Godly engagement and keeping our heart right before marriage
As we all scroll through our text messages and Facebook time lines, it seems like everyone is getting engaged! This coupled with continuous discussions of biblical courtship in the church creates an atmosphere where we young Christians are regularly required to think on these things and embrace the inevitable - we are no longer children and this is the next step in life before us.
The countless articles being written on the subject of courtship from a biblical perspective help us and guide us to the relevant scriptures. However, after a flurry of several close friends becoming engaged and walking into unknown territory, I cannot help but wonder, what about those who have taken that step to get engaged? Where are the articles to guide and help them? What changes need to be put in place for them from a biblical perspective?
I have been fortunate enough to meet and converse with three women who share the same passion and concern as myself. These godly women have so graciously offered to anonymously disclose their experiences and advice for all those who are in courtships nearing the junction of marriage and who have recently been engaged.
For the purposes of this article, they will be labelled as Lady A, Lady B and Lady C.
1. The transition from courting and living a life of singleness to getting engaged to be married; what does that feel like?
The response I got from Lady C, for me, encapsulates the feelings and emotions that were consistent across all three women. "The only way I can begin to describe it is like being in a really great dream. It feels so unreal,"was her answer, summing up the excitement and the emotional change from the point of engagement.
Lady A went into a bit more detail regarding the change from a courtship into the engagement, taking into consideration the relational labels and change of dynamics:
"It was exciting to know that I was beginning a journey with someone I cared about and respected deeply, but challenging because it was new. There is a plethora of 'do's and don'ts' for courting Christians, which sound easy and agreeable when you read them in a book or hear it from the pulpit, but putting it into practice is the hard part!
"For example, should he be here at this time, do we hold hands, can we go out on a date, can we even say date, and, am I single or 'taken'?! It was and still is a learning curve and important to remember in whatever we do, we are trying to glorify God, not tick boxes. Courtship to engagement has been and is slightly easier in regards to 'status'. You definitely know where you stand when referring to your other half!"
Lady B divulged some of the practical aspects of being engaged: "As exciting as it feels, the process also comes with the pressures of planning, including finances and possible conflict with other loved ones. But on both our parts the best feeling is the desire to grow in Christ so that we're fit for the God-given role of being husband and wife."
Whilst taking into consideration the whirlwind of emotions that come with the transition from courtship to engagement, I felt that it was only fitting that I ask the ladies the following question next:
2. In my experience of desiring to be married, I have found that it has been quite easy to become consumed with it all. What have you implemented to ensure that you remain sober minded in this process - ensuring marriage doesn't become an idol?
Lady A admitted this was tricky: "For me, there has not been a fool proof method to ensure that I don't make marriage an idol. Instead, I repent when I realise that that's what I am doing! I'm reminded that this, as beautiful as it is, is only temporal and its primary purpose is to glorify The Lord and to be a reflection of His love towards His bride, the church. In addition to this, having someone that you are accountable to, honest friends and good teaching helps to swiftly remind me to put marriage in its proper place."
This stance was echoed by Lady C, who added that it was helpful to remember that God has got the wedding and marriage in hand as a way of avoiding the danger of idolatry.
"Another helpful reminder is to constantly remember it's not just about the wedding day, but married life," she continued.
"We have found the marriage preparation courses very helpful, it keeps us communicating, praying and seeking to become more Christlike in our relationship. It helps us to remember what's actually important in this whole process, our union before God."
Lady B took a slightly different approach in answering the question, highlighting some of the struggles with being consumed with marriage during the courtship. She stated: "Funnily enough, I began to idolise marriage, before getting engaged. The feeling developed strongly and I began to envy my peers who were engaged before me. It also caused me to doubt and pressure my now fiancé, as it wasn't happening in 'my time'. Thank God for His grace, He enabled me to see where I was going wrong and repent."
Lady B went on to say: "As women we need to remain supportive and give our heart's desires to Christ. Don't allow a man or marriage to take the place of God, but meditate on scriptures to prepare for being a godly wife for when your time comes."
The next question helped to clearly distinguish some principles which have helped these ladies in the preparation process.
3. If you could describe the process of preparing for the wedding and your life as a married couple in one word, what would that be?
Lady A brought to light a very well-known scripture which serves as a constant reminder for believers to look to God in all things. She stated "Prayer - Seek ye first the kingdom of God. I try not to do things in my own strength and have to remind myself that God needs to be at the centre of it all. After all, it is by His Grace that we are here and it is His Grace that keeps us."
Lady B's answer followed nicely on from this response as she acknowledged that purpose was important. "Purpose - always remember as Christians our motives for getting married are different from the world's. The world says to live together. The world says to wait for more money. Don't allow the opinions of others (including family and friends) to influence you too much. It's important to remember that by making this step you are honouring God and being obedient to His word. Because we're honouring him we have to trust in His provision."
Lady C beautifully illustrated the foundation and heart of any Christian marriage. Her word was union. She stated: "I am about to make the most important promise of my life, to unconditionally love, stand by and honour this one man for the rest of my life. In the presence of my future husband, friends and family, but most importantly God, I will be united with my husband. Our union is not just about us, it's about our union with God, and how our union can serve the world and minister to others."
4. What are some of the fears or struggles that you have battled with following your engagement? What in God's truth has served as the greatest comfort to you?
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Understandably, a common worry which was again consistent across all three women was the finances. Lady A highlighted this clearly and also drew on some scriptures which have brought her peace.
She stated: "Everything seems to be so extortionate the moment you mention 'wedding'. Matthew 6:26, Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 3:5-6 are definitely my beacons."
