Or Strengthen the One You Already Have
By LESLIE LUDY
Internet matchmaking services. Dating apps. Singles groups. Compatibility tests. Breakthrough secrets that promise to help you snare the man of your dreams in only two months. Books that share the best flirting techniques. Reality shows that turn romance into a fierce, drama-filled competition.
Our modern world is overflowing with trendy new ways to help you find a spouse and build a successful, satisfying relationship.
But do these methods really work? Do they actually lead to true and lasting love?
Divorce statistics are higher than they have ever been. Young adults are turning their backs on conventional marriage, choosing to “move in and see how it works out” rather than make a long-term commitment. Others are swearing off male/female relationships altogether, preferring same-sex romance over traditional love stories.
Countless Christian marriages are falling apart. Some studies say that the divorce rate among evangelical Christians is actually higher than among non-Christian couples.
What ever happened to those good old-fashioned “Jane Austen” style love stories? You know, the kind where a gallant gentleman wins the heart of a noble lady … where their romance unfolds slowly and delicately, marked by honor and respect … where their love is marked by purity and dignity … and where their commitment lasts for a lifetime?
Are those kinds of love stories even possible in today’s world of shallow flings and cyber-relationships?
If you’ve ever asked that question, you are not alone. In the midst of the relational chaos that marks our modern age, there is a growing hunger for the simple beauty of real and lasting love.
The good news is that lasting love stories are actually possible — even today. Beautiful romance tales did not originate with Jane Austen, but with God. And He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God who created marriage is just as interested in writing incredible love stories now as He was at the beginning of creation.
But the only way to experience His very best in this area of our lives is to reject the flawed methods of our culture and submit ourselves to His pattern instead. We can’t follow the relational trends of this world and expect to get heavenly results.
God doesn’t need to imitate the world’s way of building a relationship — He has His own way — an infinitely better way.
So if you are ready to lay aside the self-focused pattern of this world and discover true success in romance, I’d like to share with you four biblical principles that will prepare you for a beautiful marriage — or strengthen the one you already have.
These principles are very different from the “get what you want” attitude our culture promotes. But if you are willing to embark upon this journey relying on God’s grace, you will discover something so much better than anything this world could ever offer.
1. Make Christ Your First Love
When Eric and I were first married, we heard a Christian psychologist say, “Every married couple at some point in their marriage will look across the table at their spouse and wish they had married someone else.”
As newlyweds, we were deeply disturbed by this proclamation. God had written a beautiful love story for us. Was it true that it would only disintegrate over time? As we studied the pattern of Scripture, we began to recognize that God did not intend our love to grow stale. Rather, He desired it to become deeper and more beautiful with time. Jesus’ first miracle — turning water into wine at a wedding — demonstrates the principle of “with God in the marriage it only gets better with time.” And Proverbs 5:18-19 presents a lovely picture of a marriage that stays strong and beautiful even as the years pass: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth … always be enraptured by her love.”
But there is a key ingredient to a romance that only grows more beautiful with time — putting Jesus in His rightful place and making Him your First Love. If I look to my spouse to meet needs that only Jesus can meet, I will certainly be disappointed, not to mention put unhealthy and unrealistic pressure on him. This is what often leads to the kind of nagging and criticism that destroys a marriage relationship — one person expecting the other person to meet all their needs, rather than looking to Jesus for the fulfillment their soul craves. In my marriage to Eric, I have found that when I am purposeful about making Christ my First Love and finding my deepest fulfillment in my relationship with Him, it strengthens our marriage tremendously. When I am satisfied in Christ, I am able to approach my husband with a selfless mentality rather than a selfish one.
THERE IS A KEY INGREDIENT TO A ROMANCE THAT ONLY GROWS MORE BEAUTIFUL WITH TIME — PUTTING JESUS IN HIS RIGHTFUL PLACE
In our twenty-two years of marriage, Eric and I have never had a moment when we wished we were married to someone else. We have not grown tired of each other. In fact, our love is deeper and more beautiful than when we took our wedding vows. This is not because we are especially gifted at romance or perfectly sensitive to each other at all times. Rather, it is simply because we have kept Christ at the center — not only of our marriage — but of our individual lives. We have learned to find our deepest fulfillment and satisfaction in Him, and this leads to amazing beauty in our relationship.
