Rescuing Your Marriage
May – June 2003
Service begins with a skit, showing a marriage and divorce Ceremony (the Wedding March plays in the background).
“We’re gathered here today to celebrate one of the happiest moments in the lives of Mike and Carol, for on this day they affirm before family, friends, and, most importantly, God Almighty, that He has called them to join their lives in the Holy bonds of Christian marriage.”
“Mike, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the Holy state of matrimony, will you love her and comfort her, honor and keep her in sickness and in health and forsaking all others keep thee only unto her so long as you both shall live?”
“Carol will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the Holy state of matrimony? Will you obey and serve him, love, honor and keep him in sickness and health and forsaking all others keep thee only unto him so long as you both shall live?”
“Looking to heaven for divine sanction and by the authority vested in me by the laws of the state of Texas, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride.”
(Break in skit) Last year in America there were over two million three hundred and forty-four thousand wedding ceremonies conducted.
(Skit resumes with voice over) “Harris County court number 666 is now in session. The Honorable Ben Young presiding.” (Wedding March playing in minor key)
“Considering you have both sought legal counsel and property rights and visitation rights have now been settled, according to the laws of the state of Texas, your divorce based upon the grounds of mutual incompatibility is now granted.” (Gavel) “Case dismissed.” (Skit over)
In America last year there were well over one million three hundred and thirty-two thousand divorces granted. No one who gets married ever plans on getting a divorce. Everyone starts off with the hope: “We are going to live happily ever after.” But something goes wrong. Something went wrong with Mike and Carol. And what I want us to look at this morning in our time together is, what could they have done? What could you do to rescue your marriage?
If you have your Bibles, open them with me to Ephesians Chapter 5, Verse 31. We are in a series, as you know, called Marriage Map. This is Part Two. The first week we looked at what that road to happily ever after is like. If you missed that message, I would encourage you to get that CD or tape in our bookstore because it is foundational to what we are going to talk about in the following weeks.
We saw that the road to happily ever after is, first of all, a holy road. It is also a sacrificial road, a persevering road, and a joyful road. We saw that first Sunday that marriage, get this, is a life-long commitment to unconditionally love an imperfect person. That is the commitment you make at the altar. When you say, “I will love you for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do we part,” it’s that life-long commitment to go all out, to love your mate in a sacrificial, persevering, joyful way.
Ephesians Chapter 5, Verse 31 says this: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I’m talking about Christ and the church.” You leave your home. You leave your parents to cleave to your mate, to start a brand new family. Marriage is a permanent relationship. Marriage is a relationship that God has given to you and He has given to me to reflect the love and the commitment between Christ and the church. So as Christ loved and as His commitment to the church is a permanent and everlasting one, a covenant love, so shall your love be for your mate. It is an everlasting, unconditional love covenant. That is why you leave. You cut the apron strings off from your family and your parents, and you form this new family unit. You form this new relationship.
Now if we are going to understand what happened to Mike and Carol in between the marriage ceremony and the divorce court, we have to go back even further. We have to rewind the movie further and find out what happened to this couple during the dating phase. Because a lot of times big-time, destructive mistakes are made during the dating phase of a relationship, and this lays a foundation, or should I say, lays a very shaky foundation to build a marriage on. What are some dating mistakes that Mike and Carol made that you cannot see?
First of all, Mike and Carol were living together. They had already left and cleft before they got to the altar. They were living together. Now, I’m sure that some of you here this morning are in a relationship where you are living with someone who is not your mate. You say, “Of course, everybody does that today. Everyone is living together. Everyone is cohabitating. It is no big deal anymore.” This phenomenon really came into vogue back in the 1960s, when you had around four hundred thousand couples who were living together. Today you have over five million couples who are cohabitating. Now, what has happened since the 60s in our country, since we started this great experiment called living together, divorce rates have sky rocketed in our nation.
I understand the idea. The idea is, “This is kind of a test drive. I’m going to test drive this relationship. I’m going to see if it feels good everyday and if I like it everyday then I’m going to ‘buy the car’ and get married, and we will live happily ever after.” The tragedy is that this test drive mentality in the US is simply not working. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, or a Hare Krishna; if you are living together with someone outside of marriage, you are greatly increasing your chances of getting divorced.
