Editor's note: Names, places and some details have been altered to
protect the privacy of certain people.
aphne couldn't believe her ears, so she asked her
pastor to repeat what he'd just said.
"I appreciate your commitment, but I think you should go home and be with
your husband," Pastor Sherman repeated quietly.
Daphne was stunned and a little hurt. Since her salvation months earlier,
she had never missed an opportunity to be in church.
It was a Wednesday night, and Daphne had arrived early, eager to hear more
about Jesus and excited to spend precious moments with fellow believers. The
Bible study was about to begin when Pastor Sherman took her aside and asked
where her husband was.
"You know where he is. He's at home, watching a football game on TV," Daphne
"Perhaps you should spend less time at church and more time with him," he
"But I want to be here. I thought this was where I was supposed to be."
"Yes, Daphne, church is important, but your husband needs you." "But he's
drinking beer!" Daphne cried, her frustration evident on her face as she choked
back the tears.
"I know," her pastor replied softly.
Daphne went home. When her husband, Cliff, asked why she was back so soon,
she told him the truth.
Three months later, Cliff gave his life to Christ. He says the night the
pastor encouraged Daphne to be at home with him was his turning point. Cliff
had been bitter toward religion in general and the church in particular because
he felt like it had stolen his wife from him.
The pastor's actions demonstrated genuine concern for Daphne's family and so
impressed him that Cliff began to attend church with his family occasionally.
He eventually came to trust in Jesus himself and led their two teen-age
children to faith in Christ also.
Cliff became the pastor's close friend and expressed his gratitude by
saying, "You [the church] didn't steal my wife. Thank you."
"Passion for Christ and the church is good," Pastor Sherman said. "But
balance is necessary." Instead of rejoicing because he had one more person in
the pew, God gave him the wisdom to think long-term and reach out to Daphne's
whole family, he said. He felt sorry for Cliff, alone at home several times a
week while Daphne was in church, and by putting himself in Cliff's shoes,
Pastor Sherman was able to gently steer Daphne in the direction that led her
husband and her two children to faith in Christ.
After 12 years as a certified counselor in Calgary, Alberta, Don McNaughton,
M.A., sees two recurring scenarios in his sessions with Christians who seek
help to improve their marriage with their unsaved partners:
1. "As the saved spouse pursues his relationship with God and expresses
Christlikeness toward his spouse, the result is often positive."
2. "However, if the saved spouse pursues a personal agenda and sets out to
win his spouse to Christ according to his own timetable, this manipulative,
controlling behavior hurts the relationship and often does not achieve the
intended goal," McNaughton said.
"I tell my clients there is no formula or strategy, including prayer, that
will guarantee your spouse will come to Christ," McNaughton said. "Only God
knows if and when it will happen."
The Bible's admonition for husbands to love their wives and wives to respect
their husbands (Ephesians 5:33) is sound advice, especially for those who find
themselves in a spiritually unbalanced relationship.
Gary and Fran had been married for about 15 years when Gary decided he was
tired of the relationship and he wanted out.
"There was no other woman or anything like that," Gary explained. "I just
felt that we were moving in different directions-not sharing the same values,
not seeing eye-to-eye.
I thought: What's the point? Why carry on?"
Gary is a senior executive in a computer firm, and he commutes every day
from the suburbs to his downtown office in a city of 5 million. Fran left her
career in banking to be a stay-at-home mom when their son was born 17 years
Before Gary had a chance to tell Fran he wanted a separation, he shared his
secret with a business associate with whom he had been attending lunchtime
Bible studies. His friend opened his Bible, and for 30 minutes read passages
aloud to Gary about the permanence of the marriage commitment.
"My own heart was more focused on myself and on what I wanted than on my
wife and son and what they wanted," Gary said. Hearing what God's Word had to
say about marriage forced him to examine his heart, repent-he canceled the
lease on his bachelor suite-and ask God to guide him in a renewed relationship
with his wife.
Within a few months Gary gave his life to Christ.
"I told Fran I had become a Christian, but this only confused her," Gary
said. "She thought we were Christians already. We had been attending church for
years, and she didn't see why we needed 'this stupid born-again thing.'"
