This material is something that I shared last year to a group of students in my church’s youth group. I compiled this through a lot of prayer and studying, but keep in mind that it is coming from the perspective of one guy. Understand that I am not saying this is the absolute truth for all and I am not condemning the paths that others have followed in dating/marriage relationships. However, I was diligent to weigh everything against what I have learned from the Bible there by trying to limit my fleshly influence on the content. I am sharing this because I want the best for you… I want you to experience nothing less than God’s best in your relationship! For I know that when you thrive, God is brought Glory.
I am going to talk about relationships between men and women… boys and girls… specifically as it pertains to teens and young adults who are dating, preparing for dating, or are still uninterested in the previously mentioned activity. Just to be completely transparent with you… I have been in a dating relationship for a total of 12 months throughout my entire life so I am by no means an expert on the subject of dating and relationships, but I do know a few things about being single. During my dating experience, I have had my heart broken and I’ve regrettably broken the heart of others. And just to clarify… I am a MAN seeking a WOMAN… and yes, God has given me a desire to be married… celibacy is not my calling!
First, I want to talk about the stage of life before dating… the time of life where most people will refer to you as SINGLE. During this time I think it is crucial to understand that just because you are not in a dating relationship does not mean that you are ALONE… where ever we are we can choose to live in community with the people who are around us at school, church, work, or in our families. God has created a whole plethora of people to fill the earth so don’t tell me that there is no one to be in community with. You just might have to seek them out! During this season of your life, I believe that there are some important things to understand before you consider pursuing a relationship with someone.
I believe that it is essential for every human being to understand the TRUE meaning of life and what their real purpose is on this earth. There is no better time to begin this quest than when your thoughts and focus are not divided between you and a significant other in which you are romantically involved. I can say, with confidence, that in your life the most important relationship that you will ever experience is with God… your Heavenly Father. EVERY other relationship that you have, or will have, fails in comparison to knowing Jesus as your Savior AND walking with God day-in day-out. They are all USELESS, in regards to fulfilling your created purpose, UNLESS you are in relationship with God your Creator. As a creation of the Living God you were designed to GLORIFY Him in ALL that you do… by LOVING God and LOVING others. That is your PURPOSE! You and I weren’t created to just seek and experience our own personal happiness. Even though Hollywood might tell you different… we don’t live and breathe on this earth just to live out our own personal love story with a soulmate. How selfish of us to think that this life is all about “US” and MARRIAGE… or that God OWES me a perfect marriage at a certain time… or that I DESERVE a relationship with a certain person. That mindset makes it seem like life is all ABOUT ME… and it isn’t! My life is part His Story… it’s all about Him! No matter how strong your desire is to be in a dating relationship or to get married these are not the purpose for your existence. I do believe that these types of relationships are in the cards for most people, but living like they are the end-all be-all in your life can lead to a lot of pain in singleness and struggles of discontentment even after marriage. Understanding your life’s true purpose at an early age can open the door to great opportunities for God to use you and bring glory to His Kingdom. So use your season of singleness to be intentional about seeking how God stirs your heart… what brings you the most God-glorifying joy… what ministry/service opportunities get you excited? Seek His guidance and direction on the decisions that weigh you down… what classes to take… what college to attend… what job to work… what degree to pursue… what career path to follow?? He is a personal God and He cares about you and He wants to be involved in the intimate details of your life… He wants you to know that YOU have an irreplaceable role to play in His Story… you have a PURPOSE!
