This is Happily Ever After?
April 27, 2003
I think it’s genetic. My dad has a bad sense of direction; my brothers have a bad sense of direction; I’ve got it—it’s somehow in our DNA. And inevitably when I’m trying to find some place in Texas or some small town where there is a retreat or perhaps a friend’s farm, I’ll get lost. It just happens to me all the time. It’s happened my entire life.
So I’ll have to pull over to the side of the road, and maybe I’ll see someone. Or I’ll pull into a gas station, and a guy will kind of lumber up to my car. And he’s got his faded wranglers on and his John Deere hat, a piece of tobacco about as big as my fist in his lip. And I roll down the window, and he says, “How are ya’ll doing?” “Man, we’re doing good, but I think I’m a little lost. I’m trying to get to Luckenbach, and I don’t seem to be getting there.” Then he’ll look at me, and he’ll say, “Buddy, you’re on the wrong road,” which translated means, “You stupid, ignorant city slicker, can’t you get anything right?” And so then he’ll spiel out the directions, and I’ll roll the window up in my car, peel off, and try to find my way and get in the right direction.
Now there’s something humiliating and embarrassing, isn’t there, about being on the wrong road? So, on one hand, it’s embarrassing, and to have to go and ask for help (especially for a male), it’s a very difficult thing to do. So there’s a humiliation factor there on one hand, and on the other hand, there’s a lot of peace as well. Now, I know why I wasn’t making it to my destination; I was on the wrong stinking road. I’m not going to get there that way.
Now as I survey the relationship scene in our society today, as I look at singles who are dating, and as I look at married couples, so many are saying, “I want to be on that road—the road to happily ever after. I want to find my soul mate,” or, “I want to make my marriage really work, and I want to find happiness in marriage.” But so many singles and so many couples, unbeknownst to them, are on the wrong road. So instead of relational happiness and fulfillment in our culture, what we see is one wreck after another. One relationship, one marriage, in the ditch and one in need of total repair.
We all know the stats, and they are real. Half of all first marriages in our country crash, ending in divorce. Sixty percent of second marriages crash, ending in divorce. Eighty-two percent of blended marriages crash, ending in divorce. And I’m sure all those millions of couples desired to be on that road to happily ever after, but for some reason, obviously, they were on the wrong road.
So how do you get on the right road? What does this right road to happily ever after look like? That’s what we are going to study in the following weeks, as we begin this brand new series today called Marriage Map. So I hope that you make it a priority to be here every Sunday to hear God’s map and God’s directions for relational happiness.
Now, if you’re here and you are single, you are probably saying, “Hey, how does this apply to me? I’m not married yet.” Listen, this series may be more for you guys than it is for married couples because you need to know what life is like on the other side of the altar. Maybe you grew up in a home where your parents were divorced and you’re making that inner vow: “I will never do it that way; my relationship will be different.” Well, you’ve got to have some tools. You’ve got to know what is going to happen on the other side of the ring—on the other side of the altar. So everyone is going to be involved in the process of this series, and we’re going to talk about a lot of specific issues.
I’ve been talking to married couples and folks and asking them what they would like to see in a series on marriage, and here’s what most of them said: “Well, you need to talk about money, you need to talk about sex, you need to talk about communication, you need to talk about parenting—all these things.” We’re going to look at some specific issues in the days ahead, but this morning we have got to lay a foundation.
Really what we need is a radical paradigm shift in the way that we look at relationships and the way we look at our particular relational status, whether we are single or whether we are married.
If you have your Bibles, open them up to I Peter. I Peter, Chapter 1, Verse 15, and what I’m going to try to do today is to describe for you the road to happily ever after. What does that road look like? I Peter Chapter 1, Verse 15 says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” Try to describe this road to relational happiness and fulfillment. First of all, it’s a holy road.
Working as a pastor, I have many people ask me questions all the time. One of the most frequently asked questions—if I had a FAQ on my website—I’d say it would be this: “What’s God will for my life?” which translated means, “Should I take this job or this next job? Should I stay with this person or should I break up with them?” It’s really much more about personal guidance than it is about God’s will.
Listen, this is God’s will for your life and for my life. It’s very simple yet very complex. God’s will for you and God’s will for me is to make us holy. God’s will for your life as a single and God’s will for your life as a married couple is simply to make you more like Jesus. That’s what the word sanctification is all about. When we come to know Christ, we make a decision to follow him. We receive his forgiveness; we receive his grace. That decision is followed by a process known as sanctification. It’s the walk of holiness.
