I recently shared with my older children that most marriages are defiled before the man or woman have a chance to say, "I do." In one prominent online study on dating, over 80% of the respondents indicated that they would consent to sex prior to marriage. This same study revealed that most couples would move in together prior to their wedding day. It was also noted in this study that dads as well as moms had little influence when it came to who their children dated. For every parent out there, this should be a huge wake-up call. Perhaps, it's time we rethink dating.
"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous."
Four basic principles of biblically-focused dating:
- 1. Dating With A Purpose
This hits the foundational motive to date/court with God's glory in mind. As a dad, this means everything to me. We know that God’s will for a man and woman is marriage—regarding romantic relationships beyond friendship. Yet, within this goal is the mutual objective: to get to know each other as a brother and sister in Christ in a way that honors God. While every dating relationship or "courtship" may not end up in marriage, it should result in growing closer to God and building each other up in the Lord. Without a God-driven purpose in dating, too often, our youth and young adults will be caught up in the emotional and physical pulls that are naturally there. As a father, it's a big part of my calling to ensure my sons and daughters understand this primary objective before they enter into their dating years.
- 2. We All Need Boundaries
Boundaries are absolutely necessary within every relationship–especially when it comes to men and women. It's a basic truth that proximity with the opposite sex, along with openness will yield intimacy. Unfortunately, it appears to be a developing pattern with young adults to have an aversion toward any type of boundaries within their relationships. The statistics back this up.
I've seen first-hand the fallout when young adults lack boundaries in their relationships. Sadly, the young ladies of today ride an emotional roller-coaster around the absence of any defined expectations when it comes to the young men in their lives. God hard-wired men and women to desire intimacy with the opposite sex. While it's possible to be friends with the opposite sex, it needs be done so with obvious and intentional boundaries in place.
When it comes to the actual experience of dating, it is absolutely necessary that boundaries are defined up front. Any couple that thinks they can go the course of spending a considerable amount of time together, without definite parameters is setting themselves up for failure. As a dad, we need to actively engage our sons and daughters around this topic and provide them a functioning model of what this looks like. If we don't, the culture around them will set the tone.
- 3. Dads Need To Step Up
There is a reason within a marriage ceremony that the father is the one that "gives the bride away." God designed it this way. As my 20 year-old daughter understands, no man on this earth knows her and loves her more than I do. I realize that every young girl out there may not have a dad that will be there for her. In that case, both the mother and daughter should look to pull in a man that can speak into the assessment of the young male suitor. It could be an older brother, an uncle, pastor or close friend. As I have discovered over the years, men see things about other men that only men see. My wife and daughter know this truth well (not to say that women don't see things. They often do, especially within the actions of other women).
- 4. No Losers
In every God-honoring relationship, a primary objective should always be to build each other up in Christ (Ephesians 4:29). Regardless of the dating outcome, each person is encouraged in their personal growth and relationship with God. In this way, it is always a win-win proposition with God's glory being the ultimate goal.
As a dad, I want to be a "sounding board" for my sons and daughters. At this point in their lives, they need me to be more of a counselor than an active coach. If I've done my job well during their primary years, the foundation is formed and they're beginning to build upon it. Yet it appears that, in many cases, Christian parents have not been actively involved in helping our children develop a biblical understanding of what dating or courtship looks like.
Let's face it. For most Christian dads and moms out there, our own dating experiences had little roots to any biblical truth. However, by God's grace, there is a growing movement to raise our next generation of adults with a more God-focused model when it comes to pre-marriage relationships between the opposite sexes.
Where did we go wrong? The problem goes far beyond dating. It is quite apparent that our American culture no longer looks to the Bible to establish its moral foundations. Our public schools attempt to teach character development and reinforce "good" morals apart from any absolutes of right and wrong. Once we removed the Bible as the basis and/or standard of our conduct, we were left with the shifting sands of man's own wisdom. In the process, we've lost our True North (God's Truth). Peter Marshall was correct in his 1947 U.S. Senate prayer when he said, "...unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything."
As a result, our young people of today embrace a worldview that is more secular than biblical and more me-centered than God-centered. This equates to a philosophy of life that looks to oneself or the "norms" of society to define what is acceptable and what is not-acceptable. Notice I did not say what is "right or wrong," as the principles of right and wrong are no longer valid without absolute morals to establish their foundational basis, and our children get this point all too well. Our youth's views on dating have just followed this same pathway.
Yet, as parents, we can help our children get back on a God-honoring path when it comes to dating. For me, this has equated to a life-time pursuit of dialogue with my children in and around God's greater purpose for our lives. It has and continues to be a two-way conversation around what it means for God to be glorified in and through our lives as we become less and Christ becomes more, i.e. sanctification. If we begin with pleasing God as our foundation within all of our relationships, it is hard to stray too far away from His will and/or His Word. Within God's will is always a direct path toward God's glory ("Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth" John 17:17). As parents, we need to re-position dating back on a pathway that anchors our teens and adult children to God's ways.
Just as in marriage, dating or courtship needs to be about God's glory and building each other up in Christ. We need to embrace the idea that dating and/or courtship is a prelude to marriage. To consider it any less, is setting up a slippery slope where both emotional and physical ties naturally take hold. Men and women were created for intimacy with one another. Time will never erase this reality. If a man and woman spend time together in close proximity and share their inner-most feelings, things will happen. Even couples with the best-intentions have faltered when boundaries aren't in place. Fail to plan; plan to fail.
This may sound like "old school" or something our great grandfathers did. It likely is. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to love and romance nothing really has changed from one generation to the next. Biologically, our bodies were made to have intimate and sexual relations with the opposite sex. Sure, times have changed and people have changed with them. Yet, if we really believe in the "unchanging" truth found in God's Word that speaks to the sanctity of marriage and the need for sexual purity, we will find ourselves turning some pages back in our history dating books to learn from our great grandparents.
I'm speaking to myself and to the men out there. We need to step it up and get back to some biblical basics when it comes to loving our wives and our children. We need to set the example for our teenage sons and daughters. Our younger men need to uphold our daughters as precious sisters in Christ and protect their pureness. They need to know that real love is not about pleasing yourself. It's all about pleasing God and putting another person's interest before your own. The same goes for our daughters. If we pursue our relationships God's ways, His glory and honor will follow.
Like most Christian dads out there, my highest priority prayer for my kids has been that they come to know Jesus as their Savior. Not too far behind this prayer is a request for an equally-yoked spouse (contingent upon that marriage is within God's will for their lives). To have Christ means everything. My prayer as a father is that my children, whether on the path toward singleness or marriage, will pursue God's ways when it comes to building relationships.