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Counseling Couples Preparing for Marriage

Teach couples entering into marriage that they can know and enjoy all that God has designed marriage to be.

May 13, 2020

 

There are lot of different ways churches are handling pre-marriage counseling today. Some churches do nothing. Some churches have a class that couples take, some give couples the assignment of going and talking to a few older couples who have been-there-done-that and offer a few words of counsel, and then some do a form of premarital counseling.

What I want to encourage us to consider is the importance of personal conversations with those about ready to enter the covenant of marriage. Click To Tweet

What I want to encourage us to consider is the importance of personal conversations with those about ready to enter the covenant of marriage. I want to suggest several reasons why I personally believe this is really important and it should be part of all of our churches’ missions and passions. First of all, personal meetings are beneficial to your church. They’re beneficial to the mentors in your church. Many of us got into counseling because someone encouraged us to do so, and then as we first began meeting with individuals and we watched God change their life, we said, “All right, bring on some more. I’m excited about this!”

As we watch God work in the lives of people, it encourages us—and don’t we want that to be true for all of the people in our church? Don’t we want our church to be excited to get involved in personal ministry because they get to be on the front line of watching God work in the lives of people?

Why would you do this? Because it’s beneficial to your mentors and to your church. You are in the process of training leaders, equipping the saints to be more faithful and to serve God more passionately.

Then personal meetings are also beneficial to the couple. When I meet with those about ready to be married, I say to them, “What we’re going to do over the next several weeks is I’m going to offer you a scholarship. Much of what we’re going to talk about today is something that we have to talk about with those who are struggling in their marriage after 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 years. And what we’re going to do over the next several weeks is offer you a full-ride scholarship. Now you can choose whether or not you want that ride. You can choose whether you want to accept the scholarship or whether you would rather pay the tuition on your own. But what we’re going to do is offer you a scholarship.”

There are some things also that couples are going to talk about in a personal meeting that they would never share in a class. They just wouldn’t open up and talk about one of the concerns or one of the issues in their life because it’s embarrassing to them or concerning to them. I want to encourage you that as you go about your ministry in your church to advocate for personal meetings.

Personal meetings accomplish something that classes cannot—and that’s discipleship personally. Classes are great for content dissemination, but they are not so great for personal discipleship. I hope that you then say, “Okay great. We’re on it. Our church is on it. We are in the process of doing premarital counseling and we’re here to make it better.”

Well, in that case, let’s describe some of the processes that we could use. I like to begin with an opening session that is just encouraging. In fact, I love tossing out a few softballs. “Congratulations on your engagement!” And then I turn to the guy and say, “I don’t know if you’ve thought about this before but, you know, there are over three billion women on the face of this planet? Why her?” I mean is that not the easiest softball? I’m practically walking up with the ball and just saying, “Hit it out of my hands—crank that thing over the park.” Then she has the privilege of hearing him say all the wonderful things about her. And then I turn to her and I say the same thing, “You know, there’s over three billion guys on this planet. Why him?” And she has then the privilege of taking that same old swing and cranking that ball out of the park, explaining why it is that she believes that marrying him would be a blessing to her life.

Then I tell them what we’re going to be about, saying, “I’m really excited about your wedding. I’m thrilled about the fact that you’re going to have this wonderful day, and I hope that you remember it for the rest of your life. But our time is going to be primarily focused on the 50 years after your ceremony, rather than the 50 minutes of it. We’re going to be talking about the 50 years that come following the wedding.”

I give a brief introduction of the material for the week. And then I ask them to read it and to do the exercises and then we come back each time to discuss it.

With that in mind, I would like us to talk about the eight principles that I like to bring to the premarital session.

1. Jesus as the Center of Your Life

My point is that the marriage is not first and foremost about the marriage. The marriage is first and foremost about each individual choosing to be a godly person. Click To Tweet

My point is that the marriage is not first and foremost about the marriage. The marriage is first and foremost about each individual choosing to be a godly person.

