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5 Ways to Refresh Your Marriage This Valentine’s Day

No matter how many or how few years anyone has been married, the word “refresh” always sounds appealing. For those of us who desire to grow closer to Christ and to our spouse, it is essential that we set aside our never-ending to-do list and take time to process where we are at in our marriages.

My husband, Andrew, and I try to get away at least once a year to do this intentionally. While away, we evaluate where we have been, where we are at, and where we want to go. Whatever our circumstances that year, there are always a few key areas—aside from the continuing need to grow deeper both individually and together in our walks with the Lord—that have helped us to renew our marriage.

1. Practice spiritual disciplines together

Our spouse is the person we live with, raise children with, and impact the world with. In other words, our spouse is our God-given teammate for life. That makes it utterly essential that we grow spiritually together.

But how is this done practically? Start by praying together. Andrew and I make a prayer list for each day of the week and pray over it together, as well as regularly ask how we can pray for one other. These seemingly small moments go a long way towards building an intimate foundation that relies upon God—and not ourselves—to lead our lives.

Another practical idea is to read together. If reading Scripture together hasn’t been a habit before, find a devotional that is Gospel-centered and start there. Make it a habit to spend time praying and diving into a devotional every day together, and take it to the next level by reading and discussing godly books[1] together.

 

2. Have a mentor couple keep you accountable

No matter how many years we have been married, none of us know everything. The sooner we realize this, the sooner true growth will be able to happen.

As newlyweds, one of the first things Andrew and I did was to seek out Scott and Dianne—a wonderful Christian couple in our church. We asked them specifically because we knew from previous interactions that they would hold us accountable on hard issues, yet we also knew that they cared for us deeply. It has been critical for our marriage to have them asking us questions, challenging us, giving us an outside perspective, and pointing us back to Christ, not just in the early years, but even today.

The reality is that sometimes our struggles in marriage are so deep that sharing them with peers or family would be slanderous towards our spouse, and could perhaps cause more pain, distrust, and brokenness of relationship. It is therefore essential to have a couple we both trust that we can talk to.

In finding mentors, we need to look for people who love the Lord and stand on the foundation of Scripture as they help guide our marriages—with their goal being to draw us closer to the Lord and our spouse, and away from ourselves. They also need to be comfortable discussing normally taboo and uncomfortable topics with candor and openness, such as sex, pornography, and finances. Pray that God will bring you such a couple, and make meeting with them a top priority.

 

3. Make “apologizing first” a habit

“A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

The Bible urges us again and again to humbly serve one another, humbly apologize, and humbly forgive—even if the other person is being difficult or stubborn (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 12:14). This is important not just in interacting with people around us, but even more so in marriage.

Andrew is usually the first to apologize. In the heat of a moment, my pride frequently blinds me to my failures. Instead of being humble, I have way too often dug my heels in and sat in my anger. Without Andrew modeling humble tenderness in the midst of arguments, I have no idea where our marriage would be. His humility has taught me a lot about the Christian walk—how being honorable before the Lord is more important than getting our way or proving we’re right.

No matter what the argument, I have always been able to find something I can apologize for. Striving after unity over proving a point or being right must be a habit in all of our marriages. May none of us allow pride to keep us from having a unified, flourishing marriage! If this is an area you struggle with, like I so often have, start praying for God’s help to overcome whatever pride or arrogance may be blinding you to sin.

 

4. Renew your intimate life

Sex is a vital part of a godly, vibrant marriage. It was not created by accident—God created it intentionally, fully aware of how much we would desire it, how good it feels, and also how much it can hurt when not used the way it was intended. Sex was created by God to be frequent (1 Corinthians 7:5), pleasurable, exciting and unashamed (Song of Songs; Genesis 2:25). It should never be used manipulatively. Instead, it should be a selfless act between a man and a woman within the covenant of marriage.

