NEW YORK – Tim Keller is one of America's most well-known pastors – the founder of the mega-church Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. But he and his wife, Kathy, are also well-known for giving top-notch marriage advice. So if your New Year's resolution is making your marriage better, here's help from the Kellers.
They're following up their bestseller The Meaning of Marriage with a daily devotional – The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple's Devotional – that slices their advice into 365 bite-sized pieces.
"What this does is it breaks it down and makes it digestible," Tim Keller told CBN News.
When Justin Bieber Reads Your Book
By the way, if you think you've heard of the Kellers' The Meaning of Marriage recently, it could be because of superstar Justin Bieber and Haley Baldwin just before they got married.
"They were seen reading the book together," Tim revealed.
"All these fan places that never do Christian stuff, all started reading the book to try to figure out 'what in the world is this book?' It went to number three on Amazon."
Say You're Sorry, Say You Forgive
One of the Kellers' biggest life lessons is making your marriage a place where you both frequently say you're sorry.
"The most powerful people are the ones who repent the most quickly and the most frequently and the most deeply," Kathy Keller opined.
This act of repenting keeps you accountable to one another, vulnerable and open. On the flip side, you both also must constantly forgive – and do so completely. Tim suggested when you're feeling burdened and way down, this kind of forgiveness can feel like a resurrection from the dead.
"The way Jesus took the little (deceased) girl and touched her by the hand and said, 'Honey, it's time to get up,' and brought her up," Tim illustrated.
As the Kellers sum it up in The Meaning of Marriage, "Only if we are very good at forgiving and very good at repenting can truth and love be kept together."
Corrections Like a Surgeon's Cuts
For all this to work, though, Tim advises you need to be each other's best friends who can be trusted completely. Then you can trust your mate's correction like a surgeon's cuts… meant to heal and make you better.
In The Meaning of Marriage, the Kellers quote Proverbs 27:6 – "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," and go on to say "There are two features of real friendship – constancy and transparency. Real friends always let you in, and they never let you down."
They write of such friends, "You trust this person's wisdom and you find you can open up and share many intimate things without fear."
The Kellers advise singles on a hunt for a spouse, "Screen first for friendship. Look for someone who understands you better than you do yourself, who makes you a better person just by being around them."
If you're both Christians, then this friendship can be even more meaningful and helpful to your life, because as the Kellers' book says of spiritual friendship, "It is eagerly helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways."
Be Willing to be Exposed
But that can only come about if you're willing to have your sins and your true self exposed to this friend who is your spouse. That's a process almost sure to happen in marriage because it is so intimate.
It may be painful, but this exposing gives you a chance to clearly see and turn away from those sins and weaknesses and failings. Though it may hurt, it is certainly necessary to be healed and freed of those things.
Tim writes, "When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, it was during a routine checkup. My doctor just happened to feel a tiny lump in my neck. Though the surgery and subsequent treatments were painful and frightening, at no time did the thought ever cross my mind, 'Oh, I wish the doctor had never found that lump.'"
He continues, "Don't resist this power that marriage has. Give your spouse the right to talk to you about what is wrong with you. Paul talks about how Jesus 'washes' and 'cleanses' us of stains and blemishes. Give your spouse the right to do that."
Here's another key point: the Kellers say you must learn to forgive before you confront your mate's offense – and even before they repent.
"Mark 11:25 says 'If you stand praying and you have anything against anybody, forgive them.' It doesn't say wait until they come to you," Tim pointed out. "It says if you know you've got something against somebody, you forgive them."
Confront too early and it can just make things worse.
"It'll be payback," the pastor warned. "The other person will see that you are actually really just trying to make them feel bad and they're just going to get their backs up."
This kind of forgiving first before confronting takes a special extra dose of grace, a grace the Kellers believe you can only get by fully contemplating and comprehending what Jesus Christ did personally for you on the cross.
As they write, "…you see Jesus dying on the cross for you, forgiving you, putting away your sin, that changes everything. He saw your heart to the bottom but loved you to the skies. And the joy and freedom that comes from knowing that the Son of God did that for you enables you to do the same for your spouse."
In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim sums up this thought by writing, "…it wasn't an abstract exercise for Jesus – our sins put him to death. When Jesus was up there, nailed to the cross, he looked down and saw us, some denying him, some betraying him, and all forsaking him. He saw our sin and covered it."
Tim concludes, "I do not know of any more powerful resource for granting forgiveness than that, and I don't know of anything more necessary in marriage than the ability to forgive fully, freely, unpunishingly from the heart."
