[Today’s Christian, May-June 2003]
Q. I’m a 25 year old single lady who loves the Lord. Lately I’ve been very confused about how to find the right partner. In my church, dating is viewed almost as a sin. They believe in the praying method—that God will show you the right person when he’s ready. I’ve watched a lot of young people in my church follow this model, and almost four out of five ended up being miserable—some have even backslid. God wants to give us the desires of our hearts, so what is the Christian way to find the partner God has more me? — via email
A. The way your church is telling people to seek a mate reminds me of the joke about a man clinging to his rooftop during a flood. He prays that God will send him deliverance, and pretty soon a man in a rowboat comes by. "No thanks," the man on the rooftop says, "I’m waiting on God to save me." Later a family paddles up to him on a raft, and finally a helicopter drops him a rope ladder, but the man gives these the same reply. Finally waves close over the rooftop and the man finds himself standing before God’s throne.
"I prayed to you, Lord!" he protests. "Why didn’t you save me?"
"I sent you a rowboat, a raft, and a helicopter," the Lord replies. "What did you expect?"
It sounds like your church is telling people to expect a miraculous sign to direct them to their mate, rather than the more ordinary means he usually uses. But God has set us in a context, with our own intelligence, our friends and family, and the example of believers before us as a guide. All these elements can work in concert when we are praying for discernment, about a mate or any other matter.
The first step, then, is to ask God to guide you. Then begin to keep your eyes open for that raft or rowboat. Perhaps a young man keeps coming to mind, and you wish you knew him better.
Now, this is the tricky thing about "the desires of your heart": some of those desires are good, and some of them aren’t. We want God to cleanse and order our desires—to give us the desires themselves, so that we will only want what he wants. So start with the desires you find naturally springing up, and then evaluate them closely.
The second step, then, is to use your own reason and intelligence. Does this young man seem like a companion for the entire life journey toward salvation? Would he help you always to put God first-would he want you to love God even more than himself? Also, take a hard look at yourself. Do you like him because of his sterling qualities, or because he makes you feel desirable (which indicates that he is stirring up vanity in you), or because you could boss him around (pride, arrogance), or because he makes a good salary (greed)? If the main thing drawing you toward this man is rooted in one of your sins, he’s not the right one.
Third, get the advice of other Christians whom you respect. Ask friends to tell you frankly whether they think this is a match worth pursuing. Ask clergy and elders at the church as well; it is always good to get the perspective of an older generation, who have seen so many marriages at work. From time immemorial, of course, young people have been assisted in choosing a mate by their parents, who know them better than anyone else. Gather many opinions and weigh them alongside your own inclinations.
It’s sad that you say many of these "prayer" marriages at your church have failed, and that some people have even lost their faith. The faith was misplaced, I think, since believers were being led to picture God as someone who would produce a future mate almost as a magic trick. While God can certainly do miracles, he most often works through ordinary means: our own patient discernment, listening prayer, and openness to others’ wisdom. People who limit God’s work in this world to extraordinary appearances will soon begin to feel he has deserted them. But as the Lord of Creation he is around us all the time, working in ordinary things, as simple as the nudging in your heart when you notice that the same young man keeps coming to mind, over and over again.
Q. If someone does a good deed for an organization or individual, is it wrong to ask for personal recognition? —Kenny W., Vidor, Texas
A. While Jesus warns sternly against making a show of prayer or almsgiving, he also says, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." The difference is in who gets the glory. It is good for a person to be rewarded for his works, because that sets a shining example for others to follow, and encourages all not to grow "weary in well-doing." Still, God must get the ultimate praise.
Here’s an illustration. I once heard that in London a century ago there were two remarkable preachers. If you passed by the church of the first on Sunday afternoon you would hear people on the steps saying, "What a wonderful preacher!" But if you passed the other church you would hear people saying, "What a wonderful God!"
While it’s appropriate to give praise to individuals for the good they do, we should always be mindful of the real Author of all good things.