The second ingredient to being satisfied, fulfilled and content is living a life of service.
I’m writing this section four days before Christmas. Earlier today my husband and I picked up the last few Christmas presents and we feel relieved, done AND happy! We can’t wait to give these presents and see smiles on faces. There is something about giving that brings so much life, so much joy. Oh, it’s tough on the flesh sometimes. It costs money, time, energy to give and we don’t always instantly feel like paying the price, but in the end, we are so much happier than if we withheld the blessing and opted for personal comfort. I’m convinced of it, human beings were created to be givers, and when we don’t, when we succumb to selfishness, we are relieved temporarily, but become miserable long term.
One of the best stories of serving, or course, is found in the book of Ruth. We know the story: she chose to serve God and her mother in law rather than staying in Moab where she was more likely to get re-married. So she chose a life of hard labor and poverty in order to obey the stirrings of her heart. We also know the end of the story: Boaz noticed her labor of love and married her! Almost overnight, she went from being a poor widow to a wealthy land-owner and the great grandmother of King David!
I can relate to that story. After graduating from college, I felt like God wanted me to stay in my college community and serve in my church; this was and is a small, predominantly white area, full of married men and families. Not a great place for a young, hip, African American, single woman! Nevertheless, I obeyed the promptings of my heart, comforting myself that it would probably only be a year and then I could move on to bigger and better things. Well, 17 years later I was still in that community and still single! Every year, I struggled with my decision to stay. Every year I wondered if I had missed the boat and ruined any chance of ever marrying. But every year, I felt the same, annoying conviction that I was to stay put. Well, all of a sudden as I faced my 39th birthday, my future husband came walking through the doors of our church. He knew right away that I was the one and started pursuing me instantly. And guess what he found most attractive? My years of service at the church! He admired me for choosing ministry over a more typical career path and living in such a small community simply because God told me to. That more than anything caused him to sit up and take notice. And he is perfect for me in everyway. Definitely worth the wait!
My heart always resonated with Ruth and now I know why.
Let me say this, it is in the context of serving that you discover your gifts and talents. As you give – even when it hurts – you discover and eliminate possibilities. As you serve, people around you will see hints of the bigger picture and confirm thoughts and desires. If you want to find your life, then lose it; give it away, let it go.
Now, I have seen singles run themselves ragged babysitting 400 kids, teaching in Sunday school every Sunday, cooking for every sick friend and setting up chairs past midnight. This is a quick way to be miserable, simply from exhaustion and fatigue. I think singles should be available, but also prayerful about what God would have them do. People often have an agenda for our lives different from God’s. We need His wisdom, which will be confirmed in our hearts and by close friends, so that we don’t spend precious years doing good things, rather than the best things.
3. Being Connected
God places the solitary in families. Ps. 68:6.
I believe it is crucial for single people to be closely connected to families and other singles. Shortly after I started college, a church family “adopted” me into their family. They had me over for dinners, allowed me to sleep over when I was sick of dorm life and helped me to navigate through classes that challenged my faith. They also demonstrated a healthy family and a strong marriage. And they cured me of a lot of selfishness. Many times I went over to dump out my woes, only to be interrupted 50 times by their 3 year. As my world was coming to an end, their daughter needed to be disciplined, or comforted or instructed and I had to …. Wait! I soon learned that I wasn’t the center of the universe after all, which was a crucial lesson for a young, self-focused college student. Over the years, God added several others to this circle of friends and these families and singles have enriched my life tremendously; I don’t know where I’d be without them. This rich spiritual heritage more than anything else made it possible to stay in such a small community all of these years.
These people have rebuked me, comforted me, spoken the truth in love, prayed for me, fasted for me and believed in me. They’ve confirmed major decisions and provided shoulders of comfort after break-ups and deep disappointments. We’re not made to go through life alone.
I don’t believe in lone-ranger Christians. From the very beginning of time God said, “It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone” (Gen 2:18). I will discuss this further in Part III, but let me just say here, I believe this is referring to God’s plan for marriage. After all, God did not then create a best buddy, Steve, for Adam. He created a woman, a wife, EVE, for Adam! And I believe this is one of the reasons singles can feel free to storm the gates of heaven, beseeching God for a mate. I think He intends most people to be married and if we desire that, we should not grow passive or apathetic but state our case regularly, even as the persistent widow in Luke 18. However, this is not the only relationship we are meant to have. After Eve came on the scene, soon there were children, and then tribes and then communities. As human beings, we have a great capacity for relationships, both with God and with people, and we will ever be incomplete without them.
This is true for men and women. Though it is easier, in general, for women to have transparent friendships, men need them as well. If a man or woman does not have a close (same-sex) friend, a family member they spend Christmas with, a pastor they confide in, or the like, I would not advise dating them.
The man who isolates himself seeks his own desire and rages against wise judgment (Prov 18:1).
