Three Important Environments for Marriage Preparation

One of the most consistent themes that emerges in counseling young couples, especially in the critical first five years, is the dramatic difference between the time and money that was invested in their wedding compared to the time and money that was invested in preparing for the rest of their lives together as husband and wife. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is somewhere around $25,000. Engaged couples and their parents will typically spend hours lining up venues, making decisions about florists, photographers, websites, and invitations, and pondering the details of a ceremony that typically lasts about 25 minutes. Yet only a very small fraction of their (or their parents’) time and money is typically invested in preparing for the next 40+ years that they will, by God’s mercy, spend together as husband and wife.

Sometime between the end of the honeymoon and the end of the first year of marriage, the hard work of becoming “one flesh” with another sinful human being will begin. Newlyweds begin to realize that they married a sinner and often wonder what they have gotten themselves into. Unmet expectations of marriage or of one’s spouse frequently sets in, with the inevitable fruit of resentment, bitterness and anger. Once intoxicated with each other, husbands and wives become toxic for each other — and intimacy at all levels falters. A marriage that lacks true spiritual intimacy between both partners and the Lord will fail to achieve true intimacy in any other respect. Conversely, a strong Christian marriage illustrates the gospel and lives out its implications through a depth of intimacy that unbelievers cannot fathom.

What these couples need is not a few sessions to plan out the wedding with a little talk on communication, sex and conflict resolution thrown in. Rather, they need to be shown and taught that marriage is not about them, but about God. They need to be shown that marriage is a picture of God and the gospel. They need to be reminded that they are part of the bride of Christ, if they are believers. And that means that God is joyfully and covenantally bound in a very hard marriage to an unfaithful spouse. This God who has loved us, saved us, redeemed us, forgiven us, justified us, and adopted us has also called us to go and do likewise. Marriage is a laboratory for learning to get more of Christ by practicing Christ-likeness (humility, sacrifice, love, forgiveness, patience, kindness, etc.) in the context of a relationship with another person. My experience in counseling couples is that most of them have seldom, if ever, seen this kind of relationship lived out prior to saying, “I do.”

The church should encourage couples to enter environments where they can experience the messiness of marriage lived out in God-glorifying ways in the daily grind, where their hearts can be exposed and their expectations aligned with the Lord’s. I suggest three important gospel environments as incubators for the development of Christ-centered marriages: a multi-generational group environment, a mentoring environment, and a counseling environment.

A Multi-Generational Group Environment. A primary need of engaged couples is to establish critical lines of support as they build on their relationship with the Lord and each other.  They need gospel community with other Christian couples and families at multiple stages of life. Multi-generational home groups, ministry teams, Sunday school classes, or other small-group settings provide an environment for relationships to form between engaged or pre-engaged couples and couples who are more seasoned in marriage. Such groups can and should be a safe place to be encouraged and challenged, to speak the truth in love and to have the truth lovingly spoken back, and to invite others into our lives and be invited into theirs.

A group environment is an ideal place to begin to practice the one-anothers that should define grace-giving relationships. Gospel-centered community in a multi-generational context should be the centerpiece of the church’s ministry to couples preparing for marriage, and should be used to promote, facilitate, and provide accountability for the mentoring and counseling aspects of the ministry. For example, in my church, we encourage everyone to be involved in one of several hundred HomeGroups that meet weekly in members’ homes. Usually, when a couple in our church becomes engaged or seriously begins talking about marriage, they are already involved in a HomeGroup (either together or separately). But if they aren’t, this is the first environment we are going to point them toward where they can know others and be known by others. We will then ask their HomeGroup leaders to help them find a premarital mentor couple through the church and to help us discern if there are issues present that might require even more intensive premarital counseling with a biblical counselor.

A Mentoring Environment. While I recommend that every Christian couple preparing for marriage be involved in a gospel-centered community such as a small group, a Sunday School class or a Bible study fellowship, I also believe that every couple needs more intensive discipleship in learning to apply the gospel to their relationship. I suggest that churches raise up and equip mentor couples to walk alongside engaged or pre-engaged couples using a resource such as John Henderson’s excellent book, Catching Foxes. Couples should meet regularly (I usually suggest weekly) in informal settings like the mentor couple’s home or a coffee shop with their mentor couple for at least 10-12 weeks prior to the wedding and talk frankly and in-depth about subjects such as the meaning of marriage, the sacredness of the marriage covenant, the complementary roles of men and women, conflict and how to resolve it biblically, sex, money, and expectations.

