At JBC’s Marriage retreat I taught what I call the “Ten Commandments that Make a Wonderful Marriage”. #1 is “Keep God first in your life” #2 is “Don’t take offense at anything your spouse does”, #3 is “Don’t say or do anything that would cause your spouse to be hurt of offended, #4 is “Don’t let even a little bit of bitterness stay in your mind and heart, #5 is “Pray for your spouse and with your spouse”, and #6 is “Graciously teach your husband or wife how to be the world’s best spouse to you”. A marriage motto that I have is “God intended for us to be each other’s marriage manual”. When I got married to Patty, I was a really bad husband, I said or did something that caused her to cry almost daily, but I don’t now. The reason that I am a way better husband now is because Patty has patiently, graciously, and gently taught me how to make her the happiest woman on the planet earth, and I have done the same. Patty knows my faults, character flaws, and blind spots better than any person living, so why shouldn’t I be receptive to her teaching me what they are so that I can grow and change rapidly. There are two things in us that keep this powerful tool for life change from happing in most marriages. The first is our pride, we don’t want someone telling us how we can improve, even if it means a super, wonderful marriage, we are born terribly prideful and that pride causes so many problems in our life. The second thing that keeps us from giving and receiving counsel from each other is that we are poor teachers even on our best day and because of that we make it very hard for our spouse to accept what we are saying. When we teach our spouse what they can change or grow in, we must never, never, never, not even a little bit, not even a teensy bit, never, never scold your spouse. Scolding guarantees that our spouse will not hear what we say, and if they understand it they won’t do it. We need to ponder what to say and how to say it, we need to pray and ask God for wisdom, we need to be super gracious and gentle, and if we can teach our spouse in a way that they can receive they will grow and change and become the major source of our joy in life as God works in and through them.
One of the most phony phrases used today by believers is “I will pray about it”, or “I will Pray for you”. The typical prayer of most people is about 5 seconds long and prayed while we are driving, cooking, shaving, working in the garden, etc. Our prayers are convenient, comfortable, crisis driven, easy, and impulsive. I would suggest that God doesn’t do much in response to those kind if prayers, but they are like pacifiers to believers making us think that we did something that mattered, when in fact we have probably dishonored God by our thinking that we can spend a few seconds with Him and expect that He will bless us or others with that volume of prayer.
Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
The praying that we do for our Spouse will have great power to change their life if we pray like Epaphras, “always laboring earnestly”, and the goal of our praying for our spouse is that their character will become perfect, like that of Jesus. I pray for Patty every night, asking God to bless her, use her, help her grow, protect her from the evil one, and make her the best wife in the world. If seeing our spouse grow consistently to be like Jesus in character is really important to us we will give it some time and pray with passion and earnestness.
We should pray “for our spouse” and “with our spouse”. The agreement between a husband and a wife when they pray makes their prayer the mightiest force on the planet earth to change things forever. If husbands and wives would pray together 3 times each week God would cause them to be increasingly more unified, and in love.
For a marriage to be in the awesome category it must be blessed by God. There are a number of activities or conditions that will bring God’s blessing into our marriage, and there are several that will guarantee that we will not be receiving anything from God to make our marriage special. The number one thing on the part of either husband or wife that will negate every speck of blessing from God is bitterness. Bitterness is failing or refusing to forgive someone of an offense, real or imagined, that they have committed against us, especially our spouse. In The gospel of Matthew Jesus says that if we don’t forgive others God won’t forgive us, and we then experience all the consequences of unforgiven sin in our life and in our marriage. In Matthew 18 Jesus says that if we don’t forgive, that God turns us over to the “torturers “, which would probably mean that demons are allowed access to our life to make us miserable. Sounds like a miserable marriage to me. God expects us to forgive anybody of anything, not because they deserve it, but because He has forgiven us of everything and we didn’t deserve it either. Husbands and wives often refuse to forgive their spouse because they think that by staying angry and bitter they will discourage further offenses, and by forgiving quickly they are saying that the offense was “no big deal”. God’s presence, power, and protection are promised to the person who humbles themselves and forgives their spouse of anything, and trusts God to change their spouses character. In the gospels when Jesus visited His home town it says that “He could not do many miracles there”. Jesus was limited in what He could do by the small faith of the people. God can change the heart of our husband or wife, but we greatly limit what God can do in our spouse’s life and in our marriage by our failure to forgive. It takes some work, but we can train ourselves to forgive anybody of anything quickly, it is not an impossible command. The trilogy of commandments “take no offense”, “give no offense”, and “forgive quickly”, would powerfully impact and change any marriage if the marriage partners could train themselves to successfully do it.
