Survive Versus Thrive In Your Marriage

His Presence Changes Everything

Imagine you and your spouse have been in strife for a really long time. You’ve been working really hard at your marriage but try as you might, both of you can’t make it work. The relationship temperature has been rising and you both realize that perhaps you need a little time off. Perhaps some time at Mom’s house is just the right amount of space you need to think clearly.

Then, you just happened to be scrolling through Facebook and you notice that your spouse just turned their status from married to “it's complicated”. Oooofff.

Perhaps you are at a later stage in your marriage stand. Imagine that you have been separated for months, maybe years. You’ve been faithfully praying for the restoration of your marriage. Because officially the two of you are still married according to the local (earthly) courts, you have a joint saving account that the two of you were contributing to for your kid’s tuition.

One day, you look at your account statement and see that all of the money was transferred to an account number you have never seen before. In a panic, you call the bank and that new account number is with another bank and has your spouse’s name on it.

From 0 to 10 In Milliseconds

We’ve all faced a similar moment some time in our marriage. You are in a calm and restful state and in an instant, you are in full-blown fight or flight mode. Physiologically, your heart races. Your breath quickens and shallows. Your face, chest, and ears become flush red. Some will even hear a ringing tone in their ear while others share that sound begins to muffle.

You are in a Survive Cycle. Survive mode activates a threat-seeking radar system. It literally releases chemicals in your brain which causes it to become laser-focused. Your brain releases hormones to activate your muscles and constrict blood flow to non-essential areas such as digestion and reason-based thinking. In those situations, all logical reasoning stops.

Energy spikes during survival cycles because you are in fight or flight mode. Eventually, the energy burns out and your body crashes. Did you ever notice that during survival mode you are not hungry? Funny how people bring you casseroles during a crisis because they intuitively know that food is the last thing you’re thinking about.

What is going on spiritually is that fear and anxiety are ruling over your body and soul. The moment we heard the bad news, we jumped to a conclusion. I am not safe. I am not secure. I am going to be ruined. And at that moment, we opened a door. A door to the enemy. You have to remember, fear and anxiety are not of God. They are in fact, sacred pillars of the enemy. When we get thrown into a fear and anxiety-driven cycle and the enemy has their way with our minds.

The Brain Is Hard-wired

Since the days that Adam & Even walked in the garden and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, our brains have been hard-wired to recognize and react to threats.

'Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” ' Genesis 3:8-10

You have to remember that Adam and Eve were living in perfect conditions. There were no threats until they ate from the tree. Nothing could harm them. So much so, they didn’t even have a need to wear clothes. They knew nothing of fear or anxiety. It didn’t even exist. Until the fall.

Since that day, fear and anxiety came into the earth. And fear is a common fiery dart of the enemy used to steer you away from the presence of the Lord. It is specifically designed to make you hide from your heavenly Father. As you take your eyes off your Father, the enemy can get you to look into his world where he has dominion and authority.

You Are Not The Only One

Let me tell you about a Holy man of God. The Prophet Elijah. You may know this story from 1 Kings 18:20-40. I encourage you to look this up. It is one of the most dramatic showdowns when Elijah, one of the most powerful prophets, called down the fire of the Lord and proved to the evil prophets of Baal that the invisible God of Abraham was the one and only God. Immediately after this scene, Elijah was able to wipe out the Prophets of Baal.

Between you and me, I have to believe that at that moment, Elijah was feeling like he was on top of the world. If it were me, I probably would be walking around with my chin up, chest out, and making it clear that the God of Abraham chose me to be His prophet so look out!

Then this happened.

'Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord ,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. ' 1 Kings 19:1-8

In what seemed like just hours after a decisive victory over prophets of a false god, our hero of the faith Elijah was running for his life! He was so struck by fear that Jezebel would catch him that he laid down in a bush in the wilderness and prayed that he would die!

But that is not our God. God asked Elijah a very important question in 1 Kings 19:9. God asked Elijah “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Remember that question. It is very important. Keep reading.

The Secret Bonus Check

My wife Deana and I were separated and living in two homes. I didn’t know it was the Lord at that time but an unexplainable conviction was on my heart to not leave Deana financially destitute as we prepared for divorce. Trust me, I didn’t like Deana at the time but I knew I couldn’t cause her (and by extension the children) harm by forcing her to sell the house and move. Long story short, I gave her about 65% of my income. As a result, I was not able to make my own ends meet. I was burning cash at a fast rate.

I was working for a London, UK-based software company at the time and I had a generous pay plan that offered sizeable bonus checks based on performance. That year, I was to be paid out a large bonus that represented material income for us. During the season I was separated. I was not within God’s will for my life. As such, the enemy made sure that my car engine blew up, my bills exceeded my remaining income by over $2K per month, and I was paying the private school tuition.

When that bonus check came through, I (in my flesh) felt that I was overly generous to Deana and I didn’t need to tell her about the bonus check. I know. Bad call.

But here is when I went from 0 to 10 in milliseconds. We shared bank accounts still since we were separated. Despite transferring the money out to another account, it was direct deposited. I’m sure Deana saw that one day we had our normal sub $100 in our joint checking account and then suddenly it went to much more and then minutes later it went back down again. While I was in sin, I felt like I was invisible. Turns out, I wasn’t.

I was in the UK at the time and Deana’s response was nuclear. She basically told me that she was going to call my boss if I didn’t immediately transfer the portion we had agreed to during separation. She would expose me and if that got me fired, oh well. I have 2 hours.
Panic. The Lord spoke to me. “What are you doing Koji?”

Survive Mode Triggers In The Absence of God

Let’s go back to the garden or back to the mountain where Elijah was hiding or even in my personal story. God had to speak and ask “Where are you?” or “What are you doing here, Elijah? or “Koji what are you doing?”