Equally important to knowing your true purpose is knowing, with confidence, WHO you are. One of the more influential books in my life, to this point, has been “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge. I would recommend every young man read through that book at some point before they get into a serious dating relationship (For the young women I will recommend the book by John’s wife Stasi called “Captivating”). In both of these books John and Stasi present the idea that everyone has a CORE question deep in their heart from which most of their insecurities originate… an unknown thing that drives them… haunts them! For guys, the question is “Do I have what it takes… to be a man… to come through when it counts?”… “Am I a REAL man?” For women, the question is “Am I LOVELY?”… “Do you see me?”… “Are you CAPTIVATED by what you find in me?” In an “ideal world” these questions are answered and reaffirmed by our earthly fathers during childhood and our teen years. Unfortunately, as a result of fatherlessness, lazy fathering, and fathers who don’t know how these questions are not typically answered as they should be… generation after generation. When these questions are not answered, or are answered incorrectly, it leaves the heart with a hole or a scar that can have a devastating effect on its ability to have healthy relationships… in dating and even into marriage. If either person involved in the relationship still struggles with the answer to this core question it can affect both sides, leading to unhealthy dependencies and painful struggles of inadequacy. The good news is, even though these questions may not be properly answered by an earthly father figure, your heavenly Father is capable and completely willing to provide you with the answer. It seems only right that you seek the answer from the very one who instilled the question within you. I believe that the best time to pursue the proper God-intended answers to these CORE questions is when you are single and unaffected by the emotional connections that are part of a romantic relationship. God is the only perfect Father and seeking His help is the only way to ensure you get the proper answer to your question… to ensure you understand WHO you are! You can’t know how to TRULY love another person until you know how to BE LOVED by God!
It seems as people get older they struggle more and more with being single. The struggle is real… believe me… I understand… but I think if you look at singleness as a gift then it can change your attitude to see this sometimes lonely season of life as something not to be taken for granted. I have noticed there are some times, as a single person, that a large amount of my thoughts and energy are spent trying to move myself from my state of singleness and into a meaningful romantic relationship. We tend to waste a lot of our time being single AND trying NOT TO BE! It’s sad because I know that God wants to use us right now… right where we are… especially in our singleness! Just for encouragement, I want to point out that God choose one of the most influential people in the Bible to be used in awesome and amazing ways… even in his singleness! The Apostle Paul was never married and yet spoke pretty highly of being single. In 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 he wrote, “But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another. So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.” And in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 he also wrote, “I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband.” Paul makes the point that as a single person you have a unique position that allows your main focus to be on God and furthering His Kingdom through service and sharing the Gospel. If you read through the New Testament (or just Acts and Romans) you can see just how much God used Paul to spread the Good News about Jesus and to establish the early church of believers. Just like Paul, God can use you in great ways while you are single. How does God want to use you? How does God want to grow you? Don’t miss out on these opportunities because you are consuming your thoughts and energy on the next boy or girl you are going to try and date. Look for the areas in your life that God wants to work WITH or work ON to increase His Kingdom or His Glory. These best place to start is with those things that have taken up residency in our hearts and minds, and directly contend with God for our time, energy, or money… otherwise known as IDOLS! What consumes your thoughts more than God Himself or glorifying Him? What consumes your heart more than God? What do you seek more than God and His glory? Take time and focus on chasing after God for WHO He is. Seek out His help to remove those idols that have taken root in your life and pursue the healing He offers for the pain that likely will come from uprooting those idols. This process might be hard, but the earlier it is done the less pain it will cause you and others around you AND in the end… it is SO WORTH IT! Engaging in this process as a single person will keep you from dragging a significant other through the pain involved.
I think that one of the hardest things to learn in life is being content with where you are in the journey of life compared to everyone else around you. The ability to live the life that you were given and not constantly be desiring the current life circumstances of those you compare yourself to is something that few people have. Being single isn’t too hard until you see or hear about those happy couples through your family or friends… or you see them portrayed on the big screen or in the TV shows. Heck, they don’t even have to be ‘happy’ couples… any level of romantic relationship, no matter how sad or unhealthy it may be, can trigger that “woe is me” mindset that makes you want what you don’t have and only leaves you feeling depressed and lonely. Our God is a God of Mystery and He created each and every human being to live their own unique role in His story… each one designed and orchestrated perfectly for the good of the lead role and glory of the Director. Your Father gave you YOUR life for YOU to live and He gave me MY life for ME to live. Who are we to complain because our life is different than someone else’s life? Why do we think that God should make my story look the way that I want? He is the Author! He is the only one with the publishing rights! It’s His story that’s playing out and even though we each have an irreplaceable role to play the whole thing is ABOUT Him. So stop comparing yourself to those around you and thinking that God owes you something different than His sovereign plan for YOU has instore right now. Live YOUR life to the fullest extent that Gods story grants you TODAY and keep your eyes focused on Him as the Good Director… bringing to Him your requests and desires as a child seeking their fathers loving embrace. Seek God above all else and He will give you what you NEED.
Enough about BEING SINGLE! Let’s talk about what happens after you learned all those things I just talked about (or maybe not!) and you are ready to start dating. If that is where you find yourself then I think it is good to start by asking yourself “Why do I want to date?” The way that our culture and many other cultures around the world view dating is quite different from anything that I have found in the Bible so I am not real sure that it was meant to be done like we do it. Now don’t freak out… I am not going to start pushing some kind of courtship stuff at you, BUT I firmly believe that dating should only be used as a stepping stone towards marriage. Therefore, you should only pursue a dating relationship with someone to learn more about them and better understand if they are a person that you would like to spend the rest of your life. I have seen far too many young people (and not so young!) in dating relationships when they have no intention of getting married in the foreseeable future. Why? Honestly, most of them don’t really know why they are dating! They just say, “…because I like them”. Here are some of the more common reasons that I think people date: It’s the COOL thing to do, It’s what you do at this age, You are lonely, He/She is gorgeous, She makes you feel like a MAN, He makes you feel BEAUTIFUL. Although many of these things do play a role in dating relationships, I don’t believe that any one of them should be the main reason for dating someone over-and-above pursuing them with the intent of marriage. I am not just saying this to be a kill-joy or put a damper on kids have fun going on dates when they are in high school. I have these views because I believe that dating with the wrong motives or intentions can lead to some painful situations and could have life-long consequences associated with it. I have seen these things play out in the lives of some of those around me and I want better for you! During every romantic/dating relationship you are involved in you give away a little piece of your HEART to that other person. God designed us that way, but I think He meant for us give our WHOLE heart to one person… the one we marry! Unfortunately, the way we do it is we date around, giving a little piece of our HEART to each person, leaving us less “HEART” to give away to our future husband or wife. Every emotional connection that you make with another person creates lasting memories. These types of memories and interactions are not easy to forget and they will often times have an impact on how you interact with those in future relationships. Now… throw in those physical connections that I know God NEVER intended to be experienced outside of a marriage relationship and you will have PERMANENT memories that you will wish that you could erase when trying to be intimate with your future spouse. So why do you want to date? DATE because you want to MARRY.
Now that you understand dating should only be used when pursing someone down a path leading to marriage the next logical question is, “why do you want to get married?” To answer this question we need to understand a little bit about what marriage is and what it is not.
The first thing to understand is that marriage is NOT you replacing GOD as the single most important focus in your life. A human spouse was never meant to fulfill the role which provides purpose and hope to your life. If you try to put your husband or wife in that role they WILL fail. Along those same lines… your spouse is not supposed to be someone who COMPLETES you. You don’t needed to be COMPLETED! Each one of us are complete on our own. We don’t need anyone or anything, other than God, to make us a “whole” person. God didn’t make us incomplete. I know that it sounds so romantic to tell someone else that they complete you, but I don’t think God ever meant for it to be true. I think this quote from the book, Sacred Search, sums it up pretty well… “We are well loved, well cared for, adored by the One who knows us best, and secure in His acceptance, love, affirmation, and purpose.” When we truly understand these things we can be confident with where we are in our life and the pursuit of a girlfriend/spouse should be a peaceful journey… NOT a desperate process. There are a lot of people out there that seem to think marriage will solve all of the problems or struggles in their life. That is simply not true! It will solve very few of them actually… and on top of that you are committing to take on the burdens and struggles of your spouse when you get married so don’t think life gets easier. Struggles with loneliness, sexual temptation, and emotional needs may change shapes or sizes, but ultimately you have to rely on God to give you power over those things because a spouse cannot. There are many things that marriage is not, but one that it is… is beautiful!
The whole concept of marriage is a God-breathed, God-ordained thing. There is SO MUCH that can be said about Marriage according to God’s design, but I want to give you just a few things that I think adequately frame what marriage is. In Genesis 2:18 God says, “…It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” God wanted His creation to be happy and so He gave him the gift of a wife… who was just right for him… to be his companion. MARRIAGE is a good GIFT from God… created BY Him and FOR His glory. It is a blessing from your Creator, BUT it is not a requirement for every human being as we have seen from the history recorded in the Bible. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Solomon says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This verse points to the benefits of general companionship, but I believe that it can be directly related to a marriage relationship too. The last sentence states that greater than two is to have a cord of three stands which I believe points to a marriage where there should be a husband, wife, AND God in the mix if relational success is desired. A healthy marriage is a means for serving and glorifying God and it can provide the world with a picture of His love for humanity. When both sides understand their TRUE PURPOSE in life, according to God, then MARRIAGE is the union of two Christ seekers, on a mission, coming together to pursue God, His Kingdom, and His glory as a TEAM. It is awesome to think that in a true God-centered marriage the two together can bring God more Glory than the sum of the two as individuals… as long as the PRIMARY focus of each person is God and NOT their spouse! Marriage, as designed by the Creator, was meant to be a union based on love and commitment and sustained with a sacrificial mindset and the power of the Holy Spirit. A relationship based on INFATUATION focuses on what you can GET, but a GOD-CENTERED relationship focuses on what you can GIVE or sacrifice for the other person. The blessing of marriage is a gift from God. It is good… it is holy… it is perfect… and it is beautiful. BUT… it is a blessing and in order to avoid idolatry we should be careful not to SEEK the BLESSING above the GIVER!
After considering what Christ-centered marriage IS it seems to me that the ‘WHY’ you marry is arguably more important than the ‘WHO’ you marry. This thought process brought me to the conclusion that that there is not ‘ONLY ONE’ person in the entire world or all of time that I should marry. When you think that there is only ONE person out there that you can marry you put way too much pressure on yourself AND every ‘proposed’ spouse that you date and when things don’t work out you may become very discouraged and have trouble letting go because you thought they were the ONE. Don’t get me wrong… I fully believe God’s intention was that each person marry only one time and stay married as “long as each shall live” (just like the values say!), BUT I think there are many people out there that fit into the category of “God’s Best for you”. In a season of searching, it is comforting to know that my Heavenly Father, in His sovereignty, already knows who I will or won’t marry… He knows who that ONE is!
Even though the ‘WHY’ is the most important part of pursuing a marriage relationship, WHO you marry is still important. Without considering at all the personality/character/attributes of the person you are pursuing, you are ignoring the individual things that the Creator granted to that person to make them beautifully unique and unlike any other person on the planet. My thought is that if none of that stuff mattered God wouldn’t have made us all unique with different wants and desires. So with that said, here are a few basic things that you should consider when deciding if someone is one of “God’s Best” for you.
First and foremost, as a follower of Christ, the person you are pursuing for marriage must be believer and follower of Jesus Christ. I don’t just mean that they are willing to go to church with you on Sunday and practice the same type of religion as you. I mean they need to understand, or be on the path of seeking and understanding, the Gospel and have a desire to seek after God above everything else in their life. This needs to be the case, otherwise everything that I have been saying here is irrelevant because they most likely are not living their life in accordance with God’s plan. I beg you… DON’T abandon this requirement when pursuing someone. Spiritual Compatibility is of utmost importance when seeking a God-centered relationship. Along with it you should consider your’s and their’s individual mission/purpose/calling in the Kingdom of God. Each of you should have some kind of understanding of what their place is in His plan… even if it is general and may change as time goes on. This is important because if God has placed specific callings or desires in your heart which directly conflict with what they feel God has called them to do then this may be a good sign that they are not one of God’s Best for you at that time. For example, you might have a strong calling to enter the mission field in a third world country for some time and they have a strong desire to live in the suburbs and live as a local community focused family. If the desires and callings you have in your life are from God and if, after seeking wise counsel and prayer, they remain constant, then I believe that it will bring God the most glory and you the most joy to not abandon those things for a relationship. Every relationship requires sacrifices… Yes, but to sacrifice that which God has instilled in you for His glory is to say that seeking Him is your second priority… while you are putting that earthly relationship first. That is NOT why you are here!
