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Mentor Series: The Burning Bush

How do we know when marrying someone is God's will?

Would you marry someone without knowing if it was God’s will for your lives? Few Christians would say “yes” to that question. But how do we know when marrying someone is God’s will? Could it be that our requests for “a burning bush” of proof might reflect our desire to avoid the risks of stewardship God expects of us?

In this last installment from our interview with Dr. Scott Stanley, we discuss how men can address one of the primary obstacles that keeps them from jumping into a marriage.

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Steve: Let’s talk about an issue we hear a lot from Christian men. It’s the idea that any decision as important as marriage — like where to live or where to work — is something so fundamental to the rest of our lives that surely God cares about it and would want to reveal His perfect will for us. In a world of overwhelming choices, how’s a guy supposed to go about discerning whether or not someone is a good match and also God’s perfect will for them?

Dr. Scott Stanley: What a nice, challenging kind of question. Because you know, it’s really one of the dilemmas of our culture now and many people are observing this in different disciplines. We as Christians, and we as a broader culture, are having trouble making choices. People are having problems choosing among eight salad dressings.

Steve: The paradox of choice.

Dr. Scott Stanley: Yeah, the paradox of choice. Exactly. People confronted with too many choices. Let me go back to something I said before. There’s lots of ways you can distill what commitment is down in one sentence, and of course it’s a very complex topic that I think and write a lot about. One of the best ways I think of what commitment always means is making a choice to give up other choices. It always means that. Whatever else it may mean in a particular context, it always means that. And if being committed in life means making a choice to give up other choices, having lots of choices and knowing that makes it difficult for people to actually sit down and make a choice is an increasing huge dilemma in our culture. It’s a problem for Christians because we’re affected by our culture of choice and the idea that we should keep hanging on to all of our options in life.

The real spiritual path, however, is not going to be making sure that we hold on to every option. It’s going to be being wise and being willing to give up options for the deeper, truer path that God wants us to be on.

So how does somebody know? OK, well, it says in Romans that there’s a good and perfect will that God has for me. Well, I want to make sure I don’t blow this. In fact, I honor God so much that I’m going to really take a long, long-long-long, long time about this one. Because I don’t want to make a mistake.

Steve: And I’m going to look for a burning bush.

Dr. Scott Stanley: Yeah. God’s a perfect will God, and I’m pretty worried about making a mistake and messing that up. It sounds a whole lot like the person that buried the one coin until the master came back and then dug it back up and said, “Here, you have what you left me with and you’ve lost nothing.” Christ was not real happy about that.

The master didn’t say to all three before he left, “Here are 10 talents, here are five, here’s one. You know, here’s what I want you to do with seven of those 10, and the other three I think you should put over here in this mutual fund and buy this business. Hey, you, with the five here, you know, here’s what I want you to do with these five. You know, two go to this charity over here. In fact that new thing Franklin Graham is doing is so cool, why don’t you give two of them there? That’s going to give me a good return. These three — well, have one go to church, et cetera, and then the second I want you to start a business and triple it. And so on with the one.” But he doesn’t do that. He says, “Here are 10, here are five, here’s one. Have at it, see you in a while.”

There ain’t no burning bush in that story. What there is in that story is the implication that you better not just sit on it and not do anything. Because that one — notice what the one says. He says, “Out of fear of you losing anything, (because I know you have a perfect will), I knew I’d better just hang on to what you gave me so I could give you exactly that back.” And Christ is saying, “I want more. I want all of you to be at risk, and I want more.” Now, that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be stupid.

So back to the burning bush thing. We are lots of times waiting for the burning bush, but if one is waiting for the burning bush, it’s not real consistent with something else Paul said that was pretty important. He said, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” So if we’re supposed to be walking by faith and not by sight and that’s what it means to really be a deeply committed Christian, that means He’s usually not giving us a burning bush. If He is, there’s no faith in that. Faith comes from having a pretty good sense of what God cares about and doing our best with the choices and then struggling with what that means.

Steve: Is it also like Christ when he said, this generation constantly demands a miracle. You want something that’s supernatural, but what are you doing with what I’ve already given you?

Dr. Scott Stanley: That’s right. We want to see perfectly.

Steve: I love how Martin Luther talks about God working through means. Even with Isaac and Rebekah, you could look at that and say God came down and supernaturally intervened, but there were some means involved of applying principles and of examining character. A burning bush offers something of a shortcut around reading Scripture and learning the principles for finding a good mate. I wonder how often our desire for supernatural involvement is so that we don’t have to study and learn all those biblical principles and do the hard work of applying them.

Dr. Scott Stanley: In going back to Abraham and Isaac, think about what Abraham knows and what he doesn’t know. God spoke to Abraham in extraordinarily clear ways, especially about the big vision — the stars in sky, the sand and all this kind of stuff. But Abraham still has to do a fair amount of acting. He has to get up and go to this other land. He has to do things to secure a clear place in this land. And then think about again what he does with his servant and having him go back and finding a wife for Isaac. Abraham wasn’t apparently told by God or else he would’ve told his servant, “Hey, her name is Rebekah; she’s at this house; you’ll meet her at this well on this day.” There’s some work involved and wisdom involved. He knows what the general idea is and where God’s trying to go. And he knows how important the right wife is going to be and what Isaac’s life needs to be, but he has to arrange the particulars. He has to set in motion the things that will bring that about and behave wisely.

And that’s how it is today and how it always is. Very few of us are going to get a burning bush. What we do get if we pay attention in Scripture is the vision of the stars. We know the big picture of what God is trying to do. We know what Christ is trying to do through the church. And that should guide us in the biggest picture in terms of the goal and the frame. But God does make us choose the details about whether that 10 talents are going to turn into 5 or 15 or 20 and holds us responsible for acting on that.

Copyright 2007 Scott Stanley. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Scott Stanley

Scott Stanley, Ph.D. is co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies and a research professor of psychology at the University of Denver. He has authored numerous research articles on relationships and is an expert on marital commitment. Scott co-authored the book A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage and authored the book The Power of Commitment. Additionally, he regularly contributes to print and broadcast media as an expert on marriage.


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