Are you ever going to get married?
Don’t you want to have a family? Are you too picky? What’s wrong with you?” These are just a few of the many questions that single men and women are frequently asked.
Having some of the same questions themselves—but with no answers—Christian singles may wonder if God is still in the business of bringing people together in marriage. If that describes you, then be encouraged—God is a matchmaker. He has a purpose for all single people and works above and beyond anything we could ever imagine—even when it comes to finding love.
The first hurdle that needs to be jumped—and cleared big-time—is the myth that singles are less valuable to God than married people. Singleness and marriage both should be viewed as seasons of life, tools God uses to build His character in each person.
One stage of life is not better than the other. Marriage is not attainable for only the exceptional, the well-qualified or the thoroughly-content-in-Jesus. Whether a person is single or married is not a description of his or her only identity.
Steve Prokopchak, a counselor for 20 years, believes it’s imperative that singles realize they are important to God.
“The great thing about singleness is, God has a plan for you. ... God has a plan in marriage; that’s wonderful. But still, before marriage, God has an individual plan for you and a mission for you.”
Michael Smalley, a family and marriage counselor and co-author with wife Amy of More Than a Match, says singles are “spectacular.”
“One of the biggest traps that a single will fall into,” Smalley says, “is that they will devalue themselves as a single, especially as a Christian, because [they think], I’m supposed to be married.
“But my biggest encouragement to singles is, if you can’t make a list of the top 10 things of why being single is incredible, then you probably will have a hard time being married. Because if you can’t be happy being single, you’ll never be happy being married.”
Smalley adds: “I think being single gives you some really unique opportunities to love people and to care for people and to minister and for the world to not be about you, and you can really plug into people and serve them a lot easier than a married person can.”
That’s not to imply that singles shouldn’t want to get married. They can and should pursue a mate.
Prokopchak encourages singles to wait “the right way.” That is: “Don’t get desperate. Get deliberate before the Lord.”
To be “deliberate,” he says, is to pursue wholeness and maturity in Christ. When two people come together who each have been pursuing God wholeheartedly, Prokopchak says, the result is a “Christ-centered relationship that is going to be ‘other-centered,’ not self-centered.”
In practice, he says, “wholeness and maturity” can range from learning how to make a bed to getting out of debt. “Pursuing maturity means it’s not all about ‘me,’” he explains. “Marriage is never about ‘me.’ Marriage is always about the other person.”
It’s also important, he says, to do the work of the kingdom while praying and waiting for God to bring a mate. He says that often when a person is pursuing God in the mission He has given him or her, a mate shows up.
So how can singles who are pursuing maturity and seeking God’s will be proactive and deliberate in finding someone?
Amy Smalley, also a family and marriage counselor, offers the best first step: “Ask God to play the role of matchmaker, even if you’re using the services of eHarmony.com or Match.com. We call it ‘praying your way to a great mate.’”
“The first step on the road to marriage is prayer,” Michael adds.
Amy explains: “When we give God control over our lives, we’re free to trust in His bountiful grace and be confident that He knows who would be best suited for us in lifelong marriages.”
Prokopchak agrees. “He’s so good at this [matchmaking]. ... He’s the best banker. He’s the best lawyer, the best real estate agent, and He is the best mate finder,” he says.
Asking God to be involved doesn’t mean that a single person has to sit back and not do anything to help make marriage possible. Amy says being intentional happens before you sign up for an online service or join a singles group.
She suggests that singles develop a list of qualities they would like to see in a potential spouse. Prokopchak agrees and encourages, “Don’t leave anything off.”
Meet and Greet
Even singles who are being deliberate and are involving God in their matchmaking process can still wonder, Where in the world is my mate?
Society has changed, and people don’t always meet in college, in their childhood hometowns, at church or at work anymore. So what’s a single to do?
In How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, author Henry Cloud says if singles aren’t meeting other singles within their current social circles, then they need to change their “traffic patterns.” He is not suggesting that present friends, family members or choices of things to do be dropped. He advocates that more places, and therefore potentially more people, be incorporated into a single’s regular lifestyle.
