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About this series
Keeping Love Alive
Four Biblical Practices Great Marriages Have in Common
How do you keep love alive when you see your marriage starting to teeter, or crumble, and everything in you wants to give up and get out? In this series, Chip provides four biblical practices that all great marriages have in common. For each one, he provides key principles, then practical implications, and finally, super practical tools to make those practices a reality in everyday life. This is a no-holds-barred, candid look at the way marriage really works and how to make yours better. If you’ll invest the time, what you’ll find in the end, are love, hope, joy, and peace - for you, and the one you love.More from this series
Where is your hope in your marriage? See, is your hope that someday, someway everything is going to be perfect? Is your hope someday she is going to be more affectionate? Is your hope someday we can really have a nice house and when all that happens everything is going to be wonderful? Is your hope is that when we can finally move closer to my parents so my immediate family will make me feel better? Is your hope that someone will no longer ever have to be deployed and then somehow life will really be wonderful? Is your hope that when we can have children, then life is really going to happen? Is your hope somehow if I make some career moves then we will make more money and then everything is going to be okay? Is my hope…
Do you understand? Every single one of those is circumstantial. And every single one of those can happen tomorrow. And here’s what I can tell you about you and me and our fallen nature. Give you thirty days and your hope will be on something else. Just a little bit bigger house and wishing you didn’t have so many kids.
And what Jesus is telling us is there are going to be challenges. It’s part of living in a fallen world. First, it’s this attitude of serving your mate that makes no sense and you keep doing it when it works, you keep doing it when it doesn’t work, and you do it as an act of worship to God.
And over time, a transformation happens in you. You become more and more like Jesus. And all I can tell you, is that when someone becomes more and more like Jesus, she is more and more attractive or he is more and more attractive. My wife is really attractive. She’s very kind, she is very loving, she is very others-centered. That was not how she always used to be. And I spent most of my energy picking apart what I didn’t like about her instead of the ninety percent that I did like about her.
And God wants you to know that serving is the first step, but you have to have hope. And the way you have hope is you have to have a plan. So, can I just give you some, a couple principles and then I want to get real practical.
Here’s the principle. This is from Jesus. Long-term planning provides hope and perspective to overcome short-term pain and challenges. Now, just tell me, am I just reading too much into that? Does He give them a long-term plan or what? Hey, here’s the long-term plan: you’re going to be with me forever! I got your back! I’m coming back! No matter what happens, how bad, how hard, I am coming back and there’s a place for you. Long-term plan gives you perspective and hope to overcome short-term pain and challenges.
Second, great plans provide a specific path and create hope for tomorrow and forever. Great plans don’t just say, hey, someday, some way He could have said, “Okay, guys, I’m going to go to the cross a little bit later, I’m going to go prepare a place for you. Ready? Break. See you someday, some way, somehow.”
No, no, a great plan has: yeah, that’s the long-term plan, but here’s where you are today. There’s a specific path. There are specific things we are going to do. Literally, there are mile markers that we are going to look at that are going to move us forward so we can see we are making progress.
Third principle is hope rises and falls with how we keep our promises. The most devastating thing we do to one another and we all do it, is when we tell our mate something and then we don’t follow through. It breaks trust. What do we know about Jesus?
I would encourage you, read John chapter 14 and you can even read 15 and 16 and every time the word I will, I will, I will, I will, I will – underline it. And you know what He’s saying? “I will. I keep My promises. I’m preparing a place.”
And did you get the “why”? See, I meet a lot of Christians that believe God loves them. I don’t think they really believe He likes them. And, “Oh, yeah, He loves me, but I need to do this and I need to do this and I need to do this and I know I don’t measure up.”
Do you realize that just you sitting wherever you’re at, whatever level of maturity, with all your issues that if Jesus walked through those doors in His resurrected body and sat down with you and said, “You want coffee or do you want tea?” And He would sit across from you and He would just be delighted to hang out.
And so, then the application is practical. Number one, if you, this is from my Marine father, so don’t look for this in the Bible. But I heard it so much, it’s up there in the Bible with me. “Chip, if you fail to plan, you…does every person know that one? It’s true. And you plan for career, you plan hopefully for finances, you plan for so much.
Here’s my question. What is your plan for your marriage? What’s your plan for your marriage? If I said, “Okay, hey, hey, you’re the husband, right? Bridegroom, there’s a bride. Okay, guys, over here, all you ladies over there. Alright. One by one, line up, tell me your plan. What’s the game plan? Intimacy plan? Future plan? Kids plan? Intellectual growth plan? Spiritual growth plan? Future of your kids? Do you want them to go to college? You think they need to go to college? Do you need to plan for that? What’s your financial plan?”
