It is not lost on me that the last of the fruits of the spirit mentioned is self-control. What I didn’t expect is that this would be the most difficult fruit for me to eat and also bear.

People are prone to affirmation when it comes to commentary on one’s goodness or their kindness, but rarely do I hear someone say, “Wow, your self-control is really stellar. You’ve got it going on in that department.”

Why?

Because you can’t see my self-control unless I give you opportunity and opportunities like that are few. Before you can see me exercise my will power you have to know that there’s a struggle of my wills.

And I don’t let people see those things.

We share about our lenten fasts and facebook fasts and coffee fasts, but what about the things I do in secret? At home alone? In the car when someone cuts me off? That stuff is not cool to share and I hide it at all costs.

Self-preservation is also a way of self-control, did you know that? We preserve self by controlling self–by being in charge of our actions to the bitter end. I choose to fast coffee. I choose when to exhibit my road rage. I choose to whom and when I let my mouth run aimlessly. So I am still controlling self, but I am not bearing fruit.

These days I am thinking about what compels me. Self-preservation has been the default mode for my entire life: how can I save self in this situation? How can I experience the least amount of pain and how can I control this situation in such a way that I will be seen as bearing fruit?

The more I experience the love of Christ, the more I find myself compelled by a different sort of control. And this is what I think Paul was talking about in Galations. He wasn’t preaching a white-knuckled tumble into heaven, making it there on the merit of our good works and will-power. He was saying get the Spirit and you’ll bear the fruit. Trees don’t white knuckle their way into bearing fruit, the fruit is the natural effect of a healthy tree.

When Jesus said “I’m giving you the Holy Spirit and he’ll guide you into all truth,” he wasn’t providing a warden to keep us in bounds. He was saying, “Hey, listen, all the truth is a lot of truth and I know you can’t do it on your own. I don’t want you to do it on your own. I want you to have a fully compelling, fully inhabitant spiritual force behind your every action. I want to give you something so that you’re reminded that gritting your teeth and bearing it, doesn’t produce lasting fruit.”

There is nothing self-induced about self-control. There is nothing self-controlling about self-control.

There is life in the Spirit and a sweet surprising love that rises up within us and empowers us to do what is most natural to us: bear fruit.

Poets of People

August 26, 2014

A friend told me that he and I are farmers at heart, driven by seasons and weather, but that right now we’re called to cultivate people instead of earth. I cried when he said that because people are made of earth too, but it’s hard to tell with all the concrete around.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few weeks ago I met with one of my pastors who stared incredulously at me when I listed all the things I’m doing and how spent by it all I am.

“Lore,” he said, “that’s because you’re a poet. You need time for reflection and perfection. And all this doesn’t seem conductive to that. You need time to sow.”

I nearly wept right there. It has been a long time since someone said those words to me and I had forgotten.

“You are a poet.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mondays are roommate nights in our house. We finish whatever chores are in our envelopes, cook dinner, set the table, sit in our respective chairs, and spend the next few hours being together. There is no agenda apart from that. We sow into one another with laughter, knowledge, prayer, questions.

The candles drip wax on our tablecloth, proof that dinner goes long and we are in no rush.

After the meal is finished we read the bible aloud. Last night we add some poetry (Walt Whitman) and the birth of Cain as told by Madeleine L’Engle. Then one pulls out her guitar and we sing. Not spiritual songs and hymns, but whatever comes to mind. We end the night going to separate rooms, but not before saying, “I love you,” to every one. Because in this home we are working the ground of Already and Not Yet.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I’ve been reading in Genesis this week, the creation account. Thinking about design and flaw, disobedience and animal skin, craftiness and provision. God gave his people what they needed, even after they chose exactly what they didn’t need. But before all that, he blessed them and gave them something to cultivate.

And God blessed them.

And God said to them,
“Be fruitful
multiply

fill the earth
subdue it,
have dominion
over the fish of the sea
over the birds of the heavens

over every living thing
that moves on the earth.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction,” and I think of rows of tilled soil whenever I think of that quote. Eugene Peterson used it as a title for his book on discipleship. What is discipleship if not cultivating the earth by cultivating people? And how do we cultivate people if we do not do the slow work of farming, working in proper seasons and times? Perhaps discipleship is the work of poets, those “holding onto the mystery of faith with clear consciences?” Poets are the the seers, the nuance holders, and the farmers.

