Seek First the Kingdom
About the Guest
No one is so interesting they can captivate another person for a lifetime. Author and pastor Gary Thomas says a good marriage isn't about finding the right person, it's about building into the relationship with the spouse you have. Gary Thomas shares three pillars to building your marriage to last a lifetime.
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
A good marriage isn’t about finding the right person, it’s about building into the spouse you already have. Gary Thomas shares three pillars to building your marriage to last a lifetime.
Seek First the Kingdom
Bob: A lifelong love / being married to one person for an entire lifetime—Gary Thomas says we’ve just got to be honest—that has some challenges.
Gary: When you think about it, none of us are so fascinating that we can keep somebody enthralled for 50 or 60 years. Five or six dates / no problem—five or six years / that’s a challenge. Fifty or sixty—even if you’re Jerry Seinfeld or Tina Fey—I mean, after a while, your spouse knows your punch lines; alright? They’ve heard your best stories. They know all of your opinions. They know all of your political thoughts, and we’re just not that fascinating to each other anymore.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. So, just how do you get a marriage, not just to endure for a lifetime, but to thrive through the years? We’ll hear from Gary Thomas about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, you stop and think about it—if you were really committed to your automobile / the one you’re driving today—if you were committed to the fact that this automobile is going to be the one that’s going to have to last me for a lifetime, you would have to learn some things about auto maintenance, about how to repair parts, and how to take care of things a little better than you probably take care of them. You would have to get serious about taking care of your vehicle.
Dennis: And if you knew me, mechanically, you’d have to hire a mechanic. [Laughter] Now, I’m looking at Keith Lynch, who is our—
Bob: We just go to Keith!
Dennis: —chief engineer, Grand Poobah, of rebuilding engines in a single bound in cars.
Bob: He would take care of all of it for us.
Bob: The same, though, is true if you want your marriage to go the distance. We’re going to hear a message today from our friend, Gary Thomas, who makes it clear that marriages can go the distance and can thrive going the distance; but it takes a little tuning up now and then; right?
Dennis: It does. And I want to speak to three groups of people—number one, to singles, who are either engaged or are contemplating engagement; a second group of people/ those who’ve got good marriages, who need to invest in them now and strengthen their marriage now for the storms that will come at some point; or third, some couples, who are listening to us right now, and they’ve got a couple of wheels off in the ditch, Bob—maybe, all four.
Let me just be really blunt—all three groups of people that I’m talking to need to get to one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. It’s based on the Bible. It’s practical. It’s a lot of fun. It’s romantic, and it’s a great weekend to invest in your marriage. Every couple, who is listening to this broadcast, ought to have some kind of way, every year—if not a couple of times a year—to find ways to invest in your marriage.
If the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway isn’t one of the best ways to do it, we’ll give you your registration fee back.
Bob: Yes; that’s right.
And we’ve got about 40 of these events starting here in a few weeks. Any of our listeners, who would like to attend an upcoming getaway, if you will register today—pay the regular rate for yourself, your spouse comes free. This offer is good through the weekend. So, if you want to take advantage of this, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for information on the Weekend to Remember. You can register online; or if it’s easier, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY to register over the phone. Again, if you register today, you’ll save 50 percent off the regular registration fee as a FamilyLife Today listener. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about that.
And then, listen carefully as—today, we’re going to hear from our friend, Gary Thomas. Gary is on the pastoral staff at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He’s a well-known author—
—probably best-known for his book, Sacred Marriage. He spoke to a group recently at an event we were hosting, where he talked about the kinds of things that couples do that cause a marriage to go all the way to the finish line with joy.
Gary: Last summer, as part of a date night, took my wife to go see San Andreas, starring the Rock—you all familiar with the Rock? He’s just a mountain with arms. One of the interesting parts about the movie, however, was the disconnectedness of their marriage. They had a daughter / they were estranged, and they were trying to save her. In fighting this natural disaster and trying to rescue their daughter, they were brought back together. It was a disconnected marriage that was reconnected. Now, we will hopefully never have a natural disaster that pulls us all closer together as couples; at least, I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen this week.
