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Excerpt for What Works for Singles: For Relationship, for Marriage, for Life by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

WHAT WORKS FOR SINGLES

FOR RELATIONSHIPS

FOR MARRIAGE

FOR LIFE

Solid Choices in Unstable Times 



Copyright, Shane Idleman 2003

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission from the publisher and author.

Published by El Paseo Publications

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All Biblical references, unless specified otherwise, were obtained from the Spirit Filled Life Bible (New King James version). Executive editor, Pastor Jack Hayford. Published by THOMAS NELSON, 1995.

We make every effort to attribute the source of quotes to the correct author. If there is no acknowledgement, the author either wrote the quote or we could not determine the source. If you can identify the source, we encourage you to contact us.

DEDICATION



This book is dedicated to my beautiful wife, Morgan Idleman, and to my mother, Diane Idleman, who has been there for me throughout the years.

Thank you, Morgan, for believing in me and in this book, and thank you for sharing your experience at the end of the book. And thank you, Mom, for the many days, nights, weeks and months invested—may it return a hundredfold; I could not have completed it without your love and support.

BOOK #2 FROM THE WHAT WORKS BOOK SERIES

E.P.

EL PASEO PUBLICATIONS

WHAT WORKS for Singles was written based on personal experience and observation and is sold with that understanding. The purpose of this resource is not to replace other books containing similar information but to complement them. You are encouraged to learn as much as possible by reading other reputable books. The Bible provides the primary source of information.

El Paseo Publications is committed to quality in publication— to inspire, educate, and encourage the highest standard of excellence through written communication.



THE AUTHOR’S ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First and foremost, I want to thank God for inspiration and guidance. As I look back over the years, I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:8–9: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” When I was hard pressed, I was molded into the person He intended me to be.

When I was perplexed, I had only to ask for direction and move forward. When I was persecuted, I found hope through spiritual truths. When I was struck down, clearly God restored me; and when I wanted to give up, I found the endless encouragement to continue.

My mother, Diane Idleman, has continued to offer guidance, encouragement, leadership, integrity and an overall positive attitude toward challenges. When I found myself in battles difficult to face, it was her compassion, understanding, and constant reference to God’s Word that preserved me. Not only is she a great mother but an exceptional editor and “book doctor”; I could not have done it on my own. Thank you for the many days, nights, weeks, and months invested—may it return a hundred-fold. Aside from the Lord, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “All that I am, and all that I’ll ever be, I owe to my mother!

A special thanks to my brother, Ryan, and his wife, Christina, along with Christian and Austin, and my sister, Meredith—all have been a tremendous support. Challenges created by the WHAT WORKS Book Series have brought us closer together. I thank God for family members who add to life rather than take from it.

Thanks to my Aunt Pauline, for her patience in reviewing this material, often with very little notice.

I want to thank my wife, Morgan Idleman, who was a tremendous support. Her unconditional love removed walls built from the past and held our relationship together during the difficult times. I thank her for believing in me and in this book. I also want to thank Morgan’s family for their support and acceptance: Augie, Linda, Leah, Curt, Jessy, and Allison.

I began by acknowledging my heavenly Father and it seems fitting to end with my biological father. Jim Idleman, who died of a heart attack at an early age of fifty-four, inspired me more than he could have known. Qualities such as honesty, integrity, commitment, discipline, and a very strong work ethic are not easily taught. Values are not transmitted through mere words; they are instilled through a life that models these traits. I learned many things through his example, and I’ll be forever grateful for the experiences we shared, the lessons I learned, and the man I became as a result of the time we spent together.

Thanks to pastors Sean and Kay Appleton and Jim Girdlestone for their review of the manuscript, and for their counsel and godly advice. A special thanks to the pastors in my area who were a tremendous support and encouragement during this project . . .

David Sill, Ken Hart, Dave Prather, Tom Pickens, James Majeske, Jan Spencer and Dave Parker.

Thanks to Ty and Julie Dripps, Erin and Russ Karsten, Renee and Dan Elkins, Stephen Hampton, Robin Blakely, and Heather Horning for their insightful comments and suggestions.

Though not aware of their influence via the media, several others have provided spiritual fortification and fuel for the completion of this book. My thanks to Dr. James Dobson, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, Chuck Smith, Jack Hayford, James MacDonald and those on The Calvary Satellite Network, The Living Way Radio Network, Focus on the Family, Family Life Today and Promise Keepers, to name only a few.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

As you begin, I strongly encourage you to journal. Journaling is an excellent way to give place to thoughts, release emotions, and help chart progress. Most of the information in this book, and WHAT WORKS When “Diets” Don’t, came from my journals before they were in manuscript form. Never underestimate the importance of journaling!

At the end of each chapter is a section entitled Questions to Consider. Reflect on these questions, identify areas that may require more attention, and journal your thoughts as they arise.

God placed great emphasis on written word as well as spoken word. To begin, choose a subject (perhaps on developing your character), find related Scriptures, and read the chapters in their entirety. Date your entry; note the Scripture, your thoughts, prayers, and how it can be directly applied to your life. Note answers to prayers. You’ll be encouraged as you reflect on God’s provision throughout your life.