It's not like God doesn’t know where we are or what we are doing. We are talking about the Alpha and the Omega. He knows everything before we do. But why does He ask us these questions? Because they are prompts. Prompts for us to choose Him. Prompts to allow us to be face to face with Him during the moments of our biggest needs! He is sovereign so the choice to seek Him first is placed in our hands.

Survive mode can literally shut down our ability to hear from the Lord. Because we are making an agreement with fear & anxiety at that moment, we are shrouded in darkness unable to see and hear from the Lord. It's not that He is not there, we are just making an unintentional choice to make an agreement with the accuser who is telling us we are not safe and that we will be ruined for the rest of our lives.

Look. It is understandable but you must seek God’s refuge in order to hear from God in your moment of crisis! I implore you, do not dwell in the place of fear and anxiety.

'We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ' 2 Corinthians 10:5

Thrive Cycle

Different than the Survive Cycle, thrive mode activates the opportunity-seeking radar system. It too releases chemicals in your brain. These chemicals broaden perspective, increase energy, and raises excitement. Thrive cycles often carry the attributes of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Sound familiar?

'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. ' Galatians 5:22-23

When is the last time you were in thrive mode? After speaking with thousands of people praying for their marriage to be healed, only a small percentage would say they are in a thriving cycle. What is happening during thrive cycles is that presence of God is operative and our hearts fill with the love of the Father.

Remember the words of Jesus; 'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.' John 10:10

Thriving In God Doesn’t Match The World’s Definition

After Deana & my restoration, we were together but not yet healed. The UK-based company that I was working for sold the company to a French organization. I was immediately let go and I took another job with a different Silicone Valley software company that I felt had ethical issues and I refused to “play ball”. After making it clear I was going to maintain my ethical boundaries, I was let go from that job and became unemployed for 6 months.

Yet I thrived.

God had me right where He needed me. I was all too good at getting busy on the next job, traveling all over the world, and avoiding the healing I desperately needed. He needed to “forcibly” eliminate any distractions so that I could hear from him and learn more about Him.
During that season, I was reading the Bible for over 6 hours per day. When I wasn’t in the Word, I was soaking in the Word. I had to feel the feelings of all that had happened. Strife, separation, near divorce, two separate houses, family members that took sides, loss of friends, all of it.
I cried a lot during those 6 months but I wouldn’t change a thing. Financially, we were in ruin.

“They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Psalm 92 13-15 ESV

Peace, Joy & Patience (Forbearance) In The Midst of the Storm

Deana & I were broke. We couldn’t afford health insurance. Back then, President Obama made it illegal to not have insurance. The people that couldn’t afford health insurance got the privilege to pay a fine for not having it. Not the ideal solution for people like us with no money.

Yet, the Lord was working in us. The Lord began using us in ministry. We were Covenant Keepers group leaders and regional directors for the Midwest. We were running a group that bared fruit with multiple restorations. We had the fastest-growing group in Covenant Keepers at the time. We were also Coordinators and Facilitators with Craig Hill from Family Foundations. We ministered to many people and watched as the Lord provided inner healing to many and transformed lives before our eyes.

To outsiders, we looked like unemployed, born-again Christian zealots gone crazy. We ate rice and beans and shopped at thrift stores because that is all we could afford. We tithed at the same dollar value as when I was a high-paid software executive. To the outside world, the Bells had lost their minds!

But that is not how the Father saw us. No sir.

What The Father Saw

What the father saw was two very broken people so desperate for God to move in our lives that if you walked in our house, you might just see both of us face down (in a prone position) in prayer. What our Abba Father saw in me was a broken, desperate, and hungry soul begging for the Lord to lead him. I needed a Father. I needed to know a Father’s love. I asked him for everything. Our next meal, provision to pay a medical bill, how to relate to my wife, everything.
He used my absolute surrender to bring me to a place of abiding love in Him.

'Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.' John 15:4

Thriving Becomes A Choice

You can’t necessarily control what will happen to you. The enemy prowls looking for someone to devour. But he is a liar. The enemy wants you trapped in survival mode where he can keep you full of fear and anxiety. But your Father in Heaven wants to carry your burdens.

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””

If you read this article or watch my sermon, I have to believe that you might feel like you are in survival mode. You are probably staring at the mess that was left behind when your spouse walked out. You may be working multiple jobs to make ends meet, beating yourself up because you aren’t able to spend time with the family. And you are exhausted.

It probably feels like every time you catch up, something happens and you are knocked back on the ground and into despair. Some days, it feels like a miracle to get out of bed.

But here is the truth. You are a son or a daughter of God most high. You are a man or you are a woman. Perfectly equipped for this moment. What you need to get through this survival moment is already in you. You are valuable and you are a blessing!

You are also a husband or a wife. It doesn’t matter what others say. You are a part of the body of Christ. Jesus has watched you in this struggle. Every tear you shed is stored. He says to you;
 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” You are called to thrive even in this difficult season. God wants to spend time with you. He pursues you because He loves you. He wants to carry your burdens so that you will have peace.
Koji Bell is a Co-Director of Covenant Keepers, Inc. together with his wife Deana. Koji started his married life like many others. He focused on climbing the corporate ladder, tried to achieve financial success, served on leadership teams at church and worked to be the best husband and father he could be. After being hit by a drunk driver, life spun out of control and his marriage went in crisis. Then he chose to surrender his life to Jesus and everything changed. Today, Koji walks in victory humbled by his call to ministry and this new season of abundant blessing and service. Koji is a licensed Pastor and is a graduate of Dove | Hopewell School of Ministry.
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