If I Only Knew Then… Dating (Message Notes)

At Gateway Church in Austin I spoke on the topic of “If I Only Knew Then… Dating.” The principles from the Scriptures can help you determine God’s next step for your lives and help in any of your relationships.

Here are some of the ideas I shared:

“Ever felt used? Ever been the one to use another person for your own selfish desires? Relationships can be painful. Because of our brokenness and selfishness, we hurt each other deeply.

In many ways, dating is such a difficult topic because we get such mixed messages. The world’s way of dating includes the following types:

  • Some date as many as possible trying to go as far as possible without ever having to commit to someone.
  • Some pretend to be married in every way but without committing to each other in marriage thinking that will protect our heart from getting broken when it ends.
  • Some let their dog help decide. I read an article about this the other day. Since dogs have better instincts than we do anyway, our dogs will know who is a better match for us than even we do!
  • Maybe you’ve gotten your cues from romantic comedies. You are looking for that person that will knock you off your feet the moment you meet them. Until you see fireworks in the sky behind that special person, you will keep looking because we all know, there may be some romantic moments and funny moments and some misunderstandings. You won’t tell him something because you don’t want to scare him off or he won’t tell you something because he’s trying to protect you and then that misunderstanding will lead to a time of extreme doubt and maybe you’ll even break up but then you will discover the truth and it will end happily ever after on your wedding day – the greatest day of everyone’s life. At the wedding, everyone will look so beautiful and everyone will be so funny, especially that chubby friend of yours that always makes everyone laugh who always hated your boyfriend but is now so supportive.

Real life doesn’t play out like Bridesmaids or The Hangover or Sleepless in Seattle or Pretty Woman or Beauty and the Beast. Real life isn’t a romantic comedy – it often isn’t romantic, it often isn’t funny, and it doesn’t always end happily ever after like the movies would have us believe.

Instead, life can be really hard, but life can also actually be better. Our lives can be rich and full and enjoyable – whether we are single, divorced, married, or raising children or whether we have experienced all of the above. Real life is filled with highs and lows and requires effort, and all of it can be absolutely worth it when we discover God’s way and live it out.

Let’s start with this: the goal of life is not to get married and to have children. When summarizing the entirety of the Scriptures – Jesus did not say: “Find a girl, get married, and have babes.” Instead He said we were created to have healthy relationships.

The message of the Bible is this:  

Love God and love others as we love ourselves (Mt. 22:36-40).

Everyone we meet (whether we are single or married) has the potential to help us in our spiritual journey or to be helped by us in their spiritual journey.

Our goal needs to be loving God, loving others, and becoming who we were created to be. Dating can be an important part of that process just as marriage and parenting are as well.

The season of dating can be a great way to learn to trust God and His ways. Dating can be a great way to learn to trust people. If you are single and wanting to be married, don’t miss this season in your life. God wants you to grow to trust Him in this arena of your life.

If you are married and/or a parent, you need to see that season in life as a place to grow in your trust in God as well.

Too often we find ourselves discontent in whatever season we are. Singles who don’t think they can be happy until they are married. Or people who are married who don’t think they can be happy until they are single again.  Neither are true.

Whatever stage in life you may be, we can experience the fullness of life when we learn to trust God, trust others, and even trust ourselves.

Let me ask you this: do you believe in destiny? Do you believe God has a plan for your life? Do you feel part of that plan for your life is to be married or to have a healthier marriage with your spouse?

A great way to discover God’s plan for your life comes from the journals of King David.

We looked at his life just a couple of weeks ago in our previous series. Look with me in Psalm 37:

3 Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret —it leads only to evil…. 23 The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; 24 though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand…. 28 For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones…. 37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace…. 40 The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.’ – Psalm 37:1-40

Are you fretting over your future? Have you chosen to commit your future to God and live according to His ways? Do you find yourself going along His path only to step off every once and awhile? Maybe you haven’t been on His path in awhile or ever. Some of us begin to fret when we see others finding that special someone while we aren’t. As a result, we begin to compromise our values and our hopes and our faith. For some reason, we’d rather have an unhealthy relationship than no relationship. We would rather have a relationship that does not honor God than no relationship at all.

