“While nobody plans to mess up his life, the problem is that few of us plan not to.”

So says Andy Stanley early in his book Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions. And today we’re going to talk about it and help YOU not mess up your life!

Book Review of Ask It by Andy Stanley

It’s our March edition of the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge! You just have to read one book a month–and every month is a different topic! And then I’ll give you a couple of choices (in case you’ve already read one book or in case not all books apply to you).

This is one of those months where not all books will apply. We’re talking about setting boundaries–how to make sure that you’re taking responsibility for the things that you are responsible for, but also ensuring you don’t overfunction and prevent other people from doing what they should do, and to ensure that you don’t enable sin.

I had four book suggestions, three of which were for women who really felt like they were doing too much in their marriage: Boundaries in Marriage, The Emotionally Healthy Woman, and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (listed in order of severity of marriage problems). I’ll be looking at The Emotionally Destructive Marriage next week.

But what if you don’t have these kinds of issues in your marriage? Then I suggested the book Ask It, which is an amazing little book, and gives us help so that we don’t wind up with these sorts of problems in our marriage later (or in other relationships!). It’s just great wisdom for life, and I’d like to talk about it today.

Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make DecisionsThe “One” Question

Stanley starts his book by showing us rather convincingly that we don’t think ahead. We get into these messes that anyone could have seen were going to be messes, and then we feel trapped.

We spend too much money. Our marriage falls apart. Our kids struggle. And why is that?

It’s because we don’t focus on the right question.

Usually, when we’re trying to make decisions, we ask, “Is there anything wrong with this?” That’s how we get into messes. We can’t find a definite “no”, and so we justify doing really stupid things.

You don’t sit around looking for reasons to do the right thing; it’s the bad decisions that require creative reasoning.

The better question is this one:

What is the wise thing for me to do?

And he goes on to show that the question needs to be expanded, to this:

In light of my past experiences (including my specific temptations and shortcomings), in light of my current circumstances, and in light of my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do right now?

Seriously, people. Do we know how revolutionary that is? Take just the issue of dating, for example. Many women end  up with total losers. They date people who don’t treat them well, and then maybe they end up marrying them. We all know women like that (maybe you even are one!) We all have sisters or friends who are in the midst of destructive relationships, and we so want them to get out.

And then they do–and six months later they’re with a carbon copy guy, moaning to us how there aren’t any good guys in the world.

But, as Stanley says,

“Why does every relationship end the same way?” In most cases the answer is, “Because every relationship started the same way.”

You meet the guy in a bar, or at a party where everyone’s drunk,  or through a friend who has substance abuse issues, and suddenly you wonder why you end up with losers. We have to stop doing what feels natural and start asking ourself, “is this wise”?

Neglecting Something Important Has Lasting Consequences

After setting up the importance of “the question”, Stanley then takes a look at our everyday lives. Are we actually doing wise things on a day-to-day basis? And he shows how often we’re not. When we fail to plan and fail to be wise, we end up neglecting the important things. And neglect has lasting consequences.

The health of your marriage tomorrow will be determined by the decisions you make today…There are rarely immediate consequences for neglecting single instalments of time in any arena of life.

That is so true, and to bring this back to the subject of this blog, I see this so much in the area of sex. When sex falls to the wayside, when we women diminish its importance and refuse sex consistently, or else just go through the motions without really throwing ourselves into it, we drive our husbands away.

We know that sex is important to a relationship, but in the day to day, when we’re tired, we often neglect it. Let me give you several of Stanley’s thoughts on this:

But in the areas that matter most, a burst of energy and activity cannot reverse the consequences that accompany a season of neglect…Relationships are built on small, consistent deposits of time. You can’t cram for what’s most important. If you want to connect with your kids, you’ve got to be available consistently, not randomly…If you are not walking wisely, your time will be fragmented by a thousand urgent, disconnected opportunities and events. Such opportunities and events will seem important at the time, but when strung together they have no cumulative value.

“Falling” Into Sin with Emotional Affairs

One area I really appreciated about this book was the chapters he spent on sexual sin, and especially how we “fall into” affairs. He tells an all-too-convincing story about how two people who work together end up in an affair not because they planned to, but because they failed to plan NOT to.

