How To Stay In Your Marriage
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Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
How can you stay in your marriage and do it well? Dave and Ann Wilson share four ways to strengthen your relationship.
How To Stay In Your Marriage
Ann: We’ve been living in an era, where there have been a lot of falls in the Christian life of leaders.
Ann: Yes, people that have tripped up in their ministry and have disqualified themselves.
Dave: Wow; that’s a deep topic.
Ann: It’s a deep way to start.
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.
We’ve been living in an era, where there have been a lot of falls in the Christian life of leaders.
I’m going to share with you something that I really appreciated about you as you’ve been a pastor for over 30 years. One day, this woman came up to me—
Dave: Is this Praise Dave Day?
Ann: It sure is right here.
Dave: I like this; I didn’t know this was my special day.
Ann: Well, I don’t know if other people will think this is praise.
Ann: But this one woman came up to me; and she said, “You know, I’ve really been trying to connect with your husband. He feels aloof to me when I come up and I ask him to pray for me.” There was a little hesitation in my heart when she said, “I’ve been trying to connect with your husband,” because I’m like, “Oh, what does that mean?”
I’ve always appreciated that, when people come up, you are always so willing to pray with them; but when I’m there, and a woman comes up to you, you’re always looking for me, like, “Where is my wife?—because I want Ann to pray for these women.”
Talk about that. Why has that been significant for you, and have you purposefully been aloof to women?
Dave: Well, I mean, I’ve heard that as well—that I’ve been aloof—no, I’m not purposely; but yes, I am purposely. We even had a policy—
Ann: So, the answer is “Yes,”—
Ann: —not “No.”
Dave: I mean, “Yes”; but I’m not trying to be mean,—
Dave: —but I have set boundaries. We even, at our church, have boundaries when a woman comes up to pray; we connect her to another woman. We do our best not to have a guy there alone with her; it could be a guy and another woman.
Ann: And not because it is wrong for a man to pray for a woman, by any means.
Dave: No, we are just being careful. It’s an intimate thing to pray with somebody, I think. Even when we built our building and our offices, we have windows on every office; so you are sitting in there, and the world can look in and see.
Again, we’re not trying to exclude people from connecting with each other in ministry. It was just another boundary to say: “If I want to finish well, I’ve got to set up boundaries and guardrails to help us do that.” That is what we are talking about.
We started this conversation, previously, about “How do you finish well?” Like you said, we are living in a time, where you’ve seen public figures go down; because they’ve made decisions that have disqualified them from the race. Man, oh man, we don’t want to be one of them; we don’t want to be another statistic.
When you think about what success is, it isn’t how you start; it’s how you finish; that’s what we said previously. The thing we started the discussion on is: “How do you finish well?”—what did we say first?—we said “four stays”—the first one was—what?
Ann: “Stay in God’s Word.”
Dave: Man, pray together daily; get in the Word together daily—get a devo: The Story of Us; you can get from here at FamilyLife—and start working out together, as a couple. If you want to keep you marriage strong, to stay in the Word.
The second one is what you’ve sort of just highlighted; I think it’s really a critical one. It’s: “Stay away from temptation.” It’s basically: “Where we walk determines where we end up.” You can’t play with sin, or it will take you down.
I’m always reminded of a passage in James—James, Chapter 1—where James writes this fascinating, I think, passage about temptation that sort of gives us a pattern of how sin takes place. I’ll read it to you. In James 1:13, he says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil nor does He tempt anyone.”
Have you ever blamed God for temptation?
Ann: I think a lot of us have; yes.
Dave: Yes, Adam did.
Dave: Remember, in the book of Genesis, when God comes looking for Adam and Eve, he says, “The woman that You gave me…” He blames his wife—none of us have ever done that—have you ever done that?
Dave: —all the time.
Then, he blames God; we’ve done that. James is saying you can’t blame God; God does not tempt anyone. Look at this—in verses 14 and 15, he gives you a pattern—if you read it closely, you see: “Wow; there is a temptation or a sin pattern.” He says, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”
It’s really interesting—and I remember studying this, years ago, and finding out that the words in the original language—it’s like: “When the bait is dropped, and the fish is hooked, he is dragged away and enticed,”—it’s literally a fishing term. James is using sort of this fishing metaphor/analogy to say: “Temptation and sin are sort of the same way.”
First of all—he says in verse 14, “But each one is tempted”—in other words, your temptation is individual to you; my temptation is individual to me. It may be similar, but it could be totally different. Some people can’t walk up to a smorgasbord, because food can be a temptation for them. Others can have no problem with that, but they have a problem with alcohol, or sexual temptation, or slander. Do you know what I’m saying?—it’s individual.
Ann: Do you think that Satan/the enemy has a strategy for us to go down and to fall?
