Don’t Waste Your Engagement
How to Prepare for Marriage
Welcome back to a new week on the podcast. Our next question comes from an engaged man, Evan, who writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, I’m getting married in exactly 100 days. I’m 21 years old, and my bride-to-be, Emily, is 18. I’m a student ministries intern at my church. We met last March, and began a long distance relationship after we met when her college trip and my student ministry retreat overlapped at a camp between our states in Wyoming. We have clearly felt God lead us to be married and our mentors, church leaders, parents, and close friends have affirmed our decision to be married. I’m excited to take on the role of loving a woman like Christ did the church, but as the day draws nearer and nearer I am made more and more aware of my need for wisdom and help to become a husband capable of loving a wife well. I’ll be re-listening to all the episodes on marriage. But with all that being said, what advice do you have for me? What are the most important questions we need to ask — and likely are not — due to the rushing excitement of the engagement phase?”
1. The first thing I want to do is send him over to desiringGod.org to download a free document called “Questions to Ask When Preparing for Marriage.” The more issues you can talk about now together before marriage, the better. It is far more frustrating and threatening to think of something after you are married that you should have talked about before. Which leads me to the second thing I would say besides: Go get the document.
“The more issues you can talk about together before marriage, the better.”
2. Don’t shy away, Evan, from any issue or conversation with your fiancée in these days in order to avoid conflict. Now is the time to have every conflict you can have that might come up later. If you think that you can dodge conflicts now so that there will be a more opportune time later, you are mistaken. This is what engagement or courtship is designed for: maximum exposure to what each of you thinks, believes, feels, does habitually or occasionally — no secrets, nothing held back. You don’t want marriage to be based on ignorance, but on trust in the face of all truth.
3. The next thing I would say to Evan is that these are golden months in which to set patterns of spiritual leadership in which you take the initiative to read the Bible, pray, think, study, and talk together about all kinds of biblical and spiritual realities. I am assuming that you agree that you both need to be on the same theological page. That is not an artificial expectation. This means that, if you are going to pull together shoulder to shoulder in marriage for some great purpose, which is what marriage is for, you have to be pulling in the same direction. That is, seeing God in the same way and seeing Christ and seeing the Holy Spirit and seeing faith and seeing love and salvation and heaven and hell and Satan and sin and holiness and obedience, seeing all these things in the same way. Otherwise, pulling together in harness will start to become very painful as you jerk each other around in different directions spiritually or, more likely, what happens is you just stop talking spiritually — which is worse. So, take the initiative and go deep into every dimension of the spiritual life that you can in these days.
4. And the next thing I would say — and this applies to both of you — is that your own personal fellowship of faith and joy and hope and obedience towards Jesus is foundational for the survival and the flourishing of your marriage. The marriages that I watch unravel, unravel in tandem with the unraveling of spiritual reality. One or both of the couples falls away from Jesus. When that happens the spiritual resources for handling the normal conflicts vanish.
“Your own fellowship with Jesus is foundational for the survival and flourishing of your marriage.”
So, the point is: Don’t just think that what you do together strengthens the marriage. Far more important — and this may sound like an overstatement, but I thought about it and I am going to stick by it — far more important is what you do apart from each other as each of you meets Jesus and consecrates yourself afresh over and over so that your devotion to Christ is absolutely unshakable personally between you and him, and your experience of him is profoundly satisfying. When two people operate out of that individual profundity, the marriage will endure — and not only endure, but flourish with joy and fruitfulness.
5. Now of all the hundreds of things that need to be said and could be said, here is one last thing to say. Don’t assume that your affection for your bride-to-be is known and felt by her. Instead, put it on your lips over and over again every day. Find fresh ways to say it — not just show it, say it. Lots of guys think: Well, I show it. I earn a living. I guard her. I protect her, blah, blah, blah. Look. Yes, show it. Yes, show it. Do the kinds of deeds she loves for you to do.
But don’t just do things. Say things. This is true for both of you, but I am talking to you, Evan. Lavish your wife with expressions of delight and appreciation and admiration and affection and enjoyment. In your wedding vows, I hope you are going to promise to cherish her above all others and forsake everyone else, cleaving to her alone. Put that cherishing and that cleaving into words every day. This will pay dividends of great joy and great, deep bonding of soul at a very wonderfully profound and happy level.
It is true that there is a warning in the book of Solomon, in the Song of Solomon, not to stir up love until it satisfies (Song 2:7). I think that means, among other things, you can immerse yourself in this book in a premature and inappropriate way, because in the vernacular it can turn you on in premature ways. But — I am going to risk it anyway and say — go to that book and learn what I am talking about here. Learn how to put into words to her face the cherishing that you feel for her. May God bless you in these months.