Cloud recommends several ways to change routines:
Although some might be hesitant to go online to find a date, using a service is not a sign of desperation, Cloud says. It is simply a tool God can and has used to bring people together. In fact, more people than ever are using the Internet to connect with other singles.
One of the most popular sites is eHarmony.com, a network with more than 17 million members, according to its Web site. Launched in 2000, eHarmony uses a scientific approach to create “compatible matches” that are based on 29 “dimensions” for predicting happier, healthier relationships.
After the eHarmony questionnaire has been completed, matches based on the results are made. The service matches its members, but then the couples have the option of having controlled communication or skipping straight to “open communication” through the site’s e-mail system.
Christiancafe.com, a Christian owned and operated site, takes a different approach. Members post profile pages that can be browsed or searched based on certain criteria.
Both eHarmony and Christiancafe represent merely the tip of the massive iceberg of online dating possibilities. Many sites, Christian and not-so Christian, exist—with services dedicated to specific cities or certain types of people—such as farmers, for example.
As with any tool, users should proceed with caution, even with a so-called Christian service. Security is not guaranteed simply because the services are online. True.com, though not a Christian dating site, is one of the few that offer background screenings of members.
If you plan to give online dating a try, you should follow a few safety tips:
If you take the next step—to meet a match in-person for a date—continue to exercise caution and follow a few more common-sense safety rules:
The land of online dating can be daunting territory. But God can use it to connect you with someone you might not otherwise have had a chance to meet.
Even if you don’t find your mate through a service, you will know yourself better after answering the personal questions. That alone can propel you into becoming a more desirable date—or mate.
When God does bring two people into a dating relationship, they face a new dilemma—physical affection. Even among Christians there is a muddying of the waters when it comes to sexual purity. Simply put, premarital sex is never OK with God (see article on page 34).
However, there are numerous “options” between the two extremes of no public displays of affection and sex. Yes, it would have been easier had God included in the Bible a specific list of what unmarried couples can do physically without being sexually impure. Because He didn’t, a couple should have a candid discussion about this topic and prayerfully devise a plan of action—or as the case may be, inaction.
Lori Smith, author of The Single Truth, says: “There are countless people in the Christian community who will give you a set of standards, but you have to decide what your own should be. You’re the only one who knows what God requires of you in this area, the only one responsible for setting your own limits.”
Both people in the relationship should set these guidelines, says Mindy Meier, writing in Sex and Dating. She reasons that if only one person sets the boundaries, he or she will have sole responsibility to uphold the standard, to monitor their actions.
Meier adds: “It’s important that both people set their own boundaries and police themselves. Managing their own sex drives also provides the opportunity to develop character traits such as self-control and integrity that will be beneficial during marriage.”
Jason Illian, author of Undressed: The Naked Truth About Love, Sex, and Dating, says the discussion of each person’s standard of purity should take place early in the relationship: “If you don’t establish boundaries in the beginning, don’t be surprised if there are no boundaries at all.”
It is also imperative that couples understand their need for God’s strength in this area. Dee Bright, in The Divine Romance, writes: “Purity is one area where we should not set ‘realistic expectations’ for ourselves; we need to expect from ourselves what God expects, and we cannot accomplish those expectations without his supernatural power. We cannot be determined enough, tough enough, or committed enough to do it on our own.”
How Far Is Too Far?
Even couples who take responsibility for their actions and trust God to help them stay pure want to know when they’re crossing the line. To offer them help with this vaguely marked boundary, Illian first reminds singles of a simple biblical principle stated in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial” (NIV).
Illian then illustrates that statement with a helpful set of guidelines while comparing physical actions with rungs of a ladder.
“Every rung represents a new physical act you share in a relationship. ... The higher you climb, the more physically satisfying and intimate the experience will become. However, with each step of the ladder, it becomes increasingly more dangerous.”
Rungs 1-4, Illian explains, represent activities that are permissible and can be beneficial—holding hands, hugging and cuddling, kissing, French kissing.
Rungs 5-6 are choices that are permissible but not necessarily beneficial—touching and caressing with clothes on.
Rungs 7-9, the top of the ladder, are neither permissible nor beneficial—petting and groping (under the clothes or without clothes), oral sex and intercourse.
