It’s Time To “People Up”

I have a confession.  For a long time, I thought the way to fix things was simply fix the men.  In fact I remember a meeting where another guy and I were planning a men’s retreat.  We said basically that if we could just fix the men, then the rest would fall in line.

This is the general consensus of a lot of evangelical leaders today.  I’ve talked about this ad nauseam here.  I’ve talked about blaming men, the man problem, the idea that if only men would ask women out, and on and on.

While I think that there are a few people waking up to this complete over simplification of the problems in our culture, it’s still rampant.

The good husband is almost always the butt of the joke in secular culture media and perhaps worse in a lot of Christian media.  Divorce is almost always seen as the guys fault – in the courts and in the church.  Men are the sexual sinners, not women.  40% of births in our country are out of wedlock – that’s just the men’s fault – which makes absolutely no logical sense really.  Delayed marriage in our culture – men won’t commit.  Lack of guys at church or as volunteers – can’t be anything that we are doing wrong – must be the men are worse now.  It’s everywhere.

We have a man problem we say.  A father problem.  An immaturity of men problem.  A video game problem.

The solution to this of course it to get men to “man up“.  So we create all sorts of web pages and sermons.  Some attempt to be encouraging. In other words “come on men – we can help you fulfill all of your societal responsibilities and save everyone else.”  Others are more “challenging”.  Just beat on the men, yell at them and about them until they “get it”.  Of course there is now even a MAN UP APP.  No lie.  It’s true.

It’s not that some of the thoughts and advice on these sites aren’t good.  Some of it is good.  But the problem is the premise.

The truth is that we don’t have a man problem.  We have a people problem.  We have a sin problem.  And men are both people and sinners.  You know what though?  Wait for it.  So. Are. Women.

This is true even when it comes to singleness, dating and marriage.  Want proof?  40% of births are out of wedlock – up from 10% in 1969.  It takes men and women for that to happen.  Women can be controlling and aggressive in relationships too.  Women are more likely to initiate divorce.  Women cheat as well as men and celebrity women think thats ok.  I could go on and on.  The point here isn’t to bash women.  By no means!  The point is twofold.

First and foremost we are all sinners.  Second, you won’t hear many sermons or websites pointing to that last paragraph and saying we have a woman problem.  In fact I would be willing to bet you can’t find one.

There are a bunch of reasons we as the church have fallen into this.  Male pastors like being the best man in the room.  We want the culture to like us and right now the culture says we have a man problem.  We want to be feminist friendly.  Many sincerely believe that if men were better that the women would just automatically fall in line (which is actually sort of demeaning to women if you think about it – do they not have moral agency?).  Men in the church will either take it or leave.  These are just a few of the reasons.

All of this is extremely counter productive.

We have to stop doing this if we want any of the trends we don’t like to change.  The singleness and delayed marriage – or total lack of marriage – trend is a prime example.  It is not a man problem either.  It is a people problem.  We have to start addressing it as such.

When it comes to men specifically, maybe, just maybe we should ask ourselves why we are where we are.  What I mean is, lack of guy volunteers, lack of guys coming to church, lack of guys asking out our favorite single women etc.  Maybe we should resit the urge to look at them, call them names, tell them how bad they are and challenge them to get on board with us.  Instead how about we start with this question: What are we doing/have we done to create this?

Here’s what I know.  There was no secret men’s meeting where we all got together and said, “Let’s quit volunteering.  Let’s quit going to church.  Let’s play video games instead. Let’s delay marriage.”

If less men, and for that matter less singles period, go to church, perhaps we should look inward first for why, before calling them out and blaming them.  Maybe instead of asking singles to suck it up and men to man up we ought to ask everyone to people up.  And maybe, just maybe, we ought to take a good hard look in the mirror and “church up”.

You Can’t Serve Your Way To Attraction

In my last post I began talking about this idea of being a servant leader that we toss around in Christian circles.  I’m not going to rehash all of that here.  You might start by reading that post.  Today I want to talk about the servant part and in another post I’ll talk about the leadership side.

I want to clarify a couple of things quickly.  I’m not suggesting here that we shouldn’t serve people.  Not at all.  We often should.  Again, Jesus served.  He called us to serve others.  What I’m suggesting that serving and leadership are not the same and our motive for serving matters.

