Making a "Good" Choice or a "God" Choice
- Thursday, February 03, 2005
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
PRINCIPLE ONE: Not every good choice is God's choice, and seeking God's will is the most important part of selecting your mate.
Deciding who you will marry is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. In a kingdom courtship, the primary reason for marriage should be the conviction that a particular match is God's choice for you – not just a good choice, but God's choice.
Most of the time, you won't have the luxury of choosing between people or circumstances that are totally bad or totally good. Nearly all your choices will appear good in some way, but only one will be part of God's perfect plan – His best for you The chief enemy you will fight in choosing God's best will be your own strong inclination to make a good choice instead of a God choice.
When God Makes the Choice
Randal Ross is a fourth-generation preacher pastoring a 13,000- member church in Lubbock, Texas. Thirty years ago he was a 1960s hippie with long hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and torn blue jeans. He had been offered college scholarships at many universities, including UCLA and Stanford, but he chose to major in biochemistry at a small, private college in Pennsylvania.
Randal was smart, athletic, and well liked. He also was stoned most of the time. Uppers, downers, LSD, he took them all. The more Randal partied at school, the more he got behind in his studies. The more he got behind, the more drugs he took to stay awake and study. Eventually Randal sold drugs so he could afford to buy drugs.
Although Randal had been captain of the wrestling team in high school, his college lifestyle took a toll on his body and he dropped to a gaunt 120 pounds. Then one day while he was sitting in the library, he couldn't remember his name or his dormitory. The room and the people in the room began to melt before his eyes. Colors spun in his head. He couldn't think clearly.
That week nineteen-year-old Randal Ross dropped out of college, and his father literally carried him to the car for the trip home. For the next few weeks, Randal stayed in his room during the day and walked the streets of Cleveland at night. Colors still spun in his head and confusion clouded his mind. Drugs and an abusive lifestyle had assaulted not only his body but also his mind.
Having grown up in church as the descendant of three generations of preachers, Randal felt humiliated and ashamed. Alone on Christmas Eve with a gun and enough drugs to take his life, Randal put a rock 'n' roll album on the record player and prepared to commit suicide. But first he prayed.
"God," he said, "I sat in Your house all my life and never saw anything that interested me. If You are real, do something."
When Randal Ross tells that story today, he's usually standing behind a pulpit. That's part of "something" God did. "God came into that room at 11:45 on Christmas Eve and healed my mind," he says. "The room quit melting, colors quite spinning, and my mind cleared."
But that's not all.
Three thousand miles away in California, Andrea Blegen was sitting in a Christmas Eve watchnight service when God spoke to her heart. "I want you to get up and go pray for the husband I will give you. At this very moment his life is hanging in the balance between life and death." She had never met Randal Ross and wouldn't for many years to come.
Andrea probably wouldn't have had a great deal of interest in the confused hippie she prayed for on Christmas Eve, but in God's time she eventually met God's man – the new and improved version. Sometimes there must be days when God's plan includes not only our lives but also the lives of others. We may have to wait until they are ready (or until we are) before God can give us the go-ahead.
When we go to God and ask for His direction in choosing a mate, He has three answers: yes, no, or wait. "Wait" means we must pause in our search in order to get God's instructions. It's the most difficult of all the answers by sometimes the most necessary. God always saves His best for those who are willing to wait for it, but when we fail to wait, we are out of God's will. Even when we do the right thing out of God's timing, it's still disobedience and will bring frustration and confusion to what could have been a blessing. The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.
God's Gift of Singleness
Before you can determine whom to marry, you must first answer a preliminary question: Does God want you to marry anyone, ever? Or is His plan for you to remain single? Scripture teaches that marriage, like salvation, is an unmerited gift from God (Genesis 2:18). When God wanted Adam to have a wife, He brought her to him. Their marriage was a gift from God. But Scripture also tells us that singleness is God's gift as well.
"I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God," said the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:7. He wished all men were single like he was and free from the stresses of married life so they could devote themselves to God's work. "But each man has his own gift from God." In other words, God will either give to a person the gift of being married or the gift of being single.
People who are perpetually lonely as singles are usually the same people who are worried about what isn't happening to them instead of what they should be doing to minister to others. Their focus is inward, not upward. In 1 Corinthians 7, we are told to acknowledge singleness as good, allow it for our spiritual growth, and use it for God.
C.S. Lewis was single most of his life. He taught at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and used his free time as a single to write some of the best Christian literature available in the world today. As he grew older and was nearing retirement age, he met and married a woman he came to love intensely in their three short years together. What would the world have missed if Lewis had married earlier someone whom God had not chosen?
It happens. Singles become consumed with the idea of how wonderful life would be if they just had a marriage partner, and then they make concessions and compromises that lead to marriage out of God's timing and out of God's will. To feel accepted by another person and avoid the stigma of being single, they enter into unhealthy relationships and compromise values they once held dear.