Matthew 22:37-39 says, “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” There is no doubt that your spouse will be your closest neighbor, but that spouse is still secondary to the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

And if my counselees will get that, if they’ll walk away from premarital counseling saying, “I need to love Jesus and I need to have Jesus impact every single area of my life,” then we have accomplished a tremendous amount right then and there.

I might ask, “Well, what should motivate me?” My counselees come from different places, just like some of yours. Some have had a long-standing, close relationship with Christ, others may be relatively new believers. Why is it that they would want that? Romans 8 beginning in verse 31 is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture.

Romans 8:31-32 says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

The beauty of that is you can say to yourself every single day, “The Lord has promised that He will not withhold anything that is for my good. He’s not going to withhold it. If He didn’t withhold His Son and He gave Him as the first offering—the very best He had—then surely He’s going to give us the rest of His promises.”

Every single day you can say to yourself, “I don’t need my spouse to _____. I don’t need my spouse to _____. I don’t need my spouse to _____, because Jesus has provided me everything that I need.”

If my counselees get that, they are going to be able to enjoy the blessings that God has for marriage, because now they’re not clamoring for them—now, they are freely giving them. I remind them that their spouse can never be their hero. There is only one Savior and that Savior position has been taken by Christ and He’s not planning on giving it up.

If you want to move or change that position for your spouse and say, “My spouse is going to be my hero. My spouse is going to be my Savior.” You’re going to be disappointed because they’re not equipped for that. I like to tell the guy, “Your soon-to-be wife is equipped—perfectly designed—to be all that God has designed a wife to be, but she’ll never be your savior. And you have been designed to be a husband, and God has equipped you with everything you need in order to be that godly husband who is a blessing to his wife. But you can never ever be her savior. So, don’t try.”

“Just be her husband, just be his wife and you will enjoy the blessings that God has designed because then you will see God’s blessings not only in your spouse, but you will see God’s blessings coming to you in the various ways that only God can bless you.”

I remind them that their marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and the church. One of my Seminary professors in an Adult Bible Fellowship walked through Ephesians 4, 5, and 6 and he said, “If you notice the text Ephesians 4:1 all the way through Ephesians 5:21 is all about being the right kind of person. Then in Ephesians 5:22-33 is all about being the right kind of partner. And then as you open up chapter 6, it’s all about being the right kind of parents.” So don’t mix up the order: Be the right kind of person. That will put you in the position to be the right kind of partner, which will put you in the position to be the right kind of parent. Don’t mix up the order. Don’t say that all you’re going to be this godly husband who doesn’t really care about Jesus—because it’s not going to work.

For some of my counselees, this is the hardest principle because it seems to come out of nowhere. They think premarital counseling is first and foremost about their marriage. And I’m telling them the success and the strength of their marriage is actually dependent on their walk with Christ.

Their walk with Christ is going to put them in the position to develop the strong and lasting relationship that God has designed. It will also allow them to experience all the wonderful blessings that God has designed in marriage, the blessings that come directly from God and the blessings that our intermediated through their spouse.

2. Love with Jesus as the Center

If Jesus has to be at the center of everything, then surely he has to be at the center of love too. Click To Tweet

If Jesus has to be at the center of everything, then surely he has to be at the center of love too. And so we walk through 1 Corinthians 13:1-7. It’s a beautiful text and I want us to consider a few of the principles of love.

The passage says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

I want my counselees to ponder that. I want them to wrestle with this question: What does it mean for love to be at the center?

Love is patient. Here’s the way it’s going to work five years from now: “I was patient the first thousand times you left the toilet seat up. Now, I’m irritated. I was patient the first thousand times I made you a meal and you didn’t thank me for it. Now I’m beginning to develop a little bitterness.” Biblical love pursues again and again and again and again.