I almost missed finding the woman I married because I was wandering off God’s path and taking matters into my own hands.

Maybe you can relate to my story. I had a specific checklist in my mind describing the girl that I was going to marry. I was in the metroplex – Dallas/Fort Worth for my days in middle school and high school, so I had my eyes out for a pretty and petite blond haired, blue eyed, tan girl who loved God and wanted to make a difference in the world. Well, I found a young woman who matched that description in every way, except she didn’t share my faith. I figured I could help change that, so we began dating soon after we met at the community college where we shared a history class. Now, I don’t know if you ever do this, but when I met her I began working out the details of our future in my head before I ever even asked her out. She was going to Texas Tech, and I was going back to Baylor in the fall. We would have to date long distance, but maybe one of us could transfer. I knew our kids would be short, but they would have blond hair, blue eyes, and tan skin. Do you ever do that? Let your mind race way beyond where you actually are? I was just certain that it was there in my history class, that I had discovered my future.

As Kelly and I continued to go out, I could feel her influencing me towards her way of thinking and living more than I was influencing her. At that exact same time, I met Debbie when her family visited our church. She was taller than Kelly with dark hair, green eyes, light skin. I guess if you connected all of her freckles, she could be considered tan, but she did not meet the specifications on my list of that perfect girl for me – except in one way. She genuinely loved God and followed His ways. I introduced her around to the others in our singles group at the church where I had grown up and she was visiting. Not knowing it then, she really liked me and even told her family she met the man she hoped to one day marry.

I didn’t see her that way because I was dating Kelly. She didn’t know I was dating Kelly. Instead, Debbie and I became friends and enjoyed getting to know each other for the next several months. I finally ended up breaking up with Kelly and began dating Renee who had blonde hair, blue eyes, and tan skin. Now Renee was a Christ-follower, but she planned to move to Amarillo after graduation, so she didn’t have the same desire to change the world that I did. Not that you can’t make a difference in Amarillo. I am sure you can, I just know I didn’t want to.

I decided to end my dating relationship with Renee and stop jumping from relationship to relationship and begin trusting God. It was then that I started to discover that God wanted me to experience His plan for my life even more than I did.

Some of us need to throw away our list.
We have standards and expectations that on that list that are not from God.

After we were back in school in the fall of 1991, I wrote Deborah a letter. I was probably listening to Vanilla Ice while wearing my M.C. Hammer Pants when I wrote it. This was before the internet and cell phones, so it seemed like a really long time to hear back from her a week later. We just started to get to know each other and by December 18, 1991 I went on my first date with the person that would become my only date for the rest of my life.

Is it possible God is trying to guide you, but you aren’t listening? Maybe He is pointing the way, and you aren’t willing to go there. Maybe God is asking you to give something or someone up, but you don’t trust Him or you feel that He is asking for you to sacrifice too much?

Do you trust God and are you living according to His ways? Are you enjoying your relationship with God? If you are connected to Him then He will begin to change your desires. I used to think this promise that God will give me the desires of my heart meant I would finally get that lamborghini! Instead God begins to change our desires to match what He wants for our lives. This doesn’t mean you get whatever you ask for.  It means you start to want what God wants for you.

If you are in a healthy relationship with God and with others and with yourself, and you  want to be married or you are in a marriage that you want to be healthy, then do something about it!

For those of you who are single: Ask someone out. Say “yes” when someone asks you to go out.

When he asks you out, he isn’t proposing marriage just dinner! Dates are a great way to discover if you relate well with each other, if you share the same values, if you communicate well with each other, if you share the same passions. Don’t get ahead of yourself. We too much pressure on that first date!

A friend of mine named Brent recently went on a first date with someone he met on a dating website. During their first date she mentioned that if this all worked out she would want a church wedding. As you can imagine, it didn’t work out.

Guys, remember when you go out on a date or even begin dating someone, she’s still someone else’s little girl, and she may end up being someone else’s wife. Treat her the way you want other men to one day treat your little girl. Treat her the way you want other guys to treat your wife. On this topic, I highly encourage to watch Rick’s message from last week for some great insights on this.