Our church uses the Catching Foxes format of twelve sessions prior to the wedding, with three follow-up sessions at various intervals up to a year after the wedding. Sometimes the mentor couple is also the engaged couple’s HomeGroup leaders, but more often than not they aren’t. Either way, the mentor couple is a mature couple that has been vetted and trained by church leadership for this specific ministry. A couple serving in this role must be trusted by church leadership to help an engaged or pre-engaged couple prepare well for marriage — including sometimes making the determination of whether the couple is ready for marriage. In many cases, premarital mentoring is sufficient preparation for marriage. But in many other cases, either the multi-gen group environment or the mentoring environment will bring out the need for a further marriage preparation environment — a season of more intensive counseling with a trained biblical counselor.

A Biblical Counseling Environment. Often, in the course of walking with a couple in a group environment or a mentoring environment, more significant heart issues or important factors such as previous marriages, children from previous relationships, cohabitation, serious illness, addiction, or other issues of sin and suffering are revealed. In these cases, it is often wise to recommend that the couple meet with a trained biblical counselor for a season in addition to their group and premarital mentors. I recommend that churches have access to a referral base of vetted and trusted biblical counselors (such as ABC’s Biblical Counseling Network) to whom they can refer couples when their premarital mentors are in over their heads. In some cases, the counselor will just fill the same function as the premarital mentor — going through a resource such as Catching Foxes with the couple while also working to address the more significant areas of sin and suffering that have been presented. In other cases, the counselor will work alongside the premarital mentor couple (with their clients’ written consent) to address these issues. Sometimes couples will choose to meet with a trained biblical counselor instead of a premarital mentor couple simply because they value the added experience that a trained biblical counselor possesses.

Family ministry in the church begins where the family begins – when two young adults commit to each other before God to become one flesh. Young couples need the support, encouragement and training that only the church can provide during this major life transition.  By providing them a group environment, a mentoring environment, and access to a biblical counseling environment when necessary or advisable, the church honors the sacred covenant of marriage and strengthens families for the advance of the gospel of Christ.

Recovering Redemption

A mom home with her four preschoolers got devastating news in the form of a phone call from her husband: “I’m not coming home…ever.” Persistent depression hounded a young pastor since childhood, even after he fell deeply in love with Jesus as a college student. A teenage athlete from a nominally Christian home chased girls, partied, got in fights and generally used his brilliant intellect to disprove the faith his mother had tried to instill. A 32-year-old commercial real-estate high-flier relapsed in drug treatment on New Years Eve at the dawn of the new millennium — divorced, depressed, despondent and desperate for real change. They all longed for change. Maybe like you, or someone you know or counsel, they all needed to know that they weren’t beyond hope.

Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change, by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer, is about how the gospel transforms and redeems the most broken of hearts. Even in many churches in which the power of the gospel to save is boldly proclaimed from the pulpit, the power of the gospel to effect lasting change in marriages, in addictions, and in psychological disorders is often dismissed. We say that we have a “lust problem”, a “communication problem” in our marriage, “anger issues” or the like, instead of recognizing, as Chandler and Snetzer say, that “the heart of all our problems is the problem of all our hearts.” And so, we look for answers in all of the usual places: trying harder to change ourselves, looking to others, escaping into the world, or seeking to earn God’s favor through increased religious effort. Of course, real change is never found through any of these means, but it sure doesn’t keep us from looking for it there. Paul rebuked the Galatians, “Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) And yet, the not-so-subtle message in many churches and “Christian” counseling centers is more like, “the gospel may be mighty to save, but only the wisdom of man can effect lasting change.”

At The Village Church, where Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer both pastor, people like those above, along with scores of others, have found redemption in Christ from sin and suffering through the power of the gospel as described in Recovering Redemption, which is the basis for the church’s recovery groups ministry. In just over 200 road-tested pages, Chandler and Snetzer, the former teenage atheist and the former 32-year-old addict, respectively, unpack an approach to change that is fueled by the gospel. For sure, change begins with a recognition of the gravity of our sin that results in “godly grief” instead of “worldly grief”. Relying heavily on the work of Puritan Thomas Watson in The Doctrine of Repentance, the authors paint a vivid portrait of genuine repentance that leads to genuine change. In the gospel, believers stand in a new identity in which God the judge has declared us righteous and God the Father has declared us His! The chapter on justification and adoption lays essential theological groundwork in an accessible format.