Fran saw her husband's religious zeal as one more thing that came between
them when they so desperately needed something to bring them together. For
years, Gary had devoted himself to his work and his hobbies, with precious
little left over for the family. So Gary's sudden desire to spend all his time
with Christians, while healthier and safer than his previous pursuits, didn't
improve life for Fran or their teen-age son. Gary continued to be an absentee
husband and father.
Fran's refusal to attend Gary's new church irked him. He made the mistake of
trying to bargain with her. If she would come to church with him, he'd help out
more around the house, he promised. She immediately saw this as manipulative
and became firmer in her stance.
It took Gary a while to see the error of his ways. "Love isn't like
Let's Make a Deal," Gary said. "Love, God's love, is
While viewing an Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of
God video, Gary was struck by Henry Blackaby's response to a question from
the audience. The question was: "Let's say a spouse sensed God was leading him
in a particular direction, and his spouse was not responding to God's
leadership and was holding him back. And he took the verse of scripture that
says: If you don't hate your family and all those other things and follow Me
... and then it goes on to say, you can't be My disciple (Luke 14: 26-27). So
they decide to get a divorce. How would you counsel rupturing relationships
like that if there's a sense that she's holding me back from obedience?" Dr.
Blackaby's response was: "I suppose one of the most dangerous things to do is
to take a proof text and ignore everything else the scripture says: The
marriage bond is very, very sacred. And I've always taken as my number one
responsibility-apart from my relationship with Christ as Lord and expressing
that Lordship-my relationship to my wife. When that relationship is right, then
my relationship with my Lord will be right."
Gary decided at that point that his number one priority, after his
relationship with God and before his involvement with the church, was to love
A marriage workshop at Gary's church gave him some tools to help him express
his God-given love for Fran. He learned that Fran responded best to love that
was demonstrated in "tasks accomplished" rather than "words said."
He gave the following example of an adjustment he made in his life to show
love for his wife: "Every summer, Fran leaves for a few weeks to visit her
elderly parents in another state. This is habitually a stressful time for her
because she knows what she will find when she comes home. Her flowers will be
drooping, the lawn will be overgrown and brown, and the house, a mess." Gary
does not share his wife's love of gardening or housekeeping.
"I used to view things my wife wanted as stupid because they were
unimportant to me," Gary explained. According to his old way of thinking, Gary
saw his weeks as a bachelor as a chance to indulge his own desires. He would
invite the entire church to his house for huge barbecues and fellowships.
Fran would never approve of such large gatherings if she were there since it
inevitably resulted in hours of preparation and cleanup for her. While reveling
in Christian fellowship during Fran's absence, Gary would neglect the chores
and upkeep that were so vital to Fran's happiness.
At the marriage workshop Gary learned that his summer hosting and house
neglect were insulting and hurtful to Fran. He determined to be more loving and
"Fran felt I had put church first and her second. I've been more conscious
of caring for her and being more loving. I wanted to demonstrate to Fran that
she is more important to me than the church folk, so this summer there were no
huge barbecues," Gary said. "I invited one or two men over at a time. I mowed
and watered and cleaned the house. I have a different sort of heart toward her
now. I do want her to be closer to God and the church, but I recognized my
behavior was a stumbling block to that."
Some of the changes Gary made to show his wife he had experienced a change
of heart were:
He spent more time at home.
He took an interest in his wife's hobby-gardening.
He got more involved in household matters.
He organized family outings.
He got involved in his son's school.
Fran is becoming more open and positive toward Gary's church. She attended a
marriage retreat with Gary and enjoyed it. Although she still doesn't go to his
church's worship services or fully understand what it means to claim Christ as
her Savior, Gary has hope and sees improvement.
"I really don't know the timing, but I think Fran is closer than before,"
Gary said. "I have the confidence Fran will be saved because our relationship
is better. It's not as hard to be patient as it used to be. I'm more at peace
and prepared to wait for God's timing."
David Ferguson, in his book The Great Commandment Principle:
Rediscovering the priority of relationships that will transform your church,
your family and your life (Tyndale House Publishers, 1998), tells about
his own paradigm shift when he realized he would never be effective as a
minister of the gospel if he failed to minister to his family first.
"I was confronted with this question: If I do not share Great Commandment
love and ministry with my nearest and dearest disciples -my wife and children,
how can I effectively love and minister in ... other areas of Christian
ministry to which I am called?
