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Devotions for Dating Couples: Building a Foundation for Spiritual Intimacy by Ben Young

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To help you assess if your relationship contains these elements, consider the following eight questions before you get engaged. This question pertains to the most important aspect of your relationship—the spiritual. If you or your date does not know Jesus as the primary Source of love, then you will try to manipulate love from one another. Depending upon performance-based human love is like eating chocolate—it may taste good, but it cannot satisfy you.

Your heart needs more than romantic affection to survive; it needs unconditional love, which can only be found in Jesus Christ. Thus, it is best to marry someone who understands that he or she is married to Jesus and realizes the importance of depending upon Him for fulfillment. You will struggle to find this kind of person, however, if you believe that you can enjoy true intimacy with a non-Christian. Many Christian singles make this mistake in dating and short-change themselves.

Let me explain why.

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This means that the same Jesus who lives within me also lives within Ashley. Therefore, He can help us love one another more deeply. Jesus can love Ashley by desiring to do so through me, sometimes without her having to say anything. For example, I have never enjoyed washing dishes, and Ashley dislikes doing laundry.

Therefore, we agreed that I would wash and fold our laundry and she would wash the dishes.

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Yet many times in our marriage I have felt the distinct urge to wash the dishes for her. I just felt a desire to help her. Jesus created an impulse within my heart to love Ashley in this way. I never hinted or asked you to do those things.

I can rest and allow Jesus to love her through me. Since He lives within both of us, He knows when she is tired or frustrated and can prompt me to encourage her. Likewise, He can inspire Ashley to support me when I need encouragement. This kind of supernatural love creates a bond stronger than that of any non-Christian married couple.

Let me clarify that our marriage bond in Christ does not give Ashley and me some sort of spiritual voodoo.

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Yet as we respond to the desires that Jesus puts within our hearts, He leads us to love one another in the best manner. This creates real intimacy. Joined together in Christ, Ashley and I share the same wish to glorify God, the same joys and sorrows, and the same Source of love—we are one Ephesians 5: I never experienced this kind of intimacy with my first wife. She expressed an interest in God while we dated but denied any faith in Him when she later deserted our marriage.

As the early struggles of marriage hit us, our opposing spiritual beliefs became apparent. We hardly felt like partners. I often felt alone in the same room with her. We were not one. You risk this type of division when you consider dating or marrying a non-Christian. If you join yourself to an unbeliever, you will be incapable of sharing real intimacy. Are you free to date a non-Christian? Yes, but the Bible states that it is not profitable 1 Corinthians God views believers and unbelievers as opposites who have no potential for a deep union 2 Corinthians 6: Can a Christian get along with an unbeliever and have fun dating him or her?

In fact, some non-Christians exhibit just as much honesty and sensitivity as some Christians do. However, if you marry an unbeliever, he or she will generally have a larger influence on the direction of your relationship.

I compare dating a non-Christian to mountain climbing and rappelling. Imagine that a Christian woman stands at the top of a mountain, and an unbelieving man stands at the bottom.

If the unbelieving man wants to join her, he must decide on his own to make the journey up. The woman cannot pull the man up with her own strength or force him to climb.

Should the man not want to climb the mountain, the woman will remain at the top by herself. Likewise, if the woman wants to be with the man, she will feel tempted to rappel down to his level. Otherwise, they could try to meet halfway, but then they would hang uncomfortably off the side of the mountain. Using romance to coax a non-Christian to climb up to your spiritual level is unhealthy. Though evangelistic affection may sound noble, the idea is flawed in several ways.

An unbeliever might fake a conversion simply to gain your acceptance. New Christians do not automatically have character or spiritual maturity. A non-Christian cannot meet your need for love or security.

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In addition, if someone professes faith in Christ solely so that he or she can date you, the person probably is not a Christian. A person becomes a Christian when he or she genuinely asks forgiveness for sin and accepts Christ as Lord of his or her life. Even if you lead someone to accept Christ, he or she may need years to develop the maturity necessary for sacrificial love in marriage.