Then the real work of real change begins. And here is where I believe Recovering Redemption separates itself from every other book on this subject. Chapters 6-11 address topics like gospel-driven sanctification (mortification and vivification), dealing with guilt and shame, fighting fear and anxiety, renouncing our former ways, and biblical peacemaking: reconciling, amending, confronting and forgiving. Every biblical counselor, pastor, teacher, elder or church leader who reads these chapters will benefit from the wisdom from God’s Word that is immediately applicable to helping broken people find hope and healing through the gospel. Laced with stories of real individuals whose lives have been redeemed by the power of the gospel through The Village Church’s recovery groups ministry, Recovering Redemption is a book of hope for those who long for redemption and for those who long to help others find it.

A Biblical Anatomy of Conflict

Sadly, when many of the couples I counsel first enter my office, conflict is frequent and often volatile. Sometimes, the issues couples fight over are so minor that they can’t even remember the cause of the fight by the time they come to counseling. Still, the fighting is constant. They are asking, “Why do we fight and quarrel so much?” Fortunately, God foresaw that this would be a common problem, not just in marriage, but among mankind in general. And so the Holy Spirit inspired James, the brother of our Lord, to pose that very question and answer it.

The Cause: Selfish Desires

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1-3)

The reason we have conflict is because we have desires that are opposed to the desires of others, and these desires are so strong that we are willing to sin to get them or keep them or to punish the other person when we’ve been denied them. This willingness to sin can be expressed in a variety of ways, including speaking angrily, hurtfully or spitefully, isolating or withdrawing, rejecting correction or rebuke, blaming, judging — all with the goal of getting what we want. Such behaviors reveal that our desires have become demands to which we now believe we are entitled. Here are a few questions to help those we counsel see the cause of their conflict:

  • What is it that you want so much you would be willing to sin to get it or keep it?
  • What makes you angry about the other person?
  • How do you handle your anger?
  • What do you fear in relationships?
  • What do you do to punish, manipulate or “train” others to give you what you want?
  • Do you invite feedback from others?
  • Would others with whom you are close (spouse, child, friend, etc) say that it is “safe” to speak the truth in love to you?

The Root: Spiritual Adultery Against God

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:4-5)

James takes a hard and somewhat unexpected turn at this point. According to this text, our conflict is actually not horizontal. The horizontal conflict we have with others is rooted in a much deeper vertical reality — we have committed adultery against the holy and righteous God of the universe! Our enemy is not our spouse, our child, our parent, friend, or co-worker. Instead, we have made ourselves God’s enemy! We have fashioned our desires into idols, as evidenced by our willingness to betray God to obtain our selfish cravings, while God yearns for us with a holy jealousy. Ask those you counsel:

  • Whose heart are you asking God to change, the other person’s, or your own?
  • What might God be asking you to let go of so that you can have more of Him?
  • If it is a marital conflict, are you telling God that there is something you can’t stay married without?
  • What are you demanding God give to you?

The Hope: The Gospel

But he gives more grace. (James 4:6a)

Into this dark picture of spiritual adultery and cosmic treason against a holy God, hope comes in its typical form: the gospel. Good news. Recognizing our adultery towards him, when we have made Him our enemy, the Lord extends more grace to us. Scandalous. Life-wrecking. Relationship-altering. Grace. Those five words, “But he gives more grace”, are pivotal to understanding this passage and equally pivotal to our response to conflict in our lives. Once we recognize that our conflict is really with God, that our demands scream that He is not enough and His ways are not going to work, He gives more grace. He points us once again to His cross, bangs the gavel, and pronounces, “Pardoned!” As we receive the gospel, applying it to the sin in our own lives, we can then give gospel love to those with whom we are in relationship. The Bible is full of examples:

  • We can love, “expecting nothing in return,” because God is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (Luke 6:27-36) The gospel frees us from the prison of unmet expectations in relationships.
  • We can hope for reconciliation with those who don’t like us (or whom we don’t like), because Christ reconciled us to Him when we were “still weak”, “ungodly”, “still sinners”, and his “enemies”. (Romans 5:6-10) The gospel is about reconciliation.
  • We can love those who can’t return our love. When God pursued us, we were “dead” in sin, unable to respond to Him at all. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead,” made us alive, raised us up with Christ and seated us with Christ in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 2:1-10) There is no “quid pro quo” in the gospel. In Christ, we can love those who can’t love us back.
  • We can keep loving in the face of persecution, hurt, and unfair treatment. 1 Peter 2:22-24 calls us to follow the example of Jesus, who did not lie, revile, or threaten when he was sinned against. Instead, He “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” In the gospel, we can continue to love the other person — and entrust ourselves to a just and loving God.