So this road to happily ever after, whether you’re single or married, is, first of all, a holy road. That means that God is going to use the stressors and the struggles, the highs and lows of singleness, the stressors and the struggles, the highs and lows of married life to conform you and to mold you and to make you more like his son Jesus Christ.
You see we’ve bought into this psycho-babble Maslow hierarchy of needs model that life and especially marriage is all about me, me, me, me, me and it’s all about me getting my needs met; it’s all about me getting the unconditional love that my parents’ never gave me growing up; it’s all about that. So it’s no wonder marriages are crashing around us all over the place because everybody has a wrong view of it. God’s view, God’s road to happiness, is the road of holiness.
I like what Gary Thomas said: “What if God’s real purpose in marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy?” Now, I don’t believe that happiness and holiness are mutually exclusive, but I do know that if you seek happiness directly you will never find it.
Having a holy relationship with God, embracing your particular relational station in life, and seeing it as a means by which God is making you more holy—that will produce a more fruitful life of happiness.
So this road to happily ever after is, first of all, the road of holiness. So what we need to do right off the bat as we begin this new study is we need to have our entire view of marriage as a life change, and we need to put on some lenses, some glasses. So that’s going to affect the way we see our mate. That’s going to affect the way we see our lives. And we’re going to see it as: God’s design for my life right now to conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. Do you see that?
God’s going to use the relational context of your life to make you more like Christ. What does the road look like? First of all it’s a holy road. Second of all, Ephesians, Chapter 5, Verse 25 tells us something else about this road. Chapter 5, Verse 25 of Ephesians says, “Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Guys, if you can take that one verse home today and gnaw on it, chew it up, meditate on it, and live it out, then guess what? You can go play golf for the following seven Sundays. Go jog around the park, go do what you want to do. If you can figure that one out and digest it and live it out, then you are there.
This road is not only a holy road, but according to God’s word, this road to happily ever after is a sacrificial road. Jesus Christ laid down his life literally for you, for the church. He gave himself up on the cross, and he calls us in our relationships to give ourselves up for other people. Just as Christ laid his life down for the church, guys, you are to lay down your lives and learn how to sacrificially live for your mate. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about learning how to die to our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and to live for someone else. That’s what marital love is all about, and so many times we miss it. We miss what God has in store for us there.
I love what my friend says, who is a Christian psychologist. He says, “You can’t grow in your marriage until you realize how utterly horrible it would be to be married to someone like you.” You see, the problem with relationships, whether dating relationships or marriage, is that we are all geniuses, right? And we’re all psychic wonders at pointing out the faults of other people while living in incredible denial about our own lives, right? I mean, you see this on the news all the time: You have some guy from upstate New York or some place, and he’s murdered 45 people, and they interview his mom, who says: “He’s always been a sweet boy. I don’t believe he did it.” You know we live in denial about our own faults and the faults of people around us.
So marriage…really life, the Christian life, is all about laying down your life for other people. It’s about dying to your selfishness; it’s about stopping the finger pointing at others faults and allowing God to point his finger at you. To quote one of my kid’s little songs, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of change.”
So as we’ll see this marriage map, as we see God’s plan, we’ll see a plan of living for others, we’ll see a plan of holiness, a plan of sacrifice, a plan of laying down our lives. You see, we’ve bought into this notion, once again, that love and relationships—just go look at the subtitles of all the books at Barnes and Noble on relationships: How to Get the Love You Deserve, How to Get the Most Out of Your Life, How to Get the Best Sex…all that stuff. Get, get, get, get, get, everything I can get. Will you get great blessings from a relationship, will you get blessings and peace and joy and happiness and pleasure from a marriage, if you do it God’s way? Sure you will, but it’s primarily about giving. It’s not about getting it’s about giving.
The only thing we need to get is this: today we need to get down on our knees and pray and say, “Dear Lord God, don’t change my spouse, don’t change my mate. God, change me, change my heart, change my attitude. God help me to roll up my sleeves and become a sacrificial lover.” And it starts with you guys. It starts with me. “Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved the church.”
Remember, Romans Chapter 8, Verse 11—God’s resurrection power, living in you. I can’t get over that verse either. That’s a great challenge and a great blessing and opportunity God gives us to reflect His love to the church, to reflect that love, though imperfectly, to our mates.
