“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” ~Proverbs 18:22
Have you ever had a close friend disappear off the face of the planet when they start seeing someone new? Or have you been that person yourself? I don’t know why this happens, but it often does. When two people start dating, instead of including friends and family and maintaining independent relationships, they often shut them out all together.
Though this is always a temptation when a strong romantic bond starts forming between two people (who else matters right?), it is not a wise thing to do. It is important to maintain outside relationships and include them in the dating process for several reasons:
- It can help keep the relationship from moving too fast, too soon. Making sure you spend time with other friends and not just your dating partner, will help manage the amount of intense one-on-one time you have together, especially in the beginning. Besides, it allows some mystery into the relationship and keeps things fresh and exciting!
- It can help us discern motives and character in the person we are dating. This can be especially helpful when butterflies are flying high and our love ‘blinders’ keep us from seeing someone for who they really are. Allowing others into the relationship who know us best and want the very best for us can ensure we are moving forward in the wisdom of God and not just the thumpity-thump-thump of our own hearts. They will give us honest opinions about the person we are getting to know and whether they feel it is a good match or not. When it is someone we trust, we will be grateful to have their objective voice in the dating equation.
- The Bible says that having a multitude of counselors is a good thing and will help us succeed. Keeping good counsel around us at all times is important. We need people who are older and wiser to advise us and keep us on God’s path throughout the dating process.
- It will keep us from over-relying on our dating partner for needs that can be met by other friends. God never intended just one person to meet all of our needs. God sends us different kinds of friends for different seasons and different reasons. When we maintain friendships outside out dating relationships (particularly with the same gender), aside from God, they will help fill and fulfill us emotionally in ways that our dating partner cannot.
Keeping friendships and involving community in the process of dating is not supposed to squelch the enjoyment of falling in love. No! Rather, it keeps two people from isolating themselves from the outside world, so that unnecessary problems can be avoided and ‘blind spots’ won’t go unnoticed. God didn’t create friendship and fellowship to be enjoyed ‘until we are married.’ He created them to be enjoyed – both in and outside of our romantic relationships – for a lifetime!
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” ~C.S. Lewis
**This the ninth Principle of Godly Dating out of a 10-part series. Please join in the conversation and share your thoughts, questions and comments! And stay tuned for next week’s final Godly Dating Principle #10. You’ll have to come visit to see what it is…see you then!
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” ~Galatians 6:2
Bearing with each other means helping each other live the life of faith. Every one of us has things with which we struggle and areas in which we are weak. We are never meant to overcome these things alone. We need people in our community to help us stay on track–especially in living out godly relationships.
Another word for this is accountability. It entails bringing a third party into the relationship and giving them permission to ‘check in’ on how things are going from time to time. It is good for the woman to find a woman and a man to find a man whom they can trust and can count on to be firm with them in asking whether they are upholding their commitments to God.
I have a girlfriend who is engaged and about to married. She and I have agreed to be that person in each other’s lives who asks the real and yes, sometimes awkward questions. It doesn’t have to be anything super formal or formulaic, just an agreement between two people to hold up your end of the bargain and really keep checking in. The way it works with my friend is I’ll just ask her every now and then how things are going in her relationship–emotionally, spiritually, physically–and she gives me the honest answer. If there are areas in which she is struggling, such as sexual temptation, we will pray about it and talk about ways she can overcome it, for the Apostle Paul says God will not allow us to be tempted “…beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). An accountability partner can be there for support, encouragement and prayer in the face of temptation.
Here are some other real life examples of how others have incorporated accountability into their dating lives:
- “I met with my accountability partner as soon as we started the dating relationship and put in writing all the values/standards that were important for me to uphold in the relationship. I signed it and gave a copy to my accountability partner to keep so that when I suddenly became blinded and weakened by love, she could help me ‘stick to the plan’ during the relationship. It worked like a gem and I was so grateful to have her prayerful support!”
- “I had my accountability partner meet the person with whom I was in a relationship so she could get to know and observe how we interact as a couple. I thought this was really crucial in how she would later be able to advise me in situations.”
- “I meet weekly with my accountability partner as a way of ‘checking in’ and remaining transparent. I have learned to be really open and honest and it has helped me keep my relationship in perspective in the context of my faith. Having this safe outlet has been such a blessing to me!”
- “I inform my accountability partner when I am going out on a date and have her call me at 10pm. Knowing she is going to call helps me to avoid putting myself in compromising situations where I know I will be tempted.”