How do we counsel others to respond to someone who is “difficult” relationally? How does Jesus respond to us? With more grace.

The Cure: Gospel-Fueled, Humble Submission to God and Repentance

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:6b-10)

The gospel fuels a response of humble submission towards God, which helps us to make war on our sin, draw near to the Lord, repent of our sin and have an eternal perspective which leads to restored relationships with God and others. As we respond in these ways, God promises: (1) His grace, (2) the enemy’s retreat, (3) His presence with us, and ultimately, (4) our exaltation!

  • Be humble. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6b) — I’ve always found this verse to be extremely motivating. Note that God is not indifferent toward the proud, but that He actively opposes them! If we want to receive the grace God desires to give us, we must be willing to take the lowest place by adopting a posture of humility. In our humility, God promises to give us more grace.
  • Submit to God. “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (4:7a) — In our humility, we take a position of submission to God, which means that we do not place desire of our hearts above the desire for Him and His ways. We are no longer willing to sin to get the things that we want. Instead, we are willing to accept what God has for us.
  • Fight sin and temptation. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (4:7b) We have an enemy who is out to steal, kill and destroy us and our relationships. We cannot simply avoid him; we must resist (or stand against) him. As we make war on our sin and stand against our enemy, the Lord promises that he will flee from us.
  • Press into the Lord. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (4:8a) Not only are we called to make war on our sin and resist our enemy; we are also called to press into Christ. Pray. Read, study and meditate on God’s Word. Walk in deep community with fellow believers. As we draw near to Him, he promises to be near to us!
  • Repent. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (4:8b-9) True change only comes through a sober and true appraisal of our sinful condition that results in godly sorrow instead of worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10-13).
  • Have eternal perspective. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (4:10) Such humility may not yield immediate results. A person may spend a lifetime putting another’s needs and desires before his own. Such constant yielding of ourselves can only happen when we fully entrust ourselves to God’s care and rest in His ultimate control. Humility exalts the power, character and sufficiency of God, and He will eternally reward those who follow the path of the cross.

May the Lord grow each of us, as well as those we counsel, in these truths. May we begin to see our conflicts as opportunities to submit ourselves and our rebellious wills to God. May we apprehend His grace. May we humbly entrust ourselves to God, and receive His promised reward.

Redeeming Marriage in Community

Marriage is hard. Even in the best marriages, the heart of each spouse tends to turn inward and build the kingdom of self. Most of my marriage counseling clients at least claim to be believers in Christ. Most of them regularly attend a bible-teaching church. Most of them are in some kind of small group community within their church. And…most of them are seeking biblical counsel because their marriage is struggling in some way— perhaps profoundly.

The Scriptures tell us that marriage exists to bear the image of the triune God and to put on display the glory of Christ in the gospel through His covenant-keeping relationship with His bride, the church. In a healthy Christian marriage, husbands and wives desire the glory of Christ more than their own glory, they desire to reflect the image of the triune God in the way that they relate to each other, and they desire to incarnate the gospel in the way that they pursue each other’s hearts. Therefore, a working definition of a healthy Christian marriage is one in which both partners are actively pursuing deeper, gospel-fueled relationship with the Lord, both together and individually, while actively pursuing deeper, gospel-displaying relationship with each other for His glory.  In my counseling practice, I strive by God’s grace to help couples grow in marital health according to this understanding of it.

However, as a coach who shepherds several HomeGroups in a large gospel-centered church, such marriages often seem more like the exception than the rule. Biblical community can provide consistent Christian friendships, accountability, mentoring. It provides fewer places to hide, and many opportunities to confess and repent of our sin and walk righteously with others. All the church leaders I disciple want this to be the case with the communities they lead. My hope for this blog is to consider ways we can be more intentional about encouraging marital health within gospel-centered community.

Our goal as church leaders is never to “fix” or “save” marriages. Thankfully, the Lord whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, has taken that off our plates. Only the Holy Spirit can transform hearts and convict those we lead concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. Because a marriage is essentially a spiritual union, it cannot be saved apart from the Spirit’s work. Instead, our goal as shepherds is to walk with couples in various stages of conflict, faithfully modeling and presenting the gospel and its implications with the hope of helping struggling husbands and wives see their own sin, repent of it, and honor Christ in their marriages. As we faithfully walk with struggling couples, let’s challenge ourselves to engage them intentionally, uphold the beauty and meaning of marriage faithfully, and love them compassionately and wisely.