After all of that “important” stuff… NOW you focus on the character traits and general compatibilities of the person. These are the things that you find out about by spending time with that person in conversation and in group social settings. What is their personality like? How do they interact with other people… people they know… and people they’ve just met? Are they humble, forgiving, and genuine? Do they communicate in a way that is compatible with how you communicate? How are they in handling conflicts and adversity? Do they know how to be a friend AND how to be loved by a friend? Introvert vs extrovert? Do they tend to lead or follow in a group? What is their love language and how do they best show love? How do they like to relax? What do they do for fun? There are A LOT of things that can play into being compatible with someone. These are the types of things that can grow on you and they may change over time. It is here where you will often times have to make sacrifices. You will never find someone who has EVERYTHING that you THINK you want in a spouse. However, I believe that if you have fully considered what we talked about in the previous paragraph with spiritual compatibility then God will make the other compatibilities seem less important because each of you will be walking in the fullness of His love which leads you to show grace and mercy in the face of general in-compatibility. Therefore, don’t over think on these things, but use them as secondary criteria when deciding when to pursue or continue in pursuit of someone.
I would be remiss if I didn’t consider where “feelings” come into play when deciding to intentionally pursue someone in a dating relationship. Feelings are one of those things that people use to explain or justify actions or choices in their life that are not easily explained with normal logic or evidence. For example, if someone decides to end a relationship that, from all external perspectives, seems to be going great and moving in the right direction they might say something like “I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere” or “I just didn’t feel the same connection to them anymore”. I have seen examples where people used their feelings to get out of a relationship that was becoming uncomfortable because it was forcing them to deal with fears, inadequacies, anxieties, etc. in their own personal life. When the relationship forces them to deal with those things that are not easy to tackle the easy way out is to run away from the thing that is forcing them down that path and so they feel like ending the relationship is the only option. Sometimes feelings are used to get out of relationships that were started for the wrong motives to begin with. When the “feeling” of excitement or happiness brought by that relationship starts to wan then the conclusion is to end it because it wasn’t meant to be. A lot of times, in the context of relationship dynamics, it seems like feelings are to blame when there is an avoidance of honesty and intentional communication. Typically, these “feelings” that I am talking about originate in the heart and when it comes to the heart this is what I have learned…It says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”… and in Matthew 15:19 it says, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” Feelings from the heart can cloud our judgement and worst of all, they can affect our ability to discern if something is stemming from the flesh or from the Holy Spirit. Be careful, but don’t discount everything that you feel when it comes to a relationship. For God wired each one of us so He is knows our every thought, feeling, and desire before they even happen. When we are seeking after God in our pursuing a relationship then He will use for GOOD what the devil intended for EVIL and when we truly feel something that is from God then it will align with His good and perfect plan for our lives. Now that things are clear as mud, let me sum up what I want you to understand about feelings as they relate to relationships… I believe that “feelings” should be one of the last factors used when making a decision to pursue a relationship with someone… Be CAUTIOUS with your “feelings”, but don’t discount them completely… If “on paper” someone seems like a perfect match, but there isn’t that extra “X-factor” between the two of you then it may not be the right time to pursue that person… and remember TRUE LOVE is not a “feeling”!
These things are just a few of the things that can come into play when considering the ‘WHO’ part of pursuing a marriage relationship, but like I mentioned earlier the ‘WHY’ is ultimately the most important thing. If we discount these other things would be to discount the beautiful uniqueness that God has stitched into each and every human being as a small glimpse of His creative nature. So in conclusion, it is important to take time truly getting to know the person that you are pursuing. Only then can you understand who they are… what makes them tick… what they like and dislike… and what stirs up passion in their life. As you seek to learn more about this person it is important to understand that there will NEVER be a PERFECT person who will meet all of your criteria. I have to remind myself of this more and more the older I get because it seems the more people I meet and the more years that I live out this season of my life the more specific my criteria becomes. Only when we focus on the ‘WHY’ can we see who the ‘PERFECT’ person is… the one that is Nothing Less Than God’s Best for you. Time is not your enemy… desperation will result in settling. So be PATIENT!
