You Will Spend Eternity Unmarried – But What About Now?

A few years ago I’d had sort of an interesting run where I’d been in a relationship that ended about a few months earlier.  I had been on some dates with various people and was sort of tired of it all.  But I was also doing a lot of random ministry and enjoying it.  I told a friend at that time that I was considering once again if maybe I should just stay single. I wasn’t mad about it (believe me I’d been there), I was just looking realistically at my situation and thinking it wasn’t all bad. The truth was that I had asked God about this several times.  What was cool about that time period is I was really ok hearing whatever from God.  If God wanted me to remain unmarried I was ok with that.

As an aside – one of the keys to hearing God is being willing to hear anything.  I need to be willing to hear yes and no.  That is what being surrendered to him means.  “God I will do what you want – whatever that is.”  When you are in that posture it makes it much easier to really see what He is calling you to.  I’m not suggesting that is easy, just saying it’s true.

But as I prayed it never felt like God was calling me to that.  It just never felt right to say I was called to celibacy and to remain unmarried – even when I wanted it to.

One of the great failures of the church is that we do basically no teaching on this calling.  In protestant culture we don’t really even offer it as an option.  I’m not sure why we are so afraid of it.  I’ve had pastors say from the pulpit essentially, “we don’t know anything about this, so we are going to skip it.”  I’ve mentioned before that at my church we have a position on every other angle – dating, marriage, divorce, remarriage, sexual ethics, homosexuality – but not celibacy or being unmarried.  And our church has at least 40% unmarried people.  Do you think it’s possible that someone in there might need that teaching?

Part of it is that we have made marriage/family an idol in the church.  But I think part of it is that now for generations no one has taught on it, so people are just lost.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things.

You are created and born unmarried.  Even Adam and Eve were created unmarried. There is no soulmate.  Your number one relationship regardless of marital status is with Jesus.  At the resurrection, regardless of what happened in your life here, you will be unmarried.  You will spend eternity unmarried.

The question is what are you called to here and now?  I know it’s really only one scripture but I think Jesus actually lays it out pretty well in Matthew 19.

The pharisees have tried to trap Jesus with a question about divorce.  Jesus answers that by raising the bar to the point where basically divorce is almost always wrong. A person can’t just get divorced.  The disciples freak out and say essentially, “that’s too hard”.

Jesus then says that the gift of marriage isn’t for everyone. It’s at this point that Jesus offers some thoughts on celibacy.  Most translations use the term eunuchs but I think it applies. (for a couple of interesting versions, check out The Message and the JB Phillips)

Jesus basically says that there are three groups of people that are called to celibacy (notice they are not called to dating forever, sleeping around etc.).

There are first of all those who are born that way.  They are born with the “gift” so to speak. Maybe it’s physical.  Maybe they for whatever reason have just never really felt the drive for marriage, maybe even for sex.  In other words there are those who have been created to live a life unmarried.

Secondly there are those who have been made that way by men.  These might be people who have never been asked to be married or have been rejected.  Maybe they’ve been physically injured or have a mental illness.

You see here’s the deal, we live in a fallen world.  I know that hurts.  But there will be some people who don’t have the gift or the calling to remain unmarried who nonetheless, because of sin, woundedness (their own, others’, the world’s) don’t get married.  There are earthly consequences to sin – both our own and others.  This is one reason we need to punt the family idol.  You could do a lot right and still not have one.  We Have To Get This.

Finally there are those who have chosen celibacy for the kingdom.  We have choice.  If we get married, we choose that.  Both marriage and celibacy are a gift and a choice.  Jesus is saying that some choose to dedicate themselves to a work that means not being married. They choose it.

One of the big problems is that we have lumped all unmarried people into one category – single.  But in the scripture there are the not married yet, the married, the divorced, the widowed and then these three – those who are unmarried because they were born with a different gift, those that are unmarried because of a fallen world, and those that are unmarried because they choose to forgo that gift and follow a different calling.

The question is of course where are you on this list.  Are you willing to hear that answer? Are we willing to walk with people to help them figure it out?

I’m not pretending to be exactly right about all of this.  But I do know we HAVE to have the conversation.

Don’t Just Wait On God

There was a man whose town was about to be flooded.  He decided not to evacuate before the water came, hoping that it wouldn’t rise near his home.  But in fact it began to rise quickly.  This man believed in God and had such great faith that when he prayed that God would save him he knew for sure that God would.

He went up on his roof and waited.  A man in a canoe came by and asked if he wanted a ride.  The man said, “No thanks.  I’m waiting on God rescue me.”  The water rose.  A man came by in a motor boat and offered assistance.  The man answered, “I appreciate it, but I’ve prayed to God, and He is going to come and get me.”  The water rose.  The man was forced to the very top of his house.  The coast guard flew over his house in a helicopter. They dropped a ladder and said this was the last time they were coming.  The man waved them off and said, “Go and rescue others.  I’m counting on God to rescue me.”

The water rose and the man was swept away and drowned.  When he got to heaven and met with God he asked, “I prayed to you,  believed in you, showed great faith, and yet you did not rescue me.  Why?”  God answered, “You came to me which was great.  I sent you warnings to evacuate, I then sent one of my people on a canoe followed by another in a motor boat.  Finally I even sent a helicopter.  And yet you refused all my help.”

You may have read a parable like this before.  I think it’s so often exactly how we live our lives.  We take our prayer list before God (which is good) but then we kind of pray and forget about it.  We don’t actually pay attention for how God would answer that prayer.  I sometimes think God must just shake his head and think, “Justin, for the love – I’m trying to help you out here kid – pay attention.” Haha.