Whether you are single or married, you can set the stage for a marriage that grows more beautiful with time when you cultivate your relationship with Jesus Christ and learn to find your deepest satisfaction in Him. When Christ is not your First Love, you’ll always be looking to a human person to meet needs in your soul that only Christ can meet, and you’ll end up frustrated and disillusioned. But when Jesus is in His rightful place, you set the stage for a selfless love. It’s a love that no longer asks the question, “What am I getting out of this relationship?” but rather, “How can I bless, honor, and serve my spouse, and love him as Christ has loved me?”
If you are unsure how to make Christ your First Love, take this simple advice from the book of James: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8). Spend time in His presence, study His Word, and build your life around the pursuit of Him. The Bible promises that when we seek Him with an undivided heart, He will reveal Himself to us (see Jeremiah 29:13).
Take some time to really understand who Jesus is. The following is just a brief glimpse into the names of Christ throughout Scripture. (I’ve shared this list in other articles as well — it’s one worth revisiting often!) It gives us an incredible understanding of who He is meant to be in our lives, and how He truly can fulfill us at the deepest level of our soul:
My Well-Beloved (Song of Solomon 1:13)
My Savior (2 Peter 3:18)
My Hope (1 Timothy 1:1)
My Brother (Mark 3:35)
My Helper (Hebrews 13:6)
My Physician (Jeremiah 8:22)
My Healer (Luke 9:11)
My Refiner (Malachi 3:3)
My Purifier (Malachi 3:3)
My Lord, Master (John 13:13)
My Servant (Luke 12:37)
My Example (John 13:15)
My Teacher (John 3:2)
My Shepherd (Psalm 23:1)
My Keeper (John 17:12)
My Feeder (Ezekiel 34:23)
My Leader (Isaiah 40:11)
My Restorer (Psalm 23:3)
My Resting-Place (Jeremiah 50:6)
My Meat (John 6:55)
My Drink (John 6:55)
My Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7)
My Peace (Ephesians 2:14)
My Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30)
My Righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30)
My Sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30)
My Redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30)
My All in All (Colossians 3:11)
Why would we ever need to look elsewhere for the desires of our hearts to be fulfilled? Truly, He is our All in all!
2. Let Men Lead
When Eric and I were getting to know each other, we reached a point when it was obvious to me that God was leading us toward something deeper than a mere friendship. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure if Eric felt the same way. I’d had inklings that he did, but for some reason he never seemed to initiate a conversation about where our friendship was headed. To add to my uncertainty, he was preparing to leave for a two-year stint out of state, first at a missionary training school and then on a mission trip, most likely overseas. I envisioned the misery of enduring those two years of separation, not knowing how he really felt about me. Would he meet another girl in that time? Should I expect our friendship to continue or dissolve?
Not having clear answers to these questions was driving me crazy. Several times, I was tempted to sit down with him and talk about where things were at between us. Of course, I had no intention of asking whether he thought we’d get married someday. I planned to be far more subtle than that. But what was the harm in giving him a little nudge to find out how he really felt about me? Yet each time I opened my mouth to initiate this conversation, I felt the gentle prick of conviction from God’s Spirit. “Let him lead. Let him take the first step.” This was the clear command to my soul.
A bit reluctantly, I decided not to bring up the issue, but simply wait for God to move upon Eric’s heart if He wanted us to talk about the future of our relationship. Time passed quickly, and soon it was the day before he was supposed to leave for missionary school. Just when I had all but given up hope that a significant conversation would take place, Eric asked if we could go on a walk and talk about our relationship. He shared with me that God had been speaking to his heart and he believed that one day we would be married. And in the next moment, he told me how much he appreciated the fact that I had let him be the leader in the relationship by waiting for him to initiate that important discussion. (He had no idea how close I’d come to jumping the gun!)
In today’s world it’s easy to believe that letting a man take the lead in a relationship is unnecessary and unwise. After all, why wait around for the guy to finally initiate a relationship? What’s wrong with the woman giving him a nudge when he’s moving too slow, or at least letting him know she’s interested? The relationship may never move forward if she doesn’t!
