Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Gary Thomas says when you follow God’s plan and cherish your spouse—even when it’s hard—it will lead to joy.

Gary Thomas: When I learned to choose to delight and to celebrate and exult in and to cherish, I did it out of obedience, but I didn’t realize how blessed I would be doing that! Whenever we do out of obedience to what God tells us to do, we’re always blessed by it. Obedience is always the sweetest path!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Wednesday, February 14, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I am so enjoying this conversation with Gary and Lisa Thomas this week on Revive Our Hearts—even more than I would have three years ago, since Robert and I are in our third year of marriage. I am listening very carefully!

I’m learning. We’re growing. We’re making some mistakes, and we need God and His grace every day in our marriage. And the things that we’re talking about this week are things that are making a difference in our marriage. They will make a difference in your marriage.

So, Gary and Lisa, thank you for being willing to come on and bare your souls and share out of your journey with our listeners this week.

Lisa Thomas: Thanks for having us.

Gary: Thanks for inviting Lisa. It’s so fun to have her with us.

Nancy: Well, I thought, Gary, you’re the writer, the speaker, the public person and I’m sure you’ve been on a lot of different broadcasts. At Revive Our Hearts we’re calling women to experience freedom and fullness and fruitfulness in Christ, and I thought our listeners would love to hear from you as well, Lisa.

I love hearing you say that your husband lives the things that he writes about in these books, and I think it’s important for both of us as wives to say—because my husband writes a lot of books on marriage and family as well, which I will say are also amazing, wonderful helpful books—but none of us lives those things perfectly!

We live them by grace and with the help of Christ and His presence in our lives and in our marriage every day. What we really want to say to fellow-pilgrims, fellow-strugglers is: God will help you in your marriage, in your situation—whatever that looks like.

Gary, you’ve written two books we’re making available to our listeners this week, and I’m hoping—I don’t say this every week when we offer a book, but I’m really saying it this week—these are two books I want every married woman or man to get, to read, to digest, to get into your life.

I really believe they will make a huge difference, so I can’t urge you enough to get hold of—first, the Devotions for a Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples. Robert and I are doing this in our own marriage. We’re not getting quite one a week, because we’re traveling a lot.

But as we’re able, we read one of these. They’re short. We read it out loud; we talk about it a little bit, but mostly we’re trying to put it into practice in our marriage. And so for the next year, I hope that thousands and thousands of our Revive Our Hearts listeners will be going through this book in their marriage, and I know it will make a difference!

Then we’re talking about Gary’s latest book called Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage. As I read this book, I just kept saying, “This is a powerful concept!”—I think particularly for us as women. So we’re talking about that this week, if you want a copy of this book. I hope you do!

I hope you’ll read it and use it. Go to ReviveOurHearts.com and check out that book in our online resource center.

Now we’ve been talking about what it means to cherish and how to build our marriages. We want to say any marriage—no matter how short or how long you’ve been married—can grow, can deepen, can improve. And you guys, thirty-three years in, you’re still at it!

That’s hope and encouragement for us all, because you didn’t always have the rich and full marriage you have today. And who gets started that way? I remember when Robert and I were engaged. It was actually a little discouraging to me.

People kept saying to us—when they saw we were getting married—they’d say, “Oh, that’s great! Marriage is really hard!” I don’t know how many times people told us that.  And we would look at each other afterwards and we’d say, “Why aren’t people telling us ‘Marriage is great; it’s wonderful! You’re going to love it; you’re going to enjoy it!’”

They kept saying, “Marriage is hard!” And that bothered us, and then we got married and we realized: marriage is wonderful, it is sweet, it is great . . . and it is hard—in the sense that you have to work hard at it, and if you don’t, it gets just plain hard!

So every marriage has difficult seasons and moments and aspects . . . right, Gary?

Gary: It does. What I found, though, that was so encouraging . . . Cherish has been out about a year. A couple months before it came out, one thing that I noticed . . . Like Robert, I’m the morning person. Lisa’s like you. She’s very much not a morning person. She stays up a couple hours later than I do.

