I have been thinking about marriage and the troubles that are plaguing so many marriages these days. I have felt compelled by the Lord to come before you and reassure you that you can experience fulfillment in marriage. I know that seems na?ve to many people, absurd to others, but I am convinced that God has fully intended for us to experience fulfillment, even awe, in our marriages. It seems that every indicator is pointing in the opposite direction. I read an article in New Man Magazine, the magazine produced by Promise Keepers, about a very disturbing new business in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Let me read an excerpt from the article.

Divorced couples in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can take advantage of a new business in town. The company is called Freedom Rings: Jewelry for the Divorced. Founded by jeweler and divorcee Lynn Peters, the company makes custom jewelry out of wedding rings. Each customer at Freedom Rings pays a fee, and the ring-smashing ceremony begins–complete with champagne and music. Just before the smashing the M.C. says, ‘We will now release any remaining ties to your past by transforming your ring–which represents the past–into a token of your new beginning. Now take the hammer. Stop for a moment to consider the transformation that is about to begin your new life. Ready? With this swing let freedom ring!’ She then uses a four-pound sledgehammer to whack her emblem of love and fidelity into a shapeless piece of metal. And the ceremony ends. The fact that women are pounding their wedding rings into pendants and men are grinding theirs into golf ball markers doesn’t surprise me. We’ve all heard the divorce statistics. (Brian Peterson, New Man, October, 1994, p. 8)

The cavalier, nonchalant approach to the tragedy of divorce that has swept our nation and is choking the life out of our community is reaping far more damaging long-term consequences than any of us can even begin to imagine. It is not simply our homes which are being ripped apart and lives forever affected, our nation is being slowly but surely stripped of its strength and staying power. We are not the first nation that has watched itself rot and die from within. Sociologist and historian Carl Zimmerman, in his 1947 book Family and Civilization, recorded his observations as he compared the disintegration of various cultures with the parallel decline of family life in those cultures. The slow erosion of the nation could be directly tied to the slow erosion of family life in each of the cases Dr. Zimmerman studied. Eight specific patterns of domestic behavior typified the downward spiral of each culture Zimmerman studied.

*Marriage loses its sacredness…is frequently broken by divorce.

*Traditional meaning of the marriage ceremony is lost.

*Feminist movements abound.

*Increased public disrespect for parents and authority in general.

*Acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity, and rebellion.

*Refusal of people with traditional marriages to accept family responsibilities.

*Growing desire for and acceptance of adultery.

*Increasing interest in and spread of sexual perversions and sex-related crimes.

Each of these eight demonic characteristics can and will be addressed and corrected by men and women who understand and commit their lives to living out God’s intended purposes for the holy union called marriage.

What we are talking about today is not unfamiliar to any of us. There is not one person here who has not been affected by divorce in the past. It could be your own divorce, the divorce of a parent, brother, sister, or friend, but I feel safe in saying that everyone reading this sermon has been impacted by the tragedy of divorce.

Many of you know far better than I do how powerful the impact of divorce is upon those who have gone through that tragedy. It would be painful enough if the pain only lasted until the divorce was made “final” by the courts, but we all know that “final” is not a word that can be used to describe the pain caused by divorce. It would be devastating enough if only the husband and wife were affected. We all know that is not the case.

I was intrigued by a study that was just released this past week chronicling the long-term effects of divorce on children. Judith Wallerstein, who is the founder of The Center for the Family in Transition in Marion County, California, has just released a twenty-five year study that she has conducted with 60 families who experienced divorce in the 1970’s. These 60 families include 130 children. Her findings are based on 26 adults who are now between the ages of 27 and 32, who were between the ages of 2 1/2 and 6 at the time of their parent’s divorce. About one half of the children of divorce in our country today fall into this age group. Just so none of us will jump to any erroneous conclusions, it is important to know that every single one of these Northern California families were middle-class families before the divorce took place.

Dr. Wallerstein’s findings are not encouraging. The children of divorce have told her that loneliness and a serious loss of parenting in the immediate post-divorce years were overwhelming. They told of the negative effects of having mom go to work and the strain they felt in their relationship with their father. She found that in their young adolescent years the children were insufficiently supervised and poorly protected, as many of them had to adjust to new stepparents and stepsiblings. Financial stresses affected their college years and career choices. As the children arrived at their “marrying years” their fears of their own future marriages failing like those of their parents rose to a crescendo.

Dr. Wallerstein found that court orders or parental agreements governed the children of divorce that she studied, instead of the changing needs of the children. The children said that they did not have the input into family life that children from intact families had.

I want you to understand that our time together today is not a study on divorce and the effects of divorce on all of those involved in the breakup. The effects of failing marriages on children, family, and friends are not the real problem, they are mere symptoms of the true problem. The real problem is that couples who love each other early on do not understand the purpose of marriage and are therefore unable to experience the fulfillment that God has purposed for that holy union.