C O N T E N T S


Building the Foundation

A strong foundation will cost something, but a weak foundation will cost more


Chapter 1:

Principle One: Choosing to Change from the Inside Out

The choices you make today can be the marriage you save tomorrow


Chapter 2:

Principle Two: Acquire Knowledge—Apply Wisdom

Minimize the damage—use the right tool


Chapter 3:

Principle Three: The Pain of Discipline vs. the Pain of Regret

It’s easier to pull down than up


Chapter 4:

Principle Four: Preparation

We play like we practice


Chapter 5:

Principle Five: Choose Wisely

Dating & Courting—Quality of choice today affects the quality of life tomorrow


Chapter 6:

Principle Six: Prioritizing

First things first


Chapter 7:

Principle Seven: Character

Character—a lifetime to build, seconds to destroy


Chapter 8:

Divorce—Hope for the Hurting

Broken-yet unbreakable


Chapter 9:

Solid Choices in Unstable Times


About the Author

Advisory Overview


Building the Foundation

A strong foundation will cost something, but a weak foundation will cost more

Building has been booming in Southern California for as long as I can remember. Throughout my teen years, I worked with my father in the family’s underground construction business. Contractors were very careful in preparing the ground and laying the foundation. Although the cost to build a strong foundation was expensive, a weak foundation could cost more. Without proper support, a structure may not be sound and could present future problems.

Developers hired architects and engineers, appointed a contractor, paid fees to the county or to the city as well as to other departments, developed a set of plans, and used heavy equipment to move tons of dirt, all to prepare the foundation. In the same way, our character provides the foundation on which we build our lives and our relationships. Many singles, as well as those married, spend years rebuilding relationships simply because the foundation was weak. Make no mistake about it: a strong foundation will cost you something, but a weak foundation will cost you more. Companies who neglect the foundation can, in the end, spend millions of dollars reinforcing, restoring and rebuilding.

In the same way, we may spend years rebuilding and restoring our lives if we neglect our foundation. Clearly, the foundation we build today provides the strength that weathers tomorrow’s storm.

It’s unfortunate that society focuses largely on external factors such as looks, money, position or status. These superficial values have left our nation in a moral and spiritual crisis. We’ve become a society focused on prosperity instead of provision, we value wealth instead of wisdom, and we are drawn to charisma instead of character. It’s little wonder that divorce is at an all-time high—our foundation as a nation, and as individuals, has slowly deteriorated.

In the past, a life-long commitment and exclusive intimacy in marriage held the family together. It was in that setting that children learned, and character developed. Divorce was rarely an option, and a husband or a wife was considered an asset rather than a liability. WHAT WORKS for Singles is intended to help develop and support strong relationships, because the choices you make today may very well be the marriage you save tomorrow.



Many times, the problem isn’t that we raise our standard and miss it, it’s that we lower it and hit it!

CHAPTER ONE

Principle 1:

Choosing to Change from the Inside Out

The choices you make today can be the marriage you save tomorrow

Marriage, today, is not failing because it’s more difficult than in years past—I believe it’s failing because the foundation has weakened.

As a child, I was captivated by the stories that my grandfather told about life on the farm in Oklahoma in the mid-1900s. The images I’ve held are not those of pleasant surroundings and ideal conditions; they’re impressions of twelve-hour days spent working the land, wind storms that could devastate a crop, blistered and sunburned skin, and poverty unlike most Americans know today. Life, in general, was harder then, but interestingly enough, character seemed much stronger. It was a time when commitment, integrity, and honesty stood in place of contracts, disclosures, and bylaws. I’m not suggesting that we return to that time in history but that we learn from the past and strongly encourage those same principles today.

What do you bring into a relationship? Are you willing to develop qualities that support commitment? Many focus on finding the “right” person without first focusing on becoming the “right” person. The principle of reaping and sowing not only relates to financial success, but it relates to success with others. If one desires to find a trustworthy, honest, committed person, he or she should first offer the same. Unfortunately, character qualities such as honesty, integrity, commitment, perseverance, and servitude have been compromised. As a result, marriages, families, and other relationships often fail because they embrace values that promote meeting self-centered needs rather than meeting the needs of others.

It’s no surprise that more than 50 percent of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. I believe this number would be significantly lower if basic principles were acknowledged before marriage as well as after. Love doesn’t leave people—people leave love. True love is not just an ecstatic feeling; it’s a decision we make to remain faithful to our commitment. Marriage was intended to be a commitment based on love, surrendered to service, built on perseverance, and held together by commitment. A Focus on the Family Newsletter stated that when a research team studied 5,232 married adults who were interviewed in the late 1980s, they discovered that 645 of them were unhappily married. Five years later, these same adults (some divorced, separated, or still married) were interviewed again. The study revealed that two-thirds of the unhappily married spouses who remained together were actually happier five years later. The opposite was true for those divorced. Although divorce was a temporary escape from pain, it introduced new emotional and psychological difficulties. In a nutshell, unless problems are severe and/or life threatening, weather the storm—it’s well worth it.

Who we are when single will be who we are when married, at least initially. For this reason, it’s vitally important to develop qualities now that we’ll want to continue to develop throughout marriage. Marriages that begin with right intentions but end in divorce often fail to continue to nurture and strengthen the relationship. Just as investing in physical exercise builds and strengthens the body, ongoing spiritual, emotional, and other psychological investments build and strengthen relationships. In the fitness industry, for example, the majority of those who lose weight from dieting gain it back—they don’t make an ongoing investment in a lifestyle that promotes health and fitness. A temporary solution cannot solve a long-term problem. Regardless if weight is lost through dieting or pills, if the core of the problem is not addressed, success is difficult to maintain. In the same way, if we don’t address thoughts, attitudes, and behavioral patterns that hinder a successful relationship, long-term success may be difficult. I often advise clients that what it takes to lose weight is what it takes to keep it off. The same is true in marriage—what it takes to develop and build the relationship is what it takes to keep it going!

