Find a need and meet it

Continue on with us in our devotional challenge!

He got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with a towel he had around him. John 13:4–5

You're in the middle of your 5:00 AM shower and it hits you. You forgot to tiptoe past your sleeping wife into the kitchen and put on the coffee maker. Now you won't have time for a needed coffee jolt before you leave for work at 5:30. But when you step out of the shower, there on the bathroom sink is a steaming mug waiting for you. You smile. She didn't have to get up to do it – but she did.

Your husband took the kids to school on his way to work as usual, even after clearing the driveway of three inches of snow. Now the school has called to say your second grader has a fever and needs to be picked up. You bundle up and head out to your car, which was parked outside all night, with an ice scraper in hand. Not only was the driveway clear, but your man has scraped off your windows so you are ready to go. What a guy!

It happens the first Saturday in April every year. Your spouse burrows into the job of preparing the tax return – a job that would scramble your non-numeric brain. It's an all-day ordeal, often lasting well into the night. You feel guilty every year that you can't help more, but your spouse assures you that it's no problem. Instead, the next morning you always find a beautiful card with a handwritten note saying something like, "As I think about last year, I am so grateful that you love me and that we share our life together. I love you."

He knows you hate to pump gas, so he always keeps your tank full. He never mentions it, never complains about it, never criticizes you, and never forgets – even if he has to duck out late at night to make sure your tank is full for the next day. He has missed only once in the last six years – when he was down with mono. And even then he apologized for not being there to get gas for you!

Isn't this the kind of marriage you signed on for? Of course it is. Every one of us – whether consciously or subconsciously – came into marriage hoping for and perhaps expecting a spouse who understands our needs and spends his or her life meeting them. Major needs and minor needs. Physical needs, emotional needs, social needs, spiritual needs. Your particular gender needs as a man or a woman. Your unique personality needs. You yearned for someone to notice them, care about them, and work to fulfill them.

Has that hope been realized? Is your life one happy little vignette after another, just like the stories above? Are you the object of your spouse’s attention and affection to the point that he or she constantly meets your needs?

Let's turn the tables for a moment. Have your spouse’s wishes and dreams for a loving, serving spouse been realized? Are you the hero of an endless string of happy-ending stories in your marriage relationship because you're so good at meeting your spouse's needs?

Truth be told, no one's dreams for a totally selfless, need-meeting spouse has been completely realized because no one has a perfect spouse. But does that mean that such a serving love does not exist? Not at all. It does exist, and it is available to every husband and wife. It is the same kind of love Jesus demonstrated on the night before his crucifixion, the night he washed the feet of his disciples. You and your spouse may not be able to demonstrate serving love as perfectly and consistently as Jesus did, but thanks to the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit you can consistently grow in the way you meet each other's needs.

Let's take a closer look at Jesus' example of serving love. It may help you and your spouse to understand the dynamics of serving love in your marriage.

Do you think the Savior might have had other things on his mind that night in the upper room? Of course he did, very serious things. He knew that the final hours of his earthly life were ticking away, that a brutal death awaited him. And yet, with the weight of the world's sin mounting on his shoulders in the agony of impending betrayal, arrest, rejection, and physical torture filling his thoughts, he turned his attention and compassion to his band of disciples and their dirty feet.

Two observations here. First, whenever your spouse forgets to make your coffee or doesn't fill the gas tank or otherwise fails to meet your needs, don't be too hard on him or her. This is not Jesus you're married to; this is a loving but sometimes forgetful, sometimes distracted, sometimes stressed out human being. Be patient and forgiving.

Second, don't use your own busyness and stress as excuses for not serving your spouse selflessly. You're not Jesus either, but in his strength you can look beyond your own needs to meet his or hers.

Who really deserved to be served that night in the upper room? Certainly not the disciples. Jesus was their leader, their master – and they all knew it. If anybody should have been afforded the cultural courtesy of foot-washing, a task reserved for the lowest servants, it should have been Jesus. But that wasn't important to the One who took the basin of water and a towel to model what he had earlier taught: "The greatest among you must be a servant" (Matthew 23:11).

And to make sure his disciples didn't miss the point, when Jesus finished, he said, "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things – now do them! That is the path of blessing" (John 13:13–17).

Let's be honest about this: your spouse doesn't always deserve the serving love Christ calls you to share. Agreed? Alright, now let's be brutally honest: Neither do you. Serving one another by noticing and meeting needs, great and small, is a ministry of grace. Jesus did not consider washing the feet of a bunch of self-centered disciples (they spent part of the dinner hour arguing who was the greatest) to be beneath him. Neither should you withhold loving, need-meeting service from your spouse, even when he or she doesn't notice, doesn't thank you, doesn't reciprocate, or doesn't deserve it. Rather, according to Jesus, living out serving love at home is "the path of blessing." 

Reflect Together

What are some of the ways your spouse has demonstrated serving love toward you this week? Think about the big things, such as working at a job, staying home with the children, or taking care of the house or yard. Think about the little things, such as doing one of your daily chores, running an errand for you, or refilling your coffee mug. What are some of the ways you have demonstrated serving love toward your spouse this week in these two categories?

Pray Together

Loving Savior, I am humbled by the example of serving love you provided for me in the upper room during the last supper. You alone are worthy to be served, and yet you were the servant. Your disciples didn't fully understand and/or appreciate what you were doing, but you did it anyway. I need your Spirit of serving love in me this week. Keep me focused on serving instead of being served, especially when I feel that my needs are being ignored. And fill me with your Spirit to love my spouse through these practical means of service. Amen.

Renew Your Love

Become a student of your spouse this week. Watch him or her closely through the eyes of Jesus, the serving Savior. Take note of his or her needs in the following categories, and consider some ways you can serve your spouse this week by meeting those needs:

  • Physical needs
  • Emotional needs
  • Social/relational needs
  • Spiritual needs
  • His or her needs as a man or woman
  • Unique personality needs