Let me give you God’s four steps for real romance.
Number one, it’s not: find the right person. It’s: become the right person. Mimic God. Well, if you’ve got your Bibles, open to Ephesians 5. Look at the end of chapter 4. At the end of chapter 4, he describes some attitudes that should not be in our relationships, negatively. And then, positively, this is what he says.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” When you’re in a relationship, if you’re dating someone, if you’re married to someone, when they hurt you, when they let you down, when they say something, when they reject you – you know what happens? You get wounded in your heart.
And when you get wounded in your heart, what happens is you get bitter. And then you get angry and if you’re an angry exploder, that divides the relationship. And if you’re not an exploder, if you’re a stuffer, then you get depressed and you withdraw from the person. And that causes distance.
“Let all anger and slander.” Then you go to another coffee shop and you talk about your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your husband and wife with someone else about how he, “doesn’t meet my needs and what he is not doing,” and you get reinforcement.
And then there is malice because once you get wounded, then there is something in our little, dirty human hearts where you want a payback. And malice is about making them pay. So you withhold affection. Or you are passive/aggressive and you are late on purpose. Or you spend money that you have agreed that, “We are not going to spend.”
And you start a downward cycle and he says, Okay, mimic God’s love: “Let all anger and wrath and clamor and slander, along with all malice,” don’t live that way, but look at verse 32, “but be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ” – what? “also forgave you.”
See, what it means, you want real romance? Become the right person. Become the right person is, number one, you say, “I am going to let Christ love me,” and number two, “I am going to walk in love.” I am going to walk in love. And that is a choice to be kind, compassionate, tenderhearted, and forgiving.
It’s a commitment, it’s not an experience. And it’s a process. And, by the way, this isn’t way out there.
Theresa and I counseled a lot of people for the last thirty-five plus years being a pastor. But this is a lot of hard work of learning to live this way. I didn’t know any of this. She didn’t know any of this. You have all those wonderful feelings, you get married, ours was great for about three months. It was awesome. And then we couldn’t resolve anger and we couldn’t communicate.
And I didn’t know that the third child in an alcoholic family was a rescuer. So my goal was to fix Theresa. And I married a woman who had a very difficult home background and then was abandoned by someone. So she was super sensitive to rejection.
So other than we can’t resolve anger and we don’t know how to communicate, so when we begin to wound each other, she would withdraw and I would talk and get mad. And I had times and personal, actual feelings where I thought, I don’t think this is going to work. But I had a biblical mandate and command that says: You’re inside of a box that you made a covenant. There is no exit. And since there is not an exit, you had better figure out what to do.
In fact, the little phrase where it says, “Mimic God; walk in love,” literally, it’s: Show yourself as a mimic of God. Demonstrate by your behavior and your speech that you are mimicking God, that you are walking in love.
And so we went to counseling and God began and we worked and then we started to learn to communicate some of the things we have been teaching you all. And you know what? And it was up and down. And then, boy, small kids came and we already had a couple. And then new challenges. And then teenage years, Oh! Yi, yi, yi! And she didn’t think about it the same way I thought about it. And then empty nest. I thought, Oh, wow! We love each other. That’s going to be no problem. No. She is grieving at the loss of her life and what she has been doing. And I’m thinking, Hey! Honey, we’re free! Let’s have some fun!
I had some of the darkest, darkest times the first few years of our empty nest. Are you listening? Do you understand that two people fall in love, they love one another, they do it God’s way, they care for one another and they have to work to communicate, they have to forgive, they have to spend time with one another? Remember the little conference that we learned? We had to do two or three of those a week for years.
Here’s what I want you to get: As you do life mimicking God, choosing to forgive, choosing to communicate, choosing to say, “This is a really hard season right now. We refuse to break the covenant of God that we made.” That I want to tell you that God restores feelings and God realigns things. And you come through those things and then you look back, in our case, almost thirty-seven, almost thirty-eight years, you see what God has done. I wouldn’t give up what I have for all the money, all the anything in the world.
And we have struggles. You name an area in marriage: communication. Problem! Anger. Problem! Sex. Problem! In-laws. Problem! Money. Problem! Disciplining kids. Problem! Raising kids. Problem! I could go on.
Here’s what you have got to know: you have all those too! Or you will. You think I’m kidding? You will. But if you keep unconsciously allowing all this stuff to go through you, Oh my. He used to have biceps, now he’s got a belly. Right? I think I’m going to start looking. Or, You know what? Before the first two kids, she had a figure. And now I’m trying to figure.
And all of a sudden, you begin to look through a lens and eyes and unconsciously begin to believe and you start looking and your eyes go someplace else and you don’t deal with the wounds and the hurts.
And then you buy the lie that there is somewhere out there, someone who is going to be different than what you have got. The problem isn’t out there. The problem is here. God’s plan is hard and wonderful because I can say in every one of those areas I mentioned, as the grace of God and the journey of God, I have become more like Christ. My wife has become more like Christ. Our kids have benefited, we have really had our ups and downs and struggles. But He births intimacy in the midst of that so that I can say now our relationship in every, single one of those areas is way better than I thought possible.
But I think a lot of Christian couples, they either bail out or you keep trying to find this and you keep cycling through, if you’re dating, boyfriends or girlfriends. Or you want to test drive it and you live together for a while and you go through this and you go through that. And God just says He loves you. God wants to give you the best. He made you for this kind of relationship.
He wants to give you the highest and the best but He says, Look, I am the Great Designer of life and relationships. Do it My way. Focus number one: become the right person.
Focus number two: walk in love. So you choose to do what you don’t feel like doing the way Jesus chose to go to the cross and He didn’t feel like it, but I’m glad He did. And then you fix your hope and your dreams on God, not this person.
I pray that I have many more years with my wife. But there is cancer, there are car accidents. If my whole life is wrapped up in another person, if for whatever reason that person is pulled away, you’re devastated. And, by the way, if you think that person is supposed to fulfill you and complete you, you will put pressure on them and ask them to deliver what they can never deliver.
I love the little quote by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott in their course that they teach at Seattle Pacific. “If you attempt to build intimacy with another person before you have done the hard work of becoming a whole and healthy person, every relationship will be an attempt to complete the wholeness that you lack and end in disaster.”
All those songs, that’s a bunch of baloney. I like them. I like to dance to them. I do! I really do. But they are lies. Oh girl! I’d be in trouble if you…come on, man! Come on, man! I can’t live without you? Are you kidding? But you know what? You listen, you watch, you listen, you watch, you go to the grocery store, you read a romance novel, you go online.
And pretty soon, what you have, don’t you understand that every, single advertisement and every, single movie and this whole message is to get you to be discontent with who you are and discontent with who you want or are with? And that causes this to happen.
And so you chase the fantasy. Here’s the deal: if this, in fact, worked I’m thinking this guy’s relationships ought to work. I’m thinking Jen, her relationships ought to work. I think Khloe and the Kardashian’s relationships ought to work. Now, let me ask you, you just mark my word, go to the drugstore in six months and see if the names haven’t been changed and if people are going through, right? True or false?
So it doesn’t work for them, but that’s what you’re going to do? You’ll have to say: “No. I’m going to follow God’s model.” And, by the way, you’ll fail. You’ll struggle, right? You will get wounded. You’ll get mad. You’ll blow up. You’ll have a problem in your sex life, in your financial life, with one of your kids. You’ll be dating someone and things are going to blow up. So what do you do? Oh, blame them, talk to a friend, go online. No. That’s Hollywood’s model.
If failure occurs, and it will, repeat steps one, two, and three. I have finally learned. And, by the way, we have been married thirty-seven and a half years. Does anyone think that Theresa and I now never have any arguments? Raise your hand if you think that’s true. Good. You’re right.
We never have a disagreement, we never wound each other? Of course we do! But early on, it was, You know what? If she would shape up, if she would do this, if she would do that then I would…
That’s Hollywood’s model. Well, if she’s not doing all that, maybe I’ll find someone else. No, no. Here’s God’s model. Become the right person. Now, in my perverted little view of the difficult time, I can say we had this argument and I feel hurt and she feels hurt because it’s ninety percent her fault and ten percent mine.
Hey, you can say what you want. That’s how you think. And you know what God would say? That’s fine. You go apologize your ten percent and you own it and you humble yourself. And say, “Honey, this happened, this happened, this happened. This is how I responded as I listened to what you said. Will you forgive me?”
And then I’m going to walk in love. What patterns do I need to change? I’ve got to make time. It has to be, our marriage has to be a priority, relationships have to be a priority.
And when I fail, then I am going to say, Okay, Lord, show me because my hope is set on You. And, by the way, I have had seasons where I have been so angry at her that I didn’t do it so it would even repair the relationship. It goes, I don’t feel like doing it, I don’t want to do it. Down deep I still think it’s her fault. But I am going to obey. I am going to choose and I am going to do this for You.
And of course, then, I begin to see the light and it basically was sixty/forty. And then I really saw the light. It was sixty/forty. But it was a different sixty/forty. She forgives me and I forgive her and those sparks reveal things, the connectedness goes deeper.
The success rate for couples who walk with God, who spend time in God’s Word, who attend church regularly, who have this model and focus is in the low single digits. It’s extraordinarily successful.
G.K. Chesterton had a great quote. He says, “It’s not that Christianity has been tried and been found wanting. Christianity has been tried and found hard and so abandoned.” You want a great relationship? You want euphoric feelings? I am more in love with my wife now and area of my life is better now than it has ever been, but it has not been an easy road. But I would not trade it for anything.
And some of you, you are in a window of dating someone that you know, Mm. Man, this guy, this gal, her heart isn’t first for God. Some of you are in the midst of a part in your relationship and your marriage and everything I’m talking about you’re going, Ooh, gosh, I’m actually doing those things, and some of you are in those early stages where that resentment and the wounds and you have decided…
I got three emails last week of people in our church saying, “Man, my relationship is not really working. What do I do? Can you help me?” And I told them all the same thing: “You own your part,” and for most of them, because they were pretty heavy-duty things, “come, we will help you get started, and find good counseling and deal with it and you will be so glad you did. You will get through this because it’s normal.”