Illian encourages couples to “draw a line and take a step back”—meaning, they ought to prayerfully consider the rung they feel comfortable climbing to “and then choose the rung right underneath it.”
For couples in the process of deciding on their physical boundaries, Meier offers this cautionary observation: “A number of engaged people have shared with me that they wish they had done less sexually—sometimes with a high school girlfriend or boyfriend, sometimes with the one they are about to marry. But no one has ever said they wish they had done more.”
To set boundaries is one thing. However, to keep the standards that are set is a whole different challenge. But there are ways couples can help themselves stick to their rules.
Meier recommends having accountability partners: “Find someone of the same sex who you can be totally honest with, someone who will give you grace when you fail but not let you get by with disobedience to the Lord.”
She also suggests that couples meet in public places, where some privacy is afforded but where they can’t give in to temptation for intimacy.
Author Gary Chapman gives nonsexual examples of ways to show affection, such as words of affirmation, gifts and acts of service. To these, Meier adds “food.”
“Cooking a special meal for the person you’re dating or showing up with a well-loved snack,” she says, “are wonderful ways to say I love you.”
Most important is that a couple talk and pray about the sexual purity aspect of their relationship. God will honor the ones who pursue His standard of holiness and rely on Him for guidance and strength.
As a single person, you can “wait in the right way” by being content in God and pursuing His will while actively looking for a spouse. God created you for relationship and understands the desire you have to find a mate. Involve Him in your search, follow your passions, pursue maturity, be deliberate and don’t stop asking Him for the desires of your heart.
And keep dreaming.
In her book You Matter More Than You Think, Leslie Parrott, co-founder of the Center for Relationship Development, states, “The eventual pain that results from not dreaming—for the fear of being disappointed by an unrealized dream—will always eclipse the pain of a dream that never comes true.”
Leigh DeVore is the assistant editor of Charisma magazine.
Frank and Juliet White; Amityville; New York, married 48 years
One summer day in Freeport, New York, I [Frank] was playing basketball and saw the loveliest sight ever. I knew I had to have her as my wife, so I began to prepare for her. Our time together was cut short because her parents sent her back South to continue her education. I later realized that the season to graduate from high school was a time of development for me. I was preparing for a wife, but God needed to get me ready to be a husband. We both came from Holiness backgrounds and deeply revered our parents’ and grandparents’ advice. It was my [Juliet’s] grandmother’s words that ordered my steps back to New York the next summer. She said the Lord revealed to her that I would meet my husband. As destiny would have it, I played piano for the church Frank attended. Our love was almost instant—after he became filled with the Holy Ghost! I came to know Frank was unquestionably the man the Lord had hand-selected for me. We both had a driving passion for soul-winning, music, singing and serving. Only God’s matchmaking anointing can inspire such lasting joy after 48 years of marriage. We are still helplessly in love.
Al and Sheila Bechtel; Bellville, Ohio; married 8 years
After a divorce ended my [Sheila’s] 26-year marriage, a friend advised me not to date for at least a year. I knew she was right. That was in November. So I made a prayer list of what I wanted in a husband, asked God to fine-tune the list and prayed for His perfect timing. The next November a woman came into the car dealership where I worked. Her name also was Sheila. We started talking, and she asked me if I was dating anyone. I told her I wasn’t and explained the promise I had made to God, telling her some of the things I prayed for in a husband. She said, “You need to date Al Bechtel!” Sheila had run a personal ad in the newspaper, and Al had responded. They went out several times but they didn’t click. Sheila arranged a date and by the next October, Al and I were married! We have so many things in common. Being married to the person that God made personally for you is wonderful. When Al was dating the other Sheila, he had told people that he was going to marry Sheila. He had the right name—just not the right Sheila!
Paul and Nancy Spencer; Fayetteville, Georgia; married 21 years
When my [Nancy’s] daughter was born, my husband left us. My neighbor, Paul, and I went to the same church and were part of the same home group. When my daughter was 2 years old, she used to stand next to Paul while he played the guitar. I look back on that time and believe she was picking out her daddy. Over time, Paul and I developed a great friendship. I saw him through his ups and downs of dating, and he was a great friend to talk with when I needed that little bit of extra encouragement. We have a saying on our wall at home, “True love is a friendship set on fire.” That’s what happened to us! We got married, and Paul adopted my daughter, and we’ve had two more beautiful daughters. We believe God was orchestrating our destinies as we sought Him first and foremost.