I’m reminded of a popular saying: A true measure of a person is not who they were, but who they will become. One redeeming yet largely unacknowledged fact of life is that our past does not have to determine our present or our future! Yes, there are consequences to our actions, but past failures do not have to prevent future success. In fact, many successful people have replaced the concept of failure with a more positive concept of feedback. Don’t misunderstand—if failure is related to sin, it’s wrong, but God wants us to move forward in forgiveness rather than remain imprisoned by regret.

THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION

It is difficult to share my past, but I do so with the hope that I can help others avoid failed relationships.

Although I was a successful corporate executive, the years during my late twenties were the worst years of my life. I was driven, but for the wrong reasons. I felt a sense of purpose, but it left me feeling empty. I was passionate, but for the wrong things. As a result of my misguided focus, my life took several unnecessary turns for the worse—including my wife of four years filing for divorce. I quickly learned that before meaningful, lasting change can occur on the outside, it first must occur on the inside. We cannot successfully change actions and/or circumstances without first changing the inner condition of our heart—we must choose to change from the inside out.

For years, I focused on everything society had to offer, but I ultimately found that it offered little of lasting value or satisfaction. Desperate for direction and fulfillment, I began to search the pages of a Bible shelved long ago with other memorabilia from my past. As I read, two Scriptures seemed to leap from the pages: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” (Luke 9:25) and “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7). I realized that I had been looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places. While I had focused on externals, such as prosperity, physical fitness, and relationships, I had starved my spirit. I had been independent, self-centered and prideful—I had hardened my heart.

Within the months that followed, my passion and my purpose for life became clearer than ever once I recommitted my life to Christ. And direction? Well, direction was uncertain. However, I was now open for wherever His lead might take me. Little did I know that I would soon walk away from a lucrative career and face the unknown to begin writing the WHAT WORKS Book Series and to develop a health and weight-loss website based on principles often overlooked within our culture.

It was a time of financial uncertainty but very clear spiritual certainty. Psalm 32:8 helped to ease my mind, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” I may not have known where my steps were leading, but God did.

We’re living in times of great uncertainty for our country, but there is tremendous comfort, direction, and strength in adhering to spiritual principles that have guided mankind consistently throughout the centuries. The basis for success in any area of life is founded on spiritual truths. Many are searching for spiritual direction and fulfillment, and that is why it’s essential that we address this issue first.

“Religion” comes with many faces. New Age and other religions are popular, and have been throughout time, because people have a deep desire to connect spiritually—God created us for that purpose. Searching for spiritual fulfillment isn’t wrong, but where we search can be.

On the eve of writing this chapter, I was returning from a women’s conference in Central California where I spoke on health, fitness, and weight-loss. I was amazed to see how many of the speakers focused on spirituality and “finding one’s inner-self,” but none mentioned a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I asked one of the speakers if her material was biblically based. She said that she believed in a higher power and that her information drew from Buddhism, New Age, and Scripture.

There is tremendous power and wisdom in the Bible; even worldly scholars recognize its influence. Most major religions take portions from the Bible, but we can’t take from the Bible what we choose and disregard the rest. I liken it to someone skimming through the pages of WHAT WORKS When “Diets” Don’t and reading: eat whatever you choose. In it’s entirety it actually reads, “If you follow these guidelines, stay within these ranges, and avoid these foods, you can eat whatever foods you choose.” Reading and following only chosen portions of information can mean failure, not success. Owning a Bible doesn’t lead to spiritual health any more than owning a treadmill leads to physical health. If we apply only what we choose, we can easily miss what we need.

TODAY’S DECISION, TOMORROW’S DESTINY

The first principle, choosing to change from the inside out, is the most crucial to healthy relationships but also the most ignored. In order for change to occur on the outside, it must first occur on the inside. For instance, I had to accept the fact that I was a sinner who needed a Savior before I could truly change from the inside out. I stopped blaming people, places, or things and started taking responsibility for my actions from an inward position and began moving in a positive direction.

Turning Point Ministries describes four emotional states that can prevent change. The first is blame (feeds denial). Second is resentment (anger at the situation). Third is rationalization (making excuses for actions). The final state is hopelessness (the result of a perceived helpless condition). Many people fail to move forward because they are trapped within these stages and hindered by their emotional state. They must come to resolve or release these attitudes before they can move forward. Without an inward change (thoughts), an outward change (actions) is unlikely. Choosing to change your lifestyle from the inside out begins with a choice. Choosing today changes tomorrow!

You may be saying, “What does all this have to do with being single or building solid relationships?” My friend, it has everything to do with being single and strengthening relationships. Without Jesus Christ truly leading the way, all efforts will be in vain. It’s been said that sin takes us farther than we want to go, costs us more than we want to pay, and keeps us longer than we want to stay. I couldn’t agree more. Many singles go through life entering new relationships with past baggage, or old issues. Accepting a new life in Christ can change that. 2 Corinthians 5:17 states: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Your past is forgiven, your present secure, and your future certain; through Christ you are a brand-new person. Though much of our past may remain in our thought life, we can overcome by replacing negative thoughts with Scriptures.

Jesus has made Himself available to us. He gave us the ability to think, to reason, and to choose to accept Him or reject Him. I believe that life is an intentional act; it is not the result of a random cosmic explosion that unexplainably organized itself into magnificent beauty, intelligence, and the ability to love. It takes more faith to believe that we are here because chaos randomly organized itself rather than by a deliberate act of a Creator.

