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?
Whether you gave dating a chance, kissed it goodbye, let 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 practical. Following clear direct guidelines and principles makes life easier till we dig a bit deeper and see the complexity of people, situations and stories.
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!
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.
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!
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