The Washington Post reported that couples who live together have an 80% greater chance of getting a divorce than those who do not. Other studies show that, out of these five million couples who are living together today, 40% will break up before they get married; the other 40% will divorce if they do marry. Other studies show that domestic violence among women who are cohabitating is double that of women who are married. Depression in cohabitating women is four times higher than that of married women. Marital satisfaction of those who lived together first is much lower than those who did not. These are facts. These are studies that you can check out yourself. Go to your computer today or tomorrow and google it, and you will find all kinds of studies, all kinds of stats—not coming from Jerry Falwell or Pat Roberson, but coming from secular studies that show you that living together simply does not work. Living together does not prepare you for marriage but instead prepares you for divorce. “Well, I just don’t believe that, Ben. My relationship is different. We’re the exception.” I doubt it. They [Mike and Carol] were living together. That is where they messed up.
How else did this couple mess up in the dating phase? They also were not spiritually compatible; they were spiritually mismatched. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians Chapter 6, Verse 14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers, for what do righteousness and wickedness have in common or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” God’s word is clear. If you want to have a marriage, a relationship, that shines, one that lasts, you’ve got to be on the same page spiritually—what you believe about God, what you believe about prayer, who or what is your ultimate authority in how you live your life…these all make up the core of who you are and who I am. And if you cannot connect with someone on a heart-to-heart level, then there is always going to be a major, major disconnect.
That’s what Mike and Carol’s problem was. Carol was a Christian; Mike wasn’t. He kind of tipped his hat at God. He wasn’t really into it. Carol was thinking, “Once we get married, things will be different. I will change him, and he’ll get saved and become a Christian.” That usually doesn’t happen. So God gives us this boundary.
I know that many here are single, and you’re saying, “Well, great. Are saying that I can only date Christians; I can only marry Christians?” I’m not saying that; God says that. And you’re thinking, “Well man, that really decreases my dating pool. I mean, at first I had all these fish, these millions of fish swimming around and now you’re just kind of shrinking my pool to a little puddle, Ben.” Listen: God knows you, and God is not trying to rip you off. He wants you to experience relational satisfaction. And, again, if you don’t have this heart-to-heart connection, you’re not going to have that. You are going to have a disconnect.
So many times couples make big-time mistakes before they get to the altar, before they say, “I do.” But you don’t have to be that way. You don’t have to go down that same road. If you’re living together here this morning and you want to save that relationship, the best thing you could do is move out. Now, I know you’re just living together for economic reasons. I know its just economics. I know, you can’t afford it and you’re just trying to same money. Trust me, you’ll find a way to make ends meet. And trust me that in the long run, if you want to salvage this relationship, move out. Get some help. Start doing it God’s way. If you’re spiritually incompatible and you’re dating, you need to talk to the person you’re going out with about that today. You need to be sure where they stand with their relationship with God—where they stand in their relationship with the church and Christ and God’s word. That is huge.
Maybe you’re married here and you say, “Well, Ben, we did all those things; we did it wrong when we were dating. Does that mean we are doomed?” No, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. But it does mean that you have to acknowledge before God and acknowledge before your mate, “We made mistakes in the dating phase.” Perhaps you did live together; perhaps you were incompatible, but God helps us to get on that right track.
Mike and Carol went ahead and ran down the altar. They said, “I do, I will; I love you for life.” It was a beautiful wedding celebration. But then something happened over the years, and they wound up in divorce court. What could this couple have done between the marriage ceremony and the divorce court to change the outcome? What could they have done to rescue their marriage?
Perhaps you have heard the story about the guy whose apartment caught on fire. This is a true story. He was living on the second story of the apartment, and the thing was blazing up. Somehow he makes his way out of the fire and saves his life. He gets behind the firemen’s barricade there (they had barricaded off the area with yellow plastic lining, saying that no one can cross this line), when all of a sudden this man remembered that he had forgotten something in the apartment. And he burst through the barricade. He goes right into the fire and into the apartment, and he runs back out, and he has in his arms his dog. Yeah. This guy was willing to risk his life and run into a fire to rescue Rover. Now if he is willing to that for an animal, what should we be willing to do to improve or to rescue a marriage?
