You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; turn northward. —Deuteronomy 2:3, nlt
Whenever I (Chris) give workshops on relationships, presenting a biblical view of what to expect in marriage, giddy couples often tell me, “Chris, this teaching was really great, but we just know our marriage will be different.”
Many singles travel down Relationship Road, clutching the same dog-eared, upside-down map that has led us to be lost, hurt, and hungry the last fifty times we used it. No wonder we keep engaging in dissatisfying, dead-end relationships. We have bought into marriage myths that need to be exposed and replaced with truth.
Marriage may result in loss of freedom, flexibility, and dispensable income.
Few institutions in our society are under as much attack as the family—particularly the Christian family. This is why we labored to produce this book for you. Why is the family Satan’s main place of attack? Because he can get a lot of bang for his buck. If a husband and wife bicker constantly, lie to one another, or engage in extramarital affairs, he smiles because he knows the devastation will reverberate to the children and grandchildren. He knows that the sins of the fathers will be passed down to the third and fourth generations (seeExod20:5) unless a person seeks the intervention of the Holy Spirit to address generational curses and other family sins. Satan’s fine with our being hand-clapping Christians in church, at Bible study, and during choir rehearsal, but he wants us miserable and contentious at home.
The book of Luke says, For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?14:28KJV The majority of us spend much more time planning our five-hour wedding day than we do preparing for how we’re going to live under the same roof with another imperfect person for the rest of our lives. This seems foolish when we look at the divorce rate in this country. Would you fly in an airplane if you knew that it had a 50 percent chance of crashing?
Yet every weekend couple after couple trot down the aisle to the altar, never giving much thought to all of this. To these well-meaning couples, everything about marriage is ideal—then after the first year they think it’s an ordeal. And two or three years later they’re looking for a new deal! This does not have to be the pattern for you if you’ll address your upside-down ideas about what happens after dum-dumda- dum and the honeymoon night.
Upside-Down Ideas About Marriage
Many singles enter dating and courtship with these misguided views:
• Marriage is a treasure chest containing all the treats and prizes we’ve waited for.
• Marriage will give us a purpose for living and make us complete.
• Marriage will get us the unconditional love we deserve— forever.
• Marriage will offer us all the sex we need or all the love we need—on demand.
• Marriage will medicate all the pains of singleness and will solve our deepest longings.
• Marriage will provide us with a spouse whose feelings and beliefs will remain healthy and constant throughout our lives together.
• Marriage will grant us a partner who will understand our dreams and will work eagerly alongside us to accomplish them.
None of these ideas about marriage are true, let alone biblical. Just ask a wife you know if she is able to come home and download all the day’s thoughts on her husband each evening as he listens attentively. Ask her husband if he’s living out all his sexual fantasies with her each night. Ask them if they feel less vulnerable now that they are married. If they say yes to these questions, they’re either extraordinary or they’re lying.
Think about it. If marriage was indeed the universal elixir for happiness, why aren’t we surrounded by euphoric married couples?
(No, the people you see kissing on the street don’t count.) Christians should be leading the charge in this area, offering examples of marital bliss for us all to see. But can you think of three Christian couples whose marriages you want to emulate? If not, what makes you believe your marriage will be different? If you’ll put in the considerable effort before you enter a relationship, followed by careful guardianship during the stages leading up to engagement, you’ll reduce considerably your chances of marital unhappiness.
If your relationship road map is upside down, allow God’s voice to become louder than your emotional fantasies or your false expectations. Our goal in this book is to provide you with the most inexpensive premarital course on the planet. By the time we’re done, we want you to know for certain that marriage is not a tropical destination where you lie in a hammock and gaze at the ocean for the rest of your life. When we get through dating or courtship and say, “I do,” we graduate to a different growth process—some of it painful, but all of it rewarding for those whose marriage road map is rightside up.
Right-Side-Up Views About Marriage
First Be the Right Person, Then Pray for the Right Person
The first part of this book talks about you and who you need to be in order to enjoy and be ready for lifelong love. Focus on developing your character and on cultivating the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—in your life.(Gal5:22-23NIV) Learn to put God first in your life (see Rules 2 and 4). Know what God wants you to do with your life (see Rule 3). Work
diligently on cleaning your house (see Rule 5). Proverbs 27:23 says, Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds. Please hear this: If you want a fabulous, godly mate, you must become a fabulous, godly person first.
