WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP)–“I know I should talk with my wife about spiritual things,” a husband said to me, “but when our relationship isn’t right in other areas, it feels hypocritical to start talking about God and the Bible.”
Spiritual intimacy is crucial if Christian couples are going to experience all the blessings God intends, yet too often it is the one thing Christian marriages lack. In my counseling ministry, I have encountered many couples who separately were experiencing personal spiritual growth but did not have spiritual intimacy — the closeness that comes when marriage partners share something of their own spiritual pilgrimage with each other.
Spiritual intimacy does not come easily for everyone. Some couples may find it difficult to talk about spiritual things. A partner who feels spiritually inadequate may avoid talking about anything spiritual because he or she is worried about being embarrassed.
What we must remember is that the ground at the cross of Christ is level. Spiritual growth is not knowing more about the Bible; it is becoming more like Christ. We need not apologize for our present state of growth. We must simply be open to allowing Christ to continue to work in our lives.
Spiritual intimacy can begin when we turn to God together, asking Him to help us build total intimacy in our marriage. Here are five practical avenues that, if worked into the fabric of your marriage, will develop spiritual intimacy between you and your mate.
TALK ABOUT IT
Spiritual intimacy grows stronger when a couple talks and listens during discussions about spiritual matters.
The word is talk, not preach. Talking is sharing what God is doing in your life. Talking is a means of letting another into your heart and relationship with God. You can do that by sharing when God speaks to you through the Scripture or discussing what you found encouraging or insightful in a sermon or book.
When your spouse shares something with you, listen attentively. Be accepting, not condemning. If you feel compelled to share a different interpretation, share it as your interpretation, not the latest word from God. Preaching to your spouse does not enhance spiritual intimacy. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in your mate; do not try to do God’s work yourself.
And don’t think you can share only the areas of spiritual life in which you are becoming more like Christ. Spiritual intimacy does not demand perfection. Ask your spouse to pray for you about some of the ways God is challenging you to become more like Him.
The experience of praying together unites hearts. We feel closer to each other and closer to God. Few spiritual exercises hold as great a potential for spiritual intimacy as praying together.
What’s important is seeking God together, not the method of prayer. If you are uncomfortable praying aloud in the presence of another person, then hold hands, close your eyes and pray silently. God hears silent as well as audible prayers.
It also is important to pray for each other daily in your personal prayers. Be specific. Pray for the concerns your spouse has shared with you. Try praying Bible prayers for your spouse, especially those that ask God for spiritual wisdom and power, such as Ephesians 1:15–23 or Philippians 1:9–11.
STUDY THE SCRIPTURES
Spiritual intimacy can be greatly enhanced when a married couple is involved in Bible study together or shares with each other the fruit of individual Bible study. As we study the Scriptures, we discover how God views the world and our role in it.
You can begin by sharing one thing that impressed you or one question you have after you each have studied your weekly Bible lesson. Then try reading a devotional book together each day. Eventually you might even enroll together in a discipleship course or Bible study offered by your church and discuss the lessons with each other.
SERVE GOD TOGETHER
The great challenge of the Christian life is to give our lives in service to others under God’s direction. Because service to God is so central in the Christian life, it also plays an important role in developing spiritual intimacy within marriage. Spiritual intimacy greatly increases when a husband and wife serve together.
Many service projects are informal. You simply observe an opportunity and agree to make the time and exert the effort to do it together. You might take a single parent’s 10-year-old on an outing or help a widow by cleaning gutters, mowing a yard or painting a house. In such service, not only are you growing spiritually as individuals, you are growing a spiritual bond that will spill over and enrich the rest of your life together.
Too many of us are looking back rather than ahead, grieving the past rather than dreaming about what God has planned for us in the future. Dreaming dreams keeps us from becoming bogged down with the failures of the past or the routine of the present. Spiritual intimacy intensifies when you dream with your mate.
Dreaming creates expectancy. It plants seeds of hope and stretches our vision. Make your dream lists and share them with each other. God has plans for the two of you, and you are responding to the promptings of His Spirit to accomplish those plans. Some of your dreams may never come true, but the fact that you dreamed together and talked about those dreams will increase your spiritual intimacy.
A relationship with God is central in building a lasting, satisfying marriage. The Christian life is a journey of becoming like Christ. Each of us must be responsible for our own spiritual growth, but God’s plan is for a husband and wife to connect spiritually.
By talking, praying, studying, serving and dreaming together, you can build intimacy in your marriage.
Intimacy is not sameness. When Adam saw Eve, he said, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken from man” (Genesis 2:23). He saw in her his counterpart, taken out of him but separate from him.
Becoming close does not mean we lose our individuality. In fact, it is our separateness that makes intimacy possible. If we were identical, there would be nothing to discover, no joy of exploration. Two people entering into each others’ lives, discovering and being discovered — that is intimacy!
So why do so many couples have so little intimacy 10 or 15 years after their marriage commitment? Very likely, it is the same thing that happened in the Garden of Eden: Their personal sin has created within them a spirit of fear, distrust or guilt, so they protect themselves and withdraw from each other.
When a couple recognizes more distance than intimacy in their relationship, they must decide whether to continue the road of separateness or regain the ground that has been lost and conquer new ground.
We call this decision “commitment.” It’s an act of the will in which two decide to walk together and then, with the help of God, take the necessary steps to grow toward intimacy — emotional, intellectual, sexual and spiritual.
This article is adapted from Gary Chapman’s latest book, “Covenant Marriage: Building Communication and Intimacy,” which received a Gold Medallion award for marriage book of the year from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman Publishers. Chapman’s other books include “The Five Love Languages.” He and his wife, Karolyn, live in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he is senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church.