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Marital Investments: Partnerships Built To Last!

This is an honor for me to speak on marriage particularly. I was telling Jeffrey Bell just a second ago, I feel kind of like a rookie. I’ve only been married 14 years and I know we’ve got some men that have been married significantly longer. But it is a privilege and I love to speak on marriage because I’m real high on it. Four years ago, I was asked by my nephew to participate in his wedding. He was soon to be married. And I was honored that he asked me to participate, but, you know, I’m not ordained so I couldn’t marry him. So, what was decided was, is that I was going to kind of do, when they walked down the aisle, I would do the welcome and then I would do a short homily. And we agreed on that. And, as the date approached, I had to give some thought, well, what do you say when two people walk down the aisle and then you began the ceremony?

So, what I did was I went back to the traditional wedding ceremony that’s been used throughout the ages. Many of you, it may have been used at your wedding. And I was reading through the opening lines, and I was really struck by a line, and let me share this with you. This will sound very familiar to you. Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and these witnesses to join together, this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is instituted of God, and then here’s the line, signifying unto us the mystical union between Christ and His church.

Now, that line has been used throughout the ages in the ceremony. And I think very few people pay much attention to it, but I think it speaks volumes of a very important truth. And that is the church has always regarded marriage as a picture of what should take place between God and His people. I mean, you know, Jesus uses the word, He refers to Himself often as the bridegroom and the church, we are His bride. And what has really struck me guys, is that there are only two holy binding covenant relationships in this life. The first is our relationship with God, which we have to choose, and we have to enter into.

And the same is true of our marriages. We choose it, we enter into it, and it’s binding for life. After I did the introduction, I got to the homily, which was about five to 10 minutes. And what I shared with him is what I want to share with you. And then I’m going to make a few comments about my own marriage, what God has taught me. But the best advice I could give him, and I’ve shared this before with other men as they go into marriage, but I would share it with you, I would share with this with any couple, it’s not real profound, but I’m going to walk you through this, some thoughts and ideas on this.

But I would always tell two people, make certain that the two of you, throughout the course of your marriage, make certain that you continue to grow spiritually. That you continue to move towards spiritual maturity. And I want to stop and make this comment here. The reason I think that’s so crucial is because what I see happen, and maybe this has happened in your life, so many men want to, the objective of their spiritual life is to have what I would call a maintenance program. They want to maintain their spiritual lives, but their goal is not to grow spiritually, not to move towards spiritual maturity, not to become more Christlike it’s just to kind of make sure I don’t backslide. I want to keep what I’ve got. But I don’t think; I don’t think we realize the importance of what I want to tell you this morning.

And that is this; the most important thing that you bring to your marriage relationship, and really to any relationship, is yourself. And the healthier you are individually, the healthier your marriages will be, the healthier your relationships will be. You see, your character, your humility, your willingness to be transparent, to be honest, to be vulnerable, your ability to love, the wisdom that you attain, will ultimately determine the quality of your relationships. You see, the person you are and the person you are becoming, is most significantly impacted by your relationship with Christ. You see, men, you know what we focus on, we focus so much of our lives on achieving and what we are experiencing through our, like our sports, our activities, our hobbies. But rarely do we stop and think about what God says is most significant. What kind of man are you becoming?

And what I’m here to tell you today is the deeper we go in our relationship with Him, the greater the transformation that’ll take place in our lives. And consequently, the healthier we will be as men.

Now let me share with you one of the real problems we have as we enter into marriage. It’s a perspective I think that we develop as we grow up in this culture, as we grow into adulthood. And I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes that we make and we’re generally not even aware of it. You see, most men, and I really learned this as I taught for years as a large singles group of men. Most of us believe that our spouse is the source of our happiness and our well-being in this life. You know, even as Christians, we have this tendency to elevate romantic love to a place where we believe it will provide a sense of meaning and a sense of fulfillment in this life. And so, what we do, guys, in essence, we enter into the marriage relationship with this attitude. I am looking to you to make me happy. I’m looking to you to give meaning to my life.

But you know what? In doing so, what we don’t realize is that we are looking for something from our wives that only God can provide. Listen to words from author Gary Thomas from his book, Sacred Marriage. He says, “I believe that much of the dissatisfaction we experience in marriage comes from expecting too much from it. We want to get the largest, and I would underscore the word largest, we want to get the largest portion of our life’s fulfillment from our relationship with our wives. And they cannot provide it.”

You hear what he’s saying? He’s saying, we are looking for something from our wives that only God Himself can provide. And struck me in one of the songs that we were singing, you know, we were created by God with a soul that thirsts for Him. I love this line. I wrote it down last night from, and we sang it again this morning. “I am only satisfied in you.” Now, Psalm 42:1 says, “As the deer pants for the water brook, so my soul thirsts for God, the living God.” Psalm 63:1 says, “My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land.” And then of course, Jesus, those famous powerful words in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never hunger. He who believes in Me will never thirst.”

See, the problem is in our culture today, we look for romantic love to satisfy this thirst. And our wives can’t do that. You remember, and I don’t have time to read it to you because it’s somewhat lengthy, but Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The disciples have gone to get some food. He has this conversation and as you read through the encounter, you realize this woman has led a very troubled life as John 4:7 through 19, if you want to read it and even goes further into it but this woman had been married four times and she was currently living with a man.

I mean, clearly, she was looking for romantic love to give meaning to her life. And she clearly hadn’t found it. And you know what I love about this encounter is the way Jesus handles it. You don’t see any condemnation. You don’t see Him berating her for, you know, no wonder you’re so messed up. You’ve been married four times, you don’t see Him say, get out of this relationship you’re in and get married. What do you see Jesus do is He homes in on the spiritual need in her life and He offers her living water.

In fact, these are the words He says. He says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I offer, I will give him or her, they shall never thirst, but the water that I give will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

Now, Jay and I in no way collaborated, but probably one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament is Jeremiah 2:13. And I think it’s pertinent to what I’m trying to say to you this morning where he says, and I find it interesting, he says, “My people have committed two evils,” not a foreign people, not a bunch of pagans. “My people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water to hew for themselves, or to make for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

You know, this is what this woman had done. This is what so many people try to do with their lives, looking to capture the water that’ll satisfy the thirst of their souls in cisterns that are broken, that can hold no water. And this is what we do guys, when we give marriage, and really, any other thing in life, preeminence, because what we do in the process is forsake the fountain of living water.

So, guys, I really believe when we get this right, when we look to Jesus as the fountain of living water, it will impact our marriages. I don’t think we realize how much that will impact our marriages because what it’ll do, it will enable our marriages to be what God intended for them to be; relationships of great beauty, of great depth, and of great intimacy because what we will do is we will be living in harmony with life as the way God designed it.

So again, you can see how rooting your life in Christ, walking through life with Him, growing spiritually will have such an impact on this relationship, this holy covenant relationship that is of such great significance.

The one final point I want to make, and then I want to, I’ll share with you some things in my own marriage. Many of you know, if you’ve been in one of my groups, that some of the most meaningful scripture to me personally is in the Sermon on the Mount. And it’s very instructive. I shared this with a young couple that came to see me the other day, but it’s in Matthew 7:3-5 where Jesus says, “Why is it that you notice the speck that’s in your brother’s eye and don’t see the log that’s in your own?” And he goes on and says, “You hypocrite first deal with the logs in your own life, and then you will see clearly and then you’ll be able to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” You know, we so easily notice the flaws in the lives of other people, particularly our spouses, but we have a hard time seeing those same flaws, that same sin, in our own lives.

It was interesting, this couple, I was amazed; I agreed to meet with them because they needed some help with their financial life. And somebody said, you ought to go see Richard. And I said, well, I’ll meet with you. And we started talking about their finances and it was amazing how they were just pointing the fingers at each other. I mean, the wife would just tear into him. And finally, I said, Let’s talk about where are y’all spiritually? Let’s talk about this. The whole conversation changed. And I shared with them, it was like they caught themselves. They realized that both of them were living this way. They were tearing into each other. They were noticing the specks in the eyes of their spouse and not even realizing, well, what’s going on in my life? You see, guys, if I am walking with God through life and am growing and maturing spiritually, I will be following Christ’s instructions of dealing with the logs in my life. In other words, as this relates to marriage, I will become more focused on my stuff and not hers. I want to read you an interesting quote. It’s a great quote.

“One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached to it, it would’ve said, here is to helping you discover what you’re really like.”

Isn’t that right on? That’s the one great thing about marriage. It shows you the flaws in your life. It shows you your weakness, your self-centeredness, and what a blessing that is. That’s what God’s word is like. It’s like a mirror that reveals the thoughts and the intentions of the heart. You see guys, Godly men not only work on the logs in their lives, but the logs that sabotage their relationships with others, particularly their spouses. Listen again to what Gary Thomas says. This is so insightful. He says, “I have a theory. Behind virtually every case of marital dissatisfaction lies an unwillingness to admit our self-centeredness. Couples do not fall out of love so much as they are unwilling to humbly acknowledge they have shortcomings as a spouse. Sin, wrong attitudes, and personal failures that are not dealt with, slowly erode the relationship, assaulting and eventually erasing the once lofty promises in the throes of an earlier and less polluted love.” What he’s saying is, if we don’t deal with the flaws in our lives, the logs in our lives, the sin in our lives, he says, our love and our marriage will slowly be polluted.

Now, this is why I think Jesus says something rather significant and very instructive in that verse five of Matthew seven. He says, first, if you will deal with the logs in your life, then you will be able to see clearly and then you can truly be effective in the lives of others. This isn’t real profound guys, but I do believe the greatest thing you can do for your marriage is to continue to grow spiritually and move towards maturity and become more and more Christlike. That’s what the process of sanctification is. It’s the process of becoming more like Jesus. And as you do that, you will become a healthier man and consequently your marriage will be healthier.

Now I want to take just a couple of minutes because we’re almost out of time and just share with you a thought or two about what I’ve learned from my own marriage. This June, I’ll have been married 14 years and I just, I’ll readily tell you that we’ve had some real bumps in the road in those 14 years, but particularly, I go back five years, it was five years in February. I remember specifically. My wife and I were, we were just real disconnected. Our children at that time were four, five, and seven. Her plate was full. I had a lot going on with the work at The Center and we were just totally disconnected. But this is what made her [unintelligible]; I picked up and left for a week and went skiing with three of my closest friends and we planned it well in advance and I was so excited about it and boy, she was not excited about it.

And I left for a week and had a great time, and she was left at home. And I remember coming back and standing at the airport and I see her car coming down and my three kids are waving and they’re so glad to see me. And boy, she was ice cold, ice cold. It was not even glad to see you, glad you’re home, glad you had a great time. But to compound matters and make it worse, the next day, I left to go speak at a marriage retreat on how to have a flourishing marriage. And that just really, really got under her skin.

So, for two, really, for the next two and a half years, our marriage was like a yo-yo. It was up and down and up and down, and we went to see counseling, we went for counseling. We talked through a lot of issues. And about two and a half years ago, it was, and I can remember, it’s like we emerged from this dark hole, our marriage did. And I can say for the last two and a half years, our marriage has been really, really good. And so, I asked myself as I was putting some thoughts together, what’s going on in our marriage right now that was not going on five years ago? And that’s, I just share with you a couple of thoughts and then I’ll just wrap this up. The most important thing I think you need to know is that I think slugging through and working through this very difficult period was a springboard that opened the door for a new life for us.

Let me read to you Philip Yancey’s words as it relates to this. He says, “Every marriage,” hear this guys, if you’re newlywed, if you’ve never been married, I don’t care who you are, “every marriage has crisis times, moments of truth, when one partner or both is tempted to give up to judge the other undependable, irrational, untrustworthy. Great marriages survive these moments. Weak ones fall apart. When divorce happens, tragically, both partners lose out on the deeper strength that comes only from riding out such stormy times together. Great relationships take form when they are stretched to the breaking point and do not break.”

Keep those words in mind because marriage is a long journey and there will be storms in your marriage, but stay the course, stay the course. Couple of things really quick. I think Jay, somebody mentioned, I think Joe mentioned it; when my wife and I first got married, we prayed together all the time. Kids came along, we quit; hard to imagine, isn’t it? We quit. The hardest time, we quit. Three years ago, we made the decision that every Monday morning we were going to get up and we were going to pray together, serious prayer. And we have, and it’s a fixture in our marriage now. We pray for our marriage, we pray for our children, we pray for guidance and direction on issues that are in our lives. And we pray for the week coming up. And you know what I’ve realized? It has created a deeper emotional intimacy between the two of us. As we pour out our hearts before God, as we pray for each other, our marriage, our children, it’s transformed us. And it’s become a fixture in our lives. That’s when I realized we needed to say, this is a time we’re going to pray.

That’s why we also, every Sunday night, we always, she and I have dinner together at home. We feed the kids first, then we have dinner together. It’s a habit. I hate to use that word, but it’s something that we’ve established, and it makes a difference in our marriage. Two other things that I just want to mention really quickly and then I’ll wrap this up and I’m going to give my wife credit for this. We confront today, we didn’t always do this. We confront our problems quickly. In fact, when there’s something going on between us, she’s all over it. It’s like a very wise contractor shared these words with me. He says, he’s talking about business, but this has to do with it. He says, Run towards your problems, not away from them. Run toward them, not away from them.

Jack Welch, when he was a CEO of G.E. says, “my entire business philosophy can be founded on this one statement.” He says, “The key trade of a vital, healthy corporation is looking reality straight in the eye and then slowly acting upon it with as much speed as you can.” You know, you could substitute the word marriage for corporation in that statement because it’s right on; looking reality straight in the eye and then acting upon what you see.

But you know, guys, I really believe what I’m going to tell you is true. I think the most significant, maybe the most important thing you can do for your marriage is something that’s behind the scenes and that’s to pray for your marriage. I mean, I’m not looking for show of hands, but I want to know, how many of you really spend time regularly praying for your marriage, beginning with something like, Lord, I pray that You would give me the grace to live out my marriage vows. Lord, I pray that You would deepen my love for my wife. Lord, I pray for wisdom. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask. I pray for wisdom on how to love my wife in a way that she needs to be loved. I pray that You’d give me the wisdom, as Peter says, to love my wife and live with my wife in an understanding way. I Peter 3:7, Lord, I pray that You would protect our marriage from the temptations and evils of this life. You know, so much of the scripture are prayers for protection. How do you think Jesus ends the Lord’s prayer? Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil. Lord, I pray that You would deliver me from self-centeredness. I can’t deliver myself. I pray that You would deliver me from, that You would help me truly enable me to die to self in my marriage.

You know, I was planning on reading to you this parable. I don’t have time. I really need to wrap this up. If you’re familiar with it. It’s the parable in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. And it’s called The Hedgehog Principle. Anybody familiar with it? He compares the hedgehog and the fox. And he says that the people that make the biggest difference in life have the biggest influence, or the biggest impact are the hedgehogs. He says, “The hedgehog basically simplifies a complex world into a single organizing idea. A basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything else in your life. Either you’re a hedgehog where you have this unifying vision for your life, or you’re like a fox whose life is scattered and diffused and all over the place.” Are you a hedgehog or a fox? And this is the hedgehog idea that I leave you with because I want to be a hedgehog. I want a basic vision that unifies my life. And I believe it’s this for me is if I can get these two covenant relationships right, my relationship with Christ, my relationship with my wife, then my life, my priorities, and my affections will truly all fall into place.

Let me close in prayer. Lord, we do thank You for the gift of marriage, its wonder, its beauty but we also thank You, Father that we can know You and out of knowing You, we can really discover what it means to be healthy as we walk with You through life. Lord, I pray that You would enable each of us to be the men and the husbands that You’ve called us to be. And yet we realize, Father, apart from You, we can’t do that. So therefore, Lord, we look to You to enable us to do and to be the men that You’ve called us to be. Realizing we can’t do it on our own strength. We thank You in Christ’s name. Amen.

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