Jesus did not serve in order to gain followers.  He didn’t serve to earn relationships.  The reason Jesus is the greatest servant is because he didn’t have to serve at all and yet chose to.  Not only that, but He gave the ultimate service in dying for us.  Jesus served His followers.  But again He didn’t serve to get followers.

Not only that, but Jesus knew what people actually needed not just what they wanted.  He didn’t serve them based on what or how they wanted to be served.  Think of the washing of the disciples’ feet.  At no point did the disciples think, “we’ll like Jesus more and follow Him more if He would wash our feet.”  In fact Peter saw it as an affront at first.  He knew who Jesus was (or at least was coming to know) and he knew that Jesus was the one who should be served.  That’s what made it so incredible.

So what does this have to do with being a single man in the church?  Here are some thoughts.

First of all, we need to understand a very important fact.  Despite what we are sometimes lead to believe by evangelical leaders, you can not serve your way to attraction.  What I mean is that there can be this idea that if I serve a woman she will be attracted to me.

Let’s say you really like a girl.  You are attracted to her and you want her to be attracted to you.  One line of thought is that you need to get to know her and do things for her or even “minister” to her.  She is moving and needs help so you volunteer to help move her.  You’re in college and she needs help studying so you help her study.  You offer to carry things for her.  You open every door for her.  You look for every opportunity to serve her.  She is going through a hard time and you are “there for her”.

Those are all fine things.  But none of those things will make her attracted to you.  If she is already attracted to you, those sorts of things could help advance the relationship at some level.  But they are probably at best neutral in terms of attraction.  However, if she is not attracted to you and she knows you are attracted to her it could be a negative.  You could end up in the nice guy/friend zone.  You are meeting her needs which is great for her, but that won’t make her attracted to you.

On top of that, and this gets back to how Jesus served, if you are serving to get her to like you (be attracted) really you aren’t being a servant.  There are strings attached.  Women see right through this.  They might take the help.  But that’s as far as it is going.

This is one of the ways that nice guys get clobbered over and over.  “I did all of this for her and yet she chose this other guy.  He does’t do anything for her . . . ”  Well that might be true.  But too bad.  First of all, that’s not part of the deal.  Service means just that.  Pure servanthood operates without expecting anything back.  Also it doesn’t matter because if the other guy who doesn’t serve her is who she is attracted to, then . . . well . . . she is attracted to him.

What I’m saying here is that serving the girl is fine.  That’s your choice.  But if you do it so that she will date you, then that’s really on you.

Jesus served out of strength.  He did it out of love.  Not romantic love or “feelings” love. He doesn’t call us to do it out of those things either.  He wasn’t qualifying himself as worth being with by serving.  He was already worth being with and they knew it.

This by the way carries over into marriage.  We tend to sell guys on this idea that if they do certain things they will get certain results.  Serve your wife to “earn” points (I’ve actually seen Christian leaders say things like this).  But that’s not sacrificial service.  That’s selfish service.  It’s for sure not leadership.  I don’t do the dishes so that my wife will like me better.  I do it because why should I not do it.  I do it because she made a great meal and the least I can do is help clean up.  But I don’t do it expecting her to have sex with me. And I’m not counting on it making her want to.  I’m for sure not doing it to bank “points”.

Let me be clear once again.  I’m not anti serving.  But I’m saying don’t serve with an expectation of a result for you.  Don’t serve to be more attractive because it won’t make you more attractive.  Don’t serve to get something in return.  Serving is not a tactic.  And it won’t work.

Finally let me add this.  If you are serving someone in an effort to chase or get them to like you, I’d stop.  Stop being the nice guy.  Stop putting yourself in the friend zone.  Stop trying to earn it.  Don’t be used in that way.  I spent significant time there in my life.  It’s not effective and it won’t help you.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Servant Leadership Confusion

I was recently at a conference where we spent some time talking about leadership.  The conversation was centered around what makes a good leader and how do we be good leaders to others.  One of the interesting things that was said was something to the effect of the only way to be a good leader was to be a servant.  This is of course a common theme in Christian culture.  And like a lot of themes in Christian culture it’s only sort of true.

I’ve been giving the idea of leadership a lot of thought lately – both in the context of my job and in the context of singleness and marriage.  You can see some of my thoughts about leading while dating here.

