Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)
Deciding who you will marry is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. In a kingdom courtship, the primary reason for marriage should be the conviction that a particular match is God’s choice for you —not just a good choice, but God’s choice.
Most of the time, you won’t have the luxury of choosing between people or circumstances that are totally bad or totally good. Nearly all your choices will appear good in some way, but only one will be part of God’s perfect plan —His best for you. The chief enemy you fight in choosing God’s best will be your own strong inclination to make a good choice instead of a God choice.
Before you can determine whom to marry, you must first answer an preliminary question: Does God want you to marry anyone, ever? Or is His plan for you to remain single? Scripture teaches that marriage, like salvation, is an unmerited gift from God (Genesis 2:18). When God wanted Adam to have a wife, He brought her to him. Their marriage was a gift from God. But Scripture also tells us that singleness is God’s gift as well.
“I wish that all men were as I am. but each man has his own gift from God,“ said the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7. He wished all men were single like he was and free from the stresses of married life so they could devote themselves to God’s work. “But each man has his own gift from God.“ In other words, God will either give to a person the gift of being married or the gift of being single.
People who are perpetually lonely as singles are usually the same people who are worried about what isn’t happening to them instead of what they should be doing to minister to others. Their focus is inward, not upward. In 1 Corinthians 7, we’re told to acknowledge singleness as good, allow it for our spiritual growth and use it for God.
C. S. Lewis was single most of his life. He taught at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and used his free time as a single to write some of the best Christian literature available in the world today. As he grew older and was nearing retirement age, he met and married a woman he came to love intensely in their 3 short years together. What would the world have missed if Lewis had married earlier someone whom God had not chosen?
It happens. Singles become consumed with the idea of how wonderful life would be if they just had a marriage partner, and then they make concessions and compromises that lead to marriage out of God’s timing and out of God’s will. To feel accepted by another person and avoid the stigma of being single, they enter into unhealthy relationships and compromise values they once held dear.
The more consumed you become with the idea of marriage and/or sex, the more easily you can slip into a pattern of fantasizing. It might start as innocently as fantasizing about being with another person, perhaps someone at work or church. Then you might progress to fantasizing about the children you’d have together or where you would live. If they continue unchecked, your thoughts could become a full-blown X-rated video that stays stuck on replay in your mind until it replays in your life. The powerful feelings that accompany such thoughts can lead people into marriages God never ordained and intimate relationships He never approved.
The Bible declares that as a man “thinketh in heart, so is he“ (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). What a strange thought! How can you think with your heart? We normally associate thought with the brain and feelings with the heart. The phrase “to think in the heart” refers to thoughtful reflection. Many ideas are briefly entertained by the mind without ever penetrating the heart. But those ideas that do grasp us in our innermost parts are the ideas that shape our lives. When our thoughts are corrupted, our lives follow suit. We are what we think.
If God gives you the gift of singleness, He may use that quality in a special way that wouldn’t be available to you as a married person —for a season or a lifetime. God’s sovereign will is always meant for your good and His glory. If and when God decides you can best serve Him as a team member with a life partner, you won’t need to change Sunday school classes, search the singles ads, or join a dating service He will work out the circumstances. “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD“ (Proverbs 18:22). This favor of the Lord is what God extends to His children in arranging the circumstances for them to meet their life partners.
It also helps to remember that there are a great many circumstances worse than not being married. One of them is being married to someone who doesn’t share your love and desire for God —someone whose commitment divides your commitment.
The life of Hudson Taylor is a powerful lesson in the value of God’s wisdom regarding marriage. Taylor was an English missionary who died in 1910 after spending more than 50 years as a missionary in China. When he went there in 1854, nearly 380 million people in the country’s vast interior had never seen a Westerner nor heard the name of Christ. With a heart for God, Taylor penetrated deep into Chinese culture. He dressed like the Chinese, learned their language, and lived among them. By the end of his life, 205 preaching stations, 849 missionaries, and 125,000 Chinese Christians were a testimony to a life surrendered to God.
Hudson Taylor wielded a spiritual influence far beyond China. Even today, the ripple effect of his ministry is a part of our lives as Chinese Christians number in the hundreds of thousands world-wide. Taylor was single when he left England, but he eventually married another missionary in China. A small sentence in one history book has always intrigued me: “In England, Taylor had left behind his unfinished medical studies and the girl he had hoped to marry. She had refused to come with him.” What would the world have missed if Taylor had stayed home to marry someone God hadn’t chosen?
God tested Taylor when He made him choose between God’s will and his own desires. The day came in Taylor’s life when he had to decide if it was important to be in God’s will or be married —the God choice over the good choice.
God still tests us today. We can’t assume that the woman Taylor left behind was ugly, irritable, or contentious. He was a man of character who probably kept the company of godly woman. Many people may have thought it was a good match, and perhaps the couple could have had a good marriage. But every good choice isn’t God’s choice.
If God gives you the gift of singleness, He may use that quality in a special way that wouldn’t be available to you as a married person—for a season or a life time.
