marriage

The Dark Side of Submission

During a past ministry trip to Hungary, I heard a painfully familiar story. Through a translator, a tearful young woman living near Budapest explained that her Christian husband was angrily demanding her absolute submission. This included, among other things, that she clean their house according to his strict standards and that she engage in sexual acts with him that made her feel uncomfortable and dirty.

This lady was not demanding her rights or trying to be disrespectful. She was a godly, humble woman who obviously wanted to please the Lord. But she had been beaten to a pulp emotionally, and she was receiving little help from her pastor—who was either unwilling or unprepared to confront wife abuse.

I’ve heard so many sickening versions of this scenario. In Kenya, several women told me their AIDS-infected husbands often raped them—and then their pastors told them they must submit to this treatment. In some parts of India, even some pastors believe it is acceptable to beat their wives if they argue with them or show any form of disrespect. And in some conservative churches in the United States, women are told that obedience to God is measured by their wifely submission—even if their husbands are addicted to alcohol or pornography or if they are involved in adulterous affairs.

This distortion of biblical teaching has plunged countless Christian women into depression and emotional trauma. I’m not sure which is worse: the harsh words they hear from their husbands or the perverse way the Bible is wielded as a leather belt to justify domestic abuse. Here are three truths we must uncover in order to solve this problem:

1. Marriage is not a hierarchy. Traditionalists assume that a Christian marriage is defined as a dominant husband who makes all family decisions while the wife graciously obeys without input. Yet Scripture actually portrays marriage as a loving partnership and refers to the wife as a “fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7, NASB). And the apostle Paul taught that in the realm of sexuality, husbands and wives share equal authority over each other’s bodies (1 Cor. 7:4). In other words, submission in this most intimate part of a marriage covenant is mutual, and this same mutuality is the key to any happy marriage; it fosters respect, communication and an enduring bond.

2. Headship is not a license to control. Traditionalists also cite Ephesians 5:23 to remind wives that their husbands are their “heads”—and they believe this term requires some type of dictatorial control in marriage. Yet the Greek word used in this passage, kephale, does not have anything to do with heavy-handed authority, and it cannot be used to enforce male domination. Neither does it imply male superiority. The word can either mean “source” (as in the source of a river) or “one who leads into battle” (as a protector).

Neither original definition of this word gives room for abuse. Headship, in its essence, is not about who’s the boss. Rather, it refers to the Genesis account of Eve being taken from Adam’s side. The husband is the “source” of the wife because she originated from him, and she is intimately connected to him in a mystical union that is unlike any other human relationship.

3. Men who abuse their wives are out of fellowship with God. First Peter 3:7 is clear: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so your prayers will not be hindered.” Wife abuse is no trivial sin. Any man who berates his wife, treats her as inferior or engages in abusive behavior (including hitting, kicking, raping, cursing at or threatening punishment) will jeopardize his fellowship with the Lord. He will feel frustrated and convicted until he repents.

(And in the same way, I believe pastors who silently support abusive husbands by refusing to confront the behavior—or by telling women to submit to the pain—participate in this sin and could find their own prayers hindered.)

Truly Christian marriages, according to the apostle Paul, involve a tender, servant-hearted and unselfish husband who (1) loves his wife “just as Christ also loved the church”; (2) loves her as his own body; and (3) loves her as himself (see Eph. 5:25, 28 and 33). He stands alongside his wife in faithfulness, and she joyfully respects her husband because he can be trusted. And the two become one.

If we are to uphold this golden standard, we must confront abuse, shelter its victims and provide the tough love and counseling necessary to heal troubled relationships. And we have no business telling women to stay in marriages that actually could put them or their children in danger.

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How to Find the Right Mate

Thirty-three years ago I stood at a church altar in Gainesville, Fla., and pledged my life to Deborah Delk. We didn’t have a lot of money since I was working for a Christian campus ministry, but Deborah didn’t care that all our worldly possessions could fit easily in my 1980 Honda Civic. She loved me, I loved her, and we knew Jesus had brought us together. That’s really all we needed to start life together.

Our marriage has never been perfect (we had our first argument after we got back from our honeymoon), but we learned to keep Jesus in the center of our relationship. He is the reason our marriage has been able to withstand 30 years of storms and challenges. And when my younger friends ask me for advice on how to find the right mate, I share from my experience.

Here are 10 things you should do if you want to find the right person to marry:

1. Keep Jesus first in your life. Some Christians want marriage so bad, they make it an idol. You must yield your desires to God. I waited until I was 25 to marry Deborah, and I told God many times that I would remain single if that’s what He planned for me. I wanted to get married, but I knew Jesus must be my priority. I held on to Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (NASB). That verse ended up on the cover of our wedding invitation.

