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.
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.