I think sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words so let me give you a quick picture of God’s model that I have just described and then Hollywood’s model. And at the bottom of the pyramid is when you are building your relationship, all of these are facets for a Christ-centered, God’s model of intimacy and real romance. Start spiritually. Especially if you’re dating, look for character, look for integrity, look for someone who loves God more than you by how they live, not how they talk.
Second, then, observe them. If you’re dating, observe them with other people. Don’t pair off and let the goo-goo and the euphoric feelings start, if you have a little bit of that, hold back. Watch how they treat other people. Because the moment you get into the, “Is this her or is that…?” then you start painting your face and trying to act and they start trying to act. You want to see how they really act.
Then third, psychologically, get to know them. Hold off on all the physical. Get to know them. What do they believe? Where are they coming from? What about their family background? What are their dreams? What’s their purpose? Ask if there is alignment.
And then allow, if all those things line up, allow your emotions to begin to kick in and move slowly but gradually and then this may sound really crazy, but then wait and actually get married and have sex in marriage and have the God of the universe look down on this bed and say to Gabriel and the angels, This is a holy, holy moment and this is sacred because they are not having sex. Animals can have sex. They are experiencing love. They are experiencing the oneness and the intimacy of their spirit and the emotions and their soul and they are beginning to come together in unity with one another to express what We created and what We long for them to experience.
They are giving themselves to one another. They are not worried about techniques. They are not worried about this or that or what they have heard or the twenty-three new ways in Cosmo to…they actually love each other.
The world’s way is you just take that and you flip it upside down. And for many of us who did not grow up as Christians, how do you start it, right? It’s physical. You’re looking for some hot girl or some hunk of a guy. And in our day, often, after a date or two or maybe less you are physical. And then it’s your emotions. Oh, you’re goo-goo, ga-ga. Your brain turns off. It’s the most wonderful person in the world. Everything is awesome.
And then you get to know them. And you realize, Wow, I’m having these amazing feelings and she really is, or, he is! But you know what? He’s got biceps but all he thinks about is kissing them. “Ooh! Do you understand? You understand how be bad I am and how cool I am and the world? I am a narcissist! Would you like to be…?” And you go, Ooh.
Or, man, she is hot in those tight jeans and, man, those push-up bras. They are making it happen. But she can’t put three sentences together that are meaningful about life. And so you go back into the fishing pool and you keep searching. And you go to places where you want to pick up people and it’s physical, emotional.
And then finally you meet someone who there is some wherewithal and then pretty soon you meet their friends and you meet their family and, in our day, sixty, some seventy percent of people live together for a while. Statistically it’s a really bad move but…
And then it’s amazing. Even all these stars. At some point in time they realize there has got to be more to it. There has got to be a connection. There has got to be something down deep in us that makes it permanent. And so they want to get married.
And that is spiritual.
Can you imagine if the pyramids were made like this a few thousand years ago? How many people think we would still see them? No. No. The pyramids are made like this. There is a stable base. This is God’s model. Is it easy? No. Is it effective, amazing, and provides real romance? You can have the kind of feelings and the kind of excitement after you are married five, seven, twenty, thirty years. But it is becoming the right person. It’s walking in love. It’s fixing your hope on God and it’s choosing to nurture and to minister. And you give your life away because you are getting it from Him.
Probably the greatest thing I do for my marriage is get up every day and open God’s Word and say, Lord, would You help me be the man You want me to be? And do life with a community of people who will tell me the truth about myself and go on a journey where the more and more I become like Jesus, the better husband she gets.
Question number one would be: which of these triangles, right now, represents your approach to romantic relationships? Second, what would you like your present or future relationships to look like? Hollywood’s model or God’s? Really think about that. What specific steps do you need to take to begin implementing romantic relationships God’s way?
If you’re an uninvolved single, in other words, you’re not dating anyone right now, you can really prepare for a great romance by becoming the right kind of person. Don’t do the dance. Don’t play the game. If you’re an involved single, you’re dating someone and whether it’s serious or not so serious, take these notes and sit down and go get coffee somewhere and say, “Where are we at in this triangle and have we skipped some things? And are we really serious about wanting a great relationship? And what would that mean?”
If you’re widowed or divorced, get whole before you start dating or seeing anyone. You’ll never be more vulnerable than the eighteen months after a divorce or two years after your mate has died. You have this huge loneliness and you will get connected with some dysfunctional person who will feel really right early on and you will wake up in about three years, next to someone in bed, and go, Oh my! What have I done? And God says, I don’t want you to go there.
God has got such a great plan to have real romantic relationships. Can I ask you a question? How badly do you really want that? And are you willing to say, Lord, I want to sign up for that. I want to address it in my marriage. Or, I am going to date that way.