I heard her stirring around in the bedroom and—the best way to describe it is—my heart leapt. I knew she’d go in and she’d brush her teeth. I’d hear her shuffling down the hall, and my office door would open. She’d shuffle up to me. I’d give her a hug, and we’d share just a few words. Then she’d go out for the all-important first cup of coffee.

It’s literally become one of the favorite parts of every day of mine, because when you cherish someone—and they’re awake—it makes you happy! Now, it wasn’t like that the first decade of our marriage. It wasn’t like that the second decade of our marriage, because I was focusing on love, not cherish. I was focusing in on being there, sacrificing, serving and what-not.

But when I learned to choose to delight and to celebrate and exult in and to cherish, I did it out of obedience, but I didn’t realize I would be doing that. Because when you cherish the person you’re married to, life is just a lot better.

And you know this, Nancy, that whenever we do out of obedience what God calls us to do, we’re always blessed, right? Obedience is always the sweetest path. Holiness is always the sweetest path. It doesn’t always get presented that way, but certainly I’d say in my life it’s been true. 

Nancy: It involves hard choices along the way that lead, then, that blessing and that benefit. One of things you talk about in your books is the importance of just noticing your mate!

You know, if a guest comes in the home, you notice that guest. You’re all about, “What can I do? How can I help you? Thank you for being here!” They drop something and break it: “Oh, it’s no problem; it doesn’t mean anything to me! (It’s a hundred years old, but. . .)”

With our mates we tend to just get accustomed to each other. You’re saying that one of the things that builds cherish and oneness and intimacy is just to notice each other.

And so you, Lisa, in your slippers—or whatever—shuffling into Gary’s office in the morning . . . You’re saying, “I’m noticing you, and I’m stopping first thing in the day to greet you and to recognize that you are here in this home.”

That can make a big difference! But you have to stop and think about saying those things, expressing those things, and not just passing each other like ships in the night.

Lisa: Right, and I think that’s the power of this book. It’s not even helpful just in a difficult marriage. I think a lot of us, it’s just, life just gets busy and you’re just co-existing almost.

Cherishing just brings a lot of fun and joy. I think along with noticing is listening. I think with our cell phones and everything else distracting us, that’s a harder thing to do—eye contact, stopping, and listening.

Gary has a harder time with this because I talk more than he does. I’m more of an extrovert. So I haven’t “really” heard that story on NPR or a podcast or read it in a newspaper unless I’ve shared it with him.

I don’t always pick the most opportune times to share things with him, but he’s really good at stopping and listening and asking a question.

Gary: One of the things that amazes me about Lisa—that particularly makes me feel cherished—is that sometimes she’ll say, “Oh, babe, I’m sorry. Your sinuses hurt.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I guess they do.”

But she knows me enough—just how I hold my eyes or something—where sometimes she knows I’m dealing with it before I know I’m dealing with it.

Nancy: So it can be a lot of little things that add up to a big thing in a marriage.

Gary: One of the things I really noticed . . . I’m just preaching this to younger husbands. I don’t think we get how stressed-out and busy they are, particularly when they have kids. Life is just a race to midnight every day.

One thing I noticed—and this was particularly true of Lisa—she homeschooled three of our kids up to about eighth grade. We were back in Houston (now we’re empty-nesters). I went off on a run, and I went a little farther than I should have. It was one of those ridiculous ninety-five degree days, ninety-five percent humidity.

Nancy: Which is ninety-five percent of the time in Houston! Right?

Lisa: Yes!

Gary: Well, in the summer it is. I’m coming back, and I’m just dying! Then I see that familiar silhouette of my wife—with a bike. She brought a towel, and she brought some electrolyte-laced water.

She goes, “Man! I just heard on the news how hot it was! I was afraid you didn’t bring enough water.” (Which I hadn’t.) She goes, “I just have this.” I was just so overwhelmed that she thought to do this!

But here’s what I tell the young husbands. When we had three kids that she was homeschooling (and a golden retriever that could be just as needy) and all of those duties, she might not have even known I’d left  for a run. I would have come back and she would say, “You went for a run? In this? Are you crazy?”

When your wife takes care of so many people—I just want to tell the guys—when your kids leave, that care gets poured out on you. And so, a caring person cares. It’s just that a caring person only has so many hours and so many ways that they can spread their focus.