One day when I (Pam) was reading Proverbs 31, verse 12 struck me. It reads: She does him [her husband] good and not evil all the days of her life. A wise friend helped me realize that “all the days” started now, not just after the wedding! That means my current behavior, attitude, and habits need to pass the “Is this doing him good?” test. As I made improvements with the help of the Holy Spirit, it gave me bold authority in prayer to ask God for my mate, because I knew that I was becoming Mrs. Right myself.
Your Relationship with Your Spouse Will Only Be As Strong As Your Fellowship with God
Get this: God will never give you anything—even a spouse—that will replace the need for His presence. Why? Because God wants to be first in your life. The spouse He has planned for you will be a tangible, though fallible, representation of His love for you—an earthly manifestation of Him. If you don’t know Him, and His high-quality brand of love for you, you will not know what to look for in a spouse. Only in His presence can you experience true joy. Marriage will, at times, be more challenging than you can possibly anticipate. Where will you go to find joy in those rough seasons, if not to a God you already know and trust? If you do not have a strong, developed, intimate relationship with God that you can lean on, rather than your own understanding or other false comforts, the challenge will overwhelm you. And if your relationship with God is developed but your mate’s is not, picture yourself praying alone, seeking counsel alone, and bearing the weight of the marriage challenges alone. Not pretty.
Invest in your relationship with God now, when you are single, and build a firm foundation for your marriage. We know a married mother of four who spent hours with God almost daily when she was single. The strength she gained from building intimacy with Him undergirds her quiet time with Him today, when she has fewer hours to pray and much more to pray for. Will you be able to say the same? Is there clear evidence in your demeanor and conversation that you have a relationship with God? Are you frequently sharing with others what God is doing in your life? If you asked this question of the person you’re dating, what would be his or her answer?
Jesus told the disciples, No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.(John 15:15) There is a twofold illustration here. First, Jesus elevates faithful followers to the status of friend. Friends with God—how cool is that! Second, His statement indicates the depth of relationship. He has with the Father. Jesus hears from God, meaning He spends time listening. But get this part: He also tells us whatever He hears! Do you hear from God regularly? He wants to be totally involved in our lives and show us the great and inaccessible things about JimBob or LuttieMay that we don’t know!seeJer33:3 (Learn how to cultivate an ear to hear Him in Rules 2, 3, and 4.)
Marriage Means Taking Off the Garment Called “I Need” and Putting On the Coat Called “I Give”
The scripture Christians often use to introduce others to the love of Christ is a perfect reminder of this principle: For God so loved the world, that He gave…(John3:16) True love seeks to give, to uplift, and to be self-sacrificing. Many of us have been duped into believing that marriage is about getting our needs and desires met instead of “laying down our lives” for one another. But God says our spouse is to come second only to Him. This means that husbands need to put their wives before their careers or ministry, and that wives also need to put their husbands before their children, careers, or other relationships. Are you capable of loving someone in this way? Is your character ready to handle that level of giving? Ask yourself the same question about the person you are dating or courting. How does he or she measure up?
You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; turn northward. Deut2:3NLT
Are you ready to look “northward” for your relationship rules?
What false beliefs about marriage are you afraid to let go of?
You may have read the romantic love story of Ruth and Boaz in the Bible. Both demonstrated that they were able to put the needs of another before their own. Boaz wasn’t even looking for a wife, but when Ruth came to work in his field, he was clearly moved by what he had heard about her good character. (And he probably thought she was fine, too!) After her first day at work in the fields, he told her to stay near and offered her his protection. When she asked him why he was being so kind to her, a different-looking foreigner, he said: I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.(Ruth2:11NIV) Word of Ruth’s good character had already been fully reported to Boaz before he even met her. Boaz showed her compassion and sensitivity and sought to provide for her. This is notable since Ruth was a Moabite (from the land of Moab, east of Jerusalem), a race often despised by the Israelites, her new neighbors. Boaz showed honesty and faithfulness when he quickly kept his promise to become Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer (kin means “family,” and redeemer means “one who rescues”). This makes Boaz a type or symbol of Christ Himself, who is our rescuer, and makes Ruth a symbol of the church, which is us. This is a true picture of what a godly union should reflect.
If you’re in a relationship now, how does it stack up to this example? Boaz’s actions spelled I-N-T-E-G-R-I-T-Y, a quality often lacking in dating relationships today. If we want to marry someone who gives rather than takes, we need to be sure those we date exhibit that quality—and that we do too. Allow the Holy Spirit to prick your heart in your areas of weakness, and, in Chef Emeril’s words, let Him take you “up a notch.”