When we take a biblical approach, we have the opportunity within sex to create a foundation of selflessness and trust in our marriage that can extend to all other areas. If we seek to make the bedroom a place where we are selfless lovers instead of selfish lovers, we will not only find ourselves having a more vibrant sex life and a happy spouse, but a marriage that is drenched with the blessings that comes from obedience to God. Use the bedroom as a training ground to love one another selflessly—again and again and again. If you’re not making love frequently or are being selfish within intimacy, surrender that to God, ask for His help, and renew your commitment to love your spouse in this incredibly personal way.

Until recently, Andrew and I have never really prayed about our sex life. But we have realized that since we believe in the power of prayer, we have been foolish to not seek God in such an important part of our lives! We pray specifically for the ability to love selflessly, for pleasure, and for purity (that our minds would not wander to other people or experiences).

 

5. Date and get away often

The Bible calls husbands to die for their wives, giving up themselves as Christ gave Himself up for the church (Ephesians 5:25). The Bible also calls both spouses to love the other as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28-29). It is clear that aside from Christ, marriage is our highest earthly priority. Do we reflect that in how we choose to spend our time?

Time with our spouse—away from our normal routine, away from the kids, away from the house—breathes life into a marriage. And so we must prioritize it, schedule it, and budget for it. Set guidelines for this time. Does scrolling through our phones, talking about the budget, or discussing about the kids distract us from connecting? Turn off the phones and make kids and finances off limits. Not sure what to talk about? Print out questions from online or get books that have questions in them.

My hubby and I do this from time to time. We’ll bring fun questions into restaurants, have them along for car rides, and we are often shocked by the basic answers we either don’t know about the other or that have changed over time. Carving out these times regularly will rejuvenate our connection on all levels with our spouse.

Let’s make it our goal to never stop discovering who our spouse is. God is continually at work in those who are His, drawing us nearer to Him. The person we are married to today, even if we just got married last week, is different from the person on our wedding day. Make it a challenge—an exciting adventure—to continually get to know your spouse.

 

On this Valentine’s Day, may we give the gift of refreshment to our marriages. Anything in life that is worthwhile takes time and often sacrifice, and our marriages should be at the top of the list. As we all walk into the next months, may we be willing to do what is necessary to make our marriages not just survive, but thrive.

 

[1] Some of our favorite devotionals have been, Taste and See by John Piper, and the John MacArthur Bible Studies devotionals by John MacArthur. Some of our favorite books, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, The Holiness of God by J.I. Packer, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.

When Marriage Isn’t Quite What You Hoped For

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I grew up with Ashley (not her real name) and we attended the same schools. We talked a lot about relationships when we were younger and the kind of married life we hoped for. Eventually Ashley started dating a guy who would surprise her with flowers and little treats. However, he could also be quite demanding and unreasonable at times, and Ashley wasn’t sure about continuing the relationship.

Eventually, his persistence won Ashley over and they got married. At the time I wished them a happy relationship, but was a little worried about how long their marriage would last. Yet while her marriage has never been quite what we dreamed about as young girls, I have learned so much from her.

Though Ashley hoped that marriage would lead to greater mutual understanding, she found herself quarrelling with her husband often. He seemed to expect to know her whereabouts all the time and wanted her to be there for him whenever he needed company. He even expected her to pay all the bills because she earned a higher salary. Whenever she protested, he asked her, “Don’t you love me?”

As a friend, I watched Ashley walk through those difficult days. I saw her find peace as she became active in church and fell back on the Bible. In the midst of her marriage, Ashley clearly took comfort in a God who healed the brokenhearted and abhorred evil.

Though well-meaning friends advised Ashley to divorce her husband, Ashley chose instead to keep the promises she made at the wedding. While her marriage was not a bed of roses, it did not endanger Ashley or her son in any way. So instead of walking away, she decided to trust that God’s grace is sufficient in even her weakest moments, and that God’s strength is perfect. Such trust is amazing to me.

