Article by: Sam House
Rick and Kay Warren have been married for almost 30 years, and Rick calls Kay his best friend. But they’ve had to work hard to build a marriage that glorifies God. And at times, perseverance was the only thing that held their marriage together.
“Our first two years of marriage were the most difficult,” says Rick. They were really tough. And we would have divorced, except a) we were both committed to Jesus Christ and b) we both agreed divorce is not an option.”
Today Rick is pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Southern California, one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country. He is also the author of the bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.
Rick and Kay don’t pretend to have a perfect marriage. They’re honest about their struggles and God’s faithfulness. They also have a compelling burden to help others find real meaning in their marriages.
Finding Purpose in Marriage
So what is a purpose driven marriage, and how do couples find it? “It starts with a purpose driven life,” say Rick and Kay and three couples from Saddleback who recently studied The Purpose Driven Life. They agree that for couples, the result of two spouses’ living purpose driven lives should be a purpose driven marriage, one that serves and honors God.
According to The Purpose Driven Life, God put each of us on earth for five purposes: to serve, to share, to worship, to grow, to connect. “Life is simpler than you realize,” says Warren. “[God’s purpose] is what matters. This is what’s going to last for eternity.”
Holy Rather Than Happy
On their journey from a toxic marriage to a godly one, Rick and Kay learned how to have a marriage that not only matters, but also serves God’s purpose.
“A few years ago, Rick and I read Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas,” says Kay. “I can’t remember the exact quote, but the book brings up the idea that perhaps marriage was meant to make us holy rather than happy. That was like running into a brick wall for us.
“We learned earthly relationships are never enough. They leave you hungry. They leave you dry and empty sometimes, even in the best of human relationships,” says Kay. “So coming back to the idea that marriage is perhaps to make us holy rather than happy, we realized that even with struggles and conflict, even as much as we loved each other and cared for each other, there were still times when it just wasn’t enough. That drove us back to God.”
“God’s purpose is to make us like Jesus,” says Rick. “God didn’t exempt His own Son from criticism, misunderstanding, loneliness, and fatigue. If He didn’t exempt Jesus, why should we expect Him to exempt us?
“When people say, ‘Why am I having all these problems?’ I answer, ‘Because it’s earth! This is not heaven, OK?’ God is not promising heaven on earth if I become a Christian.
“God is far more interested in my character than in my comfort, and that is particularly true in marriage. I am convinced that the number one way God makes me like Jesus is through marriage. Nobody has a greater impact on me than Kay.”
Marriage Is Hard Work
Rick explains the unusual start of their marriage. “When we married, we were in love. We knew God put us together, but we didn’t know each other. We got engaged real quick, after eight days.
“Then I moved to Nagasaki, Japan, as a summer missionary. She went to Birmingham, Alabama, as a summer missionary. When that was over, she moved back to Fresno to finish college, and I moved to inner city Los Angeles to be a youth pastor.
“So we spent our entire engagement apart from each other. And when we got married, it was like, ‘Now, who are you?’ We discovered we are opposite in every fiber of our being except our commitment to God and His purposes for our lives.”
“For awhile, nothing worked – absolutely nothing!” Kay adds. “We fought about everything we could possibly fight about.”
“About big things,” Rick affirms. “Communication, in-laws, sex, money, and children. And we were striking out on all five.”
“We were and are such different personalities. I’m intense, and I kept trying to get him to talk to me. But the more I tried, the more he went in some other direction,” Kay reflects. The only thing that kept their marriage together was agreeing that divorce would never be an option. Learning to appreciate their differences was hard work.
Kay says, “We certainly were not thinking, Oh, God is using this to make us holy. We were saying, ‘God. What’s going on? We love You, we love each other, we’re trying to follow all the rules, and we try to do everything [right] – and this is our reward?’ There was no sense of ‘God is doing something great here’ as much as it was survival.”
From Pain Comes Great Ministry
Rick points out, “The Bible says you are shaped to serve God, and one of His purposes is ministry. Your greatest ministry, without a doubt, comes out of your greatest pain. God never wastes a hurt.
“Second Corinthians 1 says God takes us through problems and comforts us so we can then turn around and comfort others. Well, now we know why we had all those marriage problems. God gave us a ministry of helping thousands of other marriages. And we decided from the very first that we were never going to fake it, that we weren’t going to pretend we had this perfect marriage, but that people would grow better out of our weaknesses and out of our authenticity.”
“People will say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like,'” adds Kay. “We can say, ‘I do know what it’s like to wish with my entire heart that one of two things would happen: either he would die or God would say divorce is OK.’ And I know what it feels like to believe there is no hope; it will never be different; we are doomed to live this way; things are unbearable; and there’s no way out. I do know that. I don’t know anyone else’s exact circumstances, but I am here to tell you God has an answer, and there is definitely hope.”
We’re Created for God’s Pleasure
Glenn and Elizabeth Styffe were among the first to see how the message of The Purpose Driven Life impacts marriage and family.
“The goal of a lot of Christians is to have a good marriage and good kids. Those are fine goals. But the truth is, you can spend all your time doing what is good and miss the fact that your purpose is to bring God pleasure,” says Elizabeth. “I am designed to bring pleasure to God. I mean so much to God that He wants to spend eternity with me. If I value my husband and children the way God values them, I will see them [that way]. This helps me realize that this is not all there is. Life is preparation for eternity with God. My job as a parent is to prepare [my children] for eternity.”