- “I have promised my accountability partner that each time I compromise on my stated values, I will be completely honest in telling her. Knowing I will have to do this really makes me think twice before crossing boundaries.”
The person to hold you accountable should be someone of your choice. It doesn’t have to be a pastor or a licensed professional. It simply needs to be someone in your immediate community (ideally in the same city, but long distance is okay if it is the only option) who knows you well, whose advice you trust and in whom you feel comfortable confiding about the ‘real’ stuff.
Including a third part to hold you accountable may sound like one big fun killer. But stay with me! If we really are serious about honoring God in this aspect of the relationship, it calls for serious measures to be taken.But serious measures do NOT mean there is no fun to be had! It just ensures that you are paving the way for a relationship that honors and pleases God and in turn will receive the maximum benefits and blessings–emotionally, spiritually and physically–for both you and your partner.
So don’t delay, if you are in a dating relationship, find an accountability partner who will be willing to walk this journey of faith with you and help you to bear the burden of maintaining a godly relationship. It’s so worth it!
**This is the 8th Principle of Godly Dating out of a 10-part series. Please join in the conversation and share your thoughts, questions and comments! And stay tuned for next week’s Godly Dating Principle #9: Stay Connected to Community. See you then!
“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” ~Proverbs 25:28
A lot of times Christian couples have the desire and intent to keep their relationship pure, but fail due to one thing: lack of boundaries. Boundaries, my friend, are the ‘walls’ we all need to keep us on track and to practice self-control in our relationships.
You might be saying, “Yeah, but that’s no fun. Don’t boundaries stifle romance?” I don’t think so. Boundaries help keep the romance alive in a healthy and holy way that honors God in the process. God’s blessings and abundant fruits rest on the relationship that seeks to remain pure until God brings them to the marriage bed.
As I mentioned last week, I was formerly in a relationship that progressed quickly and crossed some lines physically. Until God convicted me that what we were doing was not pleasing to Him, I didn’t understand the importance of setting boundaries. In fact, I had never heard of such a thing. I had a studio apartment that we had gotten in the habit of ‘hanging out’ at. This would often turn into late nights and let me tell you, nothing holy can come from two tired people in a dark room on a bed. Period. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but I just didn’t realize at the time that ‘setting boundaries’ were an option.
All a boundary does is help you to avoid those settings and situations that are going to lure you into temptation and ‘break down the walls’ of self control, as Proverbs 25:38 so wisely states (above). In that relationship I was in, we had to set a boundary that we would not hang out at night in my apartment anymore. After going on dates or doing fun things together, he would drop me off at my door and we would end things there. It was hard at first, but eventually we realized the benefits: we became more intentional in our hang out time because we knew it wasn’t going to drag out into the early hours of the morning and we both felt more at peace over all because there was no longer the guilt of ‘crossing lines’ that we had felt before.
I share this story because it highlights our naivety in thinking we can exercise self-control in any environment. But putting ourselves in dark, isolated, comfortable places is just setting the stage for temptation and eventual slip- ups into sin. Once you go down that road, it is very hard to turn around and back up. That is why we must know ourselves, where our sexual prowess is triggered and how we can steer clear from putting ourselves in situations that are going to make it nearly impossible to say no.
If two people decide to enter into a dating relationship and are committed to upholding God’s standard of holiness (see Principle #6), setting up boundaries is absolutely key. Without them, well good luck, for our flesh is weak! Some examples of good boundaries to set might be:
- No laying down on a bed together
- Keep the lights on when watching a movie
- No heavy petting or removal of clothing
- Holding hands, hugs and kissing permissible
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a legalistic form of dating. Rather, learn to see it as plain wisdom in aiding you in your heartfelt desire to live out your relationship rightly before God. Nor should boundaries be viewed as a ‘mood killer’, but a holy booster, paving the way for God’s goodness, favor and grace to bloom and blossom in your dating relationship. I have found that limiting the sexual factor in the dating phase actually opens the door to the following benefits:
- Allows couples to get to know a person on a new and deeper level.
- Forces couples to be more creative in deciding how to spend time together.
- Encourages couples to incorporate family and friends in a greater way.
- Fosters mutual respect between both partners, as both seek to help one another uphold their values before God.
- Helps to maintain an element of mystery in the relationship, knowing that certain things should be reserved for a life-long marriage commitment.