"I had no answer ... I needed a paradigm shift. And it all started
with capturing the heart of God, seeing people through His eyes ... As I
purposed to capture God's heart, I began to see my wife and children in a whole
new light ... from the perspective of God's heart of compassion.
"I sensed God challenging me anew to live out Great Commandment love,
beginning with my wife and children ...[and then my] ministry to others will
take on greater relevance."
A thousand miles away in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Rocky
Mountains, Barb and Jim were fighting to save their marriage at the same time
as Gary and Fran.
Barb prayed for salvation in the living room of her neighbor Carol's house
late one night following a nasty two-day verbal battle with her husband.
Prior to this, Barb and Jim had been seeing a counselor, and they thought
their relationship had improved-they had learned new strategies for
communication and had hope for the future.
Then they had "The Fight." All the old habits and old ways of fighting
resurfaced. Barb was in absolute despair when she knocked on her best friend's
door looking for a shoulder to cry on. Jim, weary of the argument, had fallen
into an exhausted sleep.
"So how do I become a Christian, anyway?" Barb asked Carol after
sitting in silence for a long time.
Two hours later, Barb snuggled up to her husband in bed and said, "Guess
what? I just became a Christian!" He was less than thrilled.
Great! Jim thought, sarcastically. Now we're going to be
divided on religion as well. He saw this as the final nail in the coffin
of their marriage. But Jim was in for a few surprises.
Two weeks later, Jim came home after a grueling day as a policeman, and Barb
suggested they go to their favorite watering hole for a beer. This had always
been a way for them to relax and talk in relative privacy.
"Do you still do that?" Jim asked, surprised. He had assumed that those days
Once they were seated in their customary spot, Jim ordered the first of many
drinks and Barb had a coffee. He began to pepper his wife with questions about
her newfound faith. Unable to answer most of his concerns, she telephoned Carol
and her pastor husband, Jeffrey, and they joined Barb and Jim in the bar.
Several hours and many cups of coffee later, everyone went home. Jim doesn't
remember whether or not his questions were answered, but he does remember being
amazed that his teetotaling Christian friends didn't hesitate to join him in
Over the next two years, Barb and Jim's marriage steadily improved.
"Maybe because of Jim's lack of commitment I didn't feel drawn to get
involved in church right away, but I read every Christian book I could get my
hands on," Barb said. "Everyone who knew me recognized a dramatic change in my
The couple who had joined them at the bar, Carol and Jeffrey, were called to
a church in another city, but they kept up regular phone contact. Every summer
they invited Barb and Jim and their three kids to their new church's family
Jim always bonded easily with the other men as they fished and swapped
stories and talked about Jim's passion-stock car racing. He slowly forgot his
initial feelings that Christians were weird as he rubbed shoulders with them
and enjoyed their company.
After two of her three children became Christians at camp, Barb felt it was
time for her to find a church. She walked into Carol's former Baptist church in
her hometown one Sunday morning and felt like she had come home. Soon after,
Barb's middle child responded to the gospel.
"Jim was fine with us going to church," Barb explained. "His biggest fear
was that his kids wouldn't respect him because he was the odd man out."
The first Sunday the whole family went to church together was the day Barb
and the kids were baptized. Jim cried through the entire service. Still he held
Jim often came home from work to find his wife surrounded by a pile of
Christian books. The house was untidy, the laundry was undone, and there was no
supper on the table. Barb would greet her tired husband with an animated
discussion of all she had learned that day and would be hurt when he showed
little or no interest.
Then Barb read 1 Peter 3:1, 2 and realized she needed to make some
"Talk is cheap," she wrote in the margins of her Bible.
Barb talked less and did more. Jim noticed.
Oddly, it was Barb's first big crisis of faith that impacted her husband
significantly for the Lord. After suffering a huge disappointment in which she
felt let down by God, Barb turned to Jim for advice and comfort instead of
rushing to her Christian friends for counsel.
She met Jim in the bar so they could talk. So great was her discouragement,
Barb told Jim she was ready to give up her faith. She even questioned the
validity of her salvation. She wondered if she was just kidding herself, and
whether God was real after all.
Jim's reaction couldn't have been more shocking.
"I've known you for 15 years," Jim said. "The changes I've seen in you could
not have been done on your own."
Later Jim confessed that at the time his first thought was: Hey! Maybe
I'll get my old wife back! His second thought was: Do I want my old
In the end, he cautioned Barb not to throw away everything she had gained
because of one setback.
