The Power of Vision for Your Marriage
I tell couples all the time that they have to have a vision for their marriage. If God has a purpose for your marriage—and I believe He does—then vision is letting God reveal to you what that purpose is. It's asking, "God, why did you put us together?" and listening for the answer.
Why is vision so important? Here are five reasons.
The first is clarity.
It's understanding why God put you together. It's impossible to know if you're successful if you don't know what it is you're trying to accomplish.
Confusion is the opposite of clarity, and God never creates anything to operate in confusion. God wants to operate in light. He will speak to us and give us clarity if we'll let him.
The second virtue of vision is energy or passion.
If you don't know the vision for your life and marriage, it's hard to get excited about it. Once you identify a vision, both of you will pursue it with enormous energy.
When God gives us a desire, He equips us to pursue it. Karen and I love what we do. We wake up every morning excited about using our skills and talents to help marriages succeed.
The third virtue is purity.
Without vision, people cast off restraint. They fall into sin. People without vision are vulnerable to negative guidance. Rather than living your life attempting not to fail or struggling not to do bad things, with a vision you'll live doing good things. That's a huge psychological difference.
A fourth virtue of vision is unity.
Couples fight because they don't see eye-to-eye. They have competing visions—that's what the word division means. Two people cannot walk together unless they're in agreement.
It is impossible to succeed in marriage when a husband and wife are divided. Rather than both of you having your own way of looking at things, a single vision for your marriage means you both have the same focus. This is essential.
The fifth virtue of vision in marriage is victory.
Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom's instruction." Without revelation—or vision—we become unmoored. It's like a runner in a race who doesn't know where the finish line is. How will she win?
Victory is only possible if we have the goal in sight.
With these virtues in mind, I instruct couples on a regular basis that they should take a vision retreat once a year. It's important to spend several days together without kids so you can seek God and listen. My vision retreat guide, The Mountaintop of Marriage, walks you through this process step-by-step.
Few things are as healing, bonding, and significant in a marriage than these times of retreat. You pray together. You communicate. You talk and listen. You sit in God's presence until you hear His voice.
Then you go back into the "real world" and pursue His vision for your marriage. I hope you'll consider taking a vision retreat with your spouse. I've seen it change marriages forever.
How to Overcome Your Doubt
Why does God allow me to suffer?
Why doesn't He answer my prayers?
Why did God allow my loved one to die?
All of us have asked questions like this, because all of us doubt God. It's normal for Christians—regardless of where they are in their faith. I believe it's important to talk honestly about our doubts. I also believe we can learn to overcome any doubt in our lives.
All of us know the story of doubting Thomas. When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and presented Himself to the disciples, Thomas wasn't there. When the disciples told Thomas that they'd seen Jesus, Thomas didn't believe them.
That's why we know him as "Doubting Thomas." But Thomas did not stay a doubter. Jesus appeared to him. The Lord allowed him to touch His hands and side. Thomas believed—and eventually was martyred for his faith.
Thomas wasn't the only doubter in the Bible. The other disciples doubted, too, throughout Jesus' ministry. So did other famous men and women of faith: Abraham and Sarah, King David, Moses.
Doubt is something all humans do.
The Greek word gastazo in the New Testament means "two ways," and that's what we translate into the English word doubt. Doubt means looking in two directions. When we doubt, we are standing between what God says…and what people say. We have double vision.
I want you to know three truths about doubt:
First, doubt is honest.
It is a struggle to believe, which makes it something different from unbelief. Unbelief is a refusal to believe. Unbelief is a decision. A doubter looks for the light, but an unbeliever is content with the darkness.
Second, remember that Jesus was gracious to doubters.
He wasn't hostile to Peter. He didn't reject Thomas. He didn't get offended. If you doubt, God is still your friend. He is sympathetic to your doubts.
Third, realize that doubt is not sin by itself.
It only becomes sin when it causes us to disobey God—especially in the long term. For most of us, doubt is a temporary affliction. Thomas' doubts lasted eight days after Christ's resurrection. We may be doubting now, but our doubts will not persist forever.
To overcome doubt, we must make up our minds first not to turn away from God while we are doubting. We don't let doubts keep us from doing what God wants us to do.
Next, we must trust God's word. Romans 10:17 says "Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God." God says His Word can resolve your doubts. Not the teachings of someone who opposes God. Not our circumstances. Not our emotions. Only His Word.
Finally, we must take a step of faith and see what happens. Make up your mind not to stay in a place of indecision. Choose God. Move forward. Pursue Him. Once you do this, you experience God and your doubt turns into overcoming faith.
Finding the Purpose for Your Marriage
"Did God put you together?" When I ask that question of a married couple, they almost always say yes. Then I ask "Why did He put you together?"
I get blank stares.
We believe God made us for each other, but many of us have no idea why. Helping couples discover God's purpose for their marriage is one of the things I am most passionate about. It can absolutely transform your relationship.
Here are three things I want you to know:
In five years, you will not be the same.
Better or worse, you'll be different.
Success happens on purpose and never by accident.
To reach a certain point in your marriage, you'll have to work at it.
In marriage, success only happens if you're both committed to the same purpose.
Amos 3:3 asks "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" If you're not in agreement, your marriage—the longest journey of your life—will be a constant challenge.
Keeping those facts in mind, I want you to know that finding the purpose for your marriage means starting with the big questions. Not "Where will we live?" or "How many kids should we have?" but "Why are we here?"
The answer is simple. God created us for relationship, to have a relationship with Him and a relationship with each other. This is reflected in Jesus' teaching about the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love people. Relationships are why we exist, and He wants us to have successful relationships.
On the other hand, the devil wants to destroy relationships by either separating us from God or separating us from each other—especially from our spouse. Satan is always trying to divide.
One way he divides is by separation. We see this in Genesis with Adam and Eve. God put them in a perfect paradise, but Satan convinces them that God was evil. He accuses God. He tries to divide Adam and Eve from God. And by speaking first to Eve, he divides Adam and Eve from each other.
He does this to couples today in so many different ways.
The second thing the devil does is substitution. He shows the fruit to Adam and Eve and tells them they didn't need God; they only need the fruit. Today, He makes us believe things will make us happier: money, a new job, a new spouse. He is always trying to get us to substitute things for our marriage or for God.
Separation and substitution are the Devil's schemes for marriage. But God's plan for marriage is relationship—to bring us closer to our spouse, and to bring us closer to Him. His plan for our life is that we love Him and love people, especially our family.
Satan's plan is to make us lonely and divided and always unsatisfied. We end up chasing after things.
God's plan is for us to pursue Him and pursue relationship. The opportunity to love God and each other is the reason God put you together. It doesn't get any more complicated than that.
The Secret of a Great Marriage
When I married Karen, I'll admit I was looking for a good woman who would serve me. That's what I thought a successful marriage was: finding someone to serve you. That's because I was a chauvinist. I thought men were better than women.
Needless to say, the idea of me serving Karen was the farthest thing from my mind. It was a shock to me that she would even expect me to do anything.
In John 13, Jesus is in the remaining hours before being crucified. He is eating a meal with His disciples. The disciples were having a conversation about which one of them was the greatest—they never were the sharpest knives in the drawer—when Jesus made an example of washing their feet.
Remember, these guys spent all day wearing sandals on dusty roads. Their feet were filthy. Washing someone's foot was a demeaning task, detestable to them.
Jesus told them the servant was the greatest of all. That His followers were to be servants. They were stunned by both His example and His message.
As followers of Christ, around friends, among strangers, and especially within our marriages, we are to be servants. We are to put others' needs ahead of our own.
A husband and wife who constantly serve one another have discovered the secret of a great marriage.
Why is serving each other so important?
Equality. A person who refuses to serve his or her spouse is either dominating the relationship or has checked out emotionally. Men and women are absolutely equal. Serving your spouse—doing things in their interest, not yours—tells them "I am not better than you."
Humility. We're naturally prideful. Both men and women have pride issues in their lives. We might be given tasks or asked to do things and we think, "I'm too good for that." But that's an unhealthy attitude in marriage. Helping is about being involved with even the insignificant details of each other's days.
Do the dishes. Wash the car. Fold clothes. Clean toilets. Give a foot rub. Nothing is beneath you if it benefits your spouse—even if you're wealthy. One of the worst marriages I've ever seen was a wealthy couple who wouldn't do anything for each other. Why? Because they always hired people to do any work for them.
Intimacy. In Matthew 6, Jesus said, "Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Where you invest yourself, that's where your passion will be. If you're pouring all your time and abilities into your work, or your children, or your hobbies, that will become what you treasure most.
Pour your time and abilities into serving your spouse, and he or she will capture your heart. Continually investing in each other means you stay passionate for each other. It means you're sharing your life with each other. It brings you closer.
Destiny. God decided it was not good for Adam to be alone. He created us for each other. I can't achieve what God has planned for me without Karen. She can't reach her full potential without me. Obviously God can do anything, but He put us in each other's lives for a reason: to serve each other toward our destiny together.
The best marriages are made of two servants in love. Put each other first and you'll discover the marriage of your dreams.
Resolve Your Anger the Right Way
If we are going to have true intimacy in our marriages, we have to disarm the issues that hinder it. One of those is anger. Anger can be destructive in a marriage.
The first thing I want you to know is that anger is inevitable. It's a normal response. You will never be so spiritual that you don't get angry. Jesus even got angry. Great marriages still have anger.
Anger that occurs today is manageable. There's nothing wrong with it. But yesterday's anger is a very dangerous thing.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, "Be angry, and do not sin: Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil."
What that passage means is that anger, if it is not dealt with, can become toxic and destructive. It can harden hearts. It has to be resolved in righteous way. If it is not dealt with—if you let the sun "go down" on it—then it builds in intensity for the next time.
God never designed us to be a repository for anger. We are made for anger to enter for a brief time, and then leave. Never to stay. That's why the Bible is so insistent on forgiveness, because we can't endure it. Unforgiveness and pent-up anger are corrosive on every level.
Anger leads to a whole system of thoughts—fear, accusations, pride—that can create a destructive barrier between you and your spouse. Every time anger arrives and you don't deal with it, that wall grows higher.
So we must resolve anger in marriage. How should we do it?
First, we need to choose the right setting.
Don't do it around the kids. Your children need to watch you relate and talk things out, but serious issues should be handled in private when your emotions are under control.
Second, begin every confrontation with affirmation.
Research indicates that a conversation never rises above the level of the first three minutes. The way you start talking to each other dictates how the conversation will end. If you begin with threats, you've already set a negative tone for the conversation.
Instead, begin by saying, "I love you and I'm glad that we're married, but I need to talk to you about something." We're made in God's image, and Psalm 100 says we enter His courts with praise—with positive words.
Finally, communicate your complaint without fixed judgments or interpretations.
There's a difference between complaining and criticizing. Complaining is talking about me and my feelings, but without interpreting it—because I don't know what's in your heart.
Criticizing is an attack. It's me telling you how you're feeling and interpreting your motives. It makes the other person defensive. Complaints should be about a specific issue ("You said this and it made me feel stressed out") rather than a global one ("You never do anything around here").
Don't go to bed angry. Create in your marriage a habit pattern of dealing with it every day. When you do deal with conflict, do it the right way: respectfully, with kindness and a tender heart.
You won't be able to avoid anger, but you can avoid its destructive qualities by never letting it fester. Don't let the sun go down on your anger.