Charlie and Darcey Kim Daniels; Tallahassee, Florida; married 16 years
I [Charlie] had not dated for about three years, finding contentment in the Lord. In July 1991, I agreed to play music for a revival service in Perry, Florida, where I was living. I called Darcey Kim, whom I had recently met, to tell her about the meeting. In the brief conversations we’d had, I could tell she had a heart for God. She had been working in Gainesville, Florida, and God had directed her to move back to the small farming community where she had grown up and to begin praying for her spouse. She obeyed even though it made no sense to move to a town where cows outnumbered people. I was not interested in dating, so God knew the only way for us to spend time together would be to fill the calendar with church services. From July 12 to August 17 we attended more meetings together than many folks attend in a year. I started having feelings for Darcey Kim. On August 17, I found the courage to tell her. In those few weeks, God had spoken to her about our future, too. We married on March 21, 1992, and have two wonderful children.
Jerry and Katie Kuehl; Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio; married 12 years
I [Katie] had failed twice. Married at 16, two beautiful kids, divorced, remarried, one more beautiful kid, divorced. I had given up on “happily ever after.” One night I cried out to God, “If there is not someone out there who loves You more than I do then I will learn to live single all my life.” I was at peace. Six weeks later a man I had worked with in youth ministry came back into my life. He had never been married, was older, a Vietnam veteran and a man with high morals. I was all the brokenness that he was not, yet he chose to love me out of my brokenness. I have been blessed with a man after God’s own heart. Before the Lord put us together, my husband had also cried out to Him, “If You have no one for me that loves You as I do, Lord, I will be content to be single all of my life.” Same prayer, different people, who both belonged to Jesus. How God loves to bless His children! Twelve years later my husband is a father to my children, a grandfather to their children and my most precious blessing from my heavenly Father, who saw my sin and blessed me in spite of it.
Bill and Margaret Coyle; Deltona, Florida; married 4 years
At 31, I [Margaret] wondered if I would ever get married. As a joke, and because I was bored, I tried eHarmony. I didn’t expect much. I got a few matches and then started communicating with one guy, but he stopped responding after a while. Then it happened. I matched with a guy who had obviously spent time in Asia as a missionary. Having been a missionary in Taiwan myself, I was interested. Bill and I started communicating through eHarmony and eventually started sending e-mails. Each time we wrote, we discovered we had more things in common—from big things such as living in Asia to little things such as disliking tomatoes. Then we started talking on the phone and eventually met. After six months of dating we were engaged and six months later, a year after we met, we were married. Marriage is never easy, but having so much in common has made getting through the difficult times easier. We would not have met without the Internet because we lived more than an hour apart. And eHarmony did a great job finding God’s perfect gift for me.
Loren and Melissa Kreider; Ephrata, Pennsylvania; married 3 years
Loren and I first were introduced at a pastor’s home, where we met to plan for an upcoming missions trip to Curacao. Loren was selected to lead the trip, but the team still needed a female leader. I [Melissa] agreed to take the responsibility. Loren and I hit it off right away during the few times we met to plan for the trip. Although we were interested in each other, we kept our interest to ourselves to not interfere with the vision of the trip. In Curacao, we taught evangelism to youth. We took them on a retreat at which we trained them in evangelism techniques and prayed for each one to go out and evangelize. After the retreat, we returned to their hometown, where they hit the streets to practice what they had learned. During this time, Loren and I watched each other closely. Loren observed different ways I responded to people, whether it was during a stressful situation or just loving on the youth. I noticed his servant’s heart as he interacted with the youth and the other members of our team, as well as his heart for worship. We both felt more confident to pursue a relationship with each other thanks to our ministry experience together, and 10 months afterward we were married.