Isolated men and women are selfish (except perhaps for some shut-ins who perhaps are victims of isolation), and I would not suggest being the one and only person he/she talks to on a deep level. It takes humility to have friends, and selflessness to keep them – 2 qualities we should desire in ourselves and the one we marry.
People are social, relational creatures. We do better when we’re connected to others.
And iron still sharpens iron.
4. Having emotional and spiritual maturity
The last ingredient for contentment is emotional and spiritual maturity. The ability to communicate with people, deal with conflict, empathize, sympathize, make decisions, give selflessly without praise… All of these and more contribute to emotional and spiritual maturity. This might sound like a contradiction to #3, but the ability to be alone is also key. We should be well connected to others, but can we also handle a Friday night alone or several Friday nights alone? Do we always need distraction, noise, activity, or can we handle solitude? Can we stand being alone with our thoughts, set personal goals and fill the hours of a Saturday afternoon with worth-while activities – alone? Jesus himself spent time with the masses, time with a few and time alone. That’s a good model for us. We need those quiet hours to hear God’s voice, convicting us, instructing us, comforting us and loving us; these words go deep to our core and bring profound change.
Spiritual maturity also means the ability to fight our own battles, wage our own warfare, petition our own judge (Luke 18), travail for our own needs. Yes, we need the humility to seek a friend or a pastor when we’re struggling and ask for prayer, but we also need the ability to stand on our own two feet and help ourselves! Do we know how to speak to our own souls and encourage our own selves in the Lord?
I remember going up for prayer one Sunday after the service. As I stood there waiting for someone to come and lay hands on me and pray a voice said to me, “You should be praying for others by now, rather seeking prayer again and again.” I think that was a small rebuke from the Lord. I had been saved a long time and knew in my head how to pray, how to do warfare, how to intercede… I knew it all, but didn’t do any of it. When I felt discouraged (which was often), I instantly went for help and had inadvertently trained myself to rely on other peoples’ faith rather than my own. That was the last time I went up for prayer for many years. After that, I began to learn to talk to my soul like David, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Ps 42:5). Even if we have the best spouse and friends in the world, there will be times when no one is around and the Enemy of our soul will close in on us. At that moment, we’ll either shrink back in fear or we’ll stand our ground and win our private war.
I believe every Christian who wants an abundant life has to learn how to get his or her needs met in God. We need people, but we need God more and at the end of the day, He wants us dependent on Him alone.
For some reason, God wanted me to learn these keys to contentment and fulfillment before I got married – and so I didn’t marry until 2 weeks before my 40th birthday. (And, of course, I haven’t learned them all yet – some of these are life-long lessons!) Others get married younger and learn them along the way, in the context of their marriages. They learn as married people that they have purpose beyond being a spouse and parent, they learn how to serve, live in community and to stand on their own two feet. They learn that their husbands or wives can’t be everything to them and that their joy and contentment come from God alone. Some never learn these things and live frustrated, unfulfilled lives – regardless of whether they are single or married!
I don’t know why some people get the “marry young” script and others get the “wait” script – but I do know that God is GOOD; His ways are not our ways, but they are the BEST ways and one day, you will see the wisdom of the script He handed you.
Don’t forget to read the last on this series: Part III of Singlehood: a blessing or a curse?!
Now, having discussed the reality that a person’s life is about more than being married, I do want to make a statement that will initially seem contradictory: I believe that the longing for intimate human companionship is second only to our longing for God Himself, and most people will feel that something is missing until they find a life partner. Because of this, I believe it is God’s will for most people to be married. He created us, male and female, to be joined together with one mate for a lifetime. That’s how we’re wired.
As I mentioned earlier, during my single years (and to this day!), I had the closest friends one could want. I had married friends who invited me over for family dinners and movie nights. I had single friends with whom I had innumerable fun times. I had male friends who encouraged me and gave me brotherly advice and support. I had surrogate fathers and uncles, nieces and nephews, spiritual mothers and grandmothers … But none of these relationships filled the husband-shaped void in my life. The kind of physical intimacy, emotional vulnerability, and spiritual unity that I now finally enjoy with my husband, can be shared with no other. My husband loves me unconditionally, he supports my dreams and has truck loads of patience. He’s never jealous of me or catty and he’s not threatened by my successes. I can say anything to him. He’s not God and he like any other human being has selfish moments and at times succumbs to his flesh, but our commitment to each other was sealed by blood on our wedding night and we wear rings as a sign of a divine covenant.
I am not minimizing the role of friends in my life. I don’t know what I’d do without my girlfriends! I have so much fun with them, gain so much wisdom from them and I love them as sisters. But I am not one with them. I am committed to many of them for life but we have not publicly made vows or exchanged rings to symbolize our union. I cry with them, laugh with them and love them deeply, but we will never create a child together.