2. Expect God to bless you with a wonderful mate. Some people worry that if they submit to God’s choice for them, He will make them marry a person they are not attracted to. That’s crazy! Your Father wants to bless you. The person He brings into your life will not be perfect (neither are you!), but you will be content if you wait on His choice for you.

3. Be led by the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe there’s only one way to find a mate. Some people meet each other at church; others meet online through services like eHarmony or Match.com. I even know men in India whose marriages were arranged by their parents! But the key is to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in the process. As a young man, I was inspired by the story of Isaac and Rebekah in the Bible, and I expected God to show me who my wife would be. He ended up doing just that. I knew Deborah would be my wife before we went on our first date.

4. Wait on God’s timing. I know guys who made the mistake of falling in love before they realized they were with the wrong girl. Slow down! Marriage is the most important decision you’ll ever make. Look at all your options and apply discernment. If you are impatient in the area of marriage, you will seriously regret it later.

5. Look for a person who is spiritually compatible with you. Hopefully you already know you shouldn’t marry an unbeliever. But you can’t just marry any Christian! There are plenty of people with questionable morals and shaky faith sitting in church pews and trolling Christian dating sites. Beware of imposters, and run as fast as you can from Satan’s decoys. Keep your standards high. If you settle for less by marrying a lukewarm Christian, you will end up dragging them around for the rest of your life. Marry someone who will challenge you to stay hot for God!

6. Look for confirmation. After dating for a while, you may feel you have found the right person, but don’t make a snap decision. Ask God to confirm your choice. You can also ask mentors and pastors to pray with you for guidance. If you have found the right person, the Lord will give you a green light. But if spiritual people who love you are warning you to avoid the person you are dating, don’t reject their advice. God may be trying to spare you from a relationship disaster.

7. Make sure you are ready for marriage. Even after you have found the right person, don’t assume it’s time to call a wedding planner. Count the cost first. Do you have some unresolved anger issues? Get some counseling. Can the two of you afford to be married and pay your bills on your combined salaries? Do you need to pay off some debts first? Be practical. Love is great, but it does not pay the rent.

8. When the time is right, turn on the charm. God created romance. When you know you are in love with the right person, the two of you can celebrate with that special moment of engagement. Whether it involves roses, chocolates, fancy dinners or walks on the beach, you can make a memory that the two of you can share for decades. Romance will strengthen the bond you share.

9. Keep your clothes on and your feet on the floor until the wedding. The worst way to spoil an engagement is to get involved in premarital sex. As soon as you are engaged, discuss with your future spouse how you are going to respect sexual boundaries until you say your vows to each other. My wife and I stayed pure throughout our engagement, so when we stood at the altar to seal our union, we did it with a clear conscience. Don’t let lust rob you of that blessing. People who have sex before their weddings don’t trust each other afterward.

10. Enroll in a premarital counseling class. Many ministers will not marry a couple unless they agree to premarital counseling. Find out if your church offers a marriage preparation class or if an older couple you trust can meet with you regularly to discuss issues such as communication, finances, sex, family planning and basic marriage principles. Don’t assume you know how to be married. You need all the advice you can get!

Remember: A successful marriage is not just two people. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” The most enduring marriages are made of a husband, a wife … and Jesus. If you invite Him to hold your marriage together from the beginning, I believe it will endure.

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7 Ways to Keep Your Marriage Hot

When I married my wife, Deborah, 30 years ago I had a tiny salary and no money in the bank, so our honeymoon was a budget affair: four nights in Miami Beach, four nights in Orlando, and then back to work. Deborah didn’t complain at all, but I always wanted to make it up to her. So this week we are enjoying an anniversary trip to Hawaii—and thinking a lot about God’s faithfulness.

How do two people stay in love for 30 years? I don’t consider myself a marriage expert, but I can tell you what has worked for us—and what I always advise the younger people I mentor:

1. Pray together. Marriage is more than an emotional and sexual union. It’s a deep spiritual bond. I believe the best way a couple can nurture that connection is to pray together regularly. Set aside time each week to pray for your children, extended family members, financial challenges and life decisions. Pray even more often when you are going through difficult spiritual battles. Prayer will knit your hearts like nothing else.

2. Avoid resentment. All couples fight from time to time, but if you don’t learn how to kiss and make up, your marriage will unravel. Marriage is like a school of forgiveness. Paul’s rule to the Ephesians, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph. 4:26, NASB), is best applied by husbands and wives. When your spouse hurts you, talk about it, forgive and let it go. Don’t keep a list of offenses. If you bury your resentments without resolving them, they will explode like land mines later.

