Sunday School teacher. Children's choir leader. Crisis Pregnancy volunteer. Rescue Mission board member. Prayer group leader. Ladies' Bible Study on Tuesdays. Bible Study Fellowship. Praise team.
Sound like good things to be involved in, right? Well, yes and no.
Each of the above activities has tremendous potential to further God's kingdom, but if pursued at the expense of one's marriage, they can be deadly. Few of us stop to think how Satan can use even godly things to deceive us and get us off track at times. I (Chuck) have counseled believers who have crippled or destroyed their marital relationships because they were TOO heavily involved at church. Some have even been swept away in extramarital affairs because somewhere along the way they crossed the line of just being "brother and sister" in Christ to being "something more." Needy people with no boundaries, guidelines, or priorities, caught off-guard.
"But you just don't understand. He actually listens to me. My husband never does that. How can something that feels so right be so wrong?" one wife and church member of twenty years laments.
"I don't know how it happened. We were just spending so many hours practicing with the praise team. We were just sort of thrown together. I love the way she laughs, and sings, and loves the Lord with all her heart. We were meant to be together from the beginning. I made a mistake when I married my wife," another long time church attendee offers excuses.
And so it happens...more often than most of us in the Lord's service would like to admit. We scratch our heads, and wonder, WHY?
Because Satan is in the business of tearing the Christian home apart. Nothing delights him more. If he can destroy the family, he can destroy the church, and if he can destroy the church, he can destroy the nation. Sadly enough, he is doing a pretty good job of it, too. It's high time we as God's people woke up and took a good long look at our lives, marriages, and priorities.
All too often, we are applauded from the pulpit and patted on the back by fellow believers for all the long hours and hard work we put in at church. "Why look at so-and-so; isn't she something? I can't believe all she does for the Lord?" While all the time, her marriage and family are sitting gathering dust on the shelf. Easy to work where one receives so much glory. A little harder behind the scenes in a house full of kids and an indifferent spouse. Where's the glory there?
If you are married, your first calling, after time spent with your Lord, is to your spouse. Plain and simple. If you are not investing daily time with your mate, nurturing good communication, praying together, and fanning the flames of romance, then you are deceiving yourself by thinking all your church work will accomplish anything other than man's applause. We add more and more programs to our church agenda, and then step back and wonder why none of them seem to work. Perhaps one reason is because our marriages are crumpling by the truckload in our very midst, which hinders the work of Christ. Our number one ministry (our marriage) is crippled, because we have recklessly allowed it to falter by filling our time with other well-meaning pursuits. We are running elsewhere to find the intimacy that lies on our very doorstep.
God wants to use the marriage relationship as a picture of Christ's selfless love for His Church, and we have taken that relationship and disarmed its power and potential to be a dynamic witness to an unbelieving world! God help us!
We need a change in attitude. We must begin to view our marriages as ministry! And we must never sacrifice them on the altar of what may look right and good and urgent on the outside. We must pray for discernment and wisdom to judge our priorities rightly. As couples, we must sit down together, pray, read the Scriptures, and develop a weekly plan for "togetherness." For it is by our love relationships that the world will be drawn to Jesus. The world needs to see solid marriages, because that is what people really want.
Isolated couples crave emotional intimacy. They may want to be close, but don't know how. If marriages within the church are just as unstable as those outside the church, then how are people to see the difference Christ can make. Where is Christ's love? Where is the truth? Where is stability if folks can't see it in OUR lives? What are we modeling that they would even want?
In our pre-marriage days, we were drawn together by outreach to other people. We loved doing ministry together. Every Saturday evening, we would go down to the Jimmy Hale Mission in Birmingham, Alabama, eat supper with the residents, participate in the evening service, and then go out street witnessing afterwards. Hey, cheap date! But we loved it! We got to hone our musical and speaking skills, and meet some very interesting people into the bargain. Even saw a few of them accept Christ. That's why today, after almost 38 years of marriage, if we detect a drifting apart, it is usually because we are not doing enough ministry TOGETHER. That is important to us. Now, we don't do all our outreach together, but we make a point of doing most of it together. It keeps us close, because we are centered together on the most important thing in our lives--serving Jesus. And we can bring to the ministry our varying gifts and talents to accomplish a similar goal. That's fun! While we're building our marriage by doing ministry together, we are building God's kingdom.
Why not sit down together, regroup in this new year, and decide what your marriage needs. Maybe more daily time together just to rehearse the events of the day. Perhaps more service to one another--a backrub, foot rub, an offer to wash the car or the dishes. Maybe you need to start praying together. Even five minutes a day can make all the difference. Perhaps an occasional surprise to lift the spirits and bring a smile--flowers, candy, dinner out. Perhaps some outside help from your pastor or a professional counselor. Maybe a ministry opportunity you can do together that has been on your heart for sometime, but you just haven't mentioned it. Perhaps now is the time.
Whatever you work out, DO IT TOGETHER and watch your marriage be the ministry God intended it to be!
REMEMBER: The marital relationship is one of the best situations in which God places us to build our character and make us more like Jesus. Our love for God will never be greater than our worst earthly relationship. Have you checked your love barometer lately?
Eileen Rife, author of Second Chance, speaks to women’s groups on a variety of topics. She and husband, Chuck, conduct marriage seminars in the States and overseas. www.eileenrife.com, www.eileen-rife.blogspot.com, www.guardyourmarriage.com.