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Embracing God's Desire for Your Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 04/12/2016

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In a discussion based on his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas describes how God uses marriage to make us holy, not just happy. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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Gary Thomas: Most of us get married for the times of joy and celebration and I'm thankful for those. We don't deserve 'em as much as we get 'em. Those are wonderful parts of marriage. But there are other seasons of marriage, that while I would never choose them and while I won't enjoy them, there are lessons to be learned. God is revealing Himself to me. He's strengthening us. He's taking us through a process and He's helping us

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John Fuller: Well, even if you're in a rough season of marriage right now, God can be and probably is working all things together for your good. And with that perspective in mind, we welcome you to another "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.

Jim: Well, I think we can all relate to Gary Thomas's comment about wanting the good parts of our marriage, but we want to run from the pain. And no one complains about the good times of marriage. We all enjoy that, even though we didn't do anything to deserve the good parts. It's much harder to see how God is using our marital challenges to draw us closer to Him. And so, we've asked Gary Thomas back for a second day to help us understand more completely this concept of how God wants to use your marriage to make you holy, more than to make you happy.

John: Yeah and if you missed the last program, the first part of this conversation, download it or get the CD from us at You can also make a donation while you're thereto allow us to continue making strong marriages possible through programs like this one.


Jim: Gary Thomas is the author of a number of books, including the best-seller, Sacred which gives us the basis for the discussion today. Gary and Lisa have been married for more than 30 years and have three adult children. They live in Houston, Texas, where Gary is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church. Gary, let me say, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."

Gary: Thank you.

Jim: Gary, you know, there's a common statement we're gonna hear, even from Christians, where people think that if their marriage is hard, they must have picked the wrong person. And you put that in context, where there's day after day, grinding friction and we're just not on the same page and I'm more mature than this other person spiritually or whatever might be said in the quietness of one's heart. Talk directly to that lie that I believe is comin' right from the enemy of our soul to say, you didn't pick the right person and that's why your marriage is in such a mess.

Gary: It's one of the most brutal and effective lies that Satan, I believe, has told to this generation, that if we picked the right person, marriage is supposed to be easy. And I think when Sacred Marriage first came out, those were the two things that resonated with so many people—the one that we've talked about, how God designed marriage to make us holy, even more than to make us happy. But the other thing that created some conversation has been fodder for bloggers and whatnot is, this notion that marriage is difficult.

And I say this not to scare off the singles, but to help the married people to not freak out. When your marriage proves to be difficult, the cultural mind-set is, you must have picked the wrong person. If your marriage is difficult, it just means your spouse is still alive.

We talked in the previous broadcast about how we all stumble in many ways. That's James 3:2. It can't be easy to be married to somebody who stumbles, not just occasionally, but the Bible says "in many ways." We shouldn't expect it to be easy.

And then you have little people. You create kids who stumble in many ways. That's not supposed to be easy, but here's why I'm not shy from mentioning that. The best things in life are usually really difficult. I'm not musical, but I love music. But I know it's hard. I've seen stories. I've talked to people, the blisters, of the calluses they have to get, the years of practice to master a piece. And yet, music hits me like almost nothing else. I'm so glad people go through that difficulty. Getting a degree where you're studying or something can be so difficult to do, but it's a glorious thing when you've got it done.

And so, I think of this every time I watch the Olympics, every four years. You know, all of the struggles, all of the practice and yet, we all revel in it, because we see somebody operating at such a high level.

Becoming like Christ isn't easy. Two people building a family together, building a marriage together, conquering their selfishness, conquering their fears, opening up to intimacy and then becoming one, it's a glorious thing. It's a wonderful thing. It feels transcendent, but it's not easy. We have to die to the sin that pushes us apart. We have to die to the addictions, because we'll cherish the addictions instead of each other and we have to learn to be understanding and want to serve each other.

None of us do any of that naturally. That's supernatural. But if we know it's difficult going in, then when we start to sweat, when we start to get frustrated, when we start to get tired, instead of freaking out, we just double down. This is the road I have to travel to get to a really good place.

Jim: Man, that is really well-said. It is. That's probably one of the best descriptions I've heard of why marriage is critical and why we need to work at it without giving up.

