August 23, 2016

Singles: Mystical Leanings Often Lead to Miserable Choices

Gary Thomas — 

Singles- Mystical Leanings Often Lead to Miserable Choices

After a Sacred Search conference in which I had laid out essential character traits to look for in a future spouse, a group of six men asked a question. Five of them were convinced by what I had said; one wasn’t, and he’s the one who asked the question in the form of several statements: “I don’t think this list matters. I think God will lead me to the right woman at the right time. I don’t need to worry about this list.”

“And where does the Bible tell you that’s how you should choose a wife?” I asked.

“Isaac and Rebekah.”

I wrote a whole chapter in my book addressing Isaac and Rebekah, but let me summarize that teaching here: basic Bible interpretation teaches us that biblical narrative isn’t always universally applicable. We don’t think we should pay our taxes by fishing and looking for coins in the fish’s stomach because that’s what Jesus did with Peter. We don’t think if someone is stricken with leprosy they should go dip in the Jordan seven times. We don’t think a woman should uncover the feet of an older man while he sleeps to signify she wants to marry him just because that’s what Ruth did with Boaz.

Nor should we think that Isaac and Rebekah’s journey teaches us how to find a spouse. Besides, if you want to be true to the account of Isaac and Rebekah, your father should hire a servant who will pick out your wife for you, and you should agree to marry whomever he chooses, sight unseen.

That’s at least an honest application.

There’s far more to this argument, but you can read The Sacred Search if you want the rest. Let’s fast forward the conversation I had with these guys: “How will you know a woman is the one God chose for you, anyway?” I asked.

“God will make it known.”


“He just will.”

Do you know how many stories of misery this faulty line of thinking has generated? People ignore biblical teaching, common sense, and obvious problems because they “feel” God has “called them” to marry a particular person and then (this is what makes me so sad) they get bitter at God for “leading” them into a miserable match.

I pray about every significant decision I make, but I also seek to apply biblical principles, and the Bible is rather clear on this one. First Corinthians 7:39 tells women, “She is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord.” You may wish God would make the choice for you, but do you also insist that God choose whether you go to the University of Texas or Texas A & M? Do you want God to choose whether you drive a Nissan or a Ford? Where is the line of where God makes the choice for you? Will He choose what night you and your future wife must have sex so that one particular baby is born according to His perfect design? Is that how He works?

God’s Word values wisdom so highly (“Make your ear attentive to wisdom” Prov. 2:2) in so many places, that wanting to replace the process of applying biblical truth in a wise manner with subjective mystical feelings is a dangerous thing to do, particularly when you’re deciding on a life-long relationship.

Of course we must make room for God to sometimes seemingly lead two people together. But trying to force this when the Bible’s teaching seems to suggest another model as the norm is flat-out dangerous.dreamstime_xl_21703057

A Bitter Tale

A man once asked to get together with me because he was bitter toward God. A decade prior, he had a good-paying and personally rewarding job, but “God asked me to quit and wait for something better,” so he did.

Something better never came along. His family has struggled financially for a decade, and what little work he could find has been even less satisfying.

“Why would God do this to us?” he asked.

“Maybe he didn’t,” I responded.

“What are you talking about?”

“Maybe you just thought God told you to quit. Why are you so certain that’s what He was saying?”

“My wife confirmed it. She felt the same thing.”

“Maybe both of you were wrong. Most people would suggest it’s unwise when you have a family to support to leave a job when you don’t have something else lined up. Yet you were driven more by mystical leanings than by wisdom.”

“God told Abraham to leave without telling him where he was going to go…”

“I’m sorry,” I continued, “But I think it’s a bit of a stretch for you to suggest that because God told Abraham to move, with all his wealth and possessions, to a land specially set aside for God to create an entirely new nation that would ultimately launch the bloodline to bring the Messiah into the world, that your direct application of that passage was to quit your job. That seems like a bit of a leap to me.”

In the midst of your pursuit of a marriage partner, God wants you to grow in character and maturity and wisdom. Part of that is learning how to make God-honoring and wise, sensible choices. I don’t know how we’ve got it into our heads that blindly following “mystical feelings” is a godlier way to live our life than studying and applying Scripture, but I’ve seen that approach result in much grief.

I believe in the work and leading of the Holy Spirit as much as anyone, and perhaps far more than most. I call upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. But the Bible doesn’t place the Holy Spirit against wisdom or direct revelation, but as a teacher who helps us apply wisdom.