For those of you who are married, start dating your spouse again. Start pursuing each other the way you did when you were single. Don’t be a victim any longer. Proactively pursue her again. Pursue him again.

Some of us aren’t doing enough to create the future God is calling us to have. Some of us are trying too hard and taking matters into our own hands rather than trusting God. Some of us are holding back and not investing enough in marriage or investing too much and going too far before marriage.

So then how do we know which extreme we might be falling into?

A relationship with God includes moments when we need to be proactive and take responsibility for what’s next. Other times we need to stop trying and fully trust Him. There is this beautiful dance between God’s sovereignty and our freedom.

Augustine, an early church father once said: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” This is an age-old struggle that cannot be completely solved in one short message (it wasn’t even solved in six seasons of the television show LOST).

Let’s just quickly look at one couple’s story, and I think we fill find some very clear guidance on this. Sarah and Abraham lived about 4,000 years ago. Abraham is seen as an incredibly important figure in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Both Muslims and Jews would refer to Abraham as “our father.”

Here are a few important moments in the lives of Abraham and Sarah:

  • God calls Abraham to leave his family to go to the land of Canaan and promises him: “‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abraham went.” (Gen. 12:1-4).
  • God promises Abraham a large family, and Abraham reminds God that he doesn’t have any children. Sarah decides to help make God’s promises come true faster by giving Abraham her servant Hagar with whom he could start a family.  So what does Abraham do?  He says ok! Abram has sex with Hagar. She gets pregnant and gives birth to Ishmael. As you can imagine, Sarah get jealous and mistreats Hagar and later on she is sent away with her son Ishmael.
  • God reminds Abraham who is now 100 years young of his promise that he will have a child with his wife Sarah who is 90.  Laughter ensues. Seriously, they laughed. I didn’t add that. Yet miraculously, Sarah gets pregnant and gives birth to Isaac the father of Esau and Jacob (who is later known as Israel). (If you want to read this story, you can find it all from Genesis 12-21.

God promised Abraham a future with children. He didn’t have any kids for awhile so he took matters into his own hands by agreeing to have sex with Hagar rather than waiting to have a child with his wife.

Are you taking matters into your own hands?
Are you compromising your faith or your values trying to make things happen that aren’t really best for you?

Whenever we start trying to make God’s will happen for our lives without including God in the process, it is like Abraham having sex with Hagar. Don’t have sex with Hagar. That never ends well.

Had Abraham and Sarah just continued to wait patiently they would have avoided the pain they caused each other and the pain they caused Hagar and Ishmael.  Not only did God’s promise require patience, but His promise also required pro-activity.

Waiting for the future that God promised meant that a 100 year old man had sex with his 90 year old wife.  God promised them they would have a child, but they still had to have sex.

Forgive me for bringing up that image.

God calls us into a beautiful future that requires both patience and pro-activity.

When it comes to our futures, are we more like Abraham and Sarah taking matters into our own hands and trying to force a good future in a bad way, or are we more like Abraham and Sarah trusting God and actively participating in creating a good future in a good way?

We need to take full responsibility for our choices AND trust God fully as we navigate our lives and create the future.

So let’s say you are dating, who should you be looking for?

I did a quick little poll on my twitter and Facebook account asking for dating advice. Even though I mentioned it was for this message on Sunday, I still had a few friends freaked out wondering why I wanted dating advice as a married man.

Here are some of the best ones:

  • “If you have to ask ‘is he the one?’ then he’s not.  – Heather in China
  • “Don’t date anyone you wouldn’t marry. You can fall in love or settle for anyone. Who you’re dating when you get lonely is who you will settle for.” – Mark in Alabama
  • “When you date someone, treat them like they are going to be in your life forever and that they are going to meet everyone you know. Marry someone you can serve.” – Danny Lowe
  • “Finding the ‘right’ person isn’t the person they never fight with, but rather the person they’re willing to fight for.  Happiness in a relationship does not mean perfect harmony.” – Scott Braden
  • “And there’s no magical ‘one.’ That’s a myth, just like unicorns. What makes them the one is the fact you married them.” – Ben Sledge
  • “I’ve been married 18.5 years now, & don’t believe there is a ‘one.’ My advice: YOU be the ‘one’ God wants you to be.” – Deneen in Virginia
  • “I used to drive myself crazy trying to find “the one.” I never found the person who would fulfill the Hollywood version of what I thought “the one” would bring me & I did some really stupid things trying to fill that void. It wasn’t until I TRULY understood that only God can be The One & that any man I can find on this earth will be as flawed as me that I found true contentment in being single. I think dating helps us narrow down the “absolutes” in what we’re looking for in another person & gives us a mirror into how we treat other people.” – Kimberly Erler

Some great advice in there. With all of the advice we get, it can become overwhelming.

