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Spiritually Defending Your Marriage

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


Chris Grace: Welcome to another Art of Relationship podcast. Tim, I'm looking forward to today, 'cause it's an amazing topic that we have. This is going to be on spiritually defending your marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff: Right. A topic that ... just shocked that not many people talk about it. They certainly talk about spiritual battle. We get that a lot, though not necessarily from the pulpit. We should talk about that a little bit. As it relates to our marriages, as to our relationships, there's just very few books that are specifically about spiritual battle in marriage, which is surprising to me.

Chris Grace: I'd love to talk about things like why would Satan care about your marriage, right?

Tim Muehlhoff: We can't even pay our bills. Why does Satan care about the Muehlhoff and the Grace family. My gosh, right?

Chris Grace: You might have bigger things to do.

Tim Muehlhoff: See, Armageddon or go after the Muehlhoffs. You know what I mean? That doesn't make sense. But that's a good topic.

Chris Grace: And yet, it's a topic a lot of people face. One of the things I'd love to be able to do is talk about well, what kind of plan would we have. If there really is this battle that we're facing, we need to approach it with all eyes on the prize, but also being fully aware of what's going on, and maybe awareness is one of those keys. So, I'm really looking forward to this topic.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. It's great. What's funny is when some people learned that we were going to this as a topic, everyone was like, "Oh, do you really want to do that?" Kind of like we're opening a door. So, there's so much misinformation and weirdness about this topic, that I think the Apostle Paul and Jesus would be shocked that we're not reading what they said about these important issues.

Chris Grace: Yeah, so you start ... and you've recently did a lot of research and writing on this and in fact a book Defending Your Marriages is about to come out. It's called ... the subtitle is The Reality of Spiritual Battle.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Chris Grace: So, tell me about that. Why that ... what is the reality of the spiritual battle, and why did you choose that as a subtopic?

Tim Muehlhoff: Something happened ... and Chris, I know you and Elisa speak at a ton of marriage conferences ... and I don't know if you've had this experience, but like, we're getting ready to go to a marriage conference, and one of the kids gets sick, our sitter, our trusted sitter, cancels last minute. Now we're scrambling to get childcare. And, that night, our kitchen sink starts to leak again. And so, we're just looking at this going, "This is craziness."

Tim Muehlhoff: So, we're dealing with all these issues. We drive to LAX, which is, my gosh, you talk about Satan occupied territory, is LAX. And then we fly out. But, when we get to the conference, we go early to do a microphone check ... you know, you've done this ... and we're sitting there with the conference leader, and we notice that people are praying over empty chairs. Like, this auditorium, about 800 person auditorium ... and I say to the conference director, I said, "Hey, what are they doing?" And he said, "Hey, they're praying for the people that are going to be in those chairs because we know a spiritual battle is about to happen this weekend." Chris, I just looked at this guy like, "Really? Satan's going to ... he cares about this marriage conference?" And the guy said to me, "Oh Tim, you'd have to be naïve to believe that lost luggage, traffic delays, technical problems, you think that's just coincidence? Satan really wants to disrupt what's about to happen." And Chris, I have to be honest with you. It was not a blip on my radar. I was not thinking like that.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, as we're heading back to our hotel room, I said to Noreen, "Hey, doesn't it make sense that if Satan is trying to get at the people that are attending this conference, he'd go after the people speaking?" And then I said to Noreen, "So, do you think that leaking pipe, is that just a leaking pipe or do you think demonic activity? The fact that one of our kids got sick ... " And, I honestly didn't have an answer to that. That's why I decided to write this book called Defending Your Marriage because I didn't know about that.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, let me ask you. Let's say, what happens to you and Elisa usually when you're heading off to a conference? Do you experience like things that just try to derail you as you're about to speak?

Chris Grace: Well, yeah, it would be naïve to think that we would go unscathed, or anybody would go unscathed in this thing. I do simply feel, like you, that this is a topic that is not addressed enough, but it has hit home for us many times when we think about going into that fray, because we feel like you're going into certain areas of territory that we, as believers, have authority to pray about and for. I would say we have felt it many times, Tim, where we're getting ready to get up there, or we're traveling out to this talk, in the middle of the airplane, you know, in rows 12A and 12 B on the airplane, we're sitting there debating and arguing about something with the kids, or some strange thing comes up, like, "Wait, wait, wait. What's going on here? Why now? Why is this happening?"

