By Tony Tench
Since before the day of our wedding, Janet and I have held to the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 as our “life verse” for our marriage: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. We have trusted the Lord in every season of our lives and he has blessed us with his presence!
The wisdom writer knew, though, that “trusting in the Lord” would require some intentional steps along the way and, for that reason, was quick to say “lean not on your own understanding” (we can, sure enough, let our assumptions and perspectives get in the way of God’s guidance) and “in ALL your ways acknowledge him” (not just on the wedding day but in every season of life, ALL of them).
That being so, throughout these nearly 41 years of marriage, Janet and I have looked for ways to be encouraged by the lessons that others can share about that which helps marriage grow and thrive. We recognized long ago that marriage enrichment is not a one-and-done kind of thing. Rather, marriage enrichment is a daily journey of living into Jesus’ expectation of two becoming one.
The preacher of the Old Testament wrote a good word for couples to hear: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12). The writer is talking about how good it is for two people to walk together and the benefits of that union and then finishes with this verse about strength! The good news is that when husband and wife are two strands and they believe that God’s presence is the third stand in the cord, then the weaving that takes place in the daily walk together exhibits God’s power to bind them with strength and significance to each other for all that comes their way in life.
In some ways, when we “tie the knot” on our wedding day, that commitment gives us the chance to see a marriage begin to take shape. Then, little by little in all the seasons of our lives together, as we make intentional moves to “tighten the knot,” God’s grace blesses us for every new season we experience with the sweetness of his presence.
” Imagine walking out of a conference room for a break and seeing a sea of Krispy Kreme donuts laid out on every table there for the taking! What a sweet surprise! The scripture declares, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8) When we trust the Lord for our marriages, we taste the goodness of his refuge and, believe it or not, it’s sweeter than a room of KK’s! “One of the breaktime snacks at the conference
This past weekend, Janet and I joined our daughter and her husband at a marriage conference hosted by their church. The NewSpring “Tighten the Knot” Marriage Conference saw nearly 2700 people on the Anderson campus and the Columbia campus for this simultaneous conference event. There were several “older folks” like us in attendance while most were 20’s-40’s year olds, all looking to “trust the Lord” for the next steps they would take in their marriage journey.
Herein I would like to share with you a few of the lessons from the sessions with prayers that they will be a blessing to all our marriages as we encourage one another. Maybe these are not new lessons for you, but probably they are good reminders even so:
Mike and Jennifer Foster (authors of Five Dates: Don’t Work on Your Problems, Work on Your Togetherness) offered this definition of marriage: “Marriage is a perfect God working out his perfect love in the lives of two imperfect people.” They then fleshed out Jesus’ call to “Love as I have loved you” (John 13:34) as our focus for married life. What did Jesus’ love for us look like?: compassion, mercy, forgiveness, grace. So, we should constantly pray, “Lord, help me to love my spouse the way you have loved me.”
Jefferson Bethke referred to a Barna Research study that identified “Three things that will bring about a household of joy and celebration,” viz. (1) Read Scripture together, (2) Have spiritual conversations regularly (talk about God), and (3) Make your home a base for ministries of engaging people (play games; be together with others; don’t just “consume” whatever TV or social media is handing you but take time to “contribute” as a family to the lives of others).
Bethke also shared a good word of encouragement to grandparents, viz. tell the stories of your family for the grands to hear. Share your spiritual story. Develop your own way of describing the “Top Ten Tips for Following Jesus” that you have learned in life and plan to share those with the grands!
Social Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn (author of For Women Only and For Men Only) highlighted “Truths with Game Changing Differences in Lives and Relationships” when she said:
(1) You have to choose to believe the best of your spouse’s intentions for you even if you are hurt. Look for a more generous explanation of your spouse’s behavior.
(2) Be purposeful and tender in the areas of your spouse’s insecurities and try to build them up. Women need to know and hear they are “loved.” They need to see their husbands “choosing them again today!!” Men ask themselves the question: Am I able? Do I have what it takes? They need to know they are appreciated.
Tim Ross (Pastor, Embassy Church, Texas) emphasized from Ephesians 5 that marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Jesus lived to draw us to himself and to sacrifice for us as an expression of his love. Our marriages are to do so as well. Perhaps the most powerful word was when he said, “It ain’t a sacrifice until it feels like one.” His focus on what Jesus did for us and how his sacrifice is to be mirrored in our approach to our spouses was a helpful tone to cap the day.
“How to Talk with Each Other” came up more than once from the presenters and as they addresd the topic they shared:
- Make your words a “gift” to your spouse. (That will change the way you think before you speak!)
- Make sure what comes out of your mouth is beneficial and wholesome (Eph. 4:29)
- Communicate your needs/hopes/dreams to your spouse in a clear way thus operating out of love and not out of pain.
- Realize that what “triggers” you is teaching you. Ask yourself “why” you are responding with anger or frustration toward your spouse.
- Engage the body when emotions well up. Take a breath!!
- Take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Out thinking influences our comments to one another!
- Maintain communication with God even in difficult times. Make sure the Lord is the center of your conversation and thus be ready for conversation with your spouse.
- Practice “face to face” talking so that you are focused on your spouse and not simply in “Uh huh” mode.
- Pray for one another and with one another. These times impact the way you talk with one another.
- Look at your spouse through the lens with which Jesus sees him/her. Your spouse will hurt you, break your trust, they are not perfect. However, Jesus’ view of them is the starting place for how you respond to them. We are Christ Followers and Christ Followers are called to be Christ-like (whether we feel it or not. We have to choose our behavior!)
- Remember as Christ Followers, we can have control over our emotions, i.e. the fruit of the Spirit is “self-control.” Pray for the Spirit’s power to be at work in your words and actions. There is never a good reason to raise your voice – it communicates anger.
- Don’t speak in absolutes. “You never….” “You always…..” “No one ever…..” This way of talking only reinforces negative beliefs about your spouse.
- Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. Seek first to understand. Empathize!
- Remember the wisdom of scripture, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Prov 15:1 & James 1:19)
- Try to “out serve” the other. Jesus laid down his life for us! We are to lay down our lives for our spouses.
Janet and I were blessed to spend the day together talking and praying about marriage and simply focusing on one another as we continue to trust the Lord with all our hearts. We encourage you to seek out such times to enrich your marriage. One way to do that could be to take the lessons recorded here and spend a Saturday morning together asking yourselves how they might impact the season of life where you are walking now.
Krispy Kremes are optional but the sweetness of the Lord’s presence will be guaranteed…acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths!