Proper Priorities

All of us have 24 hours in a day. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re rich or poor. We all have the same amount of time.

Your life is defined by how you choose to spend that time—between work, church, family, hobbies, and everything else. Time evaporates quickly, and that’s why we have to make choices.

It’s easy to say what our priorities are, but the most accurate way to determine our priorities isn’t based on our words, but on how we live.

When God created marriage, he gave a foundational rule for relationships between a husband and wife: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

You have a one hundred percent chance of success in marriage if you follow God’s plan. He created a foundation to ensure every marriage could succeed, and it’s not complicated. It’s all about priorities.

When the Bible says we leave our father and mother, it’s really saying that we reprioritize our lives. The moment you get married, you “cleave” to your spouse. Your spouse comes first. That’s the law of priority.

It’s reflected in natural jealousy. In our culture, we often view jealousy as a negative thing, but there is a legitimate jealousy that God puts inside us related to marriage. The Bible says God is jealous when we allow something in our lives to take His place. In marriage, spouses have the same type of jealousy.

In marriage, a husband or wife will naturally become jealous when something begins to replace them in their spouse’s life.

That’s why the satisfaction level of marriage often drops when children enter the picture. At this point, a woman typically turns her attention to the kids while the husband turns his attention to his career.

The priority of the marriage is lost. The husband and wife stop focusing attention on each other. For a successful marriage, a husband and wife must find a way to avoid this trap by maintaining the right priorities.

The only way to do this is by sacrifice. Sometimes we have to give up certain interests—golf, shopping, longer days at work—for the good of our marriage. Why? Because time is the essential commodity of relationships. For a healthy marriage, we have to take time away from self-focused pursuits and devote it to our spouse.

Once you’ve established priorities, you must protect them. Work is a good thing. Children are good. Church is good. But the things that destroy marriage aren’t often bad things, but good things done out of priority. This includes working too much or focusing too much on the kids—to the detriment of your marriage.

How will your kids succeed if your marriage doesn’t show them how?

Marriage only works when it is in first place. That’s a challenge, but the law of priority is one God set at the very beginning. If your spouse has complained about the time you spend at work, or with your friends, or playing golf, or on Facebook, then you may be violating God’s law of priority.

If so, you need to make changes. You need to sacrifice and rearrange your priorities. That’s the only way marriage works.

Raising Great Children

How can children succeed in life if they don’t see you succeed? That’s a question every parent needs to ask—especially as it relates to their marriage. Raising great children is much more likely if you have also built a healthy marriage.

Here are three principles I believe can lead to success as you raise your kids:

First, your marriage should precede your children in priority. Have you ever heard a married person say, “Nothing is more important to me than my children?”

I hear people say that pretty often, and I think these parents—though well-meaning—need to shift the order of their priorities. Your first priority is God. Period. Your second priority should be your marriage. Your children come third.

Happiness and security in a marriage are essential for raising healthy, responsible children. When your child sees that you are happy and secure, it makes him or her happy and secure.

Why? Because children see everything. They pick up tension in your relationship, even if you’re not fighting in front of them. They internalize that tension, which can damage their physical health and their psychological well-being. Get your marriage on track first.

Secondly, you have to be unified in parenting. Jesus said a house divided against itself can’t stand, which means you and your spouse must present a united front in raising your kids. You don’t have to agree on everything, but don’t disagree in front of the kids. Dad can’t say one thing while Mom says another.

This means you must discipline in the same ways. You both need to show the same amount of affection and concern. And should you reach an impasse on decision-making or parenting styles, don’t hesitate to go outside your marriage to get help.

Karen and I did that with a certain parenting issue—we encountered a problem we couldn’t solve on our own—and the outside help was absolutely critical to the success of our marriage.

Finally, understand that parenting requires faith. This means faithfulness to God and trusting His promises.

Proverbs 22:6 tells parents, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is a powerful promise. God says that if we “train up” our children correctly, when they are mature they won’t depart from the way we have trained them.

We have to trust Him that this will be true. We also have to know that training doesn’t mean talking. It means showing. We train our children by the way we live our lives. It’s the full process of transferring values, character, spirituality, and purpose. You can’t talk your way through this process. You have to live it.

Our children learn to respond to certain situations, to deal with pressure, to love their spouses by watching us.

Prioritize your marriage. Present a united front. Train up your children by doing the right thing, and trust God that they will follow your example. You may encounter challenges along the way, but that’s how you raise successful kids.

Positive Communication

If your marriage is like most, it began with good communication. You got to know one another by spending time together. You talked and talked and talked.

Communication is the essential element to every great marriage. Getting to know another human being requires talking. It’s how we fall in love. It’s how we understand another person’s heart. It’s how we resolve problems and discuss needs. It’s so important.

It’s also important that those words be encouraging. That’s what happens early in a relationship, right? Your speech is filled with kindness, praise, and compliments. Without positive words spoken, you won’t have a very good relationship—or a good marriage.

One of a woman’s most important needs is for communication. It’s as important to women as sex is for men. I didn’t understand this concept very well when Karen and I first got married. Our marriage struggled in those early years.

It wasn’t until I began talking to her—truly communicating—that our marriage turned a corner. Patient, loving communication connects her to my world.

That’s why I often give two instructions to married couples. Women should be more sexual than they feel (this always makes the husbands in the room happy). But on the other hand, I tell men they should talk more than they feel. Our wives deserve more than just a grunted word or two at the end of the day.

That leads me to the five standards of successful communication in marriage:

Caring. This is a very simple principle. It’s impossible to communicate with a person who doesn’t care. We show how much we care through attentive body language, listening, and feedback.
Praise. The Bible says we enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise (Psalm 100:4). God doesn’t let a negative person into His presence. We’re made in the image of God, which means, as humans, negativity destroys our chances of communication, too.

We can’t always avoid negative discussions in marriage, but we have to earn those with positive words. Focus on each other’s strengths. Focus on the attributes that first made you fall in love. I always tell people they should speak ten positive words for every negative one.
Truth. Ephesians 4 commands us to speak the truth in love. Both truth and love are required. Mercy without truth is like being a cheerleader without a team. It’s meaningless. Truth without mercy is surgery without anesthesia. It’s mean.
Faith. You must have faith—in God and in each other—to communicate in marriage. When problems arise, we may confront them in each other, but we need to allow God to be the enforcer. No nagging, punishment, or browbeating. We let the Holy Spirit convict someone into the actions that can transform them.
Surrender. We must surrender our hearts, minds, and mouths to God. Let Him use us to speak kind words into our marriage.
Communication is central to a good marriage, whether you’re a man or a woman. Speak kindness, truth, and positive words to each other, and watch how God will use these things to draw you closer than ever before.

The Most Important Issue in Marriage

When you have a problem, where do you go first? To a friend? To a family member? To Facebook or your credit card? Or do you take that difficulty and bring it to Jesus?

John 4 tells the story of when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus was breaking a societal boundary, because He was a Jew and Jews were not supposed to talk to Samaritans. Men wouldn’t normally speak alone to women. And this woman was divorced five times and currently living with another man.

Which means she was an outcast on three sides, and yet Jesus still approached her. He treated her like a person. He asked her for a drink, then told her that, with God’s Living Water, she’d never be thirsty again.

Jesus showed her compassion despite her failures in marriage.

None of us goes into marriage expecting to fail. We all want to succeed, but few of us have the skills. Jesus feels compassion for this woman who has failed at marriage and relationships, because compassion is in His nature and because He knows her failure came from ignorance. She just didn’t know.

Karen and I failed early in our marriage, too, and God was so compassionate with us. I want you to understand that, with struggling marriages, God doesn’t want to reject you any more than he wanted to reject the Samaritan woman or reject us.

He wants to help. He wants to tell us how to succeed.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that her problem with men was internal: she was drinking from the wrong well. She was turning to men to meet her needs when she should have been turning to God.

That was my problem, too, early in our marriage. As a young man, I didn’t know how to relate to Jesus like I should, so I depended too much on Karen. She depended too much on me. We had a dysfunctional marriage.

We should have been depending on Jesus.

All of us wake up every morning needing acceptance, identity, security, and purpose. Those are our four basic needs, and either God will meet those needs for us or we’ll look to some other person to meet them.

The Samaritan woman tried to get a husband to meet those needs. But people can’t meet our needs. When people fail to meet our needs, it makes us cynical. We stop trusting people, which is why our country’s marriage rate keeps diminishing.

Often we turn to other things to meet our needs, but money can’t do it. Work, success, or pleasure can’t do it. We’re drinking from those empty, unfulfilling wells but we need Living Water. Only God can meet those needs.

My encouragement to you is to sit down in the presence of the Holy Spirit and ask for help. Examine your broken relationships. Examine the struggles in your marriage. Have these occurred because you tried to find fulfillment in the other person rather than God?

If so, give your struggles to Him. The most important issue in your marriage is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Period. Your life will be more profoundly affected by your relationship with Him than anything else. Get that right and the rest will fall into line.

The Four Needs of a Woman

One of the most challenging verses in the Bible is Ephesians 5:25, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” God’s standard for men is that you give your life for her.

You love your wife more than you love yourself. You sacrifice for her. You strive to meet her needs. What are those needs?

A woman’s greatest need is security. She needs to know she is safe and provided for, and instinctively knows this occurs through a sacrificial husband.

She needs to know that you will sacrifice your interest, a hobby, a friend, an event, an opportunity, a promotion if necessary to make sure her needs are met. Nothing is more important than her.

A wife who has to resort to nagging or begging has a husband who is not sensitive to her needs. A wife who lacks romance in her marriage has a husband who is not sensitive to her needs. She shouldn’t have to ask.

A woman’s number-two need is soft, non-sexual affection. Guys, she wants to be held without being pinched, tickled, or groped. Why? Because it communicates to her that she’s more to you than a sex object, and that you are connected on a higher level than just sex.

I grew up with two older brothers and pretty much lived in a war zone. I didn’t know how to be affectionate. Early in our marriage, when I hugged Karen, it probably looked and felt more like a headlock.

We struggled until the day I became aware how I was failing in this area. Deliberately, I tried to be gentle. I held her hand without pinching. I put my arm around her without letting it…wander. She said, “I like that.”

That’s when everything began to improve. Men, if you are not affectionate toward your wife, saying “that’s just the way I am” is no excuse. You need to change.

A woman’s third need is open and honest communication. When your wife asks “How was your day?” she wants more than grunts and groans. She wants to connect with you. She wants access to your heart.

A healthy marriage requires both the husband and wife to talk to each other—to really talk, even if that feels awkward to you. Men, she doesn’t just need you to share your feelings, she deserves that from you. I often say that, in a good marriage, a wife must be more sexual than she feels and a husband must be more conversational than he feels.

The final need of a woman is leadership. Women don’t want to be dominated—they deserve to be treated as an equal partner—but they do want their husband to be the loving initiator of the home in terms of the children, romance, finances, and spiritual matters.

That doesn’t mean the husband makes decisions without her, but it does mean that he initiates the process. Women don’t respond to passive husbands.

Security. Affection. Communication. Leadership. When a husband sacrifices for his wife and meets these needs, he goes a long way toward loving her like Jesus loved the Church. In the process, he’ll do his part to build an amazing marriage.