When Kevin Miller asked his future wife Karen to marry him, her response was a quick and enthusiastic yes. Karen would later admit that perhaps she could have given a little more thought to such a monumental life decision: “When Kevin popped the question no one asked us a bigger question: ‘Why do you want to get married?’ At the time, the question would have bordered on blasphemy. After all, Kevin and I were in love—anyone could see that. We shared a commitment to Christ. Who needed better reasons than those?”
Just a few years into marriage, the Millers experienced the common listlessness that seeps into many marriages: “Isn’t there more to life than this? We still love each other, but now that we’ve found each other, is this really all there is?”
Some couples face these questions by thinking that perhaps they married the wrong person. If they had married someone else, the thinking goes, the marriage would still be exciting and fulfilling. But the Millers found that what they lacked most as a couple wasn’t compatibility, it was mission.
When a pastor asked them to take over the church youth group, the Millers agreed, not realizing how difficult these adolescents were. Writes Karen, “The group literally drove us to our knees. Before each event, we began to pray for the youth and for ourselves. The group also forced Kevin and me to talk more than we had since we dated. We needed to plan together and present a united front to the kids. As we did, we found out a lot about each other.”
Here’s what I love about joint ministry: you think you know all about a person. You’ve been together for years and it’s easy to assume you’ve got everything figured out; there’s nothing more to share, nothing more to discover, nothing more to talk about. Ministry of any significant kind raises a whole host of other issues; you see a side of yourself and each other that you never knew existed. Sometimes, this can be inspiring, but other times, it can be outright scary. The Millers attest that some of the challenges they faced and disagreements they suffered over how best to proceed at times felt like it would tear them apart as a couple. But it made them talk, it gave them a new reason to pray together, and in doing both, a new intimacy was born.
Because our ministry invites the presence of the Holy Spirit, it can also foster new respect. Two good friends of ours asked Lisa and me to do the premarital counseling for their daughter and her future husband. At my home church, I typically do most of these sessions alone, but Lisa wanted to a part of the conversations with our friends’ daughter. The first time we met we hit on some foundational issues right at the start and spent a good bit of time talking over them. Afterwards, Lisa took my hand and looked at me in a new way.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re pretty good at this,” she said and hugged my arm.
The Holy Spirit is pretty good at this; all I did was offer myself for His use. But if that offering created a new respect from my wife, I wasn’t going to complain…
Notice that this respect came from doing the ministry together. I have done hours upon hours of premarital counseling without Lisa there; it’s when we joined in the effort that our own marriage benefited. The Millers experienced the same thing.
“The biggest surprise was that through the process something good was happening to our marriage. We were working together at something. When we failed, at least it was our failure; and when we succeeded, it was our success. During most of each workday, we were miles apart. But when we led the youth group, we were arm-in-arm and heart-to-heart.”
Kevin and Karen gained a new respect for each other as they saw each other’s gifts put to use, and they stumbled on a great discovery: “What a puzzle! That youth group ministry, which by all rights should have pulled our marriage apart, actually bonded it in a new level of intimacy. Without trying to work on our marriage at all, it had become richer and deeper.”
The Third Hunger
The Millers discovered what they call “a third hunger.” Genesis reveals three aspects of marriage:
- Companionship (Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.”)
- Children (Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply…”)
- Contribution (Genesis 1:28: “Fill the earth and subdue it, and rule…)
In one sense, we could call this third aspect of Genesis, “joint fulfilling service,” the Old Testament equivalent of Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom of God…”
If our mission from Christ is to “seek first the Kingdom of God” how can a successful God-honoring marriage not be marked by mission? We’re not told to seek first an intimate marriage, a happy life, obedient children, or anything else. Jesus tells us to seek first one thing, and one thing only: His Kingdom and His righteousness (the two words define and build on each other, creating one common pursuit).
The Millers understand, as I have come to understand, that life without this aim, and marriage without this purpose, is going to lose a lot of luster. “We hunger for this today: cooperating together, meshing, working like a mountain climbing team, ascending the peak of our dream, and then holding each other at the end of the day. God has planted this hunger deep within every married couple. It’s more than a hunger for companionship. It’s more than a hunger to create new life. It’s a third hunger, a hunger to do something significant together. According to God’s Word, we were joined to make a difference. We were married for a mission.”
Being “married for a mission” can revitalize a lot of marriages in which the partners think they suffer from a lack of compatibility; my suspicion is that many of these couples actually suffer from a lack of purpose. Jesus’ words given to individuals is perhaps even truer in marriage. When we give away our life, we find it. When we focus outside our marriage, we end up strengthening our marriage.
The before-you-have-kids years and the empty-nest years provide particularly wonderful opportunities to “recalibrate” and rebuild your marriage on the back of shared mission. Whether you seek to become the sports/coaching couple, the Bible study leading couple, the local school mentors couple, or the hiking club couple, using extra time for a divine purpose refuels marriage, passion, appreciation, and fulfillment. It can revolutionize your relationship. You know you can’t “re-create” the initial infatuation you felt years ago, but you can create the even more powerful bond of purpose and spiritual mission.
A woman once told me, “Over ten years of marriage, I have found that when my husband and I focus on our own needs, and whether they’re being met, our marriage begins to self-destruct. But when we are ministering together, we experience, to the greatest extent we’ve known, that ‘the two shall become one.’”
Look outside your marriage and build your relationship with renewed joint purpose.
Date Night Questions to Make This Post Come Alive in Your Own Marriage:
- Do we have any shared passions that God could use to reach others?
- Do either one of us already have a leading ministry that the other one can join? How would we make that happen?
- How can ministering for God together help us be more effective at what we’re already doing alone?
- On our sixtieth wedding anniversary, what do we want to be able to look back at and know we accomplished something for God together? What steps can we begin taking today to make that happen?
This article was adapted from Gary’s book: A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Purpose and Friendship in Your Marriage.