I think in our context as a Christian man, be it single or married, this idea is very confusing.  Partly because we use a lot of words like servant and leader interchangeably and I’m not so sure that’s helpful.

We tell men to lead.  We say in fact that you should lead.  That our leadership is needed.  We are told to serve.  We are told that Jesus’ model of leadership was servant leadership and that we should follow that example in life and of course in marriage and often even in dating.  So let’s unpack that all a little.

Here are some important conclusions that I’ve personally come to

You can be an effective leader without being a servant.  Now this will undoubtedly bother some people.  I guess it sort of depends on how you define servant.  Let me rephrase.  You can be an effective leader without being what Christian culture calls a “servant leader”.

I know this because I can quickly name several historically effective leaders that weren’t what we would call servant leaders.  Just for starters: Hitler.  Genghis Khan.  Alexander the Great. I don’t think you can argue that they weren’t leaders.  But you wouldn’t call them servant leaders.  Now you could say they served in a sense.  They gave people vision, or hope, or purpose bigger than them.  Maybe they even provided protection or riches for their people – which could be a sort of service.  But I don’t think we’ll be calling any of them servant leaders.

My point is that leadership and servanthood – at least as we typically define it – are not the same at all.

To be a leader you really only need two things.  You need to be going somewhere and you need to have someone following you.  If you don’t have anyone following you, you are not a leader.

Now Jesus was indeed the greatest leader in history.  Even from a common sense secular point of view.  This is a guy who had no army, no land, no money, no committee, no title, no political office etc.  He had a three year public life, lived in a small geographical area and really only talked to a few thousand people, most of whom also had none of the afore mentioned advantages, was executed and yet changed the world and we are still talking about it 2000 years later.

Jesus was also obviously the greatest servant of all time.  He left His throne, gave up his power, met people’s deepest needs and gave his very life for each of us.

But here is a thought I have – and I’m not saying this is exactly right as I’m still working it out:  It was not Jesus’ servanthood that made Him a great leader but instead it was who He was, partly as a leader, that made Him the greatest servant.  In other words, in order to wash your followers feet – you have to have followers.

Feel free to wrestle with that.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Ok Justin.  Neat stuff.  But what does this have to do with singleness?”  As a man, looking for a spouse, I think it has a lot to do with it.

 

We spend a lot of time telling men that the need to be the leader.  Be it in dating or marriage.  We also tell men that they need to be a servant, like Jesus was a servant, to their wives and too often by extension to women in general.  In other words, “Be Like Jesus to get the girl” and then “Love your girl like Jesus would and everything will go right.”  Leadership of your girl/wife means serving your girl/wife.

But if we have the wrong view of what that means, which many in Christian leadership do, then we are setting ourselves up for at best a lot of frustration and at worst utter failure.

I’m going to get more practical in the next blog or two about this.  But for today I want to leave you with some questions to ponder.

Why did people follow Jesus?  Why would a woman follow a man?  What does serving another person really mean?  What does serving have to do with attraction?  Are women attracted to leaders?  To servants?

Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Would “Treat Her Better”

So recently I heard a song by Sean Mendes aptly titled “Treat You Better”.  This song frankly encapsulates how guys (especially young guys) often see the dating scene completely wrong.  Especially “nice” guys.  Especially Christian “nice” guys.  I know this, because for a long time, longer than I care to admit, I was this guy.  In my teen years (Mendes is 18) I could have written this song.  Heck, I wrote some songs like this.

When I was a teenager, I always liked the girl that dated the guy that was “bad” for her. Pretty much literally all of my high school crushes could be summed up in that.  I was the good guy friend.  Sometimes I actually was a real friend, but other times that was just the line they told me to be nice instead of telling me to get lost.

I was seen as the nice guy.  The guy who would make some girl happy one day, just not that girl.  She instead dated the guy who was crazy, dangerous (read exciting) and who they were typically sleeping with (read sexually attracted to).  I was none of those things.

Now when things went bad, I was confided in often.  I was their ride home, their “brother”, or the type of guy who they wanted to end up with, but not date.

In my mind I wanted to rescue them.  I was better than that guy who treated them wrong. I was holier than the guy they were sleeping with.  I loved them after all.  And if they would just see that I was right for them everything could be better.  But that’s not how it works.

