For some, this question has posed no problems. From late teens, their exercise about marriage has been paralleled by appropriate guidance and circumstances. By early twenties, they are happily married and others look on approvingly, recognising the couples suitability for each other.
For others, their twenties or perhaps even thirties have passed, and still a suitable spouse has not been found. In many cases there has been deep spiritual exercise regarding the matter and corresponding godly living. For quite a few, there have been periods of courtship which, for one reason or another, have not culminated in marriage. There may even have been bitter disappointments. Paths that appeared to have been according to divine guidance have never reached the anticipated destination. For brethren and sisters alike there could be a sense of failure. Sisters may consider that it is easy for the brethren since it is their prerogative to make choice of someone else. However, the spiritual brother will be anxious to know "Gods choice", and discerning that has often been the cause of prolonged and deep exercise. Both brethren and sisters should recognise the importance of such exercise, since marriage will have major implications for every aspect of life and, very particularly, for their spiritual prosperity.
Why then has it proved so difficult for some who are spiritually minded to find their spiritual complement? We often think that God is bound to guide us in a way that will make us happy. Yet we need to remember that the circumstances of life, though apparently adverse, are His way of moulding us in likeness to Christ and for His glory. In light of this, it may be helpful to consider why we might be brought through such experiences and be left with no immediate prospect of marriage.
First, God brings us through experiences to prove our commitment to spiritual priority. In Genesis 22 Abraham was brought through a test which proved exactly where his priorities lay. God said, "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (v.12). Abraham had obeyed God even though he was called upon to offer the unique son of promise that he loved so dearly. Could it be that the delay in your finding Gods will in relation to a spouse is Gods test for you? Some have failed the test they have succumbed to the temptation to make do with something less than what they know to be the spiritual standard. Some have ventured into an unequal yoke. What a tragedy! We cannot disobey Gods Word without serious consequences.
Second, God allows disappointments to be important lessons in His school. It is often the case that we look back later in life and recognise that God taught us valuable lessons in trying circumstances. In addition, we may find that Gods ultimate plan works out to be far more blessed than what we ever anticipated. Moses was sent in before Pharaoh with a view to the deliverance of the nation from their bondage. Yet, even when Moses carried out what the Lord instructed him to do, there was no deliverance until the tenth plague had been experienced. Could not Moses have been spared all the frustration of Pharaohs refusals and the consequent complaints of the people? No doubt, at least part of Gods purpose was to reveal more of Himself to Moses in those experiences than if God had used the death of the firstborn at the beginning to force Pharaoh to let the nation go.
Third, God wants us to trust Him completely for the provision of a suitable spouse. The impatience of human nature may seek a short-cut to achieve an early and apparently sure result. In a different context, Abram took such a short-cut in Genesis 16 but the consequences of that step were a cause of much heartache. If only Abram had been prepared to wait! In Genesis 21.1 we read, "And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said". Remember that God not only chooses the right spouse but He also plans the right time. Am I going to act in self-will in order to achieve what I want, or will I trust in God to accomplish His will since He works all things "for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8.28)? The "all things" in this verse must include the timing as well as the actual result.
Fourth, Gods purposes for our lives may involve specific and important work for us to do before we are married. While marriage is undoubtedly a blessed part of Gods design for humanity, yet 1 Corinthians 7.32-34 shows that in the single state we have liberty to do things which we might not be free to do if we were married. For this very reason God may require us to remain single for longer so that we can carry out that unique work which He has planned for us to fulfil.
Fifth, God may still be moulding my life and that of the one whom He has selected for me so as to make marriage all the more blessed for us and fruitful for Him. Josephs dreams had envisaged a day when others would bow down to him. Did he wonder how those dreams would be fulfilled as he lay in the pit or in the prison? No doubt he developed spiritual character in those days of adversity which fitted him for his responsibilities in the palace.
Sixth, I may need to reassess what my priorities in marriage should be. Until this takes place, God may be hindering me from a step which would end in disaster. It is far better to be preserved from a mistake in marriage than to have an early marriage with many years to regret it. In a different context, Solomon learned that what he set his heart on earlier in life proved to be only "vanity and vexation of spirit". You may well yet have cause to give thanks to God that you were delayed in this important step because in the meantime He has led you in a path which has changed your priorities.
The six suggestions outlined above still do not address the question posed in the title. They indicate possible reasons why those exercised about marriage are delayed in obtaining the guidance that they long for. It is hoped that they are helpful to those who find discouragement in such delay. However, one final possibility has to be considered. For some, Gods purpose is that they should remain single. None of us, even those who are happily married, should ever look upon this as a second-class or inferior state. While marriage is Gods wonderful plan for the blessing of humanity, yet in His wise purpose He appoints for some the single state so that those persons may be able to carry out a unique work, which may be prospered better by someone who is not married. For example, it would seem that the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul were more suited to one who was single. If Gods will for you is that you should remain single then that will be the state in which you will find the greatest spiritual joys and for which you will receive the greatest reward in a future day.
Let us all, those who are single and married alike, recognise that the important thing for single believers is to attain to Gods will for their lives. This is far more important than to achieve the common ambition of others (or even ourselves) that we should be married early in life. If we truly believe this then we will not be trying to coax single believers in a direction which could prove to be contrary to Gods will for them and if so would mean their lives could never attain to all that was purposed for them. We should also be careful lest continual humorous comments regarding relationships would lead a single person to feel in some way that they have failed they may already have experienced deep soul searching. Paul longed for a state that was far superior ("to be with Christ") yet he chose to remain in the body in order to fulfil the will of God and bring blessing to others. Gods will should be paramount for us in relation to marriage.
It is hoped that this article will be an encouragement to all who, in spite of deep exercise, have been unable to find a potential spouse with the accompanying peace of knowing that they were in the current of the will of God. May God continue to preserve you until He directs you further and gives you assurance regarding this all-important matter.