Moving Past Rookie Errors
About the Guest
In the first few years of his marriage to Barbara, Dennis Rainey made a lot of what he calls "rookie errors." After celebrating 40 years of marriage, Dennis passes along the first 10 of 40 lessons he learned to students at Southern Theological Seminary to help them avoid making the same errors.
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
In the first few years of his marriage Dennis Rainey made a lot of “rookie errors”. Today he’s passing along the forty lessons he learned to help others avoid making the same errors.
Moving Past Rookie Errors
Bob: Do you think Dennis Rainey was an expert on marriage, back 40 years ago, when he and Barbara said, “I do”? He says he was no expert.
Dennis: I was an idiot in our first 12 months of marriage—repeatedly ignoring the dignity of the woman that God had brought me. Those lessons have to be learned and applied. It’s not good to be repeating rookie errors in your 39th season of marriage.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. You know, one way to keep from making a bunch of rookie mistakes in marriage is to get a little coaching from a veteran. Stay tuned.
Dennis: So what about you, Bob? Would you now qualify as an all-pro—all-pro husband? Your name is on a book!
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: I’ve not written a book about being a husband, but you have!
Bob: Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. [Laughter] “Idiot” is a little harsh, though; don’t you think.
Dennis: That might depend upon asking Barbara. [Laughter]
Bob: Maybe I should ask her! [Laughter] I’ll tell you what—today, listeners are going to get an opportunity to hear—I refer to this message, many times, as your “greatest hits.” This is—
Dennis: I’m not singing them!
Bob: No, that’s true. After forty years of marriage, most people ought to have learned a few lessons.
Bob: They ought to be able to sit down and come up with a handful of things that they’ve learned in marriage.
Bob: When you sat down, you came up with forty things; and you could have kept going.
Dennis: I could have.
Bob: You just decided to quit there.
Dennis: We’ve gone a couple of extra innings here. So, you know, we’ve got more than forty now.
Bob: Tell everybody who you shared this message with.
Dennis: Well, I had the privilege of speaking at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s really quite astounding that they gave me the grace, as a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, to speak at their school; [Laughter] but I did grow up in the Southern Baptist Church. So, they let me in and let me speak.
I’ll never forget Al Mohler—who is the president of the seminary—he got up, after I spoke; and he said, “What is there left to be said?”
Bob: Well, when a guy gives a forty-point sermon, and you’re supposed to follow him?
Dennis: It was great! [Laughter] Who would have ever thought that Al Mohler would ever be short of words; but he did a fine job after that—in fact, we ought to share that story with our listeners too.
Bob: Well, we should; but, today, they’re going to get a chance to hear your reflection on some of the lessons you and Barbara have learned together—about marriage, about parenting, about yourselves, about your walk with Christ—because all of that is wrapped into marriage; isn’t it?
Dennis: You know, I was discipled by Bill Bright. Bill Bright gave some memorable messages. One of them had like 24 points. I thought, “You know, why not?” I don’t think I’ve ever given a message that had 40 points; and I gave this message in one hour.
Dennis: In one hour.
Bob: And it’s going to take us more—
Dennis: I was on time too—you were there!
Bob: It’s going to take us a little while to work our way through this one this week. So, let’s dive in. This is Part One of Dennis Rainey’s “Forty Lessons in Forty Years of Marriage.”
Dennis: I frequently get asked, “How’s your family doing?” To answer that question is a little difficult because, you see, Barbara and I have six children—five of whom are married—and we have 19 grandkids. So, we’ve got a lot of humanity in our family. [Laughter]
We’ve got a little bit of everything taking place in our family. When I sat where you sit, a number of years ago, and was starting my ministry and my family, I had no idea what God had in store for Barbara and for me.
As I thought about coming here to spend these moments with you, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be good to reflect back on 40 years of what God has taught us as a couple?” I’m reminded of the quote by D.L. Moody, who described Moses. He said, “Moses spent the first 40 years thinking he was somebody; the second 40 years finding out he was a nobody; and the last 40 years finding out how God could take a nobody and use him for His purposes.”
So, as I share these “Forty Lessons from Forty Years of Marriage, Family, and Ministry” with you, these are shared in the spirit of how God has taken a couple of nobodies; and how He took two broken, imperfect people, who have fouled up in so many ways, and He has used them as vessels to accomplish His purposes. To God be the glory.
Number one lesson: “Marriage and family are about the glory of God.” Genesis 1:26-28 makes it clear, “In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” The Book begins with a marriage. The Book ends with a marriage.
Marriage is central to God’s glory on planet earth. 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. Make note of this as you begin your ministry: Your marriage / your covenant-keeping love will be your greatest witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the coming decades. It’s falling apart rapidly. God created marriage to reflect His image, to reproduce a godly heritage, and He created a couple to rule together in spiritual battle.
It’s about the glory of God, not about the happiness of man.
Number two: “Your marriage, then, is 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 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 / in 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, in its definition, because of who created marriage—God. We are in a fierce spiritual battle. You are walking off into a battlefield that is littered with casualties. Your marriage is taking place on a spiritual battlefield, not on a romantic balcony.
Number three: “Therefore, your spouse is not your enemy.” Ephesians, Chapter 6, verses 10-12 tell us that “Our battle is not against flesh and blood.” That is true in the Word of God; but I’m going to tell you—if you’re married today, you’ve looked across the sheets, in the morning, at your enemy.
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 his imperfections / in all her imperfections, God has given you a gift. You can either receive it by faith, or you can reject it. You can be deceived by the enemy to think, “My mate is, indeed, my enemy.”
Number four—and it sounds a little like a slogan from the 50s: “The couple that prays together stays together.” In the first months of our marriage, I went to a friend, whose name was Carl Wilson. He was a great Presbyterian preacher and a good friend.
I went to him and said: “Carl, you’ve been married 25 years. You’ve got five kids. What’s the best single piece of advice you can give me, as a young man, who’s just starting out his marriage?” We’d been married about four months at that time.
He said: “Oh, that’s easy. Pray with your wife every day.” I said: “That’s it? ‘Pray with your wife’?” He said, “That’s it.” So, I went home; and we started praying together. It worked really well for a couple of months. Then, one night, we went to bed. She was facing that wall, and I was facing that wall. It wasn’t what was most comfortable, physically, but spiritually and emotionally.
There was a tap on my shoulder, and it wasn’t Barbara. God was speaking to me in my conscience. He said: “Hey, Rainey! Aren’t you going to pray with her tonight?” I said, “No. I don’t like her tonight, God!” [Laughter] He said, “Yes, but you made the commitment to pray every day with your wife.” And I go, “But God, you know that in this situation, she is 90 percent wrong!” [Laughter]
God said, “Yes, but it was your 10 percent that caused her to be 90 percent wrong.” [Laughter] So, I’d wrestle with the angel of God there for a few moments. I would roll over; and I would tap her on the shoulder and say, “Sweetheart, will you forgive me for being 10 percent wrong?” [Laughter]
Do not do that, guys! [Laughter] I did that one night, and that night lasted for two days! No, I will roll over and I will say to her, “Will you forgive me for...?”—and I’ll be specific. And those words get caught right here [pointing to throat]. I do not believe I would be standing here, giving this message today, had it not been for the advice of that mentor in the first four months of my marriage.
We are two strong-willed, stubborn, rebellious people—but two strong-willed people, who bow their wills before Almighty God on a daily basis and invite Him into their presence, will be changed. It will change the course of your marriage, your ministry, and your legacy.
Number five: “Isolation is a subtle killer of relationships.” Genesis 2:18-25 gives us the prescription of Scripture: “Leave, cleave, and become”—what? —“one.” Two leave to commit and to cleave to become what?—to become one! But the enemy of our souls wants to divide us because, in isolation, you can be convinced of anything.
How important is oneness? John 17 points it out. Jesus prayed for the church to be one. Why?—because we’re naturally divided. Isolation is a killer of relationships.
Number six: “It’s a whole lot easier for two broken people to build a marriage and a family from the same set of biblical blueprints than from two different sets of blueprints.” Let me warn you, at this point—just because you’re going to seminary and you’re getting a biblical set of blueprints for life and living, doesn’t mean that, by osmosis, it’s going to be absorbed by your spouse. One of the great tragedies in ministry—after one year, two years, three years, four years, or more of getting a theological education—is for a seminary graduate to turn around and to take his spouse’s hand—or her spouse’s hand—and to find them not there.
It is why, for the last 37 years, we have had the Weekend to Remember®. If you haven’t been to this, together, with your spouse, GO! Why? Your marriage, your ministry, and your legacy may be at stake. What would a physical house look like if you had two different architects, two different builders, and two different sets of blueprints? You’d get some pretty funny-looking houses; wouldn’t you? Get the same set of blueprints and build from that.
Number seven: “It is healthy to confess my sins to my spouse.” James 5 reminds us, “Confess your sins to one another that”—what?—“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.
Struggling with bitterness over a betrayal?—I’ve been through that. I’ve asked Barbara, “Pray for me!” Maybe, you’re struggling with an attitude / maybe a sense of rebellion; maybe you’re toying with something you shouldn’t be toying with—bring your wife into the interior of your soul and invite her to share so that you may be healed.
Number eight—put a star by this one: “It is categorically impossible to experience marriage as God designed it without being liberal and lavish in your forgiveness of one another.” Ephesians 4:32: “...forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Failing to forgive / failing to ask for forgiveness kills oneness, and unity, and life in a marriage.
I love this statement by Ruth Bell Graham: “Marriage is the union of two forgivers.” Why is this true?—because forgiveness means we give up the right to punish the other person. There are plenty of things, either committed or omitted, in a marriage relationship, where you’re going to have to give up the right to punish the other person. Bitterness does not create oneness.
Number nine: “The greatest threat in any marriage is losing a teachable heart.” Proverbs, Chapter 4, verse 23 reminds us, “Guard your heart, for from it flow the wellsprings of life.”
Americans are preoccupied and scared of having a heart attack—why?—because there’s a simple equation—if the heart dies, you die. Well, you know what? The Bible is filled with references to our heart. In fact, the Great Commandment is one that calls our heart to love God, totally and fully, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Pay attention to your heart. Guard it lest it become hardened or you have hardening of the arteries of the heart. Just because you’re in the Book and in a seminary like this, doesn’t exempt you from that kind of heart disease. Spiritually, protect a heart that can become hardened and isn’t teachable.
Here’s the question: “Are you approachable? When’s the last time you asked your spouse to forgive you? When’s the last time you listened to a child, who, maybe, had been hurt by you, and how that impacted him or her?” A teachable heart is a spongy heart—it’s a spiritually-receptive heart. Guard it!—“…for from it flow the wellsprings of life.”
Number ten: “Every couple needs a mentor couple, who is one lap ahead of them in the season of life.” Who’s your couple? Who’s your person? If you’re a newlywed, you need someone to coach you on the habits you establish at the beginning of your marriage. If you’re starting out with your kids, you need someone just to say: “You know what? This is normal. This is the way it happens.”
And then, if you’re moving into the empty nest with adult children, I’ve got news for you. You really need a mentor in that phase! Relating to adult children has been more challenging than the terrible two’s—[Laughter]—
—not because our kids are bad kids. It just didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it—like a Norman Rockwell painting! Who’s your mentor? This is challenging, as you get older, because your mentors die. Be careful about who’s speaking into your life.
Bob: Well, we’re having to break in here. We are listening today to Part One of a message from Dennis Rainey on “Lesson Learned on Marriage and Parenting” after forty laps around the track.
Dennis: And the adult children piece that I just said—you know, the lessons learned are on the side of Barbara and me.
Bob: You’re the ones learning?
Dennis: Oh, my goodness! I mean, it’s a new assignment; you know? Who’s ever been there before?
Dennis: I don’t know exactly what I thought it would be like; but, you know, it’s interesting to take your hands off and let your children establish their own marriages / their own families and allow them to leave / allow them to cleave; you know?
Bob: And I think one of the points you make there is that, during different stages of the life of a family—early parenting; parenting in the golden years; and the teen years, when you start letting go; when you reach the empty nest—your marriage has to be recalibrated throughout those stages. I mean, as you move into different stages in a family, your marriage makes a transition too.
Dennis: And it has to be built to outlast your children. I’m sure I make that point somewhere in here because it has to be built to outlast your children. And one of the key things that will help it do that is if the husband and the wife have a common mission—
—if they’re doing something together that makes a difference in other peoples’ lives.
Bob, it’s why, for over four years, we’ve pounded the table, here, saying to folks, “Why don’t you get The Art of Marriage®? Host a small group / host an event—whatever you want to do—but get five or six couples or get thirty or forty couples and get them together and take them through a resource that can change their lives.”
Bob: Yes, we’ve heard back from lots of couples who have gone through this material with other couples. We’ve asked them, “Would you recommend this to friends of yours?” The interesting thing is, as we’ve done the surveys on this, 97 percent have said, “We would recommend this material.” I think folks really are surprised when they go through the video series because it’s not a talking head. There are a number of experts, who speak into the issues facing couples in marriage; there are dramas; there’s some man-on-the-street stuff. It’s really creatively-presented.
The questions that you get into after you’ve viewed the video—great questions for couples to interact around and to hear what other couples are thinking as well. If you’d like to find out more about The Art of Marriage small group material or if you’re interested in an Art of Marriage event at your church, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of our screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” The Art of Marriage button is right there. You can click on that button, and it will give you all the information you need.
You can order from us, online. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” Host an Art of Marriage small group in your home this spring. Again, it is six sessions long. So, you can do one session per week / do it every other week—however it works best for you. Get some friends together and go through this material.
I think everybody will, first of all, have a great time and, secondly, grow in their understanding of God’s design for marriage and grow together as couples. That’s really what it’s all about. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, a quick word of thanks to those folks who make FamilyLife Today possible—those of you who are Legacy Partners or those of you who give, from time to time, to help support this ministry. We could not do what we do without your financial support, and we are grateful for it. In fact, right now, we would like to say a special “Thank you,” when you make a donation by sending you a copy of Dennis and Barbara’s daily devotional guide for couples. It’s called Moments with You. It gives you a Scripture verse to consider; an essay from Dennis or Barbara on that passage, some questions to discuss, and a prayer topic.
It’s our gift to you when you go, online, and click the button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I Care,” and make an online donation today.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Ask for your copy of the book, Moments with You, when you get in touch with us.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We are going to hear Part Two of Dennis Rainey’s message on the lessons he has learned after 40 years of marriage—that comes up tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
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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