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Are You Partnering With The Holy Spirit?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.


Mandy Catto: Welcome to the Art of Relationships. So often we engage in relationships in ways that were modeled to us as children. When Dennis Rainey realized this over 40 years ago he had no idea what God would do with his interest to serve young engaged couples. He began a conference called A Weekend to Remember and has learned so much about why marriages struggle so often today. Let's listen as he shares his advice to married couples.

Chris Grace: Well, welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. Tim, sometimes during our podcast we get an opportunity to bring in some really fun guests and this is no exception today. You and I talk a lot about doing marriage conferences. We do those all over the place, but you've been speaking at Family Life for a long time.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, 23 years.

Chris Grace: 23 years, and one of the cool things that you get to do is see couples in places and at times that are not only vulnerable and places in which they're processing and doing a lot of cool things, but Family Life has been an amazing organization reaching out for a long time. Tim, I have to tell you something and I'll tell our guest this in just a minute, but I found in my garage A Weekend to Remember notebook from 20 years ago exactly, or maybe even 30, I can't remember now but I'll look at it. And Tim, today's guest is your good friend.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, there's an old adage that says don't get to know your heroes because you're usually disappointed. Well, I've gotten to know Dennis Rainey over the last 25 years and there's nothing to be disappointed with. Dennis is the real deal, and him and Barbra have had a vision for marriage, and could easily say in the last 40 years they've been one of the strong, consistent voices in America and across the world that has really shaped our view of Christian marriage. They've had an incredible ministry.

So, Dennis Rainey is president, former president, he just recently stepped down away from it. But he's CO, a co-founder of Family Life, a division of Crew. Dennis earned a degree in business administration from The University of Arkansas, and a masters degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. Dennis married his wife Barbra in 1972 and, together they had a vision for a conference, for a weekend conference that people could come and hear God's blueprint for marriage. That's what Noreen and I have been a part of.

Dennis is not only a great speaker but a prolific writer. He's written and co-written more than a dozen books, including Staying Close, which was selected in 1990 as the outstanding book on marriage and family. In addition, he's received two golden medallion awards from Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association. He's a sought after speaker, a wise counselor on the issue of marriage. So, Dennis thank you so much for joining our podcast.

Dennis Rainey: It's great to be here, and because I'm a broadcaster too, I just have a question for Chris.

Chris Grace: Okay.

Dennis Rainey: [crosstalk] broadcast with a question for Chris?

Chris Grace: It is.

Dennis Rainey: What is the Weekend to Remember marriage conference manual doing in the garage?

Chris Grace: Oh.

Dennis Rainey: Yeah, exactly.

Chris Grace: Okay, well I'll take that zing right there. That's fine.

You know, it's so funny Dennis, here's the interesting thing. I pulled it out literally about a week ago because I'm going through all of some of our most important books. It's more than a garage. It's actually a place that I'm reading. So, I put up all the fun books, I grab that and now I remember. It was 1989. It was 30 years ago. You guys have been around a long time. If 30 years ago, my wife and I have been married about one or two years and we went to our first conference. So, I guess I would say it's a really nice garage though. It's...

Dennis Rainey: I'm honored that you would dig it out, and it has been a privilege to be a part of the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. Tim, of course, is still speaking at those. I've got one left to do with my son, Samuel and his wife Stephanie in Oregon later on this spring. But, it's been a privilege and an honor to train, literally, millions of folks through those conferences.

Chris Grace: Dennis, 40 years of doing this. That's amazing first of all. The number of couples that have been impacted by that, I mean, I imagine the list goes on, and on and on. And what a blessing, and I know it causes you to be with humility before God about what he's done. But, how did you start this? What prompted you, and just a marriage conference in general? What prompted you?

Dennis Rainey: You know, neither Barbra or I had any vision for a marriage and family ministry. Barbra was working with college students at the University of South Carolina. I was working with high school students in Bolder, Colorado. We got married and we continued working with high school students for another three years. I became convinced I needed some additional training. So, I went to Dallas Seminary.

While there, I studied under Dr. Howard Hendricks. And you know, anyone can rub shoulders with the prof and not get the disease of marriage and family. You're resistant to the bacteria. I mean, he was just infectious about marriages and families that honor God. He gave us a vision for that. I still really felt, honestly Chris, I really felt like marriage and family ministry was for people who couldn't cut it in real ministry. Maybe on the college campus, in the church, in seminaries teaching schools like Biola. I really, I didn't have a real high degree of respect for marriage and family ministry. There weren't a lot of people doing it.

