How to Nurture a Marriage

Series: Preacher: Date: May 29, 2005 Scripture Reference: Genesis 2:18, 21-24

p>Genesis 2:18

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Genesis 2:21-24

21 – So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh.

22 – Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man.

23 – The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

24 – For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Last weekend I was privileged to be a part of the wedding of Anna Sternfeld and Steven Gearhart. Anna is of course the second and middle daughter of our own Mike and Kathy Sternfeld. One down two to go! And it was a beautiful wedding. Anna and Steve said their vows in his parent’s front yard. God blessed them with weather that was perfect for an outdoor wedding-70 degrees with a gentle wind blowing…blue skies filled with cotton candy clouds. About 75 guests-family and friends-came, some traveling long distances to witness the ceremony. Many brought gifts-enough to fill an entire room. The groom and his men wore tuxes, including Steve’s little nephew-the ring-bearer-who topped his miniature tux outfit off nicely with a pair of black canvas converse all star high tops.

After a great deal of prayer at the 11th hour Mike was finally able to get special leave from the U.S. Army so he could come and walk his daughter down the aisle. It was a brief leave though-the next morning he was back on a plane returning to his base in North Carolina where he continues to prepare for his imminent deployment to Iraq. Kathy made beautiful dresses for the entire bridal party-and each gown looked absolutely perfect. I didn’t know Kathy was a seamstress-but she is-and a very skilled one to boot! After the ceremony we all moved to the backyard where a big tent had been set up and we enjoyed a sumptuous feast while listening to a great little band play hits of the 60’s and 70’s.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was a gift provided by Steve’s sister-in the form of a chocolate fountain. This four foot multi-tiered fountain spewed molten Belgian dark chocolate. It cascaded down the sides in seemingly limitless supply. And they had provided fruit, pretzels, and other treats that you could dip in this fountain before stuffing in your mouth. My will power was good. I was able to limit my intake to one small but delicious pretzel. But I want you to know that this chocolate volcano was a real hit. People lined up to use it and it was hard to get them to leave the fountain when dinner was served! In fact, Sue is investigating how much it would cost to have one at our VBS family fun night. I doubt we could afford it but can you imagine how the kids would feel about it?! I mean, it might actually surpass the moon bounce in popularity!

During the meal there were toasts to Steve and Anna and the health of their marriage. Like most weddings there was a dance floor set up and it was great seeing the family enjoy tripping the light fantastic…moms and dads dancing cheek to cheek…grandparents dancing with grandchildren-not to mention the bride and groom’s first dance as husband and wife. Suffice it to say that it was a wonderful afternoon and evening-not unlike hundreds of other such evenings that I have been a part of as a pastor-evenings that absolutely glow with family joy.

And, you know there’s a lot of that glowing going on. Thousands and thousands of evenings much like that happen across our nation every year, because in our culture-weddings are a very big deal. In fact the United States has one of the highest marriage rates in the world. Even though many people wait until they are somewhat older to marry than they did twenty years ago about 96% of Americans still marry at some point in their lives. If you did a survey in which you asked the average American to list the ingredients of a good life, most would place being happily married near the top. Even 80% of those who divorce decide to give it another shot and marry again.

I mean, in our culture people definitely believe in marriage…and one reason they do is because inside they know we each need companionship in life. That’s the way we are wired. As the beginning of the creation account it tells us, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) and because it is not, God has made for man a “helper.” Now, when we use this word, “helper,” many people picture a sort of assistant-someone to simply wait on man hand and foot-someone who brings the chips and the dip-but that’s not the idea here. No, this word “helper” is much stronger than that. In fact it’s the same Hebrew word that is used to describe God Himself in Psalm 46:1 where it says, “God is our refuge and strength an ever-present HELP in time of trouble.” Basically this word for “helper” refers to someone who supplies what is lacking in another person. It tells us that God created Eve to do what Adam could not do by Himself and vice versa. It’s not that the man was better than the woman or woman than man….but rather that each was and still is inadequate alone and as I said, inside we all know this.

Our God-given instincts tell us that it is not good to be alone so the majority of us marry. In spite of a sky-rocketing divorce rate most people still search for a “helper”-someone to share their lives with-someone to do for themselves what they can’t.

Well, this morning as we wind up our series on building great families, I want us to look at four basic principles that help nurture SUCCESSFUL, HEALTHY marriages…four principles that foster marriage relationships that are able to supply us with this inborn need we have for companionship.

1. And the first requirement for a successful marriage is for both husband and wife to be committed for the LONG HAUL.

In other words spouses must agree that they are devoted to their relationship no matter what-UNTIL DEATH DO THEM PART. Now-anyone who has been married for ten years or more will tell you that all marriage relationships go through phases in the first few years.

A. The first phase could be referred to as the ROMANCE stage.

During these first years or months-couples intensely FOCUS only on each other. They are spellbound-absorbed with each other. During this stage the tendency is to put your partner up on a pedestal. He or she can do no wrong. Spouses often wax poetic in this stage as an expression of their love for their spouse. We find a good example of this in the 4th chapter of the Song of Solomon where a love struck husband describes his wife by saying:

“How beautiful you are my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead!” (Song of Solomon 4:1)

Remember this is a middle-eastern setting so these are complimentary phrases! He goes on, “Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, built with elegance…”

Song of Solomon 4:3-4. He continues to describe her physical attributes but you get the idea so we’ll stop at the neckline. But you can see that Solomon is definitely in the ROMANCE stage at this point. He is totally focused on his wife-and it’s a focus that drives him to write poetry.

This stage is also characterized by INDULGENCE. There’s a lot of giving IN and giving UP, “Whatever you want darling!” Couples GO along to GET along, catering to each other’s whims. For example: wives can’t stand sports but during the romance stage they go to football games with their husbands anyway. Husbands can’t stand shopping but they go to malls and outlets with their wives anyway.

And there’s also a lot of IGNORANCE in this early stage of marriage because couples don’t really know each other. Now this stage doesn’t last long. Soon couples DO get to know each other and come to realize that their partners actually have faults. They see how they look and smell in the morning. I mean, this romance stage is referred to as the IDEAL…but when they get to know each other the IDEAL turns into an ORDEAL and at this point they enter the second stage known as…

B. …the REALITY Stage.

Once again Solomon gives us an example of this. In the text we read a moment ago Solomon was saying that his wife was perfect…flawless. Remember? But, then a little while later in Proverbs 27:15-16 he’s changed his tune, saying this about his lovely wife with lips like a scarlet ribbon and a neck like the tower of David. Now he writes, “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day. Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” What happened? Rick Warren puts it this way,”His delight turned to disillusionment. His dating to debating. His romance to resentment. The ideal to an ordeal.”

At this point Solomon is like the man who went to his pastor complaining two months after his wedding saying, “I got false advertising here.” The Pastor said, “Hey, you took her for better or worse.” The man replied, “Yeah, but she’s a lot worse than I took her for.” Now, ladies, please don’t be offended. I’m sure there’s a wives version of this joke but I couldn’t find it!

Anyway, in this stage DULLNESS often sets in. Things are no longer exciting. Disagreements often turn the relationship into a marital cold war. What started as puppy love has gone to the dogs. This change in the marital relationship reminds me of something Dan Erickson once wrote which he referred to as the 7 STAGES OF A COLD for a married couple. The first year of marriage, the husband says, “Honey, I’m worried about my little girl. You have a bad sniffle. I want to put you in the hospital for a complete checkup. I know the food is terrible there, but I have arranged for meals for you to be sent in from Mamma Lucia’s.” The second year: “Listen, sweetheart, I don’t like the sound of that cough. I’ve called the doctor and he said I can bring you in this afternoon. Just rest in bed until it’s time go.” The third year: “Maybe you should lie down, dear. I’ll make supper tonight. Do we have any cans of soup in the house?”

The Fourth year: “Look, dear be sensible. After you have fed the kids and washed the dishes, you really should go to bed.” The Fifth year: “Why don’t you take a couple of aspirin.” The Sixth year: “Please gargle, or something, instead of sitting there barking like a seal. I think I’ll sleep on the couch tonight.” The Seventh year: “Would you stop sneezing. What are you trying to do, give me pneumonia? You better sleep on the couch tonight.”

Most marriages DO change at the beginning. They go from ROMANCE to REALITY…and shortly thereafter they enter the third stage…

C. ….which is referred to as the RETHINKING Stage.

Let’s put it this way. The Romance Stage is when we think of marriage as the perfect ideal. The Reality Stage is where the ideal can turn into an ordeal. The Rethinking stage is when we want a NEW DEAL. And at this point more and more couples do exactly that. They file for divorce and search for a NEW DEAL.

Well couples can get through these stages and even grow marriages that are better in spite of them…if they go into marriage with a mutual commitment that A NEW DEAL is not an option, deciding that no matter what comes they are committed to their relationship for life. I say this for two reasons.

A. First, with this “long haul mind set” we are more likely to marry right in the first place.

I mean with this conviction couples are much less likely to get married without due thought and consideration. If we know there’s no turning back we won’t look at marriage trivially. We’ll take it very seriously-and we should. As most pastors say at the beginning of a wedding ceremony,

“Marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly but seriously, reverently, and in the fear of the Lord.” Here’s a word picture to help you see the importance of this. Imagine what it would be like in America if the law was you could only own one car for the rest of your life. You could never trade it in for newer or better model. You could never junk it because it cost too much or breaks down to often. If this were the law wouldn’t you be very careful in making this purchase? Of course you would! And the same principle applies to marriage. When we recognize it’s permanence we will be wiser when it comes to when and with whom we make that once-in-a-lifetime commitment.

B. Plus, if a NEW DEAL is not an option we’re more likely to strive to make our marriages work.

We realize-this is it. This is my one and only shot at this. I’ve got to work to make this relationship work-and that’s good because to be good at marriage TAKES work-in fact it takes a life-time of work. You see, to be good at marriage requires skill and to develop any skill takes time and practice. Someone one said,”Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning hand springs, or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.” And that’s correct. Marriage takes time and practice. It takes years of work for two different sinful beings to learn to work together.

My daughter Becca played on a Montgomery County rec basket ball team for several years. I think it was from 3rd grade until 7th grade or something like that. Joe and Paula Pursell were her coaches every single year-working with the same basic group of girls. So every Saturday morning for years we went to watch her play. And if you were to look at they way that group of girls played the first year and then compare it to the way they played the last year you’d be amazed at their improvement. By the end of all those years of training by Joe and Paula, their shots were more accurate-their dribbling was more confident. They learned to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of other team mates and play as a team. Over the years they learned the skills necessary to being good at playing basketball. Well, it is the same in marriage. It takes time to get good at it. You don’t become a good HELPER to your spouse over night. And the longer and harder you work at it, the better…no the more WONDERFUL it gets. So understand-couples who decide they want a NEW DEAL-couples who quit when things get tough-well they never really experience GENUINE marital bliss because that kind of SOUL-STIRRING MARITAL JOY only comes to those who work to learn to GIVE it.

Unfortunately these days the omnipresence of divorce makes it hard or even impossible for the average spouse to learn the skills he or she needs to learn in order to develop a great marriage.

You see a strong marriage-a wonderful marriage-is not built on COMPATIBILITY as much as it is a COMMITMENT to a lasting relationship. One writer put it this way,”A good marriage is not a gift which the bride and groom discover among the wedding presents. It’s an achievement, a home-made, life-long, do-it-yourself project. It’s built by two hearts and two pairs of hands, constantly working together at the task over a long period of time.”

And this is one reason God has commanded in His Word, that, “…what He has joined together, no man is to separate.” Our Heavenly Father did not issue that command to restrict us or to make us miserable. Its just that, as the Inventor of marriage, He knows that REAL love and fulfillment exist only in conditions where there is LONG-TERM trust and commitment. It is ONLY in this atmosphere of “no matter what I’m not giving up” commitment that genuine love is deepened and takes root. But couples who give up and search for a new deal never discover this. It’s like the miner who gives up digging when he’s only six inches from hitting a vein of pure gold ore. To get to “marital gold” spouses have to be committed for the long haul. And then, a second principle we must understand in order to nurture healthy marriages is this:

2. Spouses must seek to UNDERSTAND and EMBRACE each other’s differences.

And each man and woman IS different beyond the obvious physical differences…but as I inferred spouses don’t usually realize HOW different they are until they get through the ROMANCE stage. At that point their eyes are opened and they often say something like this, “Before we were married we had so much in common and now that we are married we have nothing in common.” I think to say they have NOTHING in common is a little extreme, but most couples soon realize that they have a lot less in common than they originally thought. In fact it is almost humorous how often God seems to put exact opposites together. Here’s some examples-and as I list them let’s have no finger pointing or elbow jabbing! One spouse is an early riser. The other want’s to hibernate until noon. One loves to talk-they have the gift of gab. The other is deaf and dumb. One is a people person. They love to be around groups of people. The other is more comfortable alone. One loves to go out. The other hates that and is a real homebody. One loves to spend money. Their spouse is a tightwad. One is always on time. The other is never on time.

And, as Gary Chapman pointed out in his best-selling book, spouses also communicate love differently. Some do so through physical touch while others do through acts of service and so on. Most couples don’t communicate love in the same way.

Well, once couples realize how different they are from their spouses they often think they made a big mistake and must give up on the relationship…and start searching for a NEW DEAL. They think their only option is to quit the marriage and renew their quest for someone who is the perfect match for them-someone with whom they share likes and dislikes. This reminds me of the ancient Greek legend of a Cyprian king named Pygmalion who found a unique way to solve potential marital differences. He became so frustrated with his inability to find his perfect match-the right woman to marry that he decided to sculpt one. So, out of the most exquisite ivory he could find he fashioned the woman of his dreams. When he was done, he bowed and prayed and the ivory woman miraculously came to life. Pygmalion took his perfect match as his wife and they lived happily ever after. Well, when husbands and wives discover how different they are they often use Pygmalion’s technique and chisel and sculpt away their spouses “flaws.” But this is a mistake. You see if a marriage is to be strong-if the husband and wife are to be a team then they need to learn to discover and embrace-and even DELIGHT in-one another’s uniqueness.

I say this because as someone once put it, when two people always AGREE in marriage one of them is not necessary. To have a whole marriage, you need to have some diversity. It takes two unique people. In the same way it takes a fork and a knife to eat a meal…it takes two different people to make a complete marital team. In verse 24 of our text it says that in marriage as God intended, husband and wife become “ONE.” Well when Jesus quoted this text in the New Testament He used a little Greek word that is pronounced, “heis” and HEIS means UNITY…but it was also used to express the idea of UNIQUENESS and this may seem a bit contradictory. I mean, to say, “The two shall become ONE” seems much different than to say, “The two shall be come UNIQUE.” But what Jesus was saying by using this word in this way was that-a Godly marriage is one that honors both your UNITY and your UNIQUENESS.

Think of marriage as two circles so close that they have one ellipse of overlapping area. The overlapping area can symbolize the UNITY part of marriage….while the non-overlapping parts represent the uniqueness parts of the relationship. And you need both for a marriage to be healthy. Couples should share SOME common interests but to be whole, their relationship needs differences as well…because then husbands and wives form a partnership far stronger than either one alone as they compensate for each other’s weaknesses and encourage each other’s strengths.

One of the best tools for discovering each other’s unique differences is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator test. How many of you have taken it or are familiar with it?

Well, for the rest of you the philosophy behind this test proposes that all people approach four selected areas of life in ways that are fundamentally different-but equally right. These different ways of behaving are called PREFERENCES. Let’s review them briefly.

A. The first area of difference looks at where people get their ENERGY and how this impacts their RELATIONAL patterns.

EXTROVERTS derive energy from social contact so they like to be with people INTROVERTS on the other hand, derive energy from solitude. They prefer to be alone. Do we have any EXTROVERTS present today? I’d ask for INTROVERTS to raise their hands but won’t because I know they’d prefer to remain anonymous!

B. The second area of possible difference deals with how people take in and handle INFORMATION and how they solve PROBLEMS.

INTUITIVE people focus on ideas and possibilities. They’re imaginative people who constantly dream of better ways to do things. They’re big-picture types who don’t like to get mired down in intricate details and procedures. On the other hand, SENSING people say, “I’ll trust you when I see the facts! Give me the pertinent data first.” This is one of the things that makes meetings like church council interesting because you have DREAMERS and you have DOERS and it’s often difficult to get them to agree on things. How many INTUITIVES do we have here this morning? What about SENSORS?

C. The third area of differing preference has to do with how we make DECISIONS.

THINKERS make them based on clear logic and practicality. They take a cool calculated approach and look at obvious cause and effect. To them, if it makes sense do it. Clear and simple. Black and white. Thinkers are concerned about productivity, efficiency, profitability, effectiveness and achievement of goals. But their opposite-FEELERS-base their decisions on more people-oriented implications. They tune in to people’s emotions and sentiments and ask,

FEELERS agonize over confrontations and lose sleep over decisions that impact other people. I saw these two types illustrated in an old WWI movie that stared Kirk Douglas. His general was ordering the troops to take an almost impregnable hill…calmly explaining that the task was possible even though it would mean half the attacking soldiers would lose their lives. Douglas’ character was arguing against it, saying too any lives would be lost. He loved his men and FELT for them-deciding it was wrong to make the attack at that cost.

D. The final area deals with basic life ORIENTATION.

STRUCTURED people prefer a predictable routine. They thrive on organization. They respond well to deadlines, rules, and policies. They like to make a plan and stick with it and are frustrated by interruptions, surprise, or change. UNSTRUCTURED people prefer spontaneity. They HATE routines, rules, and deadlines, and avoid planning at all costs. They prefer to let the day unfold naturally and see what adventure might be just around the corner. They are “play-it-by-ear” people, because they like life best when it’s unplanned and unsettled, when all the options are open.