Yet all throughout Scripture, we see a pattern of the man initiating, and the woman responding. Song of Solomon portrays a man pursuing a woman and winning her heart. And the relationship between Christ (the heavenly Bridegroom) and His Bride (the Church) is one in which He takes the lead, and we respond: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). And when we honor this pattern in our earthly marriages, we set the stage for a successful, lasting romance.
Many married women wish their husbands would be stronger leaders in the home. Yet often, the man was robbed of his position even before the relationship began, because she did not allow him to be the leader or initiator as their romance was unfolding.
When we let men pursue, initiate, and lead, we honor their position and help them become the noble leaders God intended them to be.
HELP THEM BECOME THE NOBLE LEADERS GOD INTENDED THEM TO BE.
(Note: this doesn’t mean you should remain in a relationship in which a guy is merely “leading you on” — taking advantage of your heart and emotions without any intention of a marriage commitment. The best course of action in this scenario is not to demand that he become serious about you, but rather to pull away from the relationship until God matures him into a truly honorable and trustworthy man.)
Be watchful of rushing ahead of God’s pattern and robbing a man of his position because of your own impatience. If there is a step that needs to be taken, ask God to move upon his heart to act. Trust that God can work in a man’s heart without your subtle (or not so subtle) manipulation. You may have to wait longer than you’d like, but if you lean entirely upon God’s faithfulness — rather than your own scheming — you will see that His timing and His ways are perfect.
3. Cultivate Tensile Strength
The first few months of my marriage to Eric seemed like a whirlwind of chaos and stress. Not because of our relationship, but because the circumstances of our life felt out of control. I had moved from an upscale, suburban area near Denver to join Eric in an out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere town in a remote part of Michigan. It was the dead of winter, and the temperatures were below zero almost every day. We were living in a rented bed and breakfast which was beautiful in the summer, but boarded up and lonely in the winter.
A family of raccoons had taken up residence in the fireplace, and we could not get rid of them no matter what we tried. Every morning, I would wake up covered in bug bites, which we eventually realized was because the house was infested with fleas. The fleas, just like the raccoons, were impossible to get rid of. The sub-zero temperatures, combined with the chemicals we used to unsuccessfully kill the fleas, caused me to become extremely sick for about two months. I used up an entire closetful of Kleenex boxes and the whole house seemed to rattle with my coughs. To add to everything else, one morning our pipes exploded, flooding the kitchen and laundry room with icy water and rendering the washing machine useless. So there we were, just a few months into marriage, facing piles of Kleenex and dirty clothes, a flea-infested house, sub-zero weather, very little money, and extreme sickness.
I found I was unprepared for these unexpected challenges of married life. My circumstances caused my emotions to take a downward spiral, which in turn affected my relationship with Eric. God needed to do an important work in my soul by teaching me the art of tensile strength.
Tensile strength refers to the maximum stress a material can take under tension. For example, a rope’s tensile strength is measured by tying weights to the rope and then dropping the rope to see how much weight it can endure without breaking. The greater the ability of the rope to endure weight and combative force, the stronger the tensile rating. The strength of our souls can be measured in a similar way. If we have never built our tensile strength, then even the smallest weights and stresses can cause us to snap. But if we train like an Olympian to build our tensile strength, our soul will be able to endure weights and pressures, remaining strong and immovable in faith and attitude.
Why is tensile strength important for a strong and healthy marriage? Because when you enter into a Christian marriage covenant, you will immediately become a target of the enemy’s attack. The enemy hates Christian marriage, and he will do everything he can to bring tension and discord into the relationship. Often, he will hit you with difficult circumstances to try to weaken your marriage. If you have no tensile strength and fall apart when trials arise, you can’t be a support to your spouse. Instead, you’ll be vulnerable to the enemy’s temptation to lash out at your spouse, blame him for your circumstances, and complain until things finally change. Yet, if you let God build you strong in tensile strength, you will turn the table on the enemy’s schemes. Trials and difficulties can actually bring you closer to your spouse and make you both stronger spiritually if you respond with joy and faith instead of fear and despair.