“God, make me a poet of people.”

longobedience

Link Love

August 25, 2014

Some links you might appreciate from the past week.

We sung Passover Song during communion this week at my church and I chased down a friend to find out where the beautiful song came from. She told me about The Blood + The Breath by Caroline Cobb, and I haven’t stopped listening. Caroline wrote a song for every book in the bible and this is a compilation of 12 of those songs, telling the story of redemption through the word of God. It’s rich, deep, theologically robust, and musically enjoyable. Buy the album here.

I never get tired of Jared Wilson’s blog. I read very few blogs these days, but I always know at Jared’s I’ll find three things: gospel-rich writing, winsome writing, and Jesus exalting writing. That’s enough to keep me coming back. He’s posted some good ones recently, so I’m just going to link to his blog. Do yourself a favor and subscribe.

“What do you do with a broken heart? Not a romantically broken one, but the one all of us carry around, the one broken by the fall. The one that caused David to seduce the hottest girl on campus. The one that caused Peter to not eat dinner with “the losers” (Galatians 2:11–12). The one that causes us to choose almost anything but Jesus.” Sammy Rhodes is another writer I’m grateful for these days.

Rewriting scripture (or Valley of Vision prayers) in my own words has been one of the best spiritual disciplines for me. As someone whose heart is stirred most when her mind is engaged best, the rewriting of familiar words has helped me innumerable times to increase my faith. A mother and daughter undertook the rewriting of the Psalms in poetry. Justin Taylor has a bit on Harps Unhung here.

Bob and Julie Mendonza are from my church and have begun a home for children in Kenya. It is not an orphanage in the sense that these kids are available for adoption. No, instead the Mendonza’s have already adopted them into their home, Naomi’s Village. Their response to the crisis of poverty and systemic evil in Kenya has been to go in, raise up native Kenyans by native Kenyans for the health of Kenya. It is one of the most tangible expressions I’ve ever seen of Christ incarnate, inhabiting darkness, bringing light. Here’s one of the most recent Coming Home stories.

The Questions God Asks

August 24, 2014

I can’t shake the heaviness. It’s been there for weeks, months, a year. A funeral shroud. “Where, oh death, is your sting?” Oh, it’s here. All here.

I’ve been thinking of Mary in the garden these days, weeping by the tomb, the empty tomb. Standing by the evidence that her Lord had risen and she didn’t even recognize the man who asked, “Why are you crying? And whom do you seek?”

But he knew.

And that’s what I’m stumbling around all these days. He knew and he still asked. She sought him dead in a tomb and found him raised in newness of life, and still mourned. Couldn’t help but mourn because what she wanted most in the world was gone.

Foresight is the luxury of the hopeful.

Tonight one of my pastors said the same word for steadfastness in Titus 2 is the word for hope. How often is my steadfastness directed toward lesser hopes though? I set my face like steel, my heart like stone, and will accept nothing less (or more) than my savior exactly where I saw Him last.

Why are you crying and whom do you seek?

And then:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

When I look at the sprawl of this past year, the death of hopes and dreams and plans, every thwarted hope, I’m trying to sort through all the loss and find one living thing. One shred of life among the dead. Like Lot’s wife, I take one more longing look at the loss. Hoping for what? Steadfastly searching tombs for a savior who will always be seven steps ahead of me?

Where are you and why aren’t you where I saw you last?

Today I read, “In the new age of the resurrection, the Lord’s first words to an individual person were to ask, ‘Why are you crying?’” And then I wept. Because all I have felt like is faithless Mary at the empty tomb for weeks, months, a year. Begging my eyes to be playing tricks on me. But never have I noticed the first words Christ spoke were words of acknowledgement, “Why are you crying?”

Because he sees.

It was Mary who did not see and it is me who does not see. But he sees. His steadfast (hope-filled) love endures forever. And he sees.

And then he calls her name: Mary.

As promised, here is the link to the full interviews for the singles in leadership series. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may be encouraged by these interviews. Thank you so much to Sam Allberry, Katelyn Beaty, Andy Herbek, Melissa Wade, Paul Matthies, and Bethany Jenkins (whose interview is going up tomorrow).