But there are a lot of spiritual truths that, if we’ll accept them, will help us find our way back to recommit to have a lifelong love—not just staying together. A lifelong love that we’re going to be talking about here is how two individuals get reconnected and stay connected: “What are those spiritual truths that lead, not just to character growth, but to couple intimacy?” That’s what it’s all about.
The challenge is—intimacy doesn’t just happen, even if you made a very wise marital choice. What I always like to tell my premarital couples is that too many people think of creating a marriage like they’re planting a tree. Have you ever done this? You put the sapling in the ground, you fertilize it, you water it, and you stake it. If there are deer around, you might even put a fence around it to protect it. But you know, after a while, that tree just takes off on its own—you don’t have to keep feeding it; you don’t have to keep watering it; you don’t really have to protect it. It becomes strong enough on its own.
That’s kind of how we treat our romantic relationships.
In the early days, we water it—we share stories, we encourage each other, we feed it. We make sure we have date nights. We make sure we plan things to do that we’ll really enjoy. We protect it—we resolve conflict / we don’t let bitterness grow up. But then, we get married, and we have kids, and we have jobs. Suddenly, marriage goes down farther on the list of priorities. We just never keep feeding it because we think, organically, it’s just going to keep growing.
But you know what? That never happens, because building a marriage isn’t like planting a tree. I believe it’s far more like building a brick house, and you have to put it together brick by brick. And if you stop, at any point along the way, even if you get 80 percent of the way done, that house doesn’t finish itself. In fact, it gets worse—it starts to crumble, the elements come in, the weather will assault it, and it will be worse off than before.
I’ve seen that so often with so many couples. They get a good start—they are infatuated. They think they’ve made the best choice in the world; and then, the house just begins to crumble.
How do we keep that from happening? How do we build a lifelong love? What I’m trying to suggest is that a good marriage isn’t something you find. It’s something you make—and this is key—and you have to keep on making it.
In Hollywood, it’s just about finding the right person. Then, everything is supposed to naturally fall, like planting a tree. I believe we’re going to find out, biblically, that a good marriage isn’t something you find—it’s something you make, and you have to keep on making it.
I want to talk about three pillars / three spiritual pillars that we can build a lifelong love upon. The first pillar is what I call “The Magnificent Obsession.” Before I tell you what that means, I want to tell you about the problems that The Magnificent Obsession solves.
Why do we become disconnected as couples? What creates that distance? The first spiritual challenge we face, as marital couples, is told us by James, Chapter 3, verse 2, when he says this:
“We all stumble in”—how many ways?—“many ways.” That means the Bible is literally promising you that the spouse you married will frustrate you / will disappoint you. Their limitations will become a serious issue—not just occasionally—but in many ways. You might think: “Well, that was true before we got married; so why is it an issue after we are married?”
Well, when we’re infatuated with each other, we’re in the first flush of early love. We’re in a state that neurologists call idealization. What that means is—when you are infatuated, you are relating to somebody who actually doesn’t exist. You give them strengths they don’t really have. You miss the weaknesses that everybody else sees.
Here’s a classic case in point—let’s say you’ve got an infatuated couple at a college cafeteria. The girlfriend is walking behind the boyfriend. He’s got his tray in his hand, and a napkin flies off his tray. So, he just bends down; he picks it up. The girlfriend is so overwhelmed at this incredible act of virtue.
She runs to her girlfriends and tries to get him nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; right? “Did you see what he did? He picked up the napkin! I mean, he cares about the wait staff. Obviously, he’s concerned about the environment. Next to Jesus Christ, I don’t know if a man of his character has ever walked the earth!” I mean, they don’t see it because she’s counting so much into something so little.
Then, she’ll miss what they see. “Well, okay; yes. He picked up the napkin, but he seems kind of angry to us.” “No, he’s just passionate. That’s what I love about him so much. He’s so passionate.” “I don’t know. It sounded to me like he was cussing that guy out.” “Actually, I think he was speaking in tongues. You know, he’s got a very spiritual side to him.” So, she’ll go off and marry him.
Then, here’s what every pastor, and every counselor, and so many friends have heard: “He’s not who I thought he was.” But you know what? That’s a necessary stage in the relationship. Intimacy, by definition, is knowing someone and accepting someone. You can’t accept someone that you don’t know.
That period has to pass so that you can start to begin a real relationship built on real intimacy, but it’s a jolt when it first happens.
The second challenge that often causes us to be disconnected—and I’ve never seen this on surveys. Maybe, I just talk to different couples—I don’t know—but usually they talk about what breaks couples up—it’s financial problems, intimacy problems, in-laws / all of that. But just, as a pastor, who has talked to a lot of couples—if I could be honest—I think one of the greatest assaults on most marriages is just that we get bored with each other. Does that ring true to anyone?
I’m not saying that about you and your spouse, but don’t you see that with others? Part of that—isn’t that part of the natural human condition? None of us are so fascinating that we can keep somebody enthralled for 50 or 60 years. Five or six dates / no problem—five or six years / that’s a challenge. Fifty or sixty—even if you’re Jerry Seinfeld or Tina Fey—
—I mean, after a while, your spouse knows your punch lines; alright? They’ve heard your best stories. They know all of your opinions. They know all of your political thoughts, and we’re just not that fascinating to each other anymore.
Well, these two natural conditions—that we all stumble in many ways and that we really can’t keep somebody enchanted for 50 and 60 years—gives us a huge spiritual truth that The Magnificent Obsession will address. And the spiritual truth is this: “We were made for more than each other. God created us for more than marriage.”
Now, it might seem almost bizarre that, here on the first session of a marriage cruise, I’m talking about how we have to focus on more than our marriage; but that’s where the Bible leads us. God created us with an entirely different pursuit, and we can suffocate our marriages if we ask too much of them.
And that’s what I believe Jesus addresses in The Magnificent Obsession—which I’m taking that famous quote from the heart of the Sermon on the Mount / Matthew 6:33.
Jesus says this: “Seek first”—not an intimate marriage, not successful children, not a fulfilling vocation—He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”
Now, what does “kingdom of God” mean? It’s Jesus’ rule; it’s His reign; it’s His influence. If somebody is seeking first God’s kingdom, it means they wake up and they are thinking: “What’s on God’s agenda?”—not on mine—“What gifts has He given me? What time has He given me? What resources has He given me?” and “How can I invest those in God’s kingdom?”
You were created, spiritually, to have an eternal impact. If we live for too small of an aim—even if that aim is the most intimate and fulfilling of marriages we’ve ever known—that still is a selfish aim. Ultimately, there will be this listlessness in our souls, where we say, “I just feel like I was married for more than this.” If we’re not careful, what Satan will tempt us with is:
“Yes; you must have married the wrong person, because you are not completely fulfilled.”
I believe that God let’s that listlessness happen to say: “Are you trying to succeed at things that don’t really matter?” I mean, how frustrating to live a life succeeding at things that are not of ultimate or eternal purpose. Small lives can’t sustain big marriages.
I see so many marriages renewed and sustained when they gather around God’s purpose together—arm-in-arm and hand-in-hand—they’re serving the Lord. See, marriage changed for me when I finally realized: “Lisa, my wife, isn’t my destination. She’s my travelling partner.” If I expect her to be my destination, and I’m frustrated where I’m at, I think something is wrong with the destination; but if she’s my travelling partner, we’re going arm-in-arm, together, toward something else.
That’s why I often tell young couples: “Don’t worry so much about falling out of love.
“Infatuation is a 12- to 18-month neurochemical process. You can scope it out on anybody’s brain. Instead of worrying about falling out of love—worry about falling out of purpose; because it’s the lack of purpose that makes us listless / that makes us feel like there’s got to be more—if we can gather around: ‘Why did God create us? What are we doing with our kids? Are we just trying to create great sports stars or successful business people, or are we really trying to give them that vision for God to use them and their gifts to impact eternity?’”
