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Cultivating a Spiritually Grounded Marriage

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon are back with us again to talk about this very important topic of cultivating a spiritual marriage. This is the topic of a book that they’ve written called Letters to a Romantic: The First Years of Marriage. This has been an interesting topic for them to write on as they’re describing some of their experiences—working through the process of dating, working through the process of engagement, and now through their own first years of marriage. They describe what the Lord has taught them and what has been helpful as they try to root their marriage in the Scriptures and build it spiritually strong from the early years.

Sean is now the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida where he serves and lives with his wife Jenny Perron, and they have a son named Chandler, who is their great delight. It’s fun to watch Sean interact as a father. Spencer Harmon also is serving down at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. He’s the campus pastor at their Nocatee campus on the south side of Jacksonville. We’re so grateful for Spencer and his service there. He and Taylor love living in Jacksonville down in the Nocatee area and serving the local church there.

This week Taron Defevers, our Communications Coordinator, was able to sit down with both of these guys and talk through some of these ideas in the early years of marriage that have been helpful from the Scriptures, and how useful the Scripture is in building a spiritually grounded marriage early on. So let’s listen as Taron talks with Sean and Spencer on this topic of the early years of marriage.

Taron Defevers: Thanks Dale. I’m really excited to be here with two close brothers in Christ, two great friends, two men that I’ve also worked with and have enjoyed the experience of having great friendship with them. I’m really thankful that Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon are with us today in the podcast room, and they’re going to be talking about the early years of marriage. They recently wrote a book entitled Letters to a Romantic: The First Years. Sean and Spencer wrote this book in many ways as peers to those in early marriages, but those right out of the season of the first five years of marriage. They write with great wisdom and great love for God’s Word and bring God’s Word into the first five years of marriage.

Marriage is such a crucial topic that the Scriptures speak to and it does speak to the early years of marriage. Sean and Spencer have given a lot of time thinking about this in their own lives and in this book that they’ve written. Sean and Spencer, I want to ask you what is most important for a husband and a wife to be thinking about in the first five years of their marriage?

Sean Perron: The typical things that counselors encounter in the early years of marriage include money issues, sexual issues, relationships with in-laws, and conflict. Those are kind of the big, heavy things that young couples face. We cover all of those issues in some way, shape, or form in the book. I would say when you’re thinking about what is of first importance, I would include two things in that and they’re related. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.” He says the gospel is of first importance. When you think of the Sermon on the Mount, you think of “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Jesus places the priority in marriage, and in every stage of life for that matter, as Himself.

Knowing God, loving God, honoring God, bringing glory to God. Whether you eat or drink or have sex or spend your money or have a conversation with your in-laws—do it all to the glory of God. I think cultivating a spiritual marriage has to be among the priority of what we’re talking about with couples. I think with a spiritual marriage, you’re going to hit all the different areas of your life and you’re going to impact them in ways that you would not think about if you weren’t pursuing Christ first, as the Bible calls us to pursue Christ first.

Spencer Harmon: When you’re thinking about all the various problems that are coming up in the first five years of marriage, it can be really overwhelming for couples. It can be really overwhelming to work though, “Well, what are we going to do about this? And this? And this? And then we have these financial troubles. And oh my goodness, we just found out we’re pregnant. We’re trying to settle on what church we want to go to.”

All these different problems come up in marriage. I think the most important thing we want to do as we’re trying to help people is aim for their hearts and try to help them put God’s Word at the very center of their family life, and to say, “Focus your attention as a family in cultivating the type of marriage that is spiritual.” One of the things we’re trying to do in our book is to turn people regularly to the same source of wisdom and help and solutions, which is found in God’s Word and most clearly displayed in the gospel itself. I think that’s one of the most primary questions that we’re trying to answer. We don’t just want to say, “What are the answers to all these particular questions?” But also say, “What is the source of wisdom that we can go to again and again in the first five years of marriage, and every single year after that, which will set couples up to have access to the wisdom that they need to answer the common and complex problems that they’re going to face in marriage.”