Click here to view the PDF or click on the image below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 3.38.56 PM

 

bethanyBethany Jenkins is the director of TGC’s Every Square Inch and the founder of The Park Forum. I super appreciate Bethany’s drive and commitment to seeing the Church thrive in their given portion. She lives and works in New York City. You can follow her on twitter at @bethanyjenkins

 

 

1. Do you feel a certain call to remain single or do you have a desire to be married? Why?

I’d love to get married one day. I think marriage is the best way—though not the only way—to be sanctified, and I sure need that! (She laughs.) I also want to get married for the same reason everyone does—to walk through life with someone you love.

2. How are you serving the local church and the Kingdom with your portion of singleness?

Mostly, I think my singleness lets me be present in ways that are more difficult for those who are married. For example, two years ago, some of my closest friends lost their baby. He was only two months old and died of SIDS. Our entire community was, of course, devastated. Although I could tell you hundreds of stories of God’s faithfulness during that time, I’ll say this one thing—being single was a gift. I didn’t have a family to coordinate or people who needed me at home. I could drop everything and just show up. Three of us—two singles and one married—organized probably fifty of our friends to do everything—get flights and hotels for their families, plan their meals, write the funeral service, order flowers, and more. They didn’t lift a finger; they just mourned. Wyatt’s funeral was the first one at Redeemer’s new building. We sang of God’s love as tears ran down our faces. I’m so glad I was single that week.

3. Talk about the process of wrestling, either in the past or continued, with your portion of singleness. What contributed to your confidence in Christ in this season?

Over the years, I’ve had many friends get married, which has really served to demystify marriage for me. Although I’ve seen my married friends buy spacious apartments, have several children, and take amazing vacations, I’ve also walked with them through marital unfaithfulness, loneliness, porn addiction, narcissism, and divorce. I’m so thankful that they’ve invited me into their lives to show me—not just tell me—that marriage won’t solve all my problems. If Christ isn’t sufficient for me when I’m single, he won’t be sufficient for me when I’m married.

4. What is the deepest challenge to you as you do ministry unmarried?

I think all Christians are involved in “ministry” so I wouldn’t say that singleness for me is any different than, say, singleness for my friend who is a lawyer. Singleness is singleness; it’s an equal opportunity employer when it comes to its benefits and challenges. For me, the hardest part about being single is not having someone who is as invested in my life as I am. Yes, I have a loving family and wonderful friends who counsel and advise me. But at the end of the day, I’m the only one who has to live out my decisions. No one is as vested in my life as I am.

5. What is the richest blessing to you in your singleness today?

I get to be a friend to so many people, and I get to have so many friends. In my experience, singleness is not synonymous with aloneness or loneliness. It can be rich, full, and generous. There are times when I wish I were married, when I wish I had a partner-in-crime. (She laughs.) But overall, I’m sure of God’s goodness. As Paige Brown once wrote, “I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date and die an old maid at 93 because God is so good to me. Not my will but his be done. Until then, I am claiming as my theme verse: ‘If any man would come after me, let him …’”

paulPaul is a elder at his church in central Texas, and a former pastor from my church. Over the past few years I have come to appreciate his humor, wisdom, and humility. Many at my local church have been deeply affected by Paul’s sermons and example of godliness. You can find him on twitter @paul_matties and read him regularly at Wayfaring Stranger. 

 

1. Do you feel a certain call to remain single or do you have a desire to be married? Why?

I’m honestly not certain if I have a call to lifelong singleness. Do I have a desire to be married? Yes. However, that desire waxes and wanes. Regardless, I want to be committed to the gospel ministry above all else, right now.

A friend once shared this piece of advice: “Run after Jesus with all you are. Then, one day, you may look up and see a woman beside you running on the same path. But regardless of if that day comes, you gain Christ in the end, whether she comes or not.” I see that as very helpful—pursue Jesus! If He doesn’t give a spouse—you still get Him. And if she comes, yet she passes away—you are still grounded in Him.

