Falling in love may seem effortless, but building your Christian marriage and keeping it strong does require work. However, the blessings and rewards of that effort are priceless and immeasurable.
According to these 2008 marriage statistics one in three of us (Christians and non-Christians alike) will be divorced at least once. Yet further analysis of the statistics seems to suggest that active evangelical Christians, those who attend church regularly, as well as active Catholics and Protestants tend to divorce at a rate 35% lower than secular couples. So what are the keys to maintaining a strong and healthy Christian marriage? I've suggested 5 ways to strengthen your Christian marriage:
How to Keep Your Christian Marriage Strong and Healthy
Step 1 - Pray Together
Set aside time each day to pray with your spouse.
My husband and I have found that first thing in the morning is the best time for us. We ask God to fill us with His Holy Spirit and give us strength for the day ahead. It brings us closer together as we care for each other every day. We think about what the day ahead holds for our partner. Our loving affection goes beyond the physical realm to the emotional and spiritual realm. This develops true intimacy with each other and with God.
Perhaps a better time for you as a couple might be just before you go to bed each night. It's impossible to fall asleep angry when you've just held hands together in God's presence.
Step 2 - Read Together
Set aside time each day, or at least once a week, to read the Bible together.
This might also be described as a time of devotions. About five years ago my husband and I began setting aside time each weekday morning to read the Bible and pray together -- a couple's devotional time. We read to each other, either from the Bible or from a devotional book, and then we spend a few minutes in prayer together.
We've had to commit to rising from sleep about 30 minutes earlier in order to do this, but it's been a wonderful, intimate time of strengthening our marriage. It took 2 1/2 years, but what a sense of accomplishment we felt when we realized we had read through the entire Bible together!
Step 3 - Make Decisions Together
Commit to making important decision together.
I'm not talking about deciding on what to eat for dinner. Major decisions, like financial ones, are best decided as a couple. One of the greatest areas of strain in a marriage is the sphere of finances. As a couple you should discuss your finances on a regular basis, even if one of you is better at handling the practical aspects, like paying the bills and balancing the check book. Keeping secrets about spending will drive a wedge between a couple faster than anything.
If you agree to come to mutual decisions on how the finances are handled, this will strengthen trust between you and your partner. Also, you won't be able to keep secrets from each other if you commit to making all important family decisions together. This is one of the best ways to develop trust as a couple.
Step 4 - Attend Church Together
Get involved in a church together.
Find a place of worship where you and your spouse will not only attend together, but enjoy areas of mutual interest, such as serving in a ministry and making Christian friends together. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:24-25, that one of the best ways we can stir up love and encourage good deeds is by remaining faithful to the Body of Christ by meeting together regularly as believers.
Step 5 - Continue Dating
Set aside special, regular times to continue developing your romance.
Once married, couples often neglect the area of romance, especially after the kids come along. Continuing a dating life may take some strategic planning on your part as a couple, but it is vital to maintaining a secure and intimate marriage. Keeping the romance alive will also be a bold testimony to the strength of your Christian marriage.
These 5 steps require real, committed effort on your part. Falling in love may have seemed effortless, but keeping your Christian marriage strong will take ongoing work. The good news is—building a healthy marriage is not all that complicated or difficult if you're determined to follow a few basic principles.
What Does the Bible Says About Marriage?
Obviously, we can't cover all 500-plus verses, so we'll just look at a few key passages. I hope you will read the selected verses with an open mind, consider the analysis, ask your own questions of the heart, and then come to your own conclusions.
Gen. 2:18, 21-24
The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'...and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (NIV)
Here we see the first wedding. We can conclude from this account in Genesis that marriage is God's idea, designed and instituted by the Creator. In these verses we also discover that at the heart of God's design for marriage is companionship and intimacy.
For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the church; he gave his life to be her Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything.
And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.
As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. (NLT)
The picture of marriage expands into something much broader, with the husband and wife relationship illustrating the relationship between Christ and the church. Husbands are urged to lay down their lives in sacrificial love and protection. And in this safe and cherished embrace of a loving husband, what wife would not be willing to submit to his leadership?
Different Yet Equal
1 Peter 3:1-5, 7
In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior.
Don't be concerned about the outward beauty ... You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God ... In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life. If you don't treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard. (NLT)
Some readers will quit right here. After all, "husbands taking the authoritative lead in marriage" and "wives submitting" are not popular messages in today's world!
But this illustration of marriage typifying the relationship between Christ and the church adds further encouragement for wives to submit to their husbands, even those who don't follow Christ. Although this is a difficult challenge, the verse promises that her godly character and inward beauty will win over her husband more effectively than words.
If we're not careful, we will miss that these verses highlight the equal partnership of husbands and wives in God's gift of new life. Though the husband exercises the role of authority and leadership, and the wife fulfills a role of submission, both are equal heirs in God's kingdom. The roles are different, but equally important.
1 Corinthians 7:1-2
... It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. (NIV)
This verse suggests that it is better not to marry. Those in difficult marriages would quickly agree! Throughout history it has been believed that a deeper commitment to spirituality can be achieved through a devoted life of celibacy.
Clearly this verse refers to immorality in sexual relations. In other words, it is better to marry than to be sexually immoral. But if we elaborate the meaning to incorporate all forms of immorality, we could easily include self-centeredness, greed, wanting to control, hatred, and all of the issues that surface when we enter into an intimate relationship.
Could one of the deeper purposes of marriage be to make us confront our own character flaws, the behaviors and attitudes we would never have seen nor faced otherwise? If we allow the challenges of marriage to force us to confront ourselves, we will be applying a spiritual discipline of tremendous value.
I believe God designed marriage as an instrument to make us more like Christ. In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks this question, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Is it possible that there is something much more profound in the heart of God than simply to make us happy?
Can we lay down our own ambitions to love and serve our spouse? Through marriage we can learn about unconditional love, respectful honor, how to forgive and be forgiven. We can see our shortcomings and grow from that insight. We can develop a servant's heart, and draw closer to God. As a result, true soul happiness can be discovered, and this, I believe is one of God's ultimate desires and purposes for designing the covenant of marriage.