Gary Thomas: A Lifelong Love
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Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
Could closeness with God breathe passion in your marriage? Author Gary Thomas helps you chase down spiritual purpose for closeness that lasts a lifetime.
Gary Thomas: A Lifelong Love
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Gary: A lot of couples that I talk with, as a pastor, they've broken up—not because there's been some big sin or something they can't overcome—it’s far more pedantic. They're just bored with each other. And what that tells us is that we were made for more than each other: we were made for a mission, and that mission is the kingdom of God.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Alright, so here's the question that all the world wants to know—we've been married 41 years—“What's the secret to lifelong marriage?”
Dave: Of course, it’s Jesus! [Laughter] And I know it's Jesus, and I—
Ann: Yes, but what else?
Dave: —wouldn’t underestimate that. What is it?
Ann: Hard work.
Dave: Hard work?
Ann: I think like we've put a lot of hard work into our marriage and laughter.
Dave: —and laughter.
Ann: Yes; what would you say?
Dave: We’re laughing right now. I mean, I don't know. I’m going to ask Gary Thomas, who's in the studio with us today; because he wrote a book called A Lifelong Love. So there must be some secret that Gary knows.
Gary, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Gary: Thank you. It's always fun to talk with you two.
Dave: Yes; and obviously, the subtitle’s Discovering How Intimacy with God Breathes Passion into Your Marriage.
Now, you've written over 20 books. One of the classics was Sacred Marriage. It feels like—as I read this, there was some Sacred Marriage in here—but it/you know, as you think about that question, what is the secret?
Gary: A Lifelong Love really focuses on how—just what it says—that intimacy with God is what breathes passion into our marriage. I would answer your question by saying: “The Magnificent Obsession”; by that, I mean Matthew 6:33. I'm stealing the phrase from a guy, who's been dead 400 years ago, so he can't sue me for it. [Laughter] He's referring to Matthew 6:33 when Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,”—and then there's this promise—“and all these things will be added unto you as well.”
There are two things I found that really breathe new intimacy and passion into a lifelong marriage. The first one is purpose—because we weren't made just to be married—we were made for a mission, and that mission is the kingdom of God.
Dave: I think the question a lot of couples ask is: “Okay, so what does that really look like? How would you define intimacy with God in a marriage?”
Gary: Two things: first is mission and purpose. Seeking first the kingdom of God means:
- Number one, I don't wake up thinking about my own agenda: “What will make me comfortable?” “What will make me happy?” “What will make me rich?” “What will make me feel important?”
It's: “My life is Yours. You've given me Your Spirit; You've given me the promise of eternity. I have fellowship with You. What can I do to build Your kingdom on earth?” “How do I get more people to know about You? How to get more people to surrender [to] You?”
And what that does, Dave, is it draws two people together in a way unlike anything else. I often tell guys:
“If you want to get your wife to respect you, offer yourself to be used by the Lord; because God will honor that.” And then He fills you with His Spirit, and you get credit; and so I say, “Just offer yourselves to God.”
It gives you new reasons to appreciate each other. You discover new things about each other.
Women, if you feel like your husband looks down on you—but when he sees you stepping out in courageous faith, and he sees God using you to encourage others or to teach others/to bless others—then he sees a whole new side of you.
That's the best way to fight off boredom—is not to live for yourself—selfishness is boring because we were made to have eternal purpose. And if we're not living for eternal purposes, there's this natural restlessness in our soul: “I was made for more than this.” The tragic error is that then we say: “Well, I married the wrong person. If I married someone else, then I would have this exciting life,” or “…someone who is more fascinating.” But the reality is none of us are so fascinating that we can keep somebody enthralled for 50 or 60 years. [Laughter] I mean, five or six dates; yes—five or six years; that's a challenge—fifty or sixty [years]; no way.
So the first big thing is having a mission: that we were made for a mission. We should be married for a mission. It is totally wrong to think: “Let's be single for Jesus but married for ourselves.” Matthew 6:33 is given to marrieds and singles. I think we should get married if we think that's what helps us serve Jesus more, not to serve Jesus less.
Ann: Well, Gary, you guys have been married 37 years.
Ann: And so what does that look like practically? Just how do you live that out?—you and Lisa together. What's that look like over the years?
Gary: Well, in a number of times, vocationally, we've made the decision: “What's best for our gifts in the kingdom of God?” That might be leaving a home that we love, or a city we love, or situation we love. Lisa has been marvelous at this; she goes: “God has this call on our lives. What's the best place for this?”
She's a Northwest girl; we grew up in the Pacific Northwest. We lived in Bellingham, Washington, which was just like 20 miles below the Canadian border. And then I got a call from a church in Houston, Texas. She's thinking, “Gary, I really think that God can use you here; we want to go.” And so that's sort of been her attitude.
Now, I've seen it reverse: I've seen husbands do this for their wives. I know one woman had a great ministry. Her husband was what kept it going: he ran her book table; he did all the administration.
Sometimes, couples work together. There's a story in here of a couple that they had been married just three or four years, and they just were bored. They said, “Is this all it is?” And then they were asked to take charge of a youth group, that was a troublesome youth group [Laughter]. It drove them to their knees. I love their thinking: he says, “We had a reason to pray. We were praying for our survival.” By focusing on something outside of their marriage, they saw a new side of each other; and it drew them together. I loved what she said: “When we failed, at least, it was our failure. And when we succeeded, at least, it was our success.” But this joint ministry really did draw them together and build intimacy in their marriage.
Ann: That's so interesting; because we've talked to so many couples, who are empty nesters, and their kids are out of the house. Now, they're looking at each other, thinking, “Now what?” They're bored. And so I—
Dave: They don't have a mission beyond: “We raised the kids; that was our mission.”
Dave: It was totally inward-focused, and they really are bored. They're like, “Well, okay; I guess we're done.” We've really sensed that.
You know, it's interesting; when we first got married, 41 years ago—6 months in—Ann said to me: “Marrying you was the biggest mistake of my life.”
Gary: I remember that passage. [Laughter]
Dave: That was—part of that/part of our early stuff is in our Vertical Marriage book—but we didn't even realize. What happened is we go to our first ministry—we were on staff with Athletes in Action at the University of Nebraska; I’m the chaplain of the sports teams—the first guy I met on the football team, who was a believer, was married. He says to me, “Hey, there's several guys on the team that are married. Could you and Ann lead a marriage Bible study?”
I looked at him—because he didn't know the backstory that my wife has just said to me, “I don't want to be married to you,”—I just looked at him, like, “What?! A marriage Bible study; you want us to lead?” And he goes, “Yes; can you guys do that?” I'm thinking, “We’re the last couple you want leading this thing, because we're not doing well.” But what did I say?—“Yes, we’ll do it.” Ann and I lead this marriage Bible study. We didn't realize it at the moment: “What happened?”—mission.
Dave: We knew—
Gary: —working together.
Dave: —God had given us a mission. I don't know if any of their marriages got better; ours was sort of saved.
Ann: —but ours did! [Laughter]
Dave: When you said that, Gary, I'm like, “That was year one, and we've been doing it ever since.” That outward focus to do what God’s called us to do—“Seek first the kingdom..”—literally transformed us.
You're saying that's one of the keys or the ingredients to a lifelong [love]?
Gary: Absolutely! Because God's kingdom never ends; and there's always new, exciting things to go forward. The work is never done, and so you have a reason to get out of bed.
- I would just say: “Maybe you're that business couple;”—one of you is a business person/the other—“how do you say, ‘Okay, here's the community…’? ‘How do we help them understand that: “Life isn't just about making money; it's about making disciples”?’ ‘It's about worshipping God, not mammon, so to speak.’”
So husband and wife are working together: “How do we use this vocation to build God's kingdom?”
- Maybe you're the sports couple, and one of you is a coach or something. It's not just about winning games; it's about worshipping God.
- Or you're the musical couple: “It's not just about making music; it's about celebrating the Creator of music”; or the arts community.
Whatever gifts, or influence, or natural affinity you have, as a couple—instead of just saying: “What do we want out of this day?”—saying: “How can God take us—this unique couple; unique gift; unique platform—and use it to start building God's kingdom instead of our own?” Life is different—again, we want to get away from this: “Single for God, and married for ourselves,”—we should get married for God.
Dave: What if your spouse isn't cooperating?—like: “I'm not into this mission.”
Ann: Yes; maybe they're not even a believer.
Dave: Yes; what do you say?
Ann: Can we do that alone, or do we just kind of make do?
Gary: Well, part of your mission that keeps you there, according to Paul, is to represent God and to model a Christ-like spirit, hoping to bring them into the kingdom. You do have a solo mission—and that's the sad reality; I mean, that happens somewhat—but I think your mission before God is still what gives you commitment to your marriage, even if your spouse doesn't share it. I'm not pretending it's the same; it's not. There's going to be a loneliness there. But Paul does say: “But here's why I want you to hang in there, because maybe your example and your faith will lead that person to the Lord.”
Ann: But I still think there's a power in it, too, even if your spouse isn't a believer—to have that conversation of saying, “I just see the gifts that you have are pretty magnificent. I'm wondering”—to have this conversation—"I'm wondering what it would look like for us to be a team together, to impact our world together, to make a positive influence together?”—like—“What are we passionate about? What are we good at?” I think those are just fun conversations to have too. And if your spouse isn't a believer—they still have gifts; they still have passions; they still have strengths—and how could you pair those then with your strengths and your love for God?
Dave: We’ve talked about the first part of this Obsession—the kingdom of God—what's the other part?
Gary: Well, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Now, Jesus isn't talking about marriage; but it's amazing how practical it is with marriage. Because again, as a pastor, most people come in: there's a character issue that's assaulting their marriage.
If I'm seeking first His righteousness, I'm dying to the things that destroy most marriages: anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lying: those are all things listed in Colossians 3:8. And if I put on the righteousness of Christ—we could say
Colossians 3:12: compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, patience and love—those things build a marriage, so I'm rejecting the things that push a woman or a man away and I'm building the things that make him/[her] want to be around me. So by pursuing righteousness, I'm creating the kind of person that somebody actually wants to be around.
Dave: So how do you pursue/put on righteousness? I think a lot of listeners are like: “I want that; how do I access that?”
Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Gary Thomas on FamilyLife Today. We'll get back to that conversation in just a minute; but first, as you can imagine, we've had to make some tough choices, again, this year, along with everybody else. And we're hoping that through the generosity of people, just like you, we can continue to reach your home and all the homes that need help and hope for the relationships that matter most.
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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann with Gary Thomas and how we can pursue righteousness in marriage.
Gary: First step I think is humility to recognize that we have areas to grow. What I find is that we're so often hyper-aware of where our spouse needs to grow and just blind to where we do.
Gary: If you're not humble, you don't think you need to grow. And let me just, if I could, have a gentle challenge—if, every time you have a conversation with your spouse, you think: “This situation will be fixed when you get your act together,” “…when you stop doing this and you start doing that,”—it's the classic case of Jesus saying you've got a log in your eye, trying to take the spec out of your brother’s.
James 3:2 says: “We all stumble in many ways [emphasis added].” So the Bible tells me I stumble in many ways, and every person listening to this broadcast stumbles in many ways. If you're not aware of how you stumble, that parable of Jesus was written and said just for you. So in humility, recognize, “Okay, what errors [do I have?]” and then to accept it.
You know, I had a funny—it wasn't a funny episode; it was kind of sad—right after 9/11. This is going back when people started traveling again. You know, they shut down the airports for days; it was just different. And then in the early days of TSA—I mean, it's practically a strip search—and there were long lines at the airport.
It's one thing when you're traveling for vacation in the summer, but—you guys do this, too—when you're traveling every weekend just about, I just am being hassled; and my bags are being torn apart; I'm being delayed. I was just getting a surly spirit; it just was not honoring to God. I'm just/I get through.
One of the first times Lisa started traveling with me, we get through TSA, and she says, “Gary, this isn't you,”—like: “What?”—“Well, you're impatient; you're cynical; you're being negative and critical. I mean, that's just not who you are.” And I—she was being my mirror—and I realized I wasn't there to represent Jesus. I wasn't praying: “God, is there someone I can encourage in the line?” It was [gritting teeth]: “Just get me through here! I just want to get done. Stop bugging me; don't hassle me.”
Instead of being defensive, I could say, “Wow; okay, thank you. What you're saying is true. That's not who I want to be. I want to represent Jesus everywhere I am, not just/except in the TSA line.” [Laughter]
It's just trying to take a step back when your spouse says that; because what The Magnificent Obsession also represents: Lisa isn't just my wife, she's my sister in Christ. She's filled with the Holy Spirit; she has the wisdom of God's Word as my sister; she can encourage me; she can challenge me; she can even confront me at times because our relationship, as brother and sister in Christ, is eternal in a way that our marriage isn't.
Now, my wife hates it when I say that; she goes, “We have to be married in heaven!” “I'm just going by what Jesus says.”
Dave: My wife says the same thing. [Laughter] I'm hoping, in some aspect, it is.