Engage intentionally. As we spend time in groups discussing the Word of God, the work of God, and our lives, we ask each other questions—questions which help us examine our priorities, our hearts and our relationships with the Lord and others. With regard to marriage, the questions can often be really general: “How’s your marriage?” or “How are you and your spouse doing spiritually?” While such questions suggest that our marriages are important, they don’t help teach or encourage those practices which would lead to loving God and our spouses better. Here are a few suggestions for questions we could be asking that are more to the point:

  • When are you and your spouse praying together? How often, other than at mealtimes, do you pray together? What are you asking God to do in life/marriage that only He can do?
  • How are you and your spouse spending time in the Word together? What is God teaching you? Does your spouse know what God has been teaching you?
  • Where are you and your spouse struggling to understand or apply the gospel?
  • How are you pursuing your spouse’s heart? What are your spouse’s dreams, hopes or desires at present? What do you talk about together? What do you like to do together?
  • What is your practice of confession and repentance with your spouse? What sinful patterns are you aware of in your own heart that you need to repent of? When was the last time you apologized and were truly sorry for something you said or did to your spouse?

Questions like this, asked routinely, can help strengthen and encourage marriages towards health. These questions can also reveal where a couple’s marriage may not be as healthy as they thought.

Uphold the beauty and meaning of marriage faithfully. Let’s constantly speak of marriage in the terms with which Christ speaks of it – as a picture of the gospel and of His covenant love for His bride. We can’t do this too much. Every chance we get to talk about how marriage gives us the chance to show gospel love to the glory of God, we should. When we love the unloving, when we are kind to the ungrateful and the evil, when we are patient with someone who gets on our nerves, when we pursue the heart that has rejected us—that is gospel love and it glorifies God. We have opportunities daily to live out these same gospel implications in our marriages. Elevating gospel love will not only help struggling couples, but will enable friends and fellow group members to be better counselors. For instance, when a hurting wife shares with other women close to her that her husband is selfish and mean, her friends may be tempted to take sides. They may sympathize and shake their heads and promise to “pray for him, that he can see how wrong he is.” When a husband shares with his friends that his wife is nagging and never satisfied, they may nod and slap him on the back and offer to pray for patience for him and for repentance for her. This is not the gospel, as a gospel response does not take sides. It upholds the unity of marriage—it is FOR the marriage, not the individual. It asks, “How can you show gospel love to your wife/husband?”, instead of promoting the him-against-her dynamic. As shepherds we need to relentlessly uphold and live out the gospel and its implications in our marriages and those we lead.

Love compassionately and wisely. I began by saying that marriage is hard, and it really is. Most people, including most of us if we are honest, have struggled in marriage at one time or another. Nothing, except maybe parenting, will reveal our wicked hearts and selfish motives more than marriage. It is extremely sanctifying – and that is a good thing. When a couple is going through marital stress, they need us to engage them intentionally, and proclaim God’s design for marriage faithfully, but they also need us to love them compassionately and wisely. Listen to their concerns and struggles – without taking sides and without making excuses. Ask questions like the ones listed above and others that get to the heart. Seek to discern what is holding them back from trusting more fully in the gospel and living it out. Is it pride? Fear? Indifference? Pray for them — when you are together in community and privately. Marital reconciliation is God’s work, not ours, and we need His constant help. Don’t promise confidentiality when that might result in one spouse’s confession being kept a secret when it needs to be brought to light. Encourage appropriate openness and transparency in community.

Within the covenant family of faith, let’s intentionally engage couples to uphold the beauty and meaning God intended for marriage and love them compassionately and wisely toward the goal of seeing more marriages that pursue the Lord and each other for the sake of the gospel and the glory of Christ.

Kostenberger’s Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:13-15 ESV)

I have always struggled to understand this passage. I have read some very good commentaries (Philip Towner, Gordon Fee, William Mounce), and listened to several messages by pastors and theologians I trust to help me unlock its meaning and application. But the interpretation of this text that has been most helpful for me is articulated in the following paper by Andreas Kostenberger. Rather than summarizing his conclusions, I simply commend to you his exegesis of this challenging and encouraging text.