3. Treat each other as equals. Many Christian men believe they are the “head” of the marriage, and they assume this means they can boss their wives around and demand submission. This can lead to physical or verbal abuse, and it is one of the primary reasons so many Christian marriages end in divorce. The Bible actually tells husbands to treat their wives as “fellow heir[s] of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). If you view your wife as inferior, or if you order her around like she’s under your control, you are guilty of abuse. A husband’s “headship,” as defined by Ephesians 5:23, requires him to be humble, tender and sacrificial—not macho or bossy.

4. Stay involved in a church community. Many couples try to survive in isolation. Either the husband has no friends or the wife has no support network. And I know many couples that don’t have mentors to talk to when they hit rough patches in their relationship. This is dangerous! If I started going off course spiritually, I know my wife would immediately call some of our close friends—and one of them would be at my doorstep demanding my repentance. I have given my friends permission to get in my face! Accountability provides a safety net for your marriage.

5. Keep dating each other. The Bible tells guys, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:18) and then goes farther to say, “Be exhilarated always with her love” (v. 19). That exhilaration might be easy during your honeymoon, but what about when babies arrive, bills pile up, the workload at your job increases and the kids need braces and car insurance? The sizzle can turn to ice if you don’t spend the time necessary to regularly stoke the fire of romance. When we had four little kids at home, my wife and I always tried to go on a date every week—even when we didn’t need the extra expense of a babysitter. We still try to live by this rule now that we are empty nesters. If you invest in your marriage now, you will reap the rewards later.

6. Maintain sexual intimacy. I have counseled many married guys with sexual problems, including porn addiction and adultery. In almost every case, these men stopped having regular sex at home before their problems began. Sex is a totally natural part of marriage, and it is unhealthy for couples to deprive each other of sex or to use it as a manipulative weapon. Paul told the Corinthians, “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and also the wife to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3). Healthy sex is like glue that holds a marriage together.

7. Honor your vows. Many couples in the church today don’t have a clear understanding of what a marriage covenant means. We pay a lot of money for weddings, and we take a lot of expensive photos so we can remember the moment. We say our vows in front of an altar, and those vows are solemnly confirmed by a pastor holding a Bible. But many couples still don’t take their vows seriously. Marriage is a promise made in the very presence of God! If we view that vow casually, or if we don’t keep God at the center of our relationship, a marriage can go from hot to cold in a matter of months.

My wife keeps some of our framed wedding photos on the wall of our family room. Even though the 1980s hairstyles and clothes are horribly out of date, we display those pictures to remind ourselves that we made a covenant with God and with each other on April 28, 1984. We invited Him to make us one, and we know that the grace He gave us to stay married for 30 years can last a lifetime. He can do the same for you.

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When Is It Right to Leave a Marriage?

Recently when I wrote a column titled “10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry,” readers shared some heartbreaking stories of their marital mistakes. One woman admitted, “The man I married is six of the 10 things you listed!” Many other readers also asked this honest question: “If my husband is one of those men, can I divorce him?”

I don’t enjoy recommending divorce to anybody. God instituted marriage, so it’s sacred. It’s a holy bond that we should protect. Jesus Himself said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6, NASB). Yet in the same passage He mentioned immorality (v. 9) as an allowable reason for divorce. In a fallen world full of sin and unfaithfulness, divorce is not always avoidable.

It’s true that many Christians are too eager to bail out of a marriage after their first big argument or when the flame of romance dims. Too many people view divorce as a convenient escape hatch. Yet this flippant disregard for covenant vows is not acceptable for a follower of Christ. Any Christian couple that stands before God to seal their union should be committed to staying together through thick and thin.

At the same time, I have counseled with both men and women who were trapped in severely dysfunctional marriages—and it was obvious some of these relationships simply could not be restored. In those cases, I had to ask them to prayerfully seek a divorce—and find support, counseling and prayer as they walked through the traumatic aftermath of a painful breakup.

Here are four situations in which divorce may be an advisable option:

1. Unrepentant adultery. If a husband or a wife is unfaithful to their partner, it’s possible to forgive and reconcile. But that’s only an option if the person who committed the adultery is willing to admit their sin and break off the illicit relationship. If the affair was a one-time experience, and the guilty spouse is broken over their sin, then healing is possible. However, a man who is constantly cheating on his wife (or vice versa) is deceived, and he is also putting his wife at risk of disease. If your spouse is having sex with someone else, you are not required by God to tolerate that behavior.

2. Domestic abuse. I never counsel a woman to stay in a physically abusive marriage. The wife needs to get herself and her children out of the house if her husband is beating her or making violent threats. It is irresponsible for any Christian minister to tell an abused woman to stay in a domestic situation that is physically dangerous. Separation is an option for a season; if the husband is willing to receive counseling, it might be possible to save the marriage. But God does not expect you to stay married to an abuser. He wants to rescue you out of that situation!