Chris Grace: And the other thing is, some people, like those that were praying for this conference that you mentioned, walking around to each individual chair, and praying over, it's a pretty powerful way and approach to be able to deal with this, which is one of the main tools we have, isn't it? We'll talk some later on about-

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, we'll talk about prayer, yeah.

Chris Grace: ... Ephesians and prayer and some of the people around here that really have been able to think through this from a Biblical standpoint, and provide resources and ways that Jesus has given to us to attack this.

Tim Muehlhoff: But, here's the reaction I got from people, Chris. When I started to research this, when I started to think about this and write about this, here's the reaction I got from people. It almost was like ... they were afraid to overreact. They were afraid to say ... "Okay, so if you think a demon is causing your pipe to maybe leak, well then, where does this stop? I could attribute everything, then, to demonic activity."

Tim Muehlhoff: Remember that great C.S. Lewis quote? Lewis said, "There's two mistakes we tend to make about Satan. One, we attribute absolutely nothing to him, or we attribute everything to him." And he thought that both of those mistakes were going off the rails. I feel that. I'm like, am I really prepared to say that maybe a leaky faucet or a child getting sick, is demonic activity? And what criteria would you ever use to know if that's the case?

Tim Muehlhoff: So, I think a lot of us, myself included, it's like, I don't even want to open this door. I would rather really not think about this because then, this becomes personal, and if Satan is real, my world's about to change. I can feel that tension from people sometimes.

Chris Grace: Yeah. And there's a deeper history here, Tim, I think that you're alluding to, throughout all of Christianity. The very idea of this separating us out from, you know, some organization, or some churches, or some of these different, let's say, Christian writers and even researchers, and thinkers, and theologians, differ on this. Right? How much do we attribute to the spiritual side, or the spiritual nature of this. And so, all of the work that's been done ... we don't have time to go into that, but you mentioned C.S. Lewis-

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my goodness.

Chris Grace: ... but there are so many others who have written and talked about this. One of the problems has been, Tim, that there really doesn't seem to be a whole lot out there, as you mentioned, on the topic related to relationships, or related to marriage. I think that's maybe why you've decided that this book would be so important, and why we have decided to even put a conference on, on this, because couples are asking for it, and looking for it. That area, there is not a lot written out there, and so let's talk about it.

Tim Muehlhoff: Which is ... Chris, imagine the Apostle Paul goes to a marriage conference ... a Christian marriage conference ... and he walks in, and he stops at the book table, and he just says to the woman running the book table, "Hey, I'm just curious, where's the section on spiritual battle?" And the woman looks at him and says, "Yeah, we don't have a section for spiritual battle." And he's like, "Really?" and then he walks into the conference. He takes the manual that they give him, and he opens it, and he's looking a lecture specifically on spiritual battle in marriage. There's none. I think Paul would walk out of there and go, "Hey, have you not read my letters? Have you not read Ephesians, the letter to the church at Ephesus?"

Tim Muehlhoff: Now, the great thing about being at Biola University, Chris, is we have great theologians who have thought about this. One is a dear friend of ours, Clint Arnold, New Testament scholar. He's the head of our Talbot Seminary. He says this ... so, I read a book by Clint Arnold about Paul's handling of the powers of darkness, so just the letters of Paul ... and this is what he said. This really hit me, this quote. He goes, "On this topic, whether Satan is real or not, some of us suffer a double-mindedness. Although mental assent is given to the likelihood that evil spirits exist, since it is affirmed in the Bible. In reality, it makes no practical difference in the way we live our day-to-day lives." Wow, that convicted me.

Tim Muehlhoff: I think that's probably true of a lot of Christian couples. Ask them if Satan is real. I think they're going to say, "Well, yeah, I mean the Bible talks about it, right?" "Well then, what do you do on a daily basis or in your marriage to deal with it?" And that's when I think, Chris, we'd get deer in headlights look. Like, yeah, we don't do anything when it comes to spiritual battle in our marriage, our parenting, our families.

