Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Gary Thomas entered marriage focused on receiving love from his wife. Then God flipped his thinking.

Gary Thomas: God convinced me my greatest need wasn’t to be loved. My greatest need was to learn how to love. And when I became convinced of that, I stopped resenting some of the challenges of marriage and started appreciating how that struggle could have a great spiritual purpose.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for February 15, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I don’t know about you, but I have been so encouraged by this conversation with Gary and Lisa Thomas this week. Gary’s usually the speaker and Lisa supports and serves and prays and blesses and helps to create a home where Gary can experience the joys of marriage done God’s way.

But we asked her this time if she would come on the broadcast and share with him. Lisa, thank you for being willing to be out of your comfort zone. I know our listeners have been really blessed by listening to you and Gary.

Lisa Thomas: Hi, Nancy. It’s good to be here.

Nancy: If you haven’t heard the past three days of this series, I want to encourage you to go to ReviveOurHearts.com and pick it up. There is help. There is encouragement. There is blessing for you wherever you are in your marriage.

If you’re single, you need to know these things. I’m glad I read some of these books before I married because I was able to help be an encouragement to other women who are married, and God was preparing me in a way I never could have imagined to be married to a man myself, starting at the age of fifty-seven.

I have in my hand two books that you’ve written, Gary, that I’m so, so thankful for. I can’t say strongly enough how much I want our listeners to get these two books. If you’ve never gotten a book from us before, do it this time.

Devotions for a Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples. Robert and I are reading these together in our marriage. They’re blessing us. They’re practical.

Sometimes you say, “I knew that, but I needed to be reminded of that, or I needed to see how to do it.”

Give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. Make a donation of any amount to support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, and as our way of saying “thank you,” we will send you a copy of Devotions for a Sacred Marriage.

We’ve also been talking about this book, Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage. That’s quite a claim you’ve made there, Gary, but I believe it’s really true.

Gary: It has been for me.

Nancy: So we want our listeners to get—I especially want women to get ahold of this book. Men, that’s fine, too, but the Cherish book, I think we women could learn a lot about how to make our husbands feel celebrated and cherished. As we do that, it gives them greater freedom and motivation to cherish us. You give what it is that you feel you need, and God reaches out and meets your needs.

Okay, enough talking from me. That book, Cherish, is available at ReviveOurHearts.com in our online resource center.

And, Gary and Lisa, you’ve been so kind to take this time out. We want to thank you for coming over today from the church where you serve as a pastor and an author in residence.

Gary, something I read years ago, and you talk about it in Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, is a concept that I haven’t read anywhere else. I think it really helps put marriage in perspective. It’s where you talk about not just realizing that your wife is your wife, but she has another relationship, too. Can you just talk about that for a moment?

Gary: Yes. She did. And it came from a point of correction. I was not being a very good husband, and I was chastised. I went into prayer . . . it’s always dangerous to pray when you’re not being the best as a spouse. God challenged me: “Gary, Lisa isn’t just your wife. She’s My daughter, and I expect you to treat her accordingly.”

What He was doing was applying 1 John 3:1 to my marriage: “Behold how great a love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God” (paraphrased).

I’d claimed that as a single man. I’m God’s son. That’s my eternal relationship. That’s never going to change. And God was just reminding me through this inner witness that that also means your wife is God’s daughter.

When I had daughters of my own and realized how desperately I wanted them to be loved, and how two men could make me the happiest of men—not by doing anything for me, but just loving my daughters well. There are few things would make me as happy as them loving my daughters well.

God gave me this glimpse of that’s exactly how He feels in my marriage. One of the best things I could do for Him is to take care of His daughter, to love His daughter, to cherish His daughter—and doing them not just as my heavenly Father, but as my heavenly Father-in-law. I believe that’s what happens when we get married.

In Cherish I came across a story of Dr. Hugh Ross. He’s a Canadian-American astrophysicist—brilliant, brilliant man. He thinks with a different species of brain.

Nancy: Right.

Gary: I don’t have that scientific brain. God has used him mightily, but he let loose in one story that he has autism. I was just fascinated by that. I talked with his wife, and she just told me the story of meeting this brilliant young Cal-Tech, post-doctoral research student. She spoke of how she nurtured him out to where he has this powerful worldwide ministry today.

I’ve asked many wives . . . “Imagine if you have a son who had autism.” And in your listening audience, many women don’t need to imagine. They know.

Nancy: Right.

Gary: Now, imagine a woman comes into that boy’s life, and she loves on him and supports him and gives him the encouragement he needs so that he doesn’t just make it, but he thrives. Then God uses him, and he becomes more than you could have imagined a son could be. How would you feel about that daughter-in-law?

She’d be my favorite person on earth.

I said, “How do you think God feels when He sends you a son who has limitations and weaknesses, who maybe was shamed, who maybe came with sin habits and whatnot. And with the grace of Christ and the love of Christ and the hope of Christ, you’ve built him up. You nurture him through that. You support him so that he becomes a man that God really created him to be.

That marriage can be an act of worship. We connect loving our spouse with worshiping God. I just don’t know if we can do anything better for God than loving on His children. And when you realize you’re married, for me, to God’s daughter, and for the wives, married to God’s son, marriage takes on a whole new focus and a whole new element.

Nancy: And you realize that, as a father of daughters, you said nothing could make you happier than for those men that your daughters married to treat your daughters well. But also, nothing would make you more sad or maybe really upset than for your girls to have married men who treated them disrespectfully or was mean to them.

Gary: Exactly.

Nancy: You’re going to care a lot about that if you see them mistreating your daughters.

Gary: That’s the thing. I know my daughters aren’t perfect. I know where they stumble. I know what will be most frustrating for my future sons-in-laws, which is why, if my daughters would just let me pick, I think I could probably a do a pretty good job for them.

But, because I so want them to be loved, if I saw a guy that was gracious towards those weaknesses and was kind and supportive (he wasn’t sarcastic; he wasn’t saying, “Poor me,” or “Why me?” or whatnot) I can’t tell you how much even happier that would make me, knowing my kids’ weaknesses, but knowing someone loves them in spite of those weaknesses. I would love them even more because I know they’re not perfect.

God knows the person you’re married to isn’t perfect. James 3:2 says we all stumble in many ways. So when He sees you treat those imperfections with grace, the same grace He shows us, I do believe that becomes an act of worship.

Lisa: Gary likes to say that he’s not, technically, OCD, but he lives in the neighborhood right next to it. I don’t think I realized how many of his routines and needs for things to go a certain way were affecting our marriage in the early years, and I would resent that.

I think this view of marriage kind of freed me up to be . . . We can laugh about some of them now. I can accommodate to them in ways that I couldn’t. It’s just saying, “Okay, God wants me to take care of His very routine-oriented son, and that’s the way it is.”

Nancy: I think your husband and my husband has a lot of similarities.

Early in our marriage, I would find myself . . . Sometimes Robert would say, “Are you mocking me?”

I would say, “No. I don’t mean to mock you, Honey, but this routine strikes me as very odd”—because it was different than my lack of routine in those areas.

But now I’ve come to say, “It’s not a matter of right or wrong. There’s no sin involved in this. It’s just different—and that’s okay.” I’ve come to accept and celebrate that. It makes for less tension and more joy in our relationship.

Lisa: Right. And when you have the view of by doing that you’re pleasing God, that gives you even more motivation.

Gary: One of the reasons that’s so important, Nancy, is we can be talking to wives whose husbands really don’t get it.

Nancy: Yes.

Gary: They don’t realize how good they have it being married to her. Maybe all of her friends say, “Man, he so married up. He’s so blessed. He’s got this woman’s faith, and she’s so involved in the marriage.” And he may never get it.