2. How are you serving the local church and the Kingdom with your portion of singleness?

Singleness has afforded me opportunity. I’ve been privileged to serve the Lord in the city (as an associate pastor at The Village Church) and in the countryside (as an elder at my current church, Hilltop Christian Fellowship). No matter what, in all times and places—God is the same loving, gracious, powerful, sovereign God. I’ve got to see that firsthand over the years.

Singleness has given me certain flexibility. I now work full-time as a claims examiner for an insurance company, so I can also fill in as interim preacher and leader here, at little cost to my church as we face a tough financial year. At my church, I also serve as an elder, adult classroom teacher, substitute youth teacher, song leader, and more.

Singleness has also offered me greater accessibility. I do have many responsibilities to juggle, between work, church, personal, family, etc. However, I can prioritize and arrange my schedule at more of a moment’s notice.

3. Talk about the process of wrestling, either in the past or continued, with your portion of singleness. What contributed to your confidence in Christ in this season?

One of the best questions I’ve even been posed came from my friend and pastor at The Village Church, Matt Chandler. He said in a message that, no matter what portion we’ve been given, we should ask: “What does it look like to glorify God in this season?” For me, the wrestle begins and ends with that question: How do I bring glory to God in my singleness? I gain confidence when I live within my intended purpose—to bring God glory.

At least eight times in scripture, suffering is said to have a reward—joy. At times, I am conflicted, asking “Why would God give me the desire for something like marriage if He does not plan on granting it immediately…or ever? Why not take the desire away—why make me suffer in this way?” Here I take heart from Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, where he rejoices in his sufferings. While the circumstances were different, the principle applies the same. I don’t have to just cope with this desire, but can rejoice in my time of need—because I get to experience the sufficiency of grace.

4. What is the deepest challenge to you doing ministry unmarried?

I’d say the deepest challenge is facing the belief (internal or external) that, by being unmarried, I am disqualified from doing ministry in the first place! I’ve had 1 Timothy and Titus quoted to me (“husband of one wife”), stating I should not serve as a deacon or elder. I’ve heard pastors and seminary leaders say that single men are at greater risk of sexual immorality in ministry. (Sadly, I’ve known just as many or more married men fall into adultery.)

I’ve been blessed to serve in some safe and supportive places, among loving people, who understand that our Savior Jesus, and the first missionary Paul, were both single. Yet I’ve also faced harsh statement and closed doors based on being single and over 30, in ministry.

5. What is the richest blessing to you in your singleness today?

That I’m happy. I’m happy in God. That may sound simplistic, but after all the blogs, articles, commercials, books, movies, and even sermons telling me why I shouldn’t be happy as a single person, I find it a rich blessing that the Lord is true to His word—He gives a full joy (John 15:11; 16:24). Even single, I’ve never been alone. I live a rich, joy-filled life because of Jesus.

melissaMelissa works in the foster care system in New York City and is a part of a new church plant also in the city. Even though Melissa isn’t specifically in church leadership, I thought it would help to see a single who is working actively to live missionally in her community. You can find her on twitter @Honeybee22274

 

 

 1. Do you feel a certain call to remain single or do you have a desire to be married? Why?

I’ve wanted to be married since I was three years old and I was always certain it would happen for me. As the years went by in my 20’s and early 30’s, I finally went from the constant, optimistic feeling of “this will be THE year, I just know it!” to leaving my marital future completely in God’s hands to do with what He wills.

Being 40, still unmarried, and now completely soul-satisfied brings credibility to the idea that it is possible to trust God with this life, not have what you thought you’ve always wanted/needed/deserved, and what every “normal person” gets to experience and still joyfully thrive. So while I’ve never felt “the call” to remain unmarried, I did begin to wonder in the past year if that’s what I have been called to, in part to model this truth to others. Perhaps this is the way I can best glorify God with my life, which is today my greatest desire.

2. How are you serving the local church and the Kingdom with your portion of singleness?

Since coming to New York City in 2010, in addition to working full time in the Family Court, I’ve served with two church planting teams, learning, praying, leading, strategizing, planning, giving, playing, teaching, and discipling. Prior to moving to New York I’ve served in student and women’s ministries, giving whatever time I could when I wasn’t traveling for work. For two years, in addition to running my own company, I was the part-time assistant director of the middle school ministry at my home church in Oregon- my only paid ministry experience.