Love is kind. Sometimes we say such mean and harsh things. And as biblical counselors, you have been in the room with those who have been married for a while who have said some really unkind things. One guy told his wife on their honeymoon, “I’d be more attracted to you if you lost 20 pounds.” That was not a very helpful comment, was it? Love is kind, even when we’re hurt. It’s not just “love is kind” when I receive kindness, it’s “love is kind” when I’m being challenged or when I’m hurt.

Love is not jealous. At first glance that seems pretty easy. “I mean after all I’m marrying this person, why in the world would I be jealous?” But what happens if the woman happens to be more successful? See “love is not jealous” means that I’m going to support the gifts and skills and abilities of the other person.

Frankly, in my own house, I change a lightbulb and I’m like, “Baby, you need to come smooch your man because he is awesome.” And here’s what my wife does—my wife remodels the entire kitchen. That’s just the way it is. I wish I was more handy. I wish I was the guy like Tool Time Tim who just fixes everything, but the reality is that changing a light bulb is a very high level of success in my category. I mean that’s like topping my abilities right there. For my wife, redoing the kitchen barely maxes out her abilities. So what do I do? Do I fuss and whine and bicker about that? Do I try to squash that? Do I try to say, “No. No, I’m gonna do you do the the kitchen because you just didn’t do it right.” Or am I going to celebrate the fact that she happens to be good at something that I’m not? Am I going to celebrate all the ways in which God has designed her? Or am I going to fight and clamor against them?

Love does not seek its own. Fast forward the lives of this young couple five years. The husband’s had a hard day at work where nothing seemed to go right. He comes home tired and discouraged and a bit rundown. As he’s on his commute home, he thinks, “Boy, I can’t wait to go home and relax.” And he imagines dinner on the table. His wife is dressed very cute. She greets him with a smile on her face in her very cute outfit and she gives him a kiss at the door and whispers that she cannot wait for the children to go to bed. Get the picture.

He’s been thinking about this on his commute home, but what he doesn’t know is that his wife has had a hard day too. Their six-month-old was really fussy. In fact, their six-month-old started fussing long before normal. She didn’t even get a shower that day. She’s wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jeans that she wore two days ago and figured, “Well, I might as well get one more wear out of this before it hits the laundry.”

Their two-year-old seemed like he was absolutely possessed by a demon that day. All of you are parents, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the day the kid wakes up and says “No” to everything.

“Do you want an ice cream?” “No!”

“Do you want to go on a to a walk to the park?” “No!”

“Do you want anything?” “No, I don’t want anything!”

It’s that kid. And instead of making dinner she threw in a frozen pizza and pulled out some leftover salad that needed to be eaten before it goes bad. She’s literally looking at the clock every five minutes for her husband to come home—not so that she can greet him in her very cute outfit, but so that she can get some help with the two terrors that she’s been dealing with for the last 12 hours.

So he gets home and she doesn’t come to the door, she just says, “Hey find Johnny, he left—I’m not sure where he is, but I’m dealing with a messy diaper right now. So can you go please find him?” So he goes and the first thought in his mind when he sees her and he sees the chaos of the house is, “What have you been doing all day?” Now, he may have learned ahead of time not to actually let those words come out of his mouth—and if he does let them come out of his mouth, he’s going to experience a whole new level of marital challenge that he has not experienced before.

But you see what’s happening? Both individuals are coming home with the expectation that something is going to happen. They both can’t have their way. And “love does not seek its own” says, “I’m going to put my needs aside in order to serve someone else.”

Love endures all things. I wrote a book called Tying the Knot on pre-marital counseling, and my favorite endorsement was by a friend named John Henderson. A lot of people said some very kind things, but John Henderson wrote about marriage, “You never know what you’re going to experience.” Oh my goodness was he right about that, huh?

I have the privilege of serving in our church among our young couples. There has not been one single year out of the 10+ years that my wife and I have served in that capacity where there has not been at least one couple who has struggled with infertility. See, they thought like we did. They thought, “Like we’ve been told in church so many times—you have sex, you have a kid.” We thought that’s kind of how it worked. And then we got married. We wanted to have a child and it just didn’t happen. It wasn’t coming easily. It’s been true for at least one couple in our class every year.

