Or maybe I should say it this way: God will not honor the time you spent with Him if it’s time you took away from your spouse.
I feel this tension fairly often, usually in the mornings. It’s when I wake up a little bit earlier than usual and think, Man, I should go spend some time in prayer / the word / worship / etc… and then Abigail stirs a little. I hear the sound of her skin on the sheets and then she snuggles in close to my neck. I try to pull away but she pulls me back closer. She’s still full of sleep, so she can usually muster only a few simple words.
“No… stay,” she says.
This might sound odd to you, but it’s one of the ways we spend time together—in the quiet hour before our morning starts, we rest, all tangled up in half-sleep. Our top love language is physical touch, and her second love language is quality time, so I guess it makes sense.
That’s just one example of what I’m talking about, but I’m sure you might feel something similar in your life from time to time. I think it’s especially common in more driven people, those of us who often pursue God as a mere goal to be achieved as opposed to a person to be known and loved. If we can’t check that imaginary (but sometimes literal, written in our planner) box that says “devotions,” we feel like spiritual failures.
But I would to like to posit that God has honored the time I’ve spent with Abigail, time I could have spent on one of the spiritual disciplines.
First, the Bible is very clear that God is more interested in our works of love that honor Him as opposed to our sacrifices meant to honor him. Here’s a couple examples:
I Samuel 15:22
“Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.'”
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
There’s a couple more in there. Isaiah 66:2-3 and the entirety of Isaiah 58 talk about people who come to God with sacrifices while not actually living in step with God’s character, and the message is pretty clear: God hates that. It’s especially vivid in Revelation 2, where Jesus himself commends the church in Ephesus for all of their hard work and vigilance in spreading and protecting the gospel but then scolds them saying, “But…you have left your first love.” The Ephesians were caught up in all the sacrifices they were making for the gospel, but they’d left behind the desire to reflect God’s character by loving Him and loving other people.
All of that leads me to my second point, that my love for my spouse is a direct reflection of my love for God.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I’m very clearly instructed, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” Peter picks up a similar theme later on, saying,
“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. (I Peter 5:7)
Did you catch that? Peter even went so far to say that if I don’t treat my wife with kindness and respect, God won’t listen to my prayers at all.
The bit of scripture that cuts me the most is in Matthew 15, when Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Pharisees:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
If you didn’t catch what happened there, people were taking advantage of the tradition of the Pharisees by devoting things to the temple that should have been given to help other people. Jesus was saying that loving other people by helping them was the better way of devoting things to God.
In the same way, I could shun my wife’s need for quality time and make it sound holy because I’m spending time with the Lord. But it seems pretty clear that’s not what He wants.
Somehow, through the mystery of Christ, my acts of love for my wife become worship to the Lord.
Now, that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the discipline of Bible study and meditation, of prayer and worship. It means I put it in its proper place. My longer periods of study and meditation come when I can get them (or at work, because I’m a pastor and I can do that). It means that during the week I work to pray without ceasing, and I try to fit Bible study into the margins of my day when I’m not loving on my wife and my kids by doing chores and spending time with them.
Love for God is expressed in both solitude and community, especially the communion of marriage. It’s the way He made us to work, and it’s better to lean into that than resist it.