But when you love your spouse out of reverence for God, God gets it. God sees. God promises to reward. So it’s a whole different situation where it’s not a wasted effort. You’re still loving God’s son. God will never forget it. You’ll be met in eternity with God saying, “I want to show you how I reward for eternity the woman who loves My son as well as you loved mine.”

Nancy: So have the long view.

Gary/Lisa: Yes.

Nancy: Live not just for the moment but for God saying, “Well done. You’ve been faithful.”

Isn’t it just human nature, and don’t we hear it often: “I want to be loved. I want to be cherished. I want to be respected”? There is the sense that I could be better at loving if I were being loved better.

One of the things I love in these books, Gary, is that you basically say, “Don’t wait for someone else to do this for you.”

Gary: Nancy, I think that’s been one of the biggest transformations in my own marriage. I put it second to seeing God as my heavenly Father-in-law. I was so convicted. It took God months to get this through to me, even though it’s so clear in Scripture, but you have your blinders.

I got married to be loved. I wanted somebody to love me like I’d never been loved. A good day was when I felt like I was loved well, until God convinced me my greatest need wasn’t to be loved. My greatest need was to learn how to love. And when I became convinced of that, I stopped resenting some of the challenges of marriage and started appreciating how that struggle could have a great spiritual purpose.

You say, “Well, how is that true in Scripture?”

Well, throughout Scripture we’re called to love our enemies, to love extravagantly, to love so many ways. There isn’t a single verse that says, “To have a fulfilled life, find somebody to romantically love you.” It’s all about love. Jesus said, “This is how men will know you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.”

It’s sort of the analogy I’ve used of going to the gym. Why do people pay $75, $125 a week?

Nancy: To be tormented! (laughing)

Gary: To sweat, to make themselves sore, to make themselves hurt, to get on machines that will be painful? It’s because they think, I can be a different person. I can be fitter. I can be faster. I can be healthier. I can be stronger.

Why would somebody get married? “Well, I can become more gentle. I can become humbler. I can become more understanding. I can become better at forgiving and confessing. I can become more like Christ.”

When you see the purpose of marriage, in part, is to help us grow in holiness, you don’t resent the moments. You don’t go to the gym and say, “Man, I hate this treadmill. I hate this press machine.” You know it hurts, but you understand the purpose.

Nancy: And you endure because you understand that.

Gary: Exactly. And if you don’t have the goal of becoming better at learning how to love, you will resent when marriage teaches you how to love instead of appreciating it.

Nancy: But what comes naturally to us is waking up in the morning thinking, Am I happier today than I was yesterday? or What is going to make me happy today? . . . you challenge us to ask a different question.

Gary: Yes. “How can I love my spouse today like she’s never been loved and never will be loved?”

It’s that whole process of learning how to love. I like to wait and sit on it and let God inform my mind and thoughts. Sometimes it will just be a small, little thing. Sometimes it can be over-the-top romantic. Sometimes, I’m just going to be honest, I don’t feel like I get any leading at all, but I’m at least asking the question: “Lord, I want to be the vessel through which You can love Your daughter, my wife. I want to maintain that listening ear. What can I do to bless her today?”

Lisa: Because a lot of those things don’t come naturally to me, I’m praying, “Open my eyes. Make the moment clear where I’m supposed to be saying something, doing something,” because on my own, I might not come up with that.

Nancy: I think as women we get very tied up in the tasks of going through each day, especially in those child-rearing seasons or having other responsibilities. We’re checking off our lists. And to stop and ponder the person that God has put as our closest neighbor and to say, “How can I love Robert in a way he’s never been loved before? What does that look like today? How can I be sensitive in the way I say something and what I say? And things I might have thought but not thought to say, how can I encourage him? How can I bless him?”

Right now, he’s helping some other people go through a very challenging situation and relationship. There are a lot of calls, a lot of texts, a lot of emails about this situation, and I saw him last night just tired from this whole thing. He’s not a night person anyway, and I just saw the weariness in his face, in his spirit. We’re getting ready for bed, and I said, “Honey, would you like me to just read a psalm?”