The road to happily ever after is a holy road, it’s a sacrificial road, and also it is a persevering road. How does Christ love the church? Romans Chapter 5 tells us this: When you and I are at our very worst, God through Christ was at His very best. When we didn’t get it, when we were clueless, when we were helpless, when we were riding full speed on the Highway to Hell, Jesus Christ died for you and died for me. What kind of love does God through Christ have for us? It is a covenant love. We are able to love other people because why? I John tells us, “God chose first to love us.” We respond to His love. God loved us and chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.
So God’s love for us is a persevering love. It’s a love that’s not so much emotional, though there is emotion, not so much passion, but there is passion; it is a love based upon a commitment of His will to our very best interest. God is committed to us, and when we trust in Christ, He is committed to us no matter what. For life.
Though you and I mess up so many, many times that we have biggy sins that we’re dealing with and little tiny sins that we think don’t really matter that we’re dealing with, God, when we walk in a relationship with Him, still loves us and pursues us. Isn’t that great? It’s the grace of God, and it’s His commitment love for us.
Marriage is all about this commitment kind of love. How would I sum marriage up in one word? Simple—commitment. Marriage is a life-long commitment to unconditionally love an imperfect person for the rest of your life. That’s what it is. A life-long commitment to unconditionally love an imperfect person for the rest of your life. That’s what it’s all about.
I used to do a lot of pre-marital counseling, and this is one thing I would tell couples. I’d say, “Listen, if you want your marriage to really work, if want to have a marriage that is really a great experience—life and the happily ever after—then do this: stay faithful to your wedding vows. “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and the cherish until….I’m not getting my needs met do we part”? No. “…until I just don’t feel in love anymore,” or, “I’ve fallen out of love do we part”? No. Until what? “Until death do we part.” “I love you, my sweetheart. I love you for life, and I am with you no matter what happens.” That’s what marriage is.
I had to think of the guy who cuts my hair, my barber Danny. When I asked Danny, “Why are you not married?” Danny’s from Vietnam, and he says, “I’m not married because in my country married means married. Not like you over here.” It’s sad, isn’t it, when it takes a Buddhist from Vietnam to define what marriage is in a supposedly once-Christian culture?
Marriage. The road to happily ever after. It’s a road based upon commitment; it’s a persevering road. Marriage, man…it’s like going through the year—not in Houston, but in a place where you have seasons. I mean, you have seasons in marriage. You have winters, you have springs and summers and fall and all kinds of growth and times of laughter and heartache. And when you stand before the minister, and when you stand before your family and friends, and you’re dressed up in the beautiful white dress and long train, and you’re wearing this rented tux (guys, nobody really cares about how you look, but that’s a whole other story); when you’re doing this you are making a sacred vow before God to love to stay committed for life.
Now, there are really a lot of pragmatic reasons as to why you need to stay committed to your spouse for life. Number one is, if you divorce you will shatter your heart and shatter her heart as well. So it’s a good enough reason to stay in the marriage—for the love and compassion you have for your mate.
Second of all, it’s a good enough reason to stay in your marriage for your children. We all know and many of us have experienced that divorce can have devastating consequences on the lives of children. That’s a fact. Your kids are a big enough reason to stay in the marriage. But do you know the overriding reason, the most compelling reason for those of us who are married to stay married and to show this kind of love to our spouse? It’s because our marriages—get this—our marriages reflect the love and commitment that Christ has for the church. After Paul goes and talks about many specifics in marriage, then in Ephesians Chapter 5, Verse 32, he says [Ben paraphrases]: “By the way, this mystery is great because when I talk about this men and women loving each other—laying down life, submitting to husbands—what I’m really talking to you about is Christ and the church.”
So here’s the deal: When we are following God’s road to happily ever after—which is a road of holiness, a road of sacrifice, a road of perseverance—and staying committed and loving like Christ, then we are showing to the all the watching world, who are looking at your life and looking at my marriage: This is what Christ’s love for the church is like; this is what God’s commitment love is like for you and for me, though we miss it, though we blow it, though we’re imperfect. He stays committed to us, and so that is the primary motive. It’s not only love and passion that keeps us together. It’s not only the fact that you are with your soul mate; it is the fact that we are called by God to be a reflection, though an imperfect reflection, of His commitment to us (that’s the church).
