Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter.  Cycles, seasons, changes – good and bad, death and life – each season and cycle following the Divine Master’s plan. Each change and transition happens consistently, yet each is different and unique. One spring it’s cold and rainy, the next warm and sunny. How we act and dress in each season depends on the weather; no one wears wool pea-coats or heavy jackets all year round, yet that is exactly how a lot of Christians approach dating and marriage.  We want a one-size-fits-all-seasons approach.

The only thing consistent about seasons and weather is that there are seasons and weather and the only thing consistent with relationships is that we have them. Relationships are as different and unique as the people in them, so why do we try to approach them all in the same way?

Not One-Size-Fits-All

Whether you gave dating a chancekissed it goodbyelet God write your love story or put boundaries in dating, you know the differing and at times polar opposite views under the Christian umbrella on how to do and have relationships with the opposite gender.  Which one is right?  How can there be so many different ways to approach a system that we all hope will lead to marriage?

As Mark Driscoll says, “Religious people like tidy answers to messy lives”. We want nice, neat answers to complicated, messy life situations because we don’t want to get our hands dirty, our hearts hurt, or take the time to seek the Lord about the situation.

If we seek the Lord for the best way to glorify Him in each individual relationship, we have to take responsibility for our relationships rather than placing our trust in systems of thought about doing relationships. We follow the principles laid out in books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and turn them into “laws” because we all want to find a formula that works for relationships. There is nothing wrong with wanting that – but at the same time, I’m getting rather hot in this jacket and it’s only June.

The messy questions without formula answers are many. “Does the guy really need to be the spiritual head of the house? If he loves the Lord in his own way is that okay?” Leadership takes a lot of different forms, and each guy is different. Each woman will be a different type of helpmeet to her man, and might not look like the “formulas”.

“She says she believes.”  Is that enough? Scripture says that even the demons believe. Can believers be unequally yoked?

“Where’s the balance between guarding our hearts for our future spouses and opening them enough to let others in to see if they might be that very spouse?” Jesus spent His life for others; He hurt, He was vulnerable. Yet we shouldn’t foolishly squander our affections either.

“Can you make God the center of something and still not let Him lead it?”  Check out the story of Sarah, Abraham and Hagar in Genesis 16.

“We did everything right and it didn’t end in marriage. Why? Was our courtship a failure?” No, it was a success—even if that’s not how everyone else sees it.

These are just a few of the many and varied quandaries of independent, Jesus-seeking young adults. Guidelines turned laws and grace turned commandments don’t work in the practicalFollowing clear direct guidelines and principles makes life easier till we dig a bit deeper and see the complexity of people, situations and stories.

Guidelines turned laws don't work in the practical... @NotUnredeemed on @YLCF

I wish the Bible made some areas more clear, or that God would write in the sky “date/court so-and-so, but not so-and-so”.  But what if He had? Would we still seek Him as much? Hasn’t He given us everything we need for life and godliness already? (2 Peter 1:3)

He has: through the grace that abolished and fulfilled all the laws in Jesus Christ and by leaving His Holy Spirit to guide and direct us now. What if we approached dating/courting through and by the leading of the Holy Spirit? I’m not saying throw out all the principles and guidelines – most of them are godly and necessary – I’m simply suggesting inviting the Holy Spirit into the mix. He’s the only formula we need!

Photo Credit: Canoneer Productions

Responsibility

Reading the latest Christian dating book and applying it? That’s easy. Hearing clear guidance from the Lord about a relationship you’re in? Not so easy. Here’s the thing about grace, freedom and applying them to seeking the Lord on relationships – it’s hard work, and it’s scary. It’s scary because we are now responsible for it. We can’t rely on the principles of others but must instead have a close enough walk with the Lord that we are willing to hear from Him. Inviting the Lord into specific relationships with people, bringing Him into the gray areas, asking Him the questions that only you and He can answer together is hard work.

If things go wrong we love blaming the system – “Courting doesn’t work!” or “Dating doesn’t work!” Whoever said they would?

When we listen to the Holy Spirit we have to take responsibility for our own approaches to relationships. Saying “I think God is telling me to…” means that I have to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the Lord calling me to take that stand, in order to hold firm to it.

Yet the hard balance is that God wants us to hear from Him, but at the same time doesn’t want us making it our own thing. The grace and freedom that comes from letting the Holy Spirit guide is not to be taken lightly and abused or it too turns right back into another law.