How you make the choice of who you marry matters so very much. Will it be based on wisdom, or mystical leanings? Please, decide now, before you become infatuated, as it is all too easy to confuse infatuation with the Holy Spirit’s leading.

And secondly, if you go ahead and make a choice on a mystical basis and it causes you much grief, please don’t become bitter at God. Please don’t assume that God led you into a foolish choice because He just enjoys playing around with people. Accept that maybe He’s letting you face the consequences of a foolish process so you’ll learn a more appropriate way to make decisions in the future.

Revel in the freedom and embrace the excitement of God’s revealed truth that He wants you to build (co-create, if you will) a marvelous life, using His wisdom and keeping your heart open to His occasional warnings to guide you. It is a gift that we get to choose, far more than it is a burden.

Besides, what do you think would sound more romantic to a woman? “I’m asking you to marry me because God told me I had to” or “Out of all the women in the world, I’d like to spend my life with you. I choose you.”

It takes a little more work to apply wisdom, but a supremely wise marital choice pays better than Google and Microsoft salaries combined.


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23 responses to Singles: Mystical Leanings Often Lead to Miserable Choices

  1. I read this and so wish we could talk in person. Lol i did the whole mystical thing along with my at the time pastor. 7years later, 3sons later, living abroad, i brought my sons home to the US and have spent the last 25 years wishing i had used the wisdom instead of the “knowing that I knew it was the Lord” approach. Thanks for writing this article. Ill be sharing it on my wall.

  2. Hi Gary, I found your article interesting and wise. One has to be careful and discerning. But about 3 years ago, I had Holy Spirit come to me and say ‘Don’t look for a husband. One will be brought to you’. I was in church at the time and found it a little odd. This went on for half an hour.
    Now, I’m born again (almost 5 years) and have had some excellent pastors. I’ve been divorced for 10 years and have 3 kids. I am very careful and discerning.
    Three times I’ve gone against God’s advice and ‘dipped my toe’ into the world of dating. Lol. All have been disastrous!
    After each attempt, Holy Spirit was like ‘why are you going against what was instructed?’
    I’ve usually replied to Him, that I’ll either be an old woman before God brings someone, all the women I’ve met who divorced/separated when I did, have met partners and why do I have to wait?
    Lol. God is so good and knows me well.
    I am healed of many past things (sex and love addiction, addiction etc) but I’m still impatient and the enemy likes to play games.
    I know God is bringing my husband.
    But I’m also learning what a ‘Godly man’ actually is, through prayer and decent Christian, married men.
    I can be attracted to ‘bad boys’, but I’m learning and staying obedient to Holt Spirit.
    I also have wise, Christian women in my life who I talk to about this….so I can’t get all ‘starry eyed’ or mislead by the enemy.
    At the moment, I’m content being in the season of singleness….my children need me (even though they are teenagers) and when the time is right, God will bring my husband.
    I sometimes worry I’ve misheard or the enemies playing tricks. But when I turn to my Bible and pray….I just keep getting the message to trust and remain obedient.
    Thanks, Gary. Kylie (Melbourne, Australia)

  3. Gary,
    Thank you for sharing this wisdom with singles. Especially young singles. I met you and heard you speak on these things in Washington, in 2010, at a Chi Alpha retreat.
    I was blessed abundantly during that retreat and by your message.

    When I returned to Idaho, I shared the words and encouragement that I had received with my family and friends. My dad (in Ohio) has always known the bible really well and been very religious. He told me that your words were bad counsel, that listing and examining sounded like trusting in the arm of the flesh rather than walking by the spirit.

    At that time I had swooned over a girl in Ohio and I had never told her I was interested in her, I tried to hide it. You see my dad had taught that it was sin to express interest in a girl if I wasn’t already prepared to marry her. If I stirred up her interest and didn’t marry her, I would be responsible for any pain she felt from the breakup. I needed to be 100% committed from the start. This created so much confusion and diengenuity in my life. Whenever I was attracted by a girl, not just eyes across the room, but Christian girls in school or church or work, friends I spent a good deal of time with. I would try to get to know them and tell them I wasn’t interested in them when they asked.
    Well, as you can imagine that lady married someone, and the others all went on with their lives. After feeling wrecked and depressed (fits of not eating and not sleeping well etc) and a whole lot of inner turmoil…I was able to move on. This happened a couple of times, with different girls each a couple of years. Each time I thought, well I was wrong this time I just need to try harder to hear God’s voice next time. Maybe I sinned too many times, I just haven’t done good enough.

