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What Should I Be Looking for in Dating?

What does a godly dating relationship look like? While the Bible has a lot of wisdom and guidance for God-honoring marriages, it doesn’t provide step-by-step instructions for how to achieve one. Sometimes this can leave us feeling frustrated and abandoned—but our God has promised never to leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is a patient teacher, and He has a good plan for you and me, regardless of our relationship status.

I’ll be the first to admit that my track record with relationships isn’t stellar—I’m currently single, and I’ve experienced my share of heartache. But even though my failed relationships were painful at the time, looking back, I can see how God was and is still using each one to grow me into maturity.

Here’s a series of lessons I’ve learned that have helped me more clearly define the characteristics of a godly relationship. May each one encourage and challenge you, whether you’re currently in a relationship or not.

 

1. A Godly Relationship Is Clear About Its Purpose

How do you know you’re in a relationship? That’s not a trick question! Sometimes it’s genuinely hard to tell! Are you just casually dating, or seriously and prayerfully considering whether this person is “marriage material”?

Dating should be fun and exciting, but it also represents a holy purpose and a potential covenant union. The last half of Ephesians 5 is full of imagery of the global church as the bride of Christ. Jesus’ sacrificial love should be the blueprint for our dating and marriage relationships, and that love does not take commitment lightly (Ephesians 5:21-33).

One of my most painful relationships was due almost entirely to its lack of clarity. A young man and I were slowly meandering from “really good friends” to something more concrete, but the process seemed to be taking forever. I was so eager to move forward, and he seemed to be dragging his feet. At the time, I was frustrated, but too afraid to invite a clear conversation.

One day I was venting this frustration to my mom. I was shocked when she gently suggested that perhaps he wasn’t ready to date with the same intentionality. I felt hurt by her words and refused to talk to him about it. As a result, the relationship staggered on a few more months before ending with a messy mutual parting.

In this instance, our lack of definition was crippling and ended up prolonging the pain of this relationship. Out of respect for yourself and the other person, don’t take a dating commitment lightly or assume you’re on the same page. Invite a clear, open conversation about where you are at and what your purpose is.

 

2. A Godly Relationship Heeds the Wisdom of Others

When you’re getting to know someone you’re interested in, you’re usually pretty oblivious to everything else. I know how that feels! It’s such an exciting time, and if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to skip ahead and start imagining a future together. But doing so is like racing through this new relationship with horse blinders on—everything that is peripheral is blocked out. One of the most valuable things you can do, especially in a newer relationship, is to seek out the godly counsel of people who are older, wiser, and who love you very much.

For me, this is first and foremost my parents. They’re generally good judges of character, but more importantly, they know my character intimately. For you, this may look like an older sibling, aunt or uncle, or a mentor from church. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a loving, mature believer give their honest opinion of your current or potential relationship.

One of my own blind date experiences from college ended after a few meetings, one of which occurred while my parents were visiting in town. I invited Mr. Blind Date to ice cream with my parents just for fun, and the evening was more than a little awkward. Weeks later, when we had clearly broken things off, my mom remarked, “Oh yes, I could tell right away he wasn’t a good fit for you.” Her comment surprised me, and I immediately regretted not asking her sooner. Her perspective was much clearer than mine at the time, as a mom’s usually is.

So, search for wisdom. What do those people who love you the most think is healthy and unhealthy about the relationship? Where would they caution you? Where would they encourage you? Proverbs 15:31 (NLT) says, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.” And in my case, you can avoid a lot of relationship pain!

 

3. A Godly Relationship Invites Hard Conversations

It started right before summer. I was suddenly seeing this guy in our group of friends a lot more often. He was funny, charming, and kind. We started texting just as the school year was ending, and we parted ways with the promise to keep in touch. I was flattered by his attention and enjoyed keeping up with him, but secretly my feelings were mostly of friendship, not romance.

We kept up the conversation for weeks, and he even drove all the way out to my parents’ home to visit. Afterwards, I felt mostly guilt and confusion. He was a wonderful person, but I didn’t want to be more than friends. There were a few more weeks of summer left, and I agonized over what to do. Should I wait to say anything until we were both back on campus? Begin to text him less often? Ignore my feelings and carry on as normal?

In the end, I knew silence on my part would be leading him on. Although it would have been much better to converse in person, the distance made it impossible. I drafted an it’s-not-you-it’s-me message and sent it off. Immediately, my heart felt a million times lighter. I regretted any hurt I had caused him, but I knew that opening this tough conversation was the right thing to do. He responded graciously and had a few questions for me, but in the end, I felt the resolution was peaceful.

Looking back, I only wish I had brought up this tough conversation earlier. And maybe I should have made the drive to have it in person! A hard conversation doesn’t need to be about ending the relationship; it can be anything that’s causing you anxiety. A hard conversation is probably something you’re tempted to discuss with other people instead of with your significant other. The voice of Proverbs again reminds us to choose truth, honesty, and wisdom (Proverbs 19:1, 8, 9, 22). Even for difficult conversations, truth spoken in love always wins.

