This post is from snippets of a recent email conversation I had with a friend (posted with permission!).
Will you explain more on "guarding your heart"? After I came back from the camp, I have been spending time with my friend who has been bothered, in my opinion, by this "heart" thing. Her heart led her to take certain actions that later she regretted or she found she made a mess. Tonight another girl friend told me that her heart also led to make a major decision. Yes, I agree it is important for us to guard our hearts, but how? it is not easy in real life. We, especially the non-teenage we, are very good at deceiving ourselves with justifiable reasons too. How will you respond to these friends of mine?
Hmm, these are some tricky issues that prompt us to draw closer to Christ for wisdom and discernment. I certainly can't speak to your friends' particular situations, not knowing the details, but hopefully I can encourage you with some general pointers from Scripture.
Assumptions: I assume that your friend is looking toward marriage, serious about a relationship -- at this age, we are (or should be) past the point of casual flings. Also, I assume that she wishes to honour God foremost in life -- if your friend is not a Christian, then we might take a different approach with her.
In Genesis 2:24 God makes the first marriage, defining and ordaining it for generations to come. Both Adam and Eve's roles in the ordination of this marriage are relatively passive -- e.g., Adam was asleep! (Sometimes it seems like most guys are pretty much asleep when it comes to relationships, too! ;) ) It was God who brought them together; they did not seek each other out. Of course, they did have freewill, and each had a role to play -- on Adam's part, the moment he saw her he was bowled over, and took her in as "flesh of his own flesh". Scripture does not describe what Eve said, but she certainly accepted Adam's "proposal". They acted in response to God's call and ordination.
My point is that I believe God is the one who ordains marriage, and as in any life decision, who to pursue is something we must offer up to God, to seek His direction and submit to His will. Yes, God created us as emotional beings, and marriage should be an emotional connection in addition to a spiritual connection, but simply to "follow your heart" can lead one to rash and selfish decisions. Scripture says that "the heart is deceitful above all things", but "the LORD searches the heart" (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
An example of how emotions can lead us astray is Samson in Judges 14:
Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife."
Samson had no regard for the fact that the Philistines worshipped false idols, that they were in fact enemies of the Israelites at the time; he just said, "I like her, I want her, get her for me as a wife." So many Christians do the same thing today. I warn the teenage and young-adult guys that I speak to, don't go out with a girl just because she makes your eyes happy -- that's being selfish. How many times do we tell God, "God, I really like him/her; now please bless this relationship!"? We've already made the decision, and now we just want God to rubber-stamp it. Now, it's not wrong to ask our loving Father for His blessing, but it's much more important that we ask Him for His advice and guidance before we get emotionally invested.
That doesn't mean that we need to switch off our emotions and become robots, but it does mean that we need to submit our emotions to the will of Christ, to seek Him first. The LORD does want to "give you the desires of your heart", but the prerequisite is that you "delight yourself in the LORD" (Psalm 37:4). Do we really believe that God alone is able to fill all of our loneliness and need? Do we really believe that if we had nothing else in the whole world -- no spouse, no kids, no family -- that just having Jesus is enough?
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
So, what becomes of dating, then? How are we supposed to find a mate -- everyone just take a nap like Adam did, and hope for the best? :) No, I think there is a place for building deep friendships and having honest, open conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ. But, in my experience at least, when we approach these conversations with the primary goal of "hunting down" a mate, the high expectations strain the fledgling relationship and often squash what could otherwise be a valuable friendship. It may send the guy running for the hills; it may raise the girl's "desperate creep" warning flags.
My advice, to both guys and girls? (Disclaimer: giving advice and living it are two different things; I'm still struggling with these issues myself!) I say, first and foremost, pursue God's calling for your life ministry with reckless abandon. Is God calling you to marketplace ministry? Kids' ministry? Counsellor to the teenage girls in the youth group? One-on-one peer mentoring? Whatever it is, pursue it and work at it with all your heart, serving the Lord and not man.
Secondly -- but really, this is the flip side of the first point -- make sure to keep your own personal walk close to the heart of Christ. Quiet times, Scripture, prayer, solitude, Bible study -- the normal spiritual disciplines we all need to maintain. Keeping our character close to the heart of Christ enables us to discern with wisdom and opens our eyes to the opportunities and gentle nudgings that the Spirit provides.
Thirdly -- and this should flow quite naturally from the first two points, because it's a part of Christian living -- build authentic, constructive friendships with other believers who will encourage you to grow closer to Christ and keep you accountable:
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Don't be afraid to connect on a deep level with your brothers and sisters in Christ; don't be afraid to initiate, even (and I do think it's okay for both guys and girls to initiate!). But do it with an aim to glorify Jesus and build up the other person in Christ -- not out of a selfish desire to find a mate.
And if, after getting to know someone, you find God laying that person on your heart more and more deeply and frequently, then I'd say offer that up to God, pray about it, and communicate honestly and openly with the person. None of us knows what the future holds, but we know that God holds all our futures. If we can approach each experience and each relationship with integrity, purity, and selfless love, according to God's truth and with an aim to glorify Him, then I believe we will be able to look back on each experience and see God's hand at work, to know this is something God has done, and give Him praise:
What hath God wrought!