Let me give you just a few of Stanley’s words of wisdom:

Do you know why people are prone to make such foolish moral decisions? Because something always whispers to us that our situations are unique: Nobody has ever felt this way before.

But there is nothing unique about your circumstances, your emotions, your desires, and your passions. And as long as you deceive yourself into thinking that you are the first to feel what you are feeling, you will chase those feelings to the neglect of wisdom.

In terms of marriage, this book is worth the price just for the diagnosis of emotional and physical affairs, and for the advice on how to be wise and protect yourself.

The problem with an affair is that at each step, people start justifying their behaviour. “There’s nothing really wrong with texting a co-worker outside of work hours.” “There’s nothing wrong with grabbing dinner with him while on a business trip. We have to eat, after all.” “There’s nothing wrong with stopping by her house to drop off these papers.” And that’s how we do it–we ask ourselves, “is this really wrong?” But if we asked ourselves, “Is this really wise?”, we’d likely have a different response.

Quote from Andy Stanley's book Ask It

None of us plan–or intend–to get into trouble. The problem is, we don’t plan not to. (click to tweet!)

What is Beneficial?

I love that Andy Stanley brought up  1 Corinthians 10:23, because I use it all the time in my Girl Talk when I talk to churches about sex:

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.

That’s such a great verse. It’s not about whether or not something is WRONG (everything is permissible, after all). It’s about whether or not it’s beneficial. Now, in the context, Paul isn’t saying that there’s no such thing as sin. What he is talking about is all of those grey areas that aren’t necessarily sin, but that we still struggle with. It’s not a sin, but is it wise?

I’ve used this verse specifically with sex toys. I’m not saying using a feather on your spouse or even making them lie still while you tease them is wrong–far from it! But there are some toys which basically recreate body parts and give you parallel sexual experiences, rather than enjoying stuff together. And the more that we focus on these physical elements, the less we’re likely to feel that sex is intimate. And who tends to reach orgasm the most in marriage? Those who feel the most intimate! Intimacy and trust are the best aphrodisiacs, and you can’t buy them at a sex shop.

I have more on that in several other posts, but I think when we’re trying to decide our boundaries in the bedroom, that’s a great question to ask!

Finding Mentors for Your Life–and Your Marriage!

Finally, Andy Stanley ends with a plea that we start learning to ask for help.

Wise people know when they don’t know, and they’re not afraid to go to those who do know. When wise people bump up against their limitations, they stop and ask for help.

I have repeatedly said on this blog that every couple should have a mentor couple–someone you can go to in times of crisis to ask for perspective and prayer, or someone you can bounce things off of if you just hit a wall and you can’t seem to agree. People who know you in real life and who care about you and who are godly themselves are the greatest resources we have.

Yet often we don’t turn to mentors. Why?

One of the primary reasons we don’t seek counsel from the wise people around us is that we already know what we are going to hear–and we just don’t want to hear it.

I see that often on this blog. I’ll write a long blog post explaining what you should do in a certain tough situation, and then people will comment with their terribly sad stories, saying, “I desperately need advice! Tell me what to do!” But I just finished telling you. The problem is that my solution often entailed them changing, or them doing something difficult. People don’t want to hear that. They want a magic solution–and most likely there isn’t one. Most major change only happens when we work through it.

Who Should Read Ask It?

Everyone! Seriously. It’s a great book for the Christian walk. I think couples could read it together at night (it’s such an easy read with lots of stories in it). It would give you something to talk about as you try to make decisions. But if youth groups read it with their teenagers, or college & careers groups read it together, that would be wonderful, too. Imagine if we could equip our young people to ask the right questions from the outset:

In light of my past experiences (including my specific temptations and shortcomings), in light of my current circumstances, and in light of my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do right now?

I really encourage you all to read it! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and like Stanley says–I do think it will revolutionize how you make decisions.

If you read it, tell me: what was your favourite part? Did he help you see something in a new way? And tune in next week for our look at The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Covenant Eyes 720 Not Enough - Ask It! Our March Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge

I’ll be sending out my “Round Up” Newsletter later today. I send it out maybe 3 times a year with more personal updates from my family, photos you won’t have seen on the blog or Facebook, and announcements of what I’m writing, where I’m speaking, and what I’m thinking about these days. If you aren’t signed up, you can do so here!

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