Furthermore, if you date an unbeliever or even an immature Christianyou will usually assume the role of spiritual parent. Therefore, your dating relationship becomes an unhealthy parent-child situation. For Christians and non- Christians, reliance on each other prevents you from learning to rely on Christ.

Spiritually disinterested singles can seem fun to date. Instead, seek to date and marry a mature Christian single who embraces his or her spiritual marriage to Jesus. Then you will have a partner who can participate in divine intimacy with you.

Can You Resolve Conflict Together? Some couples pleasantly coast through dating, get married, and then receive a shock when their first round of conflict hits. They are unaware that two imperfect people experience friction no matter how much they love each other. Sin indwells your body and tries to influence you in ways contrary to the desires that Christ puts within you.

You might feel tempted to be insensitive, greedy, self-indulgent, manipulative, or hostile. When you succumb to these temptations in a relationship, a simple disagreement can escalate into an all-out war. Recognize that these selfish urges originate from the sin within you, not from you. Therefore, part of resolving conflict is remembering that as Christians, you and your date are not evil.

By separating sin from the person, you can more easily resolve disagreements. For example, one night at a restaurant, Todd sarcastically criticized his girlfriend, Jan, for the way she was dressed. Whatever has gotten under your skin is ruining our evening together. We can talk about my clothes, but there is no need to criticize me. Indwelling sin initiated the urge to be rude, and he selfishly chose to respond to the temptation. Fortunately, Jan saw the problem for what it was—sin instigating criticism within Todd.

She wisely nipped the problem in the bud, preventing the situation from escalating. Knowing that sin seeks to cause strife does not mean that you can avoid conflict. A second important aspect of resolving conflict is allowing Jesus Christ to live His love through you.

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Allowing Him to meet your need for security and significance diminishes your motivation to attack or manipulate someone else. You still continue to voice your opinions and wishes, but Christ within you works to reach a solution that most benefits your relationship.

This means you learn to give and take. Should you need to give, Christ will prompt you to be humble. Likewise, if it is your turn to receive, Jesus will lead you to accept in gratitude. Only through your faith can Christ help you resolve your issues. As a couple, you both have to yield to His desires.

So it is important that you deal with conflict several times before considering engagement. Determine whether both of you have shown a desire to compromise in past arguments. If not, does one of you try to bully the other with angry outbursts?

If nothing improves, you may need to end your relationship. Civilized arguments can benefit a relationship by exposing neglect, unrealistic expectations, or different points of view. Sometimes, neither person is wrong. Each one is simply approaching the same topic from unique perspectives.

Devotions for Dating Couples: Building a Foundation for Spiritual Intimacy

Therefore, do not try to avoid conflict but seek to resolve it in a loving, mature manner. If you cannot freely voice your opinions, you will live in miserable bondage to another person. Both parties should have the freedom to express their ideas and desires. A relationship devoid of conflict may signal that one of you is either too passive or too afraid to be genuine. These attitudes are not conducive to an intimate marriage, and you should not continue dating if you cannot be authentic with each other.

Healthy relationships foster an environment in which you have the freedom to disagree. Thus, before you get engaged, make sure you both feel free to be yourselves and know how to lovingly resolve conflict.

Relational baggage can develop when someone pursues fulfillment through a person, possession, or substance rather than the love of Christ. Baggage can surface in a variety of forms, such as addictions, eating disorders, abortion, debt, or divorce. Unfortunately, almost everyone carries some type of baggage, so do not assume that your boyfriend or girlfriend is immune.

Devotions for Dating Couples: Building a Foundation for Spiritual Intimacy by Sam Adams

Before you give someone your heart, determine if he or she is wrestling with any baggage issues. Also, understand that the consequences of certain baggage may never disappear completely. An addiction can keep someone in poor health. A divorced single may regularly have child custody problems. If you are not prepared to deal realistically with them, the repercussions could easily dominate your relationship. Please do not downplay relational baggage—it has the power to destroy your relationship.

Sometimes, these complex, negative issues require years to resolve. Do not expect that marriage will make them disappear. Therefore, if your date carries emotional baggage, please vigilantly deal with it before you get engaged.