As an unmarried person, I’m able to spend extra time on my relationship with God and what He is doing in, with, and through me. Apart from God I don’t have anyone to answer to concerning maximum limits on my giving and serving and there is no portion of me that I must reserve for another human, apart from my community. Other than to ensure I’m caring for myself well so that I don’t burn out or try to minister out of my own strength, I’m free to make my church and community and the people God has given us there a priority.

At this time in my life I am able to open my home in a way that I might not (want to) as part of a married couple. In seasons when I’ve lived alone I was able to prayerfully discern when to invite people to stay with me, and needed to ask no one else for permission. Right now I have an incredibly kind and generous roommate and we are in agreement regarding hospitality in our home.

3. Talk about the process of wrestling, either in the past or continued, with your portion of singleness. What contributed to your confidence in Christ in this season?

I’ve never just wanted to be married, I’ve wanted to be married to the right person. And so, despite my long-standing desire, marriage in the abstract is not something I’ve ever really fought with God about or despaired over, even in seasons when the desire was especially strong, or when faced with a specific man I was sure might make a good husband. That’s not to say that I wasn’t openly hopeful and constantly scanning the horizon for “the one.” I did this for years.

Despite their struggles, from day one my parents have done a fabulous job of affirming my true identity as a child of God. They never introduced the idea to me that I was incomplete as a person, missing my other/better half, or not ready for real life to begin until my identity included “wife”.

While all of these factors have contributed to satisfaction with my current state of being single, more important than marriage or any other good gift God would give me, is my desire to thrive in Him with contentment. I do not mean resignation; I mean a full, satisfied, joyful contentment, and that is where I am today. What’s the phrase? God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him? Oh yes, I do believe that’s true.

4. What is the deepest challenge to you doing ministry unmarried?

I cannot think of a time when my ability to minister has been challenged or limited by being unmarried, however I have considered that perhaps some might see me, an unmarried woman working closely with pastors, as a danger. A steady stream of articles being published in Christian circles, sometimes saying as much, doesn’t help. Affairs happen between married people all the time, but it seems that there is often an extra air of suspicion hanging over the unmarried woman unless she is old or extremely unattractive. I might wish to be married and experience the affection and romantic attention of a man, but I’m not the least bit interested in someone else’s husband, thank you very much. Thankfully that suspicion is not something I’ve ever been made to feel in any church where I’ve served, but it’s something I know may be on the radar of other people.

5. What is the richest blessing to you in your singleness today?

Freedom and time and autonomy are my richest blessings. Right now I revel in the freedom to engage in the commitments on my time and resources that I choose.

Friendships are also part of that bounty. For the married person, opposite gender friendships often take on a different aspect, if not end all together, as may same gender friendships as priorities and availability change. And while I too am a master idol craftswoman, I am free from the opportunity to confuse my spouse with God, looking to a man to meet those relational and even provisional needs that I should only be looking to have met in Christ. Singleness may be my position right now, but I can say with the psalmist, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

andyAndy is a farmer, leather-worker, and regional staff member with US Center for World Mission. In an era where most millennials are taking yet another selfie or talking about their fear of missing out, Andy has consistently stood out to me as someone who is deeply concerned with the state of world missions, but also concerned with cultivating the land right in front of him. You can find him on twitter @andyherbek

 

Do you feel a certain call to remain single or do you have a desire to be married? Why?

The words of Ecclesiastes 3:1 ring in my ear, “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” I do in this season feel called to singleness. I do not feel though that this season will last forever and I do hope to marry at some point. For now though I am content as a single and even find myself an advocate for singleness as it pertains to kingdom work.

Talk about the process of wrestling, either in the past or continued, with your portion of singleness. What contributed to your confidence in Christ in this season?

Looking back, I know now that this journey started many years ago in college. What started as a study of the nature of Christ’s resurrection (the end) spilled over into an exploration of God’s created image (the beginning) and forced upon me implications to live by (the present). I began to see, and am still learning more and more about each day, that the deepest concern of God is His image, His glory. The crazy thing is, we are his image. As such all kinds of implications are fleshed out of that theme throughout the biblical narrative.