If you’re looking at me like, “Duh,” we’ve got a problem. Because if you don’t have a plan, then you don’t have a lot of hope. Because planning, you know what the word “planning” is about? Planning is the presumption that there will be a future and that you’re doing some things today and you’re looking into the future and saying, “These are the important things that we are going to do,” and they are things that you look forward to.
Planning is sort of a thread that takes hope and the hope pulls you, but it pulls you because there’s a plan.
I cannot tell you, I mean, my wife and I argued, struggled, we did the roll in bed, face the other wall. And we made a plan. The plan was we would have a date every single week. It would be on Friday, it would be for breakfast, we would eat and we would spend about three hours together, we would take a walk, we would do whatever. But during that three or four block, she knew she had me, no phone, no interruptions, and anything and everything that was building up in her heart, she knew I’m only six days away from unloading.
And what it gave me was six days of her not unloading a little every day, causing conflict. And it wasn’t like it was just conflict resolution. We had a plan. What we knew was we were terrible communicators, we didn’t know how to resolve anger, we didn’t even know when we were angry. We had to have a counselor teach us, “When you’re like this, okay, she is passive-aggressive and she buries her anger and you verbalize your anger.” “Oh.” “So that’s why you do this, she does…” “Oh, okay.” So, we had to learn when we were angry.
So right after supper, just fifteen minutes. We did it three times a week. “Okay, honey, this sounds so artificial. How did your day go?” Superficial. Okay, great. “How did your day go?” Great. “What are you concerned about?” “Well, this, this, this.” And I shut up. You can’t fix it. Just shut up.
“What do you wish?” “Oh, I wish one of our sons would not be so much this way. And I’m concerned about our other son is dating a girl. I wish I felt better.
I’ve got this really, situation. And “What are you willing to do?”
And in fifteen minutes or twenty minutes, we learned to not just bury stuff but get all the things that are weighing us down out on the table.
And then you, a question that you didn’t have to do anything. “What are you willing to do?” And what happened is in fifteen minutes, every other night at least, I found out: these are the burdens, and she heard mine. She would ask me, “How did your day go?” “It’s fine.” And she wants to talk and. “Well, how did it really go?” “It’s fine. It was church. Had a lot of meetings. A couple people came to Christ. It was great. So, what’s up?”
And I can’t understand why she thinks we don’t communicate, right? I told her! It was fine! That’s not what she wanted to hear. “How did you feel about it? What was going on inside?” Right?
So we came up with a plan, weekly. We came up with a plan, daily. And then for us, when there’s friction, guess what goes out the door: romance. And now if you have kids, especially small ones, it’s hard to even find romance. And so, we plan. We scheduled, got other couples to watch our kids, we were super poor. We are going to get away for a couple nights at least once, try twice a year.
And sometimes you were just holding on by a thread. We’ve only got sixty-two more days until we can get away! But two days away would refresh, are you starting to get it? Hope!
So what is your career and family and ministry and future plan for the next five, ten, or fifteen years? Now, I know when I say something like that you go, Oh my gosh. That’s sort of a long, big deal. Okay, here’s a tool for transformation I want to get you started. I’m going to give you two tools.
Here’s tool number one. This changed the course of my life.
I was thirty-four or thirty-five, three kids – four. Annie had just been born. She was maybe eighteen months old. I’ve got two thirteen, fourteen-year-olds, about a seven-year-old, and about a one-year-old.
And where I went to seminary, they had a thing called LEAD: Leadership Evaluation and Development. And they looked at your whole life and you went away with your wife for a week and they had a psychologist talk to you and someone look at your preaching and people filled out all these forms about your life, your character, and they literally had your life.
And the goal was to take you through this four or five days and give you an evaluation of where you’re at and help you see blind spots so that maybe they could help you skip ten years of pain, because they thought maybe you have some potential to make a difference.
Two big things happened. The man who did our interview was one of my mentors. And he looked at Theresa and said, “You haven’t told anybody about your past life, have you?” “No, I hide it.” But she said, “I have a problem.” “What’s that.” Well, my little boy is six or seven years old and we have a picture of Chip and I in our marriage, and Eric and Jason are in the picture.” They were four-and-a-half, five years old, dressed up little boys, carrying the rings and things.
“And so, our six or seven-year-old says, ‘Mommy, how come Eric and Jason got to be in the wedding picture and I didn’t?’” Well, a little moment truth; that’s a real tricky one. Right? She was ashamed. She was ashamed that she was told where we went to school that, “God will never use your life.” She was told she was a second-class citizen. She lived with guilt; she lived with shame. She married a guy, she wasn’t a Christian, he runs off with another woman. She told me, “I would have committed suicide if I didn’t have those babies. My whole life was in that man. I felt worthless.”