God did not create without a purpose. If life is a gift, there’s a Giver. If we were created, there’s a Creator. If there is a master plan, there’s a Master Planner. With this understanding, it would be a waste of precious time not to allow God to direct our lives.

If you’re reading this and are skeptical because of past experiences with religion, that’s ok; religion is not the answer— a relationship with Christ is. There is a clear difference:

➢ Religion says, “I have to follow rules.” A relationship with Christ says, “I want to follow His plan for my life.”

➢ Religion says, “I have to go to church.” A relationship with Christ says, “I want to position myself to learn more, worship Him, and benefit from fellowship.”

➢ Religion offers a set of rituals; a relationship with Jesus offers unfailing guidance.

➢ Religion is man’s attempt to find God; relationship assures us of His presence.

I believe that many “Christian” marriages fail because they confuse “religion” with a true relationship with Christ (the solid foundation for relationships with others). Married couples may know Scripture, but often, they do not apply Scripture to the act of maintaining the relationship.

I’m frequently amazed at the number of people who no longer attend church simply because of a bad experience, dislike of the music, or some similar reason. Can you imagine if we applied that thought to everyday living? If we have a bad experience at a restaurant, should we never dine out again? If we have a bad experience at a health club, should we never exercise again? If we have a bad experience with our vehicle, should we never drive again? This rationale doesn’t make sense. However, I clearly understand that there are some churches that should be avoided. The key is to compare what they’re saying and doing with the Word of God—look also for characteristics such as acceptance, encouragement, love, and support.

We have faith in banks, businesses, vehicles, buildings, and friends, but when it comes to having faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful God, many have trouble. They have difficulty accepting Jesus as God in human form, or they believe that He is close to a fairytale. They don’t understand why God sent His Son, if they believe at all. Working closely with my father helped me better understand this truth. Many times, as a teen, I assisted him throughout the day. He owned a construction company that specialized in the installation of underground services. At times, I would jump into a five-, six-, or seven-foot-deep trench to install a new pipeline. Five minutes into the installation, it was sometimes obvious that I was at a loss. From above, my dad gave helpful directives like “Do it this way,” or “Don’t do it like that, you’ll break the pipe.” After many attempts to help from his position above, he would inevitably jump down into the trench and show me how to do my job successfully. It wasn’t until he came down to my level, demonstrated the proper technique, and explained the process that I fully understood. And sometimes, he would simply have to do it for me. Although not perfect, I made vast improvements as the training sessions continued. In the same way, Jesus was sent to teach us how to lead godly, meaningful lives and to “save us from ourselves.” In essence, the price was so great for the damage done left to ourselves, that at the end of His ministry, Jesus paid the highest price of all by dying to redeem us from our sins.

Make no mistake about it, the greatest commitment that you will ever make is to develop and guard your spiritual health. If you’re searching but not finding, hurting and not healing, and living but not loving, I encourage you to first look to the One who has the answers and commit your life to Him.

No matter what you’ve done or have been through, you have the ability and availability to accept or return to Jesus and become as new. Again, a true measure of a person is not who they were, but who they will become.

For those who have already made a decision to follow Christ, choosing to change simply means choosing to do what is right instead of choosing what is popular or what feels good; sometimes, but not always, they are one and the same. Obeying God’s Word affects everyone around you, including the one you choose to spend the rest of your life with. Far too many who accept Christ as their personal Savior leave it at that. They want eternal salvation but still want to be accepted by society. Accepting Christ isn’t the finish line; it’s the starting point. If you fall under this heading, I encourage you to seriously reconsider your commitment, realizing that one cannot serve both Christ and the world. It took me nearly seventeen years to realize that His laws are there to protect us, not to prevent us from enjoying life.

Before I recommitted my life, I went late to church on the days I attended and left as soon as the message was over. On weekends, I often drank, focused on making money, and ignored the Christian faith I professed. It was sobering to read in Matthew 7:22, for the first time with open eyes, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’” And He will say “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (7:23—italics mine). Some might say that they don’t understand how Jesus can say, “I never knew you.” He’s not denying their existence; He’s denying a personal relationship with them. It became very clear when I applied it to my life, “But Lord, Lord . . . I attended church on the days that I didn’t play golf or go to the gym or sleep in. I was a good person, and I helped others when I could.” The answer was the same, “I never knew you; depart from Me.” As an example, I can watch the Dodgers baseball games, read the players biographies, and study their stats, but if I were to meet any of them, they would say, “I don’t know you.” Knowing about someone is not knowing someone. A close relationship is built through mutual commitment, servitude, and spending time with a person. Christ has designed the way to develop a relationship with Him: read and obey His Word and pray and seek His will for your life. I’ve been on both sides of the fence—there’s no comparison.

Many go from relationship to relationship searching for someone to fill a need. As a result, their lives often become a roller coaster ride of emotions simply because they don’t look to Jesus as their primary source of fulfillment. By placing Him first, all other relationships profit.

Just because the choice is made to acknowledge Him first does not mean that life is easy. There is a constant battle within our minds. Galatians 5:17 (NLT) presents this fact: “The Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict.” In other words, our sinful nature and our nature in Christ are constantly at battle. A story, The Battle Within, taken from my first book illustrates this point:

There was a young man who was determined to find help for his troubled life. After years of frustration and regret, he was deeply discouraged and despondent. He needed solid direction. He had worked several years and had nothing to show for it. He had been easily influenced, and most of his friends were major contributors to his negative attitude. As a result, his mind was constantly filled with depressing thoughts.

