Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Getting to the Cross in Marriage

Leslie Basham: A few years into their marriage Dennis and Barbara Rainey went through a very difficult time.

Barbara Rainey: There was no romance. There was no feeling. It was just survival. We were trying to get out of bed in the morning and do the right thing and hope that something else didn’t break, so to speak, feeling that we were just hanging on.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, January 27.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, it is a great, great privilege to welcome today to Revive Our Hearts a couple who have been long-time, dear, personal friends and a couple who have been for many years champions for building godly homes and marriages.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey are no stranger to most in our audience. You’ve probably in many cases listened to them on FamilyLife Today. Many of you have attended Weekend to Remember marriage conferences hosted by FamilyLife. You’ve read books by Dennis and Barbara. You’ve used FamilyLife resources to help build your marriage, to invest in your family.

Today we have a chance to get to talk with them on a more personal level. Dennis and Barbara, thank you so much for coming and joining us to talk on Revive Our Hearts today.

Barbara Rainey: We’re glad to be here.

Dennis Rainey: I’m glad we’ve had the privilege of teaming up with you and seeing God use you in so many mighty ways, Nancy. I think your best is yet ahead.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’ve been ministry partners for a number of years, and I’ve had the privilege of being a guest on FamilyLife. And Barbara you have been a guest on Revive Our Hearts. But this is the first time we’ve had the chance to have both of you together on Revive Our Hearts, and I think it’s long overdue.

Barbara: That’s funny. I hadn’t realized that we had not done this together.  

Nancy: It’s about time.

Barbara: Yes. We’re glad to do it.

Dennis: It’s an honor to be here.

Nancy: I know that you have interviewed on FamilyLife many couples. You’ve told many marriage stories, stories about other people’s marriages. But I think our listeners would love to have a chance to get to know you better as a couple.

You’ve been married 37 years. You have six children, fourteen grandchildren. That’s a lot of life, a lot of family life. And you have a life message. FamilyLife ministry is really the fruit of your life message to have a marriage today that goes the distance, stays the course, and is faithful to the Lord. It’s a national treasure, and there aren’t enough of them. So I want our listeners to just have a chance to get to know you better and hear how God has done this in your family.

So I just want to go back 37 years or more to how you first met. I’m not sure I’ve heard that story myself.

Barbara: Really? Dennis and I met in college. I was a brand new believer and he had just transferred from a junior college. We both that fall semester got involved in Campus Crusade for Christ on the college campus. He and I and another young man who was his roommate became sort of a trio. We did a lot of things together through Crusade.

We did some pretty different innovative things. We had all these fun ideas that we wanted to do to make Christ the issue on our campus. And the three of us did those things together. So I got to know him as a friend long before we ever began to date. So we had a good foundation.

Dennis: We were having a lot of fun as friends. We ran Christ for student body president and resident of your life during student body elections. We called ourselves “Radicals for Christ.” There were three of us.

We also created an underground Christian newspaper. And of course, Arkansas, the mascot of our university is a Razorback. So the name of the underground Christian newspaper was Hogwash.

Nancy: Oh my.

Dennis: We interviewed coaches who were followers of Christ. Truthfully, it occurred to me maybe a couple of times to ask Barbara out, but she became attracted to my best friend and started dating him. So I didn’t ask her out and he did, and they became an item.

Ultimately, he asked her to marry him and then a couple of days later kind of retracted the offer, and they broke up. This is a more interesting side of the story, which I don’t know if you’ve ever heard or not, Nancy.

Nancy: I haven’t.

Dennis: But about a year later a young lady came to me at the Arrowhead Springs Conference Center where Campus Crusade’s headquarters was at the time. This young lady asked me, “I need advice in this relationship with a young man that I’m dating.” I told her two things that she said meant a great deal to her later on.

Number one, “Do you believe God is big enough to give you someone you can love more than this guy you’re dating?”

She thought, “Yeah, God’s big enough to do that.”

And the second thing I told her was in the form of a parable. There was a little boy by the name of Johnny who was in his front lawn playing in the dirt. And his uncle came over and said, “Johnny boy, would you like a dime today or a dollar next week?”

And little Johnny’s eyes impetuously bounced from the dime to the dollar and back to the dime. He thought of what that would buy. And remember this was several years ago, so this was back when a dime would buy a package of potato chips or a dollar would buy a rubber ball.

And so he thought, “Which would I rather have?” He was struck with a hunger pang so he took the dime, bought the chips, and wolfed them down. They were gone.