Implication #1 (I will only draw 3 here as it relates to singleness), man and woman are both image bearers but it’s obvious that they are intrinsically different. So then only when they are joined together is a more full image (or embodiment if you will) of God present on earth. Marriage exists to DO something not just BE something. Ultimately the reason God gives us marriage is so that we would have categories through which to talk about the gospel.

The same is true of the church. The word for family (oikos) became synonymous for church not because family is the highest ideal but because family is a category through which to talk about the church. Marriage exists to proclaim the gospel and families exist to promote healthy churches. Now that sounds like a resounding cry against singleness right? Well…

Implication #2, if the purpose of marriage is for proclamation of the gospel and families exist to promote the church then the object is the gospel and the glory of God resting in the church. The church after all is a place in which we image God most fully… I can’t image God by myself. It takes the global church manifest in every culture to glorify God to the fullest by producing the fullest manifestation of His image on earth. The point of life is not marriage or singleness but what life you and I can live that most glorifies God and proclaims His gospel to the ends of the earth.

Implication #3 is a simple one, as brothers and sisters within THE church, the kingdom, we Americans need our African and Asian brothers and sisters to more fully image our Dad and they need us. So marriage and singleness as functionally declarative of the gospel is intrinsically missional. Just like in marriage, the man remains uniquely masculine and the women uniquely feminine, so to in the church each ethnicity remains distinct but unified under Christ.

How are you serving the local church and the Kingdom with your portion of singleness?

I am the Nebraska Area Mobilizer for Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. With Perspectives I get to work with a lot of congregations and denominations (even ethnicities) across the state and help them see how they can strategically work together for God’s global glory. It’s actually quite an honor to get to see such a vivid display of God’s diverse image. I also farm with my brother as he and his wife really transition into running the farming operation from Dad and a few other neighbors who are retiring.

What is the deepest challenge to you doing your ministry unmarried?

It can be hard not having a helpmate. It’s terribly unromantic but the practicalities of not having a wife to share daily responsibilities with can wear on you. In the midst of so many things to do in ministry it would be nice to have someone who could help with farm/house chores. Besides that the endless ploys by some in the church to try and play match maker for me can often cut to the core. It really is that subtle non-value of singles within the church that can creep into your life and can make a single man feel off track when to God he might be right on track.

What is the richest blessing to you in your singleness today?

Having a singular focus in ministry… pun intended! Being single allows me to devote more time and energy to the work of the Lord. Working for a ministry that welcomes and values singles in every aspect of the organization has been a blessing. Historically mission orders (which is what the U.S. Center for World Mission is and is who I work for as it is the authority behind Perspectives) have always valued and utilized singles, especially women, where often church congregations do not. I don’t feel guilty as a single for undistracted devotion to working for gospel breakthroughs among unreached peoples. That is indeed a blessing.

May we value both singles and marriage more! Let us focus on the glory of God and the redemption of all peoples.

katelynKatelyn is the Managing Editor of Christianity Today and one of the sharpest thinkers around. She is wise and winsome, and while deeply desiring marriage, hasn’t allowed the lack of it to hinder what she knows the Lord is calling her to do today. You can find her on twitter @katelynbeaty and as a regular writer at Christianity Today

 

1. Do you feel a certain call to remain single or do you have a desire to be married? Why?

I feel a certain call to remain single only insofar as I am single, and understand that to be providentially ordered, though the full meaning of it is indiscernible to me. I do not feel a certain call to remain single, if that means that I would refuse marriage even if the chance to enter a happy one came my way. I have desired marriage throughout my 20s.

2. How are you serving the local church and the Kingdom with your portion of singleness?

Being unmarried enables me to more single-mindedly (no pun intended) lead, write, and edit at Christianity Today magazine, which exists to educate and equip the church to live “on mission” in all its particular culturally and geographically bound expressions. This season has also allowed me to delve into a book project (due out in 2016) about the goodness of women’s work and cultural contribution.

3. Talk about the process of wrestling, either in the past or continued, with your portion of singleness. What contributed to your confidence in Christ in this season?

Part of the process of wrestling with singleness has meant believing and re-believing these truths:

God has not forgotten or abandoned me or anyone else who desires to be married and is not (Is. 49; Luke 12).

God does not look at me and see “unattached person” or “half person,” but rather sees me as his glorious handiwork, created to do good works alongside other believers (Ps. 139; Eph. 2:10).