Now let’s do a quick survey. How many of you, after hearing this, realize you are married to an opposite in some way…a thinker to a feeler…an extrovert to an introvert, etc.? Well, if you discovered that then don’t despair. Neither of these four different extremes are righter than the other. Both are important. So if you are an intuitive married to a sensor or a structured married to an unstructured then thank God because He has just given you someone uniquely gifted to make up for your weaknesses. You are stronger-more complete-together as a marital unit than you would have been alone. Sue is more of a FEELER. I lean toward being a THINKER. Sue is UNSTRUCTURED. I tend to be STRUCTURED-but these differences make us a better team.

She envisions the adventure. I come up with the plan to make the adventure happen. For example, she says, “We need to get away as a family and have some fun together.” I call the real estate agent and rent the condo at the beach. I call AAA and arrange for the trip tik and go to the bank and get the necessary funds, etc. In our 26 years of marriage we’ve come to see that we literally NEED each other’s differences in order to get through life. We’ve come to not only UNDERSTAND them but embrace them and value them-and the same is true about any marriage. You need a spouse who is different than you.

And understanding our differences has other benefits. First it’s hard to LOVE someone authentically until you really understand them. And-it’s also hard to resolve marital conflicts until you see the underlying issues-issues that so often come from our uniqueness. When you quit passing judgement on your differences then you open the door for workable compromise and end up delighting in the very differences that once caused division.

So, in order to nurture a healthy marriage spouses must be committed to the long haul. They must seek to understand and embrace each other’s differences…

3. …but third and most important, Spouses must invite GOD into their relationship.

As I told you last week, the family was designed to function best with each family member acknowledging Christ as Lord. When spouses do this-marriage WORKS-when they don’t it DOESN’T or at the very best it is a mere shadow of what it could be. The fact is we can’t love each other in the way we are designed to need to be loved on our own. We need an outside power source to do this and that power source is God. So, the tragic truth is a husband and wife who leave God out of their marriage never REALLY understand what it MEANS to love one another.

They only scratch the surface of intimacy that is available to spouses whose love for each other is empowered by their Christian faith. In his new book Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships, Chip Ingram points out that our culture has marriage all wrong. I love the way he has done this. He rightly concludes that the world says that these are the steps to marital bliss:

a. FIND the right person.

b. FALL in love.

c. FIX your hopes and dreams on this person for your future fulfillment.

d. If FAILURE occurs get a NEW DEAL by repeating steps 1, 2, & 3.

But, God’s prescription for marital joy is much different. It goes like this:

a. BECOME the right person.

b. WALK in love.

c. FIX your hope on God and seek to please Him through this relationship.

d. If FAILURE occurs repeat steps 1, 2, 3.

Do you see the difference a relationship with God can make in a marriage? God says, instead of FINDING the right person, BE the right person. And this is so important because our love for others-especially our spouses-flows out of our sense of BEING deeply loved by God. So instead of LOOKING for love, God tells us to realize that love has already FOUND us. He loves us more than we could ever deserve. He meets our need for love. And the best way for us to demonstrate that we have understood and accepted God’s love is to learn to imitate Him as closely as possible in the way we treat others-especially our spouses. For example, as Ephesians 4:32 says, Godly spouses are, “…kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other JUST AS IN CHRIST GOD FORGAVE them.” Spouses who have a deep relationship with God through Jesus are secure in who they are-secure enough to be a GIVER instead of a TAKER. They can also WALK in love every day-giving their spouse what he or she needs the most when it is least deserved because they know that’s exactly how God has treated them. Christian spouses express their view of each other like this. They say, “You are NOT the most important person in my life-Christ is. But because He is I’m going to treat you even better than I could treat you if you were the most important person in my life. Christ will help me love you more than I could ever love you in my strength alone.” And-when the inevitable problems come-in a marriage where God is honored they don’t quit. They just repeat the first three steps. They work harder on BECOMING the right person and on WALKING in love and on relating in ways that GOD would want them to relate. Does that sound like a great spouse or what?!

This morning as we come to our time of decision you may realize that the tough times you have been going through with your spouse are because you have been leaving God our of YOUR marriage. If that’s true then you may need to respond by squeezing your spouse’s hand as if to say, “I want to finish what we have started. I want to grow old with you. In our marriage I want to experience the blessing God intended it to be. I want God to be central in our relationship.” Or, you may be an individual who realizes that you have left God out of your LIFE. Our time together has helped you to see how lonely you are. You want to experience true wholeness. If that is so, then I encourage you to talk to God right now. Ask Him to cleanse you of your sin and to come into your heart and life. You may be a couple or a family or an individual who feels that God is calling you to join this church and get active here as a husband and wife team in the ministry that goes on here. Any commitment you wish to make public we invite you to do so now as we stand and sing.

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