This road, this journey to happily ever after, it’s all about commitment and persevering. It’s all about sacrifice. It’s all about God making us holy in this process, but also—this is great, watch this—Galatians Chapter 5, Verse 16 gives us this last description of the road: “So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Verse 22: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
How can we have a relationship with God? How can we have a marriage; how can we live the single life and be doing all these things unless God’s supernatural power, His Spirit, is living inside of us? And when His Spirit is living inside of us and we’re walking in God’s way, then guess what? This road is a joyful, joyful road. Do you see that? I don’t want you leaving here today and thinking, “My goodness! Man, marriage is really tough. I’ve got to get out my work belt and my yellow hard hat, and I’ve got to go work on my marriage.” No. Man, you’re missing it. I love married life. I love my wife. We have a wonderful relationship, a wonderful friendship, and we laugh a lot, and we cry, and we play, and we encourage one another as friends, and there is joy there, and that’s the joy that God gives us when we love like He loves.
That’s the joy God gives us by living a life and having a relationship that is truly filled with God’s Spirit. That’s the by-product. That’s where the happiness kicks in. That’s where the joy kicks in. It’s when we’re doing it God’s way—we’re loving His way, we’re committed His way, and we’re encouraging and laughing his way. There is joy there.
In the following weeks to come we have a lot of ground to cover, but this morning we have got to understand the basics and foundation of what this road is like. You see, a lot of us have a lot of whacked out, crazy expectations of relationships and of marriage, and those need to be taken away and replaced with God’s lenses—His view of what marriage is all about. Because God is either the Creator and Designer of marriage or God isn’t. Either He’s there or He’s not. Either He has spoken or He has not spoken, and if He has spoken he had given us a map of how to have a marriage that is full of joy. And for those who are hurting and it’s tough and you find your marriage in the ditch, He has words about how to pull us out of the ditch. It’s all in his map.
We’ll look at the details in the days and weeks to come, but for now I want you to take home this one key, and that is, as you look at this new paradigm and you look at God’s call on your life, for husbands to love your wives in this way and wives to love your husbands, remember this one word: obedience. Obedience is the key that unlocks the door to understanding. Maybe you’re single, and you say, “God I don’t know why I’m single right now. I want to be married; it is a desire of my heart.” Obedience will unlock the key to understanding. Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s in the ditch, that’s in the weeds, you’re stuck in the mud, your tires are spinning…maybe you feel like you’ve had a minor collision, and you’re saying, “God, what is going on in my marriage right know? Listen, obedience unlocks the key to understanding.
You see, so many times you think, “I have got to understand what’s going on first before I can obey and do these things that we have talked about this morning.” No, we obey first; we simply follow God, though we don’t understand it fully. That’s called faith. And then understanding and then emotions follow.
“So what do I do? Where do I start?” Start where you are. Start obeying God now. Start by asking Him to give you a new paradigm of what marriage is all about. It’s much more about holiness than it is about happiness. Start by saying, “God, change me.” Start, guys, by loving your wife as Christ loved the church. Start sacrificially serving her and loving her. Singles, start sacrificially loving others around you. Start seeing your life as a means to an end of the way God is making you more like his son Jesus Christ, and do what God is telling you to do. Obedience first, understanding comes second. It’s not the other way around.
I saw a glimpse of this road to happily ever after a while back. I was on vacation, and I was having lunch with a couple from California after church. I had never met this couple before, and they were in their 70s, and I bet they had been married 40 or 50 years, and it was great. The gentleman there had such a smile and joy about him, and he brought his wife to the table, but his wife was really sick. I don’t know what she had, but she was in a wheelchair, obviously couldn’t walk. And we had a great conversation, and as we’re talking I realized that she couldn’t feed herself either, so her husband would cut up her meat or chicken and feed it to her. He would pick up the fork and feed her some rice. When she was thirsty he would give her some iced tea, and she would drink. And the whole time he was just smiling and carrying on a dialogue with us, having a conversation at the same time he was serving and loving his wife. And not once did this guy ever give a disclaimer or apologize for her condition; he just kept smiling and enjoying her presence and enjoying loving her.
That brief luncheon encounter had a tremendous impact on my life, and I said: “That is happily ever after; that is true and lasting love; that is what I want. That’s a couple that has learned what that road of holiness and sacrifice and perseverance and joy is all about.
Isn’t it time that you got on that road, the right road to happily ever after?
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]