“Real” life or ministry doesn’t begin on one’s wedding day. The call of Christ on our lives starts the day we choose to follow him, and he intends for us to life the abundant life for and through him now, whether or not a spouse is in tow (Eph. 5:16).

It is not up to me to worry about the future and whether it will include a spouse (Matt. 6:34). Even still, God wants me to be honest about my desires and to trust him to take care of me in all seasons (Ps. 37:4; Is. 46:4).

4. What is the deepest challenge to you to do ministry unmarried?

Probably the deepest challenge is emotional, feeling bereft of a ministry partner, wondering why others have been given one when I haven’t in this time. I have to proactively resist comparing my situation to others’ and setting marriage up as the core mark of God’s faithfulness.

5. What is the richest blessing to you in your singleness today?

I get to be friends with so many people, across the country, in different life stages—that I’m free to expansively connect with many other people instead of focusing so intensely on one other person.

samSam is a pastor from the UK who writes on a variety of issues, some related to being single or celibacy, some related to other ministry aspects. I have come to deeply appreciate his wisdom on various matters, and his dry wit from across the Atlantic. You can find him on twitter @samallberry and as a regular contributor to Living Out

 

1. Do you feel a certain call to remain single or do you have a desire to be married? Why?

I’ve never felt a particular ‘call’ to singleness other than knowing that it is God’s will for me for as long as I remain unmarried. I’ve never had a clear sense of God telling me I’m going to be single for the rest of my life. I do have a sense that I probably will be, that marriage is unlikely, but would not want to describe that as a ‘call’ as such. So my hunch is that I will be single long term.

That said, there are times when I deeply desire to be married. I would love to have that kind of companionship – to come ‘first’ for someone. Even with good friends it can feel lonely and isolating at times to be single. So yes, there are times when I would love to be married. And times when I am very happy being single.

2. How are you serving the local church and the Kingdom with your portion of singleness?

I work as a pastor at a church, and I know that being single releases me to do this in a way that would not be as easy were I married. I can be out most evenings and weekends without the issue of neglecting family back home. I can spend more time at the office. I will have a slightly different capacity than some married colleagues might – able to give more time to certain aspects of the ministry.

More specifically, I hope I am able to teach and model something of what the single like should look like. There are a number of people at church who are single and over-40, through bereavement or divorce. The temptations to become romantically involved and even marry unbelievers is acute for many of them. We have lost too many through that route. So I hope when I speak to that from the pulpit that it carries credibility. I do know what it is like to fall in love with someone the Bible would forbid you from marrying. I can speak from experience and echo some of the pains, all the while calling people to remain faithful to Christ. I think it helps to have single people involved in pastoral ministry.

3. Talk about the process of wrestling, either in the past or continued, with your portion of singleness. What contributed to your confidence in Christ in this season?

There have been a lot of ups and downs in my experience as a single Christian. There are times I have resented being single. I went through a painful period when I began to realise that getting married and having children were not a ‘given’ and I had to come to terms with the possibility that they might never happen at all. In my late twenties and early thirties it felt like going through a bit of a bereavement as friends went through these stages and I began to sense I might not have the opportunity to.

Throughout all this, one of the key things I have had to learn is that the key to contentment as a single person is not found in being content in singleness – in persuading yourself that it is the best thing ever. The key is being content in Christ, as a single person. If I was married, there would be the same number of ups and downs as I currently face as a single person. The grass will always seem greener somewhere else. But the more I have learned to find contentment in Christ, the less it seems to matter to me whether I am married or single. Knowing Jesus is the key to life.

As I say that, I am conscious it is a battle to keep believing it. Every day I need to make time to get my heart glad in the Lord. It’s a fight. But it’s a fight that makes a whole load of other fights much easier.

4. What is the deepest challenge to you do ministry unmarried?

One of the hardest things for me being single in ministry is that I often feel emotionally spent, and then find myself returning to an empty home. It is hard not having someone to process things with, to laugh and cry with. Ministry exposes you to the best and worst of God’s people (and of yourself, too, for that matter) and it is hard not having someone to share all that with. Sometimes it feels like I bottle up a lot of this stuff for weeks at a time. I may have a greater time capacity as a single person, but I sometimes wonder if I also have a smaller emotional capacity.

