October 25, 2018

Fixed Focus

Gary Thomas — 

Looking for a great gift to give to an engaged couple that will help them get spiritually prepared for marriage?

Are you half of an engaged couple and want to enter marriage prayerfully and thoughtfully?

My newest book, Preparing Your Heart for Marriage: Devotions for Engaged Couples is available for pre-order now (it releases November 6). The second half of this devotional goes through every phrase of the statement of intent and marriage vows so that during a couple’s wedding, the language will be more than just familiar—it’ll be something they’ve talked about, prayed over, and committed themselves to, making the ceremony all the more special.

This week’s blog post (and the next two) will feature a few devotions from this book to give you a taste of what’s in store.

The Most Important Things

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you as well….” Matthew 6:33

One of the most important skills you need in order to excel in marriage is rarely talked about, but it’s essential: focus.

A great marriage is all about maintaining the right focus on the most important things.

One of the first things I go over with engaged couples is to ask them to make a commitment that they will not discuss the wedding ceremony at least three days out of seven. It is so easy to let a thirty to sixty-minute ceremony become your focus for the next nine months, but you should be preparing for life more than you should be preparing for a party.

Otherwise, here’s what you can expect: you spend your dates and downtime talking about the flowers, the venue, the guest list, the tux, the songs, the wedding party, the reception, the food, the music, and on and on. Obsessive talk creates an obsessive focus, which changes the character of your relationship to anticipation instead of relation. As the wedding day draws near, you keep saying to each other, “Can you believe it’s almost here?” and you worry about the details and talk about who can’t make it, etc.

The ceremony happens—it’s almost over before you know it—and you embark on your honeymoon. You spend two days re-living the ceremony (who was there, who wasn’t, what went right, what was funny, could you believe he said that, or that she did that?), and by about the third day of the honeymoon the ceremony is talked out.

What your relationship has been built on for months is over.

What do you talk about now?

It’s not just about conversation—it’s about adrenaline. When you invest too much in a party and the party is now past, there’s a natural letdown. You’ve invested so much in this day, looked forward to this day, set your hopes on this day, and now that it’s over, how can you not feel a little depressed?

Do you really want to feel depressed on your honeymoon?

How do you counter this?

You focus. You guard your heart so that what you’re living for is still in front of you. The most wonderful feeling in the world is to be intoxicatingly in love with your new spouse, enjoying your time together, but eager to get back to life. Then, it’s not about what’s past, but about what’s ahead.

You get to this blessed place by realizing that a marriage matters far more than a ceremony, that the wedding is just the first day of hopefully tens of thousands of days.

If you spend your engaged months seeking first God’s kingdom (looking to reach out to others, thinking about others, serving others, on his behalf) and his righteousness (growing in grace, kindness, surrender, humility) then you are spiritually preparing yourself for a spectacular marriage.

The problem with taking a vacation from Matthew 6:33—even to plan something so life-changing as a wedding ceremony—is that it sets you up to be selfish, and selfishness destroys more marriages than just about anything else. You worry about impressing people with the cake more than impressing them with God’s grace. You worry about how you’ll look in a dress or a tux more than whether your attitude reflects the kindness and patience of Christ. And if you do that for six months or nine months or a year, it turns you into the kind of person who is self-obsessed.

A self-obsessed person doesn’t do so well in marriage.

In other words, this waiting and preparation for marriage will shape you into the kind of person who excels in marriage or the kind of person who sabotages their marriage.

If you can’t focus on God’s kingdom and righteousness now; if you let a wedding ceremony become your focus, then after marriage, you’ll slip into focusing on buying and setting up your house and other such matters. It never ends. There’s always something that feels more pressing than seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

It takes a certain spiritual maturity to be able to set aside something really exciting and discipline yourself to choose to focus on something eternal. But that’s the obedient life in summary. Not that the eternal isn’t exciting—it is! But our hearts tend to follow our minds. If you set your mind to always think about a ceremony, you squeeze out thinking about anything else, and thus your heart drifts from everything else.