Lady B illustrated the need to rest on scriptures in her response by stating: "Constantly I'm learning to cast my worries to Christ. Everything that we go through is nothing uncommon to man. Reflecting on scriptures such as 1Peter 5:7-8, Psalm 55:22 (in AMP), have given me peace and confidence. Marriage is God's will, so trusting Him is key!"
Lady C, as well as highlighting the financial worry, also presented her worries concerning the change of dynamics that their relationship will take where intimacy is concerned after the marriage ceremony, a fear which is probably not uncommon to engaged Christian women.
She shared: "Moving from going from a place of refraining from all things sexual to suddenly, literally overnight, sex not only being allowed but celebrated is somewhat daunting for me, as I have had to really repress and control those desires. The thought of that now changing is strange - but don't get me wrong, very exciting too! In addition to this, I have been hoping that I will be able to fulfil my husband's sexual desires. But the Lord has been reminding me that he designed sex, for husband and wife and it is beautiful and special, and, also He honours those that honour Him."
This process, understandably, will come with its fair share of lessons and preparations within the heart for married life. The next question sheds light on some of the lessons which these women have been fortunate enough to learn. I asked:
5. What has God been showing you during this time that you feel will also be of huge benefit in marriage? (These could be compromise, communication etc.)
Lady A set the responses in motion, illustrating what this season has shown her about herself. She stated: "My courtship and engagement have been such a spotlight on my character, namely my lack of patience and 'I can do it all by myself' attitude. I have been learning that compromise and other person centeredness is key. My spouse to be and I are a team, and that's essential as husband and wife. Decisions are to be made together, not in isolation. Also, my fiancé will be the head of our home, the 'I can do it all by myself' attitude just won't work!"
Lady B provided insight into a particular method which has proved to be beneficial in her engagement and has given way for God to really reveal, correct and illuminate certain truths in her heart. She stated: "One thing I would suggest is attending a marriage prep course while courting - before engagement - if possible! Marriage prep has opened us to God's true perspective on courtship and marriage, is helping us to grow in Him, and we are allowing Him to influence the decisions we make towards the wedding and marriage. I'm learning to be more submissive in certain areas where I'd usually take the lead, and my fiancé wants me to lean on him more rather than settling situations by myself."
Lady C, who through her responses has illustrated her desire to continually meditate on the foundation of marriage, says God has been giving her a greater understanding of the word covenant. "God has been helping me to understand in more depth that he designed marriage to be a reflection to the world of the love of Christ through the Gospel. The way that in the midst of life's up and downs God remains committed to us, he doesn't give up or walk out, even when we disappoint. Marriage helps us understand God's love for us because it reveals the underlining truth that we are more sinful and selfish than we ever realised we were, but how beyond our understanding that person loves us anyway. That is a reflection of Christ's love for us."
6. If you could give engaged women one piece of advice, what would it be?
Lady A and Lady B highlighted an important element which should be prevalent and applied in the life of any believer as well as those who have recently got engaged.
Lady A stated that the engaged woman should: "Draw on scriptures. Keep the Lord at the centre of your relationship and wedding planning. Let Him guide you, humble you and teach you, individually and as a couple. He is of most importance, not us. Wedding planning has the uncanny ability to quickly make you forget that truth."
As well as echoing the above, Lady B went on to reiterate the importance of prayer: "It's important to keep your fiancé in prayer. As we're getting caught in the wedding prep, continue to express your support to him as he does for you too and make time for each other."
Lady C nicely concluded this particular question by highlighting the importance of being a reflection of Christ's love in imitation and conduct. She stated: "Allow marriage to teach you of God's great love and faithfulness, let his faithfulness to you inspire you in your faithfulness and commitment to your husband. Remember that we love because he first loved us, he loves us through and through and our love needs to be a reflection of that."
These women have given such rich responses concerning some of the fears they have experienced, the challenges and joys of this season and lastly, what God has been revealing to them and comforting them with through His timeless word.
I think there are three wonderful truths that can be taken way from all that has been said is.
Firstly, acknowledging that mistakes will be made and being quick to repent when that happens. Psalm 103 is a great picture of the abounding mercy of God and reminds us that we have a compassionate God who "knows our frame; He knows that we are but dust". This should compel us to continually approach the throne of grace knowing that we will find guidance and forgiveness.
Secondly, the need to meditate on scripture has been repeated time and time again and most certainly illustrates the importance not only in this season, but in our life as believers. The word of God is our mandate, our guide and final authority. The word brings clarity where there is confusion and truth where there are lies! This has served as an anchor to these women and reminded them of their continual need for God. Let us imitate them in this respect, knowing that the word of God is the believer's air.
And lastly, there is the continual pursuit of Christlikeness as revealed in the gospel. Lady C highlighted this in her last answer and I think it is a truth which needs to be grasped and continually pursued by the engaged believer. As the marriage is to be a reflection of Christ's unwavering love towards His bride, the woman who is engaged, as well as the believer, needs to persist in praying for the Holy Spirit to enable them to display all those fruits which illustrate Christlikeness (Galatians 5:22-25). We are to be imitators of Christ in all that we are and do, in our dealings with our brothers and sisters, spouse to be and enemies, abounding in love and grace and being an extension of all that we have received from Christ for His glory.
In light of all that has been presented, I pray, along with these godly women, that you would be reminded afresh of God's unwavering love for the believer (you), be encouraged by the truth of God's word concerning marriage, His providence and sovereignty, and lastly implement those things such as accountability and practical meditation which have proven to be pivotal to these women in this process.
God is Sovereign and in complete control, may this compel us, by His grace, to trust Him, no matter where we are in life.