3. Emotional cruelty or control. I know women who have endured years of verbal abuse from husbands who claim to love God but don’t understand that their dominating attitudes are slowly killing their wives. Some husbands think they have the right to monitor and analyze their wives’ every move. Others scold their wives, scream at them or subject them to constant profanity and angry tirades. For victims, this can lead to depression, addiction and even suicide. If the abuser is not willing to repent of such toxic behavior, the spouse needs to get out before the abuse destroys what’s left of his or her self-image. This principle also applies to spouses who are involved in drug abuse, alcoholism or criminal activity.

4. Spiritual incompatibility. Many times one spouse will come to faith in Christ before the other. In the best situations, the believing spouse leads the unbelieving spouse to the Lord. But what if that spouse never embraces Christianity? Paul told the Corinthians that they can stay together but that it is not wrong to allow an unbelieving spouse to leave (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

In some conservative churches, leaders teach that divorce is never acceptable and that a person who chooses to divorce—even if they have been abused—is in sin if they leave the marriage. These hardliners will typically declare, “God hates divorce,” quoting Malachi 2:16, and then suggest that even the innocent party in a divorce will be judged by God. That’s an unfair use of Scripture. God’s mercy is bigger than that!

God certainly hates the pain, shame and family disintegration that accompanies divorce, but He also offers healing, restoration and freedom to people who have endured a marriage breakup. As we work to protect marriages and encourage strong families, let’s also leave room in our hearts—and in our theology—for people who simply cannot stay in irreparable relationships.

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10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry

My wife and I raised four daughters—without shotguns in the house!—and three of them have already married. We love our sons-in-law, and it’s obvious God handpicked each of them to match our daughters’ temperaments and personality.

I have always believed God is in the matchmaking business. If He can do it for my daughters, He can do it for you.

Today I have several single female friends who would very much like to find the right guy. Some tell me the pickings are slim at their church, so they have ventured into the world of online dating. Others have thrown up their hands in despair, wondering if there are any decent Christian guys left anywhere. They’ve begun to wonder if they should lower their standards in order to find a mate.

My advice stands: Don’t settle for less than God’s best. Too many Christian women today have ended up with an Ishmael because impatience pushed them into an unhappy marriage. Please take my fatherly advice: You are much better off single than with the wrong guy!

Speaking of “wrong guys,” here are the top 10 men you should avoid when looking for a husband:

1. The unbeliever. Please write 2 Corinthians 6:14 on a Post-it note and tack it on your computer at work. It says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (NASB). This is not an outdated religious rule. It is the Word of God for you today.

Don’t allow a man’s charm, looks or financial success (or his willingness to go to church with you) push you to compromise what you know is right. “Missionary dating” is never a wise strategy. If the guy is not a born-again Christian, scratch him off your list. He’s not right for you. I’ve yet to meet a Christian woman who didn’t regret marrying an unbeliever.

2. The liar. If you discover that the man you are dating has lied to you about his past or that he’s always covering his tracks to hide his secrets from you, run for the nearest exit. Marriage must be built on a foundation of trust. If he can’t be truthful, break up now before he bamboozles you with an even bigger deception.

3. The playboy. I wish I could say that if you meet a nice guy at church, you can assume he’s living in sexual purity. But that’s not the case today. I’ve heard horror stories about single guys who serve on the worship team on Sunday but act like Casanovas during the week. If you marry a guy who was sleeping around before your wedding, you can be sure he will be sleeping around after your wedding.

4. The deadbeat. There are many solid Christian men who experienced marital failure years ago. Since their divorce, they have experienced the Holy Spirit’s restoration, and now they want to remarry. Second marriages can be very happy. But if you find out that the man you are dating hasn’t been caring for his children from a previous marriage, you have just exposed a fatal flaw. Any man who will not pay for his past mistakes or support children from a previous marriage is not going to treat you responsibly.

5. The addict. Churchgoing men who have addictions to alcohol or drugs have learned to hide their problems—but you don’t want to wait until your honeymoon to find out that he’s a boozer. Never marry a man who refuses to get help for his addiction. Insist that he get professional help and walk away. And don’t get into a codependent relationship in which he claims he needs you to stay sober. You can’t fix him.

6. The bum. I have a female friend who realized after she married her boyfriend that he had no plans to find steady work. He had devised a great strategy: He stayed home all day and played video games while his professional wife worked and paid all the bills. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess. 3:10). The same rule applies here: If a man is not willing to work, he doesn’t deserve to marry you.