Chris Grace: Well, Tim, so let's talk about then, some of the different ways that this can come into play, and some of the things you discovered, and some of the things that we've all been trying to figure out. How do we not fall into either trap, that is, the side where we're completely oblivious to the battle going on, or we see, as the old saying goes, a demon under every rock? How do we walk in a place where we're doing this in a way that is aware of the reality of that spiritual battle? It seems to me that we start with a clear understanding ... and you've done this, I think, real well ... is saying, listen not every problem that you have in your marriage is going to be attributed to some spiritual nature, but you had better be aware that everything about this marriage is important to God. God's designed the marriage. God gets glory in this marriage. In fact, God says He inhabits where two or three are gathered together in My name, but also this idea of a strand or a cord of three ... and if that is indeed the case, if our marriages bring God glory, if they're done well, then one His main purposes would be thwarted, or attempted to be, if our enemy could get in there and destroy this relationship, or this marriage, right?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. I mean, go back to the garden. Why would Satan care about Adam and Eve? What does he care that God has made two human beings? Satan is an angel, right? But, he wants to get at Adam and Eve. He wants them to rebel, to turn their back on the creator, but why? Why would Adam and Eve be of any importance whatsoever to Satan? Why not Satan just go directly at God and have an angelic war of some kind, like he did when he was banished?

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, the answer is because Adam and Eve were to reflect God's goodness. They, together, male and female, were to reflect his love, compassion, the Imago Dei, the image of God. And so, Satan really can't hurt God, but he wants to hurt something that is deeply important to God, and that are two human beings in this relationship.

Tim Muehlhoff: Well, fast forward to 2018. Now, Satan looks at Christian marriages, in particular, and says, "I want to destroy the image they're supposed to bear of God's love, goodness, grace, and things like that." That's why I think Christian marriages, particular, are targets of Satan.

Tim Muehlhoff: Now, the big question becomes, well how does he do it? Right? And we've all seen these crazy movies, The Conjuring, or ... where a person levitates, their head rotates 360, they speak in guttural Latin voices, right? So, if it was that obvious, then I think everybody would say, "Well yeah, obviously spiritual battle exists because my goodness, I'm seeing it in front of me." But, a great lesson is learned from Sun Tzu and The Art of War. It's a book I read, thinking if Satan really is waging war against God, I wonder if he didn't take a page out of Sun Tzu's Art of War book. John says something very interesting in First John 5:19. He says, "The whole world is under control of the evil one." Man, think about that for a second.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, how might Satan seek to impact our marriages? Through culture, through body image issues, how we handle hurriedness, technology. You know, a ton of this stuff we've talked about on this podcast, Chris, I think Satan is using all of this stuff as tools to separate couples.

Chris Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, he's using this ... I think we can agree that Satan cares about marriages. We agree, and I think most listeners can say, "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me that there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to disrupt God's plans and purposes, to bring glory to himself in some way," and so he cares about this institution. He cares ... you know, we could debate whether or not is it a better thing for him at the end, of divorce, or just simply living in a marriage that's horrible and rotten, and is not a model to anybody, right? So he cares.

Chris Grace: I guess the question that's going to come up for a lot of listeners would be, "All right. Great. I buy the argument. I understand it. I believe it. But, how can I tell if this is really spiritual? How do I know? How can we tell together?"

Tim Muehlhoff: That's really good. That's really good.

Chris Grace: "What are the signs that we may very well be facing this?"

Chris Grace: For us, in our marriage, I would say, for Elisa and I, one of the things that we will notice when it feels like there is more of a potential for spiritual warfare, is when the common, everyday frustrations are going to still be there, and the stressors, but they seem to have a different element. We've been praying about something, or we are committed to doing something together, and we're growing in a way ... and all of a sudden, it seems like something comes up that is unexpected, or these little arguments escalate, or they compound. And one of us usually stops and says, "You know, there's something happening here. I need to just ... my emotions, or my heart right now, is really frustrated. I just don't know why." And we pause and take some time. Well, it seems like, Tim, it takes a little bit of reflection to realize that these problems that have escalated, or these little conflicts, seem to have maybe something to them that goes away, when we stop, recognize it, and seek God's hand, and we start to pray.

Chris Grace: Is one sign that this is spiritual warfare is that you can actually overcome a lot of this through prayer? Is that a sign that maybe you've been in something that has a deeper nature to it? Or, would you suggest otherwise?

