought of myself. Living with someone you’re committed to for life presents an opportunity to have fun, get to know each other more, stay up late together, sleep in together and cook meals together. However, it also presents the opportunity to consider the needs and desires of others before yourself.

This hit me like a rock. All of a sudden things went from “I love you so much!” to “Why the heck don’t you do things my way?” Every day presents an opportunity to put the other person before yourself, whether it’s the fact that they don’t value cleanliness as much as you, or that they aren’t too good at communicating how they’re feeling. Although we fail to love each other as Christ has loved us, perfectly and sacrificially, he gives us grace in our weaknesses and teaches us more about his unconditional love for us.

God has created marriage as a wonderful platform for us to learn how to love like he does. As two sinful, self-centred people come together in marriage, fixated on Christ and his perfection, the Holy Spirit works to make them more like Jesus. What is it about Jesus’ love that is shown in marriage? It was sacrificial, costing him everything. It was unconditional, with no strings attached. It’s undeserved, yet given to us. It was costly, yet he valued us enough. It was servant-hearted, though we were hard-hearted.

These are the things I see exemplified in marriage. God teaches us to sacrifice for each other. He teaches us to give unconditionally without expecting payment. He teaches us how to show grace when grudges could be held. He teaches us to lay down our lives for each other, putting the others’ needs before our own.

Just as I have experienced acceptance in Christ, and come to know more of God’s grace, God has used marriage powerfully to show this all the more. When your husband or wife doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, it is an incredible opportunity to show the grace of Jesus. Through this, we understand more of the gospel.

In Sickness & Health

Jimmy: I’ve always been more susceptible to illness than the average person, but this year has been a really difficult year in terms of health for me. The very first week back from our honeymoon, I came down with a virus so strong that it left me bed-ridden and devoid of all energy. The year hasn’t gotten all that much better since then. As of late, I was diagnosed with Chronic Gastritis that was undiagnosed for  seven months. This has really affected my ability to give all of myself in the first year of marriage to Sarah, as there have been lots of time where I’ve been lethargic, uncommunicative and mentally absent due to lack of energy and pain.

I can tell that this has really frustrated Sarah at times, as she often gets the worst of me rather than the best. Often, she gets the 10% I have left after getting through the day, rather than the 100% I was able to give her before. At the same time, she has never been more loving, gentle or kind with me. I remember early on, I was taking a shower and was violently sick to the point of dry reaching all over the shower. Sarah wrapped me up in a towel, escorted me to bed, tucked me in, cleaned up the shower and took care of me for the rest of the day. I had nothing to give her, naked and covered in my vomit but she loved me anyway. That’s what love looks like for me. It’s messy and complicated and you won’t ever see it in the movies, but that’s what makes relationships work. Sometimes, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and love each other in sickness.

Boys aren’t the only ones who want to have sex

Sarah: This is something else that I didn’t expect, mostly because of everything those pre-marriage books told me. I had anticipated that the guy would be the one to initiate sex, but I’ve realised that it’s ok that that’s not always the case. Girls like having sex too. This is something the books don’t always tell you. What’s more, girls think about sex too! I don’t know how many books it took to misguide me to think that it was only guys who thought about sex or wanted it most of the time, but there were at least a few. I’ve also learnt that this isn’t something to be ashamed about. God created sex as a gift to us to be mutually enjoyed, not as a chore or a ‘duty’ to fulfill just because you ‘should.’

Jimmy: I think this ties into the sickness and health bit as well, a lot of the time this year I’ve just had to say no because I had nothing left to give. Sometimes things come up in relationships, whether it’s mental, physical or spiritual exhaustion and you have to take a break. Make sure you talk about it, don’t just cut off.  Otherwise you can make the other person feel unloved or rejected. Communicate about how you’re feeling, let them know it’s not about them and make plan to rekindle things with a special night when you’re feeling better.  Sex isn’t what makes a marriage work, but it is really, really good.

Celebrate your differences

Sarah: Before we got married I was a bit concerned as to how we would go living together knowing that I’m a bit of a clean freak and, well, Jimmy doesn’t value cleanliness as much as me. I also recognised that I hate being late. Jimmy doesn’t mind too much if we’re running behind schedule. It’s easy to think that these differences are the end of the world: “Why can’t you just be more like me?” Over the past 12 months I’ve realised that these differences are actually helpful. If he wasn’t so fussed about being late, I would continue to hold idols about what people think of me. If I wasn’t so clean, we’d be living in a mess. If he wasn’t so adventurous, I’d never take any risks. If I weren’t so organised, we wouldn’t get as much done as we do each week. Our differences become strengths when we start to see them as helpful, not hindering

Over communicate everything 

Jimmy: Sarah and I have a wierdly inverse relationship with communication. The happier I am, the less I want to talk. The more frustrated I am, the more I want to talk. The happier Sarah is, the more she wants to talk. The more frustrated she is, the less she wants to talk. This had led to several ridiculous conversations.

Sarah: How was work? How was your day? What did you do? How are you feeling?
Jimmy: It was alright
Sarah: and ..
Jimmy: I feel a bit tired?

20 minutes later.

Jimmy: What’s wrong? You’re not talking anymore. What are you thinking? Let me in!
Sarah: It’s nothing, I’m fine.
 

That is a typical argument that we will have. What I have learnt over the last year is that it’s far easier to over communicate early than it is to try and get back time wasted due to undercommunication. This comes in many forms, not just in conversation. It means sitting down once a week and having a ‘sync meeting’ to make sure we know what everyone s doing during the week, so I don’t try and double or triple book nights. It means letting the other person know how you are feeling during the day so that they know what to expect when they come home. It means letting the other person in when you are upset at them, and choosing to be active rather than passive.

When you are married, there is no where to hide. There is nothing that you can say to your partner that would be a surprise to them. Often, I’ve come to Sarah and said something like ‘I’m struggling to be organised, or clean or for motivation’. Not once has she ever said, ‘Are you kidding me? That is a HUGE surprise to me, I never would have realised‘. Your partner knows what is going on. They know what the silences mean, they know what your body language means, they see most of what you do and are just waiting for you to give the green light to help them out.

My partner will never be Jesus

Sarah: There are so many things to love and admire about my husband. However, I am also aware that he has flaws and fails me often. For this reason, I cannot count on him to be my Saviour or my ‘everything’. Jesus is my Saviour and my everything. Sometimes I look up to my husband and admire him so much that I need to be careful I’m not putting him in Jesus’ rightful place. Thankfully, God reveals areas that he fails, but Jesus succeeds.

We have so much more to learn, but taking the time to stop allows us to reflect on God’s goodness, faithfulness and grace to us in making us more like Jesus through marriage. Perhaps you’re married and haven’t given thought to what God has taught you over the years.

What did you learn in the first years of your marriage? What would be your top tips for people starting their married life?