7/27/11

Singles, Resting in God's Sovereign Love

I had the privilege, this past Sunday, to see one of my nieces marry a man who loves the Lord. I remember days, long ago, when Jamie and I talked about her heart's desire for marriage, and I am glad that the Lord blessed her to become Jeff's wife.

Her heart is overflowing with love for her young man, but even more, her heart is focused on God, from whom all blessings flow.

As I sat in the wedding, rejoicing with this young couple, my thoughts turned to other women who are in various stages of singleness. Some desire with all their hearts to be married. Some have long resolved that they are content to remain single. Other precious women are still waiting on the Lord, seeking His direction. But what I have seen in these women, in all three categories, is the choice to be content.

And even more, they desire to glorify God and enjoy the unique adventures and opportunities that God is bringing into their lives.

Some of these young women are learning homemaking skills. Some are pursuing fulfilling careers. Some reach out to others' children and becoming "another mom" or a treasured spiritual aunt. Some are eager to reach the world for Christ. One woman that I deeply respect lives daily for her Heavenly Bridegroom, teaching women the Word and ways of God.

These women know they are secure in God's sovereignty over their lives and rejoice in His care. Their lives model the psalmists' words: "O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places...." (Psalm 16:5-6a).

Most of the godly single women I know have embraced the truth that they can best magnify God at this time by remaining unmarried; and they know that when God ordains that they can better magnify Him in marriage, God can easily change their circumstances. They believe that no purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2; Deuteronomy 32:39).

No matter our status or season in life, God is in control ~ He has an powerful agenda for each of us (Proverbs 16:1, 9; 21:1). He simply asks us to open our hearts and hands and all that we are to Him ~ to surrender to His direction in our lives (Proverbs 3:5-6). He cares about the details.

As a single in the 1970s, serving in a Christian revival ministry, I focused on serving God ~ but I always leaned toward marriage; I always felt I'd been called to establish a home and be a mother. But I came to a point in my ministry when I surrendered my desires to God, believing He knew best and had my best interest at heart.

About that time, a Christian professor challenged me to pray for my husband "somewhere in the world," but I struggled, wanting to be fully surrendered. Finally, I decided that I would pray that God would develop spiritual character traits in me beneficial to marriage or ministry, and that ~ if I were never to marry ~ God wouldn't waste my prayers for that "somewhere" husband.

I prayed, "If you want me to remain single, then credit these prayers to some single male missionary, Father. Encourage and strengthen him." I practiced (chose) contentment as I waited on the Lord, but I didn't sit around. I got busy reflecting God's glory in as many ways as I could, and I learned to enjoy His company.

In time, God did direct me to the man I'd marry, and we are still married, 37 years later. Today, I like to talk about God's sovereign love. Yes, He is in control ... and yes, He dearly loves His children. We do not need to fear His will, but sometimes we do need to lose the grasp of our own definitions of happiness. There is joy in serving Christ that the world cannot comprehend.

Elyse Fitzpatrick
wrote, in Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone (P& R, 2001, p. 150): "The truth about the choices we make is plain. We don't consistently choose the Lord because we don't really desire Him... and we don't really desire Him because we're not convinced that choosing Him will result in our happiness."

The more we understand God's sovereign love, the more we will be able to rest in Him and experience peace. God doesn't want our anxious resignation. He wants our trusting contentment.

When the Psalmist wrote, "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4), he anticipated God's blessing, not a curse. Likewise, when singles trust God to hold their hearts, and cooperate with Him in seeking His purposes, they can be confident that God will work. It's all about the desires He gives, not the desires we create or expect or even demand. It's not about how we try to manipulate His will, or the various means we use to cope with our unmet desires and longings.

Being content in the will of God means that we are not prisoners to our desires, but rather, living full, abundant lives. We give our Father the freedom to work in our undivided, unhindered hearts. We don't grumble about what we don't have; we praise Him for preparing opportunities for us for fruitful living.

For some ~ perhaps most ~ a lovely wedding dress is part of the calling of God. But for others, God prepares a beautiful garment of single service. It is the garment that fits for a season, or perhaps for an earthly lifetime, and it is lovely in the Heavenly Bridegroom's eyes. The woman who is "singled out" is not to merely "exist," but to thrive, undistracted in her attention to Christ and His kingdom.

When a single woman rests in God's sovereign love, she understands that a Christian is not single by error or default, but by design... Divine design.


