Words have power: power to create and power to destroy; power to build up and power to tear down; power to bless and power to curse.

Paul the Apostle had it right when he wrote: “Let no word come out of your mouth but what is able to build up other people according to their needs; that it may benefit those who listen.”

Nowhere is this admonition more needed than in the marriage relationship. The words that a husband and wife speak to one another can either nurture their love or undermine their affections.

There are nine words, arranged in three simple phrases, which go a long way toward making our homes happy and our lives fulfilling. Learning to say these words, these nine words of a Christian marriage, will bring a blessing to the home.

The first three words are “I love you.” They are without doubt the most powerful words in the human language.

Most couples learn to speak these words early in their relationship. The beloved never tires of these words; there is no day in which these words are out of place.

I have a friend who said to his wife: “I told you once I loved you, and that if it ever changed I would tell you.” It was his unhappy way of excusing himself from learning to say these three words. I was not surprised when, late one Saturday night, he knocked on my door to tell me he no longer loved his wife.

These are words a husband needs to speak to his wife every day, and the wife to the husband.  In the morning, over the phone, in a note, on a walk: find ways to say, “I love you.”

The next three words are more difficult to say: “Please forgive me.”  In fact, a person may actually marry another without knowing whether he or she can say these words.

Some people live an entire life without the ability to say these words. This is sad, for all of us have many occasions when these three words are precisely what is needed. We say things we should not, we go places we ought not, we do things we wish we had not; in these and many similar situations, the proper words are, “please forgive me.”

Unfortunately, asking for forgiveness is hard to do. A person recently described a mutual acquaintance: “He doesn’t have it in him to apologize.”  How tragic!

Many of us, however, resist saying these words. As often as not, we think it is our spouse who should say them first!

But the Bible says, “God hates the proud but gives grace to the humble.” These three words are words of humility; saying them helps control our pride and cultivates within us a proper spirit of humility.

The Bible also tells us to “confess our sins one to another;” and nowhere is this more needed than in the home. The willingness to confess and seek forgiveness has amazing power to bond a husband and wife and to bless the entire family.

The last three words of a happy home are these: “Let us pray.” Prayer is the most basic, most necessary element of the spiritual life. Jesus was a person of prayer and most of us sense the need to pray.

This holy habit of prayer is best cultivated at home; and it is easy to do when husband and wife learn to say to one another, and to each other, these three words, “Let us pray.”

Life is full of occasions when the proper response is prayer: celebrating an event, launching a journey, making a decision, facing a crisis. In all such occasions, the freedom of soul to invite your spouse to pray is a wondrous gift.

This can be done simply: holding hands at the table, sitting on the porch, kneeling beside the bed. Few things can enrich and sustain life as can the good things that flow from these words, “Let us pray.”

Nine words of a Christian marriage: I love you. Please forgive me. Let us pray. In this season of marriage (as well as anniversary) this gift of words is a gift from God and has the power to fill any relationship with grace.

Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.

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