Using the Right Love Languages
Another important thing for a great marriage: speak the love language your mate understands.
The five love languages are:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
If you're not communicating in your mate's primary love language, then you're not really communicating.
"If you are trying to love somebody, but you are doing it in a way that they don't recognize as being loving, then it's not getting through," Kathy stated. "It's like someone speaking a foreign language."
She continued, "You pass each other. Because you're trying to show love, you're trying to show affection – but if you haven't actually mastered the other person's love language, they don't feel loved in spite of the fact that you knocked yourself out trying to express it. If you haven't taken the time to really know what says 'love' to them, they don't get it."
Kathy illustrated this sad ability to miss each other by telling about a pastor who loved to get and give really expensive gifts, while his wife just loved practical things.
"So for his birthday he was hoping for a set of golf clubs," Kathy recounted. "And his very practical wife Vesta gave him six white shirts. So for her birthday – still speaking his own love language – he said, 'Okay, well, what can I give Vesta?' He gave her [something] like a mink coat or some very expensive thing. And she was hoping for a new washing machine."
Tim advised, "So you've just got to get to know each other."
Sometimes Leave 'Em Alone, Sometimes Do the Laundry
For instance, newly-married Tim, an extrovert, had a rough time handling his introverted wife's need for time alone.
"As a young, newly-married person, I would have been absolutely offended. Now that I know her so well, I realize there's a spot at which she can only do people so much," Tim shared. "Now I'm so delighted because, frankly, what an easy way to love somebody but to walk out of the room. And let her read!"
And wives – certainly Kathy among them – often need to SEE the love language.
"I feel loved when somebody helps me with household chores. Now that wouldn't necessarily occur to anybody else. But if you bring me cards, if you bring me flowers and you leave the laundry mounting up like this," Kathy said, lifting her hand high into the sky, "I don't feel loved."
Taking Practical Steps to Walk the Love Walk
Kathy and Tim say you need to take practical steps to find out and speak each other's love languages every week.
They recommend learning to creatively focus on each other. To facilitate these times of togetherness, you could plan walks, picnics or maybe gardening and doing chores together.
A crucial key is filling these moments with praise, appreciation, and gratitude. Such times of affirming one another can have such life-enhancing power.
As Tim writes, "The love and affirmation of your spouse have the power to heal you of many of the deepest wounds. Why? If all the world says you are ugly, but your spouse says you are beautiful, you feel beautiful. To paraphrase a passage of Scripture, your heart may condemn you, but your spouse's opinion is greater than your heart."
He continues, "…because marriage merges two lives and brings you into the closest possible contact, a positive assessment by your spouse has ultimate credibility… That affirmation is profoundly comforting."
Be a Safe Harbor…an Emotional Refuge
Make such times of togetherness a refuge to safely share fears, hurts, and weaknesses. As the Kellers write, "Give each other the right to hold one another accountable. 'Exhort one another daily, lest you become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin' (Hebrews 3:13)."
But it's important to remember at such times that you want to be each other's best friend. As the Kellers put it, "…friendship love is expressed and grows through both listening and opening up to the other. Friendship is above all a relationship in which it is safe to share fears, hurts, and weaknesses – an emotional refuge."
Help each other grow spiritually by reading scripture and praying together.
The Kellers write of this, "…there is no greater way for Christian spouses to serve one another than to help each other grow spiritually… This means encouraging each other to participate together actively in church, in Christian community. It means reading and digesting Christian books together as well as studying the Bible together. And it means praying together."
Grow Together & You'll Grow in God
They write of such prayer times, "Praying daily with and for each other is a love language that in many ways brings the other love languages together. It means being tenderly affectionate and transparent with each other. And you hear your spouse lifting you up to God for blessing. If you do that every day, or most days, it seasons your entire relationship with the love of God and of one another."
To sum it all up, this Christian couple advises, "Learn your spouse's love languages. Figure out together what they are, then brainstorm a handful of concrete ways to regularly give love in those forms. Then execute. Concretely give love to each other in deliberate ways every week."
The Kellers themselves are trying.
Tim shared with CBN News, "We've been saying, 'How could I make you feel loved this week or today – more love than you feel right now?'"
Kathy chimed in, "And sometimes it's just 'leave me alone and let me read my book.'"
Tim agreed, saying, "Yeah, sometimes it's 'leave me alone.'"
Devoting Yourself to the Devotional
And now they've published The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple's Devotional, where you can take in the Kellers' counsel and advice a little bit at a time over the whole year.