Marriage Preparation is Heart Work

Marriage Preparation is Heart Work

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Are you ready for marriage?

It’s that time of year again. People seem to be marrying off like rabbits (at least from my news feed). Facebook has been lighting up with pictures of brides and bridal parties, and it is fun to see all the smiles and happy celebrations. Occasionally, an engagement announcement will pop up, and my first thought is, I wonder if they’re ready? I don’t mean it in a judgmental or even critical way. I just wonder what makes a couple ready for marriage.

Certainly, no one enters marriage with complete confidence that they are ready for all that awaits. There are all sorts of unknown variables that even the most calculating person couldn’t possibly anticipate. One of the great mysteries of marriage is that it’s a commitment made in trust. You must trust yourself, your new spouse, and God — the giver of marriage. But are we left to only trust and take the leap? Or is there a way of knowing if we are really ready for marriage?

I believe there is a huge test we should keep before us on the road to marriage. It’s a test we should regularly take and retake, working daily to improve. In fact, Jesus himself assessed those who came to Him by this same test. Of course, I’m talking about the state of the heart. On the road to marriage, it is extremely important to have an accurate understanding of your own heart and the heart of your future spouse. To misjudge the heart is not only foolish, it is downright dangerous.

The struggle with determining what is in the heart stems from the universal capacity to cover and hide what is really there. Jesus pointed this out when He said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Think of the surprised looks when He said this. Jesus knew what was in their hearts and saw when they were faking it. They were putting on a show and duping many, but Jesus wasn't interested in how things appeared. He drilled right down to what was in their hearts.

As we prepare for marriage and look for someone to marry, we ignore the heart issue to our own hurt. We must protect and nurture our hearts consistently and expect the same of those who we commit ourselves to. I’m not looking for a perfect heart, but a growing heart. I want to find someone who knows the weaknesses in their own heart and is fighting daily to grow in the Lord. Too many work to mask their heart, instead of working to purify it.

On your road to marriage, here are a few heart questions to contemplate about yourself and the one whom you’d marry.

1. Do you habitually soak your heart in God’s Word?

Having a regular, organized time in God’s Word is essential for purity. Jesus made a habit of reading the Scriptures and asked God to sanctify His people in the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). Paul wrote to the Ephesians that Christ makes His church holy by, “cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). God’s Word is compared to both food and cleansing because these are things we must do frequently. Your heart  much like your body  needs regular care and maintenance. In the same way you wouldn't go days and weeks without food or a shower, don’t go long without feeding and washing your heart in God’s Word.

2. Do you habitually commune with God?

We must also recognize that heart work is ultimately the work of God in us. As Job wrote, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one” (Job 14:4). We cannot purify our own hearts, but we can plead with God to purify us. Ultimately, we need God to do a heart work in us. Those who would be pure must pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Spending regular time alone with God, asking Him to purify our hearts, is a sure way to grow a clean heart.

3. How do you respond to stress, pressure and exhaustion?

The heart often shows its true colors at points of stress and difficulty. If you want to know the state of your heart, pay attention to how you respond when your life seems to fall apart. The sinful attitudes, words and actions that flow from our hearts in these moments may reveal we've been neglecting our hearts or need to refocus our efforts.

4. Are you aware of the sin in your heart, and do you quickly repent of it?

One of the key indicators of our heart’s position before God is how we respond when we sin. Those further along in their sanctification will be quick to identify sins, confess them and turn from them. This process of intentionally abandoning sin is called repentance, and Jesus regularly used it to call people to himself. As Peter taught, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Be wary of heart tendencies to hide, negate, rationalize or explain away sin. Pure hearts turn from sin quickly, thoroughly and often.

5. Do you prefer the company of the pure in heart?

Lastly, the pure in heart will draw close to others who are pure in heart as well. In the same way “bad company corrupts good character” good company promotes good character. Look at a person’s closest friends, and it will tell you something about the state of their heart. Many have found growing in Christ has meant finding new friends. Those who are growing close to God will naturally surround themselves with others growing in the same.

It’s important to regularly consider the state of your own heart. Much like the cultivation of most things of great value, it requires intentionality and diligence. Those who are heading toward marriage should look closely at their own heart and the heart of the one whom they would marry. Our culture tends to overemphasize what we can see with our own eyes, but the unseen quality of the heart is much more significant. No one will ever perfectly reflect the heart of Christ in this life, but let us be attracted to those who are constantly growing toward it.

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  • --Thanks Andrew for this heart searching post. Its not often that you hear people discussing whether their heart is right before God and man.

    Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Proverbs 4;23

  • --I'm not sure, but I think I disagree with item 5. We are lying to ourselves if we thing people are "pure" based on out ward choices, Jesus wrote a whole sermon on it :p also, Christians who only spend time with other Christians are likely to be spiritually stunted yes-men.  Much better advice is relying on people who love God for advice and mentorship. I would see someone who deliberately set themselves away from non Christians as a massive red flag.

  • --@MrsAshleyTOF has a point. How are we to go make disciples of all the nations if we stay away from non-Christians?

  • --Well, maybe look at how someone ACTS with the company they keep. If this person is with a group of non-Christian friends, do they influence the Christian's behavior or does he influence them? Does he go along laughing at their dirty jokes or does he say, "hey guys, let's keep things PG." You know. I think you can tell pretty easily if the Christian is getting influenced by non-Christians around them.

    Also maybe look at the person's *closest* friends, if he seems like peas in a pod with non-Christian friends but is cold to Christian ones, that might be a red flag. It might be just me but I can never get very close with non-Christians. Too many fundamental differences keep us at a slight distance. The ones I trust for counsel, the ones I deeply respect, are not my non-Christian friends.

  • --MrsAshleyTOF / GrinAndBarrett,

    I think the point he's trying to make is that you people tend to be influenced by those whom they spend much of their time around, and the more time spent around someone, the more likely you'll be to adopt their thinking, speech, mindsets, etc.

    Now before you bring up the "Well Jesus hung around with tax collectors and prostitutes" spiel, let me point out He probably did not befriend them as closely as His disciples, their company was not those He exclusively hung around, nor was He suseptible to their possible corrupting influence (this gets into a sticky theological question of whether or not it was possible for Jesus [God] to sin.  I believe the answer is "No" because the alternative would be much harder to explain).  He regularly communed with His Father as well as with His disciples.

    Remember that part of the goal of the early Church was not just to be a light to the darkness in the world, but to grow closer together as Believers.  Meeting daily, breaking bread, praying, all of these things were essential to being effective both within the Church and outside of it.

  • --This is good encouragement!  It's easy to get caught up in outward things, and what we can do in our own strength, and neglect the most important part which is inward and not seen.  I also love how these are basic disciplines that help with Christian life in general, married or not!  Here's another article that kind of relates, on how to pray for our hearts.... www.desiringgod.org/.../seven-ways-to-pray-for-your-heart

  • --Good points overall I think. (I'm guessing this is in response to another recent thread) 1 and 2 sound like the same thing...I try to shorten lists where I can!   And yeah, I would caution a little bit on 5... you don't want to cross over into territory where you're overly concerned with appearances.  

  • At first, I was a little confused how James79 thought #1 and #2 were the same thing, but in light of some teaching by Dr. John Geib that I've recently heard, James79's comment makes sense. In fact, #1 is a subset of #2. Communion with Christ should be the essence of the Christian life. Part of that communion comes through Scripture, and part comes through stillness, quietness, and listening in prayer, and part comes through us saying something to him, and part comes through fellowship with other believers who also have Christ living in them. Hmm, so maybe most of the the list can fall under "communion"? :-)

    Another note on #1: I do agree with Andrew's emphasis on Scripture, but I feel like something more is needed. Just reading a whole bunch of Scripture doesn't make you pure...even thinking about it a long time doesn't make you pure...only the Holy Spirit working those words into you makes you pure. Anybody can study Scripture, know it inside and out, but many who do so don't know Jesus at all. The point of studying Scripture should be communion with Christ, turning "from a textbook to a Person" (this quote is directly from Dr. Geib). If Scripture study either does not lead to communion or is not communion, then it has little value. Also, an interesting idea (this next part is my original thoughts, supposing that Dr. Geib's teaching is correct): What if the "word" that "is truth" (that Jesus asked the Father to sanctify his followers with) is not Scripture, but is himself? Jesus is referred to as both "word" and "truth" in other places, so why not here? This idea even makes more possible sense if you keep reading and read through from verse John 17:17 all the way to the end of verse 19. Similarly, what if "the washing of the water with the word" in Ephesians is not Scripture itself, but what if the "word" is Christ and the "water" that washes is the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is described as "streams of living water" (John 7:38) elsewhere... So, it seems to me, one could argue that it is Christ and the Spirit that do the washing and purifying, not Scripture (but it seems congruent that Christ and the Spirit would certainly use Scripture to do that, at least some of the time).

    Thanks for bearing with my musings! Today, I have, not so much opinions, but wonderings.