Sean Perron: You think about famous passages like Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” It’s that man or woman that will be like a tree that’s planted by the streams of water that bears fruit in due season. That Psalm is ultimately fulfilled in the blessed man who is Jesus Christ. You and I, unfortunately, we all don’t meditate on the law of the Lord day and night like we ought. We don’t obey it and we don’t bear fruit, but Jesus always obeyed Psalm 1. He always meditated and delighted upon the law of the Lord and followed through in obedience. It’s not just that we have the Word first and foremost, but that we know who the Word points to, which is the true blessed man Jesus Christ in whom we have faith and abide in him. When we obey the Word, meditate on it, and then we have faith in Christ and have faith in what the Word points us to, we flourish. And that’s what all couples want. They want a flourishing first five years of marriage. They want to be abundant and joyful and have life. Jesus has all of those things for every couple.

Taron Defevers: That’s an excellent foundation laid for a marriage. Let’s try an example with this. I think it’ll be helpful for our listeners in bringing God’s Word into your marriage as a foundation. Let’s say a couple has been married for a year or so and they feel within themselves that they have fallen out of love. The affection or feelings that were there when they were dating and in the first few months of marriage seem to have waned. The feeling is, “I don’t feel like I love this person like I once did. It’s not as easy for me to want to give of myself to them as it was before. What is wrong in the marriage? What should I do? ”

How would you think about that biblically?

Spencer Harmon: If I was looking at a couple that said to me, “I don’t know what to do. I feel like I don’t have the feelings that I once had for my spouse.” I think I would look at them and the first thing I would say would be, “Your marriage was made for this. This is the point of the marriage covenant.” When God designed marriage He didn’t first design it to be a place of warm fuzzy, feelings. Those can happen in marriage as you are loving your spouse and seeking to cultivate affection for them. But the main thing is that He calls us to be a model of His covenant-keeping love. Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage’s primary purpose is to display the relationship between Christ and the church. I would say to them that God designed your marriage for seasons like this. Your covenant of marriage is meant to keep you and fortify you in seasons of life when you are fluctuating, and when you feel like you’re not sturdy. The strength of your marriage comes from outside of you, from the model that we’re given in Scripture in Ephesians 5.

In a really practical way, this is I think where you really see God’s Word powerfully working in the life of a couple because you can give them real direction. As I’m thinking about couples who come to me and they say, “I’m struggling with affection for my spouse. I’m struggling with even wanting to be married.” I’ve had some friends that have told me, “Well, maybe you’ve fallen out of love. Maybe that means you should separate or you should get a divorce.” What do you say? I would say three things to them.

1. You need to remember what marriage is. I would go to Ephesians 5 and say marriage is meant to be a picture of Christ and the church. I would want to encourage them, “Hey, go with your spouse out on a date night and read Ephesians 5 together. Talk about the calling of marriage on your life.” I also think it’s a good idea to take your spouse out to dinner at that same dinner and remember your marriage vows that you spoke to each other. Read over those again, talk to the pastor that gave you those marriage vows and read over them again together, and remember the promises that you made before God and people to love, serve, and sacrifice for your spouse until death. Remember your covenant.

2. The second thing I would say to them is that you should repent. Oftentimes when couples are in this season of “falling out of love,” they have gotten into sin habits of focusing on every area of their spouse that they don’t enjoy. Or they’ve cultivated a grumbling heart that Philippians 2 says we need to combat with thanksgiving in our hearts to the Lord. It’s not a bad thing to confront your spouse when there’s sin in their life. That’s what Matthew 18 instructs us to do, but Matthew 7 says that the place you start first is you remove the log from your own eye. I would say, “Before you start thinking about all the ways your spouse is falling short in marriage, you need to focus on yourself. What ways do you need to repent in your own life? And how is that impacting the way that you view your spouse?”

3. The last thing I would say is that we need renewal. Romans 12:1-2 says that the way we grow is by renewing our minds according to God’s Word. I would ask a couple, “How can you renew your mind and change the way you think about your spouse that lines up better with God’s Word?” You can experience renewal and a renewed affection for them that lines up with God’s Word. I think those are some general categories in showing that God’s word is sufficient to address even when couples feel like it’s hopeless. They may say, “I don’t feel anything when my spouse walks into the room anymore.” God’s Word has ample resources for you to address those problems.

