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When Marriage is Challenging, Put First Things First

There are seasons in every marriage that are difficult. No husband or wife is immune from these seasons. For you it might be parenting, or finances, or extended family issues.


As you read this, the difficulties you are experiencing may have multiplied, or they may have gone on for so long that you have lost hope that things can be different. Your relationship with your spouse just seems to be growing more and more distant. You may even be contemplating whether or not to stay in the marriage.


One of the challenges for every couple is trying to figure out how to work through the difficulty. You and your spouse have likely tried to work through the issue a number of times, with little or no forward progress. You may even have asked a third-party for help – a Pastor, counselor, or mentor. But even with third-party help, it is often difficult to know exactly what the “main thing” is that you are working on.


If that is where you are today, I want to encourage you! The Lord has help for you to answer the question, “What is the main thing you and your spouse should be focused on?” And that help comes from a familiar story in the Gospel of Mark.


Getting a Friend to Jesus

In Mark 2:1-12, we read the account of Jesus healing a man who was paralyzed. As the events unfold, we read about this man’s four friends having a “do whatever it takes attitude” to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus. And once they have worked so hard to get him in front of Jesus, they are likely shocked by what Jesus tells the paralyzed man: “Son, your sins are forgiven”.


Wait. These 4 guys just worked overtime to get their friend in front of Jesus, the One who they heard was healing so many. And instead of healing him of his paralysis, Jesus tells him that his sins are forgiven? What’s up with that? I’m sure these four guys were scratching their heads wondering what Jesus was up to.


In the same way, you may have been reading that marriage book your wife gave you in an effort to do better as a husband. Or maybe you have been trying to give more grace to your husband for some things that he does not consistently follow-through on. You are trying. You are putting in effort. But none of these things seems to be making a difference in your marriage relationship. You may be thinking: “What’s the deal, God? All my efforts seem to be in vain!”


As you keep reading the passage in Mark 2, you find out that Jesus does indeed heal the paralyzed man’s body. In fact, the once-paralyzed-man gets up and walks out, carrying the mat he was carried in on. So, Jesus does meet the man’s greatest physical need. So why all the “your sins are forgiven” stuff?


Here’s what Pastor Alistair Begg, has to say on this: “The reason Jesus said what He said was because He was putting His finger on the man’s and everybody’s greatest need - the need for forgiveness. He was showing the man that the real need in his life did not have to do with his paralysis of body, but his paralysis of soul. So, Jesus addresses first things first. He is not disinterested in the man’s physical condition, and shows that because He healed the man. In the same way, Jesus is not unconcerned about your marriage, or your health, or your unemployment. But first things first, Jesus wants for you the things that matter most. Or we might put it better still, Jesus wants for you the thing that matters most. And that thing is that we should be restored to our relationship with God who has made us for Himself.” (1)


First Things First

Think about that statement Alistair made again: “Jesus wants for you the thing that matters most”. In no uncertain terms, Jesus is saying that what matters most in your marriage is not your horizontal relationship with each other – as important as that is. What matters most is your personal, vertical connection with Him! It is out of the overflow of that vertical relationship that you will find what you need, as a husband or wife, to make consistent forward progress as a couple.


Let me give you an example of this from my own life as a husband and father. Most of my life, before about 10 years ago, I was characterized by personal bouts of sinful anger. And the ones that endured most of the negative effects of that sinful anger were my wife and children. I knew I had a sinful anger issue, and I did all the things I knew to do to help. I read books. Prayed for God to help me. Asked others for advice and insight. But all this work on my part had no real lasting effect on my anger. My sinful anger was still damaging my closest relationships.


One evening at a baseball game for one of our sons, I had another incident of sinful anger directed at my wife. Sadly, I was not even aware of how harshly I had spoken to her. She wrote me a letter that she deposited in my briefcase as I slept. The next day when I got to work and opened my briefcase, there it was – her letter. As she shared the deep hurt that I had again inflicted with my anger, something broke inside of me. I think it was the merciful voice of God telling me that I had to do more than “try harder”. I needed a supernatural change that only He could provide as I surrendered and cooperated with Him.


The Lord truly transformed my sinful anger over the next 2 years - that truly was only possible because it flowed out of my growing relationship with Him. Things I had read about in the books on anger were now “working”. God seemed to be answering “YES” to more and more of the things I prayed regarding my anger and its effects. And the advice I sought from others began to bear fruit – all because I was now allowing the Lord to work in me from the inside out!


Getting the Vertical Right

So, I know you might be thinking, “Here we go again. Another person telling me to read my Bible more and pray more”. Reading our Bible and praying are vital things that God wants to use to grow our relationship with Him – no doubt. But activities like Bible reading and prayer have to flow out of our deep need for God! When we truly take to heart Jesus’ words that say, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), then we will get to a place where we are truly desperate to meet with Him and grow in becoming a new creation in Christ!

An important first step would be simply confessing to God that you have been trying to fix things on your own. That you have not asked for His help. But you realize now that Him working in you is the only means of lasting transformation. This is a humbling but important step.


A second step would be looking at your schedule and figuring out what you can take off your schedule, so you can get more time with the Lord. Just as regular time together can help a human relationship grow, so we need both quality and quantity time with God. There is no substitute for this. Please don’t try to add “time with God” to your already too-busy schedule and expect to see any lasting results.


A final step would be finding another mature, same-gender Christ-follower to walk with you in this season when you are desperate for lasting change. God has designed the Body of Christ so that we can be there for one another, but you have to be willing to humble yourself and reach out for help. If you do not have any idea who might be able to do this, reach out to your Pastor or church leadership to help.


Final Encouragement

Going back to my story, as I put the Lord first in my life during that season, He transformed me and my anger. He also began the healing process with my wife and kids as I sought their forgiveness. Those 2 years did not completely “cure” my anger, but I am not the same man I was back then. He has continued to help me crucify my sinful anger and replace it with patience, gentleness, and self-control. And only the Lord gets the credit, since only He is the “transformer of hearts”.


So, are you ready to get the lasting change you desire? What step of faith is God asking you to take today?


Lord, thank You that You know, despite my current situation, my greatest need is a spiritual one. Forgive me Lord for trying to fix things on my own. You are the transformer of hearts. So I come to You now, desperate for Your help, and fully surrendered to do whatever You ask. Humble me, Lord, so that Your grace can flow in. Help me daily to give over control to Your Spirit that lives in me. Thank You, Lord, in advance for the transformation You will bring. In the Name of Jesus!






Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage, 2024. Send comments or questions to


Source: (1) Quote from Alistair Begg: April 2009 Sermon entitled “Restored and Forgiven” on Mark Chapter 2. Find it by going to


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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