Why am I saying all of this? To depress you? NO; to give you HOPE! The longings you have are NATURAL, they are GOD-GIVEN. They are not to be denied, buried, despised, shunned or rejected. You cannot shake those stirrings in your soul. Don’t let anyone tell you that perhaps you have the “gift of singlehood.” I don’t believe there is any such thing! God might want you single right now (to teach you some of the things I’ve spoken of, or to develop other aspects of your life), but if you feel those relentless longings, God will fulfill them.
I’ve seen too many single people give up in despair – and it’s easy to do! It’s easy to look out on the landscape of single adults and see such slim pickin’s that you throw up your hands and say, “Forget it!” But since when is our faith based on what we see? Is not God able to create something out of nothing? Is not He able to speak to the void and say, “Let there be…”? Is not our faith all about the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things UNSEEN? If God can cause Sarah, a 90 year old woman to conceive, or Mary, a 14 year old virgin to give birth, can He not bring you a mate? Is anything too hard for God?
I know the statistics. I’ve read them, rehearsed them and cried over them. I know the ratio of single women to single men in church. I know the likelihood of getting married after 40. I know how many black men are in jail and how many men of all colors are gay. I know that most 40 year old single men are divorced and many are looking for younger, cuter women.
These are the facts. But since when is the God of the Universe bound by facts? Is your case the first one in history that leaves God wringing His hands in hopeless dismay? Do you think He shakes His head when He looks down and sees you in a kind of weary perplexity? How big is your God?
If you’ve come to the place where you’ve decided you’ll never marry, is this because God has spoken this to you and you’ve come to a place of peaceful contentment, or is it because you’ve given up? I am foolish enough to take Psalm 37 literally. If we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts. If your desires for a mate have been tried, tested and still abide, just as strong and relentless as ever, don’t assume a martyr’s complex and decide that all those promises in Scripture must not apply to you. Claim them, yet again, as your own. And then, having done all, stand and see the wonders of God.
Jesus taught the parable of the persistent widow so that we might pray and NOT lose heart (Luke 18). Sometimes we have to persist in prayer to the point of weariness. And then when we’re too tired to pray, we need good friends to pray for us. But you cannot pray if you are double-minded. God desires TRUTH in our inward parts and you first have to tell yourself the truth an then confess it to God. You want, what humanity has wanted since the beginning of time: lifelong, intimate companionship. Don’t let anyone convince you that you that this is unspiritual or that you should stop persisting, stop knocking and stop requesting.
I won’t lie to you; I think there’s some serious problems in our culture. Many men and some women are too reluctant to marry and both are getting sexual and emotional needs met through temporary relationship and illicit means. Spiritual needs are buried and forgotten. This makes it very difficult for those who are holding out for the best. So it won’t be easy. Perhaps we’ll need to fast, pray and do spiritual warfare. Perhaps we’ll need to ask friends to stop pestering us about being single and hold our arms up prayer when we’re tired. But God is never bound by cultural trends. He is always able to bring forth beauty from ashes and he delights to prove Himself faithful -in any situation.
If you are content being single, great! But if you are not, take the horns of the altar and don’t let go until you see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13).
Sometimes people ask me about my “list” – that is the list of traits I began to look for in the man I wanted to marry. As I shared in article, “Christian Dating,” I realized after break-up #3 that I had made the same error again and again: I had settled for a man who didn’t really love me and didn’t possess the qualities I valued anyway. God showed me that my standards were too low and I hadn’t valued myself enough to say No to dates with men who raised red flags. Indeed, the only thing I wanted to know is if they liked me, and if they did, I went out with them subconsciously assuming that I didn’t deserve something more, someone better. Simply being noticed and liked in a non-committal, casual way was enough for me to throw heart my into the hands of a man who didn’t want it and didn’t deserve it.
So I share my list below NOT so that you will carbon copy it as your own (you may value different things – and that’s great!), but so that you will begin to think about what YOU want in a man. Our current culture does not value high standards. There is a cynicism that “all men are dogs,”or “any man is better than no man”and as Christians, we have to stand opposed to such thinking and raise a Godly standard. There ARE good men out there – and having NO man is better than having the WRONG man! You can experience more fulfillment and more vitality single than you will dating the wrong person. But what will the right man look like for you? Will you know him when you see him? Are you only looking for superficial, shallow qualities? Or will you only go out with Mr. Perfect (that is, the reincarnation of Jesus, Himself)? Your man will not be perfect, so what will you settle for and what will you demand?
As I stated in the Dating piece, when Marvin and I were just friends, I measured him against this list and found that he had all 18 characteristics, plus many things I didn’t even think of! By the time we went out on our first date, I knew he was the One. I knew his heart before I ever kissed him and respected him before we even held hands. Knowing him preceded romance and that made all the difference.