Tim Muehlhoff: Let me make a couple ... those are great questions. Let me make a couple comments. One, because Satan is in a war against God, I think he's also a student of human warfare, how humans wage war. So, in the book, I quote Bevin Alexander, who's a military historian, and he asks the question, "What's the one thing all successful generals have in common?" Like, what's the one thing they all agree on? And his answer is, "Great generals realize that a rear attack distracts, dislocates, and often defeats and enemy physically by cutting him off from his supplies and reinforcements." So, in other words, the only time you're attacked directly is when you have overwhelming force. This is shock and awe ... remember when we had the war with Iraq. Satan seldom does that. Fascinating that he often attacks from the rear.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, in the book of Genesis, where they're talking about Satan and Adam and Eve, it says the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field. In Hebrew, crafty literally means subtle, right? So, Chris, I think Satan takes a page out of human military history and often attacks us from the rear, because otherwise ... so, think about it. If you and Elisa are ready to go to a conference, and suddenly the temperature of the room goes to like below zero. You can see your breath, and you feel this demonic presence, what would be the reaction of you and Elisa in a heartbeat?

Chris Grace: Yeah, well, we would begin to pray. We would begin just to know, "Okay, Lord, just ... "

Tim Muehlhoff: This is it.

Chris Grace: Whether it was explicit or implicit, we would know immediately, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, I think Satan does an end-around. And boy, if we had time, we could look at the Genesis passage, where he's constantly doing the end-around Eve. "Did God really say this? Did He really do this? Did He say this? Did He do this?" And so, we see Satan being very crafty with Eve. I think a lot of times, the spiritual attack, there's always going to be a little bit of an element of I'm not totally sure what's going on here. But, my point would be, when in doubt, treat it as spiritual battle.

Chris Grace: Okay. Here's what I'd like to do, Tim, I think ... in the next portion of this podcast, I want to talk about how that aspect of the end-around, the craftiness of the serpent, and then how do we fight back. So, let's do that.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Good.

Chris Grace: We'll be right back after this short break and come back to this topic. What do you think?

Chris Grace: Hey, this podcast is just one of several parts of our Center for Marriage and Relationships. If you'd like more resources on relationships, take a look at our website for blogs, videos, online courses, and mentoring workbooks.

Chris Grace: Okay, we're back. So, Tim, when it comes to this idea about spiritual battles, spiritual warfare, and then defending our marriage, the word defending is a pretty, I think a well chosen word, because it does bring up this idea of a battle and a defense that we do, because we have an enemy who is coming at us. But, you were just making a point that the enemy is crafty enough to not always go right, you know, in the front of the fight, towards us, but instead, can be much more subtle and crafty.

Chris Grace: The idea for our listeners, if they're out there, would be, "Well, how can I tell if this is spiritual warfare?" So, we each have some ideas. I know you've done some thinking about this as well ... when it seems like it's clear. Are there any personal examples in other things that you've read? I'll give you one, when we are out there, and we are noticing that it just simply has a different qualitative feel sometimes, that there are moments in time where we sense, and we're pretty clear, we need to stop and pray right now. We need to do this. These things that are coming up, these issues, seem to almost feel slightly differently. But, it's always difficult to go off of just that ...

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, yeah.

Chris Grace: ... this feels differently. There seems to be other examples or ways we can attempt to sense whether or not this is really the battle or the warfare we're thinking about. So, what would you suggest?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. I think, Chris, for me, it's this concept of a foothold. This is Ephesians 4:27, where Paul says, "Hey, do not give the devil a foothold." Now, what's interesting is right before that, he says that, he says, "Now listen, I don't want your anger, I don't want the sun to go down on your anger, as not to give the devil a foothold." That foothold can be translated this way. "Do not give the devil a chance to exert his influence," is how that could be.

Tim Muehlhoff: So, let's say this. Let's say Noreen and I were having a disagreement, and I think Noreen's wrong. She thinks I'm wrong. Well, I go to bed angry at her, and in the morning, I feel the inclination, "Hey, we need to nip this in the bud. We need to sit down and have a conversation and really get to the bottom of this." But, I'm too busy. I need to get to work. So, I leave, and I'm still kind of angry at her. So, all throughout the day, when I think about this situation, I feel that anger surface a little bit. Now, I'm not having good thoughts towards Noreen, I'm kind of having neutral or bad thoughts.

Tim Muehlhoff: Here's what I think Satan is doing. He's probing to see if he can get a foothold. It is, "Tim, fuel this anger." Right? And so, when you go home tonight, instead of being generous towards your wife, or sitting down, and saying, "Hey, let's have a conversation," let it stew one more day. Right? Watch TV, give a quick, curt goodnight, and go to bed. Now, I've got a two day cycle, and this anger is starting to cement a little bit and hopefully ... Satan is thinking ... we can get this towards bitterness. That's how the subtlety of it, to me, Chris, works. So, I think Satan is constantly trying to influence negative impressions I might have of a person, anger, disappointment ... and he's always probing to see if he can get a foothold to make it something bigger.

