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I’m no dating expert.  In fact, I feel certain that my own happy marriage is more the gracious answer of a generous God to the fervent—maybe frantic—prayers of family and friends than the result of any significant wisdom displayed on my part during the whole dating process, one that was, for me, a long and arduous journey fraught with confusion and heartache.

Then I met Todd.

I liked him.

He was funny.  He was handsome.  He was tall.  And he wore the smile my heart needed, the one I’d always known deep down that my husband would have, genuine, involuntary, almost constant.  We met at the OSU BSU and were friends for a long time before we ever dated. The more time I spent with him, the more I learned about him.  The more I learned about him, the more I admired and trusted him, and somewhere along the way, without hesitation, trepidation, or exhaustive analysis, I gave him my heart, sure he would keep it safe.

Tired of having to go our separate ways at night, Todd and I eventually married, and I’ve never doubted or regretted that decision for even a fraction of a second.  Only after our vows were exchanged did I discover the true value of the treasure God had laid in my lap.  My husband’s not perfect, but he’s true and puts just as much effort into loving me as I put into loving him.  What’s more, he’d choose Jesus over me in a second; that’s how I know we will last.

No, I’m not a dating expert, but I did learn a lot through trial and error. I have watched a lot of other happily married people handle the dating process with more intentionality, and although I didn’t take stock of my own full pantry until after vows had been exchanged, I do know what a thriving marriage requires and have put in the necessary work for almost 25 years now.

I know marriage isn’t for everyone, but drawing on my meager credentials, I’d like to offer girls and ladies who are open to the prospect a few dating tips from the flipside.  May God lodge what He likes in your mind and mop the rest from your memory.

Tip #1: Pay attention to men who love Jesus.  Notice I didn’t say, “Look for a man who loves Jesus,” the main objective being the finding of a man.  That’s because your main objective in all things, dating and marriage included, must be Jesus.  Always.  Don’t search.  Don’t hunt.  Simply live your life in hot pursuit of the Savior and give special consideration to men who are doing the same whether or not you would have noticed them otherwise.

Why is it so important to marry a man who loves Jesus? Well, it’s a yoke issue (2 Cor 6:14). You see, to love Jesus is to obey Him (John 14:21).  As you and your future husband will be making decisions together that will dramatically affect your availability for Kingdom work FOREVER, you simply must be on the same page as a couple to remain open and obedient to God’s leading as individuals.

Marry someone who doesn’t love Jesus like you do and you’ll likely spend the rest of your life feeling stifled, frustrated and regretful.  That’s not to say that God can’t work in and through whatever situation you’ve put yourself in.  He can, but no amount of hand-holding, wistful gazing and sweet nothings could ever make up for the disappointment of knowing you forfeited, for whatever reason that seemed important at the time, God’s plan A, the opportunity to live your life for God’s glory alone, something a husband who doesn’t love Jesus can’t possibly understand, much less facilitate, but a husband who truly loves Jesus frees, encourages, and even enables his wife to do.

How do you know if a man loves Jesus?

First, he spends time with Him, with or without you, but at least without you.

Second, he reads His Bible, not just for knowledge acquisition, but to discover God’s will for His life.

Third, he prays, not to say he did or to impress you, but to discern God’s will and participate in His plan.

Fourth, and most importantly, as it is the only observable proof in this list, he patterns His life after the truth of God’s Word, loving Jesus by serving others and demonstrating a consistent willingness to be molded, changed and corrected by the Holy Spirit.

Don’t be fooled by touching displays of emotion or big, impressive spiritual talk.  Those things are easy to fake.  Wait for follow-through.  Look for supernatural growth and change over time.

Listen, affection is good.  We all like it—some of us way more than others—but it’s reflexive.  It costs little.  As unsustainable as any other human emotion, attitude or response, it waxes and wanes to the pull of life’s rhythm, no matter how worthy its object may be.  Plainly put, it comes and goes, and if that’s all a man is able to offer Jesus, it’s likely that’s all he’ll ever be able to offer you, too.

What you want and need is love, true love after Jesus’ example, and that takes effort.  A commitment deeper than emotion, true love transcends circumstance and deserving.  Selfless, it plays out in service and sacrifice and endures throughout all of life’s seasons.  A proactive choice, it is constant.

So pay very close attention to men who love Jesus, ladies.  Give them a second, third or even a fourth look.  They’re equipped to love you, too!

Read Tip #2 : Realistic and Fair Expectations