10 Simple Steps to Plan Your Marriage, Not Just Your Wedding

10 Simple Steps to Plan Your Marriage, Not Just Your Wedding

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How Do You Approach the Thought of Marriage?

My friend Luke Wilson, who has showed me more kindness than perhaps anyone else, gave an 18-part series on marriage once. He and his wife have the best marriage and family I can imagine—although some others, such as Larry and Karin Miller, are definitely in a dead heat with them.

I have no room to talk on this topic. With relationships I have failed, failed, failed, and failed some more. I’ve changed a ton about myself recently, and I was never evil, mean, cruel, or callous—I just bungled things and let opportunities pass me up, again and again.

Lucas: Relationship Bungler in Chief (Plans to Retire)

But Luke had some good advice, and I transcribed some of his talks, and distilled them into points. Not nearly all of his points, but some.

So when you’re thinking about marriage (I hope to be married by the end of 2021, come Lucas or high water!). If you’re single, how do you approach it? Plenty of people are married, but the fulfillment they sought, whatever it might be, was fleeting, and so they’re left in a bond that is stale or rotten.

How did that happen?

Psalm 127:1 says,

“Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it.”

Many approach marriage with no particular plan. They get married for reasons that marriage fixes in the short term, but then realize that they’ve made for themselves a more serious commitment, and they didn’t think ahead. Some reasons might be:

  • I’m lonely and feel desperate.
  • It would help financially.
  • I don’t feel secure alone.
  • Oh my goodness, then the sex with that person will be all mine!

Marriage can healthily address all of the things above, but it’s such a deep occurrence, filled with so much more meaning than the above, that bungling it can lead to a life of bitterness and resentment, not to mention financial loss, and even the loss of decades of good memories—the feeling of a life wasted.

Would any us think that a good house could be built if we never had a plan for how to build it? Before we get married, we need to have plan for the purpose for our marriage, and what it should accomplish. If not, it’ll tend to be a chaotic mess.

1. The Importance of Architects and Their Plans

An upcoming marriage should be planned like a house: thought out before we start building, and with specific purpose. Proverbs 24:3-4 gives us some instruction:

“By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.”

If you’re thinking about building a new life in marriage, what are you building it on? If you’re building it simply on emotion, that’s a shaky foundation that will change a ton over time. Instead, build it with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, and it will be a pleasant and rich one.

2. Romance with Wisdom; Practice Gentleness and Understanding

Just like building a house, we need a firm foundation. Emotions are naturally given to change, based on life events and even chemical changes in the brain, such as from not getting enough sleep. For that reason, emotions should be used as catalysts for actions already determined by a plan—because they change so much, they should not be the foundation! Imagine a house built smack dab over the top of the San Andreas Fault. Not wise!

James 3:13-18 gives us some wisdom on how to plan our new life:

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Notice that wisdom and understanding are mentioned. We’ll look at this a bit at a time, but for now, plan your marriage to be full of gentleness. Too many relationships are filled with one partner yelling at the other, with harshness and not gentleness. Don’t let that happen with yours.

3. YIKES! Check for Spiritual Illness. (And Check Yourself First!)

James 3, which gives perfect advice on how to manage our relationships. When planning on getting married, we have to look for some of the signs of spiritual illness that might be present, and fix them as soon as possible.

“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”

When people repeat something, it’s to emphasize it. When people REPEAT something, it’s to EMPHASIZE it. Notice that jealousy is repeated as something to avoid. That’s an early warning sign that something isn’t quite right.

Jealousy is an early warning sign that something is sick in a relationship, and especially if it is purposefully precipitated—that is, it’s bad if someone is making the other person jealous on purpose.

Watch out for those who seek to make you jealous while dating. It’ll often take a very subtle form…maybe a small comment on a picture of someone of the opposite sex on Facebook, maybe mentions of how pleasing past love interests were and how it’s hard to find someone of their caliber. It’ll often be plausibly deniable, and you might even doubt yourself—surely someone you have feelings for wouldn’t make you feel insecure, right?Avoid that.

Ask yourself: do you feel like you have to be a detective to figure out if you’re really the one your romantic interest is truly interested in? If you do, and if there is any jealousy, the relationship is sick, and is not yet solid ground to build a marriage on.

4. Search for Peace, and Work to Maintain It

James 3 really focuses on peace:

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Notice all of the PEACE in that passage. It’s all about being gentle. Not a pushover, but gentle, forgiving…yet unwavering. Look at you and your love interest. Do you seek to fight to be right? Look for the warning signs. Does your interest purposefully use mean words to hurt you, to gain an upper hand?

If so, don’t pass it off as something normal. That’s a sign of a deep, serious flaw in the very foundation of the character of a person, and like building a house, a cracked foundation will get worse if not addressed.

A very meaningful passage to me is this:

“Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.”

—Psalms 34:14

And never, ever, EVER confuse peace with complacency. Do not confuse with ignoring the spiritual war with winning it. Do not confuse spiritual apathy with spiritual health.

Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind; a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice. Do not get married to someone who isn’t actively engaged in the spiritual fight.

