QUESTION:  What are your thoughts on how a person can evaluate the spiritual maturity of another before they even consider a date? I know it takes the dreaded 'T' word – time – and that we may never truly know the spiritual maturity of another, but I'd like to get your opinion on how best to search for and discover the spiritual depth, direction and intensity of another.

ANSWER:  What a great question! I am sure many readers will be encouraged to know this is a priority for someone else in our extreme makeover culture.

I have always been struck by something Boaz said to Ruth in their first conversation:

"All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11).

Ruth’s character was revealed in the way she served others and in the way she put her trust in the God of Israel by aligning with His people, and this was remarkable enough for Boaz to hear about and recall to her when they first met.

We can make the same observations today by watching how someone serves others in the church. I believe this is best done in the context of friendship because once the possibility of romance rears its head, it’s hard to remain objective. When your emotions become entangled, there’s more at stake when you see red flags and it becomes a greater temptation to dismiss the concerns. You want to know what someone’s track record is before you both are tempted to do things simply for the sake of pleasing another or earning his or her approval. So yes, that’s where time invested in a season of friendship can be so valuable in cultivating discernment.

I say this because one of the biggest impediments to discernment, in my opinion, is a form of dating narcissism. This is that giddy time early in a relationship when you don't really know too much about the other person, but there is the tantalizing possibility of someone else finding you irresistibly attractive. Dating narcissism is the self-love that agrees with the potential of someone else's high opinion of you! You are an incredible gift to the opposite sex, so it's a good thing someone else has finally seen this and is willing to treat you like the Special One that you are. Unfortunately, this high opinion of yourself often clouds your judgment of another's behavior and character.

Now, I am saying this partly tongue-in-cheek, but there is a grain of truth here. That rush of pent-up emotion in the beginning of a relationship ("a date – at last!") is a powerful tide. It can carry us a long way before we start to soberly notice the foundational issues of character in the other person's life. So I hope the following list of qualities may prove to be helpful and fruitful in your future relationships. While there are some specific and different things Scripture requires of men and women, there are many qualities we are all called to demonstrate:

1. Discipleship, as evidenced in consistent personal devotions grounded in the Bible and prayer, a growing knowledge of God's Word, and a willingness to make Scripture the plumb line for one's thoughts, deeds, and behavior (Psalms 1, 19, and 119).

2. Humility, as evidenced in a willingness to listen more than we talk and to restrain our defensiveness and anger (James 1:19-20).

3. Accountability, as evidenced by a clear understanding of the doctrine of indwelling sin and a willingness to confess sin and seek observations and input from others (James 5:16, 19-20; Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20).

4. Servanthood, as evidenced by our efforts to reach out to others without partiality and to emulate our Lord and Savior by joyfully taking on the lowly tasks and burdens of others (James 2:1-9; John 13:1-17).