Being a single college student at a Christian campus, the thoughts of marriage knock at my mental doorstep at every turn. Whether it is online articles regarding it-- like this one for example-- or just contemplating it when someone of the opposite gender even glances in my general direction, marriage is infiltrating the hearts of myself and those around me at an alarming rate, and might be morphing into something it was never intended to be.
Ever since we are little, our parents talk about finding "the one," phrasing it as though that were the ultimate goal in life, the ideal treasure to be found. And while I do believe God has set aside someone special for each of us, finding them is not the sole purpose of our existence. Marriage will not satisfy the inner longings of our souls, and does not give either person more value or worth than they already possess. And if we choose to not marry, we should not believe the lie that says doing so would be the most devastating failure or mistake we could ever make.
I like how the Message translates 1 Corinthians 7:17:
"And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches."
I want to praise and encourage you-- the Church, Christ's own working hands, rushing feet, loving heart-- for doing the work of the Lord here on earth, bringing the life and joy of the Kingdom of Heaven here, into the lives of others. Keep up the good work! But do not get wrapped up in our society that states that you are defined by your marriage status. Be in the world and not of the world.
If only we but knew God has so much more-- so much more right now, in this moment. More that deals with something solid and concrete, as opposed to a hopeful dream or some wanting, futuristic event.
And that is what I hope to accomplish in this article:
Not to make you feel bad, guilty or ashamed.
But to give you a new perspective, fresh insight, a different goal.
I want to provide you with some practical ideas that will help develop you into the person after God's own heart. In other words, my goal is to help you focus on becoming the right person as opposed to finding the right person. I have found, from personal experience, that if I make a goal, no matter how large or small, it keeps me focused. When I am abounding in hopes and dreams, I often fantasize, develop unrealistic expectations and eventually become depressed. I do not want that for you; I want God's best. Like anything worth doing, God's best is for you to become more like His Son, and is a wholehearted operation, and should be respected and given the effort it demands.
But do not become hopeless: God gave those who trust in Him His Holy Spirit to empower us to follow Him, and that molds us, through the carried-out truths of Scripture, into a more refined image of Jesus Christ.
Here are 5 steps that I pray you take to heart and seek to follow with me:
1. Have Integrity
This may be one of the most challenging ones. But you are up for that, right? Integrity, as I have been taught it, is what you do when nobody is around. Integrity is a difficult thing because if we do what we know to be true, no one is around to affirm us or give praise to God for the good we do for Him. On the other side of the coin, it is difficult, too, because if no one is around, we have the freedom to do wrong and not be rebuked or corrected by anyone. These two factors make it a real challenge. So do you think it is worth it?
Proverbs 11:9 tell us:
"The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them."
Life is abundant with uncertainties. Especially in marriage, guidance is essential: the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us, making known to us the mysteries of God's will. What you do when no one watches is important, because it can either:
bring about a clearer understanding of God's will and purpose for your life,
or bring about sin that causes divisions between you and God, carrying with it unforeseeable consequences.
I pray earnestly you go the extra mile and be a man or woman of integrity. Your witness to Christ is most evident when your lifestyle behind the scenes and in front of the crowds is coherent and consistent through the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. Learn Forgiveness
Until you understand the magnitude you have been forgiven in Jesus Christ, it will be prolifically harder to forgive the wrongdoings of others, unintentional or not. It was my sin that Jesus died for; my shortcomings cost Him His life that He so willingly sacrificed to have me. Last time I checked, when my reputation was under attack, it did not cost me my life-- only some needless worry and stress. What are those things compared to what my sin did? They are nothing.
"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13
To forgive someone and to be forgiven are both humbling experiences, and I have been on the giving and receiving end of forgiveness to know. Humility goes against our natural inclination towards pride and ego, looking out for number one. Even though the humbling process is unnatural, it leads to life-- and life abundant.
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord," Acts 3:19
When we are able to wholeheartedly and genuinely forgive someone, we are able to experience the joy of setting a captive heart free, the delight in lifting the weight off of a burdened heart. This is a glimpse of the love our Father gives to us. And when we are able to ask for forgiveness from someone we have wronged-- and then to be reconciled to them-- our hearts are cleansed of all shame and resentment, bitterness and guilt. That is freedom that Christ pleads for us to have. So do not hold a grudge; truly, it is a poison we ourselves drink. And do not be so prideful as to assume you could never hurt anyone whether you meant to or not.
"Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin."
3. Learn to Listen
There is power in being a listening ear, in not always needing your own voice to be heard. After enduring high school and with each passing day in college, I am finding this to be a vital part of all relationships.
Christians and non-Christians alike sometimes need to vent; we are called to be the body of Christ, including His listening ears. If someone needs advice and they turn to you, their beacon in the night, be deliberate in listening-- not merely hearing, but really understanding-- before giving a reply. Make an effort to take the conversation off of yourself, putting it on the other person. In doing so, humility is gained.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” C. S. Lewis
One way we can think of ourselves less is in the conversations we have with others. You might be surprised by the intelligence, comfort, experiences and conclusions gained from listening to another heart who cries out to be heard by someone. We are called to be Christ's listening ears to the ones that the world is eager to ignore.
4. Pray For Your Spouse
Praying for our spouse is a privilege that we all too often miss out on. Here is a list I pray for my future wife:
For her purity of heart, mind and body.
Her relationship with Christ-- that is strengthened each day.
Fortitude to resist temptations that come her way.
Endurance to know that doing life God's way is worth it.
That she simply loves God with her entire being-- more than anyone or anything.
God desires to hear what is on our hearts, whatever is burdening them, or even just our awe at who He is and what He has done for us. God desires that we take the time to listen to what He wants to say as well, especially through His Word that is living and active. Yet I believe God wants us to be intentional, persistent and purposeful about praying for our spouse as well. Yes, finding them and discerning that they are the one is important; but how much more so is praying that God would make right the condition of their heart as He continues to make right the condition of your own!
5. Obey God
This, I believe, may be the hardest. Yet once the pathway is established, it becomes easier and easier.
When the Holy Spirit prompts us to say a kind word to so-and-so, or stop to see this person, or whatever it may be-- and we follow through and obey God, Who we say is in control-- it becomes routine to live life God's way. In doing so, we find that the stresses of life melt away, a beautiful contentment in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, and a peace that dumbfounds the world that surrounds us.
The commands God has given us to follow were not given to limit our freedom or enjoyment of life, but rather to provide protection, that we might derive the most of life here on earth that we can. Jesus came to give us that kind of life, real and eternal life:
"The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." John 10:10
When we find ourselves so lost in doing whatever God places before us, consistently obeying Him in all areas of life, then God will give us the desires of our hearts: because our desires are no longer fixed on finding Mr. or Mrs. but on desiring to know God on a much more intimate level. Our priorities are aligned properly.
God wants us to be holy far more than He wants us to be happy. Holiness is gained through obedience. Along with holiness, joy is also gained from complying with what God asks of us. And never does He ask anything of us that His Holy Spirit cannot and will not empower us to accomplish. When the time is ideal and the fruits of His work be maximized, then will He provide you with the opportunity for a mate-- a mate who will accompany you in serving the Lord, someone who will sharpen you to a life of total surrender to Christ, someone who you will sharpen to be more like Christ.
Put your identity in Him and you will not be disappointed.
"Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
My sincerest prayer is that you are encouraged through this, and that you will strive to be more like Christ each day until God sees the ideal time to provide someone who you can love like Christ loves the Church. Make your heart one that would make God, and your future spouse, proud. The work is a challenge, but with Jesus, that challenge can met and triumphed victoriously.