I have to ask a question that I have been unable to come up with an answer for, but you might be able to help me. Why are so many marriages failing today when so many folks are claiming to believe in God, are going to church on Sunday, and even reading Christian books on marriage? I would love for you to sit down and write me a letter about why you feel this is taking place.

Along with the marriages that are failing there are many, many marriages that are still intact legally, but they have been dead for years. So many husbands and wives have the same attitude as the woman who spoke up at a women’s club meeting. The speaker was lecturing on marriage when she asked the audience how many of them had ever wanted to “mother” their husbands. One member in the back row raised her hand. “Do you want to mother your husband?” the speaker asked. “Mother?” the woman echoed. “I thought you said smother.” (Reader’s Digest, 10-93)

Many married men who wear a wedding ring as a symbol of God’s blessing and their commitment to their wives possess an attitude much like the man who was flying cross country and struck up a conversation with the man seated next to him. They got to talking about their wives and children when the man said, “Actually, my mother-in-law and I have a lot in common. We both wish my wife had married someone else.” (H. Bosch in National Enquirer)

Many married folks are scratching their heads shortly after the honeymoon and saying to themselves, “Is this all there is to marriage? There has to be more.” There is something more, but for you and me to experience the “something more” in our marriages we must understand God’s purpose for marriage. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning. Turn to Genesis 2 and let’s begin.

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” {19} Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. {20} So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. {21} So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. {22} Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. {23} The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.” {24} For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. {25} The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Gen 2:18-25 NIV)

This is such a rich portion of God’s Word. A section of Scripture that I read in many, many wedding services. I love the word, “helper” that is used in verse 18. I think it is significant that out of all of the words God could have used to describe the relationship of the man and woman, He used “helper.” Words that reflect the deep meaning of “helper” are, “aide, assistant, colleague, partner, supporter, and ally.” These are the words which best describe the relationship of husbands and wives.

Think for a moment about what we have just discovered and then reflect on your own relationship with your husband or wife. Is the relationship you share a partnering of your gifts? Do you feel a sense of comradere with your husband or wife? When you take the time to examine the way you and your mate have interacted during the last month, does the word “teammate” ring true? When your mate is down and needing help are you his or her greatest alley or greatest enemy? Do the words that flow from your mouth to your mate bless and build or pick and paralyze?

An interesting article in U.S. News & World Report paints a bleak picture of what happens when put-downs rather than praise flows from our lips to the ears of our mates. The article states,

In order to uncover the processes that destroy unions, marital researchers study couples over the course of years, and even decades, and retrace the star-crossed steps of those who have split up back to their wedding day. What they are discovering is unsettling. None of the factors one would guess might predict a couple’s durability actually does: not how in love a newlywed couple say they are; how much affection they exchange; how much they fight or what they fight about. In fact, couples who will endure and those who won’t look remarkably similar in the early days. Yet when psychologists Cliff Notarius of Catholic University and Howard Markman of the University of Denver studied newlyweds over the first decade of marriage, they found a very subtle but telling difference at the beginning of the relationships. Among couples who would ultimately stay together, 5 out of every 100 comments made about each other were putdowns. Among couples who would later split, 10 of every 100 comments were insults. Those gaps magnified over the following decade, until couples heading downhill were flinging five times as many cruel and invalidating comments at each other as happy couples. “Hostile putdowns act as cancerous cells that, if unchecked, erode the relationship over time,” says Notarius, who with Markman co-authored the new book We Can Work It Out. “In the end, relentless unremitting negativity takes control and the couple can’t get through a week without major blowups.” (U.S. News & World Report, February 21, 1994, Page 67)

Oh, how I want to be Connie’s greatest “helper!” I want her to know that when the chips are down and the pressure is on I will not add to her pressure. I want my words to bless her. Whenever words of destruction or devastation rise up in my mouth that might destroy and tear her down I want to swallow them rather than spew their venom on the precious gift God has given to me. I want her to know that when the walls come tumbling in on her that I will be the first one at the scene to help hold up the walls. I want her to know these things, but I have come to he conclusion that for her to know this I must live-out this type of support in our relationship.

We are to be our mate’s helper. Our actions are to be helpful. Our words are to be helpful. Our presence should bring comfort and security rather than anxiety and bitterness. Our lives should be a fragrant offering of support to our mate because we have been called by God to be his or her helper.

Now that we have established the biblical prescription for our relationship as husband and wife, that of being a helper, we must ask, “Help in what?” I am convinced that the Bible speaks clearly to two areas of help that are most important for us to desire if we want to experience the fullness of Almighty God in our marriages.