As I got older this became less true.  Although I still had no understanding of how to be attractive to the girl that I wanted to date/marry, by my late 20s I wasn’t trying to get the girl dating the “bad” guy so much.

But today I want to share some thoughts for all of the young men out there who are faced with these similar scenarios, many of whom I’m sure are feeling the Mendes song deeply.  I know I would have felt this song.

Here is my first thought.  If you listen to that song and think it’s you – you are in trouble and you need to seek something different – now.  It’s time to grow up a little.

Here’s where you are at.

You’re attracted to a girl.  You see her beauty and you see that she needs saved from dating someone other than you – the “bad for her” guy.  You are there for her, listen to her, give her advice.  If you are a young Christian you might call it “ministering” to her. You of course tell her how great she is and that she deserves better.  She’s not into you, but you want her to be and if you can just convince her she would be. You may or may not have told her how you feel.

Worse, in Christian circles we actually often set you up for this.  We’ve taught you that women’s sin is tied to men’s.  So anything she is doing bad is actually the “bad” guy’s fault. We’ve taught you that it is your job to man up and chase her.  Even more devastating, we’ve taught you that if you are a good Christian nice guy, she should like you.

But, that’s not the truth.  Pretty much none of that is the truth.  I’m not saying that out of any sort of anger or bitterness from my story.  I’m saying it because deep down you know it too and part of being a man is seeing the truth, owning it, and doing something about it. Don’t beat yourself up, just be willing to learn.

She isn’t attracted to that guy because he’s bad.  She just is attracted.  Attraction is not a choice.  Maybe she shouldn’t be with him.  But it doesn’t really matter.  She is with him and not with you.  Maybe she wishes she was attracted to you.  But she’s not.  And despite what a lot of really cheesy movies, songs, and Christian speakers say, she probably won’t be.  And if she were to end up with you, it won’t be because you are going to “treat her better” as it were.

So here is what you need to do if this is where you are at:

  • Stop chasing this girl.  Right now.  She isn’t the one.  There will be someone else.
  • If you are legitimately friends with her and you are a teenager – that’s ok.  You can be her friend.  But don’t be her special friend or her confidant.  You are done being the one who does all sorts of things for her as if you are a boyfriend without being her actual boyfriend.  If you are over 25, stop hanging out with her.  Now.
  • Quit being the nice guy.  Don’t be the “He’s nice but” guy.  Avoid that.  Grow out of that.
  • Become a student of attraction.  Not romance, not sex, and not marriage.  The Church can teach you all about being a husband. But that has nothing to do with attraction.  Learn what attracts women.
  • Think about how you act with girls you hang out with every day, vs. how you act when you are chasing a particular girl.  How do you view each, and how do they view you.
  • Do not become a “bad” guy.  That’s not actually what is holding you back. Good and bad have nothing to do with it.   It’s about confidence both in who you are, and in how you interact.
  • Learn to avoid the friend zone – even if it means walking away.  Again, you can be friends, you can’t be “that friend”.  Don’t allow it.
  • Work on how you view your self.  Your insecurities.  Your sin.  What you think of your looks.  What you think of your sexual ability.
  • Work on being respectable instead of likable.
  • Figure out where you are going, and go there.  Find someone who wants to go with you.  Not someone you have to chase or drag with you.

I have no idea if Mendes is singing from the heart of his own story or not.  I don’t know if the video is personal.  What I do know is I’ve been there.  What I do know is that a lot of young men feel this. What I do know is that the guy in the video does not end up with that girl.

Condemned To Celibacy?

Recently I attended a conference on healthy sexuality.  It was very well done and the spirit of the event was super encouraging to say the least.  Within the many different topics and conversations was of course the discussion of how a person who is attracted to the same sex should live out their life.

Now this wasn’t a conference where people were demanding that anyone live a certain way and it was all non-confrontational, but the general answer was that from a biblical perspective that person should not be engaged in a same sex sexual relationship. In other words they should live a celibate life.

In response to this, one person said, “So basically we are condemning them to a life of loneliness and isolation.” I’m quite sure that this person was far from the only one in the room thinking that way.

I’m not going to dive too far into the topic of homosexuality today (I have a couple of posts that I can share if I ever decide I want to go viral).  But instead, I want to respond to this person’s understanding in a very different way.