Chris Grace: Yeah. I think that's really insightful, from Paul's work in Ephesians 4, Tim. And he continues, even in that passage, remember he says, "To avoid that foothold," ... I love the way he tells something, he says, "Let all of these feelings that you're having," ... these footholds, the anger, and the wrath, and the bitterness, and the clamor, and the slander, what does he say? "Put it away far from you." Right? "Along with all of that malice," ... so, it's a very, almost a directive statement of, "Put it away," and then do what? Well, "Instead, be kind to one another." Right? "Tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God, in Christ forgives you." So, he immediately says, "You put this off, and you put this on." Those are quick, good ways and measures of am I ready to be tenderhearted? Can I forgive at this moment? That makes it ... everybody loves forgiveness. It's really easy to do. Right? Everybody loves to say, "Oh, I can treat another person with kindness." But, in that moment, when you have something to forgive, that's when it could be very difficult.

Chris Grace: And when it's hard for you, is at that moment where maybe you're most vulnerable. So, my wife has done something that really bothers or irritates me, and I can just dwell on that, and to think about, to put this off, and to try and put on something, is really one of the tests, I think, that Paul uses at the end of chapter four in Ephesians to talk about that.

Tim Muehlhoff: That's right. Chris, that's why we're going to do a conference on this, right?

Chris Grace: Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: Because I don't think people know how to put it away. I think it's great advice from Paul, "Hey, I want you to put away malice, anger, clamor," but we look at that and we think, "Yeah, but how do you put away an emotion that I feel like is really overwhelming me?" Right? And that's why I think we need to have a good conference, teaching instruction, from a multitude of sources, psychologists, communication therapists.

Tim Muehlhoff: Hey, let me read you a quote from D.G. [Cale 00:23:39]. He's a Christian writer. I thought of this quote when we were talking about footholds. This is what he says. "We do not fall in a moment. Rather, the predisposition to yield to sin has been forming, building, germinating. But, not necessarily consciously so. Satan often plants subtle stimuli, often subliminal ones. He influences an attitude, he wins a minor victory, always in preparation for the big fall. He just described what happened in Genesis, with Eve, right? And he just described what happens in many of our relationships. That little annoyance turns to anger, and if it's fed, turns to bitterness. Now, we got a big problem.

Chris Grace: You know, it's so interesting, Tim, the connection to that with other areas. Even in psychology they find that people are asked, "What are the big things in life that cause the most stress?" You know what they say? It's the little, tiny daily hassles, and annoyances, that actually can cause most of the problems for people, especially if they're not dealt with. It's not these great, big, gigantic life changes that occur. Those are horrible and rotten. But, it's those day-to-day, everyday little tiny things. This seems to be one of the ways that we're facing a battle here, when we are sensing a very important moment in time where we are knowing this is happening, and sometimes we're hopefully more aware of it than not. That awareness is something I'd like to talk to you about. How do we stay and become more aware of this?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, so, just for a second, go back to the leaky faucet. If I had to bet the house ... this is what I'm going to say, Chris. I don't think Satan had a crescent wrench and loosened it so it would leak. But, here's what he was looking at the entire time. Noreen could be thinking, "But honey, we've talked about this leak before and I've asked you to kind of address it, and you've kind of put it off, and now we're leaving for a conference, and I'm frustrated. I'm mad." And I'm like, "Well, Noreen, it's not like I didn't have a busy week. Right? And I wanted to hire a plumber, but you wanted to save money." Now, Satan's going, "Love this. This, I'm going to stoke." This I'm going to fuel, and if I can get him to be mad tonight, and tomorrow they're driving to a marriage conference, oh, this is wonderfully fertile territory. That's how I think Satan went after the Muehlhoffs that night, to be honest.

Chris Grace: Well, that's great. Let's continue this topic, because I think there's a lot there. I'd love to hear a little bit more of your thinking on a couple of ways that we can now develop a plan, and ways we can defend ourselves in this marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff: I'm sorry I can't be here, 'cause I have to go and fix a faucet.

Chris Grace: It's about time, baby. She called and left a message already.

Tim Muehlhoff: Can I borrow a crescent wrench?

Chris Grace: Well, we're really glad you joined us for today's podcast. For more resources on marriage and relationships, visit our website at

Tim Muehlhoff: And we'll see you next time on The Art of Relationships.