But by working with high school kids we began to see that all roads came back to somebody's house. I was dumbfounded that people didn't have a family like I had and like Barbra had when they grew up. I had a Leave it to Beaver experience. Some of your listeners don't know what that is, you'll have to google it. It was just an idealistic family. My mom and dad were married for more than 45 years, until my dad's death in 1976, the year we started Family Life. Honestly, I was naïve. I thought everybody had a good marriage and family background that they grew up in, and they didn't.

We began to see it. In 1976 the culture of divorce was just beginning to sprout from the seeds of narcissism. These high school kids were being impacted by it. So, we went to a conference where a couple were speaking, Don and Sally Meredith who had a real vision and a heart [inaudible] families. We went to a conference where they spoke, and basically God just tapped us on the shoulder and said, "We want you guys to see what you can come up with in terms of a ministry to engaged couples."

So, it's a great story. I don't know if we have time to tell it real quickly, but in 1975 there was a congress on the family in St. Lewis. Campus Crusade for Christ, now CRU, sent three staff members to that US congress on the family. There was a married couple by the name of Dave and Sandy Sunday, and a single woman by the name of Ney Bailey. At that conference, they challenged the attendees to do something to equip engaged couples, or those contemplating marriage to prepare for marriage.

Dave and Sandy and Ney all came back to the leadership of CRU and said, we need to start a marriage and family ministry, especially for pre-marriage. The leadership said no.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh.

Dennis Rainey: Ney, at that point was a single woman, still is today by the way, but Ney said, "I put my head down on the table and begin to weep." She said, "It was as though God was crying tears through me for marriages and families." And men did what they always do when a woman cries, they changed their mind.

We started. They came to us and asked us to join with them. There was three couples that started this in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1976. Really, I wouldn't say any of us had any idea of a dream and a vision of what has transpired. You know, there is a passage in the New Testament, I believe in Ephesians, it says "Now to him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, beyond all you could ask or think. To him be the glory." Well, I've got to tell you, what transpired from 1976 is nothing short of a miracle, because God was wanting to do something in marriages and families. Honestly Chris, we just came along for the ride.

So, CRU started it, and we had an engaged conference. You either had to be marrying a staff member of Campus Crusade, or both of you be on staff before you could come to the marriage preparation conference. That first year we had about 400 people come to the conference. They started coming back the second year and said, "We'd like to come back as married. As a married couple." No, you can't come. This is only for engaged people.

You know, the old saying the customer is always right?

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Dennis Rainey: Well, finally they just kind of beat the door down and came anyway, and what started as a marriage preparation ministry ended up being a marriage and family ministry that also has still trained, I would imagine, hundreds of thousands of engaged couples. It's the very best in my opinion. The very best training conference for an engaged conference that they could ever attend. And, the rest they shall say is history. I think we trained over five million people in America, and who knows how many internationally in more than 100 countries around the world, because marriage and family is an international language.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, that's great.

Dennis Rainey: Everybody speaks the language of marriage and family, and what I like to say, and Tim has heard me say it many times. I think the issue of marriage and family is a Trojan horse. It's a way to get inside peoples' lives with the truth of Jesus Christ and his forgiveness of sins, because everybody wants to make their marriage and family go the distance. They want to know how to do it, and we've been training that at our conference for over 42 years.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, great. On a much smaller scale Dennis we've kind of adopted that attitude here at The Center for Marriage and Relationships. So, we go to Berkeley, we go to Yale, and use relationships as an evangelistic platform because everybody cares about relationships. Everybody wants... so, we've been able to go to Berkeley, my goodness, who would hate a lot of the stuff we say, and we pack out auditoriums because people want to hear about relationships. So, thanks for the model that you guys set. We're just kind of following in your footsteps in a much smaller scale.

Dennis Rainey: And you know, you're really proving Tim, and I absolutely cheer you on in that I think there's a generation of young people today who have given up on marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Dennis Rainey: And you're going to the very heart of where I think the seeds have been sewn to undermine a commitment between a man and a woman for a lifetime, and co-habitation is the preferred method today of marriage preparation.

Chris Grace: Dennis when you do questions at marriage conferences from, you field them from so many couples over the years, and the impact is tremendous. I'm really not kidding when I say that I still remember we pulled down that manual, we looked at, it brought back... in fact, you had us write a letter to each other in the middle of that, and I don't know if you still do that with couples. We went back and reread that to ourselves literally 30 years later.

Do the questions change? Do couples change? Do the issues... it is universal the way God has designed marriage has been since the beginning. But have the questions at all changed since the early history of doing this 40 years ago, or is there some one issue that keeps coming up?

