So, Mike and Michelle, what do you want for your marriage? Mike, I suppose you want a cheerful Michelle who will be supportive and compliment the work you’ll do as a pastor. Michelle, I believe you once said that you wanted kids, crazy kids like the Habben girls. I’ll take that as a compliment! Seriously though isn’t what the two of you want for your marriage what every couple wants – happiness? God too wants you to be happy. This happiness, as the Apostle Paul explains, comes from genuine optimism. Paul said in the text you chose for your special day: “16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Right now there doesn’t seem to be much, if anything, standing in the way of a happy marriage. You’re good looking, athletic, witty, gifted in music and writing, and have the ability to connect with people from all walks of life. The way that you spend time together and the things you do for one another show that you truly love each other. How can this not be a recipe for a happy marriage? The thing is, many couples have stood where you now stand and had the same optimism but what they found in marriage was heartache. Perhaps the poet James Lowell was right when he said: “An optimist is a guy who has never had much experience.”
Well, Lowell never met the Apostle Paul. Paul had experienced much: unjust beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, hunger, and sickness yet through it all he remained upbeat. How did he do it? He shares his secret in the last phrase of our text. Paul said: “16 Be joyful always…18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18).
By nature we are not joy generators. And so Michelle you will find it easier to complain about the late nights Mike spends in the office, and Mike you may stew about the money Michelle spends on things like getting highlights in her hair. Can those things ruin a marriage? They can. A marriage counselor once observed: “It’s not the crocodile chomps, but the mosquito bites that ruin a marriage” (Dr. John Johnson).
So how will you remain optimists in your marriage? How will you rejoice always and not just some of the time or even most of the time? How will you give thanks in all circumstances not just the pleasant ones? You will do this in Christ. In Christ, the ugly things of this world: loneliness, sickness, even death are beautiful.
If that’s true, why do we hear so many Christians complain about their life and their marriage? It’s because they are focused on the “bad” things and not on Christ. Let me try to illustrate that thought. Let’s say that this lighted square represents your life. Right now everything in your life looks bright and cheerful. But as time goes on shadows will creep into your life. Maybe it’s the shadow of cancer. Or maybe it’s the shadow of being away from all your friends and family as you go to serve God’s people in a far-flung city. When these shadows start to dominate your life, will you be able to rejoice and give thanks for all things? You will in Christ. Take a look at this square again. While shadows now dominate an area that was once bright with light, it does not mean that the light has stopped shining, does it? No. You can’t have shadows unless there is light. So even if the shadows of sickness and loneliness should creep into your life, and they will, this does not mean that the light of Jesus has stopped shining (Joel Hempel, Concordia Pulpit Research V. 11 #4 p. 53). Jesus continues to shine his love on you because that’s what he promised in your baptism. The trick is to turn away from the shadows and face the light. In the light of God’s love you will be reminded that he uses sickness, loneliness, anything to draw his children closer to him.