Dave: Yes; we’re going to talk about that later—
Dave: —because that’s one of the other stays: “Stay alert.” Now, you just got me off to something else. [Laughter]
But anyway, he says, “But each one is tempted when by his own evil desire”—so there is this burning longing: like we desire, and it’s pretty strong. He says, “…he is dragged away and enticed.” He is baited, and he gives in.
It says, basically, that leads to death when you give into sin. Now, it doesn’t mean physical death; but there is a separation in our fellowship with God that takes place at the end of temptation when we give in.
Ann: Ooh, are you going to give your famous bait—
Dave: Famous; it’s not famous.
Ann: I think everyone in our church would know this, because you’ve taught this a lot.
Dave: I’ve taught this a few times; and the Detroit Lions know this one well, because we’ve talked about it. I think understanding the pattern of sin is important to understand from what James taught us here. I always say this: “Playing with temptation leads to devastation.” That sounds like a preacher; doesn’t it?—
Ann: It does.
Dave: —because temptation and devastation—you know, playing with temptation.
When you look back at this passage in James 1, I find: “How you win,” and “How you lose.” It’s really interesting, because he uses a fishing term, I thought, “Okay, let’s lay this out. There are four B’s.”
- The first thing that happens when we are tempted is there is bait. There is bait that is dropped, and each person’s bait is different.
I’m not a fisherman, but I know this: Experienced fisherman use different bait to catch different kind of fish, and they know that fish. Sort of what you were saying earlier, if there is an enemy of your soul, he knows what bait is going to draw you away compared to someone else.
Ann: I think it would be an interesting conversation to have with your spouse, your friends, and accountability group to say, “What’s your bait?”—to be really honest and say—
Dave: —“What’s your struggle?”
Dave: It really is different for everyone, but it might be similar.
Here is the thing. In that passage, he says, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire…”
The second “B” for me is: the bait is dropped,
- and then there is this burn; there is an evil desire. You desire this bait, and you can feel the burn. I call it a burn—it’s like it’s internal—nobody else can see it or feel it, but you can feel it.
You’re like, “Man, if I am not careful, I could make a really bad decision right now,”—that’s temptation that leads to sin. You don’t do the right thing because this next B—this next decision—I believe determines life or death. It determines you finishing well or you being disqualified in the race.
- When you lose, it goes from bait to burn to bite.
You end up—here is the last “B”:
- —baked. [Laughter] The reason I say “baked” is—again, I am not a fisherman—but I know that you get a fish; you clean it; you put it on a frying pan; you bake it; and you eat it. I think that is what James is trying to tell us.
Ann: Yes; in James, when he says, “…and it gives birth to death”; that’s baked.
Dave: You are going to be eaten, eventually.
I think the same pattern is true in temptation that leads to sin is:
- There is bait.
- Something in us desires it; there is this burn.
- Right here is the decision: “If you bite/if you give in…” Don’t kid yourself; Galatians says: “What a man sows, he will therefore reap.” You are going to reap consequences that are very, very bad if you give into sin.
I think, sometimes the burning is so strong, we just give in. I remember—was it Duke?—when we put up the electric fence—our little Golden Retriever—
Ann: We have this Golden Retriever named Duke, and he is a puppy. We are trying to train him with an electric fence. Every day, I would take Duke out; and I am trying to show him his boundaries. But then the neighbor’s dog, Rusty, would always come out and go right up to the boundary. He would wag his tail; and he would bark at Duke like, “Come on! Come and play! What are you waiting for?”
I remember going into the house and saying to you, “Satan is out there.” [Laughter] You are like, “What?!” “Every time Duke goes out there, he knows that he can’t cross the boundary. Now, I’ve trained him—he doesn’t have a leash—but he knows, if he goes across that boundary, he is going to get zapped. But every time Rusty comes out, he’s like, “Duke, come on! Come on over; pass the boundary.” Sure enough, I can just see it.
Dave: One day, he did it! We watched him from the family room, looking out there. It was almost like you could see Duke—like he looked over at Rusty—he had been tempted day, after day, after day; and he’d get close, and then he’d go back. He’d win.
Then that one day, it was almost like he looked back at the house and said, “You know what? This is worth it.” It’s like we watch him sprint; he jumped right where the fence was. He almost like braced his body—like [buzzing noise]—and then he landed in our neighbor’s yard. He just ran around with Rusty, who we nicknamed “Satan.” [Laughter]
But I thought, “Wow! We do the same thing.” It’s like we look at the consequences, we look at the sin, we look at the pleasure that’s on the other side; and there are times that we decide, “You know what? I think it’s worth it.”
Ann: I feel like I do that every night when you make popcorn [Laughter]: I sit there—and I think, “I’m not going to do it this time,”—because you put all the butter on it.
Dave: Oh, I load it up with butter.
Ann: I smell it; it’s like the bait is dropped. And the burn is there. And I almost always bite it. The next morning, I’m like, “Why did I eat that?”
Do you do that?—probably not with popcorn.
Dave: Well, here is the thing—we are joking about it—but there are many marriages that have been ended because a husband or a wife that said, “The pleasure of an affair is not going to be that big of a deal. Nobody is ever going to know. It’s just a one night,”—or pornography; it could be alcohol; it could be misuse of money. You can list—
Ann: It can be getting on a dating app that really isn’t dating; it’s a hookup app.
Dave: Again, that’s playing with temptation; leads to devastation. The truth is: “What you do in private will one day be public.” You can think: “Nobody is ever going to know.” There is a chance nobody ever will know; but I remember Jesus said, “For nothing”—Mark 4—“For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest, nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
He is saying: “Do you understand what I’m saying? What you play with in the dark will come to the light”; and it could end your marriage; it could end your legacy. I think, sometimes about my dad, and think, “Man, if he just had chosen to stay away from temptation.” For him, it was alcohol; and it was other women. It ended my mom and dad’s marriage. It had ramifications on me, as a little boy, growing up.
Ann: Devastating effects on your family.
Dave: Yes, it could have been devastating effects for generations to come unless God intervened, and saved me and you [Ann], and said, “We’re going to change the future of the Wilson name.” Again, it highlights how critical it is, when the bait is dropped, and you feel the evil desire within you—you have a choice—your choice for good or bad is going impact your legacy.
As you think—you go back to this thing—I said, “There is a way you win and a way you lose.” We’ve looked at the way you lose: there is bait; there is the burn; you bite your bait. But think about this: “How do you resist? How do you stay away from temptation?”
What I don’t think a lot of us realize is the pattern is very similar. There is still bait in our lives. You can’t get completely away—and we should avoid any temptation—but there are still temptations that are going to be in life, so there is still going to be bait.
Believe it or not, even as a committed follower of Christ, you are still going to desire it sometimes. Sometimes, it’s almost overwhelming; it feels like the burn is so strong. So the way you win looks the same in the first two: there is bait; there is burn. But the third “B” is where it all changes.
- When you lose, you bite.
- When you win, you bolt. Bolt means you run. You bolt out of there, and then you are blessed. I don’t mean blessed meaning you’re going to have money, and you’re never going to get sick, and everything is going to be—no—you’re blessed because you are finding happiness and joy in obedience to Christ.
It comes from the decision—when the bait and burn are in your life, the way you stay away from sin is you literally run—sometimes, you may have to run physically: run out of the situation, run out of this store, run out of this magazine rack, run out of this hotel room—and by the way, I think we all know you make that decision long before you get there. Those aren’t the kinds of decisions you make in the moment—those are pre-decisions—which is why I say, “I don’t pray with women at the front of the stage at our church.” I’ve decided I’m going to pass that on to another woman, just to be careful.
Ann: I can remember, before we were married, I was a huge flirt, like terrible.
Dave: Yes, you were.
Ann: I remember, after we got married, like, “This is a hard habit to break”; because I wanted attention from other guys.
Dave: I think that’s when we said, early on, “We need to set boundaries in different areas,” because, yes, it could be harmless in one sense; but you never know when or where that could lead. So man: “Staying in the Word,” “Staying away from temptation.”
We have just a short time. You want to hit the other two? We can hit them quick.
Dave: I think if you want to finish well—oh and by the way, let me say one last thing about temptation—if you are playing with something, you need to tell somebody. If you conceal it, it leads to death. You reveal it; it leads to life. I’m telling you; it really gets into this third one. “Stay in the Word,” “Stay away from temptation”; the third one is: “Stay close to a brother.”
If you are a husband or a dad, and you are playing with something that you know is fire, you need to tell a brother. If you’re a wife, you need to tell a sister because
Proverbs 27:17—so true—“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” No one finishes a race well on their own. If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run long, run in community. You need people beside you; you need brothers. We have couples that we’ve done our marriage with for 40 years.
Dave: We’ve raised our kids together. I mean, I don’t think you make it to the finish line and finish well without brothers and sisters/couples running beside you.
Ann: Well, not too long ago, one of our married sons called and said, “You guys, I am really struggling. I need you guys to know about it. I need you to pray.” Man, it was hard for him to tell us. He said, “I just need you to know; I just need other people to know about this; so it’s not alone, and I’m not alone.”
Dave: Yes; and I always say this: “God always saves with His power and with His people.” We often think it’s just His power—and in some sense, that is all you need is Jesus and His power—but He always couples that with: you need people beside you, who know your struggle, who can celebrate with you in the joys, and walk with you through the valleys.