Dennis Rainey: I think the issue that keeps coming up in terms of the root issue is selfishness. That isn't going to change until we die. Really, the question is, how do two imperfect people live together in the most intimate of all relationships and remain committed for a lifetime? And here's where, to me, a marriage that goes the distance increasingly is going to be, I think, culturally the most profound apologetic for the gospel that we can possibly take to the culture, because what are people looking for? They're looking for love, for meaningful relationships, for security. Where are you going to find that? Where are you going to get that? If you get married and you find out the other person is a stinker, and you didn't see all of who they were when you dated. Well, you're never going to see.

I mean, Barbra and I, we're 46 years into this, we're still finding out fresh things about one another. So, the gospel makes so much sense here because Jesus calls a man and a woman to bow their heads and their wills before almighty God, and ask him to fill them with his Holy Spirit. In my opinion, that's how two imperfect people go the distance. You are going to hurt one another. You know that.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Dennis Rainey: We've all, the three of us, whether we've been married collectively, the three of us here, 100 years?

Chris Grace: Over 100, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Dennis Rainey: Yeah, I mean we've learned over and over and over again the art of saying I'm sorry, will you forgive me when I... who is the one who breaks through a heart that doesn't want to ask for forgiveness? That doesn't want to admit that he or she is wrong? It's the work of the Holy Spirit. It's Jesus Christ because he's defeated death, he's alive.

Chris Grace: Amen.

Dennis Rainey: And he can raise a dead marriage from the grave and give it new life in Jesus Christ. We're not talking about some kind of spooky religion here. We're talking about gritty, person to person intimacy of two people who know each other better than anybody else on the planet, and they still remain committed and in love with one another. That's what Jesus Christ has done in my marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's so good Dennis, and when I speak at the conference, you know as well that we do a whole section on conflict. So, what I say to the audience is, "Listen conflict is conflict. How to resolve it is conflict 101 but what makes this conference different is where do you get the power to resolve conflict when you don't want to do it? How do you get the ability to forgive when you just don't want to do it and doesn't think that the other person deserves it?" That's what makes the Christian life so much different than other marriages is "What's the power source?"

And that's what I see so many couples lacking, and Dennis, comment for a second. I see a lot of Christian couples that in essence are secular couples. I mean, they want to resolve conflict, they want to forgive, they want to have a good flourishing marriage, but they're not hooked up to the Holy Spirit. So, for our listeners that are hearing you talk about this power of the Holy Spirit, can you for a second just elaborate on that? How do you get the spirit's power when you're just mad at your spouse and you're sleeping back to back in bed?

Dennis Rainey: Well, God is a triune God. He is the... the father is the planner, has a master plan that he's working out in the universe. Jesus Christ is his son and he's the executor of that plan. He became God in flesh, in the form of flesh, lived a perfect life, died on a cross, defeated death, ascended to heaven and is seated next to the heavenly father. He went to heaven so he could send the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. I think it was Francis Chan who coined the term the forgotten God. I think that is so good.

The Holy Spirit was given to us. Jesus said it's better that I go to the father, because I'll send you the spirit, and greater work shall you do because I send the Holy Spirit to you. A lot of Christians, and Tim you eluded to that, a lot of Christians are defeated in their lives because they don't realize the Holy Spirit is in them, and that he can help you love another imperfect person.

The Holy Spirit came to do a lot of things. He came to teach us. He teaches the Bible. He comforts us with the scriptures. He convicts us of sin. And I've got to tell you something, sometimes I don't like the Holy Spirit.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yep.

Dennis Rainey: He's telling me, "You know you're wrong. You're wrong, Dennis." And I'll argue with him. I say, "You know in this situation that Barbra is 90% wrong." The Holy Spirit will say, "Yeah but it's your 10% that caused her to be 90% wrong." It's at that point you've got to own your stuff. If he's convicting you of something you've got to deal with it. You need to humble yourself before God, and then before your spouse. Then, ask them to forgive you.

And you know, Tim, you speak at the conferences. That conflict resolution talk is a great message because most people have never been trained in knowing how to resolve unmet expectations, disappointments, disagreements. I'm very suspicious of any couple who says they've never had an argument.

Tim Muehlhoff: Ugh, yeah.

Dennis Rainey: Because Barbra and I have had a ton of them. We use to go out on a romantic date night on Sunday nights and we would argue about the schedule because it caused more conflict because our schedule was where our priorities and our values showed up. The ministry was even an enemy at that point. All these things people were pulling on us and tugging on us to go do, and is why I think you can't go the distance in a marriage without yielding and saying to the Holy Spirit, "Fill me afresh. Give me the fruit of the spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness." Where do those come from other than God?