So I have identified 10 key principles that I call commandments that contribute to a really good marriage. The third one is, “Don’t say or do anything that angers, irritates, hurts, or offends your spouse. It doesn’t take very long being married before we discover what our husband or wife doesn’t like or appreciate, what we can say that will hurt their feelings, and what irritates them. It is amazing to me how many spouses will do one of these things on purpose as a payback, because we are upset about something that happened to us, or because we are just being thoughtless. Ephesians 4:29 ought to be an often meditated on verse for every married person, which says, “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it might give grace to those who hear.” A life purpose of mine is to “be God’s instrument of righteousness in the life of Patty to give her great joy so that she is the happiest woman alive on the planet earth.” I make a commitment every morning to pursue this purpose diligently and I ask God for the wisdom and strength each day to make it happen.
At JBC’s marriage retreat this past weekend at Odell Lake Lodge I taught on the “Ten Commandment’s for an Awesome Marriage”. The second is “Take No Offense”. The longer description is that we allow ourselves to feel hurt, offended, angry, or even slightly irritated because of something our spouse said or did or didn’t do for just 5 minutes and then we get over it. The 5 minutes is arbitrary, and in fact when we get this skill reasonably perfected we can make that 1 minute. Most adults will get their feelings hurt, get offended or angry at something their spouse says, does, or doesn’t do, and then they camp there for awhile replaying the event, mulling it over, and amplifying the emotional response that they feel to the point that they respond in such a way that conflict erupts and often escalates. In 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter in the Bible, it says, “love does not take into account a wrong suffered”. We choose to dismiss the offense from our mind, not because it doesn’t matter, but because Jesus has done that for us, and He asks us to do the same. If our reactions to the offenses of our husband or wife actually changed them to the point that they wouldn’t do that same thing again, it might be justified, but the fact is that our emotional responses of hurt, and anger rarely if ever change anything, they just make it worse. Let me suggest a plan to overcome this major problem in most marriages. (1) Admit to yourself that getting your feelings hurt is natural, but reacting in anger, with harsh words, and other forms of retaliation and payback is childish and immature. (2) Admit to yourself that your childish responses don’t change anything, don’t make you feel any better, and in fact make things worse and you feel worse. (3) Make a firm commitment to stop and to take captive the thoughts you have in less than 5 minutes. (4) If you blow it, don’t justify your behavior or blame your spouse not even a little bit, but instead confess it to God as sin, and remake your commitment. (5) The key way to control your thinking is consciously set your mind on something else that is good, and key Bible verses that you have memorized just for this purpose are amazingly powerful to change your emotions and attitude that have come as a result of rude, thoughtless, selfish, or mean behavior on the part of your husband or wife. A basic law of life is, “You don’t have to act the way you feel”. Another basic law is, “I don’t have to let others control my behavior by how they treat me”. And another, “Jesus has forgiven me of everything I have ever done, and He expects me to do the same”.
JBC had a marriage retreat at Odell Lake Lodge this weekend, and it was amazing. Our host, the owner of the lodge and his crew were so good in their service, and the food they prepared for us. We had 24 couples here, and they all seemed to have a great time. Pastor Mike and I both taught in the sessions. The title of my sessions was “The Ten Commandments of Great Marriages”.
The first commandment is “keep God first place in your life, and your spouse second”. Jesus said, “if you love father or mother or husband or wife or son or daughter more than Me, you are not worthy of me and you cannot be my disciple”. Whatever we are depending on as our primary source of joy in life is our god, and many well meaning Christians have made their spouse their primary source of joy. That expectation sets us up for continual disappointment in our marriage partner, and also because we are practicing idolatry, we lose God’s blessing on our marriage. The writer of Psalms 73 said, “besides you I desire nothing, and besides you I need nothing”. Doesn’t seem very romantic to say, “God is my main source of joy”, but if we want God’s blessing we need to be able to say that. God will have no other God’s before him, not even our husband or wife.
So, a key to our marriage growing in intimacy is for us to grow in our relationship with God. The more intimate our relationship with God, the more intimate our relationship with our spouse can be. Paul said in the New Testament, “I consider everything in life to be like garbage in comparison to my desire to know Jesus”.
My seventh, and final goal for the class is to find those exceptional guys who I can recruit for key positions of leadership in our church . Future Elders, leaders of small groups and accountability groups, and even pastoral staff in the future for JBC and other churches who are looking for staff. These exceptional guys would be men who have a high level of self-control and a high level of commitment to the Word of God and to prayer. They would love their wives and be devoted to leading their family as disciples of Christ. They would be Squeaky clean when it comes to moral purity, and would not be careless in what they watch on tv, the movies, or the internet. They would be those who are teachable and life long learners. They would be super faithful in that whatever they commit to they would be careful to do. They would be guys who have a high level of relational intelligence, that is they know how to get along with people even the weird and cranky ones. They would be very positive, not a complainer or a grumble, who are careful to always speak words that edify, build up, and give grace to those who hear. Everything rises and falls on leadership, the higher the level of leadership the more successful the group that they are leading will be. Over the 40 years of teaching the leadership class I have developed a sensitivity to spotting high character, exceptional men who will be a major asset to the work of God. As a 69 year old pastor who has a few years left in ministry, investing my life in the life of men who can do way more than I have done is very rewarding and fulfilling.