By April Motl, Crosswalk.com
When we were first married, I had a list of marriage do’s and don’ts that I had curated from books, Christian conferences, and more seasoned mentors. I’m not sure whether it was selective hearing or if it was simply not mentioned, but now almost 20 years into our marriage, I’d have to say, the single most powerful marriage practice (after 1. tending your own spiritual growth and 2. reading Scripture and praying together) has been expressing gratitude!
Gratitude has been a powerful key that has unleashed power in all the other good marriage habits for us!
Here are four reasons why you might want to take stock of the expressed and felt gratitude you are cultivating in your marriage:
1. Gratitude (or Praise) Is Spiritual Warfare
Marriage was God’s first created institution. It is precious to Him. The unique way God set His image in the combination of man and woman is highlighted in a God-centered marriage. Because of that, the enemy hates it. Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness have a long to-do list, but anyone married for any length of time would attest to the fact that marriage seems to be a unique target for the enemy. Because of this, it is vital that we are not unaware of his schemes, as Paul warns us (2 Corinthians 2:11). We must be vigilant over the battle for our marriages!
In the Old Testament, the army would sometimes send out the praise band of the day before the soldiers. This wasn’t a wimpy attempt to save their skin by sending the band kids out before the jocks. It was an acknowledgment before God, the hosts of heaven, and their enemies that they knew the battle was spiritual.
When we set our hearts to praise God faithfully and whole-heartedly in our marriages, we prepare our hearts for the spiritual battles that are coming. We also tangibly acknowledge that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood but rather the spiritual forces that have set themselves up contrary to our Lord (Ephesians 6:12).
2. Gratitude Breathes Grace Into Our Marriage
The word for grace has its roots in the word gratitude. In the New Testament, the Greek for thanksgiving is eucharistos (and a few derivatives). The word is a compound word with charis at its root, which means grace. In English, “thanks” doesn’t remind us of grace. But in other languages, like Spanish, gracias clearly ties the concepts of grace and gratitude.
In the Old Testament, yadah and todah (two Hebrew words related to expressions of gratitude) are tied to confession. In fact, sometimes, those words are used to describe the act of confessing sin. From beginning to end, God’s Word shows us that to be a people of thanksgiving, we will be a people wrapped in confession and grace. Our marriages are no different. If they are centered in Christ, they will breathe in and out through our flaws with grace, confession, and gratitude.
Years ago, I remember struggling with a shortcoming in our marriage. I was just about bubbling over with it. And then my husband sweetly came to me and said, “Thank you for being patient with me. I know this has been hard, and I am trying my best.” His gratitude toward me breathed grace into our relationship. I had a renewed patience for our situation and a renewed commitment to face it together instead of pulling away with frustration.
There will be many moments we can’t be who we want to be for our spouse. And it will be the same for them toward us. But we can express gratitude for what they are doing well in our relationship until the time comes when the growth or the circumstance changes. Sometimes, the gratitude we express for one quality might just grease the gears enough for growth in the other matter too.
3. Gratitude Is the Right Heart Posture Before God
Sometimes it is hard to be grateful in our marriages. But gratitude is always the right heart posture for us to take. When we are obedient by being grateful, we can expect the Lord to show up in a special way.
Psalm 22:3 tells us that “God inhabits the praises of His people.” When we are committed to praising Him, He will show up with His presence! When it is the hardest to be grateful in our marriages, that is when we need God’s presence the most! So practicing expressing gratitude in those times is all the more important!
4. Gratitude Chases Out Grumbling
Practically speaking, it is not possible to grumble and glorify God in the same breath. If we set our minds to cultivating gratitude in our marriages, it will chase out the grumbling.
During a particularly grumbly time in my marriage, I felt the Lord impress on my heart to practice the passage from Philippians diligently. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” Philippians 4:8-9.
Every time my mind wanted to return to my grumble list, I would do my best to pick up my thoughts and set them on the things that were true, honorable, excellent, right, pure, lovely, good, and praiseworthy in our marriage. And there were many! But if I had let the struggles and misunderstandings have their way with me, I wouldn’t be able to see the good. I wouldn’t be capable of gratitude.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world Philippians 2:14-15
Having a grateful heart in our marriage is a specific and practical way we share our testimony with people - it makes us a light in the world!
May the Lord breathe grace and gratitude into your marriage so that you would have joy together and shine with His redeeming light for others to know Him more!