As I sat on my daughter’s bed and read the lyrics to “The Wedding March,” from her Disney’s Princess Stories book, I couldn’t help but wonder if this idealistic view of marriage was the reason why so many modern marriages fail.
Here comes the bride
All dressed in white
Her dreams all come true
On her wedding day.
It’s your typical Disney Princess movie plot. Girl meets prince and falls madly in love. He rescues her from a crooked sorcerer, wicked stepmother, evil curse, or a life where she feels trapped.
Then they get married and poof! Like the wave of a magic wand suddenly all her troubles are left behind, her dreams are fulfilled, and they live happily ever after.
While our society is all about the pursuit of happiness and self-fulfillment, marriage was not designed for that purpose. The Bible tells us the primary purpose of marriage is to model Christ’s love and to develop our Christian character.
As Christians, we are called to shift our mindset from looking at marriage as a way to make us happy to a way to make us holy – to accept one another as we are accepted, forgive as we are forgiven, and love as we are loved by God.
To have a healthy, God-honoring marriage, we can stay focused on these 6 fundamental truths:
1. Marriage teaches us how to love unconditionally.
One of the most important lessons God wants us to learn in our life is how to love like Jesus. God uses marriage and our relationships for that purpose.
Loving like Jesus means our love is not conditional. In difficult circumstances, we must seek God and ask Him to express His divine love through us to our spouse.
Loving like Jesus means loving when it’s not easy or convenient. Convenience never produces character (1). When we express love, patience, and commitment to our spouse in the midst of conflict, we strengthen our character, our marriage, and our relationship with God.
“Patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” Romans 5:4 TLB
2. Marriage teaches us to be humble.
1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us that unconditional love is not proud. Humility is the antithesis of pride. When we are humble we recognize we need God and pray that He will help us grow into the person He created us to be. We ask God to reveal our weaknesses and how our words and actions may be contributing to the difficulties in our marriage. With a humble heart, we then ask Him to change us instead of asking him to change our spouse. We focus on what we can control (e.g. our own behavior) and trust that God will take care of the rest.
Showing humility does not mean thinking less of ourselves – it means thinking of ourselves less. It’s not synonymous with being a doormat, but with being a door opener. When we are humble we open the door to being able to recognize and understand the needs of others. We become able to truly listen instead of focusing on what we want to say next. We are able to better appreciate and notice goodness in our spouse instead of being focused on ourselves. In doing so, we promote harmony and happiness in our marriage.
3. Marriage gives us the opportunity to become more holy.
Every interaction with our spouse provides an opportunity for us to put God’s Word into practice and honor Him. One way we do this is through exercising self-control. When communicating with our spouse, we can strive to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry,” relinquishing our choice to retaliate when conflicts arise (James 1:19 NIV).
James 3:8 calls the tongue a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” It has the power to build a person up or a tear a person down in a matter of seconds. However, Proverbs 12:18 tells us that the “tongue of the wise brings healing.” We become wise by meditating on God’s word and by asking God for wisdom for what to do and say, including when to say nothing at all. We ask God to help us guard our tongues so that they may be used for healing and to help us focus on reconciliation instead of retaliation. The more we allow God to work in us, the more His love will be reflected through us. In this way, marriage helps us become more holy.
4. Marriage exposes our weaknesses so we can grow to become more like Christ.
In the words of Beth Moore, “The people closest to us are those who bring out the worst in us, keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves, and keep our pretenses from working” (1).
By bringing out the worst in us, our spouse exposes our weaknesses so we can grow. God uses our spouse to bring up the worst in us so we can bring it out (1). He desires to turn our weaknesses into strengths and change us instead of our circumstances. Marriage keeps us from being prideful and arrogant, teaches us humility, and forces us to rely on Him. His strength is made perfect in our weakness and His light shines brightest in our brokenness.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
5. Marriage teaches us we can’t do everything on our own, drawing us into a closer relationship with God.
Marriage doesn’t solve our problems, it exposes our problems and allows God to transform them into provisions – opportunities for us to grow to become more like Him. It is when we hit rock bottom that we look up, admitting that we can’t do it on our own. Trials in our marriage lead us to seek Him, know Him on a more personal level, and invite Him to work in us and through us.
When we fail to respond to His grace and try to do it all on our own we end up focusing on our problems instead of looking at them as opportunities for growth. This causes us to dwell on the negative and breeds frustration, unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment, which not only affects us, but those around us.
“Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but can also poison the lives of many others.” Hebrews 12:15 Phillips
The antidote for our problems is the grace of God. To receive God’s grace, we humble ourselves, admit we need His help, and accept His grace (2). We trust that if God brought us to it, He will bring us through it. As we lean on Him for strength and rely on His grace, we become able to persevere through challenges, learn from them, and be better because of them.
6. Marriage teaches us where true joy and fulfillment are found.
Our spouse is not responsible for our happiness. Happiness is a mindset – a choice we make regardless of our circumstances. We search for happiness in our careers, possessions, and relationships with others, but true joy and fulfillment are found only through a relationship with God. This begins by believing in Him, inviting Him into our life, and committing to following Him. Once we recognize this we can stop looking to our spouse to meet our every need and blaming him when those needs aren’t met. We can start to notice goodness and be thankful for what attracted us to our spouse, choosing to “fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8 NLT
When we accept these truths and put Christ at the center of our marriage, we build a rock-solid foundation that withstands the storms of life.
“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:25
In every marriage, conflict is inevitable, but when we stay focused on Him and His Word instead of the storms we become able to view our relationship with a fresh perspective. We see it as an opportunity for growth (conflict + commitment = change), to become more holy, and to learn how to love like Jesus.
There are only two things on this Earth that are eternal – God’s Word and people (3). At the end of your life, it won’t matter if you had a successful career, lived in a big house, or went on extravagant vacations. What will matter is if you chose to invest in these two things. When we choose to invest in our relationships with others, we “store up treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20).
God promises to reward those who diligently seek Him and commit to following Him. He promises to reward those who love like Jesus and invest in the things that matter.
His reward is infinitely better than any happily ever after.
Call to Action #1: How can you allow God to transform the problems in your marriage into provisions? How can you invest in your spouse and enable your marriage to help you learn to love like Jesus?
Call to Action #2: Don’t give up! God never promised our marriages (or life, for that matter) would be easy, but He did promise that in all things He works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV). Hold on to that promise! When you feel like quitting, read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 MSG (see below) and pray the Prayer for a God-Shaped Marriage (found in the original blog post), either on your own or with your spouse.
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” 2 Cor 4:16-18 MSG