God has given us His Spirit to help us overcome even the greatest temptations. As Paul writes to Timothy, “For God has not given us the spirit of timidity; but of power, and of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). When we exercise self-discipline by setting boundaries and choose to delay sexual gratification out of obedience to God and respect for our partner, blessing will surely come in the most unexpected ways. Try it and see!
**This the 7th Principle of Godly Dating out of a 10-part series. Please join in the conversation and share your thoughts, questions and comments! And stay tuned for next week’s Godly Dating Principle #8: Accountability is Key. See you then!
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” ~1 Corinthians 6:18-20
One reason why I think some churches tend to take a stand against dating is because of the physical boundaries often crossed outside of marriage. There is some truth and wisdom in that, especially for young hormone-driven teens who are just learning how to manage these new feelings and biological drives. Sometimes refraining from dating can be the best thing for those who are not ready to conduct themselves in a way that honors God in a relationship.
But for those who are considering dating, it is crucial to have a firm understanding and conviction of what God’s standard for our behavior is within the relationship. Holiness is the standard by which God calls us all to live and we need to be prepared to uphold it, even within a relationship.
So what constitutes sexual immorality? And how do we ‘flee’ from it? What does it mean to treat our bodies as ‘temples for the Holy Spirit’? What does ‘honoring God with our bodies’ look like in a relationship when two people are attracted to one another?
These are not easy questions to answer and I won’t even attempt it in this post. But I will share that in my own life, this standard of holiness was very hard to uphold before I had the revelation and conviction of what living a holy and pure life meant. I was actually in a relationship with another Christian when the Lord spoke to me about this. He revealed that my behavior and the ‘lines’ we were crossing (sexually) were not pleasing to Him. We thought we were ‘honoring’ God because we were not having sex. But it turns out, God had a different view of what it meant to honor Him with our bodies. The conviction and correction from the Holy Spirit came so strong that it propelled me to make some immediate changes, which entailed some serious conversations with the person I was with and some intentional drawing of boundaries (more on this next week).
I this represents the legalistic approach we often take to sexual purity. For example, the Bible says that sex should be reserved for marriage. So we will push the envelope until right before rule of sex is broken. But what I have learned is that God’s standard of sexual morality is not about rules, but about His heart that says, “I love you and want the very best for you.” Maintaining sexual purity outside of the covenant and commitment of marriage isn’t God punishing us or taking away all the fun. Rather it is Him protecting us and preserving these things for a time when they can be fully enjoyed the way He intended them to be.
In a society that is very sexually charged, many Christians succumb to the pressures and give up trying to remain sexually pure. While it’s true that upholding a lifestyle of sexual purity is no easy task, it is possible! But it cannot be done on our own strength. It will take a great deal of reliance on God in His power and grace, in addition to setting practical boundaries to allow His holiness flow in and through our lives.
At the end of the day, only you know what your behavior looks like behind closed doors. And only you can look at God in the face each day and know whether you are honoring Him with your body or not. If you are unsure of whether your behavior and expression of love towards your boyfriend/girlfriend is ‘holy’ then I suggest praying and asking God to give you a fresh revelation of what His standard of holiness is and what it looks like lived out in your relationship. If we are truly asking Him with a heart that is set on pleasing Him in every area of our lives, we can be sure that He will gently convict us of behavior that is not pleasing to Him. Be prepared to hear Him and obey!
True holiness comes not from following a list of rules and trying on our own strength to live out a standard of perfection. Rather it is realizing our human limitations and weakness and making decisions that will allow His holiness to manifest in our lives and relationships. If we are tuned into the heart of God and truly desire to honor Him in the lifestyle we live, He will enable us. As Paul so eloquently states, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). This includes godly relationships!
**This the Sixth Principle of Godly Dating out of a 10-part series. Please join in the conversation and share your thoughts, questions and comments! And stay tuned for next week’s Godly Dating Principle #7: Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries. See you then!
After about twenty minutes of playing with my two-year-old nephew in the grass, I realized I had been pre-occupied with everything but my nephew–emails I needed to send, calls I needed to make, blog posts I needed to write. I was totally consumed with my ‘to-do’ list that I was totally missing out on precious moments I had with my nephew, who I only get to see a few times a year. I was physically there playing with him, but I wasn’t really there, ya know?