When my brother was dating the woman who is now his wife, he asked my dad: “How do I know she is the one?” My dad who was a deacon in his Baptist Church said: “You will know she is the one when you can see your unborn children in her eyes.” Rather than a biblical answer, my dad decided to quote the wisdom shared by Bryan Adams in the film Don Juan DeMarco.

Years ago, a friend of mine told me: “Fall in love with her eyes because that is the only part of her body that won’t change over the years.” Same is true with men, ladies. I had a full head of hair when I met Debbie and no hair on my back. Now everything has been reversed! Fall in love with their eyes.

When we are dating, we need to look for a way to help that person on his journey or her journey.

Several of the girls I dated before Deborah gave me a glimpse into who I would later find in my wife. Deborah seemed to have all of the best qualities of some of these other women and then some!

Ask yourself: am I helping this person become who God created him/her to be? If not, than start working towards that. Rather than remaining in a relationship for selfish reasons, allow your relationship to help you develop a muscle called selflessness.

We need to learn to love another person regardless of what you get from the relationship.

Remember the Scriptures describe the relationship of marriage as being analogous to the relationship between Christ and the church. Marriage is a means towards the ends of growing in character and glorifying God which brings others to Him.

Women, let’s look at what a godly husband looks like in Ephesians 5.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….  28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:25-33

Men, we need to not only aspire towards this, but we need to make an effort to become a man who is loving, sacrificial, and worthy of respect.

Let’s look at a passage of Scripture about the ideal wife in Proverbs 31.

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life…. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy…. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue…. 29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. – Proverbs 31:10-31

Women, aspire towards this and work towards this.

Now, let me be clear. The person you are with has not arrived. If he isn’t completely an Ephesians 5 guy or she isn’t completely a Proverbs 31 girl, then ask yourself this: is he/she trying to be? Is he/she on a trajectory towards this? If not, and you are single then keep looking. If you are married to someone who isn’t on this trajectory, don’t give up. Keep loving and serving and praying for him.

God can be trusted with our lives, the lives of those we love, and with our future.

Maybe you hear these passages and feel so far away from that. At Gateway, we talk often about “Come as you are, but don’t stay that way.” We have networks all around this city that are here to help you not stay the way you are today. At Gateway, “no one stands alone.” Connect to a network. A network is where you can connect, grow, and serve. You can find community and meaningful relationships in small groups, with running partners, and teams of people who are serving.

One final thought. Maybe you are here today, and you feel like God wants you to be married, and you are pursuing God and a spouse according to the way of Christ, but nothing seems to be happening.

Don’t forget: when God makes a promise, we need to be patient and proactive.

Take a quick look at the story of Abraham’s dad named Terah.

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. 32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran. – Genesis 11:31-32.

Sound like a familiar destination? Terah was on the way to the Promised Land, but he stopped halfway!

Terah, Abraham’s father, was on his way to Canaan, later known as the Promised Land, but he stopped in Harran and died there. What if he had made it all the way there? Abraham would not have needed to leave his family to go to the Promised Land because he would have already been there. Is it possible God promised Terah the same thing he promised Abraham, but Terah stopped halfway there?

Do not stop halfway. Don’t give up now! Don’t settle!

Trust God by living according to the way of Christ!

Not sure, what living according to the way of Christ means? Ask the person you came with or connect to a network near you through the GeoCafe or come up to the front for prayer or or all of the above. Restart or start today. Ask for forgiveness for not trusting God.

What is your next step? What do you need to do to follow God’s path for you in your relationships? How does God want you to trust Him more?”



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