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40 Lessons From 48 Years of Marriage and Family (Part One)

By Dennis Rainey

Forty-eight years ago I married Barbara Ann Peterson. Looking back now on the first 12 months of our marriage, I’d have to describe my newlywed self as a “Rookie”—repeatedly failing to appreciate the dignity of the gifted woman, friend, partner, lover, and confidant God had brought me.

But after six children, 26 grandchildren, and approaching five decades of married life, I’ve learned more than a “few” things. This week I’m listing half of the critical lessons I’ve learned about marriage over the years, and next week I’ll pass on 20 more. Some of these lessons I’ve really learned while others I am VERY much still learning.

I’m glad Barbara and God are patient with me.

Here’s my first 20.

1. Marriage and family are about the glory of God.

Genesis 1:27 makes it clear: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” From the beginning, marriage has been central to God’s glory on planet Earth. The Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage. What God designed, lifted up, and gave a transcendent purpose, man has dumbed down.

Today the purpose of marriage is often mistaken to be personal happiness - to find another person who meets my needs. God created marriage to reflect His image, to reproduce a godly heritage, and to stand together in spiritual battle. Your marriage, your covenant-keeping love, will be your greatest witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Marriage is about the glory of God—not about the happiness of man.

Featured podcast episode: A Promise Kept (Part 1) - Robertson McQuilkin

2. Marriage takes place on a spiritual battlefield, not on a romantic balcony.

Satan’s first attack on the image of God was to destroy the image-bearers’ relationship with Him. Then Satan went after Adam and Eve and their relationship with one another. If he targeted marriage from the start, why would we think our marriages would be any different?

I think we often forget that our marriages—our families—can be targeted by the enemy to destroy the image-bearers—to destroy the legacy passed on to future generations.

3. Jesus Christ came to forgive our sins and give us peace with God and one another.

We can never experience peace (oneness) in marriage as God intended if we are not at peace with God personally. The problem is we are born selfish and sinful. We need the Savior. This is why God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins and be our Lord and Savior. Jesus bridges the gap between God and man.

The familiar passage John 3:16 spells it out, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The gift of eternal life and peace with God can be received and experienced if we place our faith in Jesus and His payment for our sins. The bible refers to this as the “new birth”… Jesus said, “You must be born again.” John 3:1-8

This is the great hope for our marriages, that two selfish, sinful, and broken people can surrender to Christ and receive God’s forgiveness. Only having experienced His love and forgiveness can we truly love and forgive our spouse.

4. Your spouse is not your enemy.

Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood.

The Scriptures explain that your spouse is not your enemy. Instead, your spouse is a gift from God to you. In all of your spouse’s strengths and imperfections, God has given you a gift. You can either receive it by faith, or you can reject it.

Your spouse is NOT your enemy.

5. The couple that prays together stays together.

In the first months of my marriage, I went to a mentor and asked, “You’ve been married 25 years. You’ve got five kids. What’s the best single piece of advice you can give me as a young man who’s just starting his marriage?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “Pray with your wife every day.”

I said: “That’s it? Pray with your wife?”

“That’s it.”

So I went home and Barbara and I started praying together. This worked really well for a couple of months … until the night we went to bed facing opposite walls. Although it wasn’t the most comfortable position physically, it expressed where we were spiritually and emotionally.

There seemed to be a tap on my shoulder that night and it wasn’t Barbara. God was speaking to me in my conscience. He said: “Hey, Rainey! Aren’t you going to pray with her tonight?”

I said, “I don’t like her tonight!”

He said, “Yes, but you made the commitment to pray every day with your wife.”

I replied, “But God, you know that in this situation she is 90 percent wrong!”

God said, “Yes, but it was your 10 percent that caused her to be 90 percent wrong.”

I wanted to roll over and say, “Sweetheart, will you forgive me for being 10 percent wrong?” But after the words got caught in my throat, I simply said, “Will you forgive me?”

Barbara and I are both strong-willed, stubborn, rebellious people. But we’ve been transformed by praying together. Now we are two strong-willed people who bow their wills before Almighty God on a daily basis and invite Him into our presence.

Praying with your spouse will change the course of your life, marriage, family and legacy.

6. Isolation is a subtle killer of relationships.

Genesis 2:24 gives us a prescription from Scripture: Leave, cleave, and become one. The enemy of our souls does not want a husband and wife to be one. Instead, he wants to divide us.

In John 17, Jesus prayed for the church to be one. He knew that we can be convinced of anything in isolation.

Isolation kills relationships.

7. It’s easier for two broken people to build a marriage and family from the same set of biblical blueprints.

What would a physical house look like if you had two different architects, two different builders, and two different sets of blueprints? You’d get some pretty funny-looking houses wouldn’t you? The same will happen in your marriage if you and your spouse are building your relationship and family from different plans.

If you want to get the same biblical blueprints for marriage, Barbara and I would encourage you to go to Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. It’s the best marriage insurance you could ever buy.

8. It is healthy to confess your sins to your spouse.

James 5:16 reminds us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

If you want a healthy marriage, develop a relationship where your spouse has access to the interior of your soul. Are you struggling with a specific temptation? Multiple times I’ve asked Barbara, “Will you pray for me? I’m struggling with _____________.”

Maybe you’re struggling with a bad attitude … you need to forgive a person … toying with someth