I can’t speak for him, but I can deduct that the reason this gentlemen said what he said about celibacy is at least two fold.

First, in evangelical culture, we have completely left out the call to celibacy, the gift of celibacy and those who for one reason or another end up unmarried and yet desiring holiness.  Literally we have spent about 500 years of protestantism screwing this up.  It’s a real problem.

Because we have no place for or theology of celibacy, we then only dust it off for special cases.  Because we have no place for a heterosexual to pursue the call or gift of celibacy, we look like idiots suggesting that the homosexual should be “condemned to that”.

This comes from the Church’s nuclear family idol.  Marriage and family are seen as THE path to holiness and wholeness.  You can’t go around preaching that message for decades and then dust off the other path for a few people.  But that is exactly what the evangelical leadership of our generation has attempted to do.  Obviously that’s not working out very well.  This comes partially from an adaptation of a secular belief into our evangelical culture.

That is the secular belief that sexual fulfillment is a right.  Not only do I have the right to sexual fulfillment, but in the secular culture, I have the right to fulfill that sexual desire in just about any way I want (assuming everyone is an adult and “consents”).

Now evangelical culture has not adopted that belief.  Instead they have adapted it to their own framework.  The evangelical culture says that each person, at least each man, can not possibly contain their sexual desire.  It must be fulfilled.  The message is that it is controlling you, bigger than you, bigger than your moral agency, bigger than your spiritual maturity.  Therefore the only answer available to holiness is marriage.  Marriage makes you an adult.  Marriage makes you mature.  Marriage makes you holy.

Now let me be clear in case you are new to the blog.  I’m extremely pro marriage.  I think that most people should pursue marriage.  But, we cannot assume that in our theological, and practical teaching.  In fact, by assuming that we hurt not only those not called to it, or unable to achieve it, but we hurt even those who do get married.

If the way to holiness is marriage then what we are saying is that the person called to celibacy, the person with the gift of celibacy, the person born without desire to get married, the person who can’t get married, or the person who doesn’t desire the opposite sex, cannot be holy on their own.  By doing this we are literally agreeing with secular culture that sexual desire must be fulfilled in order for a person to be whole and holy.

This is basically what Justice Kennedy said in the supreme court decision on Gay Marriage.  He writes of those wishing to marry, “Their hope is to not be condemned to live in loneliness, . . . ”  Sound familiar?

If celibacy is something that someone is “condemned to” then we are all in a lot of trouble.

Was Jesus “condemned” to celibacy?  Paul?  The early Church Fathers?  The Pope? Do we really want to see celibacy as a punishment?

This is what we have helped set up.  This is why we can’t afford to answer the culture by adapting it into a Christian Version. Its why our answer to an increased delay in marriage, and people fulfilling sexual desires in ways other than marriage can’t be simply – marriage will set it all right.

Instead we have to rescue the celibacy of the New Testament.  We have to rescue the idea of family from a focus on the nuclear family to a focus on the family of God.  We have to have a more complete theology (or picture if you will) of how celibacy and marriage are both pictures of the Kingdom and both paths to holiness and wholeness.  If we don’t, then we all lose.  It will get worse.

The Church, including and starting with each of us in it, is the only hope of something different.  We have to be counter cultural, not just sub-cultural.  Read that line again.  It might be from the Lord.

We have to lead, not follow, not just respond and react.  If the Church (read all of us) don’t step back and consider the whole picture of celibacy and marriage, no one else will.

Sexual Sin Myths

Coming into adulthood in evangelical culture one of the constant messages was that sexual sin was different and more important than other sin.  Now of course the official line was that all sin was “equally” bad.  This is sort of true and sort of not true and therefore super confusing.

Let’s clear up a couple of things about sin to sort of set the table for this topic.

First, and this is the best way I can think to describe it, there is a difference between Sin as a core issue and sins that we commit.  Sin as a core issue is really about idolatry.  In other words the first sin for all of us is not being God focused.  We choose to be God of our own life, write our own story, run our own lives.  We worship other things, principally ourselves, instead of God.

It is out of this condition that we commit other sins.  Both what we do wrong, and what we don’t do right.  In a sense, these are the symptoms of the bigger issue.