  • --MikeTime: That's why I said "I think I disagree" rather than "I totally disagree" ;D

    But I wooooould like to point out that Matthew-The-Tax-Collector was most deffinitely a disciple and Jesus's top 12 included Judas... ;)

    I am so not about the Christian bubble way of living, because I think if you insulate yourself from the world two much, when it knocks on your door looking for Jesus, you're likely to tell them their their muddy feet don't belong on your pristine carpet, and could they please come back later in appropriate dress to be seen by the King of Kings? :P

    Figuratively, of course.

    I listen to talk radio sometimes on my way into work in the morning, and this morning I was horrified to overhear the normal host who is VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY outspoken about his Christian faith (uses Christian songs as bumper music and frequently features area Pastors on his show) say (among other things) that anything other than a "traditional marriage" between one man and one woman is an "orgy." He was so rude, disrespectful, mean and cruel to the caller asking about the potential for overturn of a DOMA type regularion in this state, that I might have said some four letter words myself in the car. That kind of "better than" attitude, especially from the sort of Christians who have a literal microphone to speak to thousands of people is profoundly upsetting to me. You can disagree with someone's standards and lifestyles and still be respectful and point them to God. Personally, I've found that that attitude tends to run rampant among people who surround themselves with other people who agree with them. If your "fellow" believers laugh at your off-color joke about gays (Or "liberals" or "catholics" or "muslims") then it must be OK to say it from the pupit or in a very public arena, right? I mean, everyone agrees with you, right? And if they don't then they're just devil worshipping scum and it doesn't matter what they think.

    Except, of course, Jesus met heretics at the well at noon and asked them about their life. He rescued an adultering woman from an angry mob. He healed the demon posessed, he didn't spit on them and disregard them, and he certainly didn't demand that they be kept far away from him with their dirty, scary, different ways.

    I think we'd all do a little better if we acted more like Jesus.

  • --I'm not quite sure how to express this and I'm sure it'll be easily misunderstood, but what Ashley is saying is something I've been thinking about for a while. I wonder if part of the joy of being saved by grace is the freedom to love other people and recklessly serve them without worrying about whether we might end up sinning in the process.  Yes, we will be influenced by the people we spend time with, but I'm not sure that's a godly reason to avoid deep friendships with non-believers. There seems to be a general attitude among many Christians that it's best to stay at arm's length and be nice without putting yourself at risk of sinning, and that in closer friendships you should try to be influencing the other person without allowing yourself to be influenced by them.  The first problem with this is that human relationships don't work that way.  You can't get close enough to someone to influence them without getting close enough for them to influence you.  You can't cultivate a genuine friendship with someone while protecting yourself against them.  The second problem is that the whole attitude is based on fear, and in a sense, a kind of selfishness.  I say that tentatively because I can't think of a better word - I know that seeking to avoid sin is done out of reverence to God, but is it right to value our own pursuit of holiness more highly than the salvation of others?  Given that we're under grace not law, and we're free from fear.

    I don't mean that sin doesn't matter.  But I don't think the fear of sin should make us insulate ourselves from the world, or universally keep us away from certain people or places or situations.  I honestly believe that a Christian should not aim to have close friendships *only* with other Christians.  I believe that a Christian should actively make sure they *do* have Christian friendships where they get accountability and spiritual support, but they should *also* be open to friendships with all kinds of other people, and not for the purposes of evangelism per se, but out of a genuine love for them and an interest in their lives.  Don't avoid genuine relationships with other people out of fear.

    And if you find that you are being negatively influenced by a friendship, recognise that THAT IS STILL ON YOU.  It is not their fault you fell.  They are not the problem.  In a recent Boundless Answers article Candice advised someone to cut off a friendship that she perceived was a bad influence.  You know what - if you're an adult and you have accountability to other Christians, then except in extreme circumstances I really think it is not okay to cut someone out of your life because you feel like you'd be more righteous without them.  That's what the pharisees did, and it's not what Jesus calls us to do.  Be wise, be discerning, but take some responsibility and act out of love and freedom, not fear and self-preservation.

  • --Re: #5. I think there is wisdom in both directions: cultivating close "good character" friendships, and broadening the kinds of people you're willing to hang out with. As already mentioned, Jesus did both. Interestingly, he was much more exclusive than we might think (check out The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends by Richard Lamb)...but I digress. The danger would be when we lack either category of friendships. As some of you say, only "good" friends can be harmful, and only "bad" friends can be harmful. Is it possible to say I agree with all of you? :-)

    As an aside, sometimes, "good character" looks different than we think. Matthew may have been a tax collector, but he was willing to leave his life to be with Jesus. That's good character. Some of the Pharisees were amazingly pure and perfect looking, knew all the right answers so that Jesus said, "you are not far from the kingdom of God," but yet they were leading people away from God and not actually IN the kingdom. That's not good character. I had an agnostic Christian-hating friend rejoice with me at a miraculous healing God did in my life and asked to hear more about what this God did for me, while a close Christian friend simply berated the doctrine of the church that happened to pray for me and never said, "I'm so thankful you're well now." The dilemma: which of those is a friendship of good character? BTW, that's just an example for the opposite of standard ideas of good character, but I do believe there are people who fall inside the expected norms when we say "good character."