The ceremony should serve your marriage, not sabotage it. Set aside at least three days a week where you will not discuss wedding details. Maybe you’ll lead or participate in a small group, find a creative way to serve others, just sit and listen to a grandparent, meet with another couple that’s struggling, or go out and have a very fun time together.

Learn the secret of focus, and you’ll plant the seeds for an intimate, fulfilling, and lifelong love.

Heavenly Father, help us learn to focus on your kingdom—doing your work, serving others, reaching out—and growing in righteousness over the coming months. Lead us to think more about whether we are reflecting Christ than whether we can impress others with the ceremony. Reveal to us things to do together; point out personal areas where we need to grow. Let this ceremony remind us to choose the best things first rather than blind us to your eternal truths.

 

  1. Will you commit to not talking about the ceremony at least three days out of seven? If so, which days?
  2. What act of service can the two of you do in the coming months, before the wedding ceremony? Is there a small group you can participate in? Is there a joint ministry you can support? Is there a grandparent who needs a weekly or monthly visit? Write out a list of service activities that you can do together.
  3. Choose one area of righteousness where you need to grow. Maybe it’s humility—putting others first. Maybe it’s kindness—initiating good deeds to bless others. Maybe it’s patience—not being harsh with others and their weaknesses. How do you want to be spiritually stronger on your wedding day than you are today?

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13 responses to Fixed Focus

  1. This is my first time posting here. I am so blessed by your posts. They are practically life-changing and so Christ-focused. Thank you for helping us know how we can live the scriptures and constantly seek to be changed into His Son. This came right on time when we were starting to let wedding plans become the talk of the day. Thank you for being used by God to refocus us into what is eternal. The timing couldn’t be any better for us as we got engaged 2 months ago with the wedding coming up in 6 months. I read this to my fiance today and we have made the commitment to seek God’s kingdom( serving others) and his righteousness ( growing in grace) even in our long distance relationship. Thanks so much, Gary for sharing Blessings

    • Fortunate,

      Thank you! I was so blessed reading this. Words are just words, but if they are changing lives, that’s powerful. Bless you for your kindness in taking the time to comment.

  2. Wonderful advice! I’ve seen couples who were more in love with the IDEA of getting married than the actual PERSON they were marrying, and focusing on the wedding ceremony only kept them even more distracted from what really mattered.

  3. Excited to read this, Gary. Pre-ordered, and looking forward to learning and sharing with our premarried couples in Merge.

  4. Great advice for young couples, or any couple! Thank you again fr your godly wisdom!

  5. Very excited for this, Gary. Preordered and can’t wait to read and share with our couples in Merge.

  6. Hi Gary! It’s crazy that you posted this today – as it’s our 15-year wedding anniversary! 🙂
    “Fortunately” for us, 15 years ago, today, the budget was small and we let our moms plan most of it – so the day wasn’t just about centrepieces no one remembers now. Haha! 🙂

    This post, however, rings very true as we’ve had other life situations that have caused the same self-focus: buying a house, waiting for the birth of a child, career(s), name it!
    … the world, the enemy, and our own flesh are always eager to plant seeds of division from self-centerdness in our hearts towards each other, which then to spills out into all our other responsibilities and relationships.
    Instead of being thankful we’re called by God to work for His glory and that he gave us each other, we judge each other and destabilise the foundation of our marriage with self-pity and angst. I grieve for time and effectiveness lost.

    But – by God’s Grace!! – we’re SLOWLY learning the battle with self-focus will never end this side of eternity – and are growing more committed to hold hands and run joyfully towards Jesus as the team we are called to be.

    GREAT reminder! Thanks so much for all you do to bring truth to us!

    • Kendall:

      THIS! What a great line: “But – by God’s Grace!! – we’re SLOWLY learning the battle with self-focus will never end this side of eternity – and are growing more committed to hold hands and run joyfully towards Jesus as the team we are called to be.”

      Love it. Thanks for sharing

  7. Wow. Love this. And couples who are already married can begin to have this mindset and focus too. Thanks for a great message. Looking forward to the book!

  8. This comes in perfect time as our second oldest daughter is engaged to be married NEXT November. We already gave them each a copy of Sacred Search, and this will be a wonderful follow up as they prepare their hearts and lives for the big day.
    Blessings