So I’m touching him. I’m saying, “God’s using this. He’s going to get you through this. You’re doing a good job on this.”

I’ve spent fifty-seven years not saying those things to anybody at night. I’m wanting somebody to make me feel good at night. And I could just see the tension and the tiredness, those things go away, and the smile comes to his face as he’s feeling, “There’s one person who’s in this with me who really cares.”

I’m making him feel loved. Now, a lot of times I don’t think about that, but when I do, it brings joy to me.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is talking with Gary and Lisa Thomas about the ultimate purpose in marriage. This conversation was recorded when Nancy was traveling, and there were some technical challenges at times, but stick with the conversation because it’s so helpful to every couple.

Nancy: We all stumble. And so, if I expect my spouse to be never stumbling or sinless, I’m going to be one disappointed mate.

Gary: Intellectually, we would never suggest that our spouse is supposed to be perfect. We know there’s no fourth member of the Trinity. But in our hearts, we sometimes resent it when our spouse isn’t that way.

I shared in Cherish about how there was just an issue that Lisa and I have faced throughout the years. It comes up now and then. We’ve talked about it and prayed about it. It showed itself again, and I was frustrated about it. How could we be dealing with this for so long and still be dealing with it again?

It was just like I could hear God’s voice saying, “Gary, this is how your spouse stumbles.”

Now, because I quote James 3:2 in Sacred Marriage and then in my second book, A Lifelong Love on marriage, and then in Cherish, I bet, Nancy, you know how this works as a conference speaker: I may literally have spent forty hours of my life telling people the implications of James 3:2. “We all stumble in many ways.”

But yet, still in my heart, it was like: “But why does my spouse have to stumble this way?” or “Why does my spouse have to stumble now?”

Stumbles aren’t usually convenient. They’re not usually at the best time. They’re not the way we want to stumble.

As long as we maintain that sense of perfection, we’re always going to be frustrated. A spouse never feels cherished or loved if they can’t have a bad day. And a spouse can’t say, “You know what? This isn’t the time to try to fix anything.” This is the time to support them, to get them through it. We can deal with the ongoing behavioral issues later. This is just a really bad day for them, and not always make it a teachable moment.

Nancy: Well, don’t you think it’s pride, too, that causes me to think that my spouse’s stumbling is more serious than my own sins?

Gary: Yes.

Nancy: I mean, I’m really setting myself up as the Pharisee in the picture to say, “I don’t stumble.” Well, I wouldn’t say that, but why am I harder on my spouse’s sins?

Lisa: Because they’re so much easier to see.

Gary: Exactly. This gets in the dangerous territory, but I’m saying, as a pastor, that I do think, in general, working with wives and husbands, that wives do tend to see men’s sins, the stereo-typical men’s sins, as much worse.

Nancy: And so, as a pastor, you would say to us wives . . .

Gary: Well, if we compare ourselves, not to our spouse but to our Savior, we can live a life of Christ.

Nancy: Yes.

Gary: When I think what God has to forgive me of—not just has forgiven me of, but what He has forgiven me of every day. He knows every slight. He knows what I didn’t do. He knows what I did do. He knows not just what I spoke but what I thought and what I held in my heart.

When I look at Jesus as the standard, it’s absurd to hold my spouse to that standard. But some wives can look left and say, “I think I’m a better wife than 90% of my friends.”

“But do you love your husband as well as Jesus loves you?” Once Jesus becomes the standard, all comparisons don’t make any sense.

Lisa: I think of the woman who could love much because she was forgiven much, and I think we need to apply that in our marriages.

Nancy: Sometimes they’re things that aren’t sins—they’re just differences or annoyances.

Lisa: Yes.

Nancy: One of the things you say in Devotions for a Sacred Marriage is, “Let it go. You don’t have to change it. Just be willing to acknowledge it.”

That was a really helpful thing to me, to say, “This is not a sin. This is something I would prefer be different, but I’m not going to change it. I don’t have to change it. And our marriage is going to be happier if I’m willing to let that go.”