Look at marriage in chapters. Don’t let the busy chapters define your wife. If she’s a caring person, she’s a caring person—even if she misses some opportunities to cherish you or to encourage you. She’s still caring. It’s just spread out in so many different directions.

The empty-nest years can change that, where you can really start to focus on each other. This has been one of the sweetest seasons of our marriage, because I get to benefit from all that care now. I’m not sharing her with three kids and a golden retriever.

Nancy: But in order to get to this place, you had to persevere through those busier, growing, challenging seasons. So many marriages stop before they could really experience and enjoy the fruit of all the hard places.

Gary: Yes, it would have been terrifying for me, when we became empty-nesters, if we had drifted away. That’s why I tell couples . . . I’m not a legalist. I don’t like to be talking about legalism, but if there was one legalistic rule I would say, it’s a date night is essential when you have kids. If you’re going to be “legalistic” about one thing (apart from spending time that we’ve got everyday), be legalistic about that.

We looked forward to active parenting; we loved active parenting. We grieved when active parenting ended. We weren’t one of those couples that were just holding on.

But we ended active parenting knowing that we still had our best friends with us. In many ways, there are sweeter seasons in our marriage because we can focus on each other. But I could imagine how terrifying it would be if a couple only lives for their kids, and then their kids are gone. What are they going to do?

Now, I think one other thing that helps us as well is that, from the time we were first married (as we said in the very first program), we  wanted to serve God. Mission really has held us together and helped us to cherish each other.

I see God at work through Lisa; she sees God using me. It helps us cherish each other because it’s the Holy Spirit working through us, but you kind of get a little bit of credit for it because they see you being used that way.

So I think having that mission really does help. We’re not just living for ourselves. If you try to live for yourselves, you’re going to get bored with each other.

Nancy: Remember that, we’re not talking about a self-centered marriage or a spouse-centered marriage but a Christ-centered marriage, and that really does make a whole difference.

In fact, that’s kind of the basis of your earlier book, Sacred Marriage. What is the purpose of marriage anyway?

Gary: The subtitle was What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy Even More Than to Make Us Happy? Now I don’t think that’s the central purpose of marriage, but it was an exploration of how God uses marriage to teach us to be more forgiving, more understanding, more courageous, to listen better—to have all the characteristics of Christ.

But it’s sustained, I believe, by mission. Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Jesus isn’t addressing marriage, but if couples will get down the spiritual purpose:

  • that they’re living for a purpose better than themselves
  • that they’re seeking Christ’s righteousness
  • that they’re dying to the things that destroy most marriages
    • impatience
    • inappropriate expressions of anger
    • bitterness
    • materialism
    • envy
    • false comparisons
    • negative thinking  (those things that drag a marriage down)
  • that they’re building the positive virtues of Christ
    • gentleness
    • peace
    • patience
    • kindness (those things will build the marriage up)

I think when you look at Lisa and I, when we talked about how we had difficulty in earlier years, I very well may have been the most selfish twenty-two-year-old man on the planet when we first got married!

Nancy: But aren’t we all?

Gary: Well, but now, literally every day, I am looking for opportunities to serve her. And for me, a good day is when I find opportunities to serve her. And I think Lisa has grown so much in kindness.

If you just take one marriage, and you’re just pouring kindness into it and unselfishness into it—not even talking about the other virtues of Christ, just those two alone—just think how much better a marriage is. Suddenly you’re injecting it with that.

That’s why, I think, when you inject righteousness into a marriage and you inject purpose into a marriage, you have a reason to pray for and with each other that you get along better because you’re dying to the things that make marriage miserable.

It really is “more of Jesus and less of us,” to be closer as “us.”

Lisa: I think something along those same lines, something that really helped me in our marriage is viewing it as being in a battle together. We have a common enemy.

Nancy: And that enemy is not your husband!

Lisa: That enemy is not my husband, but Satan desires to sow strife or to make me bored with or irritated with my husband. If you view it from that lens, then you almost get like angry, and it gives you empathy toward your husband.

Sometimes he’s being tempted, or maybe it doesn’t even have to be a sin thing. It could just be an annoying habit thing or something, and Satan wants you to get more and more irritated by that.