I've got to tell you, this is not about marriage but I have to tell you a really relevant story here. As you guys know when we taped this podcast I was in the process of doing my last two days of broadcasting for Family Alive Today. I went to the headquarters of Family Lie on the Saturday before my last two weeks started. I was walking down the hall, and it occurred to me, I'm going off the air on 1300 stations around the country in two weeks.

I kid you not, I had not thought of this song. I had not thought of this song in over four decades, but all of a sudden I started singing "Count your many blessings. Name them one by one." I went and got a Baptist hymnal and looked up the hymn Count Your Many Blessings. You know, the hymn challenges us to count our blessings, not count our loses.

Where did that song come from? I'm convinced the Holy Spirit saw me walking down that corridor that was surrounded by spiritual milestones that are on the wall that are there at Family Life and he realized I was sad that I was going off the air. The Holy Spirit came and he gave me a song. He put a song in my soul. I've been singing it now for 14 days, and I'm still going to sing it after this.

The Holy Spirit will teach you. He will show up. Guys, this is one of the missing elements of what's happening, I think, in the Christian family today. People do not have a real encounter with Jesus Christ. He's not changing their lives daily. He's not getting them encounters where he shows... they're not recognizing him when he shows up in their lives. So, when they turn to their kids to explain their faith they don't have anything to share because the only thing they've got is to take them to church on Sunday morning. I'm convinced one of the mandates of the Christian family is for a husband and a wife to go the distance in their marriage, but also to share with each other and with their kids what God, what the Holy Spirit is doing in your life.

Convicting you of sin, changing the direction of your passions, giving you a heart to ask for forgiveness. I don't know how you would do marriage apart from the Trinity, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit.

Tim Muehlhoff: See Dennis, I think you absolutely nailed one of the foundational issues the church is wrestling with today, which is I want God to fix my marriage. I don't want him to mess with me personally. Like who wouldn't want to go to a marriage conference and get it fixed in a weekend? But then when God says, "No, no, no. I actually want access to you. I need to change your heart." And what Paul says, "Train yourself for godliness." I'm just afraid that a lot of our listeners and couples that we interact with, they just want a quick fix in the form of a weekend, and Jesus is talking so much more about discipleship, lordship, that you and I have talked about the fact that lordship just isn't used anymore. We don't hear that phrase very often among our undergraduates.

So, people just want this quick, easy fixing Christianity without the lordship with Jesus and I think what you're saying is Jesus needs to be Lord of your life, or this isn't going to work. There's just no way that you can dabble in Christianity and then, have a marriage that's going to be something supernatural.

Dennis Rainey: You know, back to the song, Count Your Many Blessings, what you were talking about Tim is part of what that song said to me. It says "Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy that you're called to bare? Count your many blessing, every doubt will fly and you will be singing as the days go by."

I don't think there's any way to be a follower of Christ without being a cross-carrier. He said, "If you want to be my disciple, you've got to pick up your cross and follow me." And sometimes the cross is the person you're married to. Sometimes the cross is the person your spouse is married to, it's you. It's me.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Dennis Rainey: And I don't know any other route to becoming like Jesus Christ but to confess my sin as it occurs, my attitude, and to realize that the Christian life is not something that takes place between 10:00 on Sunday morning and noon. It's something that is lived out in the grit of every day life. I'm telling you, we've raised six kids. We had six kids, 10 and under at one point, and were leading a ministry that was growing at 40% a year. I don't know how we did it other than the power of the Holy Spirit because the tendency for people to turn on one another, and Tim you know the statement I'm about to make. We challenge people at the Weekend to Remember Marriage Getaway to turn to their spouse and say, "you are not my enemy".

But the enemy of your soul, it says in Ephesians, chapter six, your struggle is not against flesh and blood. The enemy, the devil of hell, wants to convince you that your spouse is your enemy. That it's the wretch you're married to. And, yet, I think Jesus Christ is coming to us going, "You know what? You're a wretch too. Deal with it. Deal with your stuff and humble yourself. And ask her or ask him to forgive you." We're not talking about some kind of Hollywood movie here.

This is hard work, and the problem in our culture is if you can't fix it... And Chris you talked about it earlier. People want an instant fix. They don't want to do the hard work and heavy lifting that comes through four and a half decades of marriage, and I'll not get into it but Barbra has nearly died on four different occasions with a heart rate of over 300 beats a minute. And when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death with your spouse, you're going to either repel each other, or you're going to be bonded at a level that you could never describe.

I can't imagine... both of us have talked about this. I can't imagine starting over. The life that we have shared, I mean it's been an incredible journey. Hard, tough, but really meaningful and I don't know how people do it without Jesus Christ, without surrendering as you talked about earlier. Surrendering their wills to him, and say, "Lord, use me to love the fear out of my wife. Use me to communicate respect to my husband. He's filled with self-doubt. Help me respect him and to believe in him." Those two prayers are really the prayers of our marriage.