The cost of this condition is death.  Regardless of the consequences of a particular sin.  We can’t fix it because it’s a heart problem not an action problem.  This is why Jesus came and went to the cross.  Amen.

However, our sins (the symptoms part) have different consequences.  This is just the truth. So sexual sin has different consequences.

But this is where we need to get a hold of some important facts and to debunk some myths.

Myth 1 – Sexual Desire Itself Is Bad.

First, sexual desire is not a bad thing.  It is part of God’s creation.  It’s pre-fall.  This is important.  We are sexual beings.  God made it powerful because it is to be used to bond two people together inside the context of marriage. There are even chemical reactions to it in the body.  It bonds us physically, emotionally and spiritually.  This is why separating sex and marriage (or even orgasm from sex) is not good.

Sin, in many respects, is really the manipulation of what God has created as good into something that is not.  Sexual sin is no different.

But desire is not a bad thing in and of itself.  If it’s seen as a bad thing then we end up trying to kill the desire.  This is the “eastern” religion answer: Don’t desire anything.  We need to submit the desire to God, but we don’t need to kill it.  We should flee sexual immorality, but we don’t need to kill sexual desire.

This is also important because if we say that sexual desire is bad we end up doing theological gymnastics when it comes to marriage.  For example I’ve heard people say that marriage redeems sexual desire.  That gets confusing real fast.  Sex is for marriage, as stated above, but that sex doesn’t need redeeming.  That’s just one example.

Myth Two – All Sexual Sexual Sin Is The Same

I’ve discussed this before, but looking at a woman lustfully does not have the same consequences as sleeping with the same woman.  It comes from the same place, but it doesn’t have the same consequences.  We need to quit teaching people, by accident or on purpose, that it’s all the same.

Now we shouldn’t use this fact as an excuse to sin less boldly so to speak.  I’ve spoken before about what I call lazy sexual immorality.  There are still costs involved.  It’s still wrong.  But its important to realize that the resulting problems are different.

Myth Three – Sexual Desire Always Leads To Sexual Temptation Always Leads To Sexual Sin 

This is the idea that sexual desire is so strong that I can’t possibly have victory over sexual sin . . . at least not outside of marriage.  Again, I need to submit the desire, along with all other desires, to the Lord.  But the thing is, I can actually do that.  We don’t have to fail.

It also creates a situation where we end up saying that celibacy for the Kingdom is not a viable vocation or calling.  This is part of the reason that in evangelical culture we have no room for those called to celibacy.  Frankly most protestant leaders don’t really think this is even possible.  We don’t have any sort of plan for it.  As I’ve written many places here, with no theology of, or plan for, celibacy, we set up everyone to fail, even married people.  The reason they don’t think it’s possible is that they don’t think that anyone can avoid sexual sin.

We are not just animals with no moral agency.  We can, with the Lord, avoid moral failure.

Myth Four – Men Are Responsible For All Sexual Sin

This is worthy of at least a post itself.  But let me see if I can briefly go at this.  We have to quit talking about the issue in this way.  The idea is that men want sex all the time.  If a man and woman have sex outside of marriage it is the man’s fault.  He is the sinner – she is the victim.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this example from Matt Schmucker on Boundless:

We do not want a brother standing at the altar on his wedding day looking at his beautiful bride only to imagine behind her the boys and men who took advantage of her and robbed her of the trust and confidence that she now needs for her husband. We do not want a sister standing at the altar on her wedding day looking at her handsome groom only to imagine behind him a string of relationships with girls and women he failed to honor, and knowing that images in his head from pornography use and past flings may stick with him for a long time.

Do you see it.  Evil boys and men have victimized the woman.  But the man has failed morally. This is just one example.  I could link hundreds.

There are so many factors in this.  But what I can tell you is that this teaching is not helping.  I do believe that the man should lead, even in a non marriage relationship.  But telling men that they are basically animals forcing women to have sex is not productive and frankly it’s not true. Really it’s a shot at both gender’s moral agency.  It also sets up married sex in the wrong way*, but that is for another day.

The Bible clearly calls us to flee sexual immorality.  It’s important, not just in terms of our personal purity and becoming married, but also because of our witness.  However the right view of it is part of the key to doing just that.  Taking short cuts and getting it wrong, just leads us back to the same cycles we are in.

