Ray and I recently made a journey to a large country in Asia in which we have served before. We were asked to minister to persecuted pastors and their wives on marriage and family issues. Their invitation said, in part, "We are first generation Christians, and we don't know what it looks like to build a Christian marriage or raise our children as Christians. Please come help us."
Marriage is from God and crosses over any and all cultural barriers.
Although the environment was different—the food and water, the transportation and housing, the language, and most certainly the family dynamics—the questions were the same we encounter everywhere. That's because marriage is from God and crosses over any and all cultural barriers. "How does Christian marriage work?" "What do I do with my disappointments and sadness?" "Is there any hope for us?"
God brought renewal in wonderful ways as we began to study how a marriage can flourish in an environment of grace. We considered how God welcomes us, sinful as we are with all our glaring faults (Rom. 15:7). We breathed in God's grace for us through Jesus Christ's completed sacrifice. We talked through how to breathe out God's grace upon our spouse.
All relational restoration begins by going back to God. A heart distant from God creates aloofness and fault-finding comparisons. But a heart warmed by the personal welcome of Christ at the foot of the cross will be able to live with an imperfect spouse without always pointing the finger.
Perhaps God will breathe renewal into your marriage as you ponder some of the comments of those with whom we met:
"God has enlightened my eyes that the gospel—not a list of skills—is the only hope for my marriage. This is a totally new knowledge about marriage. I have been delivered from the valley of hopelessness. In the past I have lived in conflict and despair, but now I have hope! I want to give my husband respect as my worship to God."
"I see now that the gospel is the cure for us. I have been Mrs. Law to my husband and children. God gives life to the dead. Now I feel God's love abundantly. I repent of my angry words."
"Sometimes friends would ask me, 'Are you really born again?' This week I realized I was living in law and self-centeredness. Many times I used God's Word to correct my husband. I was so sad when I came. But God has taken my sadness away and given me a happy heart. My husband can even see the difference on my face."
"I had lost hope. I knew of no good marriages. We almost missed this conference because of hopelessness in our marriage. You gave us the gospel—'How does God treat me?' That is how we are to treat each other. Now I have hope."
"For the past ten years I lost my joy and have been walking in darkness. We would have more and more arguments. I was dead; I had no hope. This week the Holy Spirit filled me again. When you taught from Luke 15, I saw that I was the lost sheep, but now the Shepherd has taken me in His arms. Now I am depending on Him."
"Before I came I was totally closed and cold. I had no feeling, no hope—none. I blamed my husband. Before marriage I had high expectations and then total disappointment. I gave more condemnation than love. But now I realize I had put all my hope in my husband. My love was selfish, not unconditional. This is a new beginning for me. I want to live in the gospel every day."
"I had never heard that marriage was from the garden of Eden and a platform to show others the gospel. For so many years all people pointed their troubles to us. This week we could share. I was in death's valley. I even doubted my faith. My spiritual life was dead. God delivered me and now I have hope. These tears are tears of joy, not sorrow."
Would you pray for these brave brothers and sisters that they might "become an example to all the believers in" Asia (1 Thess. 1:7) as their hearts are strengthened by His grace? May God raise up a whole new generation of believers who understand that Christian marriage is more about offering grace than receiving love. And may He grant all Christian wives the encouragement and hope we need to live in harmony with the man to whom we said, "I will . . . till death do us part."
If you're attending Revive '13: Women Helping Women, catch Jani Ortlund's breakout session September 21 on "Help for Hurting Marriages."