Marriage Means Honoring, Cherishing, and Obeying, Even When Money Is Tight and Your Health Fails
On our wedding day, we stand up in our finest duds in front of all the people we love and promise to love, honor, and cherish each other—in flush times and cash-poor seasons, when our mate is sexy, fit, and healthy, and when he or she is sick, fat, and cranky. And we agree to do all of this “until death do us part.” Teary-eyed, we tell the preacher, “I do.” If you read these words and think of how dreamy they sound, read them again, but this time take off your rose-colored glasses.
Illness alone can devour our commitment to a marriage, especially if our idea of “two becoming one” is all candlelight dinners and no morning breath. One couple we know was pushed to the brink just two years into their marriage when a car accident left the wife paralyzed from the waist down. The husband was both supportive and attentive to her considerable needs as a paraplegic, and amazingly, they had two sons, despite her confinement to a wheelchair. But after several years, the pressure of her paralysis and two young children overwhelmed the husband. He got tired of trying and had no resources to draw upon because his spiritual life was underdeveloped. The two divorced “amicably,” and he later remarried. She now lives with her mother.
Do you have what it takes to withstand something as devastating as what happened to this couple? Let’s look at how you handle minor inconveniences. Have you learned to be reasonably content even when life stinks? Do you know how to encourage yourself in God when no one else will? Unless you have the proper spiritual foundation, unforeseen circumstances like this will strain your best natural efforts. Your marriage may never face this much adversity, but your partner would probably like to know that you’d be in for the long haul if it did. Our God has said He will never leave you nor forsake you.(Heb13:5) Could you promise that to someone?
Financial hardship can also send a delusional marriage partner packing. Disagreement about finances is known to be one of the top marriage killers. It may not seem romantic to watch how your love interest handles money while you’re dating or to discuss how you’ll spend the “community chest” after the nuptials, but to do so could save your marriage.
A Godly Marriage
Replace the counterfeit images you have of marriage with the truth of God’s Word. The Word doesn’t talk specifically about how to date (so neither will we), since there was no such thing in biblical times. For the most part, marriages were either arranged or a man saw a woman he liked, and if she liked him, they got married. The scriptures below, taken together, help paint the best picture we can find of how a godly relationship between a man and a woman should look:
• the story of Rebecca and Isaac see Gen24
• the story of Ruth and Boaz see Ruth
• God’s comments on divorce and controlling our passions see Mal2:15-16
• principles for male/female relationships and for marriage see 1Cor7:1-16,25-40
• mutual submission in marriage see Eph5:21-33
• characteristics of godly wives and husbands see1Pet3:1-7
Read and reread these scriptures. Meditate on them day and night until you replace your relationship lies with the truth of God’s Word.
The Alvarezes didn’t think they had to talk about mundane things like money when they were courting. Four years after their four-hundred-guest cathedral wedding ceremony, their marriage was a mess. Her dream was to have a nice house by the ocean someday; his goal was to retire at age forty. Fine. One problem—they never discussed these hopes seriously. So she began to work extra hours and squirrel away money in a bank account for their someday-beachfront villa. Meanwhile, disgruntled in his teaching job, he was on the brink of quitting and planned to coast awhile on his wife’s salary and their savings until he figured out what he really wanted to do. (If he’d sought the Lord when he was single, he wouldn’t be putting his family in this predicament. See Rule 3.) One day, she came home to find a new Jeep parked out front. He had quit his job, emptied the savings account, and single-handedly decided that they should spend that summer seeing America. Needless to say, that was one long trip. The couple entered a trial separation shortly afterward. This story begs the question: How are you at money management? Do you run credit cards to their limits? How does your current love interest handle money? Don’t make the same mistake the Alvarezes and millions of other couples make. Be candid about your finances and what your dreams are before you walk down the aisle. And expect that money-handling will be one of the challenges you will face together in marriage.
Principles, Not Sentiments
Believe it or not, we’ve only covered a few of the main issues that can threaten a sentiment-based marriage. What if we added a disabled child, an ailing father-in-law, and pornography or alcohol dependency to the household mix? Would you be able to stand firm under those circumstances? If so, for how long? These are heavy but important things to think about now before you become engaged or married. Remember that a strong marriage is based on principles, not feelings.
That buzz you get in your stomach every time he or she walks by won’t keep your marriage together very long. There is no quick fix to a happy marriage. There are only His rules—tried, true, and time tested.
So does marriage still sound sexy?
If you’re disturbed by what you’ve read so far, good—read on!