Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Ted Cunningham's book, Young and in Love: Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage, (David C. Cook, 2011).

If you fall in love with someone when you’re young, you may naturally want to get married. But finding support for a young marriage can be difficult. Your parents, friends, and church leaders may all discourage you from walking down the aisle, saying that you and your boyfriend or girlfriend are too young to build a healthy and lasting marriage.

So many young people have chosen to delay marriage that people are now getting married later in life than ever before in history. Yet your age doesn’t determine how ready you are for marriage; your maturity does. You may actually be ready to get married right now, when you’re still young – and if so, unnecessarily delaying marriage will only cause you to miss part of the life that God wants you and your future spouse to begin.

Here’s how you can turn young love into marriage if you sense God leading you to wed:

Realize that the desire to get married is healthy. God created marriage, and He has instilled the desire to get married within many people. So there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married; it’s a good desire that you should honor. Choose to view marriage as the gift from God that it is (freeing you and the one you love to enjoy the blessings of intimacy) rather than the distorted way our culture presents marriage (as a prison to avoid while you’re young so you can enjoy life as a single person).

Be aware of the consequences of delaying marriage. If you get married too late in life, you may lose out on lots of potential marriage partners who will be taken by other people later on, you will face increasing pressure to have sex outside of marriage from the people you date, you may experience difficulty conceiving children, and you may not live long enough to have relationships with your grandchildren.

Recognize that marriage gives you valuable opportunities to launch into adulthood. Marriage forces you to accept the responsibility of learning how to work well with another person, which helps you develop the kind of character you need to become a healthy and productive adult. Remaining single for a long time may cause you to become mired in a selfish lifestyle that prolongs your adolescence, delaying the maturity God wants you to develop.

Honor your parents when deciding whether or not to marry. If your parents aren’t convinced that you and your boyfriend or girlfriend are ready to get married, talk with them about their concerns and work with them to make changes in your lives to demonstrate greater maturity. Then ask for their blessing on an upcoming marriage between you.

Make practical plans for how to support yourselves. Rather than just jumping into marriage thinking that love is all you need, set specific goals for how you and your future spouse will complete your education, get good jobs, and earn the money you need to support yourselves without having to rely on financial support from others, such as your parents. Once you’ve set those goals, work hard to achieve them. Invite God to work in all parts of your life to transform you into a person who takes responsibility for your own decisions and tries your best to fulfill God’s purposes for your life.

Find some marriage mentors. Ask a couple you admire and who has been married for a long time to serve as mentors for you and your boyfriend and girlfriend. Observe how the veteran spouses interact, and learn from what they say and do as they model married life for you. Ask them to pray for you and answer your questions about marriage, as well.

Evaluate the character of the person you’re considering marrying. A strong character is the most important quality you should look for in a husband or wife. So be careful to get to know the character of the person you’re thinking about marrying. Consider issues such as whether or not the person actively follows Jesus (rather than just attending church), treats other people with respect, follows through on commitments, controls his or her temper, avoids gossip, works hard, lives with sexual purity, demonstrates patience, manages money well, and would make a good parent if God gives you children someday. Ask people who you respect and who can offer unbiased opinions (such as your pastor or a counselor) to give their honest opinions about your boyfriend or girlfriend’s character.

Make a list of character issues that each of you has to work on, pray about them, and commit to working on them. However, keep in mind that you can’t change your spouse. Instead, each of you should take personal responsibility for the changes that you need to make individually. Be prepared to respond to painful and stressful challenges in your future marriage by working through them with help from God and your fellow Christians rather than quitting.

Pray for a vision of your vocational callings and how marriage may fit into those callings. Ask God to show you and your future spouse what specific plans He has for each of you in life, and how those plans may or may not work if you two were to get married.

Honor the personality differences between you and your future spouse. One of the most vital ways to prepare for marriage is to realize that the differences between your personalities are God-given and valuable. Rather than fighting against those differences, ask God to help you learn how to use them to complement each other so you two can be stronger together than you would be apart. Find activities that you both can enjoy together, and plan to make time for them often to bring fresh doses of fun and excitement to your relationship in the years to come.

Adapted from Young and in Love: Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage, copyright 2011 by Ted Cunningham. Published by David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, Co., www.davidccook.com.    

Pastor Ted Cunningham founded Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri, where he lives with his wife and two children. A graduate of Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary, he coauthored several books with Dr. Gary Smalley, including The Language of Sex and Great Parents, Lousy Lovers. Visit his website at www.tedcunningham.com.

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.