The more consumed you become with the idea of marriage and/or sex, the more easily you can slip into a pattern of fantasizing. It might start as innocently as fantasizing about being with another person, perhaps someone at work or church. Then you might progress to fantasizing about the children you'd have together or where you would live. If they continue unchecked, your thoughts could become a full-blown X-rated video that stays stuck on replay in your mind until it replays in your life. The powerful feelings that accompany such thoughts can lead people into marriages God never ordained and intimate relationships He never approved.
The Bible declares that as a man "thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). What a strange thought! How can you think with your heart? We normally associate thought with the brain and feelings with the heart. The phrase "to think in the heart" refers to thoughtful reflection. Many ideas are briefly entertained by the mind without ever penetrating the heart. But those ideas that do grasp us in our innermost parts are the ideas that shape our lives. When our thoughts are corrupted, our lives follow suit. We are what we think.
The great sixteenth-century theologian Martin Luther had an almost humorous view of mental fantasy that is relevant even today. "You can't keep a bird from flying over your head," he said, "but you can keep him from making a nest in your hair." The theology of thought is like nest-building. By the act of your will you cannot keep every thought pure and godly, but you can control what thoughts build a nest and take up residence in your mind. Scripture teaches that there's nothing wrong with being tempted. It's what we do with temptation that matters.
The Singles Cycle
The road to poor choices is so predictable among singles that we can define it and give it a name: The Singles Cycle. Here's how it works:
1. Blessing. Through God's goodness (literally translated "divine nature") you are provided everything you need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3).
2. Ungratefulness. Something plants a seed of discontentment in your soul and you start to feel left out and irritated. As you focus on what you don't have, you become unhappy and ungrateful. What you do have no longer seems to be enough. These feelings may have been triggered by a friend who just got engaged or married. Or maybe you found yourself alone on a Saturday night with nothing more to think about than the ticking of your biological clock. Or maybe it was something small like a song lyric, a movie scene, or an answering machine with no messages. "God, what about me?" you say. Everybody but you seems to be having fun and experiencing intimacy. In your mind, God has provided what you need.
3. Depression. You may feel angry at yourself for passing up someone you were once interested in or for getting out of a relationship that had the potential for marriage. Singles often condemn themselves for being single and may even start believing something is wrong with who they are. It's inherent in our natures to assign blame when life isn't going well. Depression is part of self-blame. If you don't believe you're to blame, you won't get depressed. But if you blame yourself for being single, you'll suffer from depression. It's hard to keep from being depressed when you're focusing on what you don’t have. What starts with self-pity or self-blame can progress to depression, resentfulness, anger, and bitterness. After you blame yourself for awhile, you may even start blaming God.
4. Poor Choices. Once you start to tell God (consciously or unconsciously) that you don't like the way He's running things, you may begin to take matters into your own hands. That's when the poor choices start, choices that are sometimes irrevocable. You may start believing that your standards are too high and anybody is better than nobody. You might return to a failed relationship or begin a sexual affair, perhaps even with a married person. You could find yourself dabbling in pornography or becoming engulfed in unhealthy coping mechanisms like addiction and eating disorders to medicate the pain of loneliness. You could even panic and marry a person who will keep your life confused and torn.
5. Discipline. In the midst of all the poor choices, you may feel guilt and condemnation, or conviction and godly sorrow. Satan aims to bog you down through the emotion of guilt and somehow convince you that your sin is too terrible to be forgiven and you'll never be of use to God. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, uses conviction to bring your sin to the light of Jesus' love so the problem can be resolved. The result will be godly sorrow, not guilt. Instead of the feeling of failure, you'll experience deep spiritual growth in your life.
6. Deliverance. When you determine by the act of your will to be grateful for whatever situation is yours, you will begin to be thankful. This trust in the Lord will lead to contentment and joy. God is in every circumstance – good or bad – that He allows to come to you. He will step into your life to change even unhappy or disastrous situations when you begin to thank Him for the situation itself. "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). A spiritual inventory of your blessings will help you realize that although you may be lonely, God has blessed you and ministered to your needs in many ways.
Don't Live Your Life on Hold
If you've ever taken a raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, you've probably heard the head boatman give you a list of warnings and safety tips. "If you are thrown into the water," he says, "the currents will likely take you very deep into the river. You will lose your sense of up and down, and if you try to swim to the surface, you may well crash into the bottom of the river. Relax, hold your breath, remain calm, and your life vest will eventually raise you to the surface."
