Do you have a list?
You know, a list of the qualities you want in a future spouse. Some people have general lists that may or may not be written down. Others get a little more specific and put down preferred hair and eye color or even what musical instruments or sports they want their significant other to play.
I once heard of a girl who had a list nine pages long, detailing everything from birth month to hobbies. I don’t know if she ever managed to get married or not.
Whether or not you have a list, there’s a question I believe every single person needs to answer and consider:
Do you have a list for yourself?
Seek First the Kingdom of God: Relationship Version
I recently read The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas. It’s an excellent book about choosing a spouse wisely. While Thomas outlines many practical aspects of choosing a potential mate, the overarching message of the book can be condensed into one sentence: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Yep, you read that right. Not seek first the man or woman of your dreams. Not seek first a great dating relationship filled with #relationshipgoals. Not seek first an updated Facebook status.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Most of the time, we have our eyes fixed on the wrong things when it comes to relationships. We focus on the emotions and the longings in our hearts. We think about the kind of person we want and evaluate everyone we know to see if anyone lines up. We read books and articles about love and dating. We stalk our latest crushes. We just can’t help ourselves . . . and I’m talking from personal experience here too.
We get so busy thinking about what we want that we forget what relationships are really about—building the kingdom of God.
And the truth is—you can do that married or single.
Changing the Focus
There’s a purpose behind everything. But our culture has divorced the purpose and focused on the pleasure. The God-intended purpose of love, marriage, and sex is to build his kingdom and glorify his name. Like all of his designs, when used appropriately in the context he created, these three are beautiful ways to glorify God and advance his kingdom.
Sadly, we forget that purpose. And the design, ripped from the context for which is was intended, is suffering as a result.
As a single girl, I don’t have much to offer in the way of marriage advice. I don’t know exactly what it takes to have a God-glorifying marriage, simply because I’ve never been married. But I do know God-glorifying marriages don’t begin on the day you say “I do.” Seeking first the kingdom of God starts long before there’s a gold band around your finger.
That’s why, more than the relationship advice, the do’s and don’ts, and the purity rulebooks, the most important thing to focus on as a single is your relationship with Jesus.
Every Christ-follower who thinks up a list of qualities for a future spouse is bound to write down a few about their beloved’s walk with God. “Strong Christian”, “loves the Lord”, and “trusts God” might be a few common desired qualities. Get more specific and “selfless”, “compassionate”, “loves the Bible”, and “humble” might make the list.
These are wonderful and incredibly important qualities to look for in a future spouse. Write them on the list and don’t ever compromise. But more importantly, write them on the list and ask yourself: what about me?
If “selfless”, “humble”, and “loves the Bible” are on my future spouse’s list, would I make the cut? Am I growing in these areas? Am I seeking God first and being continually sanctified . . . or am I simply seeking a relationship?
The past few months, I’ve been wrestling with these questions, struggling with heartache and disappointment. I realized how much I looked to others to satisfy me . . . but then when they were taken away, all I had was Jesus. But the lack led me to a source of abundance. Since then, I’ve gone deeper in my relationship with Jesus than I ever have before. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade that for anything. The joy, peace, and presence of Jesus has flooded my soul so beautifully that I would gladly walk through the loss and loneliness to come to the well-spring of his love. And I am so grateful God has taught me this lesson, because it’s changed the way I view relationships.
If you want a marriage one day that seeks God first, you have to be a single today who seeks God first. If you want to marry someone who is daily growing in Christ, you have to be someone who is striving to daily grow in Christ.
No one is perfect. We’re all flawed sinners who “stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). Yet, we raise the bar so high when it comes to thinking about a future spouse, but rarely think “am I growing in these characteristics?”
Neither you nor a future spouse will be perfect. But both of you should be growing and asking God for help. That measurement, this question of “Is this person growing in Christ?” and “am I growing in Christ?” will transform the way you approach love, dating, and marriage.
As Thomas says, “Jesus taught us to base our decisions on something eternal: seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus’s words urge us to find someone with whom we can share a mission instead of an emotional infatuation. Instead of telling us to find someone who makes us lose all sense of objectivity, Jesus’s teaching direct us to make a decision that will lead to righteousness—to seek someone who will inspire us toward godliness, who will confront us when we go astray, who will forgive us when we mess up, who can encourage us with wisdom when we are uncertain about how to proceed. . . Jesus’s words—indeed the whole of Scripture—call God’s people to build a spiritual partnership.”
Reading those words fills me with excitement. That’s the kind of relationship I want. But they also fill me with conviction. Is that relationship one I would be able to be a part of?
Redefining the List
I’ll admit, when I was young I had a few trivial items on my list for my future husband. I’m pretty sure “dark hair” was listed and I also really wanted a guy who could sing and play the guitar. Just sayin’.
As I’ve learned the design and purpose of marriage, my focus has shifted to seeking God first and foremost (over a guitar-playing guy with dark hair) and my list has been redefined.
Now, I don’t need a guy who can sing, but I do want a man who can worship. And I pray I’m daily becoming a woman of worship.
Now, “tall, dark, and handsome” isn’t necessary on my list, but the only man for me is one who is being transformed to the image of Christ. As I pray God is transforming me.
The most important thing you can do is not to be on a hunt for the perfect person, but to be in a passionate pursuit of the king of Kings. To be seeking God and his righteousness and allowing that pursuit to alter everything about your pursuit of a spouse. And in the midst of this pursuit, whether we ever marry or not, we gain an incomparable gift: that of an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Bridegroom. Worth more than anything else, this is our true goal—not marriage, but Jesus.
As Thomas says, we’re not looking for a “soul mate.” We’re looking for a “sole mate.” Someone who “walks out with us . . . the biblical command to seek first the kingdom of God. . . A biblical sole mate who walks in this truth, who daily travels God’s journey of sacrificial love, and who willingly goes ‘into training’ for godliness. . .”
Amen. Now that’s a relationship destined to advance the glory of God.
Whether you’re single, dating, engaged, or married, this is my challenge to you: what’s on your list? How does this concept of seeking God first transform your view of relationships? And how can you, today, no matter what your relationship status, embark on “God’s journey of sacrificial love”?
I promise you won’t regret it.
Previously published 2/12/20