Glen echoes the impact of this perspective on their marriage and family. “As I become more aware of my broken state – not acting as if my brokenness is in the past – I become more dependent on God. I’m not going to be whole until eternity, yet God loves me anyway, right now – even through all of that. Knowing that I’m a current recipient of God’s grace gives me more patience with my children and my own imperfections, and deepens my love and tenderness for my wife.”
What Will the Neighbors Think?
Saddleback couple Butch and Lisa Yellot say one way you can tell if you have a purpose driven marriage is by the fruit it bears.
“It doesn’t just happen. It has to be your lifestyle. We started praying for our kids before we even had them. And we see in them the fruit of our marriage, a reflection of what God has done and is doing in us.”
Butch talks about yard-work evangelism. “We used to live across from some folks, and we’d speak when we were watering our lawns. We weren’t really good friends with them at first, but they ended up coming to our small group after three or four years. One night during our small group, they shared their testimony of how they came to know Christ. They said they had been observing us … ”
“…watering our lawn,” interjects Lisa.
“And,” continues Butch, “they said they decided they wanted to have ‘whatever Butch and Lisa had.’ They knew from talking to us that we went to Saddleback, so they started going, too, which led to them accepting the Lord.”
“It had to be the Holy Spirit,” Lisa says. “We didn’t even know any of this was happening.”
Butch continues. “Now they’ve moved to another community where they probably have their own small group and are doing the same thing themselves. But it wasn’t part of our big plan. God used our purpose driven marriage as a light in their lives to bring them to that opportunity of accepting the Lord.”
“And it’s impacting more than just their lives,” says Lisa. “It’s impacting our kids. I know our kids are watching us very closely. And even my parents, who don’t go to church, are watching us. They see us, they see how we’re raising our kids, how we interact with each other. People are watching, so we live honestly.”
For the Sake of the Family
Another Saddleback couple, businessman-turned-seminary-student Dick Whitton and his wife, Evelyn, work with young couples, helping them see how God has provided a blueprint in the Bible for a purpose driven marriage. “We don’t want to do the ‘Dick and Ev Show,'” says Evelyn.
She says when she shares the message of the gospel with people, “I don’t want them to believe me because I don’t want them to believe anybody else that comes to their door. I want them to believe God’s Word. The Holy Spirit can use the Bible and convict them of its truth. It’s the same thing in these couples groups. It’s not us. It’s what we’ve learned from God’s Word, and we’d like to share that experience with them so they can have it, too.”
With the desire to see the couples groups they lead result in purpose driven marriages, Dick and Evelyn feel a strong imperative to reach couples for the sake of their families.
“In one of the groups we led recently, there are 23 children now,” says Evelyn. “We phase out of the groups [to start new ones], but they stay together, and we get invited back for all the parties. When we go, we meet parents, brothers, and sisters of people in the group, but we also see how these young families have become community, spiritual family, for each other.”
You Need Two Things for Balance
Rick Warren is adamant about God’s desire to use believers. “We believe you need a ministry in the church and a mission in the world. Those are two things you need for balance. Your ministry is your service to believers, and your mission is your service to unbelievers.
“The way we say this is, ‘The Great Command of the Great Commission will produce a great Christian.’ If you want to summarize the purpose driven idea, it is: a great commitment to the Great Commander and a great commission will produce a great Christian and a great church. It also produces a great marriage.” He continues, “I think the church and marriage are two tools God uses to balance His purposes in our lives so that we do both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.”
Fitting Into God’s Will
What advice does Rick give Christian young adults as they try to gain perspective on all the possibilities of a purpose driven life – and a purpose driven marriage? Rick says, “When kids like my son Josh and his friends get to the young adult stage, the most important questions are: How do I find God’s will in a marriage partner, and how do I find God’s will for a career?”
Those are the two biggest issues, but according to Rick, they are really secondary: “Given the right situation, there might be 20 or 30 different people for you to marry, although there is no one right person. If that were true, all it would take is for one person to marry wrong, and the chain would be broken. So there is no one person for you to marry, and the same is true of careers. There’s no one right career. There might be dozens of careers that would all be in God’s will for you. God would say, ‘Your choice – doesn’t matter.’
“What’s more important,” Rick continued, “is, are you fulfilling God’s purposes? Are you marrying someone who’s going to make you more like Christ? Are you getting a career that’s going to make you more like Christ? That’s going to give you a ministry and give you a mission, allowing you to share with a world of believers and unbelievers?
“Take the focus off of God’s will for my partner and God’s will for my career, and start focusing on what you know to be God’s will already. God wants me to become like Him. God wants me to love Him. God wants me to love other believers. God wants me on a ministry and a mission. If I focus on those things, then there’s a lot more freedom.”
Serving God’s Purpose
Rick claims Acts 13:36 as his life verse. “It says that David served God’s purpose in his generation and then he died. I like that verse because it says what David did: He served God’s purpose. He did what was eternal, but he did it in a contemporary situation, in his generation. He did what never changes in an environment that was constantly changing. Then he died. The only thing that matters, period, is that I complete my mission. That’s a purpose driven life.”
Marriage is a tool God can use in a purpose driven life. If you are married, you probably have a great story about how you met or decided to marry your spouse. Your choice to marry your spouse expressed your love in the most profound way you could. You believed life would be better, different, matter more if you were together. As great as all of that is, the key to having a marriage – and a life – with purpose starts with God’s purpose and His desire to treasure you and see you live to serve and honor Him now and in eternity. God wants you to have a purpose driven marriage.