Then there have been those who have experienced the loss of a child. Whether it’s a miscarriage or whether they actually were able to give birth to a live child who died shortly thereafter.

You never know what God is going to allow in the midst of your life. But here’s one of the things that you do, you say, “Love endures all things.” You commit to the reality that whatever God is going to allow in your path is something that you are willing to endure together.

One of the comments that Stephanie and I would often say to each other is, “Hey, we’re in this together, babe. We’re going together, for better or worse. I’m not sure what’s going to happen here, but we’re gonna do it together. We’re gonna go this hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm.” That’s what it means to love.

I remind my couples who are sitting there together, “I realize that you probably believe right now that you love one another. You probably believe that. But I want to encourage you to at least consider this possibility: One of the reasons that you would like to marry the person sitting next to you is because that person helps you love yourself more than any other person you’ve ever met.”

They help you love yourself more and whether or not you are willing to love someone else is going to be a whole lot more of a challenge than what you may see right now.

In our church we did a series on 1 Corinthians 13 where we took one sermon to describe each one of the characteristics of love. And by the time I got done I thought, “I’m not sure I’ve loved anybody in my whole life.”

That’s exactly where I want my counselees to be too. I want them to go home and read 1 Corinthians 13. I want them to meditate on 1 Corinthians 13. I want them to think about the practical implications of 1 Corinthians 13, and I want them to come back to my office and tell me, “Rob, there is no way that we can do that. There’s no way on human earth we are ever going to be able to love like this.”

And if they say that, then we have the privilege of saying, “But we all know someone who can.” And that’s why Jesus has to be at the center—because love with Jesus as the center says, “I am dependent on the Lord in order to love like this. I know I’m not going to love my wife with this kind of patience. I’m not going to love with this kind of kindness. I’m not going to love with this kind of endurance left to my own devices. There’s no way I’m going to do that. But I know someone who knows how to and the more that I spend at His feet and the more that I’m learning from His Word, the more possibility there is for His Spirit working in my life in order to genuinely love like 1 Corinthians 13 challenges us to love.”

3. Problem Solving with Jesus as the Center

Problems are kind of like bunnies, aren’t they? You can have two today and a thousand tomorrow. And if you don’t understand that, get some rabbits in your yard like they were in mine. I can remember one year, I was on my back porch yelling at one of my rabbits, “Seriously?! You have no morals whatsoever!”

It’s problem solving that often brings our counselees into the counseling room. They haven’t been able to solve problems. They say things like, “In my marriage that feels like I’m walking on eggshells.” They are modern-day hoarders, not of trash, but of relationship trash. I want my counselors to be able to take the trash out.

First of all, they need to take responsibility for their part of the problem. As a counselor that’s sometimes not how your counselees come to you. Once I had a guy come in and he and his wife and married for about 20 years. He said that for a living he does root cause analysis—that was his job.

Here was the story: He had been watching pornography for 25 years and he was actually having sexual encounters with his wife’s friend in their house while his wife was sleeping upstairs. His root cause analysis was that, “We don’t have very good communication.”

I was thinking to myself, “Please remind me never to hire your company for root cause analysis.” His root cause analysis was terrible. “You’re telling me that communication problems explain that?”

I want to help my counselees understand that if you're going to solve a problem, you have to take the log out of your own eye. Click To Tweet

I want to help my counselees understand that if you’re going to solve a problem, you have to take the log out of your own eye. And you can learn how to do it right now when it’s easy. Or you’re going to have to learn how to do it later when it’s a whole lot harder, and there’s a whole lot more bitterness and anger built up inside of you.

Next, they actually have to repent. It’s not just an acknowledgement of wrong, it’s a willingness to repent of wrong. Then there has to be a willingness to forgive and actually move forward. That’s how you take out a piece of trash.

What I’m encouraging my pre-marriage counselees to do is solve a problem. If they come in and they’re like all googly-eyed and they say, “We’ve never had a problem,” I try to invent one, just to see whether or not we could actually solve something.

4. Roles and Expectations with Jesus as the Center

I like to remind my counselees that are some things that God says all of us must do. If we are going to take on the role of a husband, there are some roles and responsibilities that we have, that we did not have prior to being married. I have to learn my wife.

First Peter 3:7 says, “You husbands in the same way.” Have you ever thought about that phrase “in the same way”? In the same way as what? If you go back to 1 Peter 3:1, it says “In the same way, you wives.” So apparently that’s not it—you go back a little further and we see that 1 Peter 2:21-24 says, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

Christ set the example. He carried out His role perfectly—that was the role of suffering that the Father had given Him, and He entrusted Himself to the Father in the midst of that role. Click To Tweet

In the same way as that. Christ set the example. He carried out His role perfectly—that was the role of suffering that the Father had given Him, and He entrusted Himself to the Father in the midst of that role.

That’s what putting Christ at the center of your role means. 1 Peter 3:7 says, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” Why would I do that? It’s not always easy to do that. Because that’s the example Christ gave me.

And if there happens to be a moment where I’m trying to do my very best to live out 1 Peter 3:7, and my wife is not particularly interested in me living out 1 Peter 3:7—she’s being a bit snarky, hard to deal with, hard to love in this particular moment, then I choose to entrust myself to the one who judges righteously. And I say, “Lord, I’m going to do it anyway.”

Husbands are to love their wives like Christ loves the church. Everything about the role of a husband, or the role of a wife, that God demands is centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Now, what about everything else? What I encourage my couples to do is to enjoy the journey. You don’t know exactly how life is going to work. You don’t know exactly how molding the two lives into one is going to work for you. But enjoy the journey.

My wife has done laundry basically since day one. I have a degree in engineering physics, so I tend to think in algorithms about everything. I can remember being taught a little bit about laundry and there were darks and then there were whites and then there were reds. And some cretin designed a shirt that I owned that had blue, white and red in it. And I was just standing there like, “Oh my word, what do I do with this thing?”

And my wife saw the concern that was on my face—the fact that my body was going through convulsions—and she said, “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you just step back relax. I’ll take the shirt. I’ll take that over and please don’t touch anything of mine.” Now that was how it worked for her. She was more than happy to do that for me.

My grandmother did the books for a ministry for years and years—back in the day when they hand-wrote ledgers.

And I can remember one time, I was just a little guy and my grandmother could not find ten cents. Well, my grandfather being the practical man that he was, reached in his pocket and put a dime on the table. And my grandmother said, “No way. There are 12 stacks of ledger books, and there is a ten-cent mistake in it and I’m gonna find it.” And that’s exactly what she did. And I’m kind of like that. So I typically handle the finances, my wife handles the laundry, but we recognize that’s not the system for everyone. Everybody doesn’t have that system, and nor do they have to have that system.

Here’s what God says: You husbands live with your wives in an understanding way. Love her like Christ loves the church. Those are absolute non-negotiables. But who does the laundry? Who does the finances? There’s plenty of room for negotiation.

So enjoy the journey. If you start off and three months later, you find you have to retool something and shake up who is doing which responsibilities—fine, just enjoy the journey because you love being together and you’re so thankful that God brought you together.

5. Communication with Jesus as the Center

At some point you have to talk about communication, but you have to talk about it with Jesus as the center again. Because all too often people think that, “Well, we just have communication problems.” But you and I as counselors know that communication starts in the heart, which is why you can have absolutely amazing arguments about little things.

I love to tell the story of one couple. They had a number of kids—six or seven kids. For those of you who have small families, then you know that it’s not too hard to find a babysitter for one or two. But when you get to six or seven, I mean the babysitter wants a legal contract on what their hourly rate is going to be. They say, “Wait a second, you’ve got six kids all under 7 years old. Whoa, hold on. Let’s write up a contract.”

This particular night, this couple who had a number of kids were going to have a nice evening out. And she began thinking all that day, “Oh man, this is gonna be like our honeymoon.” She decides to go through her closet and pick out just the right outfit. She matches her makeup to her outfit. I mean she is looking fine. In fact, she’s wondering whether or not her beauty is actually going to result in her husband passing out when he walks through the door.

And when he gets home, he walks through the door, and the first thing that he does is: Not acknowledge her beauty. Then he decides to ask her whether or not she’s going to wear a coat. And she says, “What are you talking about wear a coat? I’m not going to wear a coat for two reasons: 1. Because you’re going to be a gentleman and drop me off at the door, and 2. I don’t have a coat that matches my outfit.”

He doesn’t give it up, he starts talking to her about how if she doesn’t wear a coat, then she’s going to get sick. She’s thinking to herself, “Are you kidding me? I mean don’t you remember a thing from 10th grade biology class? You get sick from germs, not from being out in the cold.” They go on and have a 20-minute argument. And they’re so irritated with each other that by the time they get to dinner they don’t even talk.

Even though they will talk about how silly that argument was and how ridiculous it was that they fought over a coat, you and I know better. There were desires of their hearts that were motivating everything they said and did.

I want to encourage you to talk to your counselees with Jesus as the center regarding communication, and highlight for them the significance of being encouraging.

Often we do fine talking about problems. And then when there’s not a problem, we just don’t say anything. It’s almost as if we get in the mode of saying, “Well, hon, I told you I loved you when we got married and if that changes I’ll let you know.”

When in reality we ought to be encouraging them on a regular basis. This is something I’m working on in my own life. I mentioned that my wife Stephanie has done the laundry for 24 years. Every single day that I’ve opened up my closet there’s been something to wear. Every single day that I’ve opened up my dresser looking for something to put on, there were clothes in there. And there weren’t any ministry pixies that were doing that in the middle of the night. It got there because my wife put it there.

And how selfish am I being if I want to gripe about something? Why don’t I start just thanking her for the fact that there’s laundry every single day because she’s done it every single day for 24 years.

Or what about a meal? She’s done the majority of the cooking—not all the cooking, but the majority of it. Do I act like, “Well, I just deserve that. I just have a right to it.” Or do I walk home being thankful for every single thing that was there. Even if it wasn’t my favorite meal, is there still a thankfulness that I had the privilege of eating something she made? And I even have the joy of watching someone else in our family have that because it was their favorite meal. Or does it just have to be all about me?

The sooner my premarital counselees can get on that track, the more they will enjoy the blessings that God has for them, the more they will enjoy this beautiful covenant of marriage, and the more that they will see that God designed it for our good.

Do you realize one of the most significant passages about marriage is actually in Mark 10? Which reminds us that in heaven there isn’t marriage. God in His goodness and His graciousness has given us a partner in order to enjoy the blessings of life, to go through the hardships of life, and to do it together. What a kind and gracious God that is.

I want to tell my counselees, “Your God was so kind to you that He created marriage. He didn’t have to do that. He was so kind and so gracious that He designed this very institution, especially for you. He didn’t need it. And He doesn’t need it in heaven. He gave it for you. And so enjoy every single moment of it.” Be encouraging, be affectionate, be kind.

Sometimes I remind them that God designed a filter between what they think and what they say. The Proverbs say it this way: “The fool utters all his mind.” God designed there to be a distinction between what you think and what comes out of your mouth.

Who would want all of our thoughts rolling on the screen behind us? And sometimes one of the best things to do is to say, “By God’s grace, I’m going to keep my mouth shut on this one. I’m just not going to say what I could say or what I’m tempted to say.”

6. Finances with Jesus as the Center

I emphasize the issue of finances a little differently than some other people, because my concern is not simply working out a budget. My concern is the heart of the matter. My concern is not just a budget that works, meaning that the income is greater than the expenses, but that the budget they’re writing actually pleases and honors the Lord. So that everything about it, every single line item on that budget brings honor and glory to Christ.

I challenge them on issues of greed. In Luke 12, that’s exactly what Jesus did. He challenged the issue of greed and He said to be on your guard and be aware of every form of greed. For this young couple the temptation’s going to be to learn how to be greedy, learn how to keep everything for themselves.

Where you and I know this because we’ve had the privilege of living a little bit longer: It never hurts to be generous. I’m trying to teach my counselees that it never hurts to be generous. I don’t have to live in a world of greed. Greed tells me, “I’ll be happy, if only I had something.”

What God tells us is, “You’ll be happy when you learn how to be generous, when you learn how to be content.”

The more that I show them the the tension that we see in Scripture regarding finances, and how it’s not simply a matter of plugging a few numbers in, they’ll be encouraged by that. They’ll be blessed by that, and they will live dependent on that. As opposed to saying, “Well, here’s the deal. You start out with this percent of your income for this, and this percent for that, and you do that for the rest of your life.”

We don’t do that with anything else. Why would we do with money? Why would we act like we’ve reached the pinnacle of sanctification on finances when we would never say that about anything else?

I want my counselees dependent on the Lord to write their budget this year, and next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Every year opening it up and asking the question, “Lord, are you honored by this budget?”

7. Community with Jesus as the Center

I didn’t see community in a lot of the pre-marriage materials out there. I think that’s particularly problematic for young couples. Young couples often move when they get married. They move away from their families for the very first time. Then they feel like, “Well, because we’re newly married, we have to spend every single second together.” And then what they realize is they’re creating a world of loneliness because it’s just the two of them.

And I want to encourage my counselees to be involved in ministry starting on day one. Be involved in ministry and in community starting on day one. Ask the question, “If I miss a single Sunday in church, what in the world am I doing? As a husband, where am I leading? Am I leading my family to walk away or am I pushing us into community, into meaningful service, and into meaningful love?” That’s what’s going to help equip all of us to be mature in our faith. That’s why God designed the church.

This also gives them an avenue for people to care about them. My wife and I left our home for the first time when we had been married four years, and it was the only time in our life that we had ever experienced loneliness. We did this problem right here, and we did it in seminary because we didn’t see the significance of the community that we left. And we were hurt by that. I want to encourage my young couples as they enter into the season of marriage: Get involved in community.

8. Intimacy with Jesus as the Center

I like to tell my counselees that sex from God’s perspective is not about performance. It’s about relationship.

I remind them to tell themselves that a thousand times—because on their honeymoon, they may experience everything. I mean, they may experience the Fourth of July over and over and over again. But not everybody does. Not everybody has that experience, and if you don’t have that experience and you have in your mind that sex is about performance and not about relationship, you will be tempted to destroy the marriage that you’re starting.

And I’ve been in the counseling room with individuals who have been married 10 and 15 and 20 years who go back to their honeymoon and talk about how that destroyed their intimate relationship for the rest of their marriage.

So I remind them, “There’s a lot of passages of Scripture that I could take you to, but remember this. Every one of them is going to emphasize relationship not performance.”

Your honeymoon sex is not going to be your best sex anyway, because you don’t love one another like you’re going to love one another 25 years from now. You don’t love one another like you’re going to love one another 50 years from now—when you have done life together, when you have gone through the high points and you’ve rejoiced in them, and you’ve gone through the low points and you’ve endured them together. That is what it’s going to mold and shape your marriage and turn it into iron. That’s where your intimacy will be sweetest.

Paint a picture for them that describes all that God offers in this wonderful covenant of marriage. Click To Tweet

Paint a picture for them that describes all that God offers in this wonderful covenant of marriage. Give them a scholarship opportunity where they don’t have to learn everything through experience. They can learn some things directly from God and His Word and see how it applies to their life, and then enjoy all that God has designed marriage to be.