First of all, Mike and Carol could have done things differently if they would have had this mindset and would have said, “We are going to stay faithful to our vows and we are going to do whatever it takes to work it out.” If you’re here this morning and your marriage is in the ditch—you’ve had a head-on collision and it needs to be rescued, it needs to be pulled out by a wrecker—the first thing you have got to do is get on the same page and say, “ I don’t understand it now. I don’t see it now, but under God and somehow in His providence, He called us to be married. And by Him and by His strength, we are going to do whatever it takes to work it out.” Now what does that look like? What do you need to do, to do whatever it takes?
The first thing you need to do is this: You need to get help now. Find a Christian counselor, a Christian pastor, someone on staff. Do something. Get outside help now if you’re relationship is in the ditch and in the weeds and stuck in the mud. Get help immediately. Don’t wait. We have plenty of helps here in this church family. You could start by surrounding yourself with other couples who believe in the sanctity and the holiness of marriage. Couples that believe marriage is this life-long commitment to unconditionally love an imperfect person. Get involved in one of our medium-sized Bible study classes on Sunday morning. What else can you do? You can go to one of our Intimate Encounters classes and listen to couples who have survived a worse wreck than yours.
But whatever you do, get help now. Stop listening to biased family and friends at work who are not really concerned about you but are simply listening to you and saying, “Oh, yeah you’re really the one who’s had it hard in the relationship, and they are the one to blame. You need to divorce and go out there and play the field again. Stop listening to this bogus and no-good psychobabble advice, which may feel good for a moment, but 10-20 years from now when you’re wondering, “What happened to my marriage? What happened to my kids?” and you’re all alone, you will regret listening to that unwise, unbiblical counsel. Start listening to wise counsel. Surround yourself with people who will speak truth into your life—who are concerned about helping you in this process of making your marriage work out. Get help, now. That is the first thing you have to do.
The second thing you have to do is this: You’ve got to get radical now. Get radical now. Here is what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew Chapter 5, Verse 29. He’s talking about lust, but we’re going to apply it to marriage. He says, “If your right eye makes you stumble tear it out and throw it from you, for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble cut it off and throw it from you, for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for your whole body to go into hell.” What is Jesus saying? Is He talking about self mutilation, which is actually taking out a pocket knife or taking out a chain saw and chopping off our arm or plucking out our eye? No. He is saying, “If you’re going to deal with major problems in your life and you have a major sin issue, you have to take drastic measures to deal with it. If your marriage is the ditch, if you are stuck deeply in the mud and you know it, you have got to take radical steps, to deal with it.”
I know of a guy in town who was very successful in his career; he was making a lot of money. He was spending a lot of time at work. And he realized that he couldn’t continue to do this. He couldn’t continue to go down this track. He couldn’t continue to climb the ladder. He couldn’t continue to make the big bucks and to work all this time and still have a wife and kids who love him. So what did he do? He dropped back on second down and punted. And he changed his career. He changed his lifestyle. He walked away from it. He said, “My marriage, my family, is more valuable than the prestige and the power and the perks that come from all the money and all the stuff that I am making right now.” He got radical.
Some of you need to get radical right now. That may mean you need to change your job. That may mean that you need to change your lifestyle and scale down. That may mean that you need to move to a different city or a smaller town. But you have got to get radical. You have got to run into your relationship, your marriage, that is on fire (like that apartment building) and do whatever it takes to rescue that relationship. You’ve got to get help now. You have to get radical now.
And the third thing that some of you need to do is that you need to get dating now. I mean, some people here say, “Well Ben, you’re not talking to me. Our relationship is not in the ditch. Our relationship is not in the mud. I don’t need to call a wrecker up. Who knows what we’ll have to pay them, right?” which is amazing. You know, we’ll spend 20 – 50 thousand dollars on a wedding, but if you crowbar $200 out of your pocket for counseling, you say, “Well, we’re doing everything we can to save our marriage.” How ludicrous!
So you say, “I want to save my marriage, but I’m not in this bad of a situation.” Maybe you simply have a flat tire, okay. You have a flat tire. You hear it…proom, proom, proom, proom, proom. And you know that something is wrong, but you kind of go along to get along. What do you need to do? Well, one thing you need to do is to get dating now. The problem with a lot of couples is that they messed up before they got married. Many couples have really never taken time to get to know their spouse because when they were dating, primarily all they did was have sex. And once they got married, they never took the time to build that bond and build that friendship. Now, you may be in that worse situation. You say, “I don’t want to even go out with that person.” Go out with your mate even if you don’t even like them right now. Do the things that you did 5, 10, 15 years ago to attract them in the first place. Start dating your mate.