Saved Through Childbearing? A Fresh Look at 1 Timothy 2:15 Points to Protection from Satan’s Deception

Priorities in Finding A Godly Spouse from Genesis 24

In Genesis 24, Abraham decides that it is time for his beloved son Isaac to have a wife. Now, in Abraham’s day, as in some places in the world still today, marriages were “arranged” by the families of the bride and groom. So, like all good dads of his time and place in history, Abraham arranged a marriage for Isaac. Looking at this text through that lens, two priorities emerge as preeminent to Abraham in selecting a wife for Isaac:

  1. He wanted God to be the matchmaker. Abraham set what must have seemed an impossible standard for the woman that Isaac would marry. His future wife, who turned out to be Rebekah, would have to leave her family and her country in an act of faith and move to a country she had never seen to marry a man she had never met. Abraham knew that God had called him and his family to this land, and for him that calling included his future daughter-in-law. Because he trusted in God’s calling and God’s sovereignty, Abraham did not consider it too small a thing for God to orchestrate some very specific events, so that they would know that He sovereignly put this couple together. My wife Cristi and I were both single until we were 35. Both Cristi and I had always dreamed of being married and having a family. In my 20s, I was a Wall Street investment banker – traveling and doing deals all over the country and making a lot of money. During her 20’s, Cristi became a Registered Dietician, interned at a very prestigious hospital in San Francisco, and then worked in public health in the Dallas area. Both of us were successful singles, but we didn’t want that – we wanted to be married and have a family. We both prayed earnestly that God would make that happen. But, around age 30, it hadn’t happened for either of us. And both of us actually got to the point around that age of giving that desire to be married back to God. We see in Genesis 22 that God wants what is most precious to us, because He wants to be most precious to us. For Cristi and I, at age 30, the most precious thing to both of us was that dream of a spouse, children and a house in the suburbs. I even owned a house in the suburbs. But around age 30 for both of us, in a very real way, we gave up that dream. Cristi went to seminary and on to the mission field. What do you think the odds were of her meeting the man of her dreams in Albania? Not too great. And I sold the house in the affluent suburb, got an apartment (thinking that God would likely move me somewhere else after seminary), and started seminary and working in youth ministry. Even my wonderful, Godly mom (who really wanted grandkids) asked me more than once, “How are you going to meet a girl your age when you’re hanging out with teenagers all the time?” But God knew what He was doing. Those sweet girls that Cristi led to Christ and discipled in Albania prayed for her to find a husband. And I had colleagues and friends in youth ministry who were praying for me. And when Cristi came home on a furlough and went on a women’s retreat at her church with the wife of a colleague of mine, my colleague’s wife decided to arrange a blind date. And then civil unrest broke out in Albania, prolonging Cristi’s furlough in the states. And she came back to Albania with a ring on her finger! I love that woman more and more each day. And I am amazed with each passing day that God put us together in an amazing way. So, you see, crazy God stories (like this one in Genesis 24), where God arranges just a lot of random things in perfect sync still happen today! My wife and I didn’t do any of the things that I see a lot of Christian singles trying to do to meet someone. Neither one of us was ever involved in a “singles ministry.” Neither one of us selected a church based on the number of young singles in the church. Neither one of us hung out at bars or in clubs to meet girls. All we did was pursue the Lord, seek to serve Him as best we could, and continue to pray for Him to bless us with the desire of our hearts. And He did!
  2. He wanted to make sure that Isaac’s bride worshipped the same God as Isaac. Another thing that was very important to Cristi and I in a marriage partner was worshipping the same God – being on the same page spiritually. Neither of us would have entertained marrying a non-believer or marrying someone of a different faith or theological conviction. This is an area where I have seen a lot of young people compromise, and I don’t think it is wise. A person’s faith (if they take it seriously) defines a lot of who they are and how they relate to God and other people. So, it is important to be on the same page with your marriage partner about matters of sin, salvation, God, Jesus, the role of the Holy Spirit, the Bible, etc. Abraham believed this too. That is why he insisted that a wife be chosen for Isaac from their home country. Abraham feared that a marriage to a Canaanite woman would draw Isaac away from worship of God. Throughout Scripture, the Canaanites are depicted as being wicked, ungodly people (See 9:24–2710:6–2013:11–13). It was very important for Abraham that his son and daughter-in-law share the same convictions about the things that were most important to him. Spiritual intimacy should precede physical and emotional intimacy. I have seen a lot of couples get this backwards, and it always causes conflict.

As someone who earns my living in part by counseling couples, I can say that I have seen first-hand the devastating and deadly effects of sin and misplaced priorities in dating and marriage. Trusting in God’s sovereignty does not preclude taking steps to find a Godly wife. In fact, that is exactly what Abraham did in this text. He was proactive. He didn’t simply wait around for a woman to show up for Isaac. He acted. But he acted in faith that God would provide the right woman for Isaac without compromising his son’s calling or his son’s faith.