When my wife, Carol, and I first got married, I had little to no idea of what we were getting into. We fell in love at the ripe young ages of 18 & 17 and after 4½ years together, we tied the knot. We had some pre-marital counseling with our pastor and read a book about sex, but I was still ill-prepared for what was ahead.

By the time we were married, I knew that I was called to be a pastor and I was excited to work toward that end, but I had no idea that the pace I was running was slowly leaving her further and further behind.

To add to the problem, we had not cultivated a healthy marriage. Yes, we loved Jesus, but instead of making Jesus the center of our relationship, it became quite obvious that my needs and church ministry took priority. I slowly became overbearing and demanding, and our marriage began to break.

While most from the outside would have said we had a picturesque marriage, the tension from my mismanaged priorities started to take their toll on Carol. She was placed in an unfair position, made to feel guilty for wanting more time with God and with me, while I pushed “the work” of the church forward.

By the time we were 25, we were youth pastors and the ministry began to grow. We saw over a hundred students on Wednesday nights and it was growing every week. In my excitement for what was happening, I continued to push, and this included my wife. She led worship for us and I was often critical, always wanting more. Honestly, I don’t think anyone could have pleased me. I had gotten so ministry centric that my relationship with God and others began to suffer.

In the midst of all of this, our church’s leadership was not healthy, and I decided to make the unilateral decision to resign one day- I never even consulted Carol. Looking back, this was the first real fracture within our marriage.

Gary Thomas, in his book, Sacred Marriage, submits that marriage is more for the purpose of making us holy than it is to make us happy. It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive or diametrically opposed to each other, but his thesis is that everything, including marriage, is meant to draw us closer to God. I personally agree with that statement.

In fact, when we are close to God, every relationship we have will be healthier, including our marriage, and a healthy marriage produces the greatest and truest joy.

Here’s why building a marriage on closeness to God is so important. The intoxication of a relationship and even the happiness of a marriage are fleeting. I don’t mean this in the sense that they are bad, but that they do not always exist. There will be days when you feel happy with your spouse and others when they get on your nerves. Feelings are not bad, but they are not everything. If our marriage is built primarily on our feelings, then everything shatters when they can’t or don’t meet our needs.

However, a marriage that prioritizes God first has the elasticity to stretch and bounce back like a rubber band. It understands the power of serving the other and the importance of dying to self. In essence, this type of marriage can have emotional ups and downs, but still be strong and lead us closer to Jesus.

TIPS FOR PRIORITIZING JESUS

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, or even to be a list that you feel burdened with. Rather, this is to be a guide to help you create a God-centric marriage that begins with you.

1. DON’T WAIT FOR YOUR SPOUSE

One of the things I love about the Bible is that you see someone step out in faith and then the miracle happens. In fact, that’s what makes it miraculous.

When we wait to love or take action until our spouse is worthy, we rob ourselves of an opportunity to live for Jesus. Maturity is the understanding that what you are doing is first and foremost for God. If God is our emphasis, then your spouse is simply the recipient of your faithfulness to God.

When you decide to take the lead and live more like Jesus, you will discover that the people around you become stronger. This is also true within the context of marriage. When you take the lead, then there is a better chance that your spouse will follow. It’s not why we do it, but it’s the added benefit and blessing that comes when we decide to live out our faith.

2. KEEP CHRIST FIRST

While most of this post is dedicated to this idea, I simply want to reiterate the importance of intentionally putting Christ first in your life.

Matthew 6:33 says, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

When Christ is first, He is the domino that allows everything else to fall into place. When Jesus takes a back seat, problems begin to arise. In fact, Jesus went on to say in verse 34, “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

The key to peace and finding freedom from anxiety and worry is found in putting Jesus first, even before your spouse. If you’ve been saying that you can’t do it, you’re partially correct, because only Christ in you gives you the power. When we put God first, we now have the capacity to properly love our husband or wife.

3. TEMPER YOUR EXPECTATIONS

When I was younger, I had unrealistic expectations of Carol. It wasn’t fair, but the simple truth is that we often place unsaid expectations upon those we love.

I expected Carol be her best at church and home, even though we were out five or six nights a week with friends. In turn, she expected me to realize that it was too much for her. Truthfully, I should have picked up on the cues, but I didn’t. As a result, we both ended up frustrated with one another.

Unmet expectations are the number one source of frustration in life and marriage.

When we expect our spouse to meet our every need, we are setting them up to fail. We end up idolizing them initially, but the moment they fall off the pedestal, we demonize them.

I’ve said for years that we judge ourselves based on our intentions, but we judge others by their actions. This is why we need Jesus in our life, because He allows us to live with grace and forgiveness, both of which He has to dole out to us many times over.

The ultimate goal of your marriage isn’t for your spouse to make you feel loved, but it’s to help you grow closer to Jesus. It’s certainly counter-cultural, but it doesn’t make it less true. Feeling loved is necessary, but only Jesus can do this perfectly. We fail each other, not because we always want to, but because we are sinners, so give your husband or your wife a break next time.

If you’re going to have wild expectations, let those be placed upon God, because He alone is always faithful to meet your needs.

Carol and I have now been married for 17 years, and I’m still learning, still growing and still stretching. The biggest difference today is that I’m trying to daily draw closer to Jesus. As I do, I become a better husband, father and friend.

Chances are, you’re like me. Imperfect. We all fail and fall, but know that God is with you and wants the best for your life. Know that you can have a marriage that makes you more like Jesus, and as it does, that God will give you a greater capacity to love than ever before.