When I talk to Ashley about her marriage, she makes it a point to avoid comparison with other marriages, and instead focuses on God as her protector and provider. She reminds me that even the best spouse cannot guarantee protection or provision. Ultimately, our help comes from God alone, and He is able to save us from falling into despair or self-pity. We are not alone in the marriage—we are not left to shoulder our burdens on our own—the Lord Himself will help us as we honor our marriage vows.

The Lord has been faithful to Ashley as she chooses faithfulness and obedience to His call in the marriage. Although her marriage is hard, she manifests God’s strength and shows a confidence in Him that cannot be shaken. She once said that she finds true love in God as she surrenders her loveless marriage to Him.

While some of our friends say that her marriage is “blind suffering,” I see how this marriage has brought her closer to her true love. I see her joy in the Lord deepened each day. As she goes through this marriage of long suffering, I can still see the smiles on her face as she anchors her hopes in her true love. She speaks of the joy of being in God’s presence, and willingly shares the hope of the gospel with anyone she meets.

I am reminded by Ashley that all our weaknesses—whether in marriage or other areas of life—are actually opportunities for us to surrender and grow in the Lord. Whatever difficulties we might face, they can point us to experience the deeper joy and hope found only in the sovereignty of our God, beyond anything the world can offer.

My own marriage is not exactly a bed of roses either. My husband and I sometimes have different views and ways of doing things. I have often quarreled with my husband when things were not going my way. But God reminded me through James 4:1 that quarrels are often due to conflicting desires of my own heart—on the one hand, I want to honor God in my marriage; but on the other hand, I tend to be impatient and easily frustrated and angered. But as I marvel at God’s faithfulness to Ashley, I am humbled to ask God to change my temper. I am reminded to place God as the first priority in my heart.

Marriage will always be imperfect. It is after all, the union of two imperfect beings. Yet it is continually preparing us for a higher glory. Ashley knows this, and awaits the coming of the Bridegroom who is her true love. As I walk with her, I am also encouraged to put my trust in God, who is able to keeps us from stumbling and to present us blameless before His glorious presence (Jude 1:24).

God Changed What I Wanted In A Life Partner

Written By Philip, China, originally in Simplified Chinese

When I was in my second year of university, our youth group went through a half-year course on romantic relationships. During that time, I longed to meet the partner I believe God had prepared for me.

However, when I looked at the world around me, I wavered. I told myself that I just needed to find a girl I liked—even if she didn’t believe in Christ. I assured myself that it didn’t matter much if she wasn’t a Christian, since I could always bring her to church someday.

At one point I ended up dating an unbeliever. Though I had hoped that she might become a Christian, it didn’t happen. Instead, because of our different approaches to life, we really had trouble communicating. Eventually we broke up.

When I decided to go into full-time ministry, I took my desires for a partner before God. By this point I had realized that it was best for Christians to marry other Christians, and I needed to trust God about it—“Dear God, I pray for a partner who would love You more than she loves me. I pray that when I meet her, I’ll love and pursue her.”

Though mature Christians in church introduced me to a couple of potential individuals, I hoped that I would be able to meet her as I went about my daily life. When a few years had gone by—and I still had not met her—I brought my desires before God once again. “Dear God, may You lead me and help me to serve You faithfully. As for marriage, let it be as You will.”

Unexpectedly, I met her while I was working as a research student after I finished university.

Our first meeting occurred by chance. I was at a training conference when a girl came up to me hurriedly to borrow keys for the apartments we stayed in, since she was helping to look after someone. She had only eaten a few mouthfuls of yogurt from her buffet meal before borrowing the keys from me.

At that time, I didn’t think much about it. I was merely amused that she had only yogurt from the wide spread offered at the buffet. I didn’t think we would meet again.

Some time later, I learned that a new intern was arriving at church. When I found out that a church elder was going to pick her up at 6:00 a.m., I offered to go instead. After all, I was young and could save the elder the hassle of waking up early. And I did not want to pass up this opportunity for service.