5. The Importance of Spiritual Harmony

We saw that jealousy is horrible in a relationship, and so is strife. The opposite of those two things, really, is harmony. Often Christians will “fall” for someone who has no interest in God’s Kingdom, or who wants to “coast to heaven.”

Have you ever been to a symphony? The harmony of the instruments is beautiful. They work together to accomplish a goal, which is pre-planned. But imagine if just ONE instrument were playing to a totally different song. It would sound horrible.

Now imagine that there were only two instruments, and each were playing something exactly the opposite of the other. It would be horrible.When you’re picking your partner for life, pick the one that’s singing to the same spiritual tune. Don’t pick something that will be discordant and unplanned. Pick harmony.

6. The Wise Woman (But Also Man!)

God also likens relationships to house building, saying in Proverbs 14:1,

“The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.”

In James 3, we saw that we get two choices with wisdom: heavenly wisdom from above, or earthly wisdom.

Earthly wisdom is easily observed, and often comes in gross packages like, “90% of women choose a man based on the first kiss,” or, “flat chests are like flat tires: worthless.” Unfortunately, worldly wisdom is rather insidious: more and more men are out for a good time, while women still want stability. Research has shown that, thanks to the rise in dating apps, top X% men have a fresh market of meat, while women selecting for their dream man with a swipe find themselves discarded and unhappy.

Instead of picking someone based off the popular types of criteria looked at in the article linked above, we should look at criteria from verse two of Proverbs 14, which notes that those “who walk in uprightness fear the Lord.”

How spiritually beautiful is someone? How upright are they?

7. Don’t Call JG Wentworth, But You Must Act Now

When planning a house, and a marriage, we get our choice of foundation. We can choose a worldly partner, or one who is spiritually grounded. Jesus outlined our choices and said,

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

—Matthew 7:24-27

Which foundation do you choose? One that will crumble in the end, or one that stands strong? It is not enough to pick a man or woman who merely hears the word—we must pick the one that shows through their labor that they are acting on it, too.

8. The Focus of Helping

Gen 2 says in part,

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him… For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

When planning our marriages, we should be doing it because it is best if we are not alone, and best if we have help in our lives. The fact is, we NEED spiritual help, yet we often think of being a “helper” as an un-noteworthy role. Is it really a poor part to play?

Psalm 54:4 should make it clear that we should all seek to be helpers, because, “Behold, God is my helper; The Lord is the Sustainer of my soul.” Find the person that you’ll help, complete, and sustain.

9. The Song of Hiawatha

The Song of Hiawatha, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated his take on marriage. It said,

“As unto the bow the cord is,So unto the man is woman,Though she bends him, she obeys him,Though she draws him, yet she follows,Useless each without the other!””

God noted a similar take on things long before Longfellow, saying in Eccl 4:9-12,

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

When we act together, we can accomplish great things, and resist powerful adversaries. In your marriage, will you have three strands? We all can, if we choose: husband, wife, and God. The strongest of all bonds on this earth.

10. We Also Have As Our Ambition

Ultimately, what can make your marriage a solid one? There is one goal, that which if agreed upon, utterly negates selfish ambition and jealousy. 2 Cor 5:9 sums it up, saying,

“Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

I’ll leave you with five very basic tips for now to get your marriage started. They’re so simple that anyone can do them.

  • 1.) Determine the purpose for your marriage. To be merely happy (Satan can give you that for a season)? To be holy and happy? What is it?
  • 2.) Set goals to accomplish that purpose—maybe just three to start.
  • 3.) Make a plan to accomplish those goals.
  • 4.) Do the work to accomplish the plan.
  • 5.) Pray and fast about it together, because peace exists in abundance while doing that.

A Farewell Note: Falling in Love With the Right Person

I’m kind of an A-or-F student. I’m the same way in most aspects of my life, from relationships to hobbies—either driven toward a goal or absolutely uninterested. I have come to realize that it is not some algorithm that motivates me; not some mere set of rules that I follow which stokes a fire within. Rather, it is curiosity, compassion, and a bond which is hard to describe. A crush? A longing to cherish something forever? To explore it deeply and get to know it? Of my relationship with God, Francis Chan rightly said,

“God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. The answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts—it’s falling in love with God.”

That’s so true. It’s impossible to be in love with someone “by technicality.” It’s impossible to have a crush on someone “per the rules.” It’s impossible to be curious about something “by mandate.”  A burning passion does not arise out of decree, but out of desire. Desire to learn. Desire to connect. Desire to grow.

And while I’m thinking about it, enthusiasm is infectious. Choosing friends and partners is so important. Any raging fire can die down quickly if not continually stoked and fanned. It is much easier to burn brightly when another shines with you. 

Lastly, marriage is designed to show the relationship between Christ and His bride, which is the church. It is meant to show endless love, and incredible respect. “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies…and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” (Eph 5)

That’s so much easier to do when you have a goal and mission built around Christ.

And remember, if you’re a pretty, Christian, lady-hiker, I offer exciting career opportunities.

Share your comments, critiques, or criticisms here. [Please note that I alter most the hate comments to make them funnier for the other readers.]