John: And one of those difficulties, Gary, you mentioned this last time, is and you've touched on it today, there's a vulnerability when I commit to allowing my spouse to help point out my weaknesses, to let Dena be part of that sanctification process. And I've told many people that she is the primary tool God has used to just shape me and mold me and change me in ways that many times, I don't want.

There's a trust level that you have to have. If you were talking to that couple that had been married 10 days, how could you get 'em to a point of understanding what trust looks like, so you can be candid with each other and help other that way?

Gary: Here's why I think a spiritual foundation is so crucial. For me, I couldn't get here until I learned to accept and receive God's grace, until I could learn to relate to a God who could convict me at the same time He encourages me. "But Gary, I still love you. Gary, I still have plans for you. Gary, I can restore you to health. I can help you deal with the consequences of your sin."

And to realize as King David did, who said, "The Lord delights in me." This is King David, who was an adulterer, who was a murderer, who was arrogant. He was a hot head. I mean, so many things that he did and he still had this sense that God delighted in him.

And it took my years of really embracing that Gospel, so that I could then open up to a wife and having a wife frankly, who knows me better than anyone on this earth, but who still, wonder of wonders, accepts me and likes me and even respect me. For me, just as an insecure guy, that has been one of the most healing aspects of marriage that I never expected before I got married, letting her see that side of me, seeing her respond with grace.

And I would say to the men listening to this program, wives are often more frustrated by our hiding and our lying than they are by our sin. They know there's something there. They know there's something that's not right and often wives will tell me, "Gary, if he will just let me in."

And when you talk to some wives whose husbands even committed suicide because they had private lives they wanted to keep hidden and the wives will say even then, "We could've dealt with this. I would've walked this journey with [him]. I just wish he would've let me in."

Our wives want to walk this life with us and in our pride and in our arrogance and because we don't understand the Gospel of grace, we shut our wives out. We shut our God out. We make ourselves miserable and we lose one of the best aspects of marriage, being fully known and being fully accepted and loved.

Jim: Gary, I appreciate that ballast, to look at our spouse in a way that isn't negative, but positive even if he or she is causing us pain. That takes a mature person. In fact, some people feel like their spouse may be holding them back from achieving something greater in their life, that it's if I had a better spouse, we'd be in a different place in this life. And in the book, I think you use Abraham Lincoln as an example and I love that. We're often thinking of Abraham Lincoln purely in a political context, keeping the country together and you know, getting through the Civil War and the leadership that he provided. But you kinda peel that back and talk about his relationship with his wife. What did you see there that gave you a different perspective?

Gary: There was a poll on CSPAN that ranked our nation's most effective presidents and in that poll, Abraham was chosen as our most effective president ever. But what caught my eye is, I'd seen a different poll that ranked the First Ladies and guess who was at the very bottom.

Jim: Mary Todd.

Gary: Mary Todd Lincoln. She was by all accounts an extremely contentious woman, reckless with their spending. During one stretch, she bought 200 pairs of gloves. You know, and presidents weren't wealthy men back in those days, certainly Lincoln wasn't, but she was sort of the Imelda Marcos of hands. If people remember that period, where she was just reckless and a vicious temper.

She'd had an argument with Lincoln. She just couldn't let it go. She could come in and he'd be talking to heads of state. She would throw a drink in his face and just walk out and he's tryin to do these delicate negotiations and he's got this wife who ultimately literally was confined to an insane asylum at the end of her life. So, she was flipping.

And yet, Lincoln was as committed to her as a husband could be. And then I look back and see how in providence, God might have presented this marriage to Lincoln to help him get ready, because we often look at Lincoln now with the understanding of hindsight.

But when Lincoln was negotiating the Civil War, he was about as unpopular a politician as there had ever been. They found in his papers after he'd been assassinated, where he had made plans. This was in 1864 when he had the re-election coming up and he admitted in his journal, "I don't see any way that I'm going to be re-elected as president."

But Lincoln had this mystical sense that God had created him with this mission, to preserve the experiment called "democracy." It was being tested. There was by no means guaranteed. And so, I look back and I could see God's providence. How does a man keep persevering, saying we're gonna fight this war to an end. It's gonna cost me re-election. People ridicule me. They call me a murderer, a butcher, all of this. Where does a man get that tenacity, that commitment, that perseverance to keep fighting a war that's made him so unpopular?