And he said, “You don’t understand. You are a trophy of God’s grace. Look at how God has restored you and redeemed you. Are you ready for this? You know what you do with trophies? You take trophies and you put them up on the mantel and you put them on the mantel so people can see: this is what God did.”
And we came home from that and she shared with my seven-year-old boy why he wasn’t in the wedding picture. Shortly afterwards, we were called to a church in Santa Cruz and my wife is a, you would not know it now, but was not just an introvert but super shy and getting in front of people was not her thing.
And we are flying on the plane, she said, “I want to share my testimony with the church.” I said, “What?” And we went from a fairly small church, and for us it was a pretty good-sized church – eight or nine hundred people. And they had a Sunday morning and Sunday night.
And I said, “Well, my first message is Sunday morning. You want to do Sunday night?” She goes, “Yeah.” And she got up and, phoo! told her story. Fifty women lined up. If you know anything about Santa Cruz, it’s drugs, New Age, wacky world, broken people. Just…
And God just put us in the perfect place in the world because two very deeply broken people went to a place filled with broken people. And when she shared her story, they finally said, “Maybe there’s hope for me.” And so there’s hope! There’s not just hope when everything is okay. There’s hope when you share your brokenness.
The second thing that happened at that, that was critical, is I was given an assignment. And I was told to do this: “I want you to go home and I want you to write out, I want you to add ten years to everyone’s age.” So, okay, I’ll be forty-four. My, oh wow, Eric and Jason will be twenty-two. Ryan will be seventeen. Annie will be eleven. And then he says, “Now, I want you to think about, this is where you’re at. I want you to visualize, you now have two kids that,” I thought, If they are going to go to college, I’m putting fifty dollars a month away…
They are doing really well, but they’ve got some issues in their life I need to address. My little boy, he’s going to be seventeen, that’s going to make him a junior or a senior. And, wow, ten years from now, I will be, Theresa and I…
And we literally, it was, it just grabbed me and I realized, I am living so much in every single day, I’m not living in a way that is realizing: where do I want to be in ten years? Where does God want me to be in ten years? Where do I want my marriage to be in ten years?
It was one of the biggest “ah-ha” moments of my whole life. I literally, are you, you know what I did? I made a plan. I made a plan for my older boys. What am I going to do between twelve and twenty-two? What is it I want them to know? What kind of time, what kind of experiences? What am I going to do with my son who is eleven or seven and is going to be seventeen? And what are the things I learned from my older boys? And where should we be? This is where we are at in our marriage. This was a season where we actually got along, the church was growing, it was a good season.
Wow, what have we done? Where do I want our marriage to be in ten years? I would tell you, it’ll change the course of your life if you would write down: add ten years to everyone in your family and start asking yourself those questions.
I will tell you, because left to yourself, and here’s the thing, you think you don’t have enough time.
The number one addiction in America is technology. You have time to read, you have time to think, you have time to exercise, you have time to build relationships, or you can stick your face in this phone and you can escape and you can watch movies and you can play video games. And for some of you, secretly log on to porn. And you can waste your life.
Or you can come up with a plan and you can ask for help. And you can start being a servant. And I will tell you, your life will be so different than everybody else’s. And here’s the thing that this thing and all that media does, it just keeps telling you: you don’t measure up, you don’t look right, you don’t have the right stuff. And if only you had, or if only you could, or if only you were…
And so, it’s all negative messages and here’s the thing: some of you are type A, highly focused, wired like me and some of us have gone after some of those things, and here’s the thing, if you get them in your hand, you’re going to look at it, it’s like, remember the rainbow into the pot of gold? And you’ll look at it and you’ll go…
As one guy told me recently, he said, “This is it? This…? I built a company, did sixty-seven million dollars last year, a found a beautiful wife, I have three kids – this is it? This is as empty – they promised! I’m in shape,” he was a Marine, “I am! I’ve got what everyone in the world says will make you happy,” and he says, “I looked inside of that and it was a black hole of emptiness.”
And then he happened to be driving in the car and he heard a series about heaven and life that happened to be from Living on the Edge. God spoke to him and he pulled off 101, California, and cried like a baby and received Christ. And that was the beginning of a completely new life.
And what I like about him, he went about it like a Marine. His poor wife. He said it was bait and switch. It really was. He said, “Two years in,” he goes, “my life, my friends, my habits,” he said, “I learned God’s Word is important, I learned prayer was important, a good Bible-teaching church is important. I got in a small group with my pastor, another guy, and another guy. Man, my addictions I addressed. Just two years, we are having dinner, and she looked at me and she goes, ‘I don’t think I even know you anymore.’” And he said, “Privately, I’m thinking, Yes!”