But when you wrote about how you were praying, and you felt like God told you that Lisa’s your sister—I don't know how powerful it was for you—but when I read it,—
Ann: Yes, me too.
Dave: —it felt like this powerful moment for you.
Gary: Well, it's really the third element of The Magnificent Obsession, where it's about worship.
Yes, I was not being the best of husbands—and that's probably being charitable—and I was praying; and God challenged: “Gary, Lisa isn't just your wife. She's my daughter, and I expect you to treat her accordingly.” He's just applying 1 John 3:1: “Behold how great a love God has given us that we should be called the children of God.” I claim that, as a single man, that's my identity: “I'm God’s son.” And for God to say, “Yes, and Lisa’s my daughter.”
Suddenly, everything is—especially when I got kids—because if you want to get on my good side, it's easy: be good to one of my kids—praise them; make them laugh; be a true and loyal friend—and I’ll love you. If you want to get on my bad side, be mean to one of my kids—you know, shame him; make him cry; make him feel like dirt—my blood pressure will go up if I even hear your name, because I'd much rather you mess with me than one of my kids.
When I realized that my wife is God’s daughter—she's my sister in Christ—and that God feels about my wife just as I feel about my own daughters, with a holy and pure passion, everything about my marriage changed.
Dave: Yes; one of the things I—took me years, I think, to understand what you're talking about—is your wife or your spouse can be your mirror. In some ways, I think God gives a spouse to us to sharpen us to become like Christ, and so they see things/they say things. I used to hate it when Ann would call out something, almost like your example with TSA, where I wasn't representing the righteousness of Christ. I would get resentful. I started realizing: “No; it's a gift from God. He wants me to become like His Son, and my wife is the gift/the greatest gift; because she sees everything.”
So how do we respond when our wife or our husband calls something out—
Dave: —that is hard for us to hear? How do we respond?—because we want to be like Christ, but we're often not living that way.
Gary: A life-changing reorientation for me, Dave, with this was recognizing: “Who's my hero?”
- If Jesus is my hero, I want to live every day for people to worship Him, to acknowledge Him, submit to Him, and celebrate Him.
- If I'm my hero, and somebody says there's a chink in my armor—I would say, “my hair is out of place”—people can't see me; you and I are the same, so we don't have any hairs out of place—[Laughter]
Dave: There isn’t much out.
—then I'm going to take offense.
But if Jesus is my hero—and somebody says, “You're not reflecting Jesus perfectly; here's a way you can do it more…”—it's sort of like a coach giving you a tip: “You know, you're holding the golf club too tight; loosen up your grip, and you're going to have a better swing.” “Okay, if this helps me make Jesus look better to the world, then I want to stop having this surly attitude,” or “…this critical attitude,” or “…this arrogant attitude.”
The problem is, for most of us, we're our own heroes; and Jesus sets us free from that. It really does set you free, when you realize, “Okay, it's not based on my righteousness; it's His.”
Gary: I could admit: “I've got some real weaknesses, but Jesus has taken care of them. I don't want to argue about me. Let's worship Him: let's talk about how great He is, not how bad I am.” I don't have to defend myself; I just repoint people back to Him.
If you live by The Magnificent Obsession, that is your obsession: “Look at the glory of God, the wonder of His plan, the beauty of who He is.” Marriage becomes about serving Him together, becoming more like Him together, and worshiping Him together.
Ann: As I hear that term, I love it, like, “The Magnificent Obsession with God.” I think back to all the times that we've struggled in our relationship and marriage: it's when I've taken my eyes off of that Magnificent Obsession of God. And what I've done—and I'm just going to confess, and I've said this before—but I started looking at Dave, trying to get him to meet my needs/for him to become my obsession.
What I was doing was I was seeing all the faults/all the ways that he was not living up to my expectations or what I felt like God was calling him to do. And really, what I started doing is putting my eyes on myself and the needs that weren't being met. I really think we can do this in a marriage.
And so to ask that question today: “Where is your obsession? Is it with God? Is it with your eyes on Him that He is your Magnificent Obsession?” I think that's a good question that we need to ask on a regular basis.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Gary Thomas on FamilyLife Today. Let me remind you, you can get his book, A Lifelong Love, when you become a monthly Partner at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, we’d love it if you’d tell them about this station. You can also share today's episode from wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're there, it would really help us out if you would rate and review us.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking, again, with Gary Thomas about how, when we get frustrated in our marriages—which all of us do—we can use that frustration to pull us closer together with our spouse instead of pushing them away. That's coming up tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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