When you understand who you are and why you want to pursue an intentional dating relationship then once you find someone who fits your initial criteria for ‘WHY’ and ‘WHO’ it is time to have a “define-the-relationship” conversation. Don’t shy away from an intentional conversation to talk about where the relationship is going. It is best that each party involved understands exactly what is going on so that neither side is being lead on. I know how awkward this can be especially if there is a fear of rejection. I get nervous even thinking about having to have a conversation like this. Either way, I think that when we start a relationship off with this conversation then there is an understanding right at the beginning that a chance of a lifelong companionship with them was worth the risk of rejection or awkwardness. After this conversation is had and both parties decide to move forward in an intentional dating relationship, with the hopes of marriage, there are a few things to remember.
The first thing to remember is BE YOURSELF! Even at the risk of losing someone you think is “the one”, don’t try to be someone that you are not by constantly putting on a façade of who you think they want you to be. Compatibility is not something that is created by changing who you are. This is very dangerous and will eventually be brought to light with some hurtful consequences.
The next thing to remember is that dating someone is a PURSUIT! The relationship should be approached with intentionality by BOTH sides. It should start with an intentional conversation and each person should be intentional in their seeking to learn about the other. You are on a journey to learn who they are so that you can discern if ‘WHO’ they are falls in line with ‘WHY’ you pursuing them. Be patient in your pursuit and let God guide you with wisdom and discernment. If you are IN, be IN… if you are not fully IN, then you should quickly consider getting OUT if you don’t see it ending in marriage.
The third, and arguably the most important thing, to remember is to set BOUNDARIES! I know that it can be weird to bring this up with someone you just started dating, but without them you WILL get into TROUBLE. So be intentional about addressing these EARLY in a relationship so that you know each of you are on the same page. If you are not in full agreement on what they should be then they are useless and will probably not be respected or followed when you get into a situation when they are challenged. You should consider both PHYSICAL and EMOTIONAL boundaries. Physical boundaries are the more obvious ones and my advice here is that if you have to ask if it is TO FAR then IT IS! There is nothing that you need to learn during a Design Intent dating relationship that requires any level of physical contact. So don’t feel forced to push your physical boundaries past what you are comfortable with, understanding the level of temptation for both participants, just because you think your relationship can’t grow without it. Don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying don’t ever touch the person you are dating… I’m saying you need to talk about it so that you understand each other’s temptations so that you can keep your relationship as one that honors God in every encounter. As far as emotional boundaries go, this will be very dependent the personality types of you and the person you are dating. The tolerance of emotional dependence that exists in the relationship may vary for different people so this should be talked about and considered when learning about ‘WHO’ you are dating. Talk about what “I love you” means to each of you and don’t try to play games with the other persons emotions because you think it will make them like you more or be more likely to stay with you forever. Remember that God should be your main source of strength and purpose… this includes your emotions too. Don’t try to use a human being to do what God always intended to do himself. Understand this… the more physically or emotionally CONNECTED you become to someone the harder it will be to make clear decisions about the things that really matter when pursuing someone for marriage. If you both desire to engage in a God honoring dating relationship, in hopes of finding one whom you can enter a life long journey of companionship and service, then setting up the appropriate boundaries should be welcomed conversation. God will bless you through it!
I hope and pray this is an encouragement for you no matter what relationship “Status” you find yourself in. Just like every other blessing in this life, relationships are a gift from God. Therefore, when we acknowledge the Giver and embrace them the way they were Intentionally Designed we will be greatly satisfied and God will be greatly Glorified.
I would love to hear what you think about this topic. If you have any questions or thoughts for me I would enjoy hearing and responding to those. Please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.