 

Each of these lessons represents a time in my life that was unpleasant to walk through. They were slightly awkward, slightly exciting, slightly terrifying seasons of my life. That pretty much defines dating, right?

The good news is, God is with us through it all, and He can use every season and every relationship for His glory. So clarify your dating purpose, ask for wisdom from those around you, and don’t be afraid of difficult conversations.

There’s a million other lessons to be learned about what godly relationships look like—but I’ll leave a few for you to figure out!

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a 3-part series on Relationships. Check out the other two articles, “Should I Stay Single?” and “Have We Missed the Point of Marriage?” for more perspectives.

How Can We Date with No Regrets?

Written By John Stange, USA

John Stange lives in Langhorne, PA where he serves as the lead pastor of Core Creek Community Church. He also directs the National Mission Board (an organization focused on church planting and church health), and teaches at Cairn University. John and his wife Andrea have four children. He can be reached through his website at DesireJesus.com.

My son is a lot like me. We have similar personalities, preferences, and tastes in music—we even have the same name. One other trait we both share is staying up later than we should most nights of the week. But since we both tend to do that, we’ve turned it into a time to talk or hang out for a little bit before calling it a night.

Last night, our conversation centered around dating. I think he got a kick out of hearing me tell him how I tried to win over his mother. I reminded him, “You should be glad I won her over. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

One aspect of dating that we discussed was “dating with a clear conscience.” I imagine that is a struggle for un-married believers of all ages. There is so much ambiguity in a relationship caught between simply “getting to know each other” and potentially planning a forever-future where you’re joined together as one.

Even though Christ has enabled us to begin seeing life with His eyes, we still struggle with the pervasive presence of temptation. We’re frequently tempted to take our lives in a direction that violates our conscience and produces regret.

So how can we date with a clear conscience? How can we keep our minds on Christ when we’re smitten with, or attracted to, a potential future spouse?

 

 1. Understand who you are in Christ

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)

When we’re dating, it’s particularly important to remember the new identity Christ has given us. Before knowing Him, our identity was tied to who we were in the flesh.  Now, through Christ, we have been made a new creation, with a new nature, and a new future that He has secured on our behalf.

Many couples mistakenly try to find their sense of identity in their relationship with each other, instead of their relationship with Jesus. And if that happens, any relationship we have will quickly become an unhealthy idol instead of a blessing. Overall, remembering who we are in Christ will help us see our relationships from the right perspective, and help keep our focus on honoring God in all of our ways.

 

2. Be selective about the diet you feed your mind

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)

We don’t just feed our bodies each day, but we also feed our minds. What does your mental diet primarily consist of? Are you reading Scripture and good books, or spending hours on Instagram? Are you regularly seeking to be entertained or aroused by sensual imagery on TV, in movies, or online?

Whatever we feed our minds, we will see emerge in our life, and especially in romantic relationships. With a poor diet, we might struggle more with lust, temptation, and acting or thinking in ways that are not upright. But in the same way, if we’re careful to feed our mind with God’s Word, we can be quicker to redirect our thoughts and desires to what is good (Philippians 4:8). This habit remains vital, even when the relationship progresses beyond dating. I’ve found that always pivoting my mind’s wanderings back to things of God is good for me, the health of my marriage, and the well-being of my wife!

 

 3. Talk about boundaries with the person you’re dating

The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. (Proverbs 22:3)

A few months into dating my wife, she was convinced I was about to break up with her. I was shocked because that was the furthest thing from my mind. She admitted to me that she noticed I didn’t kiss her, hold her hand, or put my arm around her as much as I did when we first started dating, and she wanted to know why.

I guess I should have explained myself to her ahead of time, but early in our relationship, I realized we were very likely going to get married, and I was concerned that if I allowed myself to become too affectionate physically, I might fall into temptation and sin against her.

As you can imagine, she was grateful to finally learn what prompted my behavior. She still tells me that she respects the way I carried myself during our dating years, and as our relationship progressed, we were both grateful for laying out expectations early on. It kept us alert to potential temptations, and enabled us to work together to avoid them.

 

For Christians who truly desire to bring God glory through their lives, actions and relationships, dating can be a difficult space to navigate. But it’s not impossible, and dating with a clear conscience is worth striving for. And we are blessed with God’s Word and His Spirit, which equip us to live in a way that’s pleasing to Him (Hebrews 13:20-21). So in all things—especially in dating—let us strive to love God by living with a clear conscience!

3 Questions to Ask When You’re Dating

Dating can be such a thrilling adventure, especially since it might possibly lead to marriage! However, before we even step into a relationship, there may be many questions in our minds. For instance, how can I know that I’m ready for a relationship?

