I am a Christian husband and a pastor. I love the Lord and His Word. I now try to live as a godly man. However, I did not start off my marriage this way. I was the unbelieving spouse contemplated in the title. I ranged from outright hostile to ambivalent about the things of God during the early years. I did not want to go to church, did not want to read the Bible and did not want to pray. I was set in my ways and headed to destruction. Then I met Jesus and everything changed.
Though the actual event of transformation was sudden and dramatic, it was the culmination of years of faithfulness, hard work, and prayer. Not mine, I did none of those things. I was a lost and had no idea they were needed. It was my beloved bride who was laboring. She put in long years of planting seeds with no obvious fruit. She then spent long hours of watering those seeds with patience, hope, and love…until the day they took root and grew. Praise the Lord for His patience!
I was straight from the party life of college and the irresponsibility of modern early adulthood when I married my wife. From a background of alcoholism, dysfunction, and chaos, I barely knew how to tie my shoes much less be a Christian husband and father. I caused a lifetime’s worth of pain in the time after we were married before I was saved. She will never say as much as she loves me too much, but I was not a good husband. Not the worst, but I was too concerned with me, my life, my rights and my amusement to even know how to care about others much less love well. A young lady was shocked the other day when told how I was not a believer when we got married, “Pastor Tom, no way!” I am not sure she believed us. It was that big of a change.
I am not boasting in me, I was just really, really lost before Jesus. Anything good in me is from His power. Plus, there was no place to go but up.
So what happened or more properly who happened?
Two people changed everything. My wife and Jesus…or Jesus and my wife. The order is not really clear and I don’t want to slight Jesus unintentionally as it all starts with Jesus. He is the beginning and the end after all. He changed my wife and I watched the change happen in person. Eventually, what I saw in her was too clear and too appealing to continue to deny. Even my gigantic pride had to admit the clear evidence there was something amazing happening in my wife and I wanted some of it. I was just too miserable on my own to allow her take off like that and not go along. So Jesus changed her and she changed me leading to Jesus changing me.
I want to share with Christians who are struggling through a similar time with unbelieving spouses my observations on these years. To try to answer how to best lead your spouse to Christ from my perspective after living this out. To lay out what worked and made an impact during the time even though I was much walking in darkness.
Due to that wonderful thing called free will there is no guarantee involved. My wife will also tell you it wasn’t easy. There were many tears shed. I was not easy to live with at times. It is also never hopeless. The title of my blog testifies to the total shock that was my entering into life as a born again believer in Christ – me not drinking my life away or ending up in jail would have been a big victory. No one saw Pastor Tom coming.
The most defiant or lost spouse can be transformed in a moment by Jesus. It is also worth every bit of time and effort. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you did do everything possible in His power to affect your spouse’s life for Jesus. You will also be molded into the image of Jesus in the process. He promises joy and peace even in the midst of heartache.
It is important to note that I am highlighting what made an impact in my life and will add in things I have seen work with others. There were plenty of missteps as well. When faced with such a great challenge, no one is going to be perfect.
So what can I tell you, husband or wife, that I think can help you reach your unbelieving spouse? What reached me back in the days where my life’s goal was to own a bar and drive a BMW? A few simple but hugely powerful things:
1. Pray, pray, pray – This is listed first at my wife’s request. Prayer is what she believes changed everything. Though she was an immature believer at the time we got married, she picked me after all, she was a follower of Jesus. She had been since she was a little girl. She loved to pray and relied on her simple prayers to Jesus to take her through the hard things in her life. Her husband’s lack of faith was no exception. She tells me she started praying for her future husband to love Jesus when she was a little girl. This kicked this into overdrive when her faith started to take off in the early years in our marriage and she saw my struggles more clearly. She was constantly interceding on my behalf. The pain that was brought to the surface through my refusal to pray with her or parroting Marx’ view on religion was turned into passionate appeals to our all-powerful Lord. She only told me this later as she did it quietly and without telling me. The prayers were not for me to hear as I knew what she hoped for me already. She was trusting that it was God hearing her prayer that made a difference and not me. God offers to have us speak with Him and ask our desires in His will. Is there anything more in line with God’s will than a lost sheep coming home? Intercede for your spouse, day and night, pray that their heart will be softened and even their will to rebel be broken.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry. Psalm 34:5
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
2. Grow in Jesus – This is what I would have put first. My wife’s growth in the Lord really made me take notice something extraordinary was going on. We were still living the extended college life when we first were married. This allowed the huge deficiencies in my life to be covered by activity, friends and my immature certainty of success. When life got real, we slowed down and we started having kids, we started to go in opposite directions. I found amusements, entertainments and drinking buddies to extend my adolescence. She found much more of Jesus. Through personal Bible study, church and godly relationships she began to grow in her faith. She would talk about God and books of the Bible with an obvious excitement and joy. I had never even heard of the books. She grew in a way that was unexpected. I knew that my faith condition made her sad but she did not take it out on me. She loved me better than before. Where once we argued about the silliest things, now I was left arguing by myself with her trying to live at peace and help me. She took her hopes for me to prayer rather than try to argue or browbeat me into it.
I wish I could say that I immediately agreed upon seeing the evidence of change in her life. I did not and was actually quite a big baby about it. The change was obvious and I was like a child with his hands over is ears claiming to be unable to hear anything – “la, la, la, I can’t hear you”. There was no avoiding the fact that her persistent faith and joy was making me jealous. Contrasted with my misery, it made me want to have some of what she was having. This led to grudging agreement to go to church. Eventually, I even understood that I needed Jesus to have the peace that surpasses understanding. It started with seeing the love of Jesus in her.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Philippians 2:14-16
3. Preach the Gospel clearly and then trust in it – Before I was saved, there is nothing worse than being preached at when I was determined not to listen. Preached at is not a meaningful discussion or even someone’s heartfelt presentation of the Gospel. It is when the hearer understands the Gospel and has clearly announced their rejection. They don’t have ears to hear as Jesus says but the speaker continues preaching to try to force them into a different response. The problem is not with the message or the intention just with the lack of willingness to listen. With such a huge issue, it is an understandable temptation try to force the issue but doing so often has the opposite effect than what is desired. For me, each word seemed to build up another level of resistance to the message. I was (am) a stubborn person. If someone tried to push me against my will, there is no way I was going along with it even if it was good for me. Before I was saved, I may have known the message was right, but if it wasn’t my decision to agree I would die before I would admit it. Yes, it is stupid and foolish, but I think there are lots of lost spouses just as stubborn. Jesus never chases after anyone who shows that they are not willing to listen and browbeats them. The Rich Young Ruler is allowed to go away in sorrow to contemplate the decision he just made.
If you have spoken the truth of the Gospel to your spouse and are sure they understand where you stand, serve and love them and let God work on their heart. He is way better at it than you. Rather than forcing things, trust that the opportunity to discuss God will come up again as the Holy Spirit works on them. That is His job after all.
When my wife grew in her faith, prayed more and loved me more, it forced me to shift my focus away from the power dynamic. When there are two opposing viewpoints, the “enemy” in a discussion on this issue of faith is the person who is pushing faith. I had been constantly pushing back against my wife and what I knew were her desires for me. When she backed off and let God work on me, I was left with sinful ugly me versus God. With just me on my side, I found I really did not like the me I was fighting so hard to hold onto. That guy was just miserable. Things were just much clearer when it became a question of God and me rather than who would win an intellectual argument (as I saw it).
Let your spouse work it out with God. He is the only one who can really change hearts anyway.
4. Don’t Compromise Jesus – Marriage involves compromise every day. Love demands even more. Christian love requires that we serve and put ourselves last. So I am not saying to not compromise. Rather, never let the pull of your spouse’s salvation tear you away from following Jesus. Being conformed to the image of Jesus, number 2 above, is the best evidence and inducement for someone to follow you into Jesus. Being fun at parties never can do what shining like Jesus can. Respect and loves your spouse well but don’t join in things the Bible says are wicked. If your spouse loves going to clubs and drinking, you cannot force them to go to church instead. You can personally stop going to clubs and love going to church. You cannot provide a safe landing spot for someone tossed about by life if you are right next to them being thrown about.
A warning is necessary here. This may cause misery in the life of your spouse. This may cause kicking and screaming. This is not a bad sign. It may be a good one. The more pure light of Jesus coming from you, the more their sins will be obvious. The more you are joyful in Christ, the more their pursuits may seem empty and meaningless. God allows people to be miserable in their sin so that they can flee from them to the Savior. Respect your spouse, love them and live life with them but if they are choosing sin and are miserable, don’t put a bandage on it. Pray that they see the need for repentance to stop the pain.
While these tips may seem hard, they are at heart simply an exhortation to seek to live like Jesus did. Trust in the God with all you have, love with all your heart and serve the one you love the most to the utmost. Jesus lived the most unequally yoked life possible when He came and threw in His lot with humanity. It was His love, kindness, and sacrifice that led to our repentance. Jesus’ style of living resulted in the conversion of billions of people over the last 2000 years. It works really well because the power of the Holy Spirit is behind it. You can put your trust in that sort of overwhelming evidence.
Stay tuned for part II.