From my May 6, 2018 sermon.
For many years Dr. James Dobson was America’s foremost Christian speaker, author, and all-around expert on family issues. His 1970 book Dare to Discipline catapulted him to fame, and over the next four decades he had a string of best-selling books on marriage, child-raising, self-esteem, teen-age rebellion, emotions, and many other topics. Dobson also wrote a book for couples preparing to get married, and I used it for several years in my pre-marriage counseling.
Then one time I read a surprising comment by Dobson. This expert who had argued for the importance of pre-marriage counseling, even writing a book about it, said in an interview that he really didn’t think such counseling did much good for most couples. I was shocked to hear him say that, but when he gave his reason, I immediately saw his point. Dobson said that people do not pay very close attention to information they don’t think they are going to need. He added that most couples preparing to get married do not think they need all that useless information about problems they might face; because first of all they believe that, unlike many couples, they get along really well; and secondly, any problems they are having at the time will certainly go away once they get married. Some of you might recognize the fallacy in that line of thinking, but many people at that stage of their life do not. I have seen it many times.
I always enjoy getting to know these young people, but we are oftentimes not on the same page. I want to discuss with them the challenges they will face in raising children, the need for wisdom and prudence in the management of their money, the pressures that come with balancing job and family and not ever having enough time, and so forth. They listen politely, but they are anxious to get down to the important stuff, like if they can get into the church the day before the wedding to decorate, and if we will have enough room in the front of the church for all sixteen attendants. As for getting along in their marriage, they are quite sure they will be just fine. After all, they will tell me, they have so many common interests– they both like pizza and beer and movies, so ‘what could possibly go wrong?’, they wonder. I am exaggerating a bit here, but this is often the tone of these conversations. (And although is a long time ago, I can remember feeling the same way, with my head up in the clouds of romantic bliss.)
So I believe James Dobson is right. People do not pay close attention to information they don’t believe they will need. Do you pay close attention when you are on an airplane and the flight attendant is giving you the instructions for if the plane goes down? I don’t. I don’t think the plane is going to go down, so I don’t think I will need that information, and so I don’t listen. I look around and most other people aren’t tuned in either. We don’t pay attention to something we aren’t interested in and don’t believe we will need.
Now I do things a little different when I get together with couples before a marriage. I don’t spend as much time on the details, to which they aren’t listening anyway, but I spend more time in simple conversation about some more general things. I have some questions for them by which I am looking for any huge red flags that need immediate attention. I tell them to expect trouble and how to get help if the troubles become overwhelming. And, most of all, I tell them that they are going to need Jesus in their marriage. I tell them that the closer they each come to Jesus, the closer they will be to each other. From Jesus we can learn how to be loving, caring, forgiving, kind, and patient. We can learn from Jesus how to encourage each other, share life’s burdens, keep our commitments, resist temptation, and bear with one another, faults and all. The most important advice I can give to any couple approaching marriage can be summed up in three words—“You need Jesus.”
Actually, that is the most important advice that can be given to anyone, at any time. No matter where we are at in life, we need Jesus. Everything that is said each week from this pulpit, everything we do here in worship, and our very reason for being here as a congregation can be summed in those three words: We need Jesus. We come to this place to hear about Jesus, to learn about what Jesus means for our lives, and to keep in touch with Jesus.
Many people do not think they need Jesus, and feel little need to pay any attention to what he has to say. They are approaching life with the attitude of, “Why do I need Jesus? I’m smart, I’m good-looking, I’m in great shape, and I am making lots of money. What can go wrong? What more do I need?” And it can indeed look, at least for a time, like we do not need Jesus, perhaps even a long time. So it is a fair question. (continued…)
John 14:6 — Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Romans 10:9 — If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
II Corinthians 5:19a — God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.
–St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)