This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage (Part 3)

This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Part 3.  Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2)

by Eric Elder

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

One of the questions I’m asked most about marriage is “How did you know that Lana was ‘the one’ for you?”  Today I’ll share that answer with you in Tip #12 for how to have a stronger marriage.

But don’t think that today’s tip is only for those who are considering marriage.  Even if you’ve been married a long, long time, today’s tip can help to re-energize your marriage as you remember why you chose your spouse in the first place.

With that in mind, here’s today’s tip for how to have a stronger marriage.

12) Choose well (and remember why you chose the one you did).  Next to your decision to follow Christ, choosing who to marry is the 2nd most important decision you’ll ever make in your life.  It’s a decision that will affect you for the rest of your life, and it’s a decision that will affect generations of people long after you’re gone.

I read a book before I got married that scared me, and for good reason:  I wasn’t ready to get married.  Even though I loved Lana deeply, this book helped me see the enormity of the decision to get married and how it would affect my life from that moment on.  The book was called The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason.  Mike said:

“A marriage, or a marriage partner, may be compared to a great tree growing right up through the center of one’s living room.  It is something that is just there, and it is huge, and everything has been built around it, and wherever one happens to be going–to the fridge, to bed, to the bathroom, or out the front door–the tree has to be taken into account.  It cannot be gone through; it must respectfully be gone around.  It is somehow bigger and stronger than oneself.  True, it could be chopped down, but not without tearing the house apart.  And certainly it is beautiful, unique, exotic: but also, let’s face it, it is at times an enormous inconvenience.  

“So there are many things that can be said about one’s life’s mate, but finally, irrevocably, the one definite thing that needs to be said is that he or she is always there.  And that, while it may be common enough in the world of trees, is among us human beings a rather remarkable state of affairs” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, p. 39).

The book went on to describe how nothing in life does more to expose our pride, failings and weaknesses than being married.  Our selfishness is exposed at every turn.  As the Bible says:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  

As helpful as it is for us to be sharpened, the process of chipping away at the ugly and unsightly things in our lives can be painful.  And I just wasn’t ready.  I remember going to my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, watching them take their vows for a lifetime and thinking, “I can’t do this!  I just can’t do it!”  It wasn’t that I didn’t love Lana, but that I couldn’t imagine giving up the idea of just living my life for myself.

In the months that followed, however, God began to show me all that I would gain by being married.  I had recently put my faith in Christ, and I was already seeing the fruit of having invited Him into my life and taking His thoughts into account before acting on my own.  I was eventually convinced that marriage could be worth giving up whatever independence I had before.  The question then became, “Who does God want me to marry?”

Although the Bible gives us certain baseline criteria for choosing our spouse, such as believers marrying other believers (2 Corinthians 6:14a and 1 Kings 11:2b), not marrying close relatives (Leviticus 18:6-19), and marrying someone who can help God fulfill His recreative design for the world (Leviticus 18:22-23 and Romans 1:26-27), it doesn’t tell us which person, specifically, who God wants us to marry.  At least I didn’t think so.  For that, I knew I would have to rely on God’s Holy Spirit.  And I’ve found that He is more than happy to help us–as long as we’re willing to listen.

So how did I know that Lana was “the one”?  For me, my answer came after months of asking God to speak to me clearly if she was the one that He wanted me to marry.  I had already come to the conclusion that I wanted to marry her, but I needed to know for sure what God wanted, because I knew that He knew both of us better than we knew ourselves.

One morning I sat down in my bedroom to read my Bible, but didn’t know what to read.  I had just finished reading my Bible from cover to cover a few days earlier for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t sure where to start reading again.  So I decided to start over at the beginning.

Lana had come to visit me that morning, and we had already been out to watch a friend run a race in downtown Houston.  We decided to take some time to pray on our own before going on with the day, so she sat on the couch in the living room with her Bible, and I went to the bedroom with mine.  This was a refreshingly new practice for both of us in that past year.

I opened up my Bible to the first page again and began to read about how God created the world, and how God created Adam, the first man on earth.  God put him in a beautiful garden and asked him to take care of it.  But God saw that even in the midst of this beautiful setting, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, Adam was still alone:

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18).

So God created Eve and brought her to Adam.

Even though I had heard this story since I was a kid, this was the first time I had seen it from God’s perspective.  As I read about Adam being alone in the garden, my heart fell as God’s must have fallen, when He saw how lonely Adam was.  Then my heart rose again, as God’s must have risen, when God created Eve and brought her to Adam.  I imagined the smile on Adam’s face must have about a mile wide!

As I pictured this scene in my mind, I suddenly had an intense awareness that God was looking down at me just as He had looked at Adam.  There I was, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, but I was still alone.  In that moment, God spoke to my heart.  The words seemed to leap off the page, and I felt that God had done the same for me:  He had created a woman just for me, and He had brought her to me.  She was sitting in the very next room.  After months of praying, I knew that I knew that God really did want to fulfill the desires of my heart.  He really did want me to marry Lana.

I got up off the floor and ran down the hall.  I didn’t stop to look in the mirror as I ran, but I’m sure if I did, the smile on my face must have been about a mile wide.  I told Lana what God was telling me through the story of Adam and Eve.  We talked and we cried and I asked her to marry me right on the spot.  To my delight, she said, “Yes!” and we spent the rest of that incredible day together walking and talking and riding paddle boats in the rain at Miller Park.

My eyes still water as I think about it again, even 25 years later.  Even though I didn’t have a ring, and we didn’t have a candlelight dinner, I had something that was even more precious to me:  I had a word from God that Lana was “the one.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to that story over the years, both in good times and in hard times, and how it has re-energized my love for and commitment to Lana.

For Lana, the story was much simpler:  she said she knew from the day she met me that God wanted her to marry me.  She said that as soon as we met, there on the 2nd floor of David Kinley Hall at the University of Illinois, that these words immediately popped into her mind:  “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”

She said it was the wording that made her realize it was from God, and the way that they came into her mind.  She said the words seemed to come into her mind out of the blue, and they were spoken in the 3rd person:  “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”  She said that if it was her own thought, she would have said to herself, “That’s the man I’m going to marry!”  But she didn’t, and the words were clear:  “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”  She was so convinced that she went home that night and called one of her best friends to tell her she had just met the man she was going to marry.  And she was right!

I tell you these stories not because I think God will speak to you in the exact same way, but to give you confidence that God can speak to you, if you’re willing to listen to Him.  God’s Holy Spirit really is alive and active. And, believe it or not, God wants you to know who to marry even more than you want to know it.  He has a bigger stake in the outcome of your life than you do, and He knows you and every other person on the planet even better than you know yourself.

I had been diligently seeking God for months for His answer (after dating Lana for years before finally coming to the place of asking God what He wanted for our relationship).  And Lana had been praying ever since she was a child for a man to marry who would be like Jesus to her, not that I was ever close to that, but in her eyes at least, she felt that I was the answer to all those prayers.

Once I knew that Lana was the one for me, I knew there was never any going back.  I was committed to planting that tree of marriage right in the center of my living room, and I was happier about it than I can possibly tell you.  I never used the D word (Divorce) because I knew that wasn’t an option.  I knew that for better or worse, neither of us were going away, and we were going to have to work through anything that came our way together.  And I couldn’t have been happier about it.

Just like the words “God will never leave you alone” can be either a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it, the idea of being with another person 24/7 for the rest of your life can be a blessing or a curse, too, depending on how you look at it.  That’s why it’s so important to remember why you chose the one you did in the first place, because it can help restore the way you look at your marriage, not as a curse of always having someone else around, but as a blessing of always having someone else around.

If you’re still considering who to marry, I want to encourage you to choose well.  No decision, other than your decision to follow Christ, is as important.  And no decision this important is one that God wants you to take lightly.  He would love to help you know who to marry, for He has a vested interest in the outcome of both of your lives.

For those of you who have already made your choice of who to marry and who are now living out that choice, perhaps even wondering if you made the right choice or not, I’d like to encourage you to look back and remember why you made that choice in the first place.

What was it that drew you to your spouse?  What made him or her so special to you when you first met or when you first started dating?  What did God speak to you about him or her along the way?  What feelings or emotions stirred within you that made you want to make this commitment to be together forever?  Choosing well is important, but remembering can be just as important to helping you stay committed to your choice.  As Nehemiah said about the Israelites who went back on some of their earlier choices:

“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles You performed among them” (Nehemiah 9:17).

They didn’t listen to God, and they failed to remember the miracles He performed among them.  Don’t be like that!  Listen to God, and then remember what God has told you.

I’m not saying it’s easy to choose who to marry or to stay married after you’ve made that choice, and I’m not saying that people won’t surprise you down the road with actions and decisions that catch us totally off guard.  In fact, I’m saying just the opposite.  I’m saying that none of us really know what we’re getting into when we commit to living with another person for the rest of our lives.  None of us really know what’s in the hearts of other people living on the planet, let alone what’s in our own hearts.  But God knows.

God knows what’s in our hearts, and He knows how to guide and direct us if we’re willing to listen.  God also knows how to redeem ANY situation and ANY decision we ever make, even the bad ones.  In fact, that’s why He sent Jesus to die: to redeem us from the poor choices we make, the sins we’ve committed along the way, so that we can live a new and abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever.  No matter how you’ve arrived at the place you’re in right now, you can trust Him to redeem and restore it and to help make it right.

But if you’re not married yet, do yourself and everyone else around you a huge favor:  Choose well! Listen to God, then remember the miracles He’s done among you.

As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy.  If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

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