“My husband and I are both believers, but he’s more passionate about his job and sports teams than he is about God. How can I get him to be more intentional about his faith?” That was a question posed to Dr. Scott Stanley, a research professor and the co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver on a Focus on the Family radio show.
It’s common for believing couples to feel some dissonance with their spiritual compatibility. Having a desire for your spouse to be more spiritual is not, in and of itself, a problem if your motivation is for them to be godlier for the sake of the kingdom. After all, God gave us spouses to help us grow closer to Him.
But God’s idea of spiritual maturity and ours may not be the same. Often our expectations for our spouses are rooted in what we think Christians “looks like” and have no basis in what God has planned for them. It’s not too different than the call to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) … that is according to their gifting not necessarily what we want them to be. I am not suggesting you treat your spouse as a child but rather that you try to understand how God has gifted them and what He wants for them.
How do you rank spirituality?
Are some Christians greater in the kingdom than others? Often we feel more spiritually mature than our fellow Christians. If you believe you are spiritually superior to your spouse, you might not understand why your spouse doesn’t go to church every Sunday, have a regular prayer time together with you or listen to Christian radio. You may attend several Bible studies, pray and do a devotional for a half hour daily before everyone gets up, serve at the church dinner every Wednesday night, and help in the children’s ministry. Why can’t your spouse be more like you? Why can’t he be more like that person on the radio who prays together with his wife every morning? After all, you’re doing everything right … right?
How does your spouse feel about all you do? Does your spouse feel like you are married to the church and not to him or her? Perhaps “doing church” and your expectations are undermining your marriage.
“[The] disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. Then he said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest’” (Luke 9:46-48).
What happens when you try to rank your spouse’s spirituality? Search the internet for a “put off … put on” listing of spiritual attitudes. “Put off” lists include judging, bitterness, pride, rebellion, ungratefulness, covetousness, discontent, murmuring/complaining, strife and a critical spirit. Have you developed some of these attitudes toward your spouse when you believe that you are spiritually superior to him or her? Perhaps you are using the wrong measuring stick.
Practicing faith as a couple
Dr. Stanley is one of the country’s foremost researchers in marriage issues, doing many studies related to what makes marriages work and the importance of commitment. He has just revised his book, A Lasting Promise. He said, “The couple that is going to be the most protected in terms of really developing unity, a strong marriage and lowering a lot their chance for divorce is going to somehow find a way to practice faith together.” He says that it’s rare for couples to be matched on every motivation. “If we were the same, one would be irrelevant.”
He also points out that our expectations often get in the way of living spiritual lives together. It’s a nice idea to get up at six in the morning to share scripture and pray, but few do it. The beauty of marriage is that it is a place where God calls us to work out our faith together for His glory.
- Check your expectations. Do you have visions of the perfect Christian couple? They’re probably not realistic.
- Find one or two things where you can connect spiritually — things you both enjoy doing — like regularly inviting friends over to barbeque. Think outside the box.
- Express your gratitude for what you do find to do together. Gratitude is the greatest motivator.
- Pray together specifically for your marriage to last. These do not need to be long prayers. Studies show these specific prayers lengthen your marriage.
- Find ways to gain a long-term view of your spiritual life — what you want your marriage to count for in eternity.
- If your spouse is not going to church, suggest small things you can do together, like listen to a particular radio show together on a Thursday night.
- Don’t nag. Trust God.
“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
Patricia Hartman is a forensic CPA/partner at Kofsky, Hartman & Weinger, PA. (www.khwcpa.com), a speaker, author of “The Christian Prenuptial Agreement” (www.ChristianPrenuptial.com), president of South Florida Word Weavers and a board member of Living Water Christian Counseling.