Have you ever found yourself deep in a confusing relationship or circumstances only to discover your frantic struggles just took you deeper and deeper? When you wait patiently for the still, gentle voice of the Lord, that's when you will discover which way is up. Nothing about your life as a believer is an accident, including your marital status. If you are living a godly, single life and still want to marry, the important thing is not to live "on hold" until you finally tie the knot. Let the Lord know your desire and then go on fully with your life as His man or woman. A seed must die before it can grow; so it must sometimes be with our hope for marriage. Many times we must die to the idea of marriage before God will bring it to life. Learn "to go to sleep" (Adam went to sleep and God made Eve) over the issue of marriage so that you're not constantly concentrating on the gift instead of the Giver by looking for a life partner.
If you let yourself live in the "what-ifs" of the future, you'll find yourself missing God's purpose in the here and now. It helps to remember that there are a great many circumstances worse than not being married. One of them is being married to someone who does not share your love and desire for God – someone whose commitment divides your commitment.
The life of Hudson Taylor is a powerful lesson in the value of God's wisdom regarding marriage. Taylor was an English missionary who died in 1910 after spending more than fifty years as a missionary in China. When he went there in 1854, nearly 380 million people in the country's vast interior had never seen a Westerner nor heard the name of Christ. With a heart for God, Taylor penetrated deep into Chinese culture. He dressed like the Chinese, learned their language, and lived among them. By the end of his life, 205 preaching stations, 849 missionaries, and 125,000 Chinese Christians were a testimony to a life surrendered to God.1
Hudson Taylor wielded a spiritual influence far beyond China. Even today, the ripple effect of his ministry is part of our lives as Chinese Christians number in the hundreds of thousands worldwide. Taylor was single when he left England, but he eventually married another missionary in China. A small sentence in one history book has always intrigued me: "In England, Taylor had left behind his unfinished medical studies and the girl he had hoped to marry. She had refused to come with him."2 What would the world have missed if Taylor had stayed home to marry someone God had not chosen?
God tested Taylor when He made him choose between God's will and his own desires. The day came in Taylor's life when he had to decide if it was more important to be in God's will or be married – the God choice over the good choice.
God still tests us today. We can't assume that the woman Taylor left behind was ugly, irritable, or contentious. He was a man of character who probably kept the company of a godly woman. Many people may have thought it was a good match, and perhaps the couple could have had a good marriage. But every good choice isn't God's choice.
If God gives you the gift of singleness, He may use that quality in a special way that would not be available to you as a married person – for a season or a lifetime. God's sovereign will is always meant for your good and His glory. If and when God decides you can best serve Him as a team member with a life partner, you won't need to change Sunday school classes, search the singles ads, or join a dating service. He will work out the circumstances. "He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD" (Proverbs 18:22). This favor of the Lord is what God extends to His children in arranging the circumstances for them to meet their life partners.
God's favor was not lost on Hudson Taylor. In China, he eventually met and immediately fell in love with twenty-year-old Maria Dyer, the much-admired daughter of prestigious missionary parents. They had an uncommonly happy marriage because they shared a deep passion to evangelize China even at a great personal sacrifice.
Seven years before his marriage to Maria and after his breakup with his fiancée, Taylor made a God choice that was painful and agonizing at the time. "What can I do?" he wrote to his sister. "I know I love her. To go to China without her would make the world a blank."3 Instead of the "blank" life Taylor feared – the life we all fear – God brought purpose to his pain and honored his sacrifice. Even though it may have felt like a long wait, God was in the waiting. And so it is with us.
Permissive Will or Perfect Will
When we decide on our own that we are very compatible or totally in love with another person and therefore refuse to seek or wait for God's instruction, He will allow us to choose the good – His permissive will. But we will miss the best – His perfect will. The problem is that things don't work right when we are in only the permissive will of God (1 Corinthians 6:12).
I recently heard Christian author Elisabeth Elliot tell a story on her radio show that reminded me of the difference between God's permissive will and His perfect will. It was about a young girl named Katherine who was leaving for school.
"Katherine," said the young girl's mother. "Don't leave without your galoshes."
"Oh, Mother, please don't stop me now or I'll be late for school. Besides, I hate wearing those galoshes."
"It snowed all night and you're going to need them," her mother said.
"Please, just leave me alone and let me go. Can't I just have my way for once?"
"This time you will," her mother said.
And so it is with us. We sometimes find that because of our own decisions we end up walking home in the slush without our galoshes.
When King Hezekiah became "mortally ill" (2 Kings 20), the prophet Isaiah came to him with the pronouncement that the king would not recover and needed to set his affairs in order and prepare to die. The Bible says that Hezekiah wept bitterly and pleaded with the Lord to spare his life. During a century-long period of Judah's history, Hezekiah had been the only king faithful to God. In response to the prayerful petition of a faithful servant, God gave Hezekiah his way and let him live fifteen more years.