And it's my theory that a man who would quit on a difficult marriage would probably quit on a difficult vocational challenge. In fact, I could almost see God looking ahead in His providence saying, "How do I get Abraham Lincoln ready? I know he's gonna be President. I know the country's gonna go through a Civil War. How do I give him that character?"

Hello, Mary. You know, he brings this very contentious woman that any man would want to leave and yet, Lincoln was faithfully married to her. And the point is often that, well, God has a mission for every one of us. Sometimes our most difficult relationships are the very tools He uses to give us the character so we can succeed in that mission.

John: That's a great story and a great perspective from Gary Thomas on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. And we're covering some of the content in Gary's book, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy more Than to Make Us Happy?

And we'll encourage you to get a copy of the book. And in fact, we'll send that to you when you donate generously to Focus on the Family today.

Jim: Gary, in our wedding vows, we talk about what we want to do at the appropriate moment, for better or for worse, till death do us part, in sickness and in health. We say these things, but do we really believe them? And when you look at the culture, this difference between a marriage license being a contract versus a covenant, let's explore that a little, because a contract says, if you don't perform up to my expectation as outlined in the contract, then I get to break the contract. You have allowed me to walk away. We treat marriage today somewhat like that, in the fact that you have not kept me happy. Or you have not fulfilled my dreams. Or I am not feeling connected to you emotionally, therefore, you broke the contract and I'm walking away.

It's not what God is saying when it comes to marriage. Marriage is a covenant. Describe what that covenant is supposed to be like.

Gary: Let me give an example of how that played out in one marriage. Marti entered marriage with several long-term relationships that broke up, before she finally got married. And so, she had this notion in her mind, that that's what a relationship is. You have infatuation. You have fun times. You go through difficult times. You break up and it's awful.

And so, she got married to a strong believer and they had some financial issues that came up and they just couldn't agree and the tension kept building. They went to counseling, everything. It just wasn't resolved and she found herself mourning the death of her marriage before it even happened, because that's what had happened throughout her life. You have fun; go through a difficult time; you break up and it's awful.

And she's kind of mentally, was going there until one night her husband did something so wonderful, so Christian. He wrapped his arms around her and he said, "Marti, you need to know, no matter what we decide or don't decide, I'm never going to quit on this marriage. Even if we have to live with this tension for the rest of our lives, I will never leave you."

And as Marti recounted that to me, she had tears in her eyes and I asked her, how did it get resolved? And she almost laughed, saying, "I don't remember." What she remembers was her husband's covenant faithfulness. Even if this is never resolved, we're in this together. We will deal with this tension the rest of our lives.

Jim: And that's such a picture of what the Lord has said to Israel in that context, the Old Testament, almost verbatim the same words. I'm not going to leave you, but you have really treated Me poorly. I mean, the Lord does say that at one point, that Israel is like a wayward child, you know, or a wayward spouse. Talk about that relationship. What is the Lord using that analogy in the Old Testament, what does He want us to understand about ourselves, our relationship with Him, how that needs to be a similar relationship to our spouse?

Gary: Yeah. This greatly broadened my understanding of marriage when I began to compare marriage to God's relation" infatuation." I think when Solomon dedicated the Temple, it's like this infatuated love fest, where Israel is saying, "You'll always be our God. We'll only worship You." And God is saying to Israel, "You'll always be My people. I'll always have a representative of David on the throne. If you ever sin, just pray toward this Temple. I'll forgive your sins. I'll make everything right. It's really that stage where both parties are thrilled to be in a relationship.

But you don't have to read far into the Old Testament to realize, it didn't stay like that. There were times of anger and frustration when God would discipline Israel and Israel would be frustrated with God. And God would be justifiably angry with Israel. There were times of infidelity. In spite of Israel's promise to be faithful, we know they were anything but.

And it's interesting, 'cause in the old Testament, it doesn't describe Israel as breaking some precept. It uses the language of adultery, that God felt like He was watching His wife chase after other lovers. And then there's these excruciating seasons of silence, times when just not much happened.