Well, next week rolled around. Guess what everybody on Johnny’s block had? A rubber ball. So Johnny gets on his bicycle, drives over to his uncle’s house, knocks on the door, and says, “Hey Unc, how about that dollar you promised me?”

His uncle looked over his bifocals and said, “Uh-uh, Johnny boy. I promised you a dime today or a dollar next week. You took the dime. You can’t have the dollar.”

And I told this young lady that perhaps God had a dollar for her later on.

Well, Nancy, this is a true story. That young lady I was counseling was Barbara. So you’re looking at the dollar.

Barbara: Ha! Isn’t that a great line? He loves telling that story!

Dennis: I love telling the story because you know God is a God of second chances, but He does have a best for us, too. I think a lot of people don’t wait for His best. I think the story of our marriage was really a couple of imperfect people who’d made a lot of mistakes in our lives but who ultimately got it right finally about waiting on God, trusting Him.

It was interesting. About a year later we started a friendship around a meeting in Dallas, Ft. Worth area called “Explo 72.” And we went out, not dates, but just hanging out with each other 52 days out of 55.

Nancy: But who’s counting?

Dennis: Yeah, but who’s counting?

Barbara: He was counting.

Dennis: I was counting. But looking back on it now it’s interesting. Six weeks later we were at a wedding, and a friend of ours said, “You need to decide whether you’re going to get married or not.”

Barbara: And is this God’s will or not? Because if it is, you need to do something about the time you’re spending together. If it’s not, you need to quit hanging out.

It just made perfect sense to both of us because we really believed that God had a plan. And it either was His will or it wasn’t His will.

And we thought, “Yes, that makes sense. We need to find out what God’s will is and then act on it.” So we did.

Dennis: So make a guess how many times we talked about marriage before then?

Nancy: Zero. Hadn’t come up yet.

Barbara: No. I still thought he was my best friend. I really didn’t see him . . . Even though we’d spent all that time together, I had decided a long time ago that he was just a friend. So I viewed him as a friend, and so we were just hanging out. It never even occurred to me to consider him as anything other than a friend. I was quite shocked by the conversation, by the way. I was speechless.

Nancy: So how long from that point until the wedding?

Barbara: Six weeks.

Dennis: Well, there’s a little story that needs to be told in there. The advice of the counselor was, “Take a week. Pray about it, and then decide what you’re going to do.”

So after I’d prayed about it for two days, I called Barbara at 2:00 A.M.

Barbara: My time.

Dennis: In South Carolina where she was. And I said, “Will you marry me?” I didn’t wait a week.

Nancy: Did you wait for her to wake up?

Barbara: I don’t know that he did, actually.

Dennis: I sent her a dozen roses the next day, Nancy, to confirm the deal because I wasn’t sure she was awake.

Nancy: Make sure she remembered.

Dennis: But we were married six weeks later. You look at how marriages start—you never know the other person. It really is a decision to walk by faith and trust God. It’s back to what the Proverbs talk about. Commit your way to the Lord, and ultimately He will direct your steps (see Proverbs 3:5-6).

Nancy: It’s interesting that your marriage or your relationship was really founded on a desire to serve the Lord together. That’s what you’d been doing for those years.

Barbara: That’s right.

Nancy: And that’s what you’ve been doing all these years since.

Barbara: We really look back on it and are so, so grateful that God allowed our relationship to develop the way that it did. I’m so grateful that I married my best friend because our marriage was not based on this infatuation. We were so head-over-heels in love and every time this certain song came on . . . We didn’t have any of that because we were friends.

And we were friends first. That was really a very healthy way to start our relationship because we were able to discern God’s will because we weren’t clouded by all this other emotional stuff. It was very easy to pray and say, “God, is this Your will?” I knew that it was. I knew that if he asked me that I was supposed to say yes.

So our marriage began on the foundation of knowing without a doubt that we were called to be together for life. It was a great way to begin a relationship.

Nancy: And they all lived happily ever after.

Barbara: Well, not that part.

Dennis: You know it.

Nancy: No problems, no challenges.

Dennis: One of the more interesting things, Nancy, was as we were being advised by our friend, kind of a counselor of sorts, he said, “I really want you to look at Barbara and realize that she’s a wretch. She’s a sinner. She’s selfish.”

And then she told Barbara, “Look at him. Dennis is a wretch. He’s selfish. He’s a sinner.”

I think people have a way of idealizing marriages. They hear these stories and they do think it’s going to be happily ever after. But I want to tell you that marriage is life up close and personal.