While I don’t claim to be an expert, here are three qualities that I have found to be foundational in my own relationship, and I hope they will point you in the right direction.

 

 1. Are They Good-Looking or Looking at God?

What attracts you to someone? Is it their physical appearance? Character? Personality? Career?  I’m sure you can add a few more items to the long list of traits that might attract us to another person. But if we dig deeper, we know that none of these things on their own can sustain a relationship in the long-term. As Christians, we must look for something much more important: whether Christ is the director of their life.

When I first met my fiancé Brian, I wasn’t entirely attracted to him. I thought he looked kinda cute, but hardly gave him a second thought after our first encounter. However, over the next few weeks of working in the church office (we were both interns at the time), sharing break time together, and sneaking conversations over work tasks, I began to see his passion for the gospel and his desire to spread it wherever he went. This was very much in line with my own desire and calling in life—I have felt a burden for foreign missions for the past several years.

As the months went on, I came to develop a deep admiration for Brian—for his dedication and loyalty to Jesus. Since then, my romantic interest in him also started building, and I became deeply attracted to him. Safe to say, I was falling in love. As it turns out, he was too.

So, my relationship with Brian didn’t happen the way most people expect. Instead of being brought together by a physical or personality attraction, it was his dependency on Christ as the author of his life that drew me to him. I found that attraction to the other traits followed close after.

 

2. Are There Opportunities for Healthy Growth?

We’ve all probably heard the words “love is a not a fairytale.” Which is true, because for any relationship to succeed, it takes work, effort, and sacrifice. Feelings are not strong enough to get a couple through all of that. No matter how strongly in love or “mushy” a couple is . . . feelings change.

There are days when we have arguments, disagreements, or opposing views, and it can cause both of us to question whether God really did mean for us to be together. In those times, it is especially important to be on guard against frustration, anger, impatience, and even self-righteousness.

As we worked through these challenges, we’ve learned to make room for God to mold and shape our hearts. We’ve learned to allow these circumstances to catapult us toward prayer and seeking counsel in the Word, as well as from seasoned believers. It’s now our prayer that we will have the humility to accept the Spirit’s conviction and to obey whatever the Lord places on our hearts.

The inevitable difficulties and trials in a relationship demand more than simply being head-over-heels for each other. Ultimately, we need our common foundation in Christ to help us see how we can become a good team, complement each other, and most importantly, become more Christ-like through the entire process.

When we are both drawn to Christ and to helping each other be more like Him, we don’t need to fear attacks—for we know that even during  periods of trial and testing, God is working to sanctify us and make us holy (Philippians 1:6).

 

3. Do Your Differences Divide or Complement?

Brian and I could not be any more different. I am an outspoken, strong-willed, at times fierce, free-spirited woman from the jungle in central Mexico. He is a reserved, thoughtful, strong, silent man from metropolitan Hong Kong. The comments about how different we seem never cease, and we laugh because others don’t even know the half of it.

Of course, sometimes these comments can be discouraging, especially when we hear others tell us that we won’t be a good fit, or would mostly likely end up having a catastrophic relationship because of our differences.

For Brian and I, we are reminded that in the early times of the Apostles, the Spirit of God brought together multiple nationalities and people of different cultures and languages in birthing the Church (Acts 2). And we know that at the end of the day, it is not culture and traditions that would carry on into eternity, but what we do in obedience to the Lord.

Just as diversity in the body of Christ allows it to work so effectively (1 Corinthians 12:12-14), we believe the same applies to marriage. Together, Brian and I have discovered that we complement each other with our strengths and weaknesses, and are able to reach a wider range of people in our international surroundings because of this multicultural relationship we have been given.

Having said that, we also believe it’s important to be humble and seek God with an open mind, especially if trusted friends or family raise concerns about a relationship. Sometimes these concerns are unfounded, while other times people outside of the relationship may have a clearer perspective.

One instance where having outside input was helpful was when one of my spiritual mothers gently shared that I needed to be more patient and understanding of Brian’s Chinese upbringing and less stubborn about only doing things according to my culture. Another time was when one of Brian’s close friends helped him realise how he needed to grow in boldness as the leader of our relationship, especially when times get hard. These insights have helped the both of us see our own blind spots, and enabled us to grow in the way we relate to and love each other.

It is important for us to always examine the differences we have with our partner, and seek God to understand whether these help us sharpen one another, or whether they will create a division in the relationship.

 

It is often easy to seek fulfilment and purpose in a significant other. But we know that ultimately, nobody can meet our needs the way God can. Whatever our circumstances, we belong first and foremost to God. He loves us like no one else will, and values us like no other (Matthew 10:29-31). In every step of our relationships, let us not chase after what the world values, but instead seek to please God.

As you consider dating or entering a relationship, don’t panic or worry over how you’ll handle it. Pray about it, and ask God to bless you with wisdom, strength, and guidance. Surround yourself with godly counsel and couples who will be able to help you navigate the challenges you might face. Take this opportunity to trust in Him more, know Him better, and He will show you the way you are to walk in because He is a faithful God.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a two-part series on dating and marriage. If you’re considering taking your relationship to the next level and wondering if you’re ready for marriage, read the second part of the series here

4 Ways to Navigate A Painful Break-Up

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

Heartbreak. Tears. A break-up you never saw coming.

Do you remember it? The moment your heart was shattered into a million pieces? The place you were at? The time of day? The weather outside?

It’s funny how sometimes we can remember such vivid details.

I was sitting in my car, waiting to meet my mother for coffee. The weather was partly cloudy—a brisk fall morning. Perfect for a coffee date at my favorite spot. While I was waiting, my boyfriend at the time asked if he could call me. I had just driven five hours home after spending the weekend with him. Everything was great, or so I thought. Until the call. “I can’t do this anymore,” he told me.

Wait, what?

I had been fine when I talked to my mom roughly 10 minutes ago, but by the time she arrived to meet me, I was a mess. My sudden change confused her. Well, surprise! I just had a break-up I never saw coming.

Break-ups can be hard. They can be messy. Picking up the pieces of what you thought could have been forever can be incredibly hard. Moving on seems impossible. I know. I’ve been there. Your heart feels empty.

But in the days after the break-up, I found comfort in Jeremiah 31:4. God tells the nation of Israel, “I will build you up again, and you . . . will be rebuilt.” God promised to rebuild Israel, to give her direction, hope, peace and love. Surely, He will watch over me the same way. Even if I feel like a wreck, God can fill those empty, lonely places in my heart. You know those pieces of our hearts lying on the floor, broken? God can build those pieces into something incredible. I know because I’ve been there.

But it takes time to recover. It doesn’t happen overnight. How do you muster up the strength to accept what is and move forward in the immediate aftermath? Here are four things that helped me on that journey.

 

1. Know your worth

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God created us in His own image, for His wonderful purposes (Ephesians 2:10). Though people around us might disrespect us or question our worth, we know that we are bought by the blood of Christ. Is there any greater comfort than knowing how very much God Himself values us?

 

2. Enjoy your own company

You don’t have to have someone to go out on dates with to be happy. Spend time with yourself, get to know yourself better. Go on road trips. Go out for coffee. Read. Journal. Find your passion and do more of that.

There is beauty in this season where you are not committed to someone else. You have a unique time to grow as an individual, and more importantly, in your relationship with Christ. There will perhaps be times you feel lonely and might yearn for a relationship. But remember, God is always there, and He can fill those spaces in our hearts with a love that’s greater than any we will experience on this earth.

 

3. Surround yourself with the right people

They say you become who you surround yourself with. Are you surrounding yourself with people who will ask you the right questions, encourage you in your journey, and support you as you walk this road? Friends need to know how to have fun together (ice skating, game nights, etc). But they also need to know how to challenge and grow one another. Be sure you’re aware of who you’re spending your time with and how it affects you.

 

4. Forgive and seek forgiveness

If someone hurt you, lied to you, cheated on you, or ghosted you, don’t stew on it. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God has wonderful things in store for you, but you won’t see it if you’re too busy remembering past wrongs. If you have been hurt, ask God to give you the strength to forgive and move on.

On the flip side, what if it was my fault? What if I lied, I cheated, I hurt someone that cared deeply about me? Then pray and ask God for forgiveness. If appropriate, also ask forgiveness from the person you hurt. Even though they may or may not give it, we need to remember that ultimately, we are not accountable for other people’s actions. We are accountable for our own. Ask God to continue working in your life and bring about healing.

 

Break-ups hurt. And healing takes time. I won’t even admit to you how long it took me to realize that simple fact, because it was far too long. But in the long process of healing, we know that God is continually renewing us, day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). He is here. He is never leaving or forsaking us. He is filling the pieces in our hearts that grasp and yearn for something that only He can provide—His unconditional and unfailing love.

God’s love for us is so much better than we can ever imagine. He will walk with us as we recover from a break-up. His love will fill us, whether we end up single or married. Resting in His love, peace, and assurance is so much better than any “happily ever after” in the movies.

In this post-break-up season, I have struggled with pain, insecurities, and doubt. But the Lord has also taught me to lean on and depend on Him completely, to rest in the promise that He is good and that He is working everything together for my good, regardless of how messy it has been (Romans 8:28).

If you have ever experienced or are currently in the process of a break-up, I pray for God’s comfort and healing in your life. I know things are difficult now, but God is with you. I pray that, like me, you will come to experience how much we are loved by God, who died so that we could live. And that’s a love that is irreplaceable.