Grace interpreted as a principle…grace at a low cost, is in the last resort simply a new law, which brings neither help nor freedom. Grace as a living word…as our comfort in tribulation and as a summons to discipleship, costly grace is the only pure grace…”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, page 53

Living in grace and freedom within relationships is costly; it’s not a cheap grace. Why? Because to receive it we must go face to face with our Lord. It’s not a simple list of do’s and don’ts but a call: “Seek Me”.  Answering that call doesn’t mean He lays it all out for us – it means we get Him in the process.  It could mean loving and getting nothing in return, saying no to a relationship that looks perfect, waiting, or stepping out on a limb and taking a risk.

It's not a simple list of dos and don'ts but a call: Seek Me - @NotUnredeemed at @YLCF

What if we hear wrong? Isn’t the Lord bigger than all of our mistakes? Not just the simple easy-to-define mistakes – but the complicated gray areas too? Isn’t that why He came? Learning to hear from Him is a process – it’s a muscle that grows with use. We will never learn to hear from Him if we never ask to. The Lord confirms His word to us through His Word, His Spirit and other believers. When these three things are in agreement, we can be sure it’s the Spirit is leading us, not just our own desires.

When all we do is come to Him asking for the answers to our questions we only get more questions. When we seek Him for Who He is, suddenly the answers are there with a peace and a knowledge of what we are to do.  Need wisdom and discernment? Is He not Wisdom? Is He not Discernment? Seek Him!

Perhaps the formulas and methods aren’t working and there is no writing in the sky because He is ultimately more concerned with us seeking Him? Next time you are faced with a relationship decision try seeking Him for who He is and inviting the Holy Spirit to lead and see what happens. Buckle your seat belt and take off your jacket—the adventure is just beginning!

Photo Credit: Canoneer Productions

30 Comments

  1. Good stuff! 🙂 (I loovvee the picture too!) Yeah when you’re dealing with two people’s personalities coming together you’re going to get a relationship that’s different every time. Trying to make it fit a law or formula is like making a square peg fit in a round hole. But God knows each person and seeking Him in what the relationship is the best idea. He knows if it’s a square or octagon! Ha! But so much is conceptual until you get out there and get messy! Thanks Katie <3

    1. I like the illustration of the square peg and round hole. 🙂 Love you girl! <3

    2. and thanks! The picture is of some dear friends of mine who met while we were all at school together in CO. They got married last summer. 🙂

  2. Wonderful post! Such a tough issue. I have been really pursuing this matter in prayer lately. Follow Him!

  3. “The Lord confirms His word to us through His Word, His Spirit and other believers. When these three things are in agreement, we can be sure it’s the Spirit is leading us, not just our own desires.”

    I agree- when ALL three are in agreement and it seems there is a clear green light with no red flags… then God is most definitely leading you. Don’t be afraid to trust Him! 🙂

      1. Yes! Always 🙂 And when I trust Him, I have a peace like none other…

  4. Megan Abbott says:

    Thanks so much for this article! It’s so true. So I have a kinda complicated question — I thought that this was exactly what I did in a relationship that I had, and I was 100% sure that God was leading me to be in a relationship with this guy. I did seek Him about it very diligently, and I felt just completely, totally sure that I was doing His will by being in this relationship, and it seemed He spoke to me every step of the way showing me that I was in His will. He did give me wisdom & peace when I asked for it, and His Word, His Spirit and other believers were in agreement. Then the guy breaks up with me out of the blue. Does that mean I *wasn’t* led by God to be in that relationship? Did I “mis-hear” God’s voice? Or not hear it at all? Was I deceived in thinking it was God’s best because that was what I wanted? Or…..was it maybe God’s will for that season of my life & to teach me some great lessons, but now it’s no longer His will? I just get so confused trying to fit what it seemed God had showed me, into how things have turned out so far. And obviously there’s a lot of specifics that I’m not sharing that could tie into it 🙂 and obviously the whole story hasn’t been told yet. 🙂 I know that I just have to wait to see what God will do & not worry about how things will play out, but instead focus on Who He is…..but I just wondered if you had any insight into situations like mine, when you are 100% sure that you have heard from Him about your relationship…….and then it crashes & burns instead. Like when God gives you a green light….and then a red light and you’re left confused because you thought you were in His will. Maybe it’s really a theological question instead of a relationship question…..maybe I should ask a seminary professor instead haha. 🙂