A few months later, Jim came to faith in Christ. He said he was won over by
his wife's respectful behavior as well as the example of Christian neighbors
who lived out their faith every day and weren't afraid to meet him on his
turf-the neighborhood pub-in order to share Christ's love.
Connie Cavanaugh is a freelance writter living in Cochrane, Alberta.
I was a Christian when I married Hermann-having been coaxed in that
direction by him and his family. Hermann's father is a pastor in South
Hermann told me he had been saved at age 5, so I assumed he was a Christian
too. But early in the marriage, Hermann walked away from the church. I did not
realize that as a teen-ager he had rejected Christ in his heart.
We moved a lot. I asked the Lord, "What about me and my ministry?" God
clearly said my place was with my husband.
When I told Hermann that God was still in control of my life even though I
was following Hermann all over the country, that had a huge impact on his
But things got much worse before they got better.
For years I only went to church Sunday mornings, and I used my work (as an
occupational therapist) as my mission field. Hermann resented my church
I always tried to please my husband because I never wanted to lose him. I
knew I would never leave him, under any circumstances. But I often wondered how
far I would go before I reached the end. It wasn't until six years later, when
our son Carl was two, that I began to fear Hermann would divorce me.
After Hermann lost his business in South Africa, we moved to the United
States. I had a job, and Hermann took care of our son and waited for his green
card. Those three years in the United States were the worst. I began to feel
I had always prayed for God to show Hermann the truth, hoping he would stop
his drinking and carousing and become committed to me. But God clearly told me
to leave Hermann to Him-I needed to concentrate on my relationship with the
In the early years, I went with Hermann to the pubs and to certain movies
even though they offended my morality. Eventually, because I cramped his style,
he left me at home.
I always trusted that Hermann would remain faithful. When I asked him if
there was anyone else, he always said no, and I believed him. So I didn't worry
about that, even when he came home at odd hours.
I had always loved Hermann very much, but in the final year before he was
saved, I didn't feel it any more because everything he did disgusted me.
However, God assured me He was the head over Hermann, and Hermann was the head
of the household. I chose to remain submissive.
Divorce was never an option for me because I was deadly serious about
keeping my marriage vows. I considered divorce as worse than an unhappy
marriage, because I wanted our son to have two parents.
In 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 the Bible advises wives to stay with their unsaved
husbands, rather than leave them, and by doing so the husband and the children
will be made holy, or sanctified. So I did everything I could to keep Hermann
happy-I didn't think he could ever find another woman who would be as good to
him as I was. But I could see that I was losing him.
I kept praying but slowly slipped into despair. I didn't know how much more
I could take.
Then Hermann met God.
In a business meeting-Hermann was investigating a new line of work-he heard
a Voice inside saying: "Hermann, I love you! Just like you love your son, Carl,
that's how much I love you!" For a man brought up to think religion was a bunch
of rules that had stolen his youth, this was shocking news.
"God, If that's what You're really like, that's what I want!" Hermann
replied. In his mind, he saw a dungeon door swing open, and sunlight flood the
The Voice continued: "Come to me ... but you must be righteous." Hermann
instantly knew that he must totally commit himself to me, his wife, in order to
meet God's requirement for righteousness.
As he drove home that night, he felt like God was seated beside him in the
car. For three hours he confessed, and God forgave his sins. He said it was
like he handed his transgressions to Jesus one by one, and Jesus tossed them
out the window, saying "Forgiven" after each sin was exposed. But it took
several days of wrestling in his spirit before he was able to tell me of his
I expected the worst. Hermann hadn't spoken to me for a week. He was deadly
calm as he sat beside me late one night. Finally he said, "Wilmien, the Lord
came to me. And I commit myself to you 100 percent." My mouth fell open and
tears squirted straight out of my eyes! Such joy! I had waited 10 years to hear
those words. God knew I wouldn't be ready to forgive Hermann until I was mature
enough. So when Hermann confessed everything to me, I had the ability to
forgive and forget. Why would I cling to things the Lord had already forgiven?
It would only harm me.
That was three years ago. Everything has changed. My marriage is better than
it's ever been. It's such a joy to tell that to someone else.
(Hermann has completed his first year at a Southern Baptist seminary.)
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC