Dear Young Man,
I remember well the joys of finding the lady I would marry. Let me tell you the story. I was twenty-six years old at the time. Since I was nineteen years old, I wanted to meet a young lady who loved Jesus and the church. I searched desperately, even dating many young ladies to find the one. Sadly, in reflection, I gave away my heart way too quickly, and even moreso, didn’t guard it as well as I should have. Now, I want to write to you about three critical lessons as you begin your marriage.
First, your wife needs you to be the man you tell others you are. In marriage, you are going to be utterly exposed. There is no hiding behind your theological knowledge. There is no hiding behind your struggles or faking out other people. You are completely and utterly exposed before your wife. You will fight with your wife, make no mistake about it. If you want to continue in ministry, it will be how you process and deal biblically with those confrontations/arguments/disagreements, that will determine the trajectory of your life and ministry.
You see, ministry to people is not first and foremost about your spouse. Ministry to others begins with you and God, not with you and your spouse. While your wife is your most crucial ministry focus, even more vital than your relationship with her is your relationship with God. If you want to last for the long haul, and love and care not only for your wife but also for others, you need to grow in communion with Christ. You need to read your Bible daily—not out of duty but out of delight, regularly pray, and avail yourself of accountability and friendship that takes time to cultivate with godly men. Doing so is hard work, even tedious at times, but it is necessary.
Second, as you are growing in your understanding of the Christian life—which you should do by reading not only your Bible, but also other excellent and godly books grounded in sound theology—you should also be applying the truths you are learning to your life. Your home is the place for this. Early in my marriage, I was unforgiving and quickly became convicted of this fact. My wife and I would have arguments early in our marriage where things were not well, and I didn’t forgive. I didn’t move on from the fight. Instead, I would let it fester, and bitterness grew as it always does. And this is vital; as I mentioned earlier, you cannot hide in marriage. The issues that are in your heart will come to the forefront of your marriage. It may take a month, a year, or several decades, but they always come out. And how you deal with those issues demonstrates your spiritual maturity. Marriage is the caldron where your theology is put on display in practice.
This is why I had to learn to forgive and repent in my marriage. One day, early in my marriage, I remember sitting in my office after a fight, thinking, Here I am, a Christian and a ministry leader, and I just fought with my wife… And I asked myself this question, “What part did I play in this fight?” More than likely, I was responsible for pushing my wife’s buttons, and my buttons were pushed. So, I then realized I needed to repent for being unloving and unforgiving of my wife, and did at that moment. Then, I went to my wife and apologized specifically to her.
Now, what a wife wants to hear you say is not only that you are sorry, but for you to specifically apologize. Let’s say you were ungodly with your words. Here is an excellent example of what to do in this situation:
Sweetheart, I am sorry for how I used my words in our last conversation. I sinned against you by saying [the things you said] and am very sorry for what I said and how I said it. It was very unloving of me to say [the things you said]. Will you please forgive me for this?
You should not use this example every time…or even most of the time. It needs to be genuine. This template is only to help you understand the principle so you can use it in your marriage.
Third, you need male Christians—preferably older, seasoned friends—who are further along in the Christian life. This is something that will not only help you to grow, but will help the other experienced men in your local church to grow. I’ve been blessed with some older men in my life who I can share openly and honestly with, and who share openly and honestly with me. This is an important and neglected aspect of ministry. Friendships with seasoned, older men, even seasoned, older pastors, are essential. They have wisdom and knowledge you do not have, not only theologically from their years of study, but also from life experience. And it’s not only the theological wisdom you need; it’s the life experience you need to glean from.
In a Bible study I led at my previous church in Southern Idaho, before moving here to California, there was a guy who was difficult to deal with. We were going through the Gospel of John verse-by-verse in this Bible study. And I was having a hard time dealing with him because, right after I would finish explaining something from the text, he would interrupt and make a point outside of context of the study. Now, that was okay that he wanted to ask questions, but when he did that it bothered me. It felt like he was taking the Bible study another direction other than the one that it needed to go in my estimation from the biblical text. And so, I often told one of my pastors about this. He said to me, “Dave, you need to pray for this man.” Well at this point, I was exasperated at this man and didn’t want to pray for him. So I told my pastor, “No, I don’t want to pray for him.” He said, lovingly, “Dave, you need to pray for him.”
I thought to myself, Okay, okay, I will; I’ll pray for him. And so, I did. Well, what began to happen over some months was my heart towards him changed. And I did this with other situations that were difficult to me; I prayed for each person. God changed my heart. He not only changed my heart, but also how I viewed that person. I began to see that person as Jesus did.
And, dear young man, whether you know it or not, you need friends to help you with this. You need the wisdom of other godly men, to help you grow in grace. You need help to apply the truth of God’s Word you are studying to your life and marriage.
Dear young man, you are beginning an incredible journey in marriage. I don’t know where you are at in your walk with God, including where you are at with your knowledge of Scripture and theology. I do know one thing, though: that you need to read and study the Bible with all of your heart, mind, and strength. If you are going to last for the long haul, you need to get in a local church and get involved (if you aren’t already). You also need to begin to minister to others (if you aren’t already), and start finding out where your gifts and talents are, and what direction the Lord is calling you in ministry as it relates to others—whether it is as a vocational elder or layperson.
Wherever you are at today, let me encourage you. If you remain idle and stuck in the place you are at now, and remain there for ten, twenty, or thirty years, you will not make a significant difference in the lives of others like I know you want to do. I know you desire to make a significant difference since you are reading this letter, and that you want to grow. So, begin today to repent of your sins, and continue on each day to do so. Pick up your Bible and read it. Talk to your wife about what you are reading and ask her what she’s reading and praying about that. Grow together in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. And, as you do over the years and decades, you will see growth not just in your life, but will leave a harvest of righteousness that will go on and on in your family tree to the glory of God.
Your Friend and Brother in Christ,