    1. It sounds like it wasn’t through any fault of your own… and I know of a few couples who had ‘broken’ courtships and yet it wasn’t a complete loss because they learned and grew and took something away from the experience.
      How long was the relationship being pursued?
      Were you both sure of God’s will when you went into it?
      If you had the support of your families, friends, mentors etc.. and it seemed like a clear green light, then I can’t see any reason that it wasn’t God’s will. Sometimes God takes us through heartache to teach us and grow us.. as painful as that can be.
      But I’m sure that’s easier said than experienced =/

      1. Megan Abbott says:

        @S.G. – Oh I did have many faults in the relationship & I made quite a few mistakes! We were both young & stupid. I wasn’t really asking the reason we broke up though, I have already figured out things we could have done to prevent that. :)) But do our own failures change God’s will? If He really did want us together & it was His will, isn’t He strong enough to keep us together and help us to work through our mistakes & do miracles? If He tells you one thing, why does it seem kinda like He turns around & changes His mind? And no, it definitely was not a complete loss in the least! I have learned incredible lessons I couldn’t have learned otherwise! The pain has made me so much stronger & closer to God. And yes, it’s much, much harder to live through, than to talk about (especially if you haven’t experienced anything of the sort)……..but in the end, God. Is. Faithful. 🙂

        1. I don’t know that I could answer your questions… some things have to wait until heaven. But I don’t think you went against God’s will, so to speak…
          You know, how sometimes a couple gets married and then one suddenly dies tragically or something happens unexpectedly? Despite the tragic loss and heartache and grief, it was still God’s will for them to marry. There are just so many unknowns in life… God knows the number of our years but because our life here on earth is not perfect, things happen. Things out of our control.

          I’m sure your experience has helped you become more like Jesus and perhaps that was God’s reason for letting you go through that.

          Praying for you and praying the pain has lessened!

          1. Megan Abbott says:

            Thank you. =) I know someday it will all make sense to me, even if it’s in Heaven; and that getting the answer to my questions is not anywhere near as important as getting to know God & loving Him. The painfulness is much better most of the time; thank you so much for praying for me & God bless you! =)

          2. S.G. thank you for chiming in. you’re right – it already sounds like God is using this in Megan’s life to make her more like Him!

    2. Megan – I wish I could hug you! My heart goes out to you in a big way. I’ve been there and feel like I might be heading there again. I don’t think you heard wrong (from the sounds of it) or were wrong to go ahead in the relationship. God can still lead us into things and then they end. It’s not that He wasn’t leading us – it’s that the purpose of the how and why He was leading is, is a bit different from what we assumed it would be. Several years ago I felt the green light to enter into a relationship and we did a lot of things right. Yet it didn’t end in marriage – I was heart broken and felt like such a failure and so confused by the Lord. Didn’t He lead me into this?! Why is he leaving me here?

      He did lead me into it – but it was for a different purpose than I thought. Through that broken relationship the Lord gave me a heart and a passion to help realize their identity in Christ and how it effects their relationships. (I’ll actually be writing on this in July for YLCF – more of the full story, stay tuned!)

      another thing the Lord did was use our relationship to challenge and grow the guy I was dating. I spent many months in heart wrenching prayer for him and I got the unique privilege later on to see how He had grown into more of the godly man I always knew he could be.

      And in the process I got more of the Lord than I ever could have imagined! Elisabeth Elliot says

      “We may be earnestly desiring to be obedient and holy. But we may be missing the fact that it is here, where we happen to be at this moment and not in another place or another time, that we may learn to love Him- here where it seems He is not at work, where His will seems obscure or frightening, where He is not doing what we expect Him to do, where He is most absent. Here and nowhere else is the appointed place. If faith does not work here, it will not work at all.” Elisabeth Elliot – Loneliness pg 22

      and

      “If God had eliminated the problem He would have eliminated the particular kind of blessings which it bears.” Elisabeth Elliot Loneliness pg 46

      I am praying for you! Keep on keeping on – and keep seeking the Lord. He will bring understanding or peace.
      -K

      1. Megan Abbott says:

        Thank you Katie, that’s very comforting & encouraging. =) I guess it’s like the verse that says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” and that our purposes aren’t always his purposes but He works it all together for good in the end. Yes I know a lot about that heart-wrenching prayer & I know this guy is going to grow into even more of a strong Godly man than he already is — he’s already amazing but I know God’s not finished with him yet. Or with me, either. =) I will keep trusting Him & keep walking with Him regardless of what comes my way. Thank you so much for your reply, it has brightened my day! May God bless you richly! =)

