This is a follow-up to B.J.’s recent guest post Who to Be, Above All Else, Before You Marry.
Living Out the Principle for “How To” Guard Your Heart
Marriage. It is a sacred covenantal state of being between two mortal souls and their creator. It’s a God created, God initiated, God ordained, God sustained gift. It was designed to be a safe and glorious place for unparalleled lifelong human intimacy. But just as the ground suffered when sin entered the world, the holy and beautiful ground of marriage suffers from its own thorns. Marriage itself often becomes the battleground for an all out war. (And I’m not referring to the clash between Scriptural versus pop-culture definitions of marriage, supercharged political debates on the roles of men and women in society, or even the many fiery trials that can rise up between spouses.) The war I have in mind is far more subtle and far more sinister. It is the war that we, as believers, must wage against our own flesh for a pure heart before the Lord. And let’s be honest. This war has casualties. But fear not! God, in His Word, has given us everything we need to live our lives wholly unto Him! (2 Peter 1:3-9.)
In my last post, I touched on the importance of guarding your heart and I began with an analogy of guarding an important piece of luggage at the airport. In this post, I’ll discuss the principle of how to do that. I will follow that with some practical questions to ask yourself as you strive to keep your heart for the Lord, especially as you’re considering a deepening relationship with a potential husband. But as we build up to that, let’s look first at what guarding entails.
Guarding implies two-way action: guarding against in order to fulfill the goal of guarding for… In our Christian walks, we guard our hearts against all enemies of Christ’s reign in our hearts in order to keep sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts. Psalm 24:1-4 shows us that the only people who can have a pure heart before God are those who have not trusted in anyone or anything (i.e., an idol) in vain. The converse is also true. Anytime we put our trust in someone or something other than Christ, our trust is in vain. (This does not mean that we can’t take a trustworthy person at their word. It does mean that we can only trust in the faithful character of God as immutable and eternally trustworthy.)
We can’t simply guard against outward behaviors that we can readily recognize as sinful. We must focus our heart-guarding efforts upon the inward thoughts and motivations that drive our beliefs and our behavior. Put a different way, though there are things outside of ourselves to be on guard against (i.e., false teachers), the primary threat is not the external danger, but rather our own heart’s bent toward giving in and worshipping someone or something besides Christ. (In the case of false teachers, it would be our temptation to hear only what we want to hear or to be lazy about taking every thought captive.) What’s more, we cannot guard our hearts on our own! We must be born again by the work of the Holy Spirit, and we must abide in Christ, completely dependent on the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification in our lives.
Heart-guarding in the Christian life must be a lifelong effort. Unlike the analogy of luggage in my last post, your heart is not something you can post a sentinel over for 20 minutes, contract out, or put under lock and key and call your guarding job done. You can’t take a vacation from this important God-given role. You are on a journey toward being completely re-made into the image of Christ. You are a pilgrim in transit. Until God has completely finished His work in your soul, your heart needs constant guarding. So let’s take a quick peek at some things we need to guard our hearts against.
What must we fight to keep from gaining mastery over our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions?
- Evil and all who promote it: James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:6-11
- Temptation & Sin: 1 John 3:3-10; 2 Timothy 2:22-26
- Idols: 1 John 5:21
- Error/Deception: Colossians 2:8; Acts 20:28-32; 2 Peter 2:1-3
- Fruitlessness: Matthew 3:1-10
The reason we guard our hearts from the things in the list above is in order to guard them for Christ. He is depicted in Scripture as the bridegroom of His bride, the church. He is portrayed as the perfect husband, sacrificing Himself even to death in order to make His bride spotless enough to remain united with Him in His bond of love forever. When we consider Christ’s relationship with His church and our desire to marry a mere man, it is easy to let our desires cause us to see and believe what we want to. We may be tempted to…
- put our trust and identity in a man rather than in God.
- admire or esteem the man and what we think a relationship with him can give us over our relationship with Christ.
- seek to deepen the tangible relationship with a man more than we seek to deepen our relationship with Christ, whom our eyes have not yet physically seen.
- allow our affections, emotions, and thoughts about the mere man to hold sway over our affections, thoughts, and emotions about Christ rather than the other way around.
- think of the man as a better way of escape from a particular sin/temptation struggle we may be experiencing than Christ Himself.
- seek the mere man’s favor and approval first or over that of Christ.
- seek provision, comfort, and companionship from the man more than we seek it and treasure it from and with Christ.
The “how to” piece of guarding your heart as you pursue marriage is a principle to cling to rather than a list of checkboxes. That principle is simply this: To keep loving Jesus first and foremost, and keep stirring your affections for Him as the only One worthy of all your love and devotion, even your very life! How do you help yourself love the ever love-worthy Savior of your soul more? I believe the more you appropriate gospel truths and live by them, the more you will love Jesus.
But in your quest to enter marriage with a heart securely guarded for Christ, here are some practical questions I encourage you to ask yourself as you are thinking and praying about possibly marrying someone in particular. I encourage you to go through this list after praying for God to shine his spotlight of truth on your heart and show your need for Him in regards to your upcoming relational decisions. Psalm 139 is a great help to get us in the frame of mind that’s ready to face hard things about ourselves in order to ask God to make us more like Him in those areas we seem to least resemble Him. If you’re anything like me, these questions will drive you to the Gospel!
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Am I completely satisfied in Christ?
- Am I content in Christ alone?
- Do I trust that He is the only One I need and that He will always provide what I need in the moment that I need it?
- Do I trust that He, Himself, is better than the best marriage and all the blessings and pleasures that go along with it?
- Am I as mature in Christ as I believe He wants me to be before entering into the covenant of marriage? Am I still actively pressing on towards the goal of Christlikeness as my chief end with the help of the Holy Spirit?
- Is there any unrepentant sin in my heart? Have I asked God to reveal to me anything I’m treasuring or harboring in my heart that is not pleasing to Him?
- Is there any known, ongoing battle in my heart with a particular temptation for which I could seek more help from my local body of believers?
- Have I waited on the Lord for His guidance regarding this decision?
- Am I willing to keep waiting? Do I trust God’s timing, or I do I feel pressured to make plans according to a merely earthly schedule?
- Have I given myself the time needed to discern the fruit in this man’s life?
- Have I sought godly counsel? Have I been open and honest with those I have sought out to give me wise and godly counsel?
- Have I invited discerning people around me to share their concerns, ask me probing questions, and inform me of any red flags they see? Have they had a chance to get to know the man I am considering as my future husband?
- How am I praying and thinking about this? What does that tell me about my inner motivations?
- Am I doing anything to try to manipulate the situation toward the outcome I think I want?
- Do I want any particular outcome more than I want to wait on and follow the Lord in this?
- Do I have any fears, worries, or anxiety that I have not taken to the Lord’s feet and left there?
- Is my satisfaction in the Lord, or in what I’m seeking right now? Can I be joyful and content even if His answer is “no”?
- Am I looking to a change in status, circumstance, another person, another system, for anything/one else besides the Lord as an answer to a problem for a felt need?
- Am I being hasty or impatient for any reason?
- If so, what do I think will be different once I’m married?
- What concerns do I have, and have I honestly listed out my concerns and sought God’s guidance in them?
- Am I valuing my potential spouse’s opinion of me more than God’s thoughts?
- Am I beginning to put my identity in this man’s opinion of me instead of living as one whose identity is in Christ alone?
- And perhaps most important of all, am I handling God’s Word rightly as I seek to honor Him in this decision?