7. The narcissist. I sincerely hope you can find a guy who is handsome. But be careful: If your boyfriend spends six hours a day at the gym and regularly posts closeups of his biceps on Facebook, you have a problem. Do not fall for a self-absorbed guy. He might be cute, but a man who is infatuated with his appearance and his own needs will never be able to love you sacrificially, like Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). The man who is always looking at himself in the mirror will never notice you.

8. The abuser. Men with abusive tendencies can’t control their anger when it boils over. If the guy you are dating has a tendency to fly off the handle, either at you or others, don’t be tempted to rationalize his behavior. He has a problem, and if you marry him you will have to navigate his minefield every day to avoid triggering another outburst. Angry men hurt women—verbally and sometimes physically. Find a man who is gentle.

9. The man-child. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m suspicious of a guy who still lives with his parents at age 35. If his mother is still doing his cooking, cleaning and ironing at that age, you can be sure he’s stuck in an emotional time warp. You are asking for trouble if you think you can be a wife to a guy who hasn’t grown up. Back away and, as a friend, encourage him to find a mentor who can help him mature.

10. The control freak. Some Christian guys today believe marriage is about male superiority. They may quote Scripture and sound super-spiritual, but behind the façade of husbandly authority is deep insecurity and pride that can morph into spiritual abuse. First Peter 3:7 commands husbands to treat their wives as equals. If the man you are dating talks down to you, makes demeaning comments about women or seems to squelch your spiritual gifts, back away now. He is on a power trip. Women who marry religious control freaks often end up in a nightmare of depression.

If you are a woman of God, don’t sell your spiritual birthright by marrying a guy who doesn’t deserve you. Your smartest decision in life is to wait for a man who is sold out to Jesus.

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8 Women Christian Men Should Never Marry

Last week my column “10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry” went viral. More than 1.2 million people have shared that message so far—most likely because so many single men and women are seriously asking for guidelines on finding a compatible mate.

In response I received numerous requests to share similar guidelines for men who are looking for wives. Since I am mentoring several young men right now and have seen a few of them marry successfully during the past few years, it wasn’t difficult to draft this list. These are the women I tell my spiritual sons to avoid:

1. The unbeliever. In last week’s column, I reminded women that the Bible is absolutely clear on this point: Christians should not marry unbelievers. Second Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (NASB). Apart from your decision to follow Christ, marriage is the single most important decision you will ever make. Don’t blow it by ignoring the obvious. You need a wife who loves Jesus more than she loves you. Put spiritual maturity at the top of your list of qualities you want in a wife.

2. The material girl. One young friend of mine was engaged to a girl from a rich family. He saved up money for months to buy a ring, but when he proposed she told him he needed to go back to the jewelry store to buy a bigger diamond. She pushed her fiance to go into debt for a ring that fit her expectations. She wanted a Tiffany’s lifestyle on his Wal-Mart budget. I warned my friend that he was stepping into serious trouble. Unless you want to live in debt for the rest of your life, do not marry a girl who has dollar signs in her eyes and eight credit cards in her Gucci purse.

3. The diva. Some macho guys like to throw their weight around and pretend they are superior to women. Divas are the female version of this nightmare. They think the world revolves around them, and they don’t think twice about hurting somebody else to prove their point. Their words are harsh and their finger-snapping demands are unreasonable. Some of these women might end up in leadership positions at church, but don’t be fooled by their super-spiritual talk. Real leaders are humble. If you don’t see Christlike humility in the woman you are dating, back away from her and keep looking.

4. The Delilah. Remember Samson? He was anointed by God with superhuman strength, but he lost his power when a seductive woman figured out his secret and gave her man the world’s most famous haircut. Like Delilah, a woman who hasn’t yielded her sexuality to God will blind you with her charms, break your heart and snip your anointing off. If the “Christian” woman you met at church dresses provocatively, flirts with other guys, posts sexually inappropriate comments on Facebook or tells you she’s OK with sex before marriage, get out of that relationship before she traps you.

5. The contentious woman. A young man told me recently that he dated a girl who had serious resentment in her heart because of past hurts. “Before I would propose, I told my fiancee she had to deal with this,” he explained. “It would have been a deal-breaker, but there was a powerful breakthrough and now we are engaged.” This guy realized that unresolved bitterness can ruin a marriage. Proverbs 21:9 says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” If the woman you are dating is seething with anger and unforgiveness, your life together will be ruined by arguing, door-slamming and endless drama. Insist that she get prayer and counseling.

6. The controller. Marriage is a 50/50 partnership, and the only way it works is when both husband and wife practice mutual submission according to Ephesians 5:21. Just as some guys think they can run a marriage like a dictatorship, some women try to manipulate decisions to get their way. This is why premarital counseling is so important! You don’t want to wait until you’ve been married for two weeks to find out that your wife doesn’t trust you and wants to call all the shots.

