Priorities That Build Strong Marriages, Part 2
By Dr. Chuck F. Betters
People of faith often forget that the first place to serve our God is in their marriages and homes. And when we forget that important principle, we endanger the godly legacy that it is our privilege to help build. If we are going to leave a godly legacy for the next generation we must divorce-proof our home and our legacy. Last week I challenged us, myself included, to review our own marriages in light of the call of Matthew 6:33 to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Sharon and I are grateful that neither set of our parents used the word “divorce” in their own marriages, even when live threw some pretty hard balls at them.
Following are some principles that Sharon and I have tried to apply to our own marriage. Sometimes, we are not successful, because we are flawed and sinners. But when we are struggling, reviewing these marriage building blocks get us back on track.
Ten Ways to Help Divorce-Proof Your Marriage
1. Develop a Christocentric Worldview, in particular God's view of marriage.
Consider this challenge to live out God's call to reflect His relationship to the church in our marriages: They say a wife and husband, Bit by bit, Can rear between themselves a mighty wall,
So thick they cannot speak with ease through it, Nor can they see across it, it stands so tall.
Its nearness frightens them, but each alone is powerless to tear its bulk away; And each dejected wishes he had known for such a wall, some magic thing to say. So let us build with master art, my dear, A bridge of love between your life and mine,
A bridge of tenderness, and very near, A bridge of understanding, strong and fine, Till we have formed so many lovely ties, There never will be room for walls to rise. (Author unknown)
Joseph H. Choate was a thorough gentleman as well as a distinguished lawyer in this country some years back. He had a quick wit which made him good copy for journalists. Someone once asked him, "Mr. Choate, if you were not yourself, who would you most like to be?" Without a second's hesitation Choate replied, "Mrs. Choate's second husband." Bits & Pieces, May 27, 1993, p. 23.
2. Marry the right person. Consider the price John Wesley and his wife paid for entering marriage without good counsel:
While crossing a bridge in London, John Wesley stumbled and sprained his ankle. Some friends carried him to the house of Mrs. Mary Vazielle on Threadneedle Street. She was a widow with several children. She cared for Wesley and his response to her concern was to ask her to marry him. If we were writing fiction we might say that the sprained ankle was God's providential way to bring those people together. But the marriage was a disaster, and Mary finally left John. Had Wesley consulted with his brother Charles, and asked for the prayers of the brethren, he might have avoided that unfortunate situation. Mary was accustomed to her quiet home, and it was difficult for her to travel with her husband and stay in uncomfortable inns. It is unfortunate that Mary was not content just to ignore John's ministry; she actually opposed it. She gave certain personal letters to his enemies and even made additions to them that made them worse! Once she even pulled her husband around on the floor by his hair! "I felt as though I could have knocked the soul out of her!" one of Wesley's friends said. Wesley concluded that his unhappy marriage encouraged him to work harder and not complain about missing the comforts of a home. Certainly it encouraged him to be away from home more! W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, Moody Press, 1984, p. 246.
3. Pick your battles. Is it really worth fighting vehemently over who takes out the trash, loads the dishwasher, is the sloppiest? You fill in your own pet peeves. Consider this wise woman's plan for dealing with conflict:
On her golden wedding anniversary, my grandmother revealed the secret of her long and happy marriage. "On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband's faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook," she explained. A guest asked her to name some of the faults. "To tell the truth," she replied, "I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, 'Lucky for him that's one of the ten.'" Roderick McFarlane, in Reader's Digest, December, 1992.
4. Understand the uniqueness and greatness of Biblical roles. After 38 years of marriage, Sharon and I are still learning how to live out God's commands on marriage! How do I love her as Christ loves the church? I am willing to physically die for her but dying to myself every day is what Christ requires and my wife desires. Sharon is called on to respect and honor me, to submit to my leadership as her protector and provider. Sharon is a strong, gifted woman and it's my responsibility to make sure she has the freedom to use her gifts to build God's kingdom. Although it is much easier now because of the habits of grace God is growing in us, there are times when we must step back and resolve conflicts and differences in the context of those roles. Study Ephesians 5 together and especially note verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” A marriage that lives out this command will reflect redemption.
5. Pray and worship together. Pray together every day. Sharon and I started our marriage with the habit of praying together every night before going to sleep. It's tough to pray with someone with whom you are arguing. Our children tell us that they sometimes heard us praying late at night. Such moments not only strengthen a couple but help a child feel safe.
6. Don't ever take for granted your relationship. Continually focus on growing up in your marriage. Do not discount the little things, treating each other with respect and dignity, expressing your love regularly. Early in our marriage Sharon witnessed a newly married friend looking deep into the eyes of her husband and smiling warmly. That picture imprinted on her heart the need to save her best smiles for me as well as her children. Consider how you are able to stop yelling at your spouse in order to answer the phone with warmth! How do we do that? Because we make a choice to treat others better than our spouse. This should not be so in your home.
A few years ago, the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, MO made public 1,300 recently discovered letters that the late President wrote to his wife, Bess, over the course of a half-century. Mr. Truman had a lifelong rule of writing to his wife every day they were apart. He followed this rule whenever he was away on official business or whenever Bess left Washington to visit her beloved Independence. Scholars are examining the letters for any new light they may throw on political and diplomatic history. For our part, we were most impressed by the simple fact that every day he was away, the President of the United States took time out from his dealing with the world's most powerful leaders to sit down and write a letter to his wife. Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pp. 15-16.
7. Partner in ministry. Find an outreach ministry in which you can serve together. Not only will this activity deepen your relationship, it will help teach your children to love serving the church.
8. Always remember the Biblical priorities in your relationships. When our children were very little I gave Sharon a plaque that reminded us of our priorities: The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. Our Biblical family priorities are: Christ, Spouse, Children. Church. Work. Note that your spouse comes before your children - always.
And note that there is no other person on the face of the earth that can take the place of your spouse. Fidelity in American culture appears to be up for grabs. Wedding rings don't seem to act as a fence for many people. Great temptation comes against godly marriages because
God's plan is for marriages to reflect His love. Commit to praying for one another to be faithful in all ways.
9. Be transparent and honest in your communication. Most marriage counseling I do centers on teaching couples Biblical principles for communicating. We come into marriage with preconceived ideas of the right way to speak, to resolve conflicts. Even when we hate the way our parents communicated, we often find ourselves becoming just like them unless we are determined by God's grace to break the chains of the past. Observe how others communicate, study Biblical principles and be accountable to one another for practicing communication that builds up rather than tears down. Often a couple does not realize how their communication reflects badly on their relationship to Christ. As trusted friends what does your communication reveals about your relationship to one another? You may be very surprised.
10. Learn to embrace pain as your friend. This is perhaps one of the most difficult principles to live out. The hard places in marriage are
God's sandpaper designed to smooth out the rough places in our characters.
There is no better woman in the world for me than my wife. I know this because we are married and God's design is for her to complete me. Our relationship not only brings joy and pleasure, it also is an opportunity for us to become more like Christ. Marriage requires sacrifice, seeing our spouse's needs as more important than our own. Such moments are often painful and yet that is the model of Christ. And isn't He the One whom we are to emulate in all of life?
So with Jesus I encourage you to “go home to your family and tell them [by the way you treat them, love them, encourage them] how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”
In His grip,
Dr. Chuck F. Betters
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