Have you ever been offended by what a person in the Bible has said? (I’ve got my hand raised). If not, read the book of James. He’ll call you out real quick. As a mater of fact, go to the 4th chapter and you’ll notice he has some choice words about your life. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14 NIV). I remember feeling a slight burning in my chest when I read that for the first time. "Pshh, he doesn't know me!" I thought other translations might soften the blow. Some say our lives are “a warm breath of air,” which seems a bit nicer, but we’re also “like the morning fog” or “a vapor.” Each still drives home the same point, we can be here today and gone tomorrow, we do not know what tomorrow holds.
James was responding to the way people plan out their lives, “you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow” (James 4:13 NIV). He was addressing the arrogance that comes with the assumptions we make about our future. How do we combat arrogance? With gratitude.
Now that we are no longer offended, we can lay the groundwork for this gratitude thing. I like to think of it as having the right attitude towards our circumstances. This requires us to recognize that what we were given (our lives), we genuinely did not deserve. And with this understanding, we can be appreciative regardless of future outcomes.
I believe we should approach Christian dating with this same mentality. Because many Christians desire marriage, this tends to be an end goal in a dating relationship. But how many of us thought a relationship would end in marriage except it just, ended? (I have both hands raised for that one). Was the relationship wasted? Is there now a root of bitterness? It doesn’t have to be a waste and bitterness doesn’t have to grow if we enter and exit relationships with a sense of gratitude that is not contingent on the final outcome.
We cannot muster up gratitude from within our own strength. Something, or better yet, Someone, needs to be the driving force behind it.
You probably guessed it, I’m going to talk about Jesus. I don’t believe that we can experience the full spectrum of gratitude without first understanding the full spectrum of grace. In Timothy Keller’s book,The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, he references Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the subject of grace. “Bonhoeffer insisted that people whose lives remained unchanged by God’s grace didn’t really understand its costliness, and therefore didn’t really understand the gospel. They had a general idea of God’s universal love, but not a real grasp of the seriousness of sin and the meaning of Christ’s work on our behalf." Christ’s work on the cross has to become personal to each of us for our lives to be changed. We must know the weight of our own sin before we can be truly grateful for Jesus bearing it and enduring God's wrath because of it (Isaiah 53: 4-6 NIV).
A life transformed by the saving grace of Jesus is characterized by the source of one's hope. Temporary hope is from the world and based on circumstances. Eternal hope is from God and outside the boundaries of our circumstances.
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, He is the firm foundation on which we build our lives (Ephesians 2:20 NIV). Because He conquered death, nothing can shake Him. God cannot be overpowered. That’s a source of hope worth having, if you ask me. So if the foundation I’ve chosen is solid, then the storm winds of disappointment, betrayal, or heartbreak can’t knock me down. And beyond that, I can be grateful for the lesson I learned and that I was not overcome by tribulation.
Certainly gratitude can get us through a break-up. But what about in the midst of dating, without a known outcome of engagement or marriage? Let me first ask this. Are you grateful for your salvation, regardless of what tomorrow brings? If you answered yes, then you can also be grateful for your relationship, regardless of what tomorrow brings.
Is your salvation not a greater gift than any relationship you could have on this earth?
Disclaimer: I would love to marry the man I am dating (he knows that). But just because we are not in a season of engagement or marriage, doesn’t mean I’m less grateful for the time we’ve invested in each other. In fact, if we never marry my gratitude wouldn’t change and I can say that with full assurance. This is because, through my relationship, I am conforming to the image of Christ daily. I believe we have both honored God to the best of our ability in purity, fidelity, devotion in sharing the Word, encouraging one another, and being prayerful about the relationship. By conducting our dating season in this way, we are contributing to the other's sanctification. This is what the life of a believer entails, whether in a relationship or not. Trust me, God will use all sorts of people to sanctify you.
I don’t share this to be all high and mighty. Remember the hands I had raised earlier? Those were to testify that I’ve had my fair share of failed relationships where God was not honored as He should’ve been. And as I reflected on them, I realized that I had tried to control the outcome, which fogged my vision of the true state that the relationship was in. Our lives are not meant to be toyed with. God has a purpose for each of us. In the arena of time, we are but a vapor, so we need to make our lives count. Are you focused so far into the future that you can't be utilized by God in the present? Center yourself and remember, "if it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that" (James 4:15 NIV). Let God be in control. Your job is to be grateful.
Work Cited: Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. Dutton, 2008.