Ken and Sylvia Thornberg; Boise, Idaho; married 13 years
A friend of mine [Sylvia’s] invited me to attend a meeting with a visiting minister. I felt a tug in my heart from God, so I went. When my friend introduced me to the guest minister, Ken, I was immediately attracted to his warm smile and friendly greeting. I had been single for 20 years. I learned he had been single for 10 years. Neither of us knew that God had a plan that would amaze us both. During the next few months Ken traveled to my state for speaking engagements, and I began to help with his meetings however I could. Driving home one day, I asked God, “Who is this guy, anyway?” The Lord responded, “He’s your husband.” I was shocked! After several days of praying, I agreed with God to receive Ken as my future husband. We became good friends, and I worked very hard to keep my personal excitement hidden. Finally, as an act of faith, I purchased a spectacular wedding dress, shoes and veil—based upon the Lord’s promise alone. It was a few more months before the Holy Spirit confirmed our marriage. I was unaware that God had been speaking to Ken too in many outlandish ways. We have been married now for 13 years. People are always amazed to hear that we never “dated.” Our part was to say, “Yes and amen.”
Chris and Sarada Sherrerd; Halifax, Pennsylvania; married 2 years
In 1998 I [Sarada] received a prophecy that God had a husband for me. I was told this man was a widower, a worshiper and an intercessor who loved God. I was told I would meet him in church and that we both would know we were for each other. I had been divorced for 30 years. Even though I was 64 years old, I knew as I waited on God that He would give me the desire of my heart. What was prophesied happened. We met in the intercessory meetings at our church. When he was sure I was the one God wanted him to marry, he asked me. This came as a surprise because we had not dated, nor had he given me any sign that he was interested in me. The day he asked me to marry him, May 21, 2005, a friend gave me a verse that God told her I would need for that day—Song of Solomon 2:10-12: “Rise up, my love, my fair one. ... For lo, the winter is past. ... The time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” On November 12, 2005, we became one. Our God is faithful. He will not fail you, and He is never too late.
Dean and Sharon Jahr; La Mesa, California; married 24 years
Our families had history together; however, Dean and I had never met. He was enjoying life as a young bachelor, and I was finishing my second year at a small Christian college in the Midwest. In the spring of 1982 my choir was on tour and stopped in Dean’s city. A mutual family friend believed God had been telling her for years that Dean and I were destined to fall in love. So she phoned Dean’s mother to let her know I was coming through town and asked if Dean would meet me for lunch. When Dean learned I didn’t live in town and would be leaving the next morning, he agreed to the blind date. He not only came to see the choir perform that evening, but soon after also was spending close to $200 a month calling me. He was also writing letters to me and finding his way to Oklahoma now and then to visit me. We fell in love in just a short time and were married the following year. If our mutual friend had not listened to the Holy Spirit, we might never have met, married, established a home or served the Lord together.
Abstinence Isn’t Just for Teenagers
Many Christian singles have dismissed the idea of virginity as old-fashioned. But God still expects you to save sex for marriage.
Tim and Kirsten eagerly engaged in our premarital counseling sessions. Now it was time to discuss sexuality. This couple had been sexually active before meeting each other. And although they were committed to abstinence now, past sexual activity had taken a toll on their relationship.
“Do either of you have any sexually transmitted diseases acquired from other partners?” I asked.
They hesitated. Neither had been tested, and both were aware that some STDs carry no noticeable symptoms.
An article by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reports that 1 in 2 sexually active people will contract an STD by age 25. Other related numbers are staggering. Some 19 million will be infected with an STD this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 1 in 4 sexually active Americans will contract an STD at least once.
Of course, premarital sex can result not only in STDs but also in pregnancy. “Safe sex” is a mere notion that has been perpetrated in our culture for decades.
Just ask one of the million teens who will get pregnant this year. One-third will have an abortion, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, creating a new set of emotional scars.
Even when STDs and pregnancy are avoided, the emotional, psychological or spiritual consequences of premarital sex are nonetheless real.
A psychiatrist reveals her pain: “The longest-standing, deepest wound I gave myself was heartfelt; that sick, used feeling of having given a precious part of myself—my soul—to so many and for nothing, still aches. I never imagined I’d pay so dearly and for so long.”