7. The mama’s girl. It’s normal for a new wife to call her mom regularly for advice and support. It is not normal for her to talk to her mother five times a day about every detail of her marriage, including her sex life. That’s weird. Yet I have counseled guys whose wives allowed their mothers (or fathers) total control of their marriages. Genesis 2:24 says a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Parents should stay in the background of their children’s marriages. If your girlfriend hasn’t cut the apron strings, proceed with caution.

8. The addict. So many people in the church today have not been properly discipled. Many still struggle with various types of addictions—to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medicines or pornography—either because we don’t confront these sins from the pulpit or we don’t offer enough compassionate support to strugglers. Jesus can completely set a person free from these habits, but you don’t want to wait until you’re married to find out your wife isn’t sober. You may still be called to be married, but it is not wise to tie the knot until your girlfriend faces her issues head-on.

Your best rule to follow in choosing a wife is found in Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Look past the outward qualities that the world says are important, and look at the heart.

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9 Serious Questions You Should Ask Before Getting Married

Marriage is supposed to be heavenly, but it can end up being hell on Earth if you (1) marry the wrong person or (2) find out after you’re married that your spouse was hiding some dark secrets. Just ask my friend “Carlos,” who was married for a year before he learned that his wife owed thousands of dollars in credit-card debt. The tension caused by a shopping addiction—and her ongoing deception—led to divorce.

Anyone who’s been through a job interview knows employers try to identify potential problems by asking lots of questions before they hire anyone. Some companies take months to recruit high-level employees because they know one wrong hiring decision can cost millions of dollars. So why wouldn’t you be even more careful before you tie the knot with the person you plan to spend the rest of your life with?

I’m amazed by how many Christian couples don’t use wisdom when choosing a mate or neglect to get premarital counseling before they walk down the aisle together. Any counselor will tell you that couples face major difficulties if they don’t honestly communicate at the beginning of their relationship and put all their cards on the table. You have to ask questions!

If you are a believer in Christ and you want a marriage that honors God, you should make sure you ask these questions before the Big Day.

1. How did your partner come to know Jesus personally? It’s a sad fact that some people pretend to be Christians. They can sing the choruses and mimic the preacher, but their private lives are a different story. They are posers—and some of them are actually attending church to find a cute girl or guy. Don’t fall for a fake. You need a spouse who has a genuine relationship with God.

2. Has your partner been growing spiritually? It’s also a sad fact that many Christians today remain spiritual babies even though they’ve been in church for years. If you want a strong marriage, don’t pursue a person who has no spiritual spark. My wife is beautiful, but what attracted me to her was her passion for God. If your partner has no interest in discipleship, worship, prayer or studying God’s Word, don’t assume they will develop spiritual maturity later.

3. What kind of family life did your partner have? We all come from different backgrounds. Some people grow up in single-parent families, others are raised in alcoholic homes, and others experienced abuse. God can help us overcome any handicaps caused by family dysfunction. But you need to know what you are dealing with before you vow to love your partner “in sickness and in health.” You can’t carry your partner’s burdens or experience deep intimacy unless you share your pain with each other.

4. What is your partner’s dating and marriage history? It’s true that when we come to know Christ “the old things passed away” (2 Cor. 5:17). But that doesn’t mean you can lie about your past. Your potential spouse needs to know if you have been married before, if you have kids living in another city, or if you are obligated to make alimony payments.

5. Does your partner have a criminal record? Employers ask this question—and they sometimes turn away prospective employees who have been sentenced for crimes. You don’t want to wait until your wedding night to learn that your husband is wearing a tattoo on his back that he got in prison. And you should rethink your marriage plans if you learn your boyfriend was convicted of assault.

6. Does your partner struggle with addictions? Many marriages end in divorce because one partner has self-destructive habits. The addict may be hooked on alcohol, drugs, porn or gambling—and a churchgoer with these habits may have learned to hide their behavior. If you see the warning signs of addiction, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s no big deal. You may need to postpone the wedding.

7. Does your partner have debts or a questionable credit history? The financial side of marriage is challenging enough without the extra stress of debt. Wise couples will met with a pastor or mentor before the wedding to discuss a reasonable budget. If you find out your partner owes the equivalent of a year’s salary because of out-of-control spending, you should reconsider this relationship.

8. Has your partner received prayer ministry or counseling for his or her failures, hurts and traumas? God’s grace is bigger than any sin. The Holy Spirit can deliver a person from the shame of adultery, the pain of divorce or the bondage of resentment. But these things don’t just drop off by themselves; people need prayer and counseling to get free from their past. You should insist that your partner get the help he or she needs.

