Lord, send me a good looking girlfriend.” This was my constant prayer. Forget the war in Vietnam, racial tensions at home, or a hotel called Watergate. When I was sixteen years old, those things paled to insignificance compared to my desire for a girlfriend. My prayer took priority over everything else. After all, I’d never had a girlfriend and it wasn’t cool to be without one at sixteen.
One Sunday morning while I was sitting on the back row in Sunday School, the answer to my prayers walked in the door. It was a visitor I had never seen before, but as soon as I saw her I knew that this would be a great place to start my dating career. After church that day, despite my bumbling attempt at asking her out, she said yes.
The first date seemed to go well, so I decided to try again for a second date. Again she said yes. Then she said yes for a third date and a fourth. I dated that girl every week for three years. Then I married her. She was the only girl I ever dated. Melanie and I have now been married for 30 years in July. We have four children and three grandchildren.
The odds of two teens staying married, and happily married at that, are very unlikely. I’m no expert on the subject, but after nearly three decades of having both scaled the heights and plumbed the depths of marriage, I’m convinced that the key to a happy marriage can be identified in one word – Jesus.
On the day Melanie and I were married, knowing nothing about how to build a strong marriage, God prompted us to agree upon one thing. In a day before anyone had even heard the phrase, “prenuptial agreement,” we agreed on one tenet of marriage. It was the decision that Christ would be the Source of our relationship. On our wedding night, the very first thing we did when we arrived at the hotel where we would spend our honeymoon was to kneel together beside the bed in prayer. We gave our marriage to Jesus that night.
It wasn’t human wisdom that caused us to do such a thing. It was a God given understanding that we had better depend upon Him because all we knew about our marriage was that we loved each other. That act of unified agreement, that one decision, was the only prenuptial agreement with which we entered into marriage. But it was enough.
We have reached a place where the divorce rate inside the church has surpassed the number outside the church, evidence that we must be missing a big piece of the puzzle in experiencing the “happily ever after” for which we all hope. The Bible says that “Unless the Lord build a house, they labor in vain that build it.” What does that statement mean in practical terms?
Marriage might be compared to a house. It is important to have strong planks in building a house. All of our lives, Christians have been told about these planks. Believers already know the importance of praying together as a couple. We recognize the need for the primacy of God’s Word in our relationships. We understand the value of being a part of a church family. We have been taught how to do everything from budget our money to argue, all from a Christian perspective. These things aren’t new to anybody who has even casually been exposed to the church. Yet the divorces continue.
The problem in modern marriages may be discovered by examining the foundation of the house. Strong planks mean nothing unless they stand on a strong foundation. They will only stand until a strong wind comes along and blows them down. Couples can read the Bible, pray, go to church, study every method known to man for maintaining their marriage and still find themselves in divorce court. Don’t you know couples at church ended up divorced despite the fact that they were doing all the right things externally? Does this suggest that the planks of Christian behavior are unimportant? No! It simply points to the necessity of a proper foundation and religious disciplines aren’t it.
What is the foundation upon which an enduring and loving marriage must stand? It is nothing less than the life of Jesus Christ. Christian marriages aren’t about doing all the right things. That may describe a religious marriage, but an authentic Christian marriage is founded on an intimate union two people share with Jesus Christ. Marriages inside the church are failing because many have made a subtle shift from Jesus to religious activity. Many have a long inventory list to ensure they possess all the planks of spiritual disciplines, but have forgotten about the foundation of Christ Himself.
Church attendance alone is not enough. Neither is praying together, nor reading the Bible. Learning effective communication skills won’t hold a marriage together. There isn’t one Christian who doesn’t know the value of these things. They are important, but they simply aren’t enough when standing alone. They must rest upon the foundation of Christ’s life being expressed in and through marriage partners individually and together.
Grace in marriage is divine enablement by the life of Jesus Christ within us so that we can be all that God has called us to be and do all that He has called us to do. Understanding who we are in Christ is the key that unlocks the door to a successful marriage. We are each one with Him, thereby making us one with each other.
The planks can only be effectively put into place when our marriage is founded upon the Person of Jesus Christ. As we learn to abide in Him, He indeed builds our marriage, consecrating our relationship and causing it to be a precious, holy union through which the three of us experience an intimacy which is nothing less than divine. Anything else is simply empty religious ritual.
Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds a house, they labor in vain who build it.