The young man was determined to find help. He walked to a neighboring church and found a pastor at work in his study. He told the pastor that he was a Christian but that he had a difficult life. He wanted to make better choices, but he couldn’t seem to stay on track.

The young man continued, “It’s as if I have two dogs constantly battling within me. One dog is evil and negative, while the other is good and positive!” He continued to say that the battles were long and very difficult; they drained him emotionally and mentally to the point of exhaustion. He explained further that he couldn’t seem to make the right choices in life.

Without a moment’s thought, the pastor asked the young man, “Which dog wins the battle?” Looking a bit confused, the young man said, “The constant struggle leaves me depressed and in a negative state. Isn’t it obvious that the evil dog wins?” The pastor looked knowingly at the young man and wisely said, “Then that’s the dog you feed the most! If you want to experience victory, you need to starve that dog to death!”

He realized, as should we, that the source of our strength comes from the food we choose—what we feed grows, and what grows becomes the dominating force within our lives.

We need to be very selective in what we watch and listen to. Why would we willingly walk into the enemy’s camp? Why would we feed wrong desires and thoughts? Feeding the flesh does nothing but bring war against the spirit. Proverbs 23:7 also reminds us that “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” What we think provides the framework for who we become. Our thoughts become words, our words actions, our actions habits, and our habits form our character (paraphrased motto of the Metropolitan Milwaukee YMCA). “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). Make no mistake about it, our greatest battle is within.

I once misunderstood those who chose not to watch certain movies and television programs, attend certain events, or listen to suggestive secular music. I now realize that if I don’t control my desires, my desires will control me—right thinking creates right doing! For instance, after I recommitted my life to Christ, my cravings for alcohol seemed to increase at times. A week or two would go by, and eventually the desire to drink again resurfaced. As I continued to analyze my situation, I noticed that every time I watched certain television programs, listened to mostly secular music, or associated with the wrong crowd (a major snare), the desire to drink would increase. I quickly learned that what we feed grows and what grows becomes the controlling force within our lives. If we want to experience a healthy and fulfilling life, we must choose our food wisely. We’ll never be completely free from wrong desires; there is a constant struggle to resist temptation, but there’s a clear difference between a struggle and a lifestyle. Even Christ was tempted, but he was not drawn away by sin.

To recap, one of the primary ways to win the battle in our mind is to feed it with the right information and to be careful not to walk willingly into the enemy’s camp.

Perhaps you’re still questioning what this has to do with building relationships. It has everything to do with the process. Remember, it is important to build a strong foundation that will support lasting relationships. If the foundation is weak, the structure is not sound.

Principle one, choosing to change from the inside out, whether accepting Christ for the first time, or recommitting to Him wholeheartedly, is the most important step to take. Change your life and it will change you.

BLESSINGS JUST AROUND THE CORNER

While single, focus on building your life on solid character traits and recognize that who you are as a single will be who you are when married. People do change after marriage, but most bring with them traits and habits from single life. What will this mean for you or your future spouse? With this in mind, focus on changing counterproductive habits that will hinder a successful marriage. We don’t get in life what we want but rather what we are. If one desires a committed, honest spouse, one should develop those same qualities to attract that type of individual.

Another aspect of choosing to change from the inside out, at least for me, was patience. Patience, patience, patience! I often spent my time looking for someone to date, and I’d frequently attend church for the wrong reasons. I finally realized that certain areas in my life needed improvement. Why would God bring a blessing into my life before I was ready to be a blessing in return? I prayed David’s prayer from Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” I added, “I will follow You wholeheartedly, and when I’m ready, that door will open.” I thought that it would take a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but after six months of waiting, I began to lose hope. I continued to say the same prayer, followed His lead, and worked on my character. After nearly a year of waiting and a total of three years living a single life, I felt that I was ready. I said, “Lord, You bring her to me; I don’t want to be out of Your will.”

A few weeks later, I attended a new Sunday night service for young adults and thought I’d meet someone for sure. When I arrived, my focus was on finding someone when it should have been on personal growth. Needless to say, I didn’t meet anyone. I thought, “Well, maybe next Sunday.” And again, I didn’t meet anyone. I followed this pattern for nearly two months, until one Sunday, during praise and worship, I realized that I was still there for the wrong reason. I prayed, “Lord, I’m here for you. Even if I never meet anyone, I want to know You better.” Something broke in me. I attended the next several Sundays and was not interested in meeting anyone; I was there to develop a relationship with the Lord, and it truly felt good.

Following another evening service a month later, I saw a girl who I had dinner with a year and a half prior, but nothing had sparked then. It may have been that God said, “Here is your gift, but it’s up to you if and when you receive it.”

A year and a half had changed us both. She had grown strong spiritually, and I was revisiting my feelings about her. Our relationship eventually grew into desire for a lasting commitment. I often smile to think that what I had been looking for throughout Southern California was actually two blocks away. (Many times, if we slow down and wait, our blessings are just around the corner.) God has promised that if you will seek Him first with right motives and commit your ways to Him, He will direct you (Proverbs 3:6 paraphrased).

The months that followed were not easy; we focused on avoiding physical intimacy, and we waited on the Lord for timing and direction. Additionally, I hadn’t been involved in a serious relationship in years, and the “ghost of marriage past” was haunting me. As a result, fear and issues with trust entered the new relationship—the enemy often resurrects past failures to prevent future success. Divorce is devastating; it not only affects your life for years to come, it severely affects those closest to you. Had it not been for Morgan’s love, patience, and understanding, I doubt we would have married. What the enemy used for evil by trying to confuse and depress me, God ultimately used for good. Her kindness and commitment began to calm my fears.

On a closing note, as I prayed and waited for a potential spouse, one Scripture encouraged me time and time again, and it may encourage you. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:17 (NLT), “You must accept whatever situation the Lord has put you in, and continue on as you were when God first called you.” When married couples made reference to this quote, I’d think, “That’s easy for you to say—you’re married.” Nevertheless, the Scripture helped me to realize that no matter what state I was in relationally, I could also be in the center of God’s will. That thought was my buffer against ongoing discouragement.

Changing Direction

Choosing to change is the first, and most important, step. As you begin, remember that a strong foundation will cost something, but a weak foundation can cost more. If you are choosing to accept Christ as your personal Savior for the first time, continue to build on solid ground. Psalm 11:3 states, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” and Isaiah 7:9 states, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (NIV). These Scriptures are to encourage and to illustrate the importance of continually building your faith on God’s Word. Strengthen your foundation . . .

1. Find a Bible-based, Christ-centered church.

2. Devote a portion of your day to prayer.

3. Purchase a good study Bible; read and journal.

4. Memorize Scriptures, and use them as a standard for direction and decision.

5. Develop relationships with those who will encourage you to grow in your faith.



QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Who you are when single will be who you are when married, at least initially.” What will you bring into the relationship? Where can you improve?

Are you focused on finding the right person or being the right person?

Consider the principle of sowing and reaping. What are you sowing in the lives of others? What will you reap?

Love doesn’t leave people—people leave love. How will you strengthen yourself in this area?

What do you believe holds marriage together through the difficult times? Do you believe in forgiveness regardless of the circumstance?

Do you generally do what is right or what is popular?

Who and/or what in your life tends to hinder personal growth?

Change requires that we be willing. Check your attitude concerning the following and comment: denial, unforgiveness, rationalization, and hopelessness.

Memorize

Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”



Knowledge plus wisdom equals results. One without the other is like a ship without a course—without both, it’s difficult to reach your destination.



CHAPTER TWO

Principle 2:

Acquire Knowledge— Apply Wisdom

Minimize the damage—use the right tool

Many of my teen years and early twenties were spent working for our family business. One morning while I was digging a trench with a backhoe, I broke an existing water line. Within minutes, the trench filled with water. I rushed to shut off the valve, but the handle appeared broken. I struggled to close it with a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and other wrenching tools, but nothing worked. Hesitantly, I called my dad to tell him that I couldn’t stop hundreds of gallons of water from pouring into the street. When he arrived, clearly frustrated, he reached into his truck and grabbed a long pole with a special socket attached. As he placed the socket on the “broken valve” and turned it, the water stopped immediately. He reminded me, not so patiently, of his words just weeks prior. He had instructed me to keep the special wrench with me at all times for emergencies like this.

I learned two important lessons. First, I received proper instruction, but I failed to listen to my father’s advice. Had I used the right tool, the damage, if any, would have been minimal. In the same way, biblical principles and godly wisdom are available to us, but it’s our choice whether we use them or not. I thought I had other options—the pliers, screwdriver and other tools seemed as if they would work. I felt I could manage without the water-meter wrench, but my failure to heed my father’s advice cost us the price of the job. In the same way, we often think of “our way” as best and God’s principles as optional when, in fact, the opposite is true: God’s directives are essential and absolute.

Second, I realized that I could not fix the problem alone and called for my father’s help. Likewise, we all encounter problems and need to ask for help even when problems are self-created. Calling on our Heavenly Father should be the first resort, not the last. Had I called my father first—or listened initially—the damage would have been considerably less. In the same way, heed the right advice and look to the right source for help in building a foundation of wisdom in your life.

GAUGING GOOD JUDGMENT—CONSIDER THE RESULTS

One way to gauge wisdom, or good judgment, is to consider the results. In Matthew 11:19, the Jewish people were having difficulty grasping the unexpected nature of Jesus’ ministry. Many alleged that John the Baptist, the one chosen to prepare the way for Jesus, was demon-possessed and that Jesus was a glutton and drunkard. Instead of arguing with them, Jesus made this statement: “But wisdom is shown to be right by what results from it” (NLT). In other words, godly wisdom bears righteous fruit. People received healing and deliverance, and many accepted Christ as their Savior. This was obviously not the work of demons, drunkards, or gluttons. Jesus encouraged them to look at the end result and not at how things appeared.

Again, we gauge good judgment by considering its results. If single, are your choices producing the results you want? If dating, is the relationship heading in the right direction? If not, consider who’s leading you—God’s Word or the cultural value system. Does our present society promote good judgment and/or produce good outcomes? Is society building healthy families, mentoring children, and developing admirable character? What are the results of today’s relative value system and disregard for God’s absolutes?

Today’s value system promotes pro-choice and devalues the unborn child.

What is the result?

-- Approximately 1.4 million babies are aborted each year in the U.S. If the names of all the children who have been terminated since 1970 were placed on a monument, much like that of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the wall would span over 50 miles.

In the early 1960s, the Supreme Court held that prayer and God’s Word had no place in the public school system, and safe sex has been the focus of sex education.

What is the result?