So if you are going to finish well, you need to: “Stay in the Word,” “Stay away from temptation”; and you need to “Stay close to a brother, or sister, or couples.”
Ann: What’s the last one?
Dave: The last one—you mentioned it earlier—“Stay alert to the enemy.” I think it is so easy to forget—we are trying to finish this race and finish it well—and there is somebody who wants to take us off the road/wants to take us out. Jesus said, “The thief”—He is referring to Satan—“comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; but I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
God has a plan for your life, and so does Satan. Man, we talk about, all the time, at the Weekend to Remember® and FamilyLife, His plan for our marriage is oneness, that you would advance the kingdom of God as a couple together.
Satan’s plan for marriage is divorce. If that’s God’s plan [oneness and advancing the kingdom], he [Satan] wants to split up a Christian couple and say: “There is no power in God. There is no life in God. It’s no different than anybody else.” There is an enemy, that you have to stay alert to, to protect yourself and your family if you want to finish well.
Ann: And we also say, at the Weekend to Remember, that your spouse is not your enemy.
Ann: So often, we think, “I know who the enemy is; it’s my spouse.” But that is kind of Satan’s lie, like: “Yes, your life would be better if your spouse wasn’t in it.”
Dave: Yes; so as a couple, you turn together against the enemy; and that means “Stay alert.” It’s like I picture a husband, and even a wife, standing at the front door of their house and saying, “No; sin is not coming in to destroy this home. I’m the protector; I’m staying alert. I’ve got my head on a swivel; I’m watching.”
Again, I’m thinking God had a plan for my mom and dad; Satan had a plan. Satan sort of won that one as they got into alcohol, and adultery, and even abuse, and then divorce. Then God saves—Jesus saves me and you [Ann]—He says, “I have another plan for the Wilson legacy, and you guys can finish well.” Our part of that—because it’s all on God—but our part is: “Stay in the Word,” “Stay away from temptation,” “Stay close to a brother,” and “Stay alert.”
Ann: What I did—and maybe this could be your application—is/I said this at a women’s conference: “I took my home back from the enemy. I walk around it; I’m praying like, ‘Jesus, I pray You would surround this house with Your power, with Your angels; Your Holy Spirit would invade this house.’”
Then, at this conference, I gave all the women a painting stick—you know, a stirring stick—on mine, I wrote what Joshua wrote: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I took that stick, and I buried it. I said out loud: “This house belongs to Jesus. Lord, I pray You would protect every square foot of this home for You, Jesus, and for Your kingdom.”
So women/men, take your homes back for the kingdom of God. There is a battle raging; and man, God gives us the power through His Holy Spirit to win that battle.
Bob: I think, so often, prayer is the neglected weapon we have available to us that can transform our marriage and our family—that can strengthen us—whether we are praying on our own or praying together as a couple for our marriage and for our family. It’s a powerful tool that God has given us, and we have a resource at FamilyLife that is designed to help couples pray together regularly. It’s a devotional called The Story of Us. This devotional is written by the couples who speak at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, along with some of our staff, here, at FamilyLife. You can order the devotional when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number.
Of course, Dave and Ann have written the book called Vertical Marriage, which is all about the importance of, as they like to say, going vertical/being connected with God for our marriage to be what God wants it to be. That book is available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well. It’s also available as a small group video series.
All of these resources can be ordered from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Build into your marriage/strengthen your marriage with the resources we have available here. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
One of the best practices of couples, whose marriages thrive all the way to the finish line, is that they are intentional about pouring into their marriage. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with us today. David, helping couples know how to strengthen their marriage is at the heart of the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, and those getaways are happening pretty much every weekend this fall.
David: Yes, that’s right. The heart of it is spending time together—investing time together, away from the hurriedness of life—around timeless truth/the truth that is transforming in our soul that draws us together in oneness in a way that only God can make us one. That’s why we put on Weekends to Remember. We have two this weekend in Raleigh and San Diego. We have four more getaways happening next weekend and many more throughout the rest of the fall.
We would love for you to carve out that time, keep building the layers on your foundation, to make your marriage strong and last for the long haul.
Bob: Yes, in addition to the Weekends to Remember happening this weekend in Raleigh and San Diego, we’ve got events happening in Hartford, Connecticut; Louisville, Kentucky; Parsippany, New Jersey; Little Rock; Cleveland; Florida; Pittsburgh; Sioux Falls. I mean, you can go online to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and find a city near you, where a Weekend to Remember is happening this fall. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; and the link is there to find out more about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. We hope you will join us at an upcoming getaway.
We also hope you have a great weekend this weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when Matt and Lisa Jacobson will be here to talk about what we can do, as parents, to build up, and encourage, and strengthen our kids. How can we affirm them and use our words to do that? That’s coming up Monday. I hope you can be here for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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