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Marrying someone who is free of baggage is worth the extra months or years of waiting. After I dated Ashley for nine months, many of my close friends and relatives began to urge me to pop the question. They were sincere because Ashley and I had spent a lot of time around our friends and family. Their opinion meant something because they had been a part of our relationship.

Since I knew they wanted the best for us, their excitement reinforced my desire to marry Ashley. In the same way, I encourage you to seek the support of your friends and family.

Since these people generally know you well, they can offer helpful insight on whether you and your date are a good match. In addition, they are not as emotionally blinded as you are and may identify problem areas that you have overlooked.

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Should someone raise a concern about your relationship, focus on the facts and do not hide the truth. Be willing to admit that you might have neglected a problem. Parents and friends are not always right, but you should consider their legitimate opinions. They may have years of marriage experience to back up their concerns, and ignoring them would be foolish.

Listen with an open mind to what they say about your relationship. Remember, however, that the final decision rests solely in your hands. Instead, let loved ones be resources to aid in your decision-making process. When you make one of the biggest decisions of your life, having the support of your family and friends is a wonderful blessing. It not only gives you a sense of peace but also assurance that they will be there for you if times get hard.

No married couple is an island. You will need the encouragement of others—especially if you have children. You endanger your dating relationship if you hide it from people. Instead, ask yourself if those near to you are excited about your relationship moving forward, and examine why or why not. To this day, our friends and family are still excited about and supportive of our marriage.

They go out of their way to encourage us and invite us to be a part of their lives. If we need help in any way, they will be there for us. Pre-engagement counseling is so helpful when you are interested in marrying someone. It is impossible to uncover by yourself every potential problem area of your relationship. Even wise friends and family can overlook negative warning signs. Therefore, seek a trained Christian counselor to discuss the details of your relationship before you get engaged.

I promise it is well worth it even if you have to go out of your way to find it. Ashley and I participated in eight weekly sessions of pre-engagement counseling together. The format was casual, which allowed us to openly share our fears and hopes. The counselor was perceptive and showed us areas that could cause problems for us in the future.

For instance, we discovered that we deal with our free time quite differently. Ashley prefers to make a list of tasks and work on projects, while I prefer to lounge around, read, and talk. Neither of us was right or wrong; we were just different. Fortunately, the counselor revealed this issue to help us become more sensitive to each other. Rather than fight about our free time, we learned to value what the other person prefers.

This is just one example of how pre-engagement counseling improved the harmony of our relationship. The decision to marry someone is so significant; please do not bypass the wisdom of outside counsel before engagement. If you can meet with someone trained to deal with relational problems, you can save yourself a lot of heartache.

Integral to the argument is an understanding of how the Bible guides and restricts sexual activity. God gives us clear sexual boundaries to guide marriage relationships sex is requiredneighbor relationships sex is forbidden and family relationships sex is forbidden. The authors want dating couples to understand that until they are married, their relationship to the person they are pursuing is a neighbor relationship in which any sexual activity or even the awakening of sexual desire is inappropriate.

What is conspicuously absent from the Bible is a category that falls between neighbor and spouse. Yet this is where so much of our relationship confusion comes from--an invented category that is more than one but less than the other and lacking any clear biblical guidelines. Even more foundationally, the authors want the Christian to understand that the marriage relationship, and sex within marriage, has been given by God for the specific purpose of serving "as a living witness of the spiritual oneness between Christ and the church.

But this is not true. As those created in the image of God, our very nature as image bearers explains the reasons behind God's commands. Not only is sex a divinely appointed image of the gospel, but also man himself is an image of God. We are walking sermon illustrations, if you will. At a time where there is so much confusion about sex, dating and relationships, this book provides helpful, timely counsel.

It offers clarity to the nature of relationships and encouragement that purity is not out of reach. Kevin DeYoung's endorsement nicely summarizes my take: You'll find a lot of practical, sane, biblical wisdom that will explode a number of our cultural assumptions about dating.

If you are single or care about someone who is, you really should read this book. The result may just be a simpler, more God-honoring approach to dating than you thought possible.