Gary: The line was, I believe, “If it’s not a sin, you can’t expect him to change.”

Nancy: And you certainly can’t demand that he change.

Gary: Right. At one point, it becomes arrogant that I want to fit this person around me because I’m annoyed or I’m inconvenienced. Sometimes the problem is our annoyance or our inconvenience.

Now, I should really let Lisa talk more about this because I have a lot of quirky things that I’m sure would be very annoying to a lot of people.

Lisa: Gary can be really fidgety and squeezing plastic bottles or tapping his fingers on something. Those are things he tries to watch around me because he knows how annoying they are. So, yes, they’re not sin. I have to be patient because he doesn’t even realize he’s doing them.

Nancy: So sometimes it’s the willingness to change the things that we know annoy our mates where we can change them, the willingness to inconvenience ourselves.

And one of the things you say is, “If you know what annoys your mate, why do you keep doing it?”

Gary: Yes.

Nancy: So that’s one side of it. But the other side is not demand that something. I think we make battles out of things that don’t have to be battles, where we could just be clothed in understanding and kindness and gentleness and say, “I’m not going to let this be a federal issue.”

In fact, you say, “If something hasn’t changed in ten years that you’ve been trying to change . . .”

Gary: At some point, you just have to let it go, or you drive yourself crazy.

I believe in boundaries. I believe in leaving a lot of time to catch a plane, to get to a church service on time, to do anything. And we laugh that Lisa doesn’t so much believe in boundaries as she believes in divine intervention. As long as you intended to leave on time, God will make every light go green and get you there on time.

We’d had so many struggles. And now I realize after thirty years of marriage that it’s not going to change. So what can I do to help her get ready? But it’s not going to change anything if I’m showing my annoyance, if I’m speaking down to her.

Nancy: Fuming.

Gary: It just makes us frustrated to no end. So part of it is: Gary, you just need to learn to chill out.

Lisa: But sometimes I think we’re not late because you haven’t gotten irritated.

Gary/Lisa: (Laughing)

Nancy: Well, one of the things Robert and I are learning is to assume the best of each other.

Gary/Lisa: Yes.

Nancy: To make allowances, to assume that that person is not trying to hurt me or wound me or disappoint me. You’ve just got two different human beings, but all of this is working for our good and for our becoming more gentle and forgiving and gracious.

If we didn’t have those quirks, if we were just perfectly suited to each other without any effort, then we wouldn’t feel the need for God’s grace. We wouldn’t feel the need to grow. And we wouldn’t be changed more into the image of Christ. So we need those differences.

Gary: What I love about all this, Nancy, within the context of the covenant marriage, where you are committed to be together until God brings you apart, is that you have a lifetime to learn these lessons.

I’m thinking of the younger women who are listening to this—both of those books, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage and Cherish, are about getting on the journey of exploring what it means to make somebody feel loved, exploring what it means to make somebody feel cherished. It’s not mastered in a decade, two decades, three decades. But you have time to be a student of your spouse, to learn to value your spouse, to worship God by loving your spouse, and just to enjoy the journey, enjoy all of the years. They go faster than you can imagine.

I still feel younger than the years I’ve been married. I still feel twenty-nine. I’ve been married thirty-three years. So it can’t be that way, but when you can look back, there are a lot of things about my life I wouldn’t change. But every investment I made in my faith, serving God, and in loving my wife, and growing closer to my wife, looking back, those were the best investments I made.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Gary and Lisa Thomas about ways we can be investing in our marriages for God’s glory.

Gary has written a book to help you do that, and we’ll send you a copy when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Call and make your donation at 1–800–569–5959, or visit our website, and ask for Devotions for a Sacred Marriage.

And while you’re there, you can also order the other book we’ve heard about today. Order Cherish at ReviveOurHearts.com.

How do you respect and follow your husband when he feels God’s leading him in a different direction that you? Our friends Erin Davis, Vicki Rose, and Kim Wagner will talk about it tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is calling you to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.