9. Do you and your partner agree about family plans? I know a couple who married without talking about this issue. The man wanted lots of kids; the wife didn’t want any. This will not work! Amos 3:3 says: “Do two people walk hand in hand
 if they aren’t going to the same place?” (The Message). Find a partner who shares your desires and goals.

If you want a marriage that stands through life’s storms, you need a partner who is wholly committed to Jesus and on the path to healing. Your spouse won’t be perfect, but please don’t settle for less than God’s best for you.

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10 Steps to Finding Your Life Partner

This year, five young friends of mine are getting married: Anibál met his future wife at his church in California, Vitaliy met his fiancée at Christ for the Nations Institute, KC found David on the mission field, Ben met Tiffany while studying at Regent University, and Doug—who has been waiting the longest for his bride—got engaged to Danya last week on his 32nd birthday.

But I have many other friends, some young and some not so young, who are still waiting for the big introduction. For whatever reason, marriage hasn’t happened for them. Single Christians are often told that all they must do is “wait on God” for a mate. But I believe that phrase is both overused and abused. In many cases, a single person doesn’t need to wait on God; the Lord may actually be waiting on you to take some action.

If you want to be married, here are some simple steps that might help move you farther along in the process:

1. Make sure Jesus is on the throne of your life. You can never go wrong when you put God first. Matthew 6:33 says: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Marriage is a need, and God is very eager to meet it. And since it is probably the biggest decision you will ever make, why trust your own instincts to choose the right person? God is the best matchmaker. Ask Him to guide you.

2. Make spiritual growth your priority. A marriage is strong when both the husband and the wife are strong Christians. If either is immature spiritually, problems will multiply. That’s why you should spend your single years becoming a mature disciple. Paul told the Corinthians that single believers should pursue “undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35). Get involved in a church, study God’s Word and become a passionate worshipper.

3. Make a list of your relationship preferences. It’s OK to desire certain qualities in a spouse. Maybe you prefer a girl who is short, a guy who is older than you or someone who has a certain educational background. Psalm 37:4 says: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Just check your motives and make sure your desires are not selfish or unrealistic.

4. Get rid of your false expectations and fantasies. Many singles have totally unrealistic ideas about what marriage and romance are all about. Some girls have been conditioned by Disney cartoons to expect a guy to sweep them off their feet and take them to his fairy tale castle. That’s not going to happen. Neither will you ever feel the level of heartthrob described in romance novels. Pornography has also ruined romance for people; some guys who are addicted to porn can’t even experience normal arousal without it. Come down to earth and get real. Marriage will never resemble your perfect dream world.

5. Set your moral standards high and never sell out. Every unmarried Christian needs a list of non-negotiables. Never compromise your sexual purity. If a sweet-talking guy from your church’s worship team tries to lure you into a one-night stand, refuse his charm. If you feel attracted to a girl and then realize she flirts with every guy and doesn’t share your values, back off. And never, ever date a nonbeliever with the intention of converting them. “Missionary dating” rarely has a good outcome.

6. Get busy with your life and career. The worst thing any single can do is sit around waiting for a mate. Moping is not attractive—it’s pitiful. Don’t be desperate. God loves you just the way you are, and you don’t need a husband or wife to make you valuable. Live your life. Finish your education, achieve your professional goals and get involved in ministry. It’s more likely you will find your mate while pursuing your dreams than while sitting in a corner mourning your singleness. (And remember: Love does not pay the bills. You need a job to be married!)

7. Seek emotional healing. I know singles who jump from one dysfunctional dating relationship to the next and never realize they have serious issues to address. Don’t wait until you are married to realize you have addictions, bitterness or unresolved pain. If you don’t get rid of your drama now, your marriage will be filled with drama. Seek prayer ministry at your church or find a counselor.

8. Take care of yourself physically. You don’t have to be a cover girl or a GQ stud to find a mate. We come in all shapes and sizes, and your spouse is going to love you and all your imperfections. But making yourself more attractive doesn’t hurt! If you always look like you just got out of bed, ask some honest friends to give you a makeover. If you need to lose weight, stop making excuses and start a sensible food plan and exercise routine.

9. Develop an active social life. Some Christian guys I know are afraid to ask a girl out for coffee, yet they play video games all day while complaining about loneliness. Hello? You will never find a mate in a vacuum. You have to break out of your shell and make yourself available. You don’t have to pair up when you gather with a group of singles for fellowship. Many dating relationships start as innocent friendships—and then a romantic spark turns into a flame.

10. Find a married mentor to help you prepare. You don’t have to navigate the journey from dating to marriage all by yourself. Seek out a trusted older friend to help you. Ask questions. Share your fears. Marriage is a huge decision, but a mentor can give you the courage to embrace your future. And they will be cheering the loudest at your wedding because they’ve played a small part in God’s miracle.

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10 Worst Mistakes Christians Make When Dating

Singles make up a big percentage of any given church, and pastors spend a lot of time teaching about marriage and parenting. But how do you actually find the right person to marry?

You won’t hear much teaching about dating in most churches. It’s like we’re afraid to touch the subject—so people just feel their way in the dark and figure out romance on their own.

Our awkwardness about this topic is one reason single Christians make so many relationship blunders—and why many marriages start out on the wrong foot. I asked some of my single friends and one of my daughters to help me compile this list of most common dating mistakes. Here are the Top 10:

1. Being desperate for a relationship. Some singles freak out when they hit age 25. They stop trusting God and begin a nail-biting search for a mate. My friend Nicole Doyley, author of The Wait, says she knows women who are so frantic about finding Prince Charming that they immediately fall for any guy who asks them out. “They should see the warning signs, but don’t,” Nicole says. “They start praying immediately if this is ‘the one’ and they quickly become blind to his faults.”

2. Being too picky. On the flip side, some singles are waiting for the perfect human specimen to sweep them off their feet. Picky guys want a girl who could appear in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. Or, some Christian women expect to marry a spiritual giant who prays four hours a day. Be realistic. Whoever you date will have feet of clay and plenty of flaws to match your own.

3. Not developing healthy friendships with the opposite sex. Oftentimes too much pressure is placed on Christian singles to pair up, especially if they are attending a Bible college with a reputation for being a wedding factory. And in that pressure cooker it’s difficult for guys and girls to enjoy nonromantic friendships. Relax and make friends, and don’t view every opposite-sex friend as a potential marriage partner.

4. Letting other people control your relationship. Church friends usually mean well, but some people don’t know how to stay out of other people’s business. They will engage in what I call “prophetic meddling” by dropping hints, manipulating you to go out with someone or pushing you to marry someone you don’t even want to be with. And while the gift of prophecy is valuable, you should never let personal prophecies steer your decisions about marriage. Let God personally guide you in this very personal area of life.

5. Ignoring proper boundaries. Some Christian couples are extremely naïve about the power of a romantic bond. They don’t realize that feelings can zoom from zero to 90 miles an hour in a few seconds, and that one kiss can lead to intercourse if you don’t have your emergency brake on at all times. If you are in a dating relationship, you must know your boundaries, discuss them with your partner and commit to staying pure. Don’t be stupid. Don’t spiritualize your lust and suggest, “Let’s go to your apartment and pray.” Don’t wait until clothes come off to determine what is out of bounds.

6. Missionary dating. Never start a romantic relationship with a guy or girl who is not a believer. Christians who do this usually justify it with the old “I know I can change him/her” line. But the opposite happens: The unbeliever changes you—after he or she has broken your heart, compromised your morals or damaged your faith.

7. Lack of healthy confidence. Some guys I know are stuck in a state of spiritual limbo when it comes to their dating life. They may admire a girl from afar, but they just can’t muster up the nerve to break the ice and start a conversation. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” If you are going to find a wife, you don’t just sit there until you are 40. Develop some healthy aggression. And while it is true that some women prefer to be pursued, remember that Ruth proposed to Boaz in the Old Testament story. Don’t be so demure that your future husband can’t even notice you.

8. Expecting the person you are dating to “fix” you. God wants singles to have undistracted devotion to Jesus (see 1 Cor. 7:35). Yet too often we look to other people to bring the inner fulfillment that only Christ gives. Many singles fall into the trap of finding a boyfriend or girlfriend to heal the wounds caused by childhood trauma, their parents’ divorce or their dads’ addictions. Seek healing from the Holy Spirit for those issues before you commit to a serious relationship.

9. Spiritual stalking. I’ve met guys in church who drive by girls’ houses regularly, monitor their moves and troll their Facebook pages. That’s creepy. If you have to sneak around like a private detective to get a date, you need a new strategy. If a woman tells you she is not interested in going out with you, honor her request and move on. Don’t develop an unhealthy obsession. And never, never, never tell a girl: “God told me you will be my wife.” That’s manipulative and could fall under the category of sexual harassment.

10. Not discerning a spiritual predator. One single female friend of mine said she went out with a man who did a financial seminar at her church. Because the guy was invited to speak from a pulpit she assumed he was a man of character, but he tried to get her into bed with him on the first date. It became quickly obvious he was an imposter. Beware of wolves. You must walk in the Spirit if you want to protect your purity and save yourself for the right person.

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