LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–I suppose you’d expect a man who’s been married 30 years to a beautiful, intelligent woman would be able to share with you the intimate secrets to having a perfect marriage.
But I’m going to disappoint you! That’s because Kay and I don’t have a perfect marriage. She is without a doubt my best friend, and we have a wonderful relationship — but as far as a perfect marriage, well, there’s no such thing.
What Kay and I do have is a marriage centered on Christ, specifically focused on glorifying God. We remain committed to each other because we remain committed to Christ and His work within us.
After three decades in ministry, I’ve noticed that it’s not unusual for couples to float through their first year or two of marriage in a love-blinded bliss.
But, frankly, that didn’t happen for Kay and me. Our first two years together were the most difficult. In fact, we were ready to throw in the towel. If we both hadn’t been committed to Jesus Christ and we both hadn’t agreed that divorce was not an option, we wouldn’t have stayed together. It was simply too difficult.
After we were married, Kay and I discovered that, apart from our love for God, we were about as opposite in nature as two people could be. We viewed life from two different angles and argued over just about everything.
I remember Kay’s father sat us down the night before we were married and said, “There are five areas where marriages usually have conflict: money, sex, in-laws, children, and communication.” He proved to be prophetic: Kay and I went five for five!
The single factor that kept us married in those early years was that we agreed on one thing: Divorce would never be an option for us. You can’t leave the door open even a little bit, or eventually one of you will try to escape. Slowly, over time, God helped us not only to accept our differences, but to appreciate them.
Through the process, we learned that any successful marriage is built upon the biblical truth that God designed each of us with five purposes in mind: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and missions.
In other words, until you realize you and your mate were placed together for God’s purposes, then your marriage will be difficult, complicated and exhausting. But once you understand God’s plan, your marriage takes on new meaning.
Balancing biblical purposes
Here are five biblical purposes you should keep balanced in your marriage:
— You and your spouse were both planned for God’s pleasure. A man once asked Jesus, “What’s the most important commandment?” Jesus replied, “I can summarize the entire Bible in two statements: Love God, and love other people!” (Matthew 22:36-39). That includes your spouse.
Life is about relationships, not achievements. You worship God when you love and sacrifice for your spouse (just read through Romans 12 with a view of what its applications would mean to your marriage). That brings pleasure to God, and any time you give pleasure to God, you’re worshiping Him.
— You and your spouse were formed for God’s family. God made an incredible promise about the gathering of even just two believers: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NAS). So if both you and your spouse are believers, God is already in your marriage working to transform the two of you into a purpose driven family unit!
Your marriage is a lab for learning how to love like Jesus loves. Within marriage, God has created an opportunity for us to develop a true intimacy and authenticity with another human being.
To go this deep requires genuine, heart-to-heart, gut-level sharing, where you and your spouse get honest about who you are and what’s happening in your lives. This happens when you both share your hurts, reveal your feelings, confess your failures, disclose your doubts, admit your fears, acknowledge your weaknesses, and ask each other for help and prayer.
— You and your spouse were both created to become like Christ. God uses your spouse to build His values, attitudes, morals and character within you.
Once you understand this, a lot of what happens within your marriage will begin to make more sense. When you start to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” The answer is — to make you more like Jesus!
If God’s purpose for each of our lives is to make us look more like Jesus, what better tool could he use than the marriage relationship? Who better for God to use to chisel you than the person you live with seven days a week? God is using each of you to shape the other person more and more into the image of Jesus.
— You and your spouse were both shaped for serving God. The Bible says, “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God has made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing” (Ephesians 2:10, NCV).
God shapes us for service through a variety of methods, including the difficulties in your marriage to shape you into an effective minister to others. Who could better help somebody recover from the pain of an addiction, a business failure or a prodigal child than a couple who has been through these things and emerged with godly insights?
Could it be that the part of your marriage you regret or resent most — that which you’ve wanted to hide or forget — is the very thing God wants to use as your ministry to help and encourage others sharing the same struggle? God doesn’t just use our strengths; He uses our weaknesses, and even our failures!
— You and your spouse were both made for a mission. Your marriage not only involves ministry, it also involves mission. Your ministry is to believers and your mission is to non-believers — allowing God to use your marriage as a means for telling others about His love.
This may take many forms, from being a witness in your neighborhood to going overseas on mission trips together. The fact is, if you want God’s blessing on your marriage, then you must care about what God cares about most. What is that? He wants His lost children found! He wants everyone to know Him and His purposes for their lives.
Marriage is a life-long process designed to teach you to see the needs of another person as more important than your own. It’s a difficult transition because it’s not natural. To think this way requires an intentional shift that can be made only through the power of God in your life.
The reward, however, is greater than anything you could ever imagine. I’ve often wondered what would have happened — or not happened — had Kay and I thrown in the towel many years ago. There would be no Saddleback Church, no purpose driven ministry and no “Purpose Driven Life”!
God’s plan for your marriage is wider and deeper than anything in your wildest, craziest dreams. May our heavenly Father help you catch this vision as you chase it into the future.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest churches. In addition, Warren is author of the New York Times bestseller “The Purpose-Driven Life” and “The Purpose-Driven Church,” which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community