That morning, I woke up early and rushed down to the train station. When I saw her, I realized that she was the one who had borrowed my keys during the training course. We started chatting and learned more about each other as we made our way to church. “What is your direction in ministry?” she asked me.

I was stumped by her question. I had always thought that a ready heart was all I needed. Someday, when God called me, I hoped to respond, “Here I am!” While I continue to trust that God will use a willing heart, I have also begun to think about and pray for direction in my ministry since that particular conversation.

Eventually I attended seminary in preparation for ministry, and we were able to interact more often. Through our interactions, I realized how intimate a relationship she shared with God.

Then one night, I found myself unusually keen to attend fellowship—because I kept thinking about her.

“Is she the one?” I asked God.

I proceeded to kneel in prayer and tears before God. “Stop me from being reckless if she is not the one for me! I am willing to submit to Your will. Please guard my heart!”

I began paying more attention to her. Her love for God and His people speaks through her words and actions: she serves actively in ministry; she is always warm and hospitable when interacting with newcomers. Her heart of service was particularly evident in her readiness to help wash everyone’s cutlery after meals. From her sharing, I could also tell that God’s Word was very close to her heart.

Over time, I continued to commit my marriage to God in prayer. Through my prayers, I realized that my affections for her were growing stronger. I admired her aspirations, her passion, and her mission. I began to pray for an appropriate time to express my feelings to her.

On the day that I had decided to tell her how I felt, she fell sick. I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and confess to her as I had planned to, but a friend encouraged me to be unafraid and express what I truly felt.

So I prayed that I would still get a chance to see her that day. We managed to meet, and I took the opportunity to share my feelings with her.

I like you! I like your love for God, your passion and your sincerity. I admire your will and mission. I know that I’m not worthy of you, but I believe that God has allowed us to meet at the right time. I know that love is not based on feelings. It is not reckless, but a conscious decision. Love requires acceptance. As I have been praying about this, I realized that I like you more and more. . .

Thankfully, she felt the same way. And so, we embarked on the road to marriage. Thinking back, she looked very different from the partner I had always envisioned for myself. At first, I was merely looking for someone who believed in Christ, had decent looks, and whom I liked. However, I soon realized that the most important criteria for my life partner is not just that she claims to believe in Christ, but that she truly loves God.

And so I found her, and she has fallen for me too.

Other Reasons Not To Have Sex Before Marriage

I was traveling cross-country with a friend when it came out that I was waiting for marriage to have sex. And I added, “and there’s no certainty I will ever get married.” He stopped the conversation right there, turned to me and said very sternly, “Promise me you will have sex before you die!”

I have a Christian friend who debated for the longest time whether to have sex before marriage like his culture was pressuring him to do, or to wait for marriage like his Christianity had raised him to. He couldn’t find adequate reasons why an ancient book would have relevant answers on this. Finally, one day he told me, “You know how I’ve struggled with it so much. Well, I finally just did it.”

These days, even Christians don’t understand why—besides “because an ancient book says so,”—anyone would choose to wait for marriage to have sex.

The Bible establishes the ideal situation for sex. God wants us to have it with only one person—our spouse, only after we are married. In the Garden of Eden, God says this is why “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It says “united to his wife,” which shows they are already husband and wife when they are joined in the flesh.

And then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:16, “And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her?” So the Bible says we are united in some deep mysterious way when we have sex with someone. The way I understand this, the physical bond is meant to solidify the verbal commitment we make to one other person for life.

And usually when people in the Bible do it another way, it doesn’t go too well for them. Like when Abraham sleeps with his wife’s handmaiden because they don’t have faith God will provide a son for them (Genesis 16, 21). Or when Solomon marries many women and they become his downfall (1 Kings 11).

But these aren’t very compelling reasons to the modern person who questions the Bible’s relevancy. The answer seems even more unreasonable if you’re dating someone whom you probably will marry.

So I’ve compiled a few reasons that I’ve come across and become convicted of over the years. I hope they can solidify your resolve, and equip you to have a good conversation if someone asks, just as they have done for me.