Sean Perron: Maybe that’s where someone has reached the point of saying, “I don’t have these affections for my spouse. I don’t want to be with them. I want an exit ramp out of the marriage.” Before you even get to those places, there are positive things that you can do to cultivate affection and love for one another. I would just go back to what we said earlier: The primary place that you cultivate those things is cultivating first a love and affection for God. When your love and affection for God is white hot and vibrant, that has to pour out and bleed over into your relationship with the person that you’re married to. If you love God, you will have to love neighbor and the closest neighbor that you have is the one who sleeps in the same sheets as you do in your bed. They are there all the time and that is your neighbor to love. When we have a love for God, that brims over and our cup overflows to our spouse.

I think then we could talk about some practical ways that you can cultivate a spiritual marriage and cultivate an affection for God in your home that’s primary and present. A question to ask is: What are informal disciplines and formal disciplines in your marriage? We do things all the time intentionally and unintentionally.

Deuteronomy 6 tells us you are to think about God’s laws and his words when you’re walking by the wayside, when you are rising, when you’re going to sleep, when you are exiting your home, when you’re coming into your home, and when you’re walking with your children (back then to the synagogue). Now the implication is for when you’re driving to the fast food restaurant on the way home from church, and when you are leaving for the park and you’re on a stroll, or when you’re going to bed after you put the kids down. What are the formal and informal disciplines that you’re cultivating?

Formal discipline are the commands in Scripture. Don Whitney talks about read, pray, sing. There are commands in the Scripture to meditate on the Bible—we just read one in Psalm 1. Pray. There’s all kinds of commands in the Bible to pray together. Sing—depending on who you talk to and who you count, singing is the second most often repeated command in the whole Bible. You’re praying, you’re reading, your singing. Then the question is: Are you doing that as a couple? Are you doing that together? Or are you just leaving that for when you’re inside the church walls and you’re not doing that at home? Is there a time when you are cultivating a spiritual marriage through formal disciplines of reading the Bible together, praying together, and singing together?

Informal disciplines are those that happen naturally, but they don’t happen by accident. You have to be intentional. This is saying, “Hey, what do you think about that sermon that we just heard? Let’s talk about it.” “Hey, you read this morning? I saw that you were reading in Psalms. What were you reading in the Psalms this morning?” “How can I pray for you? What’s going on in your life?”

Those are the questions that cultivate informal spiritual disciplines that breed spiritual conversations. To be incredibly practical, this does not have to be the same for every family. There are some families who wake up in the morning and they read the Bible together. They’re reading through the New Testament or the Old Testament in a year, and they do it in the morning before work. They get their coffee mug, they Instagram it, probably. They’re off to start their day. There are other families who do that at night before bed. There are other families who do that on their lunch break. There are couples that I know that do it together. There are couples that read the same book of the Bible separately and they come together and talk about it. I know a couple who once a week have a designated Sunday prayer night. They pray for each other before bed when they go to sleep normally, but then they have a designated Sunday night of the week where they as a family get together and have an extended time in prayer. There are other couples that do that every other week. There are couples that do that every night.

The point is not a legalistic roadmap, but the point is to ask: Here are the informal and formal disciplines we’re doing; how are you doing them in your marriage?

Also, going off what Spencer said with Ephesians 5, there is a great humility in the practice of asking your spouse how you are doing in these areas. Ephesians 5 talks about how the call is to nourish and cherish your bride. That’s what Jesus does—He nourishes and cherishes the church. A practice for husbands is to go and say, “Hey, I was reading Ephesians 5, I heard this podcast. I have not asked you in a year, or two years, or ever, how am I doing in nourishing you spiritually? How am I doing in cherishing you? Do you feel loved? Where can I improve?” If you ask that question and you say, “You have to say something. You have to tell me one way I can improve. You have to give me an answer of how I can improve in nourishing you and cherishing you—you can’t just say nice things, give me a real practical example of how I can do better.” That will catapult your marriage in a way that is God-honoring and you will flourish and you’ll grow. It takes humility to do that. That’s a simple way, a simple question to evaluate where you’re at, but it is a practical one that will reap benefits in the long haul.

Taron Defevers: Excellent. Thanks, Sean and Spencer. One takeaway from today if you are listening to this and wanting to think about this, even as a husband, is to ask the question of your spouse, “How am I doing in caring for you?” That’s an excellent first step. Thank you guys for joining us on the podcast, we really appreciate it.

Recommended Resources

Letters to a Romantic: First Years of Marriage by Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon

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