I wanted to love the fear out of Barbra and Barbra wanted to respect me even in my self-doubt and whatever I've become as a man I owe to the wife who said yes to me. Barbra Ann Peterson, September 2nd, 1972 and she hasn't quit. She hasn't quit on me and I haven't quit on her.

You know, if I might I'd just like to share with you the second stanza of the song.

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Dennis Rainey: Count Your Blessings. I want to go back to that song. It says, "Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bare? Count your many blessing, every doubt will fly and you will be singing as the days go by."

Chris Grace: That's amazing. That's awesome.

Dennis Rainey: Here's the thing, there can not be a Christ-like marriage without two people deciding to follow Christ and pick up their cross and follow him. He made it very, very clear, discipleship is cross carry. I fear we have a generation of believers that cross carrying seems foreign. It feels repulsive, and you know what? It is. It demands the flesh to die. I don't want to die. I want my way. I want to be right. I don't like being wrong but the cross, the weight of the cross presses me into Christ and into the Holy Spirit to listen to his voice and yield, and surrender afresh.

I don't know how a marriage can go for 46 years if you don't pick up your cross together. And at the point you stop carrying it you confess. You ask for forgiveness. These are days when the Christian community is desperate for some models. Marriages and families who are made up of true Christ followers. It's not some Hollywood movie. It's a gritty relationship between two broken sinful, selfish people who've decided not to quit, and keep following Christ.

Chris Grace: Dennis that's so good. You know you were talking briefly that the song comes to mind for you, especially now in a season where you're processing and looking back, and thinking about a new journey, a new chapter, and that song has ministered to you because God has laid that on your heart. I love the connection Dennis that you made between looking back and, sensing that also this idea of blessings and what it means to be grateful. So, to pick up the cross is something that we do with this attitude of thankfulness and that blessing.

It just reminds me, and I'm a psychologist, and one of the things that we find is that people who are grateful just show up very differently than people... and people who count their blessings and people who do not. In fact, some of the research we're looking at and we've been thinking about around here is people that are ungrateful tend to be characterized with things like vanity, and arrogance and even an excessive sense of self-importance.

The opposite of that is so amazing what happens with people who are grateful. I think that's what the many blessings are, right? The people, there's more joy and the research is showing... it's funny, isn't it? Science over the last decade is showing exactly what the bible described. Grateful people are more satisfied with their life. They feel more joy. They have higher levels of enthusiasm, right?

And I think, Dennis, that's how we're able to do this is partnering with him as we go about our world and our life knowing that we have a cause and a purpose. I just love your analogy and how you're talking about this. It's just cool to see you navigating through this.

Dennis Rainey: Let me read you the fourth stanza of the song...

Chris Grace: Sure.

Dennis Rainey: "So amid the conflict, whether great or small, do not be discouraged, God is over all. Count your many blessings, angels will attend. Help and comfort give you to your journey's end."

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Dennis Rainey: What is Christian marriage but, we're going to surrender our lives and we're going to seek God and ask him to use us to glorify his name, and proclaim him by leading a godly legacy through our children, if God blesses us with them. Then, by turning outward as a couple and maybe as a family to reach others with the good news. One of the things I'm concerned about today is Christian families, and Christians, in general, are not excited about being evangelistic.

Chris Grace: Oh!

Dennis Rainey: They're fearing their faith in Jesus Christ. I think it's because they don't have much of a faith to share. And if that's the listener right now, why don't you just pray a simple prayer and just say, "Be merciful to me, a sinner. Renew a right spirit within me. Give me a faith that is so alive I can't help but talk about him. I can't help but live out my faith with my spouse who sees all and knows all, and with my kids. Use me for your purposes I pray." He'll hear you. He will hear you. He's promised to hear us.

Chris Grace: That's great.

Tim Muehlhoff: Dennis one of the things we'd love to explore more is what if the purpose of a Christian marriage wasn't just upward mobility, or accomplishing the American dream but being ambassadors for Christ? That was the center of your marriage. We'd love to pick this conversation up with you again.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I agree Tim. In fact, let's have Dennis back on, and do it again here soon. In fact, we're looking forward to just hearing more of your thoughts on this. So, thank you so much for joining us here at the podcast, Art of Relationships, and we'll talk again soon.

Mandy Catto: Thanks for listening to the Art of Relationships. This podcast is only made possible through generous donations from listeners just like you. If you like it, and want to help keep the podcast going visit our website at and make a donation today.