Make a commitment: “We’re going to go out twice a month. Every other week we’re going to have a special date.” If you can’t go out, you can’t afford it, then just have a date inside your house or have a date inside your apartment. Put the kids to bed early, if you have children. Do what it takes to romance your mate and to keep those fires burning, to keep those lines of communication burning, and to keep that friendship growing and developing. Many of you need to get together and start day timing and plan out some dates. Get dating now.
The fourth thing you need to do, if you’re going to go all out and do whatever it takes, is that you need to get praying. You need to get praying now. I know of a couple who lives in a different state, and year after year after year the wife endured a horrendous marriage. Her husband was verbally abusive. He abused alcohol. I mean, he cursed. He was a horrible, horrible husband in so many ways. For many years she endured that, until one day somehow someway this man, this very hard man, came to know Jesus Christ. And his heart was softened. They were separated at one time, but they got back together, and even though he had come to know Christ and even though his life was changed, there were still years of bitterness and years of resentment. So what they started to do is that they started to get together every day to read scripture and to pray. And day after day after day after day, they did that. As weeks rolled into months and months into years, eventually the power of God and the power of His Spirit began to melt their cold hearts.
You’ve got to start praying together now. Maybe you’ve never prayed out loud before in your life; just pray. Grab the hand of your mate and say, “Dear God, in Jesus’s name, help us.” “Dear God, in Jesus’s name, help us, strengthen us, power us, guide us; we need you.” There is an amazing power to praying because when we are praying we are looking to God who is outside of us to come in and invade our home and to invade our world with His healing power and His healing touch.
Are you willing? And I know that you are. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to rescue your marriage?
Perhaps you read about that incredible story that happened last week in Utah. A guy by the name of Aaron Ralston was out hiking. He was an experienced, avid outdoorsman, and he was hiking on Saturday, and he was up in this canyon. He was doing something called “canyoneering,” which is way out there in the extreme. He was up on a crevice, and somehow someway he got wedged under a boulder, and this big 1000-pound boulder was on his right arm. He was there Saturday, and he was trying to get it out and he couldn’t. So he began to think, “How can I get out of this mess?” He had two burritos and some water. The water ran out on Tuesday. And on Thursday, Aaron realized, “I have got to do something extremely radical. I’ve got to take radical action if I’m going to save my life, or I’m going to die in this crevice, in this canyon, in this desolate place.” So he took out a dull pocket knife, and he cut off his arm from the elbow down. And after he cut off his arm, he took his bike shorts there to kind of block the blood. He then rappelled 60 feet down to the canyon floor one handed and walked 6 miles until he saw another couple there who was hiking. They were a couple from Holland, and they helped him. He was rescued and put in the hospital, and he is going to be okay today. During the interview they asked him, “How did you do that? How in the world did you muster up the courage to cut through tendon, muscle, and bone—to cut off your own arm—to save your life and then rappel and then walk? How did you do that?” He said, “I don’t know. But I know that there was a presence outside of me, that is much greater than me, that strengthened me that day.” So, he made it. Aaron was willing to do whatever it took to save his life.
Are you willing to do whatever it takes to rescue and to save your marriage? It’s worth it.
I think of a couple that was a part of our church years ago and they live in a different city now. They were Ken and Barbie, and they got married and everything was great, but they were both self-centered pigs, like we all are, and so boom, boom. These pigs butted heads and fought in the slop, and they got separated; they got divorced. They were doing their own thing, living the life, until, boom, God got a hold of the guy’s life. The lady was living, walking with the Lord and boom, they got back together and somehow, someway they were remarried. They now live in another city. They’ve been married probably some 15 – 18+ years, and God has tremendously, tremendously blessed their life and their commitment to one another.
I want to give you hope today—hope today that there is a God who lives outside of you. There is a God that can invade your life and invade your marriage and give you that power and that strength to do whatever it takes to rescue your marriage. It’s worth it. Way, way worth it.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]