Now obviously we have to use discernment.  Just because we pray and something happens doesn’t make it from God.  “God, I need a new car,” followed by a Porsche sighting is most likely not God telling you that’s what you need – although that would be sweet.  But we go the other way.  We pray and then go about our day.

We either think we know exactly how God will answer it (our way – arrogance) or we pray unexpectantly (not believing anything will happen – resignation).  Both can be killers as a single person looking to get married.

I’ve heard way to many people say stuff like, “God just hasn’t brought me anyone yet”, “I’ll just do what I do and if God wants to send me someone He will”, “When God is ready for me to be married He will send me someone.”  Really?!

Now if you’ve sought God and you feel like He’s told you that then great.  I don’t mean to discount those as answers that God wouldn’t give you.  But just assuming them is kind of a bad idea.  It’s a way to hide from two things.  First it’s a way to hide from disappointment with God.  He hasn’t delivered me a spouse but it’s all good, He must have a different “plan”.  Second it keeps us from dealing with our own stuff.  Waiting on God often seems to mean, “I’m not doing anything wrong – it’s just that God hasn’t sent someone yet.”  Yeah it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with me. Yikes!

Whatever the case this mostly leads to inaction on our part.  In other words, I don’t have to actually do anything – and I certainly don’t have to risk.  God will bring me the person in “HIs Time”.

Now I want to be very clear here.  I think God absolutely sends us people.  But I wonder if often we miss the message because we are either waiting for the perfect scenario that doesn’t exist, or we aren’t doing the obvious things we know to do.

We get caught swinging the pendulum back and forth reacting to our own sin on both ends.  We either try to control everything and don’t involve God or we react the other way and “leave it up to Him” without taking any action at all.  I don’t think either is very effective. Neither involves acting while interacting with God.  Which is what I think He really wants us to do – to actually walk with Him, not just wait on Him or do it without Him.  He wants us to engage.

Have you ever used “waiting on God” as a way to hide from hard stuff?  How about as a way to avoid actually dealing with Him?  Are you paying attention to who God might send to help?

The Bible Won’t Tell You Who To Marry

I sometimes wonder if I could see the whole picture of my walk with God in the area of dating if He would say, “Well Justin I tried to send you Mary but you were too focussed on Sally to hear it.”  Or maybe another time He would say, “Well I tried to send you Jill but she just didn’t listen to me.  That one wasn’t your bad.”

WIthout a doubt one of the most frustrating things about singleness is trying to listen to God in it.

I know that God speaks to us. There are so many times where He has directed me.  Of course we hear first through the Bible.  At the end of the day it’s the baseline.  Everything can be tested against it. And the great news is that the Bible can tell me a lot about marriage, and even some about singleness. But the Bible won’t tell me who to marry.  It’s not in there.  There’s no Book of Justin.  In fact it won’t even tell me if I should get married at all.  Therefore I’m going to have to actually walk with God.

It is dang hard to hear God clearly in this area of our life.

It’s hard for a variety of reasons.  For one thing, we have a lot of different emotions in all sorts of different situations.  If I’m not dating anyone I can feel desperate, discouraged or angry.  That can cause me to shut down or just choose to date whoever.  I could be dating someone and really like them even though I know in my heart it’s not right – but the more attached I am the harder it is to hear it’s not right.  I can make marriage an idol which can cause me to rush into something or to put so much pressure on everything that nothing has a chance to go anywhere.  With all those emotions floating around it’s hard to hear clearly.

We can also fall into sexual sin.  Unrepentant sin always gets in the way of hearing God clearly.  I can also want to hear Him so bad in this area that I lose focus on God altogether. It can become all that I pray about.  There have been times in my life that almost my whole prayer life centered around this stuff.

Or we can go the complete opposite direction.  To be honest I went through a time where I just flat got tired of talking to God about it.  I literally didn’t talk to Him about it at all. Basically it was like, “what’s really the point?  I’ve prayed it already.  Screw it.”

But we can’t afford to do that.  We have to engage God, we have to keep going there.  But we need to learn how to do it as a grown up.  Here are some things I think can help, or at least have helped me or others around me.

Learn to listen to God in other things that are less emotional.  If I’m not praying and listening to God to begin with hearing Him here will be even more difficult.  It’s pretty hard to hear the big stuff if I’m not listening in general

Start by being willing to hear anything.  

You have to be willing to hear the actual answer no matter what it is.  Half the reason we don’t ask God is we are afraid of the answer.  We don’t trust Him.  It’s akin to the person who says, “I don’t say God send me anywhere because I know He will send me to Africa.” The truth is if you aren’t willing to hear any answer it will be tough to hear the answer He does give.

In that way, I think it is good to start with praying about whether God is calling you to be single or married.  Again hard to hear but be willing to hear either.

Next, obey what you do know.

It’s hard to say, “God should I marry this person” and hear the answer clearly if you are sleeping with said person.  It’s like saying, “God I’m going to ignore what you FOR SURE are telling me but then try to discern what I’m not so sure you are telling me.  It will be hard to hear that I’m called to be single if I’m serial dating or looking at porn etc.  Obviously none of us live perfectly but we have to fight to obey what we do know.

Finally we need to invite others to listen with us.  I talked about this last week, but we need people who can see us and others that we date, and affirm or challenge us as need be.

God wants to lead us in this area of our life.  We have to fight to listen.