1. Set yourself apart from this world

In a world where it’s cool to do good, like starting non-profits and instagramming encouraging phrases, it’s hard to show what makes a Christian different. One way to show we’re committed to the God of the Bible, on top of engaging in social good (James 1:27), is by living by God’s design for our lives, for marriage.

In a world that shames those who finish high school without having sex, abstinence can be a brave move to show we mean what we claim to believe. When we stick to our resolve, it shouldn’t be hard for others to say, “Wow, she’s really living her faith; otherwise why would she wait?” And maybe they will even say, “Maybe there is something to that religion if she’d make a decision like that.” We’ll stand out. And that can be a powerful tool in sharing our faith.

 

2. Demonstrate your commitment to your future spouse

In a world where divorce is commonplace, wouldn’t it be good to have a way to show our potential spouse that we’re committed to staying with them and being faithful? What if, even before we were married, there was a way to show our future spouse that we can be trusted to stay faithful even through temptations or lust for others?

By abstaining before and during an engagement, even when our bodies are telling us otherwise, we offer trust and show discipline to our partner. It lets our partners know in a very tangible way that they don’t have to worry about infidelity. It shows we’re people of self-discipline whose convictions are stronger than our impulses. What a gift to give our spouses as we enter into marriage.

 

3. Shaping our culture

Of course, there are practical reasons not to have sex outside of marriage. These include avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. There are also emotional reasons. One is summarized in the old adage that you give a part of yourself away with each person you sleep with. But I want to say that this is much bigger than each person’s own emotional or physical wellbeing.

This has the power to shape society as a whole.

When we look at this modern world’s hookup culture, we see how it often leads to uncommitted fathers. When marriages are based on pleasure more than on commitment, we see they can lead to divorce when things are no longer pleasant. And we see how both situations can lead to single parent homes.

Then, I wonder, if young people explore vices to fill the hole left by broken households. And maybe, because they lack an example of a love based on a commitment, they take their cues for love from the world. And the cycle spreads and continues to the next generation.

I think much of this stems from our culture’s call for us to be people pursuing pleasure instead of purpose. Our culture tells us we each have a right to be happy and live how we want, as long as we don’t step on anyone else’s toes. Some might say that this is moral living. But our God knows we will grow into better, more complete humans like we were meant to be if we live by more than just “not stepping on others’ toes.”

God wants us to be people of internal depth, of fulfilled promises, self-discipline, and of love based on commitment. And when we live by the standards He has prescribed, it is a better plan for a life of peace and joy that the rest of the world tries so desperately to find. Jesus says He has come so we will have abundant life (John 10:10). And the fruit of the spirit include joy and peace right alongside self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Millions of joy and peace-filled Christians living lives of integrity, self-control, and commitment can set a refreshing example to our culture, which is overwhelmed by brokenness and pleasure-seeking. And abstinence before marriage at this time is perhaps the most powerful way we can exemplify this for our culture.

 

Having said all this, this is not about shaming those who are not virgins. But instead, I hope the above reasons serve as an encouragement because each one of these reasons can be reclaimed by non-virgins. In fact, perhaps it is even more impactful when someone, who once lived a life like the world, goes back to the life of commitment and integrity of the Bible. We can choose to set ourselves apart from the world, demonstrate integrity for our future spouse, and shape culture.

I wish I could to tell you that things will be easy if you simply follow the instructions. But I’ll be honest: it won’t necessarily be easy. The bible has many examples of people who have experienced deep fulfillment but it was while travelling a hard road of commitment and dedication. I hope we can live our lives as a calling card for what God can do in our culture.

“Ross, promise me you’ll have sex before you die!”

If I were to give a response to our culture that says this, it would be “I’m promised to something deeper than my own pleasures. I have promised myself to my Creator who has included me in a plan that is building me into a more substantial, fully-formed human of integrity, promise, commitment, self-discipline, and joy. I am becoming a person built to thrive in heaven forever.”