Note: A book that has encouraged some of my single friends ~ and it has given me much of the perspective I have on singleness ~ is Lydia Brownback's book, Fine China is for Single Women, Too. I also recommend a book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, titled Singled Out for Him: Embracing the Gift, the Blessings, and the Challenges of Singleness. Nancy's book and some other resources for singles are also available through Nancy's ministry, Revive Our Hearts.

7/20/11

How Can You Support Your Pastor's Wife?

I love my pastor's wife. She is a godly, discreet woman who has her priorities straight. I was moved to pray for her today after I read a challenge posted at Revive Our Hearts' women's ministry.

The document begins: "A pastor’s wife is often in the shadow of the man who fills the pulpit every Sunday. Most of the time, she is pleased that God has called her husband to this place of selfless service, but there are days when she wishes for a more “normal” life. She listens to her husband’s dreams for the ministry, and creates a safe haven for him when it seems he has no friends. She loves and respects him, prays for him, and serves him. But who will listen to, encourage, and pray for her needs?" ~ 31 Days of Praying for Your Pastor's Wife, Revive Our Hearts

My pastor's wife is human. Though deeply respected, it would be wrong to prop her up on a pedestal. Like any woman, she needs encouragement, support, and friendship. But more than anything else, she needs our prayers.

The Revive Our Hearts challenge offers specific things to pray for concerning her. Some of the challenge prayers are so crucial to the success of the local church. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • For one, I need to pray that God will protect her responses to her husband, and for the protection of her marriage. So many churches experience chaos because the lead home in the church ~ the pastor's home ~ fails. The enemy wants to destroy every marriage represented in church leadership.
  • I need to pray that God will bring my pastor's wife godly friends and encouragers. Perhaps this isn't so necessary to the woman who is naturally gregarious and "friendly," but quieter personalities may hesitate to reach out. All pastor's wives need to be discreet and careful ~ and I can pray my pastor's wife will guard her tongue ~ but some pastor's wives limit their friendships. I can pray that God will hand-pick appropriate, helpful relationships for her.
  • I can pray that my pastor's wife will make wise lifestyle choices ~ not only as an example to women, but also to protect her own health. I can pray that she will find time to rest from the natural stresses of ministry. I can pray that she will use all her time wisely, protecting her God-given priorities.
  • Having been a pastor's wife in the past, I know how the enemy tries to attack contentment. It's especially tough when church members complain a lot. I can pray that my pastor's wife will be patient and content ~ living in God's grace with a grateful, choosing-joy heart.
  • I can pray that, while she is committed to stand for truth, she will have a spirit of love and unity, and avoid anything that might cause unnecessary division in the church.
  • Knowing how the enemy loves to seek and destroy, I can pray that my pastor's wife guards her heart and confesses personal sin quickly.
The 31-day challenge offers 31 ways to pray for the "First Lady" in your church. Again ... check it out, and take time to pray. Each challenge has supporting scripture. You might want to take time to read these passages as you pray.

And while you're at it, drop her a note of thanks or encouragement. Let her know you've prayed for her. Offer to help her with a specific project. If she's a young mom, offer to care for her children so she can have a night out with her husband. Put yourself in her shoes and be creative in ways to lift her up and make her life easier.

You might even create a special "pamper basket" for her on her birthday ... or for no reason at all except to express love. Include a coffee mug (like the one pictured above) or tea cup with a special beverage, a new fun devotional (like one I've co-authored, LOL with God), some pretty note cards, a bookstore gift card ... or even a spa day certificate, if you can afford it!

Your pastor's wife is a precious jewel ~ called of God to a unique place. Your prayers and loving support can help her shine for His glory.

7/13/11

A Confession about Bible Reading

On July 1st, I joined a group of women in reading through the Bible in 90 days. I decided to read through the English Standard Version, I told one of the women, "because I've never read through that version before."

Actually, I'd never read through ANY version before!

Oh, I've read large chunks of the Word. I've studied portions of the Bible ~ whole books. I've researched topics. I've even written and taught my own Bible-based curriculum! I wholeheartedly believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is true.

But I've never read from Genesis 1 through to Revelation 22.

I actually had the thought the other day, "What would you say if God asked you if you ever read all of His book?"

In great spiritual pride, I've told people that I've "read through the Bible" ~ once when a couple of ladies were discussing how many times they'd read through the scriptures, and once in a questionnaire. Simply put, I lied. I'm ashamed of that. I've repented and asked God to forgive me.

So now, as I'm in the middle of this reading journey ~ and it's not about some legalistic drive; it's a venture of grace and something I want to do ~ I'm asking the Lord to make it more than just reading. At 16 chapters a day, I won't have time to actually study, but I'm asking God to help me see a thread of truth, the thread of redemption, and some threads to tie up some of the broken places in my life.