-- Each day over 2,700 teens become pregnant.

-- Premarital sex among 15-year-old students has increased almost 1,000 percent since 1962.

-- Over three million teens become infected each year with an STD.

-- Incredibly, talking, chewing gum, and making noise were the top three public school problems in the early sixties. Currently, rape, robbery, and assault lead the list, followed by burglary, arson, bombings, murder, and suicide.

Society promotes money, fame and personal assets as the primary measures of success.

What is the result?

-- America leads the way in fatherless homes and broken families. Numbers rise as men and women continue to measure success by what they accomplish in the workplace rather than by what they accomplish at home.

Society encourages the consumption of “junk” food. Athletes promote it, parents purchase it, and kids enjoy it.

What is the result?

-- Poor nutrition is killing more Americans than any other health factor, and well over half of the adults in America are obese as a result.

-- One third of the teens in California are overweight or at risk of it. This can lead to diabetes, cancer, and heart disease as teens become adults.

-- Currently, cancer affects one in three people and is often associated with poor nutrition.

-- In the last sixty years, diabetes has increased 600 percent to 1,000 percent.

Society’s wisdom promotes pornography as a harmless expression of freedom of speech.

What is the result?

-- Teens and adults are becoming addicted to pornography at alarming rates.

-- Pornography is considered a matter of free speech, while God’s Word is banned in public schools and other arenas within our communities.

-- Pornography is often a major influence in the lives of those who commit sex crimes.

So much for the fruit of a relative value system and disregard for absolute truths. Is this the direction that we want to go—that you want to go? If not, make a change. Granted, it’s disheartening to read statistics like these, but knowledge is power. What does this have to do with being single? Everything! Restoration is possible as we follow God’s commands, seek direction, and pursue the opportunity that God has given us to make an impact within our families. Be grateful and consider it a privilege that God has chosen you for such a time as this.

THE TOP THREE THINGS TO AVOID

You were created for a reason. Your life has purpose. No matter what you’ve gone through or are going through, there is a purpose and a destiny for your life. According to 1 John 2:16 (paraphrased), the enemy uses three methods to abort success: the lust of the flesh (what we crave), the lust of the eyes (what is pleasing to the eye), and the pride of life (arrogance).

The lust of the flesh. Lust can be defined as desire over the boundary lines. All of us struggle with lust in some form or another. The question is do we entertain the thought until it fuels desire, or do we walk away? Desire is not wrong, but what we do with it can be. If our hearts are sincere and teachable, God can bless us, but if we purposely engage in sin, we remove His protection. Being tempted isn’t sin—surrendering to it is. God is merciful to forgive and bestow blessings as we repent and make necessary lifestyle changes. Feelings of lust can be overcome as we read His Word, protect our eyes and ears, educate ourselves, apply wisdom, and surround ourselves with those who lift us up rather than pull us down.

As a final word of encouragement, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” The door of temptation swings both ways—you can enter or exit.

The lust of the eyes can be defined as coveting, or desiring something such as a trophy wife or husband, expensive home, or vehicle. Being drawn by attraction, depending on the situation, is not wrong as long as the motive for the relationship isn’t based solely on looks. For instance, although I was greatly attracted to my wife’s physical beauty, it was her character that held me. When attraction is based on inner qualities, appeal can last forever. Beauty fades, and it is important to value the person beneath. As you move forward in a relationship, frequently evaluate your motives for pursuing. Are you intrigued with beauty, so much so that serious character flaws are overlooked? If so, rethink the relationship.

The pride of life is the opposite of humility. It can be defined as conceit, or a sense of superiority in who we are or what we possess. Proverbs 6:16–17 says, “The Lord hates a proud look.” Self-centeredness is closely related to pride. When we believe that our needs are more important than the needs of others, and we think more highly of ourselves than we should, pride is a problem, and it will severely hinder a relationship. Pride of life causes us to place more emphasis on things than on people. A popular saying bears consideration—God intended that we love people and use things; instead we tend to love things and use people. Pride causes us to take pleasure in the things of the world rather than the things of God. Husbands and wives don’t marry filled with love and passion one day, only to lose it the next. Marriage slowly deteriorates through more attention to self than spouse. Most who are divorced will say that their marriage was initially good, but with time, one or both stopped loving—largely because of selfishness. As a word of encouragement, according to The Book of Romance (Thomas Nelson, Inc.), only 1 out of 1,050 marriages in which the husband and wife read the Bible together daily, end in divorce.

GUARD YOUR HEART AND IT WILL GUARD YOU

Principle two, acquire knowledge—apply wisdom, is extremely important when dating. Be careful to whom you give your heart. Emotions can easily cause you to give your heart away with little thought. Emotions are merely a dance to the music of the heart, and the dance can change with the music—not a very stable resource for making sound decisions.

Our heart regulates emotions, and emotions often control actions. Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.” Samson, an Old Testament character known for his strength, demonstrates the effects of giving one’s heart away to the wrong person. Samson was a Nazarite who was dedicated to the Lord at birth. The Lord blessed him as he grew and gave him extraordinary strength when he fought against his enemy, the Philistines. Eventually, Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah. He confided in her and told her the source of his strength. Judges 16:16–17 (KJV) states, “And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him . . . that he told her all his heart, and said unto her, ‘There hath not come a razor upon mine head . . . if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.’”

