June 1, 2020
Today, Beth and I celebrate fifty-two years of marriage. I remember a book I read years ago describing some things we learn in kindergarten. Thinking back at the beginning of our marriage, I, too, have learned many things I never would have understood “reading a book about marriage” or “googling marriage” on the Internet. So this morning, I wrote down some things God has taught me – a stubborn, selfish, and a typical “know-it-all” kid from Lindale, Texas – from the very beginning.
1. Spiritual Leadership: Years ago, I attended a popular conference on Spiritual Leadership in the Family. As a young husband and father, I went home and eagerly announced to Beth that she needed to follow me as the head of our family, and as my wife. With strong boundaries in her life, she responded, “Ron, I will follow you anywhere God leads you, but I will not be jerked around!”
Through the years, I discovered we both are called as a team to serve. As we began to seek God first, and, then, to seek the heart of each other in the decision-making for our family, we found balance as we sought God’s will. Marriage was not for our happiness but was to make us useable and available for His glory and purpose.
After more than fifty-two years in ministry – student work, pastoring, and, now, family ministry – I know that God speaks to both of us. He confirms “His will” in both of our hearts “if” we walk together in this relationship called marriage. Using time together in prayer, reading His Word, and “in waiting” to learn and know His will, He validates His plan for us through open doors, circumstances, timing, and, sometimes, the godly advice of those we know will seek God’s heart in intercession for us.
2. Servant Leadership: God gives responsibility to each man to lead his wife and family spiritually as well as care for them physically and emotionally. Jesus gives us a model of “how to do it” when He ministers to the disciples in John 13:
. . . He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (ESV).
“Laying down His outer garments” gives us an amazing picture of the Son of God’s deep humility and kindness. Servant leadership is hard. If I am determined to have my own way, I place my needs above others. When I choose to lay aside my feelings, desires and wants, He shows me how to meet the needs of my family and those I love. Serving rather than demanding service is a powerful lesson to learn in marriage.
3. Covenant rather than Contract Marriage: Working on a farm, I use ropes to hold things secure and stable. If a rope is made of two strands of cord, it is easily broken with great stress and pressure. However, when a third strand – God’s presence – is added, the rope is almost impossible to break. In Ecclesiastes 4:12 Solomon writes about this kind of relationship, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (ESV). Having discovered that we not only function better with three rather than two in a marriage, we also are blessed when God is first in our life.
Speaking at marriage retreats and family conferences, I will introduce a couple, dressed up in wedding attire. As they walk down the aisle to pledge their marriage vows, slowly I tear a piece of paper – representing a marriage license – down the middle. The torn pieces are a “contract agreement” between the couple who consent to conditions for the marriage. When these conditions are upheld in the contract, they will stay married. These conditions are those “things that I want to stay in this marriage!”
Then I explain that adding God’s presence as a third party to the human contract of marriage creates a divine relationship between God and man and woman. This covenant marriage transforms the couple throughout their married life.
There were many seasons in our life that threatened to tear our marriage apart – times highly stressful and painful. Without God’s presence holding us together, our human contract could have been broken. “But God remained faithful!” He took our imperfect handling of our life, and brought peace and healing into our turbulent experiences. He became the essential factor in staying together. His perfect and divine intercession led us out of the dark times in our life when we could not see beyond our pain.
4. Honoring God’s Priorities: When Satan, our enemy, cannot tempt us to sin, he simply makes us extremely busy. During our student ministry at Texas A&M, I became extremely caught up in working with students, churches and staff. It was a very exciting time and a crazy time for us as a family. One afternoon, my secretary told me that Beth had made an appointment to see me. Later that afternoon, Beth sat down across from my desk and simply said, “Ron, I have no intention of divorcing you, but I do not believe this is the way marriage is supposed to be. We have three small children at home that need you – and I need you, but you are leaving us way behind!” She got my attention. I began a prayerful and determined process of re-prioritizing my life and ministry. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”(ESV). Learning slowly, we both began to go in a new direction in our marriage – seeking Him first, our family second, and ministry third.
Now, fifty-two years later, my heart is in agreement with Charles Swindoll’s thoughtful words, “May God be praised for the genius of marriage and the thrill of celebrating it annually with the one I love.” He then added The Song of Songs 8:7:
“Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (The Grace of Encouragement, A DayBrightner from Garborg’s Heart’N Home, Inc., June 1, 1995).
Today is a special day for us of many hard yet wonderful years together with three awesome children and their families. We humbly realize that left by ourselves, we would have been such a mess and out of control. With love and compassion, He takes care of His messy children and provides us His direction for our marriage and family – not because we figured it out and have it together, but because He is a God of grace and mercy. He has loved us through much and accomplished what we alone could never do. Though we are not perfect or even close to being there, we look forward one day of seeing the face of our Heavenly Father and saying to Him, “Thank you, thank you for giving us the gift of marriage and family!” and not leaving us to ourselves. Thank you for guiding us patiently and kindly through the many joys and struggles of life.
May His Blessings be with you,
Ron and Beth Wells