By Brent Rinehart, Crosswalk.com
Some days, my goal is simply to put one foot in front of the other consistently enough to make it through to the end of the day. I’m in a life stage where it is easy to feel out of control, with two young kids and a full plate of activities (on top of work and other obligations and demands).
On those days, it’s almost like my wife and I are running a marathon, and we are just trying to cross the finish line.
But, God doesn’t want us to just survive. He intends for us to thrive, or flourish.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus is talking about having life, and having it to the fullest!
In the same way, God wants our marriages to not only last, but to thrive. When I set out to write this article, I really had to meditate on what it means to thrive. I was really intrigued by one definition I read for the word… to grow vigorously.
Over the last few years, I’ve taken up gardening. Now, I’ve grown a few things in planter boxes and on patios through the years, but last year it got real--my first, sizeable, in-ground garden.
We moved to a new home with more land and space to undertake such an effort, so I said “why not?” While I was feeling adventurous last spring, I decided to attempt to grow some cantaloupe plants from the seeds from a store-bought cantaloupe. I had no idea if it would work or not.
Well, let me tell you, with a little work and a lot of patience, those cantaloupe seeds sprang forth huge plants that produced dozens of cantaloupes… and grew so vigorously they nearly took over the garden.
I know it can be cliché to draw a comparison between a garden and a marriage--but it’s nearly unavoidable since it is so apt. Like a garden, a marriage needs cultivation.
You have to pay attention to your garden plot--add in the good stuff like compost and remove the bad stuff like weeds and pests. If you do those things, the plants will thrive, or “grow vigorously.”
So, how do we get our marriage to do the same? I believe there are a few key factors that contribute to a thriving, growing marriage. If we maintain our focus on these, then we’ll see the fruitful results in our relationships.
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“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:24). I’d say becoming “one flesh” and “giving yourself up for your wife” is pretty strong commitment.
At most wedding ceremonies, the two stand across from each other and vocalize their commitment to each other. It’s there at the start, but all too often, it fades over time. In the marriages that struggle or don’t end up making it, something happens or gets in the way of that original commitment the two had to each other.
The other day, one of my favorite Bible teachers and Twitter follows, Beth Moore, tweeted: “Just gonna tell y’all something. By the time you’ve been married over 40 years, you’ve been married to about four different people. So have they. It’s a miracle of God any of us ever make it.”
People change over time, that’s true. The man or woman you married is probably not the same person today.
If you are both maturing, and growing closer to the Lord, you should be growing closer to each other at the same time. I think about who I was 15 years ago when I got married. I was just a kid, it seems. My wife and I have both grown tremendously, and we are closer now that we ever have been.
The only way that’s possible is by staying committed--committed to the Lord and committed to your spouse.
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I love the visual of athletes running a major marathon, while friends and spectators line the sides to cheer them on. The runners round a corner and supporters hold out a small cup of water that they grab on the move.
These small pieces of encouragement give them the physical and mental strength to carry.
I recently binge-watched a show on Amazon Prime called the World Toughest Race. Teams from around the world competed in a grueling, multiday trek across hundreds of miles in Fiji--open water paddling, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rappelling, hiking and climbing. Imagine an Iron Man marathon every day for a week and a half.
At various points in the race, a family member would be awaiting them at camp to provide food, encouragement, additional gear and more. To this ragged and weary racers, the short respite and support from a loved one was just what they needed to continue.
Author Gary Chapman writes in his book The 4 Seasons of Marriage, “One of the most effective ways to help your spouse is to offer encouraging words. The word encourage means “to inspire courage.”
All of us have areas in which we feel insecure and lack courage, and that lack of courage often hinders us from accomplishing the positive things that we would like to do. The latent potential within your spouse may await your encouraging words… Most of us have more potential than we will ever develop.
The thing that holds us back is often lack of courage. A loving spouse can supply that all-important catalyst.”
If we encourage our spouse daily, instead of tearing them down, our marriage will be stronger.
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I’ve heard many preachers say that praying for patience is one of the most dangerous prayers you can ever pray. As soon as you start, God will give you opportunities to show it.
We could all use a little more patience. Many of us struggle in this area, and yet it’s a “fruit of the spirit” so you know it’s important to God. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
God is incredibly patience with us. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If you think about it, it’s absurd that we can require so much patience, and not be eager to return the favor to others (or even to God!).
Admittedly, I struggle from time to time in this area. I expect patience from those around me, but find myself losing it all too often.
A marriage requires patience. In my life, I know my wife has to extend more patience toward me than she needs in return. I can be set in my ways. I can say things that I shouldn’t say. I can get frustrated quicker than I should. I can avoid difficult conversations. So, to sum up, I can be a handful sometimes.
Also, our lives together require patience. We have to learn to wait on God’s timing in our lives and in our marriages. We wait on God’s timing in our family and career. And, while we wait, God strengthens our bond to each other.
“But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4, NKJV).
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It’s easy for day-to-day life to cause us to lose sight of the one aspect of our marriage that can hold it all together and help it grow – Jesus himself. Marriage shouldn’t just be between man and wife; it should include God, the one who designed marriage in the first place.
In Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, she shares that 53 percent of “Very Happy Couples” agree with the statement, "God is at the center of our marriage" (compared to 7 percent of Struggling Couples).
She writes, "Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness."
When marriages hit a snag, the most likely culprit is that one or both have shifted the focus away from God. It is easy to become consumed by our work, family drama, financial obligations and more. It is easy to focus on our problems and forget the Problem-Solver.
We can even be consumed by seemingly good things, but missing out on the best thing. Our wedding ceremonies are packed with Scripture and prayer, but too many marriages don’t have room for either.
We elevate so many other things in our lives, and allow them to take the place reserved for God and Him alone.
If we put God first in every aspect of our lives, He’ll take care of the rest. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). If husband and wife are committed to following God’s will and seeking Him on a daily basis, they’ll naturally grow closer to each other.
C.S. Lewis offered this perspective: “When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.”
If we are better Christians, we’ll be better husbands and wives, and we’ll have a better marriage.
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