Now, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” He also says, “Seek first…His righteousness.” Now, I know not everybody comes from a church background that comes on this cruise; and we’re glad you’re here. I know this might sound very religious at this point, but I want to show you how practical this is when we apply it to marriage.
When Jesus says to seek first His righteousness, here is what He is suggesting. If we are seeking first His righteousness, we’re dying to the very things that destroy most marriages—
—unkindness, impatience, anger, selfishness, and pride. Then, seeking His righteousness isn’t just avoiding the bad; it’s bringing in and cultivating the good. So, we’re growing in the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We’re becoming the kind of people that can actually enjoy being together for 30, 40, or 50 years without wanting to commit a homicide. [Laughter] It just draws us closer and closer.
I just think with my own marriage with Lisa—and she has really grown in kindness. We got married so young—I was 22 / she was 19. I think God has really helped me grow by getting rid of some of my selfishness / I was so selfish as a young husband. Now, just think about these two qualities—you don’t even have to look at it—if you have somebody really growing in kindness and somebody is becoming more and more unselfish, just imagine how those two qualities alone will greatly enhance a marriage.
Now, let’s say you have two people that are really trying to grow in all the fruit of the Spirit—they want to become gentler; they want to become more courageous; they want to have more joy; they want to have more patience; they want more humility—it can completely transform our marriages—which is why I don’t just tell young couples: “Don’t worry about falling out of love or about falling out of purpose.” Another way I will put it is: “Don’t worry about falling out of love. Worry about falling out of repentance because it’s our little sins that destroy the affections we have.” When Jesus says we do this, what’s His promise after that?—“…and all these things will be added unto you,” as well.
If you’re a person of purpose / if you’re a person of repentance, you’re going to have a rich life, even if you have a difficult marriage / even if you have an unsatisfying marriage. But if you have a great marriage and you’re doing it together, that’s when marriage can completely take off.
The second thing / the second pillar of how we build a lifelong love goes back to the root of what we think our greatest need is. For me, it was 180 degrees different from what I thought it was when I first got married. If you were to think to yourself—when you were growing up—“What do you think your greatest need / what you really had to get?” I know, just coming from Texas, a lot of young women say they grew up—they’re thinking they’ve really got to be beautiful—that’s what they think gives them worth.
A friend of mine is a worship pastor. The problem with being a worship pastor is you always have to get to church first; right?—you start the service—nobody else is there. They have young kids, which is always—Sunday’s just a chaotic time. So, they have this ritual. He’ll take whatever kid is washed, and fed, and ready. Then, his wife will follow behind in a second car with the other kids that haven’t gotten ready yet.
One Sunday, he was running behind; and just his little girl was ready. He picks this toddler up, puts her in the backseat of the minivan, races to the church, trying to go all through the [traffic] signs and all of that.
He finally gets to the church, puts the van in park, runs around to the back, opens up the door of the van, and then, his heart just sinks. His wife had left a tube of red lipstick in the backseat. His little girl had gotten it, and she painted her face; right?—she looked like a clown. It was over her hair, her cheeks, her ears, and everything. He was just: “Oh, honey; we don’t have time for this. Give me the lipstick.” She goes, “Daddy, I’m not beautiful yet.” He said, “Honey, lipstick doesn’t make you beautiful.” “It doesn’t?!” “No! You need mascara, foundation…” [Laughter] He was from Dallas—what can I say? [Laughter]
But what do we think today that makes us beautiful, before God, as believers? Of course, it’s the finished work of Jesus Christ / His righteousness is ours. But there is a point where there is a certain character He wants us to have. It’s important for us to realize that; because it’s what we’ll work for, it’s what we will strive for, and it’s what we’ll ask God to provide.