Nancy: Now did you believe that when you heard those words before you got married? This person I’m marrying is a wretch, a sinner?

Dennis: No, no, not at all.

Barbara: We hadn’t seen that other side of the person, so we didn’t believe it.

Nancy: How long did it take until you did start to see that side?

Dennis: Good question.

Barbara: I think it is a good question. I think fairly quickly. But it took me a while to believe it because I started marriage . . . I was a fairly new Christian. I really had bought into the idea that if you played by the rules and you did “A plus B,” it was going to be happily ever after.

I knew realistically that happily ever after really was a fairy tale. But I thought that it would be a whole lot easier because we were Christians and because we were going to pattern it after Scripture. I thought it would be a lot easier than it was.

Nancy: So you had some expectations.

Barbara: Oh yes, I did have some expectations. And my expectations were honestly not very biblical, because I was minimizing the fact that we were selfish and wretched and sinful, and I was maximizing the fact that if we did it right, it was going to be easy.

God had to help me see over years that the wretched part is so true. And learning to deal with our sinfulness is a challenge no matter who you are.

Dennis: The old sin nature doesn’t get any sweeter as we get older. We are hopefully being made more and more like Christ as we get in the Bible and as we pray and as we seek to follow Christ. But that doesn’t mean the old sin nature and our selfishness goes away.

Nancy: So take us back in those early years of your marriage to an incident or an issue that made you both realize, “I really am married to a sinner.”

Dennis: There was a period of time that we’ve talked about a great deal five or six years into our marriage. We’d just moved for the fifth time in six years, and there were a number of events that took place during that year that just knocked the props out from under us.

I mean, my father died. In all of our years of ministry we received the only two short paychecks we’ve ever received. We were starting FamilyLife, so there was this ministry that nobody knew about, had no identity, nobody really cared about. We were hammering out something there. Our son Benjamin had surgery at the age of one. I had to go back and run my family’s propane business in the midst of the worst winter in history, 1976-77 winter, and I didn’t know anything about running a propane business.

In the midst of doing that, they rushed me to the hospital after I’d laid down in the same bed that my father had died in. I thought I was having a heart attack. I finished that two-week stint doing that, came back home.

It wasn’t long after that, a few months later, that Barbara was doing her exercises and she became faint. I felt her neck and her pulse, and her heart was racing over 200, 250 beats a minute. So we rushed her to the hospital. She nearly died. She maintained a heart rate of 300 beats a minute for almost eight hours. At a point I was seated in the coronary care unit wondering what I was going to do with two kids under two years of age.

When you go through a period of time, and almost marriage is tested to find out what it’s made of, you begin to test the metal of whether you are going to live for yourself or whether you’re going to live for someone else.

Fortunately, back to how we started our marriage, we started with a commitment to Christ deciding we wanted Him to be our Master, and we wanted to be His slaves. Because of that, that was settled. That doesn’t mean we didn’t struggle with that from time to time, but it made handling that twelve month period where everything got really shattered in our lives.

And interestingly, Nancy, at the end of that period of time I just described, we found out Barbara was pregnant.

Nancy: With number three.

Dennis: With number three and wondering if she’d be able to give birth and live, have a healthy baby. I mean, everything was uncertain.

That’s how I would answer the question, “What are the key points in our marriage where we had to decide, ‘Are our lives our own or are our lives someone else’s?’”

Nancy: So in that pressure cooker year, did you find that you were growing closer to each other, or did it put some tension in the marriage?

Barbara: My memory of that year is not a whole lot of emotion because I think we were so on the edge for so long. I think, ultimately, it did bring us closer together. But I think what we felt at the time was that we were just trying to survive. There was no romance. There was no feeling. It was just survival. We were trying to get out of bed in the morning and do the right thing and hope that something else didn’t break, so to speak.

I just remember the sheer feeling that we were just hanging on. Jesus said that in this world you will have trouble. That was our first real encounter with trouble. It shook us. It rattled us. We didn’t like it. It didn’t feel good.

But we were committed to staying together. In fact, our very first Christmas together after we’d been married just four months, we had sort of a little private ceremony on that Christmas and we re-committed our lives to Christ as a couple.

Yes we’d done it at our wedding, and yes we’d done it individually before we’d even started dating. But we wanted the beginning of our marriage to really sort of have a stake in the ground. So we had done that that first Christmas.

I believe that making that commitment to stick with it for life is what got us through that difficult season and then the ones that followed because there have been others too. So a commitment to not giving up and not quitting no matter what, I think, is the only thing that will take a couple through the storms of life.