And, yet, was she was saying was, “I married this person, we partied together, and this was our world. I don’t – who is this guy? Now, you’re a great father, you are treating me in ways I don’t really understand. Kind, but weird. You’re doing things I have never seen you do.”
And here’s my point, you’ve got to have a plan. Add ten years and then ask yourself, Who do you want that person to be? What do you want that marriage to look like?
The second, this is a really practical thing because it’s like, “Oh, that’s a great, big picture.”
Structure. Some of us are very spontaneous, some are very detail oriented – if you don’t structure for outcomes, your life will be filled with good intentions where you start and fail, start and fail, start and fail.
In planning as a couple, this week, I’m going to get down to some really basic things. This is just a suggestion. Some of you are great planners, way better than me, you have way better ways to do this. But for those of you that are sitting here thinking, We don’t plan, we just react. We just respond. Oh, the kids need shoes! And, by the way, if you’re like most, the women feel a greater responsibility and they are always feeling like, What are we going to do? What are we going to do? And they feel like we don’t lead well when we don’t plan.
And so, one of the things that helped us, I don’t know how it works in your world, but in my world, usually I get a paycheck every two weeks. Some people it’s once a month, some people once a week. I get a paycheck every two weeks and have for whenever.
We have a – it doesn’t have to be blue. We have a blue folder. Every bill that comes in goes into that blue folder, even the ones that we pay online. We print it out, it goes into that blue folder. Every two weeks, I sit down with my wife. We have a checkbook. And we will, she will take the part that you subtract and I will take the part where we write the checks.
And a lot of them, of course, we pay online and I’ll write on the bill and she will say, “Okay, I’ll do that online.” And we go through every two weeks and we do our finances together. Here’s what you need to learn about money: money is never about money. Money is about values and priorities.
Every two weeks, for thirty-five years, we have had a discussion about what matters. And a lot of times, it was, well, we paid our bills and now we have a hundred and thirty-six dollars to make it through to the next two weeks. So, we are going to put seventy-eight dollars in the grocery envelope, we’re going to put twenty dollars in recreation, and we’re going to put sixteen dollars in for gas, when you could buy gas for cheap. And when the money is out of those envelopes, we’re done. And we are going to stay in the black.
And then it was like, okay, well, Eric needs shoes and Annie needs this. What should we buy, when? And, okay, let’s the habit is more important than the amount. So, we are going to save fifty dollars a paycheck. That was our big savings plan. And it became a habit.
The second thing is now we have made those, then we open our calendars and we look at, okay, what is coming up the rest of this month and next month? And we just, we’d talk about it. Well, we’ve got a birthday here, I’m supposed to teach here, and we are supposed to do that. Well, this couple asked us to do that.
So, what are we doing? We’re planning our life together. Do you realize how many of your arguments are about one of you does the checkbook or one of you does it online, you don’t know where things are at. Your conversations about money are called arguments. Your conversations about calendar are called conflict.
Well, why did you do that? Why didn’t you tell me that? Well, I don’t want to do that. Well, you always do that. You play golf and you play golf. I just went out with the girls and I’m sick and tired of you always taking our money and, well, you said we were going to stay on a budget. We made plans and you never stick with them. Does this sound remotely familiar? Why? Because I lived them all.
Structure. Every two weeks, this is how much money we have. Visibility. Transparency. What are we going to do with it? Here’s our calendar. At the beginning of every week, and we’ve done this so long it’s informal now. Often it’ll be over a cup of coffee. “So, what do you have coming up this week?”
And she’ll just walk through her week, tell me all the major things coming, “Oh, Annie is going to come over with the kids in the afternoon. I’m going to do this.” “Well, I’ve got to travel Tuesday and Wednesday and I’ll be back. So, that kind of messes up with our date night. When do you want to do that?”
And do you, it can just whoo. Hope for the long-term, hope once a quarter, hope with your finances because you do it together. I am telling you, you can be proactive in creating a life that you look forward to something this week. You look forward to a great time together away. You look forward to sitting down and having a plan that it may take time, but we can get out of debt.
Final comment, if you are in a situation, I wrote this at the bottom, of crisis of debt, or counseling, or in-laws, or addiction, get outside help. Get outside help. Pay whatever it takes. I had to.
And here’s the thing. If this reoccurring problem or conflict in your sex life, in your finances, debt issues, in-laws, resolving conflict – you’re smart people. If you could have solved it on your own, you would have solved it by now. Right?
You get outside help. Let me encourage you to do that.