If you view it as, “Oh, we have this common enemy,” it almost makes you angry at Satan, and then you’re fighting together. It gives you empathy for your spouse, and it just makes you want to work on loving your spouse because it’s making Satan mad. It’s like you want to defeat him in that.

Gary: I think previous generations of Christians probably focused on Satan a little too much. They could see him behind every door and underneath every pillow. I think modern Christians might not pay enough attention to the spiritual warfare that goes on.

Nancy: Certainly in this part of the world.

Gary: I’ve seen as a pastor what happens . . . In some ways, divorce becomes contagious in a church because it brings some immediate relief from difficult marriages. Other wives see that and say, “Well, she got to start over (or he got to start over) and maybe we’ll go there.”

What it does to the kids’ lives—the disruption—what it does to our witness . . . We have a message of reconciling the world. God reconciles the world to Himself through Christ, and He reconciles us to each other. When we can’t keep our marriages together, that whole message of reconciliation becomes compromised.

I’m not saying that every point of strife is a spiritual attack from Satan. I am saying it’s naïve to think that none of them are.

When I was in a pro-life ministry, we had a yearly Directors’ conference. It was one of the most intense times for the ministry every year. We’d just be pouring out, and it was really intense, but it was an important part of the ministry.

Lisa and I were noticing after three or four years we would get into our biggest disagreements of the year a week before the Directors’ conference. Then it finally dawned on us, “You know what? Why don’t we talk about this next week because maybe this is just pulling us apart before this intense time.” Then when we talked about it later, we’d be like, “What was that about?”

So it’s just not being naïve, not being superstitious. But as C. S. Lewis said, there’s also the possibility of being “sub-stitious,” where you completely forget what’s happening spiritually. Superstitious is focusing on the devil too much, substitious is not even considering him at all.

Nancy: And realizing that when we do combat the selfishness and the pride with the graces of the Spirit—with humility and kindness and other-centeredness—we’re exalting Christ. We’re pointing to how wonderful He is. He’s winning the victory. We’re not the ones winning the battle; He’s winning the battle.

We’re worshiping Him; we’re exalting Him; we’re lifting Him up, and Satan is being defeated. We’re saying to others, “You can have that kind of sweetness and power of the Holy Spirit in your marriage as well.” So there’s a lot at stake here that makes it worth fighting for!

I think what has so encouraged me about these books, Gary, is . . . We hear from a lot of listeners . . . a lot of emails. I was at our station partner here in Houston, KHCB, over the weekend.

I heard a lot of stories about people who are in difficult, hard places in their marriage—for lots of reasons. Maybe a woman’s married to a nonbeliever or there’s a lot of kids and it’s just a real busy season or caring for older parents and kind of that “sandwich” generation.

There can be a lot of circumstances that make it hard. But the encouragement is that, if you will—as you say—infuse the graces of Christ . . . Some of these choices that are practical.

Gary: It’s what I preferred about the approach of cherishing each other instead of being infatuated with each other.

We have this notion . . . Infatuation is real, but it has a shelf life of about twelve to eighteen months.

Nancy: If that!

Gary: Yes, that’s at the outside. It won’t sustain. Even then, they’ve shown under a scope that infatuation at thirteen months is demonstrably different than an infatuation at six months. It’s going to fade.

Nancy: It’s an “oxytocin” that starts to wear off. Then what do you have?

Gary: But cherishing is where we can learn to build something richer and deeper. It can be practiced; it can be cultivated. Before I would write the book Cherish, that’s what I needed to be convinced of.

Rather than just saying, “I promise to do it,” is it something you can learn to do? and can it make a difference? And for us, I’d certainly say for me at least, it really did. Because cherish sets the bar higher.

Instead of just loving her, it’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to stick with this; I’m committed to the marriage.”

Nancy: “We’re going to bear with each other.”

Gary: Which, “committed to the marriage” is like committed to something in general, but I want to cherish Lisa. It’s a whole different thing to talk about being committed to a marriage, and for me to cherish Lisa. That set the bar higher, and I think it raised us to a new level.

