John Ortberg says, “Joy is God’s basic character. Joy is His eternal destiny. God is the happiest being in the universe.” Joy, happiness, laughter … those are part of the character of God. How can we bring that joy in marriage?

Nehemiah said to his people, “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (8:10, NIV). The Israelites were in immense tragedy and trial when Nehemiah said this. When you’re in the middle of a valley—and some of you are there right now—you need to know the strength you need actually comes from the joy-center of God.

Joy in marriage can shift a household. I (Ann) feel like in our culture, there’s a storm outside our homes. When our families walk in the door, we have the power to create an atmosphere of joy, love, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

The question is: Where do you find joy? In Philippians 4:4 (NIV), Paul said, “Rejoice in the LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” He’s being very specific here. If you want joy, you find it in the Lord.

We all want joy in marriage

Most often, we look for happiness in the person we married. We think that after we get married, we’re always going to be happy. It doesn’t work that way.

Authors Marcus Warner and Chris Coursey wrote in their book, The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages, “One of the key discoveries of brain science is that Freud was wrong. He taught that the fear of death and desire for sex were the most powerful motivators in the world. However, the discovery of the brain magnet has shown that attachment—specifically, joyful attachment—is the most powerful motivator in life.”

There are habits you can develop that bring more joy in marriage. From their book, we are going to give you the four joy habits they talk about—with the Wilson spin.

You need a P-L-A-N for more joy in marriage.

1. Play together.

I (Dave) am married to a woman who loves to play. Even in tough times, she brings a sense of joy from the Lord.

One time as I was standing in the kitchen, I saw our 16-year-old’s newly-purchased, used car begin rolling down the driveway—with nobody in it! So I ran out the door, but before I got to the car, it had rolled into a tree damaging the front bumper. I had one thought: That’s costing money. And I got mad.

Ann came out and was hysterically laughing. Then the boys came out, and I saw them physically moving away from me and closer to her as they also began laughing. Why? Because laughter’s a magnet.

People like to be where there’s laughter because there is joy in Christ. In this moment, there shouldn’t have been that much joy, but at some point, that laughter sifted back to me, because you know what? It’s a bumper. It can get fixed.

2. Listen for emotion.

As your wife is speaking, don’t listen to just the words. What is she saying? What’s the emotion behind her words?

I (Dave) had just preached all day Sunday, three services, and was exhausted when I came home. As I lay down in bed that night, Ann said, “I just wish the man who led Kensington Church lived in this house, as well.”

What I heard was: I don’t lead at home; I don’t pray at home like I do on stage … and I got really mad.

The next day, I went into my office, got on my knees, and asked God, “Were you speaking to me last night through Ann?” It was then I realized what she was saying: I don’t feel loved. Or seen. I don’t feel led. I don’t feel like you’re my spiritual leader.

It was all the things my congregation feels about me publicly that she wasn’t feeling about me privately. And here’s what I know: It’s more important that I lead her and my family than a congregation with thousands of people—and I was missing it.

Connect with your spouse on a soul-level. More Info.

3. Appreciate your spouse daily.

Proverbs 18:21 says the power of life and death is in our words. We need to speak life to one another.

A consistent prayer for me (Ann) has been, “God, show me the greatness in my husband and help me to speak that out loud to him.” Because Satan is always saying, “Look at the weaknesses.” And I spoke death for years.

(Dave) She speaks life every day. She says stuff I don’t even think is true: You’re an amazing man, and I’m like—no, I’m not. But when she starts to say it, I start to believe it. And that brings joy.

4. Nurture rest.

We run so fast and life gets out of control. The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments from God because He knew we needed it. Stop and refresh. Look each other in the eyes and ask, “How are you doing?”

What if you took some time every day to pray together? Weekly, go on a date and just play. Make it fun! And then, retreat annually—just once a year get away. Go to a Weekend to Remember® to get recharged.

I (Ann) know some of you are thinking, we can’t be joyful in marriage. You don’t know what we’re going through right now. Within the last five weeks, we’ve faced death and hard health diagnoses in our family. The pain is so great, but God is our hiding place.

I told Him, “God, this is where I am. This is what I’m feeling. I don’t feel joy.” And He answered with life-giving words, showing me the truth of who I am. He has us in the palms of His hands, and we can rest there.

If you’re going through something really hard right now, it’s a season. It’s not your story. There’s a God walking with you through that season, and God gives joy—even in pain. Nehemiah reminds us, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

There’s times when you think, I can’t have any joy unless life is somewhat stable. But you can. It comes from a deep contentment because the Lord is in control, and He gives strength in that moment. The circumstances of the world do not always produce happiness. But Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). So what is good cheer?

It’s joy.

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Adapted from Dave and Ann’s talk on Love Like You Mean it® Cruise 2020. 

Dave Wilson and his wife Ann are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Lead pastor, Hall of Fame college quarterback, and nationally-touring speaker, he wears a lot of hats, but it’s his singular passion for enriching lives through spreading the Word and wisdom of God that truly defines Dave.