Move into fourth gear: engagement. If it’s clear to you both that marriage is where God is leading your relationship, then set a wedding date. But use the time during your engagement to plan your marriage – not just your wedding. Participate in premarital counseling, and discuss issues about which you’ll have to make decisions about together in married life, like: career choices, where you’ll live once you’re married, how you’ll share and manage your finances, your philosophy for bearing and raising children, which church you’ll be a part of together, and how you plan to grow spiritually together. Continue to protect your sexual purity during your entire engagement until you’re actually married, so you can enjoy God’s best during your marriage. The fifth gear is marriage itself!

Pursue sexual purity. Keep in mind that you can’t have premarital sex without consequences (physical, emotional, and spiritual), so your future marriage will be affected in significant ways if you and your future spouse have sex before your wedding. Realize that you can’t have premarital sex without intimacy, either, since God designed sex to develop intimacy between people, so if you end up breaking up with the person you had sex with it, the breakup will hurt badly. Ask God to help you make and keep a commitment to abstain from sexual behavior of any kind until your wedding night. You’ll gain many benefits if you do, including trust between you and your spouse (if you compromise sexually before marriage, you may compromise after marriage by having affairs) and an exciting sex life (that you’ll never have to compare to the thrill of dangerous sex before marriage and are free to build with real intimacy between you). Set clear boundaries of behavior in your relationship to guard your sexual purity (such as no sleepovers) and ask some trusted friends to hold you both accountable to respect those boundaries.

Identify sins and wounds and pursue repentance and healing. Both you and the person you’re considering marrying need to confess sins to God regularly, repent of them, and accept God’s forgiveness and strength to make better decisions. You all should also talk honestly with God and each other about the emotional wounds you’ve suffered in life, and seek God’s healing for them, perhaps through Christian counseling. This will help you both begin married life as healthy as possible.

Keep passion alive after you’re married. Every new day that God gives you and your spouse during your marriage, pursue each other like you did when you were dating, seeking to learn something new about each other, and nurture the passion and deepen the intimacy between you. Don’t keep sins or secrets from each other; confess them to each other and pray for each other regularly.

Submit to God together. Rather than trying to convince each other to make decisions that either you want or that your spouse wants, commit to seeking God’s will together regularly and basing your decisions on the guidance He gives you. Learn how to pray together, listen carefully to each other and to God, and work through conflicts with love and respect.

Adapted from Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance, copyright 2011 by Craig Groeschel. Published by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, Co., www.waterbrookmultnomah.com.        

Craig Groeschelis the founding and senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, recently ranked the nation’s second largest church. By 2010, LifeChurch.tv was hosting more than 80 services at 14 campuses. Craig and his wife, Amy, share a passion to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They live with their six children near Edmond, Oklahoma.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (http://angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.comto send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.