    Eventually, this all came to be unsupressable. I was in Ecuador alone on the Pacific coast. I was crying out to my Father with every bit of my soul. I saw that I had idolized my dad and his words. I had taken my dad’s words to be the words of God.
    Gary, I was so afraid of making a mistake in all those opportunities I had at relationships. In that moment I was aware I had become the wicked and lazy servant in Matthew 25:25. I had buried and hidden my sexuality. I had so much fear of marrying “outside of God’s will” that I was staying single – not to serve Him mind you but just to stay out of trouble. Marriage had been an idol for me too, honestly as important as the “rest of our life” is, that pales in comparison to eternity.

    God was so patient with me, even as I strived to earn His free gift, He still loved me. That very night marked a beginning of major change in my family and the church I had grown up in. It had been an environment of fear and the pastor had been very manipulative. The healing and deliverance God has worked in these last 4 years has been tremendous. He doesn’t show us everything all at once, but He gives us a step and let’s us take that and then He reveals another…
    Each day we get to have our mind renewed and be more transformed into Him.

    I did get to marry a wonderful lady a little over a year ago and it is beautiful how He is knitting our hearts together more and more each day.

  4. Thank you Gary, for opening my eyes to the understanding of wisdom . This massage is really on time . Please how can I get the SACRED SEARCH book?

  5. While I do agree with you that mistical leaning are in no way God’s voice in guiding, I do disagree with you that you should marry only based on “wisdom”.
    God doest truly speak and guide – only not in mistical ways.
    And yes, i do ask Him what job to take, what studies to make, what financial investments to make, what companionships to develop.
    Since everything I am and have is HIS not mine.

    I could do what I want in the moral perimeter. But I go further, beyond that, to ask Him if there is anything that He would like even more.

    More on this depending on the topic and answers.

  6. Hey Garry i like your article but its abit too late.I made a wrong decision about a man i married.we have 3 kids. Am miserable. i thought it was God who spoke to me but to the contrary.Please help me how do i come out of this miserable marriage.Should i divorce him?

    • Once you chose him, Chika, unless he has been unfaithful to you, is abusive, or is putting your family at risk with an addiction, he’s BECOME the right person, and your call before God is to grow in the midst of these difficulties. I’ve seen many “miserable” marriages progress to a place of healing and even happiness. Not knowing your situation, I can’t speak to what’s happening in your life, of course. I just want you to know that there is always hope.

    • Hi Chika – My wife of 25 years did exactly the same thing you are describing and left me over a year ago. My biggest regret was that she never told me about it until she had an affair, and then when I found out about it, instead of saying she was sorry, she poured out many cruel things about how much she disliked me all these years. My opinion: give your guy a chance to act with full awareness of what is going on. Address the situation with the help of a counselor, be open to the fact that there are probably some issues that are more you than him (in my wife’s case, there was also the issue that she didn’t want to get married at all, and this probably created resentment towards me.) There are many things about myself that I would have gladly changed if I had known about the issues, things that needed changing for sure. Give him a chance.

  7. Anyone pointing to the Isaac and Rebekah story as their decision making model needs to read the story again. They had a miserable marriage. They didn’t listen to each other, kept secrets from each other and conspired against each other.

  8. It frustrates me to no end when I hear triumphalist testimonies to the effect that God asked someone to do something crazy and then it all worked out. Those make it sound like it’s pretty much a guarantee that if you step out in faith God will “come through”. But what about the many people who did things like that and God “didn’t come through” (however we might interpret that). I’m one of them and I suppose that gives me a unique perspective. Consider too that on other side of the coin, some people “step out in faith” thinking that God told them to do something and they only succeed because they happen to be well supported or well liked or part of a generous community, etc. That is to say: “success” does not necessarily confirm God’s calling either. But on the whole, we need to stop blaming God for our choices. Our relationship with God has to do more with how we handle the consequences of our choices than with getting his direction to ensure we make the right ones. And what if you did make the decision that God asked you to make, but he had a different idea of where it was heading than you did? What if you are just mad that God didn’t to things your way? Isn’t it inauthentic to say you are obeying God and then complain when it turns out “wrong”? Even though he slay me I will still hope in him (job 13:15),

