I consider the decision to marry (and whom we choose to marry) the most important decisions a person can make, apart from saying yes to the grace of God working in our lives unto salvation. Some Christians have a deterministic view of marriage. This means they believe God picks their spouse and leads them to that person. Then, the Lord moves their hearts to fall in love. This view is problematic for many reasons best addressed at another time. For now, it is easiest to simply say there are aspects of the beauty of romance and marriage that genuinely delight the Lord. He loves to watch romance that we initiate unfold and love grow in our hearts for another.
It is mysterious and amazing that God leaves the most important decision of our lives in our hands. He will help us, lead us and serve us in the process. He will not, however, make the decision for us. This is a terrifying thought for many Christians. I have witnessed some very emotional reactions to this idea. It does not have to be terrifying, however. A few simple principles can help us navigate the steps of dating, courtship and marriage victoriously.
The Way of Love
In terms of decisions we make before the Lord, we will never make a bigger decision than our decision to marry. Whom we choose and why we make the choice plays perhaps the largest role in our spiritual growth and daily life in the Spirit than any other decision we will make over the course of our lives. As simple as this sounds, it is amazing to me how often this point is forgotten in the whirlwind of romance. A number of emotional dynamics contribute to the whirlwind, and some are not positive or healthy even if the romance feels good.
I find one of the greatest dangers in romance and dating among young people stems from how shortsighted we've become. Modern media and imagery urge us to live in the moment and be swept off of our feet. If we are really lucky, we will experience love at first sight as we encounter our soul mate. But one of the greatest problems that young people face in the early stages of romance is the trivialization of the very idea of love itself. Because we have, as a society, taken our eyes off of the very source and definition of love, Jesus of Nazareth, we have repackaged love into a storm of emotions that barely resembles the biblical ideal.
Beyond trivializing and diminishing love, our culture has shifted our focus from love from God, for God and for others to love for ourselves. Our greatest pursuit must always be the knowledge of God and encountering His love. As we pursue the One who has found us, loved us and saved us, we are empowered to love Him back with all of our hearts—which must be our highest priority and greatest goal. If these words define the rhythm of how we live our lives, we will express what the world calls true love deeply and authentically. Love for the one who is in Christ is something far deeper and more powerful than a Hollywood romance.
We must define and express love by the One who gave all to fight for our present lives and ultimate destiny in Him. We can define love through the lens of the incarnation (He pursued us in humility) and the cross (He fought for us in a costly way). We can define love through the lens of the gospel (He values our lives and cherishes our love) and His ongoing intercession for our destiny (He prays for us and prophesies over us). Much could be said beyond this about His glorious leadership in our lives and the way He directs and cares for our hearts in the journey of knowing Him and loving Him back.
The subject of the love of Christ is a vast one that has many chambers to explore and get lost in. Few young people discover the treasure and the riches of this subject in a detailed way that leads to real fascination. For many believers, the subject of the love of God touches them on an emotional level and not in a revelatory way. Therefore, when a new romance develops which touches them on a similar emotional level, a young person often loses their way in Christ to focus on the new relationship. The revelation of the love of Christ—the experiential knowledge of it—instructs us in how to love well and serves as an anchor that holds our hearts firm during the storms of life.
The Dark Side of Romance
I'll say it again: Jesus loves romance. He loves the dynamics of a man's heart awakened to love for a woman. So many good things happen when a godly man falls in love with godly woman. When my wife and I realized we were falling in love with one another, our conversations changed a bit. As good friends, we talked about life, the future, Jesus and many other things. As romance began to blossom, we began to share deeper things from our hearts to one another. We prayed together. Dreams of the future that mostly involved me now involved "we." What would our lives be like together? How would our calling and destiny work together in pursuing God? A whole new journey of discovery opened up to us. It was beautiful, and beautiful to God.
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