The Philistines hated Samson and paid Delilah to trap him. When she discovered the source of his strength, she reported it to the Philistines, and they took him captive. Samson failed to guard his heart, and thus, lost his strength and power, and was overthrown by the enemy. In the same way, relationships are weakened when the heart is given too early or to the wrong person. Simply stated, guard your heart and it will guard you!

God did redeem Samson. He was able to regain his strength long enough to again defeat his enemy, but it also cost him his life.

Few things can hinder our lives more than misplaced emotions. When we are happy and positive, everything seems to go well, but when we’re down and have a negative attitude, it’s difficult to find the motivation to see things through. Our enemy does not want a well-guarded heart; he wants us exposed and vulnerable. He also wants us so emotionally scarred from past relationships that we spend years trying to rebuild and restore broken lives. Again, Scripture states: “Above all else, guard your heart.” Guarding your heart should be a priority, not a consideration.

To guard means to raise a protective barrier and shield our emotions. One of the best ways to guard the heart is to use both wisdom and knowledge. The Hebrew word for heart is mind; guarding your heart literally means guarding your mind. In short, be careful who and what you listen to, what you tell yourself, and who you allow to influence you.

Knowledge is knowing what to do; wisdom is doing what you know. For example, many know that premarital sex is wrong, but those who actually abstain are using both knowledge and wisdom. Many want to do what is right, but living a life of moral excellence is challenging. One can make a mental decision to abstain but still fail.

Guard your heart while dating and/or courting:

1. Don’t allow yourself to be in a compromising position that may weaken your defense.

2. When possible, date in the company of friends or family.

3. Share time together at public events.

4. Avoid discussing future plans such as marriage or children too soon.

5. Don’t rush the relationship; allow it to grow at a healthy pace.

6. Don’t become emotionally attached—keep your other interests alive.

7. Avoid making decisions based solely on emotion.

8. Take two or three days a week away from the relationship. Allow time to think and seek God’s will for the relationship.

9. Guard your speech. Don’t say things that may stimulate premature desires.

Listen and Learn as You Guard

An inner voice often directs our decisions throughout the day; the best way to guard the heart is to follow the correct leading. Dr. Don Raunikar’s book, Choosing God’s Best, outlines eight ways to listen correctly:



Once we give our lives to Christ and seek His direction, we can sense His lead, but if we’re actively engaging in sin, His direction will be hard to distinguish, if at all. Hearing God’s voice can keep us from sin, or sin can keep us from hearing God’s voice. You can hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit by spending time in prayer and learning from God’s Word. Stop, listen and learn. If you’ve ever sat quietly outside your home in the calm of the morning, you’ve probably noticed many of the sounds that you do not hear throughout the day. Those sounds generally continue throughout the day, but as the day progresses, they are overcome by the sounds of our busy lives. In order to hear, it’s necessary to remove oneself from the activity of the day. When God spoke to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11–12, the Scriptures state that the wind and the fire came, and that the storms thundered, but that God was not in them; He was, however, in the still, small voice that followed (paraphrased). God wants our undivided attention each and every day.

Avoid this checklist when dating or courting

➢ RUSHING OR RESPONDING TO A SENSE OF URGENCY

➢ OBSESSION

➢ CONFUSION

RESPONDING TO A SENSE OF URGENCY

Without a shadow of doubt, moving too quickly can have major consequences. When dating or courting, for example, we often want answers, and we want them now. It’s difficult to patiently wait; we’ve been waiting! In analyzing failed relationships, many couples will say, “We moved too quickly”; rarely will you hear “We moved too slowly.”

Patience may be compared to a control valve used to help us avoid making decisions based on emotional response. Much like a control device used for a dam to release water, if the valve is broken, water levels rise and can overflow, causing destruction below. In the same way, if we don’t allow patience to control our feelings, they may build to unhealthy levels and cause damage.

Patience can either strengthen a couple’s relationship or help them part on good terms. If the relationship is breeding obsession, focusing unhealthy thoughts, energy, and efforts on the other person, it’s time to back away. One can never go wrong by saying, “God, I believe that I moved too fast and haven’t been patient in this relationship, I want to take time away and focus on You. I trust that You will lead me and show me what to do.”

If you feel rushed, simply step back and re-evaluate. Stepping back doesn’t mean ending the relationship; it means patiently seeking God’s direction as you move forward. This also provides an opportunity to see how the other person handles the challenge. Are they patient and supportive, or do they question your decision to patiently wait? If they question it, their motive for pursuing the relationship may differ from yours.

OBSESSION

Obsession is often defined as a fixation, fascination, or a passion. It can move us from the realm of self-control into self-destruction. We are more likely to compromise our standards when we become obsessed with a thought or a person. The need for relationship isn’t wrong, but how we fulfill it can be.

Obsession is powerful and can be a form of idolatry (placing something or someone above God). If not managed, obsession can consume our lives. For example, a couple may begin seeing each other two or three days a week. Three days then becomes four, four becomes six, and so on, until their entire lives are consumed by each other. Focus on moderation and realistic expectations as you move forward.

CONFUSION

Confusion can be defined as perplexing and uncertain thoughts, and can feed anxiety. Anxiety can occur when the relationship reaches unhealthy levels. It can cause worry and unwarranted stress. When we are impatient and obsessed, we can easily become confused; confusion often leads to emotional, unsound decisions. We may say and do things that jeopardize the relationship when the foundation of trust is being established.

How many relationships may have worked, or ended with less pain, if only the couple had patiently waited for God’s timing. It’s been said that the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. Patience allows you time to see the relationship for what it really is, to see each other in a variety of situations and under a variety of conditions.


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