Every time my wife and I go to a wedding, we always chuckle a bit watching all the single people frolic to and fro. Actually, chuckle isn’t the word. We laugh and shout, “Suckas!” and think smugly: “Man, it’s great to be done with that season of our lives.”
Don’t get me wrong: Young love is exciting. There’s an unmatched adrenaline that comes by being on the market. And yet, it’s also a time of caustic idealism and gut-wrenching uncertainty. It can be hard to navigate through the wiles of the dating process.
But the good news is this: God has a plan for dating. He loves being a part of all the details of our lives. And his goal is that you’d stay full of His joy and peace throughout the process. The question is: Will you stay in sync with him? And how do we do this? By maintaining good boundaries and a high amount of faith.
Unfortunately, my wife and I have watched hundreds of couples crash on the rocks either because, they didn’t have good boundaries; OR, they didn’t have mentors who hold them accountable to these boundaries.
So the questions we’re exploring are these: How do we date without dying? How do we know if a person is “the One?” What are a few of the classic mistakes couples make? And what are some practical ways we can avoid them? Obviously, we won’t get to all of them in this first blog; (hence, there’s a part two, and three). But here are three basic safeguards that are good to keep in mind.
1. Don’t Date Someone who Merely has “Potential.”
A lot of single Christians tell me, “It’s hard to find someone who truly loves the Lord… And if they DO love the Lord, they’re usually weird and ugly!” Or, people tell me: “If I keep my spiritual standards too high, I’ll always be single.” — both of which are ridiculous. The truth is, many Christians simply don’t believe that their Father in Heaven loves them. They don’t trust him to provide a perfect spouse at the perfect time. And as a result, they lower their standards and they settle for a “fixer-upper.” A.k.a., a person who’s technically a Christian but; they don’t have a passionate relationship with the Lord and his church.
“But, they have the potential of being a passionate Christian,” people say; or, “…if I help them along, I just know I can reignite their passion for Jesus.”
But think about it: If you went in for surgery, would you want your doctor to be a newbie or an expert? “Potential” is not the quality we look for when it comes to an issue of significance. It’s fine if you’re buying a house because you can resell a house with potential. But you can’t resell a spouse (at least, we’re not supposed to). In the end, you want someone who actually demonstrates the character attributes you need – and has done so for a while.
Obviously, the Bible is replete with warnings about yoking ourselves with faithless people (Prov. 12:26; Prov. 13:20; Ezra 9-10; 1 Cor. 15:33). And the reason why the Bible devotes so many passages to the topic is because it wrecks so many people’s lives! Thus, 2 Cor. 6:14 talks about our relationships using a farming metaphor called, “equal yoking.” In Bible times, when a farmer needed to plow his field using oxen, it was critical that the oxen had a similar muscle build. If you connected a strong ox with a weaker one (using a wooden yoke), the strong oxen would always outpace the weaker one – causing the plow to veer off in a big circle rather than a straight line. And so it is with intimate relationships. When we yoke ourselves to other weaker people through marriage, through business and other big commitments, it causes our lives to go in circles. We can never truly experience the harvest of God because we will always have doubting friends who will talk us out of the calling God has for us.
In some ways, this is great analogy because you can still be “unequally yoked” to a Christian. So, how do we know if the person we’re dating is “equally yoked” to us? Is it Bible knowledge? Nope. I know all sorts of Christians who can spew all sorts of Bible insights yet they have absolute no fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, patience, self-control, etc.) Rather, look at their “faith muscles.” Do they run to the Lord when they’re discouraged? Do they passionately worship God? Do they read His Word? Are they committed to the purposes of his kingdom?
Sometimes, people tell me: “Well, we’re both kind of busy people so… it’s kind of hard to tell if someone truly has these priorities.” Yet, deep in our hearts, both our time, our finances, and our love for God’s church are often clear indicators.
Many years ago, I had a good Christian friend at church. Both of us felt that God was calling us to be leaders in the church. There was this one girl who was ridiculously good looking; but, she was never all that passionate about the Lord. Don’t get me wrong: She’d show up to church consistently; but, that was it. After getting married, things seemed fine for the first two years; but, my friend has an insatiable itch to go deeper with the Lord. He wanted to get involved in small groups. He wanted to go on mission trips. And that’s when the fracture began to happen. She truly didn’t want anything to do with the church. In fact, she pretty much stopped going to church all together.
I wish people could’ve seen the pain in his eyes every week as we’d share prayer requests. He’d go to church and have these amazing experiences that he couldn’t even begin to share with his wife. Honestly, his wife would almost get irritated over his excitement – perhaps interpreting it as condemnation or pressure.
Over time, every step my friend took towards the Lord became a deeper wedge in their relationship. His wife started resenting his church involvement. Whenever he wanted to give to charities or take a vocational leap of faith, it would erupt into a long fight. Week after week, he’d cry in front of me saying: “I can’t even share the most beautiful and deep aspects of my life with her.” Later on, he even confessed that he was struggling with the idea of an affair: “If I would have just waited a year more, I could have found a wife who could completely share all of this with me… but at the time, I was more worried about good looks than true character.”
