Marriage and Worship
About the Guest
Marriage is designed by God to endure. Best-selling author Gary Thomas explores God's purpose for marriage and explains how the best marriages are those steeped in worship. Unlike appearances, worship is something that grows more beautiful with time, making marriage more lovely through the years, not less. Gary shares how God spoke to him about his wife, and how that admonition revolutionized his marriage.
Gary Thomas explores God’s purpose for marriage and explains how the best marriages are those steeped in worship.
Marriage and Worship
Bob: If you love God and you begin to realize that your husband or your wife is God’s daughter / God’s son, that makes God your Heavenly Father-in-law. Author and speaker, Gary Thomas, says, “When you start to realize how all of this fits together, that changes the way you love your spouse, no matter what stage your marriage is in.”
Gary: Everything in the world about romantic love fades—but here is the thing—she will never stop being God’s daughter. She can be an 85-year-old, arthritic Alzheimer’s patient, who doesn’t even know who I am—and she’ll be no less God’s daughter then than she is today. So, when my love for my wife is connected to my reverence for Him, then, I’m going to have a lifelong love, regardless of what happens with her or with our marriage.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 6th.
Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to explore today how our reverence for God has an impact on how we love one another in marriage. Our guest is Gary Thomas. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I have to think anybody, who has listened to us for any length of time, knows that we believe marriage is designed by God to go the distance. It’s not just something you try on for a while and, then, if it’s not working out, you try something different; right?
Dennis: In fact, we get emails, letters, and phone calls. I run into people, all over the country—I ran into a person yesterday who said: “Thank you that you guys continually put the—well—the lifelong commitment in front of folks. You’ve given me the courage to keep mine”—
Dennis: —“during some very difficult times in our marriage.”
Bob: Well, and what we try to stress to folks is that the commitment—
—the covenant we’ve made to one another is—not simply: “I will endure a lifelong relationship with you, no matter how bad it gets.” It’s really a whole lot more than that. I mean, I promised more than just, “I’ll stick this out when things get bad,”—I promised to love, and honor, and cherish, and all of those other good things.
Dennis: Right; and our guest on the broadcast today, Gary Thomas—I’ll go ahead and introduce, Gary. Gary—welcome back to the broadcast.
Gary: It feels like home to be here.
Dennis: I was getting ready to say, “Gary is such a kindred spirit.”
Our Weekend to Remember® begins with a really noble high calling and the purpose that God created for marriage as its North Star.
Dennis: I think one of the successes of the Weekend to Remember has been that we haven’t allowed the culture to define marriage for us. We’ve gone back to the Bible, and we’ve allowed the Scriptures to speak, which is what Gary does in his writing.
Now, for those of you who don’t know Gary—and I know there is probably one or two—
Bob: I think—I think I counted—there are seven.
Dennis: There are seven people—
Dennis: —in the country who don’t know Gary. Gary’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, [he] has won a number of awards and really is a great thinker in marriage, and family, and spiritual formation. He and his wife live in Houston, Texas. They have three children. He is writer-in-residence of Second Baptist Church, and he’s just completed a book called A Lifelong Love.
And you begin this book talking about how an eternal perspective of marriage is bedrock—it’s essential. You’ve got to have it if you’re going to be successful in building a lifelong love, like you’re talking about.
Gary: I’m a huge fan of marriage, but God didn’t create any of us to be satisfied in our marriage. That is setting the bar far too low. He created us so that we find our greatest meaning and purpose in a life of worship, and service, and sharing fellowship—
—or what we would call love. And so, we have to understand that, even when we talk about something like marriage, we have to place it in that wider context. I use the phrase, “a magnificent obsession” to get people to lift their heights so that—I believe it gives purpose to our marriage.
Here is the reality—the human condition is such that none of us are so incredible that we keep somebody fascinated for five or six decades. We’re just not—that’s the human condition. Five or six dates—no problem. Five or six years starts to be more of a challenge. But when we connect our marriage to things that grow—like worship—for me, one of the most transforming aspects of marriage is when I really began to connect my marriage with my life of worship.
The brilliant thing about worship—it’s not just a religious concept—the more you worship God, the more you want to worship God because that’s what God created you to do. The more you get to see how beautiful He is, the more you want to spend time in His presence.
So, when my marriage is based on worship—and worship is something that grows—
—then, everything else that the world tends to base marriage on—personal appearance, present level of happiness, and satisfaction, and comfort—not taking into account the fact that we get sick, or that we can get disappointed, or have disappointments—all of those things tear marriage down. When marriage is based on worship, and relating to God, and an eternal perspective—those things become more important as you age, not less.
Bob: Okay, you’re going to have to help me out, though, because I was following—marriage should have an eternal purpose and we should see it in light of eternity—and then, you talk about marriage being connected to worship. I think a lot of listeners are saying: “What does that look like for marriage to be connected to worship? I mean, how does that happen on a daily basis in my home?”
Dennis: Yes, give us a working definition of worship because I think that’s where a lot of folks miss it, Gary. They don’t really understand what it is.
Gary: For me, it came out of a bad episode in my marriage.
I was not being a very good husband. God was convicting me in prayer, and He applied 1 John 3:1—which I’d always applied to myself—“Behold what manner of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.” I claimed that, as a single man: “I’m God’s son. He loves me as a son. That’s a relationship that can never break.” But God was now challenging me to apply it to my wife. He said: “Gary, Lisa isn’t just your wife. She’s My daughter, and I expect you to treat her accordingly.”
When I had kids, I got it! The best way to get on my good side is to be good to one of my kids. If you want to get on my bad side, be mean to one of my kids. I’d rather you mess with me than one of my children. When I began to see that God looked at my wife, His daughter, just as I look at my kids, everything about my marriage changed. I realized one of the best forms of worship I could have is to love God’s little girl. It’s scary to me—at this stage in my life with two daughters of marriageable age—how desperately I want them to be loved.
Gary: And there are two men that could make me among the happiest men on earth—not by ever doing anything for me, not by complimenting me, not by giving me anything. If I watch them love my daughters well, they will be two of my favorite people on this planet.
And so, I began looking at God, not just as my Heavenly Father, but my Heavenly Father-in-law. That changed everything about my marriage. It changed the way I pray about my wife. If somebody is complaining about my kids, I would be saying: “Well, I know, but have you seen this? Or have you seen that?” I know my kids have faults, and I know what those faults are; but that doesn’t change the fact that I am passionate about seeing them loved and supported rather than torn down.
Dennis: A part of what convicted you about the need to treat your wife as God’s daughter was a statement made by your father-in-law at the rehearsal dinner—is that right?
Gary: It was; it was. I had a wonderful earthly father-in-law. He wasn’t a particularly emotional man, but he broke down in tears at our wedding rehearsal—
—in a good way / not a bad way. [Laughter]
He battled cancer, near the end of his life, for seven years. Cancer is one of those things—you just learn to hate cancer because you see how it tears apart families—it takes kids / it takes parents. But the one thing cancer can give you is a time to say goodbye—a time to go back and tell people what’s what. We had one of those conversations. He explained what happened—he said: “Gary, on the night before you married Lisa, I just thought to myself: ‘I don’t have to worry about Lisa. She’s going to be okay.’” And that just overwhelmingly—he just felt like: “Okay, something’s really done. My little girl is going to be fine. She has found a good man, who is going to stand by her.”
I talk to so many people, who have legitimate frustrations in their marriage—a woman, who married a man, thinking of long soulful discussions, late into the night, and then realized, six months after the marriage, that she married a man who wouldn’t know an emotion if it bit him on the nose until he bled.
A man who married a woman—maybe for a lot of selfish reasons, not realizing that she had an attitude that he missed because he was infatuated—or that she would have a serious bout with breast cancer and, perhaps later, with Alzheimer’s. They might want to say, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
I go back to those tears, at my wedding rehearsal—and I think of God, as my Heavenly Father-in-law—saying: “I know you might not have thought stood up for this. But if you could have seen Me on that day, talking with the angels: ‘My daughter has found a good man. He will support her. He will stand behind her. This is a day to rejoice,’ or ‘My son has found a good woman. She will lift him up to be more than he could have been on his own. She’ll affirm him. She’ll strengthen him. She’ll nurture him to the place where he can be the man I created him to be. Let’s rejoice. Let’s have a party. I’m crying tears of joy because My son has found a good woman to love him.’”
Our marriages are about far more than our own happiness. Our marriages are about God’s happiness, and I want to bring great joy to heaven. That’s what could be so overwhelming to listen. We feel so insignificant in this world; and yet, each person listening to us could bring great joy to our Heavenly Father by loving one of His sons or daughters supremely well today.
Bob: You know, the epiphany that you experienced—when you talk about realizing that your wife, Lisa, is God’s daughter / not just your wife—I remember reading passages in the New Testament that would describe how we are to treat one another in the body of Christ. You’re to love one another, honor one another, greet one another with a holy kiss—all of these, I think, 50-plus “one another” statements in the epistles are about how we’re to deal with one another. I had always applied that to: “This is how I should act with people, who I go to church with—I should encourage them, and I should affirm them, I should rebuke them if necessary—
—all of these things.
It dawned on me, one day, that one of the people I go to church with pretty regularly—person I sit next to every Sunday in church—that the “one anothers” of the New Testament apply to how I’m supposed to treat my wife / how she is supposed to treat me, and that I have—in fact, that’s the first place I should be fulfilling those “one anothers.” She’s the first priority for that, beyond anybody else in the local church. I started reading all of the passages about loving your neighbor differently when I started thinking that Mary Ann was my neighbor.
Dennis: Practically speaking, Gary, let’s apply what Bob just illustrated to your marriage. How did God first begin to teach you how you should love Lisa and care for her, as His daughter?
Gary: Well, first, it was accepting that scriptural truth that God, not only calls her His daughter, but in Ephesians 5:1, she’s called a dearly-loved child.
So, it’s changed the way I pray about my wife. I would have never gone to my earthly father-in-law and said: “Bill, how come your daughter does this?” and “Why does your daughter—why is she this way?”
I’m talking to someone when I’m talking to God, who has a passionate loving interest with my wife—and spending time with Him—He gives me that heart / He renews that heart. And for me—transformed the whole thought of—when Peter, in his first epistle, said, “Husbands, treat your wives with respect”—and then why?—“so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” I always thought that was backward because “I have to pray to have a better marriage”; and Peter is telling me, “No, Gary—actually, you have to have a better marriage so that you can pray.”
When I understood God, as my Heavenly Father-in-law, it all made sense because—if there was a man, who was giving me money, complimenting me, telling everybody how wonderful I was, but he was making one of my daughters miserable, every time he came to me and started talking nice, I’d say: “Hey, buddy, we have one conversation to have.
“If you have any reverence for me, you take care of my little girl. I don’t want to talk about anything else. I don’t care about the money. I don’t care about the songs. I don’t care about this. I don’t care about anything you want from me. I am so passionate about my daughter—until you are treating her well, we literally have nothing else to talk about.” So, then, I got it—that I am talking to a God, for whom I have great reverence—and that’s the beginning—we go to the end, and we’ll fill in the middle.
Here’s what I also love about this whole approach of connecting marriage and worship. Everything in the world about romantic love fades. We know infatuation fades. You could look at me and look at me on the day I married—strength fades, hair fades, physical appearance fades [Laughter]. But here is the thing—if I love my wife, out of reverence for God because she is His daughter, she will never stop being God’s daughter. She can be an 85-year-old, arthritic Alzheimer’s patient, who doesn’t even know who I am—
—and she’ll be no less God’s daughter then than she is today.
So, when we are seeking a lifelong love, what will preserve a lifelong love? Well, when I connect my marriage to a God—who never wavers in His holiness, who never wavers in His beauty, who never wavers in His love—and if my love with my wife is connected to my reverence for Him, then, I’m going to have a lifelong love, regardless of what happens with her or with our marriage.
Bob: We have had this conversation in the context of God being a Divine Father-in-law to you. It’s just as true that He is Lisa’s Father-in-law; right? Every wife has the same kind of Father-in-law relationship. Is it different for a wife, in terms of viewing her husband as God’s son? I mean, I’m trying to see if that applies differently for a wife.
Gary: Here’s how I use it in a pastoral situation—
—a rising, soon-to-be partner in a law firm—and these guys—if you’ve met them, there is this aura about them / they have this charisma. Everybody knows they’re going to be a partner—maybe, they’ll run the law firm someday. Rather young, though—still in his 30’s / they have younger kids—but there are a lot of paralegals around. It’s a town where a lot of women might be drawn to a guy with that power, that charisma, that wealth, that aura of success.
He was frustrated because their sex life had almost completely died. Now, they had three or four kids—I don’t remember how many—but enough to where, yes, it’s going to be an issue. It’s tough when you’ve got babies, and toddlers, and whatnot. So, I asked
her—because they were coming in / they wanted to put things together—“How often are you having relations together with physical intimacy?” She said, “Well, maybe, once a month, if we are honest.” Usually, when a wife tells me that, it’s probably less than that.
So, I just said, “Now, your oldest son is—what?—four?” She said, “Yes.” I said: “Okay, I want you to picture 30 years from now.
Let’s say he follows his dad into the law firm—he’s his rising star. A lot of temptations are around his world. He’s got younger women that are likely to throw themselves at him. He lives in a somewhat pornographic world. He wants to be a good man—even more, his Heavenly Father wants him to be a man of integrity. He wants him to be a man who cares for his wife and creates a stable home for his kids, and he’s fighting the sexual temptation. He’s fighting what younger men face, with a wife who will only be intimate with him, maybe, ten times a year.”
I said, “How would you feel about your future daughter-in-law if your son came to you and just poured out his heart, ‘This is what I’m dealing with’?” She was silent for a minute. She said, “Well, I wouldn’t be happy with her.” Just by looking at it through the paternal eyes, she saw her husband in a new light: “My man isn’t just a husband—he’s a son.”
I’ve encourage wives to say, “How would I view my daughter-in-law if she was treating my son like I’m treating my husband?” It just changes the way we look at our marriage because we have that passion for our sons and our daughters that we sometimes lose for husbands and wives.
Bob: And let’s be clear—the illustration you use of how a wife might do that is one of many illustrations. You’re not saying here that a wife’s primary duty is the sexual satisfaction of her husband—as long as she is taking care of that, then, she’s doing what God wants her to do—but that is a pretty critical and important area in their marriage—just one of many; right?
Gary: Yes, thank you for saying that. It’s one of a hundred different issues in marriage. The main thing is just to give people a different perspective. We’re not married to orphans. We’re not married to strangers who have no family connections. We’re, in fact, married to someone—
I look at it this way—I owe my very existence to the God who created me. Not only did God create me a person, He allowed me to marry someone.
He’s given me children. He forgives me every day. He called me to Himself. He didn’t save me because there was some goodness: “Well, Gary is better than most. So, I’m going to choose him.” He chose me in my rebellion / in my sin. He gave me the grace to respond.
I could never begin to repay Him; and I burn grace every hour, like jet fuel. I just—and this God, who has loved and does love me still so well, says: “Gary, in response to this, here is this woman that I have a particular affection for—she’s my daughter. I created her. I’ve been with her every moment she grew up. Would you love her for Me? Would you take care of her? Would you help her become the woman I created her to be? Will you love her, and adore her, and make her feel safe and honored?” I just can’t believe—looking at my marriage in that light / from the perspective of worship—that I could say, “Lord, I’ve got better things to do.”
Gary: “I’ve got other things to tend to.”
It just focuses me in on how much my wife is loved / how much indebted I am. So, I think worship has changed my marriage as much as any practice I’ve ever heard of.
Dennis: When you pull back to the big picture, and you look at the New Testament, it’s really clear what a man’s assignment is—it’s very clear. He’s got to give up his life, deny himself, and love his wife for a lifetime. That means you’ve got to discover what her needs are today / what her needs are next week. You’ve got to sacrificially act to meet those needs; and as you have so well put here today, view her as something other than just a friend/a partner—but no, someone created in the image of God that he’s to care for in the utmost way.
Then, for wives, their assignment is in the same passage, where Paul instructs husbands to love their wives.
He tells wives to respect their husbands—that means looking at your husband and saying, “I’m going to entrust my life to you.” That feels very dangerous. Well, you know what? It is dangerous for a man to deny himself to love his wife.
This is the dance that God has called us to in marriage—yet, it’s a powerful dance. It’s one that was created by God for us to, not endure, but enjoy. It is part of what I love about what you’ve written in the book because you equip us to better understand what God had in mind when He made us male and female and, then, He called us to be committed for a lifetime.
Bob: Yes, this is a paradigm-shift book. This is a book where our perspective changes. We start to see marriage, not just from a human perspective, but we start to see it from God’s perspective. That reshapes everything about how we live together, as husbands and wives.
I hope our listeners will catch that as they get a copy and read Gary Thomas’s new book, A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is about More Than Just Staying Together? And it is, by the way.
We’ve got Gary’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll find information about Gary’s book available. You can order it from us, online, if you’d like. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” There’s, not only information there about Gary’s book, A Lifelong Love, but, also, Gary’s book, Sacred Marriage.
Then, there’s information about The Art of Marriage® video series that we’ve produced, here at FamilyLife, as well, because our goal with that video series is to help couples have the same kind of paradigm shift that Gary describes in his book.
Again, more information about Gary’s book and other resources we have available at FamilyLifeToday.com when you click the button that says, “GO DEEPER.”
You can order, online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to place an order—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I think back to the very beginning of FamilyLife, back in the late 1970’s, when we first started hosting our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. One of the things that you said, Dennis, was you wanted to make sure that couples, who came to a Weekend to Remember—that they went home, not just with tips on how to have a better marriage, but understanding how central a relationship with Jesus Christ is to everything we do in our marriage relationship.
That’s been at the core of everything that FamilyLife is all about. Our goal is to see every home become a godly home—to provide practical biblical help for your marriage and your family.
It’s really to see marriages and families become more God-centered than self-centered or human-centered.
And we appreciate those of you who hear us talk about these things—and you say: “You know what? This is important. This is important for my marriage / for my family. It’s important for our community. I think other people need to hear this as regularly as I do.” And we’re grateful for your financial support that makes all of this possible. We are donor-supported. More than 65 percent of what it costs us to operate this ministry is covered by donations. In a very real sense, if it wasn’t for your financial support, we could not continue all that we do, here at FamilyLife Today. So, we’re grateful for your partnership with us.
If you’d like to make a donation in support of the ministry, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I CARE.” You can make an online donation that way. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR.
And our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk more about how marriage changes when we develop an eternal focus and we start to see that God is, in fact, our Father-in-law in our marriage relationship—and we want to please Him—not just please our spouse. Gary Thomas will be back again tomorrow. Hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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