July 10, 2014

Purpose In The Ordinary Every Day

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The other day I was doing my laundry and hung it outside to dry.  And as I commenced in the action I was suddenly hit by the realization of how ordinary that experience was to me.  There is truly nothing very exciting about hanging one's laundry.  And yet I was struck by how profoundly human I felt while doing that.

" How many people hang their laundry in the world today?" I thought to myself because I didn't know.  But it must be a lot.  " And how many people hung their laundry in generations past?" Lots and lots I imagined.  

And as I hung laundry I wondered about all the other mundane acts I did every day that were also shared experiences with the collective human race.  It made me wonder about all the private, normal every day moments of Christians in the Bible.  Did Mary, Jesus mother, hang laundry too?  Did Jesus maybe even help her?  Did Joseph, Jacob's son, learn how to cook meals and clean when he was a servant in Egypt?  Did David feed the horses and sheer the sheep?

I began to wonder of all the moments the Bible never tells us about.  And I was deeply moved by the thought that God saw every single one of those moments.  Every single one.  From birth.  Can you imagine?  And even more profound to me was that He chose to keep those moments hidden from us.  He respected their privacy and only shared the things that would help us grow.  God cherished each life mentioned in His Word.  

That thought got me thinking about what He cherishes about my ordinariness.  I am, in many ways, quite simple.  And I like who I am.  But to think that the God of all creation watches my every moment of every day... that's so amazing to me.  Why does He bother?  

And its not just me He watches.  God sees every moment of every life in this world.  I cannot fathom that fact.  But its true.  And I think if we all could see those moments of each other, the moments of complete vulnerability and humanness, it would help us understand how terribly our sins hurt others.

God loves you and me and every person, He always has.  And I sometimes wrestle with that thought because there are some truly horrible acts committed by people towards others (animals and nature included.)  And I think... how can God care about them?  Does He not see what they do?  Does He not care?  But I believe that He cares so much more profoundly than any of us can ever know.  

And I wonder, after all this pondering, if ordinary days have a purpose beyond the now.  Could it be that the long days, weeks, months, and even years when nothing profound happens in our lives... could it be that we exist just so that God can love us?

" What are mere mortals that you should think about them, 
human beings that you should care for them?"
~ Psalm 8:4

June 30, 2014

Grace For Prolonged Singleness

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Anyone who has been following my blog for a fair length of time knows that the issue of singleness has been frequented a bit.  And the fact that this post will be focused on the topic again means that this blog will have a bit more to say.

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 2014 RZIM Summer Institute.  The theme this year was Freedom.  Sessions and talks delved into how living with Christ grants Christians unparalleled freedom not just for spiritual gain but also for life in this world.  Contrasts between current societal norms and what scripture proclaims were clearly defined. At times I felt both convicted and uplifted.

But what made the experience so complete and satisfying was the interaction I had, not only with the speakers, but also with fellow attendees. Talking about the issues brought up in sessions was very rewarding.  During the week-long institute several people were surprised that I was single and traveled alone.  So I found myself explaining my perspective on the matter.

" How does one neatly sum up the experience of prolonged singleness?" I wondered. For it is, in a word, an experience.  Neither completely negative or completely positive.  There is always that yearning deep inside to have someone who knows and accepts you completely, despite your worst moments.  Someone who "gets" you.  The world sometimes refers to this person as your "soul mate."

Truthfully though no one can fulfill the deepest ache in our souls.  Only Jesus Christ and the power of his love can do that.  But human companionship with another person is a close second. God understood this when He created Eve for Adam.  Life in this world is so much more pleasant when you have the right person to share the experience.

For many people prolonged singleness is unfulfilled longing.  On somedays being single is difficult. Yet society says that living the single life is better than being stuck with the "ball and chain" of marriage.  People live together and sleep together without any commitments and then wonder why the other person never takes the relationship seriously.

It takes a deep, inner strength to resist the constant tide of " do what feels good" messages.  Feel like sleeping with that cute guy or gal?  Go for it. Just use a condom.  Not sure if you're really compatible with him or her?  Then live together for a year or so and see what happens.  Go on... roll the dice. Try your luck.

And so many people do.  Only to discover that "what feels good" yesterday does not feel good today.  We don't hear the rest of the story in those care-free messages.  Why don't they tell us of all the broken hearts and shattered lives?  There are so, so many.

Inevitable questions arise. Questions such as: What is wrong with doing whatever feels good? Should Christian singles ignore their natural yearnings? Should singles sequester themselves in convents, monasteries, and the like?  Does God even care for the unique struggles singles wrestle with?

