"What if marriage was about more than just staying together?"

Gary Thomas, speaker and bestselling author of A Lifelong Love, is challenging married couples to change how they think about their marriage. In an interview with Focus on the Family Canada, he explains why this topic is so important to him and how couples can shift their understanding of marriage – seeing it less as a means of satisfying their own desires and more as an act of worship.

What made you want to talk to couples about this topic?

Gary Thomas: I believe marriage is about more than just sticking it out together; it’s about building a life of intimacy. And intimacy is best served between two people as part of a worshipful experience before God. In the book A Lifelong Love and in this tour I’m trying to help couples recognize and practice the spiritual principles that will connect their faith and their marriage, enriching their marriage and helping them achieve that lifelong love.

What can couples do to prepare for and deal with the change in expectation from seeing your spouse as your fulfillment to seeing your spouse as a partner in worship?

GT: Ask yourselves a few questions: Am I asking more of my marriage than God designed it to give? Am I asking my spouse to be more to me than God designed him/her to be? Am I seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (as Jesus tells us to in Matthew 6:33) or am I trying to make my life feel fulfilling while living for a lesser aim (and blaming my spouse when it doesn’t work)?

What is it about this call that’s so crucial for Christian couples?

GT: Small lives can’t build big marriages. We suffocate our marriage when we ask too much of it.

When my marriage is based on worship, growing together in intimacy, growing in Christlikeness, and learning how to love, the marriage will grow. When it’s based on trying to maintain past feelings and convince someone to put me first above all else in their life, it will fade. It should be obvious that two selfish people, expecting someone else to meet their needs, will ultimately be miserable. They can’t both be satisfied.

What would you say to someone who really wants to take a step forward in their marriage, but whose spouse doesn’t want to or doesn’t see the need?

GT: If I take seriously Jesus’ call to seek first the Kingdom of God, I can do that whether my spouse is my partner helping me along or my spouse is part of the outreach. Jesus lived a supremely obedient life while working next to apathetic people, immature people and unbelieving people. We can do the same. Since my wife is my travelling partner rather than my "destination," she can make life feel or seem easier or more difficult, but she doesn’t define my life (or even my goal).

How does someone get past that feeling of hopelessness and transform their marriage into what you’re talking about?

GT: Let God be your primary partner in marriage. Zechariah 8:6 says, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts?" Whether you’re loving a person who is cooperating with God or one who is resisting God, you can still do it with God as an act of worship of God. The beautiful thing about living for God is that He becomes our ally, our source of strength, our friend and our confidant. Working like this with Him can build increased spiritual intimacy with God even as you struggle for increased intimacy with your spouse.

What do you want couples to learn from this tour that they won’t learn anywhere else?

GT: If we look at our marriage like a car, our faith isn’t the "coat of paint" on the car, it’s the engine that drives the car. Too often, the only way our marriage and faith intersects is in a desperate prayer to God after everything else seems to have failed. But connecting our marriage and faith appropriately changes the way we think about marriage, what we expect out of marriage and how we respond to each other within our marriage. This is the spiritual foundation that allows the "how to" principles talked about in other seminars to work. If you lose the heart to apply the "how to" principles, knowing them won’t do you much good. This seminar seeks to make us care about getting closer to God and each other to create a lifelong love.

If a couple could walk away with one thing from your tour – and your book – what would it be?

GT: A good marriage isn’t something you find; it’s something you make. And with God in the equation, you can keep remaking your marriage even after years of distance or failure. He can take a good marriage and make it great, or a distant marriage and make it ever closer.

Gary Thomas is a speaker and bestselling author A Lifelong Love and Sacred Marriage.

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

Amy Van Veen is editorial manager at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2016 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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