 

*Examples of this include but are not limited to: teachings that husbands have to earn sex from their wives, that men cheat and women don’t, that men evolutionally (married or not) are always looking for the next person and women are not.

Is Getting Married In God’s Hands?

I recently received an email from a reader asking some questions about a particular situation.  I won’t go into the details but one of the things she said was that she was trying to leave the situation in God’s hands.  This is similar to some things I’ve talked about before but I want to revisit this idea.

This message of waiting for God to bring me the one or that God will bring the right one at the right time is super problematic if not wrong entirely.  And yet it comes from everywhere.  I remember once sitting in church and hearing the pastor in a marriage sermon say that he knew there were frustrated singles because God had not brought them the person yet.

It’s used often as a spiritual platitude spoken to singles as well as by singles themselves.  Especially women.

It’s extremely shaky.

How do people get there?  Well there are some good and bad internal motivations.

A few good motivations

  • Some people are trying to honor God as sovereign over everything.  They don’t want to take false credit or assume they know the answers.  Fair enough.
  • Some are trying to have a submissive attitude towards God.  “God I want this or that, but Your will first, not mine”.  A great starting point for any endeavor.
  • Some have been so over focussed and have had marriage as an idol that they are trying to avoid that by giving it up.
  • A lot of pastors and married folks are trying to be encouraging.  Truly.  They don’t see how they really got married other than a gift and they just know that God wants to gift their friends in the right time.
  • An effort to defeat the myth that you earn a spouse from God – which is important because you don’t.

Here are a few bad motivations

  • We don’t like dealing with rejection so if it’s all on God then it’s not on me
  • We don’t like dealing with our insecurities so again it’s not on me
  • We don’t like dealing with our sin and shortcomings.  It’s not me God it’s You
  • We are scared crapless and this way I don’t have to face the fear of acting
  • We have completely over spiritualized the whole thing to the point that any action seems like it would be to take matters into our own hands and not allow for God to move..

These are just a few examples of how we arrive at the “When God wills it then I’ll get married” sayings.

None of this is actually helpful if you are over 25 and single.

We don’t do this with anything else we do.  Not anything that we really care about anyway.

We shouldn’t do it with ministry.   God will bring the people He wants to our church.  We don’t have to ask anybody or market ourselves or serve the community.  We’ll just build a building and hope some people show up.  We don’t have to talk to them when they do.  If they are meant to be here, then they’ll come back.  No church planter I’ve ever known goes at it that way. (I’m sure some do – and the planting is short lived).

We don’t do this when we seek employment.  I see a job opening at this great company I want to work for.  I think I’m qualified.  But I won’t apply or send them a resume.  I won’t work to get an interview.  I’ll just pray and if I’m supposed to have that job, I’m sure they’ll offer it to me.

We know this won’t work in any other area of our personal life.  I need to lose 10 pounds.  No need to work out or eat better.  Just pray about it.  After all if God wants me to be 10 pounds lighter He will make it happen.

I could do this all day.  Literally.  All. Day.

But for some reason, including the ones above, we’ve turned singleness and marriage into something that is basically akin to who gets in to heaven in terms of spiritual consequence.

Look, God has given us some guidelines.  We should have qualifiers for sure.  I’m not saying just go get married to whomever.  But we have to act.  Just like any other part of life.

In fact, and catch this (let those that have ears. . . ); It is in the acting that our faith is proven.  Whatever you believe theologically about God’s sovereignty, that sovereignty should be a launching pad not a hiding place.  It’s exactly because He is over everything that we can act in faith.  So by all means – act.

In fact, God’s will is mostly done by God’s people. So we need to do it with God.  But we need to do it.  That’s the whole point!  He wants us to do it all with Him.  But He wants us to do it.

Over and over we need to submit our desires, heck our whole being, to God.  We place ourselves in His hands and then we act out of that.  He grows us along the way.  Again that is His whole plan.

Now the question becomes what does that action look like?  That’s a great question.  I’ve written a lot about that for the guys here but in the coming weeks I’ll have a post for guys and one for the gals on what I think it means to act.

The bottom line for today: We should put ourselves in God’s hands. While there we should face our fears, insecurities, weaknesses and sins, as we act boldly to help advance the Kingdom that we know bringing – singleness, dating and marriage included.