You see, early on, most relationships are quite superficial. The adrenaline rush of a new relationship can sustain both parties for quite awhile – and all the more when the relationship becomes physical. These temporary substitutes for long-term intimacy tend to cause people to underestimate the need for spiritual unity. But over time, spiritual intimacy becomes the greatest pleasure. So, it begs the question, how do we know if a person is “equally yoked.” Well, the next tip is probably the most helpful:
2. Don’t Date Anyone Who doesn’t have Four to Seven Intimate Christian Friends and a Weekly Ministry in a Local Church:
Why is this important? Because, the top two statistical predictors of spiritual growth are right here! Studies show that the odds of a person serving Christ over the long haul are quite slim without good fellowship and a good ministry outlet. Couples who serve on a weekly basis in their churches have better sex lives, better time-management, better friends; better life-expectancy; better child outcomes; higher levels of happiness; higher levels of academic achievements; better financial management; even better life-expectancy! (And if you want to hear more about this research, click here). Quite simply: “Planted in the house of the Lord, [we] will flourish” (Psm 92:13). But it suffices to say: We’d be idiots to even date someone who doesn’t demonstrate deep roots into a local church. The statistical differences are so dramatic that, it makes a great litmus test when you’re looking for a Christian spouse. One study found that, if a Christian lacks 4-7 close friends at church and a weekly ministry, their odds of consistent church attendance plummets. Sadly, the average American Christian only attends church one to two times a month – which means, the average American Christian is severely lacking a huge number of statistical advantages.
Awhile back, I came upon a blog of a young man who recently visited Substance. It was clear from his blog that he was a fairly new Christian. And towards the end, when he mentioned our church, he literally said: “Dude, there are so many hot girls there… definitely where I want to pick up a few.” Of course, I was a bit disappointed that my preaching wasn’t the top draw (he even said that I was over-caffeinated and a little agitating to watch : ) But my next thought was this: “How do I protect the ladies from guys like this?!” And for all you great single guys out there… there are plenty of crazy women at Substance too! Hence, I tell people all the time: Don’t assume anything about anyone that walks through our doors.
A family researcher once told me that 88% of men struggle with masterbation and porn addiction (even in Christian circles). And if you’re not sure that sexual wholeness matters, click here!) Of course, I don’t recommend asking about this on your first date: “Say, Bob… I was just wondering if you masterbated...” However, at some point or another, these secret issues will play a HUGE ROLE in your marital success. So, just because a good looking person sugar-coats their lives with a little Christianity doesn’t mean they’re a tried and tested individual – worthy of yoking yourself to.
And don’t get me wrong: Nobody’s Perfect. But that’s not what equal yoking means. Rather, it means: This is a person who has deep accountable fellowship with other Christians. Do they have Christian friends they could confess their sins to? (James 5:16); Do they have friends who could regularly ask them about their sexual purity? Frankly, I would never date someone who doesn’t have this level of fellowship because this type of intimacy usually requires vulnerability, authenticity and an ability to handle conflict well – which are three HUGE character attributes to test before marriage. Intimate weekly fellowship is a sign that people are truly giving their lives to wrestling with God’s Word and surrendering to the Holy Spirit.
“But Pastor Peter, if I hold my criteria that high, I’ll never get married!” That is TOTALLY FALSE! (Notice, I had to use all caps there to be dramatic). There’s this faithless mentality that there ‘isn’t anyone out there’ that’s “passionate.” And if there is, they’re probably ugly & have a big hairy mole on their cheek… they probably have a unibrow (and extra long nose-hairs that flap in the breeze when they talk)… and no offense if you have all of these things (God has a plan for you too — it’s called hair removal : ) But especially in a church like Substance that is filled with good-looking single people, it always amazes me how single people can act so desperate and feel so alone.
So listen to me: God LOVES you! He’s not going to marry you to some dog! Do you realize that? Seriously. He’s your FATHER… and a perfect one at that! How can you trust God with your eternal soul and not trust God here? …unless you don’t really trust God with either?
And this leads us to my next point:
3. Who You are is Who You Attract:
If you want to accelerate God’s timeline for your life, the best way to do it is by working on your character. Stop praying for a spouse and start praying for the character that’s worthy of the spouse God is bringing. Besides, a happy single person is a happy married person. Marriage won’t change your character; but it will reveal it! If you’re a lusty single person who struggles with porn, you’ll be a lusty married person who struggles with porn. (& if you ARE addicted to porn, read this). Ladies: If you want Prince Charming…when he comes, he’s only going to be looking for a princess. Guys: If you have lust problems… foolish debt… no job… no direction… no financial stability…why would God give you his princess? Seriously?
You see, Godly character can actually make you better looking. It’s true. So in the meantime, work on your inner beauty. It might just be the very thing that’s been obstructing the next phase of his divine timeline for you.
But as for more tips, get ready: In part 2, I have 3 more critical tips for you that are sure to take a huge amount of stress out of the dating process. But in the meantime, ask yourself: How am I doing on these first three ideas? Where do you feel tension here? Take time to talk with a mature Christian about it. God is certain to grant wisdom to those who seek it! (James 1:5).