The heroic Christians throughout history, who gave up their lives for Christ, trained their souls to handle the greatest pressures and stresses life could throw their way, even facing imprisonment, torture, and death with an overcoming, triumphant spirit.
You don’t need to wait until you are married to learn the art of tensile strength. Allow God to use the difficult circumstances in your daily life right now to teach you this all-important quality. Instead of complaining or becoming depressed over less-than-ideal situations you face, ask God to give you a triumphant, joyful attitude in the midst of your trials. Learn to lean upon His grace and stand strong in Him, even when the winds and rains beat against your house. In Him, you can remain unbending and immovable no matter how fierce the storm. Each time you embrace an opportunity to grow in tensile strength, you are actually strengthening your marriage (or future marriage) as well!
4. Entrust Your Marriage Dreams to God
Most of us grow up with our own set of personal dreams when it comes to marriage; maybe it’s a cute home with a white picket fence, a gallant knight-in-shining armor who sweeps us off our feet every morning, or simply a comfortable, predictable life. But rarely do God’s plans for us align with our own ideas of what would lead to our greatest happiness. Very often, He asks us to lay down our dreams and desires at His feet, so that He can replace them with His own dreams for our lives. His plans for us are not always easy, but they lead to a deeper fulfillment and joy than anything we could concoct for ourselves.
Whether you are married or single, evaluate whether you have entrusted your hopes, plans, and dreams to your faithful Creator, or if you are still clinging stubbornly to your own ideas of how your life is supposed to turn out. Unless you approach marriage with a surrendered heart, you will miss out on the amazing plans God has for you because you are desperately clinging to your own. Many women become controlling and manipulative, making everyone around them miserable in an attempt to push forward their own agenda. As the book of Proverbs reminds us, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands” (14:1).
In contrast, a woman who has joyfully yielded her will to God will remain peaceful, joyful, and outward-focused even when things turn out differently from what she expected. That is because her hope is not in her own dreams, but in Jesus Christ.
The most world-altering women in Christian history have been those who willingly gave up their own dreams and expectations in exchange for God’s. Some examples: Catherine Booth (the co-founder of the Salvation Army) gave up a settled home and predictable lifestyle in order to serve alongside her husband in reaching countless people around the world with the Gospel. Sabina Wurmbrand gave up the security of having her husband by her side when she encouraged him to take a bold stand against the Communists who were invading the Romanian church. Elisabeth Elliot gave up the right to have a long, happy life with her husband when she supported his decision to risk his life for an unreached tribe in Ecuador — a decision that led to his martyrdom.
God may not call each one of us to these specific scenarios. But He does call each of us to live a surrendered life, continually yielding our own will to His. Jesus clearly set this pattern before us when He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn. 6:38), and “not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).
Though we may have hopes and dreams — and some of them might become a reality during the course of our lives — we must always remember that this world is not our home. We are merely pilgrims passing through on our way to our eternal residence (see 1 Peter 2:11). We are not to let the things of this world consume our thoughts or capture our hearts — and that includes the “white picket fence” dreams we have treasured since childhood. Our eyes must be fixed upon a heavenly Kingdom, not an earthly one.
The ultimate preparation for a beautiful love story is to simply lay everything at the feet of Jesus — your hopes, dreams, desires, and plans — and let Him mold and shape every aspect of your life exactly as He sees fit.
When you entrust your life into His faithful hands, you will find a greater contentment than any fairytale could ever offer — whether you are married or single; whether you live in the African wilderness or in a lovely American home with a white picket fence; whether you only have a short season with your husband or share a lifetime of memories with him.
WHEN YOU ENTRUST YOUR LIFE INTO HIS FAITHFUL HANDS, YOU WILL FIND A GREATER CONTENTMENT THAN ANY FAIRYTALE COULD EVER OFFER.
. . .
Building a successful marriage God’s way is not the quick or easy path. But the results are real and lasting. When we honor His pattern, we reap heavenly results. And remember, even if you never get married on this earth, your decisions to walk in His ways are never wasted. Because ultimately, He is our heavenly Bridegroom. No sacrifice can ever be too great for the One who gave everything for us. And no life could ever be more fulfilling than one that is lived for His glory.