40 lessons from 40 years of marriage

Dennis Rainey at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dennis Rainey is president of FamilyLife, host of the FamilyLife Today daily radio program, and author of numerous books on marriage and family.

1) Marriage and family are about the glory of God (Genesis 1:26-28) The book (Bible) begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage. Marriage is central to God’s glory on planet earth. And, what God designed and lifted up and gave a transcendent purpose, man has dumbed down to make it this statement of „happiness and finding another person who meets my needs”. Marriage has a transcendent cause of reflecting God to a fallen world. Your marriage, your covenant keeping love will be your greatest witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the coming decades. It’s about the glory of God, not about the happiness of man.

2) Your marriage is now taking place on a spiritual battlefield, not on a romantic balcony. Satan’s first attack on the image of God was to destroy the image bearers relationship with God and then their relationship with one another. If he (Satan) targeted marriage to begin with, why would we think our marriage would be any different? A.W. Tozer believed that far too few Christians ever get into ‘lion country’. For those of us who do get into ‘lion country’ into ministry, I think, all too often we forget that our marriage, our family can be targeted by the enemy to destroy the image bearers and to destroy the legacy that is passed on to future generations. Marriage is under attack today and its definition because of who created marriage: God. We are in a fierce spiritual battle. You are walking on to a battlefield that is littered with casualties.

3) Therefore, your spouse is not your enemy. Ephesians 6:10-12 tell us that our fight is not against flesh and blood. That is true in the word of God, but, I’m gonna tell you, if you’re married today, you’ve looked across the sheets in the morning at your enemy and you’ve said, „What did you do God, in bringing us together?” I promise you, I’ve had those thoughts? But the scriptures tell us, „Your mate is not your enemy, your mate is a gift from God to you”. In all her/his imperfections, God has given you a gift. You can either receive it by faith or you can reject it and be deceived by the enemy to think, indeed, my mate is my enemy.

4) The couple that prays together, stays together. 

5) Isolation is a subtle killer of relationships. Genesis 2:18-25 gives us the prescription of scripture. Leave, cleave, become one. But, the enemy of our souls wants to divide us, because in isolation you can convince of anything. How important is oneness? John 17 points out that Jesus prayed for the church to be one. Why? Because we are naturally divided.

6) It’s a whole lot easier for two broken people to build a marriage from the same set of biblical blueprints, than from two different sets of blueprints. What would your physical house look like if you had 2 different architects, 2 different builders and 2 different sets of blue prints? You’d get some pretty funny houses, wouldn’t you?

7) It is healthy to confess my sins to my spouse. James 5 reminds us „Confess yourselves to one another, that you may be healed”. If you want to be healthy develop a marriage relationship where the other has access to the interior of your soul. I stump some people by saying I ask Barbara (my wife) to pray for me when I am struggling with lust. She thanks me for coming to her so she can pray for me.

8) It is categorically impossible to experience marriage as God designed it without being liberal and lavish in your forgiveness for one another.  Ephesians 4:32 Failing to forgive, failing to ask for forgiveness kills oneness, unity and life in  a marriage. Forgiveness means we give up the right to punish the other person.

9) The greatest threat in any marriage is losing a teachable heart. Proverbs 4;23 Guard your heart, for from it flows the springs of life. Spiritually protect a heart that can become hardened and isn’t teachable. Are you approachable? When’s the last time you asked your spouse to forgive you? When’s the last time you had listened to a child that maybe was hurt by you?

10) Every couple needs a mentor couple who is one lap ahead of them in the season of life.

11) What you remember is just as important as what you forget. Collect spiritual stones as you go on because we suffer from spiritual amnesia. When we forget what God has done, we forget who God is, and we forget to trust Him today.

12) Marriage was designed by God to be missional. A.W. Tozer said, „God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity we plan to do the things we can only do by ourselves. Life can wear you down, disappointment chips away faith, and as a couple you have to work on this go to the finish line.

13) It’s ok to have one rookie season, but its not ok to repeat it repeatedly. I was an idiot the first 12 months of my marriage, repeatedly ignoring the dignity of the woman that God gave me. Those lessons have to be learned and applied.

14) Never use the ‘d’ word (divorce) in your marriage, instead use the ‘c’ word- commitment, covenant, covenant keeping love that says, I’d marry you all over again. I can still remember an argument that my parents had when I was  years old, when divorce was not in vogue. Your kids are highly sensitized to what your marriage is like  and how you do your arguments and your disagreements. Let them hear of your commitment to one another.

15) Honoring our parents brought life to our marriage. Exodus 20:12 The first commandment with a promise. We are a generation that has bashed and blamed our parents, ignoring this commandment. It is time for us to return back home to our parents with honor.

16) Different isn’t wrong, it’s just different. Your spouses differences are not wrong, just different. We marry one another for this. Your spouses’ differences are new capacities that he has brought to your life to complete you. Your spouse is God’s added dimension to your life.

17)  My marriage and family are redemptive. They have saved me from toxic self absorption. The way to have a Godly marriage is the same path as coming to faith in Christ. It’s surrender, giving up your rights, to Him first and then to your spouse, serving them.

18) Your wife is your #1 disciple. 

19) Go near the orphan. The Father’s heart is with the orphan and when you go near the orphan as a couple, you go near the father’s heart.

20) Make your home a storm shelter. a safe place to go to in a storm. Suffering is in the fine print of the marriage covenant. Matthew 7:24-27 The summary of the sermon on the mount. Jesus compares 2 builders of 2 homes and shelters. We’re going to build our marriages in the middle of storms.