I think about the time between the Testaments, when the last prophet spoke in the Old Testament and John the Baptist came in the New. That was 400 years, four centuries God was silent toward a nation whose identity is wrapped up in their relationship with Him.

And so, you see times of infatuation and joy; you see times of frustration and anger, times of infidelity and excruciating seasons of silence. And you could describe most marriages along those four seasons. And what that helped me do, is it helped me appreciate all of marriage.

Most of us get married for the times of joy and celebration and I'm thankful for those. We don't deserve 'em as much as we get 'em. Those are wonderful parts of marriage. But this also taught me, there are other seasons of marriage, that while I would never choose them and while I won't enjoy them, there are lessons to be learned. God is revealing Himself to me. He's strengthening us. He's taking us through a process and He's helping us.

One of my favorite verses on marriage comes from this idea, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, "May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance." And you think about how Christ had to persevere. He was always misunderstood. His family misunderstood Him. His disciples misunderstood Him. The Pharisees misunderstood Him. Pilate and Herod misunderstood Him. Even John the Baptist said, "Are you really who I think You were?" I mean, even John the Baptist, you know, His closest one misunderstood Him and yet, Christ persevered.

Jim: Ah. Gary, that is such a good point and a deep point and you know, so often we're fixated on the action, when you talk about adultery. But there is something much deeper going on in the heart than the action and that's what the Lord is getting after, isn't He? I mean, even when He dealt with David, the Scripture says that David's heart was for God, yet he committed some big sins, like murder and adultery. But there was something in David's recognition of his sin, in his repentance of that, that God admired that even though you're flawed, you know who I am and I know who you are.

And so, when you apply that to the modern-day situation, how do we better understand what's really going on beneath the actions that we're expressing that so disappoint certainly our spouses, but also God?

Gary: It's key to understanding marriage in total and I would say to the singles listening to this broadcast, 'cause I know a lot of singles still like to listen about marriage, the fact that marriage is a covenant should lead you to be very careful, thoughtful, deliberate and seek counsel about who you marry.

Because you marry a person's problems. In essence, you marry their addictions. You marry their past. You marry their issues. And because there isn't a quick get-out-of-jail-free card provided in Scripture, you've gotta realize, is this the kind of person that I'm really willing to have that kind of love with?

I can't have that kind of commitment with any other person in my life. It's a special commitment with one person, my wife. What it means in marriage is that I have to throw away this thought of what would it be like if I married someone else? Or if only my spouse wasn't this way. There are no "If only's."

This isn't a contract that I can just break, make sure financially you're taken care of and we'll go our own way and say it was all said and done. We need to have this reverence where there is almost this holy horror that we would ever do anything that undercuts that, because this person has made such an unbelievable commitment, a covenant to us, the thought that we would ever be untrue to it should be horrifying to us.

Jim: Gary, we have talked a lot about the difficulty of marriage, what's underneath some of those things, those behaviors that we're expressing and how God wants to, for our good, to get in and help us live in a better and healthier way. Let's talk about the rewards of perseverance and what God does intend for us. I love that John 10:10 Scripture where the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life and life more abundantly. Put that in the context of what we're talkin' about with marriage.

Gary: The two huge benefits I think are this. The first is just, all that we've talked about, how God designed marriage to help us grow in holiness, is served by this notion of a covenant. I can be honest with my wife. I can be open with my wife. I can be vulnerable with my wife, because I know she's gonna be there. I don't have to hide from her, because she's not goin' anywhere and so, I could admit my stuff and we can work on it together.

And for the first time, I'm not having to bear my burdens alone. There are a lot of married people listening to us today that are bearing their sins, their addictions, their temptations all on their own. That's not what God wants of them. That's not what we get married to do. We get married to share these burdens. We go further when we share 'em. So, for me it's been so helpful just to have not just a wife in Christ, but a sister in Christ that I can do this with.

But the second thing, this is what builds intimacy. There's a fascinating study. It came out years ago that showed that couples that made it to their 35th wedding anniversary, had the same level of satisfaction as newlyweds. But this after marital satisfaction tends to drop for the first 20 years of marriage.

Jim: The first 20 years.

Gary: Well, but there are bumps and challenges along the way, because you get married often with infatuation. That's a high point. But when you're infatuated, you don't know each other. You're not really one. It's a dance. hiding from each other. You're covering things up.