Nancy: As you think about enduring that season of storms, we say in our ministry, “Pressure sanctifies.” It has a way of whittling away the stuff that is not like Christ and purifying our hearts. As you look back, how would you say that those seasons of pressure in your marriage have changed you? How have they made you more like Jesus?

Barbara: Well, for me I would say that more than anything else all of those troubles throughout the years have been used by God to strip away the things that I thought would give me hope or fulfillment or joy or satisfaction. He has slowly but surely taken my hands off of those things that I was holding onto that I thought were important.

There’s a hymn that I just love that says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” I think even though I was a committed believer and even though in my heart I wanted only what God wanted for my life, I think I was still hoping in other things. I think I was hoping in my performance or my ability to be a good wife or my ability to be a good mom. I was hoping in other things too.

Through the years all of these difficulties that God has allowed in our lives has been His way of saying, “Your hope is in the wrong place. It’s partly in the right place, but it’s also partly in the wrong place.” He has slowly but surely through the years whittled those things away so that I have a much better understanding of the truth of that statement: My hope is on nothing but Jesus Christ.

Dennis: For me I think of Jesus’ words in Luke chapter 9:23. He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

I don’t want to reduce life to a formula because it’s not. It’s not simple. Life is full of bumps and valleys and mountaintops and everything in between. But I’d have to say the person who finally takes Christ at His word and says, “I’m going to come after it. It’s a lifelong pursuit of Jesus Christ” and then gets involved in the tough work of self denial. I mean, not being selfish, stripping away the pretense, the pride, the arrogance, thinking that I can do it on my own terms and have life the way I want it, but instead truly follow Him and let Him guide and lead.

I think everybody has a cross that they’re carrying, a burden that you’re carrying perhaps for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years. It may be a marriage that is not what you wanted. But take that cross and you keep going back to Jesus. You keep going back to Him.

He either is who He claimed to be or He isn’t. There’s nothing in between. If He is who He claimed to be, then that means we can come to Him and He’ll meet us, and He’ll give us the courage, the strength day by day to follow Him.

Barbara and I have faced so many challenges in our marriage over a 37 year period. We couldn’t even begin to get into some of the valleys that we’ve walked through together, some of the private struggles that we’ve faced together.

But I can’t imagine what it would be like to have tried to face those as a couple alone in my own power, in my own strength. That is the definition of futility and ultimate failure.

Nancy: When you talk about getting to the cross that takes you to the point of death—death to self, death to pride, death to my own way. The mystery of God’s way is that death actually brings life.

As I’m sitting here looking at you today, and I’ve known you long enough to see the warm and close and intimate friendship that you have as a couple today 37 years married, having been through a lot of those valleys and some long ago, some more recently. But to see the life, the fullness, the blessing that has come out of your willingness to take up your cross in your marriage as two sinners married to each other but to let God have His way.

Not only the beauty and the life and the fragrances, the fruit in your marriage, but then to see FamilyLife Ministry that over the past 30 years God has used to bring thousands and thousands and thousands of couples to experience that kind of life themselves. Death really does bring life.

So the sacrifices you’ve made, the willingness to say no to your flesh, the willingness to say yes to God, only eternity will reveal all the fruit that that has produced. So it’s brought joy in your lives but joy to countless other couples, marriages, families as well.

I just want to say thank you for laying down your lives for Christ’s sake, for the gospel, and for those who across this country and around the world are experiencing quality of life in Christ today that they would have not otherwise known.

I want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of a book that we’re offering this week on Revive Our Hearts. It’s a devotional that Dennis and Barbara Rainey have written called Moments with You: Daily Connections for Couples. It’s a 365-day devotional book and something you may want to get for yourself, use in your own marriage, or as a gift for an anniversary or a wedding. We’ll be glad to send that to you when you send a donation to Revive Our Hearts.

Then if you’ve never been to A Weekend to Remember marriage conference hosted by FamilyLife go to, click on the link. It’ll take you to the information about that marriage weekend. We’re going to talk more about it in another conversation coming up here with Dennis and Barbara.

But go and find out about this conference. If you’ve never been to one, you need to do it and find out how your marriage can go the distance, wherever it is at this point, whatever pressures you may be experiencing as a couple. This is a tool that God will use to help you experience the marriage that He wants you to have.

Dennis and Barbara thanks for sharing out of your hearts, and I look forward to picking up this conversation the next time on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.


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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.