21) Suffering will either drive you apart or it will be used by God to merge you together. 

22) Men and women process suffering very differently. Sorrow shared is grief divided. It is a wise husband who gives his wife space and grace to process loss and suffering as a woman, different from how he processes.

23) Loss is a part of life and it increases as we age. How you and your wife process grief and loss will determine whether you will grow old blessing others, giving life to others or whether you curse them and become a bitter, crotchety old person.

24) Communication is to marriage what blood is to the body. It’s the life giver of a relationship. SImply put- find  a way to get 5,10,15 minutes together to talk every day.

25) Husbands, dads: No shepherd can lead any faster than sheep can follow. You are the guardian of your marriage and families’ direction and vision. C H Spurgeon put it well. He had to be speaking to men who were attempting to shepherd their family. He said, „It was by perseverance the snail reached the ark”. That is the great hope for me as the spiritual leader of my family. Just not quitting, after you fail you get back up.

26)  Maximize your wife’s talents, gifts, experience, and passion, as you would an olympic athlete. Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 9. We need to tie that to Ephesians 5, men, which talks about loving our wives like we love our own bodies, so that we are helping our wives get to the finish line, accomplishing everything that God has in mind for her. Do an inventory of her gifts, her talents, her passion, what motivates her, what demotivates her, pray for her and her vision. What are her core competencies? Dream some dreams together.

27) Wives, your respect will fuel your husband and your contempt will empty his tank. Ephesians 5:33 commands wives to respect their husbands. Ladies, keep in mind that 93% of all communication is non verbal. How are you expressing belief in your man, nonverbally?

28) Women spell romance differently than men. Women spell it relationship. Men spell it sex. Here’s the thing: God, in His cosmic genius has brought these 2 people together who spell it differently.

29) Our romance gave us children and our children tried to steal our romance. Your marriage must be built to outlast the kids.

30) Build too many guardrails rather than too few. Men, don’t trust yourselves alone with the opposite sex. I have a friend who won’t get on an elevator alone with a woman. Some may say that’s extreme. Given the fallout today, I’m not sure it’s extreme.

31) Wives generously use your sexual power in your husband’s life. One of the mistakes, I think we make, when we read Proverbs chapters 5-7, which is a father’s advice to his son about the ‘harlot’ is that we think the only person that should use that kind of sexual power over a man is a woman in the streets.

These next 4 represent four key elements that comprise the essence of rearing children:

32) Identity. This has to do with discipling your child to know his or her spiritual destiny.

33) Relationship. Disciple your child to know what real love is, how to love another imperfect person and how to experience love. Matthew 22:34-40

34) Character. It’s discipling your child to be wise and not be a fool, increasingly important, as the days are evil

35) Mission. Disciple your child to be about the Savior’s the mission: the great commission. It is no mistake that the scriptures speak of children as quivers in the hands of a warrior. They are pulled back by an archer, aimed at a target and let go. What are you aiming them towards? What are you challenging them to give their lives to? The kingdom’s work is paramount. We’re gonna need another generation to carry on should Christ tarry. Philippians 2 is a great reminder „As you have obeyed, not only in my presence but much more in my absence. Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”. Be on a mission, be lights in the world. That’s what a family is all about, a generational relay race.

36) Determining your core values as a couple will enable you to sing off the same song sheet as you raise your children.

37) Interview your daughter’s date and train your sons not to be clueless. 

38) Your adult children need you to become smaller, not bigger in their lives.

39) As I get older I want to laugh more with my wife, gripe less and be found guilty of giving her too much love, grace and mercy, rather than too little.

40) The most important thing about you, as an individual and as a couple is what you think about God. Our view of God, and who He is, and the blueprints of His word are going to guide you all of your days, through many valleys and mountaintops. 

Your family is the generational connector between the Gospel and the glory of God for the next generation. Don’t quit.

Panel discussion SBTS – Helpful question & answer session on marriage and ministry

A great session at the end of a one day conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, geared towards pastors and ministry leaders, however every couple (even the one not in active ministry) can learn and apply most of the answers given  in this very candid conversation.

See previous messages on marriage and ministry at SBTS by-

  1. After Russell’s message this morning, just talking about something as serious as pornography, having a discussion- husband and wife- about that, CJ (Mahaney) had some things to add from his years of shepherding, where something like this has to occur, (what is) the process…?
  2. What if you have a pastor who is leading the church, pronounced leadership, but, he’s not leading in the home? How is the wife to respond. We say ‘love covers a multitude of sins’, it doesn’t cover all sins, here’s a wife who sees inconsistency, she’s hearing him preach, but at home he is not a good leader. What would you recommend?
  3. How do we deal with the inconsistency that we experience? We preach a better message at times. So, we have the standards and we can’t lower the Scriptures to our lifestyle. How do we work through that? That can be a challenge at times. I mean, you’re going to church and a fight breaks out and you’re gonna stand before the people of God… and that’s tough.
  4. Where do we go for help, as pastors in the local church?
  5. What are some of the early warning signs in a Gospel ministry couple of indications where they need to get help? There’s obviously some sins that we handle through grace induced progressive sanctification, others you need to get intensive, you need to nip it in the bud. What are these early warning signs?
  6. How do you work through a dry season? ( a dry, flat [or too busy] time in your marriage)
  7. Sometimes, in your church you come across a couple who says they never fought. What do you think about them?
  8. (Give) some principles, real practical, of how to fight fair. What does a good fight look like in your home?

Panel Discussion from Southern Seminary on Vimeo.


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