Do you see the resemblance between Hezekiah's story and the story of the little girl and her mother? Both of them had their minds made up and pleaded to have their way. Out of love, both were permitted their choices. If we followed Katherine to school, we'd probably see that she did indeed walk home in the slush. As for Hezekiah, his actions after his recovery offended God and brought His anger down upon him and Judah. Even worse, he fathered a son who eventually became Judah's worst and longest reigning king. When Isaiah came with the pronouncement of Hezekiah's death, it truly would have been better for everyone if Hezekiah had unselfishly fit his life into God's perfect plan.
Putting God in the Center
In his popular workbook, "Experiencing God," Henry Blackaby suggests we "find out where God is working and join Him there." We, on the other hand, are more likely to say, "God, here's the person I want to marry. Will You bless us?" The difference is the approach. One approach puts God at the center while the other puts ourselves at the center. When we make choices independent of God and then ask for His blessing, we're asking God to approve an idea that originated with us, not Him.
Throughout Scripture, God always takes the initiative. He sets the agenda. "We adjust our lives to God so He can do through us what He wants to do," says Blackaby. "God is not our servant to make adjustments to our plans. We are His servants and we adjust our lives to what He is about to do."
Once again we're back to the difference between a good idea and a God idea. How many times have we heard people say, "If God gave me a brain, He must expect me to use it?" Even though God have us the ability to reason and make choices, what did He say about our thoughts compared to His?
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God's knowledge and wisdom are far greater than ours. He can see the entire landscape while we concentrate on a single valley. We would be foolish to try to fit God into our mold and conform Him to our plans. Yes, He did give us a brain, and we should be smart enough to know that God's even smarter.
Once again, what's the difference between a good idea and a God idea? A good idea will work some of the time; a God idea will work all the time. Scripture warns us not to lean on our understanding but to trust God wholeheartedly (Proverbs 3:5). When we are not willing to submit to God's leadership and authority in our lives, God will let us follow our own devices. In following them, we will never experience what God is waiting and wanting to do in us and through us.
Escaping the Traps
Christians must realize that it is more important to be certain that a marriage is God's will than to judge our suitability for marriage by love, attraction, or compatibility. Our situations change and we grow through the years. We cannot predict future compatibility on our own. When we accept compatibility as the primary basis of marriage, we can be led into cultural traps such as living together before marriage to make sure we are compatible. Only God knows the end from the beginning. He is the one who creates love, not man.
It was Ruth's mother-in-law, Naomi, who made the choice of a husband for her (Ruth 3). It wasn't love at first sight, getting to know each other, or even a passionate kiss that brought Boaz and Ruth together. Romance wasn't the issue, although the story later became beautifully romantic as Ruth and Boaz developed an unselfish love and deep respect for each other. The issue was obedience, a "rightness" about the relationship. God was working in the situation, and He was using Naomi's kindness and moral integrity to guide Ruth. As a result, Ruth later became the great-grandmother of King David and a direct ancestor of Jesus.
Does the story of Boaz and Ruth interrupt your romantic vision of passionate love? Would you like the story more if the two had been lovers who glimpsed each other across the wheatfield and became passionately attracted? It happens to some people in some situations, but the qualities that are attractive in the beginning may prove difficult to live with in the long run. The man who falls in love with a woman's attentiveness may find it is the very quality that drives him crazy when he can't get enough space. The woman who falls in love with a man's drive to succeed may find that quality irritating and destructive when he spends more time at work than at home.
Dr. Neil Clark Warren, author of the popular book "Finding the Love of Your Life," says your choice of whom to marry is more crucial than everything else combined that you will ever do to make your marriage succeed. "If you choose wisely," he says, "your life will be significantly easier and infinitely more satisfying. But if you make a serious mistake, your marriage may fail, causing you and perhaps your children immeasurable pain. Most of the failed marriages I have encountered were in trouble the day they began dating. The two people involved simply chose the wrong person to marry."
What might seem like a good choice at the time may not be a God choice for a lifetime. If you "lean on your own understanding," you may someday feel like the person who fell out of the raft into the Colorado River. The more you struggle, the deeper you go.
Just as Ruth was unaware of the larger purpose God had in mind for her life, you can't see the larger picture of your life. Because of Ruth's faithful obedience, her life and legacy carried great significance even though she couldn't see the end result. In a similar way, your faithfulness to God's leadership will bring a significance to your life that will extend beyond your lifetime. The question is not how to find a mate, but who will find the mate. God will direct you in choosing God's best.
Excerpted from "Choosing God’s Best" © 1998 by Don Raunikar. Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers, Inc. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.
Dr. Don Raunikar is director of New Life Clinics in Houston, Texas, where he works as a psychotherapist specializing in singles issues. "Choosing God's Best" is the result of what he has seen as a therapist and experienced as a single person. He leads Christian singles seminars nationwide and oversees Lifehouse, a home for young women experiencing crisis pregnancies. He and his wife Kimberley, live in Houston.
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