5. What is the richest blessing to you in your singleness today?

I guess what I am dong right now is a huge blessing. As I answer these questions, I’m doing so while staying in the home of some very dear friends who I have the opportunity of spending a few days with. I wouldn’t have come across you, Lore, and a great many other people, were it not for the ministry opportunities that have come my way as a single person. So this very moment typifies some of the things that are best about being a single person – a wide range of experiences and friends I otherwise would not have had, all of which in his unfathomable goodness God seems to be using. That blows my mind. So there it is: being single has been a means God has used to impress upon me his goodness.

“Each time I read a well-intentioned article on how to make the most of your single years, I scan down to the author’s bio and often discover that, sure enough, he’s married to his college sweetheart, pulling advice from a brief period of adult-singleness years ago.”

This is how I opened a recent article on Christianity Today called Why Singles Belong in Church Leadership. The dearth of singles within leadership positions in churches and ministries these days is saddening to me at best, and alarming at worst. Nearly half of the U.S. population (43.6% according to the 2010 U.S. Census) is single: that’s nearly half the church. Citing Christ and Paul as only two of many examples in the bible, there should be plenty of room for unmarried men and women to serve in key roles within the body of Christ.

With this in mind, I reached out to several friends from around the world who are doing just that. They are all examples of people in different seasons of life (20s into 40s) who have not allowed their singleness to hamper their ministry, but instead use the time and freedom they have to better pursue the Lord with undistracted devotion. My hope is these interviews this will primarily encourage singles to use this season of life in richer ways, but also they will also encourage the Church to consider actively seeking to staff unmarried people in key roles. (Read the article if you want to know why.)

There are obvious limitations for each of us as we walk in our given seasons faithfully, but those limitations haven’t terminated us from ministry. One of my art professors in college used to give us very tight parameters for pieces he assigned. Something like we could only use two colors and one medium, or one color and one shape. Designing within those constraints was a life lesson as well for me. I learned to create from little and trust the boundary lines truly had fallen for me in pleasant places (Ps. 16).

I hope these interviews challenge and encourage you as much as they did me. They’ve been considerably edited for space reasons, but the entirety of the interviews will be available on Friday in a downloadable PDF. I hope you’ll consider the wisdom from these brothers and sisters.

Related articles:

Submitted Single Seeking Friends
Delivering Hope: What being saved through childbearing can mean for the unmarried
Real Men and Real Women: Tough and Tender
Three Things I’m Glad I’ve Done in My Singleness
My Church Has an Amazing Singles Ministry
Giving Singles Land to Till

Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

dillard

Jared Wilson taught me that writing about God and theology doesn’t mean being pedantic and dogmatic.

Tony Woodlief taught me that writing about the deepest angsts of life doesn’t mean being gratuitous and salacious.

Madeleine L’Engle taught me that writing to children doesn’t mean writing down to them, but writing up to everyone.

Annie Dillard taught me to collect stones and tree branches, and write about the ordinary things. That the whole earth groans.

Frederick Buechner taught me to write things as they are and sort through them after.

Andree Seu taught me to write the bible into everything and that we are written into the narrative before the foundations of the earth.

Lauren Winner taught me to write about the wrestling and not just the wrestled.

Wendell Berry taught me about peace in the wild things.

Donald Miller taught me that every church kid has a story, a lens through which we see the church, and a choice about what to do with both.

Flannery O’Connor taught me to be a student of all people, their stories and surroundings.

As I look over this list, I do not see the names of people who will go down in history for their theological correctness, their practiced wisdom, or even their verbal acuity. They are not men and women for whom the Christian life came/comes easily, seamlessly, or without glaring sins and sufferings. They are men and women not unlike those we see in the Bible—broken sinners using what was or is in their hands to navigate faith in a world that groans for its maker. These are the writers and thinkers who did not teach me what to think, but how to think, and I pray I am better for it.

I write this because if you want to be a better thinker (and writer), don’t read the ones who have their thoughts all thought out, bound in leather with gold inset; read the ones who are still thinking out loud as they write. Learn to fish, as the old adage goes, instead of feeding on another’s catch.