    • Good words, Rob. Bless you

    • Say it again! Those are exactly the words that came to my mind (Job 13:15) when my husband told me he was not a Christian, was tired of pretending, and asked for a divorce. We met in Bible college, and when he proposed I was unsure, but had no one I felt I could ask for advice, was 1,000 miles from home, and after praying, felt that God told me He would always be with me no matter what. Well, of course that is in the Bible, but this feeling I got when I prayed I took as God telling me to marry him, even though I had reason for doubt. But had I known what was true about him at the time, I would have never said yes. If I had even a little common sense instead of wrong teachings, I would not have said yes. But I did say yes, and was worried. I had also been told in high school that one must never break an engagement, based on the seriousness of the betrothal in the New Testament. So, shortly before our seventh anniversary, he said he was tired of pretending and left. I’m skipping a lot of details here, but he had a position in the church at the time. We didn’t fight, but he was living a very different life when he was not at home. I sensed something was not real, but felt obligated to be silent. When he left, a few thoughts came to my mind immediately: relief from the pretense, relief from the child abuse, wonder why God didn’t prevent the marriage, and the verse from Job. I never felt God owed me an answer. And He did provide in so many ways. But the end of this story is that my own children (through no fault of my own) do not believe there is only one person, but that you find a person you want to live with (Godly qualities, similar interests and goals, etc.) and you make the marriage work. Thank the Lord, my children are all happily married to godly wives in spite of my poor decision.

      • Thanks for adding the word of testimony Abbi. What I really hope singles will get out of these posts is that the marital decision is unlike all others. There are very significant consequences. The right process can save people a lot of grief. There is going to be difficulty in every marriage, but we don’t have to bring even more difficulty into our lives by making such an important decision on a flimsy, unpredictable basis

  9. Gary Thomas;
    I very much enjoy your book;
    Sacred Pathways to God. It has drawn med closer to God,
    and God reminded me about this book as an answer to prayers about getting closer to Him.
    Reading through the book, I’ve learned, I’m an ascetic, yet mostly trying to get close to God by Sensation.
    This new knowledge has really expanded my time with God, and how I relate to Him,
    so thankyou for writing this book!
    I would like to learn Biblical wisdom concerning choosing a spouse.
    What is this Biblical wisdom you are mentioning?

    Thankyou, alchemist, for your concrete and tangible commentary to the verses about Isach and Rebecca! How lovely to read your comment, and learning some great signs of character to look for in a spouse.

  10. In addition to your father having to hire a servant and send him to find the woman, how did the servant find Rebecca? He asked God for an extremely specific sign. Not only was the sign specific, what was it? Draw water for a random stranger AND ALL OF HIS CAMELS? Ten camels. Do people even know how much camels drink? 30 gallons each. Do you know how heavy 30 gallons of water is to hoist up out of a well? So not only was she humble and hospitable, she was ridiculously generous, kind and hard working. Thus, he actually chose the sign specifically to divine the girls character. He didn’t just go on his feelings.

    • Alchemist, exactly! That’s the point I make in The Sacred Search, but I’m glad you brought your own thoughts into the comments section here. Well stated. Rather than reading this as a mystical sign (“Have her say these exact words”) you could (and probably should) read it as a demonstration of character.

    • I think you should start your own blog. I have always enjoyed your comments and your perspective on marriage and relationships. And you’re a Saffa. Love it! I would follow you!

      And I love what you said about a person’s character and how he tested her character, not his feelings. Very well said!

  11. This post is timely for me–thank you. I’m meeting with a woman who married someone because “God told her to” even though wisdom was telling her otherwise. I’m not sure how to help her in her struggling marriage, but at least I can help her not point the finger of blame on God.

    Gary, I’m feeling inadequate for this one–wanting to say ‘you made your bed now sleep in it’–but God, Who is rich in mercy and slow to anger would never want me to react in this way. What about my own mystical choices? I’m praying He will help me show this suffering wife compassion and love. And He is doing this by allowing me to read your post.

    • Debi, once we’ve made our choice–for whatever reason–we’re responsible to live up to our choice. In Sacred Marriage, I talk about how God can use even the difficulties and challenges of marriage for a good purpose. That’s what your friend needs to consider.

      This post is more for singles, to help them be more thoughtful for future choices. Little is gained by already married people kicking themselves over a decision that has previously been made. In those circumstances, it’s best to put our energy and focus into making the best of the situation we have now.

  12. Gary, thank you soooo much for posting this article! Unfortunately, I fell on the same ‘trap’ by being misled by my own mystical leadings in relationships, money and ministry. Thankfully, the Lord has been and is faithful and He’s been teaching to distinguish between His voice and my own. I sooo much needed to read something like this! So many Christians have gone thru painful breakups and toxic relationships because ‘they felt led by God’ to do so. Praise the Lord He’s good, merciful and gracious to us humans, even and especially when we mess up badly.