Most of my life I grew up thinking of what I might gain (or lose) in a commitment of marriage. This line of thinking led me to evaluate marriage and women in terms of what I could get from such a relationship. I would always ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” As long as I focused on what I was gaining from a relationship, I had a hard time finding satisfaction. When I was the focus of a relationship, I always had more to pursue because I was never satisfied. Satisfaction cannot be found in a self-centered life or a self-centered relationship. When I finally began to look at marriage from God’s perspective, I saw it as a calling to a God-centered and other-centered life.
My attitude toward women also changed as I began to view marriage as a calling. My focus shifted from finding the right person to becoming the right person. I began to consider what God required of me as a husband instead of what I required of a woman before I would want her to be my wife.
The first question I ask a couple when they are considering marriage is this: “Where are you in your relationship with God?” I ask this question first because I am convinced that a person can only love to the extent he or she has experienced love. Love does not originate within us. We respond to the love we receive from others. In regard to love, we are more like the moon than the sun. We reflect the love we have received.
If the only love a person has experienced is from a human source, as good as that love may have been, that is the best love he or she will be able to reflect to another. The Scripture says “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). If I have received, responded, and submitted to God’s costly love extended to me in Christ Jesus, then the Spirit works to build this love in me (Gal. 5:22-23). As I receive from God I can extend to others. The first other in this world for a married couple is his or her spouse! As I draw near to God and receive from him through the Son and the Spirit I can then extend to others. By the way, forgiveness is treated the same way in the Bible!
The second question I ask the couple contemplating marriage is: “What convinces you that God is calling you together as husband and wife?” Most people expect the question to be, “Why do you want to get married?” This latter question is often the question they answer when I ask the second question. I usually have to reiterate the idea of being called together rather than merely wanting to be married. Whether I believe the couple should marry is not the point. What is important is that the couple be convinced God is calling them together as husband and wife! The man needs to be convinced God is calling him to be the husband of the woman. The woman needs to be convinced God is calling her to be the wife of the man.
I do not know what marriage will hold for the couple. They do not know what marriage will hold for them either. I will not be present in their marriage. If God is calling them together, he will be with them and will remain sovereign in their married life. They may have surprises in their marriage. These surprises, however, are not surprises to God! He will always remain with the couple in the marriage relationship. In Ecclesiastes 4:12 we read, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” With the Lord, a marriage between a man and woman can be that “cord of three strands.”
How do you know if God is calling you to marry someone? I knew that God was calling me to marriage when I experienced the love he gave me for the woman I was dating. He gave me the desire to meet her needs at the expense of my own. I wanted to be her husband and care for her as my wife. I have not perfectly loved my wife in our marriage! But, I know that the desire to love her came from God and did not come from within me. This desire gave me confidence to know that God was involved and calling me to this marriage. It gave me the energy to move into the commitment of marriage. I was convinced God was working within me and calling us together. This conviction was confirmed when this precious woman responded to my invitation to be my wife. She, too, was convinced that God was calling us together. It has been good to look back on what brought us together when we have struggles with one another. It is good to remember that God has called us to be husband and wife. I come as a package deal, with strengths and weaknesses. So does my wife. It is a joy and challenge to move toward oneness in our marriage.
Why go through premarital counseling? There is a danger in becoming overwhelmed with the decisions a wedding brings. The wedding itself can steal precious time and energy from preparing for your marriage. You need to take time to nurture your relationship as a couple during the engagement. I am often challenged with the statement, “If you are in love you should not have to work at your relationship.” In fact, the exact opposite is true. It is precisely because something is important to you that you work to better understand and appreciate it! Marriage takes two people willing to engage in the relationship and work toward oneness. It is important to consider your marriage before the wedding rather than after it. Here are some reasons why premarital counseling is valuable:
Preparation can only help. The more you put into preparing for your marriage the more you will get out of it!
Why a workbook? A workbook is to enable you as a couple to talk together as you consider your marriage. It encourages you to consider questions and issues you may have not considered. Looking at the Scriptures together and discussing questions will bring issues to the surface to allow you to address them. It will encourage you to take your marriage and relationship more seriously! You will not anticipate everything before your marriage, and you don’t need to. You won’t need to decide what to do on your tenth anniversary before your wedding! You should discuss things that will help you get started in enjoying a life together as a couple.
It is most helpful to go through the workbook separately. Think through the Scriptures and questions individually and then come together to discuss your thoughts. This is why having individual books will be helpful. It is most important to discuss these issues together. I recommend meeting with someone you respect who can help you prepare for marriage by walking you through your premarital counseling, such as a pastor or counselor. If those options are not accessible, you might ask a couple with a solid marriage relationship to help you go through the workbook and prepare for your life together.
Each session of this workbook will cover a particular area of marriage. Within each session you will find introductory remarks, Scriptural references, potential troublespots, references to concepts and books by others, and discussion questions. These are all intended to prepare you for the issues you will face in marriage and to equip you with tools to handle these issues when they arise.
What about the physical aspect of your relationship? Many couples struggle with physical intimacy during dating and the engagement period. God created sexual intimacy for our good and for the safety and security of marriage. His instruction concerning this matter is for our benefit! God has our best interest in mind. You may be tempted to become sexually intimate, rationalize, and give in to the temptation because you are planning to marry. However, sexual intimacy outside of the covenant of marriage will confuse your relationship. It will often cause more confusion for the woman. Physical intimacy can actually prevent you from working to build an emotional oneness in your relationship because it creates a lack of trust!
In the Song of Solomon 8:4 we read, “daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: do not arouse or awaken love [physical intimacy] until it so desires [the covenant of marriage].” As your emotional and spiritual oneness grows, your desire to express that oneness physically will likely increase. You need a plan to handle that temptation. Boundaries are helpful (i.e., avoid unstructured time alone in the late evening; avoid arousing sexual desires; avoid lying down together). See the section on “Levels of Physical Intimacy Between a Couple” in the Sexual Intimacy section (page 61) for ideas regarding boundaries.
1. After looking over the outline of the six sessions, can you think of any issues not listed that you and your fiancé need to discuss?
2. If you are working through this book with a pastor, counselor, or couple, are there any issues you need to make them aware of before you begin?