Lisa: Yes, I wish I’d had the book to read as a new, young wife. I think that would have made our lives a little more pleasant.

Nancy: Gary said a moment ago that he’s seen you grow in kindness. Is that something you set out to show, or is it just God at work in your life? What does that look like in your marriage?

Lisa: I think it’s just God at work in our lives, and learning to—like you said before—notice him, notice things a little more. We had kids pretty early on and pretty young. I think I just got so wrapped up in that, that I wanted to be noticed and helped and appreciated, and left Gary out a little bit in that.

You hope that through all your Bible studies and listening to podcasts and sermons and things that you’re growing . . .

Nancy: . . . in your own walk with the Lord.

Lisa: Yes, and any of those fruits of the Spirit, or things we are told to clothe ourselves with. They are going to serve our marriages. And so, hopefully, that’s just been God’s work in me.

Nancy: I know a lot of women are in a lot of Bible studies and know a lot of Bible content. In fact, it’s something they wish their husbands would do more of. But I think sometimes you can know all that stuff, Colossians 3: put on humility, gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, etc., and then fail to actually live that out in the one relationship that matters the most!

Lisa: Oh, it’s often the hardest one, because I guess you just don’t see it. You just get  used to it. I think that’s part of the whole Philippians 4:8 thing, “whatever is true.” We get to believing one thing about our husband—and maybe it’s how they were in the past or maybe it’s something they did one time—and we make it: This is who they are.

And so, learning that transformation and applying what we’re learning in our homes, for sure.

Nancy: I think sometimes there’s this sense—I hear it among women—“I could do that if he were more . . . this way.” We’re saying, “You be this way. Be this encourager, be this kind woman, and watch it have an impact on your husband’s heart!”

Gary: I think we may have referred to this before, but when I hear Lisa praising me publicly it makes me aspire to be more of that man. It is the most motivating thing my wife does, is to notice and to speak it—not just to me, but to others. I want to build on that; I want to increase it and make it happen.

And for some husbands (and I got married so young at twenty-two and was a little bit clueless), we may not pick up on what really pleases our wife. So when she verbalizes it and says, “That meant a lot,” or we hear her telling others, we’re like, “Oh, okay, that’s what she likes.”

We do not want to ask. Maybe it’s pride; maybe it’s just cluelessness; maybe we’re just preoccupied. But when we hear our wives say it . . . In one sense it might shock some wives: “How could he not know it? I’ve asked him that ten times!” But we just don’t pick up on it.

One time a wife told me that she was driving with her husband, and she asked him if he wanted to stop and eat, and he said, “No, I’m not hungry.” He kept driving, and she was so angry at him. Finally, she told him, “When I ask you that, that’s my way of saying ‘I’m hungry!’” And so it’s just giving him a clue.

Nancy: Don’t expect him to read your mind!

Gary: And I’ve heard it so much. She’ll say, “The trash is full! He thinks I’m making an observation; but I think I’m making a request.” But when you praise, you’re making it very clear that’s what you value. I think for a lot of guys, that’s what will cause us to rise up and want to make that happen.

Nancy: My prayer is that as a result of these programs and the books that you’ve written, Gary, more couples—more marriages—will experience that joy, that sweetness, that celebrating, that reflecting (which is what this is all about), that beauty and the wonder of Christ’s love for His Church . . . and the beauty and the oneness of our relationship with Him!

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Gary and Lisa Thomas about cherishing one another in marriage—for God’s sake and God’s glory. They recorded that interview when Nancy was traveling, and there were some technical challenges with the recording.

But despite the sound issues, they really have presented a vision for what marriage can be—even when it’s difficult.

We’d like to help you take some next steps in developing that kind of loving relationship. First of all, you can order the book Cherish, by Gary Thomas, from Revive Our Hearts.

And when you support the ministry and help make this program possible, we’d like to say “thanks” by sending Gary’s book Devotions for a Sacred Marriage.

Call with your donation to 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the book Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you’re married to a believer in Jesus, did you ever realize that God is your father-in-law? This idea had a huge effect on Gary Thomas, and when he explains it tomorrow, I think it will have a big effect on you, too. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is cheering your marriage on! It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion