We often do not see ourselves as well as others see us. And sometimes we are so star struck with another person that we do not see the whole picture very clearly. While we don’t let others make our decisions for us, the Bible is clear that we are not to rely only on ourselves for wisdom. Proverbs 15:22 says,
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
Romans 15:14 (CCNT) tells us that as we grow in the knowledge of God, we become “competent to counsel” each other.
It can be tough to balance the fact that you need the counsel of others while at the same time you must make the final decision. We usually see three kinds of people in this regard.
First, there is the overly independent “Lone Ranger,” who refuses any input and counsel from others. He says, “I make my own decisions.”
Second, we often see the overly dependent “slave-to-others’-opinions,” who looks for others to make the decision for him. Such a person is blown back and forth by the various opinions of others and afraid to make decisions.
The third kind of person, the “biblically free person,” is able to use counsel well. These people are confident that the final decision is their own, but they are also aware that they are limited and fallible. They know their need for Christ and for others. Thus they are free to invite any and all counsel that might help make a wise decision.
Whom Should You Ask for Counsel?
First, ask people who know you. People who have seen you and your potential mate in action together can make helpful observations.
Second, ask people who know what makes a marriage work. Choose people who are experienced, “older and wiser” than you are, whose opinions and wisdom you respect. Even non-Christians—parents, relatives, family friends, a college roommate, a work mate or employer— may have perspectives worth considering.
Third, ask people who will help you look at marriage from a Christian point of view. Your pastor, an elder from your church, a fellowship group leader, and wise Christian friends can help you think biblically about what is involved in marriage. Getting specifically biblical pre-engagement counseling is extremely important, whether done informally or formally.
Fourth, ask your parents. They know you. They have lived longer than you. They care about what happens to you. We must say another word about talking with your parents. Many young adults have a strained relationship with their parents. Perhaps in childhood or adolescence you developed a pattern of ignoring or despising your parents’ counsel and ideas. Or perhaps one or both parents sinned against you by criticism, physical abuse, divorce, or other ungodly behavior. There is now a distance between you and your parents. At this stage in life, as you anticipate getting married, you have a wonderful opportunity to seek to heal the breach. It is a time to attempt to talk to your parents in depth, to listen to their ideas, to show respect, to take them seriously.
Tying up the loose ends of your past helps ensure that you will not bring “emotional baggage” into the new marriage. Reconciliation with your parents will ease your spouse’s entry into your family. Your spouse won’t have to suffer the tensions and strains of your past.
There may be cases where such reconciliation is impossible, but that in itself is a situation meriting earnest prayer and frank discussion. In most cases we have seen the opposite. Both parents and child experience a new adult-to-adult closeness and respect. Walls of mistrust and hurt on both sides are melted by new love and understanding. The marriage then becomes an occasion for “giving away the bride” with great joy. Go with humility to your parents. God has many kinds of good gifts for his children, and healing the “generation gap” is one of them.
How should you weigh the counsel you receive? A lot of the best counsel you will receive does not come in the form of direct advice; rather, it helps you clarify the issues. It helps you understand your motives, reservations, and goals. Seeking counsel is not the same as taking a Gallup Poll—“seven out of twelve people say I should marry Sue, so I’ll go for it.” Rather, you seek feedback from others to inform what will be your decision, a decision you want to make wisely.
Sometimes someone may raise questions or objections improperly, or may pressure you to go ahead. You may not be able to satisfy everybody. The questions people raise may be unjust; criticisms may be unfair; opinions may be bigoted; you may be pressured to go forward or hold back for bad reasons. But you should be able to answer, to your own satisfaction, the issues raised even by people with whom you disagree.
There is a lot of bad counsel around. It can say “go” for bad reasons: “She’s cute.” “He’s going to be rich.” “The Lord has told me you should marry him/her.” It can say “no go” for bad reasons: “You’ll lose your bachelor life and be tied down.” “She’s not Lithuanian like you are.” “I have a check in my spirit about it.” You want to weigh the reasons people give for the course they think is best.
There is also good counsel to be had. Good counsel helps you carefully and prayerfully think through the decision. It sorts out whether your main reasons for marrying are self-centered or if you know how to commit yourself to love someone else. Good counsel helps you identify potential problem areas and work on them before you are so committed that it would be an embarrassment to pull back.
Good counsel helps you know you can solve problems biblically and face difficulties. It helps you know you are moving in the same direction. Good counsel helps you see your strengths and Christ’s strength and so gives you confidence to enter marriage with joy and optimism.
“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15). What do others who know you well think of your relationship? What do they think of your maturity? Of your plans and goals? Don’t be too proud or too timid to ask for help
Extract from our August 2014 Book of the Month: Pre-Engagement: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself, David Powlison and John Yenchko, ISBN 9780875526799 (Phillipsburg NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000).