First, we are to help each other in bringing praise and glory to Almighty God. You and I were created to bring glory and honor to the name of our God. I am convinced from studying the Word of God that this is our first priority in life. Something happens when we focus our lives on glorifying God in all of His holiness and majesty – we are changed. I have noticed something about me that I am sharing more and more with the people I am around. When I am spending time in worship, seeking God’s heart, and blessing Him for who He is – I become a better husband, father, friend, and pastor. I can try and try to become a better husband, but if I put that goal ahead of bringing glory to God then I fail at both. Even though this is a truth that can not be disputed, it must also be mentioned that our worship must come from a pure heart. If we ever worship God in order to become a better husband, wife, brother, father, or mother then we can be assured that we will remain the tired old soul we were before we went to God. Our motives for worshipping God must be pure. We must worship and seek to bring Him glory for no other reason than the fact that He alone is God and there if no other.

This is a major problem for many people among us today. We are so use to forging friendship because of what they can do for us that we think the same applies for God. Our friendship with God will revolutionize our lives and families, but if we desire to glorify God because of what it will benefit us then we can forget it.

Exodus 20, one of the Ten Commandments, says, “You shall no other gods before Me.” When we choose to use God we make ourselves a god and put us, our desires, our hopes and dreams, before praising His holiness and glory.

Our goal for every day of our life is to bring glory to God in everything we do. I want to share with you some scripture that speaks to this goal.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: {19} that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19 NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. {4} For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love {5} he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– {6} to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. {7} In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace {8} that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. {9} And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, {10} to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. {11} In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, {12} in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:3-12 NIV)

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, {7} in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. {8} For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– {9} not by works, so that no one can boast. {10} For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:6-10 NIV)

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:22 NIV)

We are the vessels of the Living God and we are to glorify Him and Him alone. I don’t know about you, but I am much more faithful and consistent in seeking to glorify God when I am seeking Him with other folks who desire Him more than life. I learned a long time ago that no matter what it is that I want to pursue I can pursue it much more effectively when I am striving with folks who have the vision. What is true in business or sports or seeking to build a stronger family is also true in seeking to bring glory to God.

Almighty God in His infinite wisdom has given me a helper to help me seek to bring glory to His name. Isn’t that amazing! Isn’t God good. He knew that I could never do what I needed to do on my own so He gave me a woman after His own heart.

Second, our help is to be practical. Take a look at Genesis 1 with me to find our Scriptural reference for this task.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” {27} So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. {28} God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” {29} Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. {30} And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1:26-30 NIV)

When God made man in His image He made us to tend the garden, to take care of the responsibilities of maintaining the earth. Not many of us here this morning are farmers so it is difficult for us to understand the overwhelming feeling that accompanies farming families when they undertake the task of tending their “garden.” You can look at the farming families of a generation ago and see that they had larger families than most of us have. Farmers loved their children, but their children were also incredible assets regarding the day-to-day responsibilities of farm life. The more hands you had available the better equipped you would be to get the job done.

Most of us don’t live on farms, but we are still responsible for “tending our own garden.” God has given us responsibilities to carry out as men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and it is a blessing to have someone choose to work alongside of us in tending our gardens.

Walter Wangerin has written,

Marriage is not romanticized in the creation account. Its ideal purpose is not one of sweet feeling, tender words, poetical affections or physical satisfactions–not “love” as the world defines love in all its nasal songs and its popular shallow stories. Marriage is meant to be flatly practical. One human alone is help-LESS, unable. But “Two are better than one,” says Ecclesiastes, “Because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift the other.” Marriage makes the job of survival possible. And the fact that a spouse is termed a “helper” declares marriage was never an end in itself, but a preparation. We’ve accomplished no great thing, yet, in getting married (though many a fool assumes that the hard work’s done with the wedding and turns attention to other interests). Rather, we’ve established the terms by which we now will go to work.

Any single-parent will tell you that they could use some help in tending their garden of raising their children, trying to be both mother and father, fulfilling their responsibilities in their job, maintaining their household, and doing whatever else needs to be done. God has called us to be our mate’s helper, to assist as an ally in carrying out the day-to-day responsibilities of living.

This view of marriage is far to domesticated for our adventure-seeking, rush oriented citizens today. We don’t want a partner to help us with the day-to-day affairs of life, we want an adventurer who will transport us away from the mundane grind. God, in His infinite wisdom knew that we needed help and He has provided that help for us in our mate if we will only work together according to Almighty God’s plan.

My dear friends please hear me now. We are in desperate need of men and women of God who will choose to seek to integrate into their marriages God’s plan for marriage. If you are here this morning and God has spoken to your heart about your marriage, about your need to become a better helper to your mate, about your need to work together to bring glory to His name then I want to encourage you to do something about it. I want to encourage you to take this opportunity this morning to come before the Father, confess your lack, your need, your sin, and allow Him to raise you up as allies, partners in pursuing His holy heart.

If you are a single person who may get married some day, I can’t emphasize to you how important it is for you to marry someone who loves the Lord more than they love you. I want to encourage you to come forward and pray. Ask Almighty God to give you eyes for His man only, for His woman only, and to make you into a suitable helper for your future mate.

If you have children who are married or who will be getting married in the future, I want to encourage you to come forward and intercede on their behalf. Our marriages need prayer today like they have never needed prayer before. Won’t you come and let God do business this morning.