  5. I’m just getting a chance to read this and I want to weep. This is perfect, Katie, “spirit-led” from beginning to end. xxoxx

  6. Hi Katie,
    Thanks for sharing.how do we “seek him for who he is”? i dont understand that.

    1. Omoze,
      Thanks for your question! I think seeking Him for who He is begins with seeking the Lord himself instead of just for answers. We often go to God only when we need something. Rather than just because we love Him. It’s like if you only talked to your friend when you needed something – rather than sharing life with that friend. I heard a quote the other day that said the mark of a true friendship is someone we share our joys with – not just our sorrows. Do we tell the Lord the good things that happened in our day? Or do we only ask Him for what we need?

      The other part of seeking Him for who He is – is actively getting to know the Lord. Do a study on a part of His character you want to know more about – His holiness, His love, His faithfulness… etc. The simplest way to do that is to just look up verses on those (love, faithfulness etc…) One of the other gals who writes here just did a series on her blog about how to study the word – you might find it helpful! http://natashametzler.com/category/living-for-him/dig-deeper-series/

      I hope that makes a little more sense? Please feel free to continue to dialog with me on this as I’m not sure I fully answered you 🙂 Blessings!

      1. Thank you Katie.
        your responce was right on point and i thank God for you.remain blessed

  7. Anonymous says:

    Some good advice here and I do believe that we need to be careful to not fall into the “one size fits all” relationship situation.
    However, I fully believe that when God is calling someone into a relationship, it will be quite clear after seeking Him, asking for wisdom, advice and counsel. I’m an advocate of having the parents be involved- both sides if possible. After all, it is a joining of two families!

    “She says she believes.” Is that enough? Scripture says that even the demons believe. Can believers be unequally yoked?”

    This really caught my attention. If I were to answer that question for myself, I would say NO. Belief isn’t enough. It’s daily actions, and fruit that comes from living one’s life solely for God that shows. Anyone can say they believe in God… but don’t be fooled by words. And if the guy or gal changes their tune and seems to be overly “spiritual” when they are around you, be careful… that person might just be trying to win you over and not entirely sincere in their walk with God.

    Girls, be careful. We are responsible for our relationships choices. Don’t compromise your morals, beliefs and values but don’t think you will find a “perfect” man either because there are none. We are all sinners, saved by grace… all have faults and weaknesses.
    Take your time and remember God’s timing is always best. Seek His face always and He will never lead you astray. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I so agree. 🙂 Godly parents or a a godly couple you can trust are so important in the process!! And The belief question is one that many of my girls have asked me in one way or an other and as I wrestled through it for myself, came to the same conclusion as you did 🙂

      1. Anonymous says:

        I’ve wrestled with it myself and came to realize that it truly is the fruit that matters… in my life as well as in anyone else’s life 🙂
        I’m glad we agree!

  8. Amen, amen, amen! Beautiful and clear and so very true. Forwarding to my little sisters. 🙂

    1. Thanks Jennifer 🙂 Praying both of our little sisters will be able to glean from our lessons!

  9. You might find my blog of interest where I critique Josh Harris’s book.

    http://www.ikdg.wordpress.com
    I Kissed Dating Goodbye: Wisdom or Foolishness?

    Unfortunately Josh Harris is quick to point out the problems with dating but reluctant to share any of the problems with his approach.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Steve,
      Thank you, I definitely understand the frustrations from IKDG. I am trying to encourage believers to seek the Lord on their relationships and most “methods” have good and bad in them – it’s our sin nature that makes things legalism and takes them to the extreme (like people did with Harris’s book). He was addressing the opposite extreme in his book and people then took his book to far the other way. The issue isn’t Harris or Henry Cloud, but our hearts.

  10. This is so good and an understanding I didn’t gain until I found myself in a ‘relationship’ that didn’t look like what I had seen in any book. But now I realize that each situation is different and the Lord directs each one. To think I would be missing out because I wanted to follow someone’s set of ‘laws’, and not the Lord’s, is a sad thought indeed. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Sunny! Most of this came out of lessons I learned while I too was in a relationship that was nothing like any of the books that I had read and the Lord showed me I was using “formulas” out of fear rather than letting Him lead me in love. Same principles – totally different perpective on them!

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