I know that He will address a number of issues ... like t-e-l-l-i-n-g l-i-e-s!

And I will be blessed. Revelation 1:3 says, "Blessed is he that reads...."

That's all I'm going to say today. I lied. I confessed. But I'm reading now.

I challenge you to do the same (to get honest, if necessary ... and to start reading). Summer's a good time for this. If you want a list to check off, there's one here or here.

So join me. Turn off the TV. Turn away from distractions. Turn down the busyness in your life. And turn to God in the Word. It's a summer challenge we won't forget.

7/6/11

The Secret to Contentment

The Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs, wrote in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, that contentment is "that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."

I appreciated the definition, but I wanted to flesh it out a bit, so I looked for articles about the topic. Then, last December, I heard Bob Lepine speak about contentment on Revive Our Hearts radio broadcast. Lepine is the co-host of the radio program FamilyLife Today. He spoke in an interview with Revive Our Hearts host, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, on the topic of contentment in the context of a biblical approach to food, beauty, and control of our finances.
Link
His words were profoundly simple, based on scriptures in the book of Philippians.

First, Lepine said, "Think on the right things" (Philippians 4:8-9). Paraphrasing and expanding on the verses, he said, "Think on things that are lovely and beautiful, and think on things that are praiseworthy and excellent and commendable. Instead of letting your mind dwell on things that are frustrating, broken, messed up, depressing, and hard to deal with."

When I think on right things, I think from God's perspective. When I think on right things, I seek out what God is doing in and through my life. My thoughts move beyond my own selfish agenda to His.

Another point Lepine made was, "Make your requests known to God" (v. 6). Though Lepine did not say this, I thought, If my thoughts are right, then I'll better know how to pray. I'll pray for the will of God, knowing that He wants what is best for me, and He has purposes that are higher than mine. I won't pray for a bigger and better house or car, or more clothes in my closet ~ unless that's what HE wants me to pray. Or I will pray for those things, but with open hands and an open heart, surrendered and content with what He provides.

It's just my opinion, but I think that it is our contented prayers ~ voiced as we trust our Father God's love and sovereign control ~ that make God smile. Yes, there are other prayers that surely move His heart (prayers for lost souls, certainly; prayers for healing; prayers of repentance, etc.), but our prayers of contentment reflect a soul that rests in Him.

Then Lepine says, "Model reasonableness in your life." I had to think about that one. Lepine took that concept from verse five. What does it mean to model reasonableness so everyone can see it? I looked up that verse in various versions, hoping to get a fuller picture.

  • Let your reasonableness be known to everyone... (ESV)
  • Let your gentleness be known to all men... (NKJV)
  • Let your gentleness be evident to all... (NIV)
  • Let your forbearance be known unto all men... (ASV)
  • Let your graciousness be known to everyone... (HCSB)
  • Let your moderation be known to all men... (WBT)
  • Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. (The Message)
  • Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). (Amplified)
What does that have to do with contentment, I wondered, if it even does ~ especially since the second half of the verse reminds us that "The Lord is near," coming soon! This reminded me of James 5:8, which says we must be "patient and stand firm" with our focus on the Lord's return.

These words ~ reasonableness, gentleness, forbearance, graciousness, moderation, considerateness ~ are traits of a person who doesn't indulge in excesses, but is careful and controlled, especially with the expectation that the Lord could return at any moment. There is a calmness here... a moderation of passions. I think that I could envision that also meaning an exhibition of contentment. There is a sense of modesty in behavior and choices that the world notices.

I think of the early church, persecuted and banding together, even having all things in common (to survive, perhaps). There was no place for selfishness and discontent ~ no room for hoarding or lusting for more ~ and the world took note of their unity and love. They were of "one mind," eager to help each other.

Lepine's final point was, "Spend more time rejoicing than you do" (v. 4). In The Message, this reads, "Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!" I have discovered that this is true. So much of my Christian life has focused on making choices for righteousness so that I might glorify God. But I think the Westminster Shorter Catechism has it right. Glorifying God must also be linked to enjoying Him. When I learn how to enjoy God for who He is, then I understand that He is my gracious provider. I can be content and thankful. He is all I need.

The rest of the broadcast that day dealt more with the body and appearance, and everything DeMoss and Lepine said was good ... but I kept meditating on Lepine's four points for a long time. For this often-dissatisfied woman, it was (and is) a good formula for pursuing contentment.