And then you have children. That often assaults marital intimacy, because you're just tired and it's challenging and there's the little things you argue over. But by the 35th wedding anniversary, you have that same satisfaction as newlyweds, but now it's even better, because you have shared memories. Your minds have formed around each other. Neurologically you've literally become one. Your brains have learned to give way to each other.

Putting it together, there's another study that I found so interesting. They said, it takes from nine to 14 years for a couple to truly create and form its being. What they're saying is, it takes at least a decade to a decade and a half for two individuals to stop thinking of themselves as individuals and to start thinking of themselves as one. So, the journey from "me" to "we" is about 10 to 15 years.

Jim: Boy, that's something.

Gary: And couples don't often get there, which means when a couple gets divorced at seven to eight years in, they literally don't know what it would be like to be truly married. They're not one yet. Their brains are still forming around each other. Their brains are still becoming familiar with each other. It's like they built the foundation of the house and maybe they even started to frame it, but they don't know what it'd be like to be in a house that has the walls up, that has the roof, that has the windows in that they can really enjoy. They're saying, we're getting rid of a relationship that isn't even finished yet.

Because it just takes time for that intimacy to grow and that's what a covenant offers, time for our brains to become one, time for us to get that inheritance of really sharing that intimacy of oneness that we all seek.

Jim: Well, and it absorbs the selfishness that we were talking about earlier, that it gives time for that maturity to happen, so we can change together. That is wonderfully said. Gary Thomas, author of the book, Sacred Marriage. Our discussion has brought deep and inspiring thoughts. Thank you for bein' with us. And if you're in a spot where you're struggling, you don't know what your next step is, call us here at Focus on the Family. We have counselors who can help you, who can talk with you about what you're feeling. It won't be new to us. We have been there and we know, I think, from a scriptural context, what you could do to help improve your relationship with your spouse. So, don't hold back. That's why we're here.


John: And we'll put you on a counseling call-back list. It may take a day or two. We've been getting so many calls of late. There is such a need, but Jim, our counselors are just one of the ways that Focus on the Family wants to be here for those who are in need.

Jim: Well, I'm proud of them and they're making an enormous impact, helping people think through where they're at in their lives. In fact, one person said this. "Your counselor at Focus was willing to talk with me about my marriage in a real and honest way and even provided free follow-up materials, help that I couldn't get elsewhere. They honestly shared hard-hitting truths and I didn't want to believe it at first. But it turned out Focus counselors hit it spot on. No one else in my support circle or even local counselors realized how difficult my situation would be. Thanks for being honest with me, no matter how hard it was to hear. With those truths and God's help, I'm now stronger for it."

I mean, wow, I love to hear how God is using Focus on the Family in the lives of couples who are finally moving on from their past and receiving the help they've so desperately been searching for. So, please stand with us. Be a part of this harvest. Call us. You won't shock us with where you're at in your life. Also call if you can help us. We mentioned there that we were able to send tools and resources to this person. That comes because you help us do that. You support it and if we don't hear from you, we won't be able to provide those answers. So, if the Lord's nudging you, can you send a gift to us today? On behalf of those people that will be touched, I want to say thank you.

John: Yeah, so donate generously when you call 800-232-6459 or at And when you do, we'll send a copy of Gary Thomas's book, Sacred Marriage as our way of expressing gratitude that you're joining our support team or you're continuing to be a part of that team that makes this kind of outreach possible.

And be sure to get the CD or download of this two-part conversation with Gary. It's a great resource to pass along to someone else, to listen to in a Sunday school or a small group or perhaps just as you're drivin' along.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we hear from popular author and speaker, Jill Savage.


Jill Savage: Most women also long to know that they're not alone. In fact, one of the things that we talk about in the book is that there are the four most powerful words for a mom are, "You are not alone."

End of Excerpt

John: Encouragement for moms next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Gary Thomas

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Gary Thomas is an international speaker and best-selling, award-winning author whose books include Pure Pleasure, Holy Available and Sacred Marriage. He has also written numerous articles for several prominent national magazines. Gary and his wife, Lisa, reside in Texas and have three children. You can learn more about Gary by visiting his website,