God never intended for us to be so pre-occupied with being productive that we forget about being present to our surroundings. Acts 17:28 says, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Deuteronomy 30:20 says, “For the LORD is your life…” When we truly derive our meaning and significance from Him, rather than what we do, we will experience a level of peace, joy, satisfaction and fulfillment that no amount of productivity can bring.
I believe it was this very truth that made Jesus so effective in his ministry. Just like us, he had so many demands vying for his time and attention and distractions threatening his focus, but he never seemed pre-occupied by ‘getting things done,’ but by doing the will of His father. Sometimes this meant sitting on a mountain top with his small group of twelve, talking, teaching and discussing Kingdom business. Other times it meant retreating and finding time to pray alone and away from the crowds. Some might say, “He could have done so much more!” But for Jesus, it wasn’t about quantity. It was about the quality of the work he was called to do. He was a master at being present to the very specific and select moments and relationships into which his Father directed him.
Speaking to this point, one verse that always gets me is when Jesus himself says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Some of us are so busy doing, doing, doing, that we are honestly missing out on being who God wants us to be as He directs us according to His will. We can do a million things that are considered ‘good’ and ‘spiriitual’ but if our Father never told us to do them, then we have no business doing them! And we wonder why we are so overloaded, busy, tired and exhausted. When our addiction to and pre-occupation with productivity inhibits our ability to be healthy, whole and fully present in the moments of each day, we need to make some intentional changes in our lifestyle and habits.
After I had a wake-up call the other day while playing with my nephew, I have been consciously asking the Lord to help wean me off my addiction to productivity and teach me how to be present in the moments of each day like Jesus was. Here are a few tips that have helped me out so far:
Get Real. Before we can even begin to take steps toward more present living, we’ve got to be realistic about how far off the mark we are. Take some time to do an appraisal of your own ability (or lack there of) to be present. Can you go to the gym without taking your cell phone? Or to dinner without your blackberry? How about the train/bus without your iPod? How serious is your addiction to it all–the busyness, the connection, the stimulation and the need to feel productive 24/7? Be honest with yourself about where you are at. Its time to get real!
Unplug. As in go ‘cold turkey.’ I recommend taking at least 2-5 days totally unplugging from the online world–email, internet, cell phone (as much as possible), iPod, iPad and whatever other gadgets you use in your daily life. This exercise not only helps to expose your level of addiction and dependency, but it helps to shift and re-balance your priorities and perspective. For example, you realize that no one skips a beat when you’re not online for a few days. Seriously. The world still turns and your network of connections still exist. Few will even notice your absence. A sad but liberating truth!
Set Boundaries and Stick to them. After a cold turkey period, and you begin to feel the benefits of a less distracted life, you should have some clarity as to where you need to make adjustments in your habits and lifestyle. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is key to living a life in the present. Some examples of boundaries that have worked for me are:
- On the weekends and during vacations, I do not open my computer in between the hours of 9am-9pm. This allows me to truly be present to the needs of my family and/or friends throughout the day, rather than spending it on my computer.
- I start out each day reading my Bible and praying, rather than getting online to check email or read current events. Oh what a huge difference this had made in starting off each day in the peace, purpose and clarity of God’s will.
- I leave my phone in the car when out at a restaurant, at church or doing some outdoor activity with a friend or family member. When I don’t have it, I am not thinking about it.
- I run/exercise without an iPod to leave more room for thinking, meditation and contemplation. This has done wonders for my writing and creativity!
Rely on God’s Strength. For any type-A personality, learning to value being present over being productive is no easy feat. God wired some of us as innate achievers, and this can be a huge asset in the working world. But sometimes God directs us against our own nature and our culture, which can make it extremely difficult and even impossible at times. Obedience will require us to acknowledge our own weakness and rely on His strength like Paul who said, “…for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). It is when we can admit our weaknesses that we will be made strong in our endeavor to experience the fullness of joy and satisfaction of living in the present.
Evaluate your own life. Do you thrive on feeling productive? Do you feel more satisfied and more fulfilled when you are achieving something? Do you find it nearly impossible to ‘do nothing’ even for a day?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, perhaps it is time for a re-calibration of your priorities. If anything, chew on this: God values being present with the people and situations around you over being productive. So let today be the day you resist the need to be productive and choose to be present in each moment that comes your way. Sit at a park and look at the individual leaves on a tree…help an elderly lady cross the street…teach your nephew how to tie his shoes…listen to a friend in need…take a nap…shout your favorite song at the top of your lungs while driving to work.
Be present…it is the most productive decision you will ever make!