  • --Re: JosieJo, I don't think Candice meant cut off every person who influences you negatively, and it seems like that advised situation was (possibly) an extreme case. But, basically, I agree with you. The problem comes in, when people take your stated perspective too far and refuse to cut off someone who should be cut off. This may be hard, but sometimes "No" is a very loving thing to say, and an ultimate "no" is not being in relationship anymore. I have a few rare times had to do this, and it is heartbreakingly painful.

    Besides all the conversation about not hanging out with people who influence you toward sin, what about not hanging out with people whom YOU influence negatively and tempt or cause to sin as an act of care toward them? That's happened to me before...

  • --"he was much more exclusive than we might think"

    I have a veeeery hard time thinking that anyone could make this argument without coming from the very biased viewpoint of "I have to make the life of Jesus seem "holier" by *my* standards" than simple observation. If anything, Jesus's life and ministry was extremely characterized by being inclusive of outcasts. The fact that he had female followers and actually allowed a woman to learn at the feet of a rabbi was pretty much crazy-talk for the time. He not only talked to and met a Samaritan woman at a well, he made an unholy Samaritan such a central figure in one of his most influental parables that hospitals are named after this religious outcast and pagan worshipper to this day.

    For what it's worth, in addition to tax collectors being notoriously crooked, fishermen were regarded much in the same way that a lot of folks who work "Dirty Jobs" are in modern day America. In addition, Jesus "hung out" with enough folks of questionable standards that folks accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard -- rarely are such allegations hurled inside careful adherants to SBC standards :P

    I can only think of a couple particular occasions where Christ very literally DID act in an exclusive manner (Matthew 15:21-28 and the story of the rich young ruler) and in the first particular instance, my personal interpretation is that Jesus was drawing specific attention to this woman's non-Jew status in order to demonstrate that his deliverace was NOT conditional upon birthright. In the case of the rich young ruler, I think it can easily be infered and interpreted that that young man was only interested in following Jesus as long as Jesus could work for him -- clearly, that's not how he operates.

    I can't think of another occasion where Jesus legitimately turned away someone looking to follow him -- in most instances people stopped following Christ because his message was too challenging -- this is VERY different from telling someone "I can't be friends with you anymore because I'm a good Christian now"

    I have relatively few regrets in my life, but one of my big ones is that in college I ended a friendship with a very fragile person on these tenable grounds. Instead of staying in her life and investing in her -- showing her that I could be a follower of Jesus and still value her, I cut her out and left her to her own devices, telling myself at the time (and being "affirmed" by other believers) that she had made a concious decision not to accept Christ and that that was on her and not me.

    I was wrong, they were wrong, everything about how I handled that situation was wrong, wrong, wrong.

    I was wrong to end that friendship, I was wrong to send her the message that whether or not she made an immediate decision to accept Jesus was more important to me than her inherent value as a human being. I was wrong to ditch our friendship on the grounds that I now had "Christian" friends who were invested in my spiritual well-being and that if she didn't want to be a part of that she no longer had a place in my life. I was wrong. I had a God-given opportunity to be a blessing to someone who had been burned by the church and instead of loving her and showing her that she was wrong about followers of Jesus, I gave her every reason to solidfy her hatred for how people who claimed to follow God treated her. You can say that my faith was young and shaky and I needed to surround myself with people who would build it up, but that is still not fair to her. I was simply wrong. I think about her often, and sometimes I almost contact her to apologise for how terribly wrong I was -- but I know that she has a deep and abiding hatred for me, that in time has probably given way to apathy and dismissal, and I can't imagine that any words I have now would heal the wound, they would just drive it deeper. So I pray for her, and for people like her.

    But I think there are a lot of people who are giving the very same advice that those "affirming" believers gave me, that it's ok to cut someone out of your life because of their "potential" to cause you to experience temptation. Really? Why do we, as a church, cut people off from their unbelieving friends rather than reach out to them and minister to them? When we did become so exclusive and divisive, and why is that OK?

  • -- Mrs. Ashley, Josiejo, those are great thoughts on how we should approach friendships with unbelievers. Thank you so much for the challenge and the encouragement!

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