God’s favor wasn’t lost on Hudson Taylor. In China, he eventually met and fell in love with 22-year-old Maria Dyer, the much-admired daughter of prestigious missionary parents. They had an uncommonly happy marriage because they shared a deep passion to evangelize China even at great personal sacrifice.
Seven years before his marriage to Maria and after his breakup with his fiancé, Taylor made a God choice that was painful and agonizing at the time. “What can I do?” he wrote to his sister. “I know I love her. To go to China without her would make the world a blank.” Instead of the “blank” life Taylor feared —the life we all fear—God brought purpose to his pain and honored his sacrifice. Even though it may have felt like a long wait, God was in the waiting. And so it is with us.
When we decide on our own that we’re compatible or totally in love with another person and therefore refuse to seek or wait for God’s instruction, He will allow us to choose the good—His permissive will. But we will miss the best—His perfect will. The problem is that things don’t work right when we’re in only the permissive will of God (1 Corinthians 6:12).
In his popular workbook, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby suggests we “find out where God is working and join Him there.” We, on the other hand, are more likely to say, “God, here’s the person I want to marry. Will You bless us?” The difference is the approach. One approach puts God at the center while the other puts ourselves at the center. When we make choices independent of God and then ask for His blessing, we’re asking God to approve an idea that originated with us, not Him.
Throughout Scripture, God always takes the initiative. He sets the agenda. “We adjust our lives to God so He can do through us what He wants to do,” says Blackaby. “God is not our servant to make adjustments to our plans. We are His servants and we adjust our lives to what He is about to do.”
Once again we’re back to the difference between a good idea and a God idea. How many times have we heard people say, “If God gave me a brain, He must expect me to use it”? Even though God gave us the ability to reason and make choices, what did He say about our thoughts compared to His?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God’s knowledge and wisdom are far greater than ours. He can see the entire landscape while we concentrate on a single valley. We would be foolish to try to fit God into our mold and conform Him to our plans. Yes, He did give us a brain, and we should be smart enough to know that God’s even smarter.
Once again, what’s the difference between a good idea and a God idea? A good idea will work some of the time; a God idea will work all the time. Scripture warns us not to lean on our own understanding but to trust God wholeheartedly (Proverbs 3:5). When we’re not willing to submit to God’s leadership and authority in our lives, God will let us follow our own devices. In following them, we will never experience what God is waiting and wanting to do in us and through us.
Christians must realize that it’s more important to be certain that a marriage is God’s will than to judge our suitability for marriage by love, attraction, or compatibility. Our situations change and we grow through the years. We cannot predict future compatibility on our own. When we accept compatibility as a primary basis of marriage, we can be led into cultural traps such as living together before marriage to make sure we are compatible. Only God knows the end from the beginning. He is the one who creates love, not man.
It was Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, who made the choice of a husband for her (Ruth 3). It wasn’t love at first sight, getting to know each other, or even a passionate kiss that brought Boaz and Ruth together. Romance wasn’t the issue, although the story later became beautifully romantic as Ruth and Boaz developed an unselfish love and deep respect for each other. The issue was obedience, a “rightness” about the relationship. God was working in the situation, and He was using Naomi’s kindness and moral integrity to guide Ruth. As a result, Ruth later became the great-grandmother of King David and direct ancestor of Jesus.
Does the story of Boaz and Ruth interrupt your romantic vision of passionate love? Would you like the story more if the two had been lovers who glimpsed each other across the wheat field and became passionately attracted? It happens to some people in some situations, but the qualities that are attractive in the beginning may prove difficult to live with in the long run. The man who falls in love with a woman’s attentiveness may find it is the very quality that drives him crazy when he can’t get enough space. The woman who falls in love with a man’s drive to succeed may find that quality irritating and destructive when he spends more time at work than at home.
Dr. Neil Clark Warren, author of the popular book Finding the Love of Your Life, says your choice of whom to marry is more critical than everything else combined that you’ll ever do to make your marriage succeed. “If you choose wisely,” he says, “your life will be significantly easier and infinitely more satisfying. But if you make a serious mistake, your marriage may fail, causing you and perhaps your children immeasurable pain. Most of the failed marriages I have encountered were in trouble the day they began dating. The two people involved simply chose the wrong person to marry.”
What might seem like a good choice at the time may not be a God choice for a lifetime. If you “lean on your own understanding,” you may someday feel like the person who fell out of the raft into the Colorado River: The more you struggle, the deeper you go.
Just as Ruth was unaware of the larger purpose God had in mind for her life, you can’t see the larger picture of your life. Because of Ruth’s faithful obedience, her life and legacy carried great significance even though she couldn’t see the end result. In a similar way, your faithfulness to God’s leadership will bring a significance to your life that will extend beyond your lifetime. The question is not how to find a mate, but who will find the mate. God will direct you in choosing God’s best.
This edited article can be found in an expanded form in the great book, Choosing God’s Best: Wisdom for Lifelong Romance, written by the late Dr Don Raunikar who was the director of New Life Clinics in Houston, Texas. This book delves into real issues that offers proven, biblical principles for creating godly relationships and a deeply satisfying courtship —rather than just dating —which many will argue is the current system that’s in desperate need of reform.