Kirsten asks how to shake memories of being with other men. The flashbacks make her feel dirty. She wonders if Tim will be as responsive and sexually interesting as the man she lived with for two years.
Tim has similar concerns. He admits to comparing Kirsten’s kisses to those of an old girlfriend. He struggles to push those thoughts out of his head.
Research confirms that those who were sexually active before marriage are more likely to cheat on their spouses. Sexual behavior and attitudes do not change dramatically when a person marries.
Studies show that sexual activity can emotionally blind a person, making it difficult to know the true basis of a relationship. Sex outside marriage has also been linked to depression, attempted suicide, lower self-respect and fear of commitment. And those who are sexually active outside marriage are more likely to divorce when married.
Spiritually, engaging in premarital sex is a sin against the body and provides a foothold to the devil. This type of sin also blocks intimacy with God and the blessings of that.
Abstaining from sex before marriage protects against physical, emotional and spiritual damage. The best way to be whole in body, soul and spirit is summed up in 2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness” (NKJV). —Linda Mintle, Ph.D.
Before You Say I Do
Regardless of how supernatural your engagement process was, you need premarital counseling before you tie the knot.
When it comes to the need for ongoing advice and direction, there is perhaps no circumstance more eminently qualified than a relationship leading to marriage.
The Bible says that “in a multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 24:6, NKJV). The first portion of this verse refers to waging war, and although no couple wants their love relationship to be a battlefield, a lifelong marriage is certainly worth fighting for.
Couples who choose to obtain premartial counseling can build a foundation for success, as Proverbs 15:22 promises: “Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed” (The Message).
Counselor and speaker Michael Smalley encourages couples to receive outside input before marrying. He calls it premarital education and says one key component for counseling should be conflict resolution. “Before they get married, there should be little—low conflict—but the problem is, you get married and [conflict] comes.”
He explains that counseling should offer conflict-resolution training and help couples discuss the big issues. In their book More Than a Match, Smalley and wife Amy, who both have family and marriage counseling degrees, discuss the importance of getting in-depth premarital counseling—something they didn’t receive.
Michael Smalley believes counseling should come even earlier, during pre-engagement. He explains that the average age for men and women to get married today is 28 and 27, respectively.
“And the reality is,” he says, “you don’t need to be goofing around with anyone you don’t intend to marry. I don’t think that it’s a bad idea to go through the same kind of premarital education before you get engaged.”
According to the Smalleys, the five main topics couples should discuss before marriage are spiritual beliefs, personality issues, financial management, children and parenting, and sexual expectations. A third party can help guide a couple’s discussion and point out areas of weakness a couple could miss, Amy writes.
An engaged man and woman, Michael Smalley notes, do not have a realistic view of each other. “The reason you need a third party is to have someone who’s not caught up in all the hoopla. You cannot honestly evaluate your relationship [during engagement].”
He points out that the point of premarital education is not about seeking perfection. “It’s about enlightenment,” he adds. “It is not about, ‘OK, are we perfect?’ Because you won’t be.”
Steve Prokopchak, pastoral overseer for Dove Christian Fellowship International and co-author of Called Together, also agrees that premarital counseling is imperative. Dove churches require couples to attend premarital and even post-marital sessions.
He trains couples who are already in healthy marriages to counsel couples. These relationships, he explains, typically develop into lasting friendships, offering newlyweds someone whom they can trust and in whom they can confide on an ongoing basis.
Prokopchak says the post-marital requirement was developed because the highest incidence of divorce is within the first year of marriage. Newlyweds meet for counseling three months and nine months after the wedding.
Many of these couples say they thought the topics discussed in premarital sessions wouldn’t be problems in their own relationship. But they soon realize that the issues do apply to them. The post-marital counseling helps them walk out the resolutions to their problems.
As important as premarital counseling is, there is a stigma attached. If we need counseling, then there is a problem in our relationship, and we shouldn’t even proceed, the thinking goes.
To people who feel this way, Prokopchak poses a question, “Would you get on a plane that is going to 35,000 feet if the pilot says, ‘I don’t think I need training to do this’?”
Premarital counseling, he says, is not about needing counseling; it is about using the Word of God to “build the foundation that the enemy is trying to destroy today.”