Coming back to my experience at the RZIM institute, I soon discovered that I was not the only single who arrived alone. The other singles present understood where I was coming from without any need of explanation.  And we encouraged each other and prayed for each other and found many similar experiences amongst us regarding how society, friends, relatives, and families treated us.

We all had people in our lives who encouraged and supported us in our pursuit to live lives that honored the Lord regardless of our marital status.  But we also wrestled with questions.

1. What is wrong with doing whatever feels good? The Bible teaches that the human heart is naturally inclined towards selfishness and malintent. Doing whatever feels good will many times end up hurting ourselves and even others in the future.

There need to be boundaries that keep us from going too far.  That is where this conference excelled in explaining this dilemma. The theme was on the freedom Christians have through Christ.  We studied the example of the Ten Commandments and how they can still be applied today.  Every society in the world, even the most remote, have rules to not take what is not theirs.  They all have rules about taking the life of another.  Why?  Even when God is not formally recognized people know that we need boundaries to preserve life.

Without boundaries anyone can do whatever they want and that creates chaos.  An easy example is driving a vehicle on a road.  We need signs and lights to let us know who has the right-of-way.  Otherwise someone could barrel down any intersection and kill someone else in the process.  Speed limits are another example. One does not take a sharp turn at eighty miles an hour.

2.  Should singles ignore their natural yearnings? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that it is a sin to desire a spouse, sex, or children.  God created man and woman with all their "inner workings" for the specific purpose of strengthening the bond between a married couple.  Experiencing natural yearnings in and of themselves is not sinful or wrong in any way.  It simply means we are human.  Likewise, it is not a sin to be attracted to someone who is handsome/beautiful.  It is not wrong to admire the beauty others may possess.

It is, however, wrong to fantasize about others. It is wrong to have any involvement  of any form in pornography.  It is wrong to sleep with anyone who is not your spouse.  And it is wrong to envy anyone who is married when you are not.

These are tough issues. The Bible is very clear that immorality leads to great suffering and envy embitters the one who feeds it.

What to do then when, as a single, you feel overwhelmed?  Some people go out and do something social.  Others find something constructive to do where ever they happen to be.  And still others have a mentor or prayer buddy whom they can call and ask for encouragement.  

But of course the one thing Christians all have in common is that they can take their struggle to the Lord.  

3. Should Christian singles sequester themselves?  No way.  Isolation makes a Christian vulnerable.  This is not the same as having private time alone with the Lord.  Staying away from society damages the soul.  We were all created for relationships with others.  First God, then family, then community.

God will not drop our spouses at the front door while we twiddle our fingers and hope for him/her to show up.  We must do our part and be out and about living and growing our character and our faith!  In a sense we have a responsibility to be on display but not just to catch the eye of a potential mate.  The Bible states that Christians are the salt of the Earth (world), and light in darkness.

We stand out in a very good and refreshing way when we are among people who don't know Christ.  They need to see His love lived out in our lives and that can never happen if we are always at home watching TV or playing video games or constantly with our noses stuck to our smart phones.

4.  Does God even care about the unique struggles singles wrestle with?  Yes God cares! At the conference my fellow single brethren all shared times in their lives when they asked God this question and found Him to be faithful.

God grants His children endurance of heart and mind and spirit and soul.  He doesn't always relieve our  pains because He is forming us into His image.  Human beings tend to become better versions of themselves through suffering.

That does not mean that everyone who suffers is a nice person.  And I can say that there have been times in my life when my attitude needed adjustment.  But by God's grace He always carries me through and I learn the lesson I must. All of that aside though, I believe that God never with-holds a good thing from those who love Him without giving them something far better.

If you are like me, floating in the deep waters of prolonged singleness, please let me encourage you.  You are not alone.  There are many others in this world going through the same pains, and asking the same questions, and wrestling with what God is doing in their lives.

Do not isolate yourself.  Do not allow the internet to be your only way of communicating with others.  Get out and meet people and care about them and let yourself become vulnerable.  Allow God to mold you and follow Him with faith.  You don't need a lot.  Just a little-bit is enough.  He won't always let you know what's coming up next but He will show you the immediate next step if you're willing to trust His timing.

God loves you very much.  He truly does!  Being single is not a curse.  You are not being punished.  You are very precious and very important to the kingdom!  Don't be discouraged or heavy-hearted.  You are not forgotten.

God is about to do a miraculous thing with your life.  So take a deep breath, close your eyes, and take a step forward.

Prolonged singleness is an experience unlike anything in the world.  Enjoy it and let everyone know that it is God's marvelous work in you they are witnessing. Who knows where He will take you next!
 

Psalm 27:1 "... the Lord is the strength of my life."