When I first got married, I thought my greatest need was to be loved; because that’s what Hollywood told me, that’s what every song told me, that was the plot of novels and television shows and what-not: “You’ve got to find that person to love you.” And yet, I believe on the day I got married, God would’ve said to me: “Gary, that’s actually not your greatest need; because you are already loved as well as anybody can be loved.”
And this is what I would invite any of you that don’t know the Lord—this is why it means so much to us—it’s not a religious obligation. In Jesus Christ, I finally found one person who could accept me, affirm me, love me, and forgive me like I’d never been accepted before. He said: “Look, I sent my Son to die to prove My love for you. Then, I gave you my Holy Spirit, who comforts you, who encourages you, who counsels you. And when you go off and do those stupid things, He convicts you and makes you miserable so you don’t wreck your life. You can’t be loved better than I’ve loved you.”
Now, some of you believers here may say you don’t feel like you have that experiential relationship with God, but it’s there for the taking.
It’s not because He’s hiding from us. While you might still feel, “Well, I still believe my fundamental need is to be loved,”—it’s sort of like: “Well, yes; our fundamental need is to eat, but not right after Thanksgiving dinner; right? Then, our fundamental need might be to go take a walk.” Spiritually, that’s how God looks at our situation. Our greatest need is not to be loved—here it is, and this is the second pillar—Our Greatest Need Is to Learn How to Love.
Bob: Well, we have been listening to the first part of a message from Gary Thomas, speaking about, really, the glory of and the grandeur of marriage and having, I think, a bigger vision for our marriage than we often have. There is something about life and the daily-ness of life that can cause us to kind of minimize marriage when God wants it to be the glorious thing that He designed it to be.
Dennis: It [marriage] is meant to reflect who God is to a fallen earth. I love what Gary said in his message: “Instead of worrying about falling out of love, worry about falling out of purpose.” Every marriage has a divinely-designed purpose for you two as a couple. The question is: “What is it?” and “Are you about it?”
If you need a refresher course—maybe, in terms of what that is—the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, Bob, is a great way for a couple to kind of pull out of the mainstream and the pressure of the daily-ness of life and to kind of realign with what the Scriptures call marriages to do and to be in a culture today that desperately needs to see two people who, not only like each other, but who are also on mission together. It’s a whole lot easier to balance a bicycle made for two if you’re both facing the same direction and you’re pedaling together.
That’s the picture he’s talking about here.
Bob: Yes; that’s right. We are about to begin our fall season of Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. This week is the last opportunity FamilyLife Today listeners have to sign up for one of these upcoming events and save 50 percent off the regular registration fee—you pay for yourself / your spouse comes free. The offer is good through the end of this weekend.
So, if you want to take advantage of this special opportunity to attend a Weekend to Remember at a special rate, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link for the Weekend to Remember. There is information about when events are coming to a city near where you live. You can register online; and again, you’re eligible for the
50 percent discount if you sign up this week. If you have any questions about the Weekend to Remember, call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can register you over the phone; or again, you can register easily online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
By the way, when you are on our website, the message we heard from Gary Thomas today—much of it is found in a wonderful book he has written called A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship, and Purpose in Your Marriage. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order copies from us online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy.
Now, “Happy anniversary!” today—going out to our friends, David and Melissa Roberts, who live in Midland, Michigan. The Roberts listen to FamilyLife Today on WUGN. They have been with us on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise / they’ve attended Weekend to Remember getaways. They help support this ministry with their financial gifts.
We appreciate the Roberts and all of you who listen regularly. If today is your anniversary, “Happy anniversary!” to you as well. I hope you make a big deal out of your anniversary today, because anniversaries are a big deal; and you should make them a big deal. Our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to help more couples celebrate more anniversaries, year in and year out.
We appreciate those of you who help make that happen—those of you who, like the Roberts, help support this ministry. You can make a donation to support FamilyLife Today online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to make a donation.
And I hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’ll hear Part Two of Gary Thomas’ message on what it takes to build a marriage that lasts.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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