A Man Worth Waiting For:
1. Generous and kind, big hearted. Generous with his words, money and time.
I had dated one guy in particular who always wanted to “go Dutch”; we’d split the bill. I remember feeling common and a bit like I was doing him a favor by going out with him. He was tight with his money – when it came to spending it on me, anyway. At first, I gave him the benefit of the doubt because he was a grad student, but then I saw him freely spending money on himself. This was one of the many ways I realized he didn’t really love me – as there was little practical sacrifice on his part. Love gives. He also tightly guarded his time – meting out little bits to me here and there, like throwing a bone to a dog. And he rarely opened his heart to me. He rarely offered, freely, on his own, “You’re beautiful,”or “I really like you.”I had to squeeze such sentiments out of him. And the rest of the time, he held his cards closely to his chest.
This trait created so much unhappiness and turmoil in my heart that I finally realized what I really wanted was the opposite. It also occurred to me that this was one of the positive traits my deceased father possessed. I spent a lot of years judging him for his faults and then, largely because of the men I dated, I saw that all the bad aside, he had a big heart. He was different from my boyfriends. He laughed big, wept openly and gave bear hugs and sloppy kisses. He was bad with money, but when he had it, he spent it generously on us. I missed that giving spirit and wanted it in my husband. So this trait easily claimed first place and became the sine quo non of the next man I dated (without which, nothing).
2. Has kind parents who love me and would welcome me into their family.
Since my father and all my grandparents had died, and all that remained was my sister, her family and my mom, I had wistful thoughts of warm, cheerful Christmases with the in-laws and experiencing from my husband’s father something of the paternal affection I earnestly missed and longed for. My family is so small and I always wanted to taste the “big family”experience, with aunties and babies and even a wise, old granddad. In truth, what I lack in natural family, God has more than made up for in church family. I am rich with extraordinary friends. Nonetheless, the longing for blood family gatherings remained and I took a risk and put this on my list. This is one of the traits I would be willing to do without, but it couldn’t hurt to make my requests known to God and see if He might grant me this desire too.
3. Humble and teachable. Able to say “I’m sorry.”Wants to learn from others.
4. Has good relationships in his life: male mentors, close male friends, family.
Numbers three and four both reveal a humble heart: one that is open, accessible and soft. For some reason, in my earlier years I had been attracted to the “strong, silent type”; I think I had associated this with discipline and in reaction to my father’s undisciplined nature had determined that the best match for me would be a lean army general with a strict budget and life-style. It took being burned by a few such men for me to realize a softer, gentler man would be better for me. When we were just friends, I suggested that Marvin seek a male mentor and even though he resisted at first (West Indian men don’t spill their guts to other men, he said), he soon saw the value of it and sought one out; that man helped Marvin tremendously during our courtship and was his best man at our wedding! He also has male “buddies”that he likes to hang out with and I appreciate that. I didn’t then and don’t now want to be his only friend or the only one with whom he was transparent and he sees the value of that, too.
He also said he was sorry with such ease that on many occasions I shook my head astounded by his emotional maturity and security. I wondered that such men existed and my respect for him grew exponentially.
5. Has a good work ethic. Not lazy. Respected at his job by his boss and colleagues.
My last boyfriend before Marvin hated his job, got fired and collected unemployment for months. And I learned the same thing from him that I had learned from my father: men who hate their jobs are miserable to be around. I realized that I didn’t just want a provider, I wanted a career man: one who found his niche, loved his job, worked hard and made himself invaluable in his field. It wasn’t really about his paycheck (although, realistically, I wanted it to be enough to support a family…), but it was more about his joy level at work, his sense of accomplishment. I wanted someone with a job I would be proud of, one that helped people and carried a bit of clout. (Again, I am sure some of this came from having a childhood marred by embarrassment about my father’s odd, minimum wage jobs.)
So listening to Marvin talk about his breast cancer research and his expertise in his particular field (he is a scientist), my heart swelled with pride and one more piece of the puzzle slid neatly into place.
6. Disciplined, but not legalistic. (Not uptight and bound up.)
7. Has high moral standards.
Both six and seven speak to the same chamber of the heart. I wanted a man of principle, but not that strict army general I talked about. So when I discovered that Marvin was (and is) an early riser who cooked nutritious meals (rather than frequenting fast-food joints like a lot of bachelors I had known) and had a savings account and had slightly old-fashioned views about how men and women should behave together, my heart sang. He too didn’t believe in married people having one-on-one friendships with people of the opposite sex. He cut off cable TV as a newly saved, single man to guard his eyes and heart from the barrage of sexual images. He was always faithful to girlfriends and is actually more turned off than turned on by breast exposing tops and easy women. Yes, I discovered these things when we were just friends and these traits and others caused me to fall in love with him deeply.
8. Committed to keeping our dating relationship pure. No hang-ups about sex. Open and honest about it. Not lustful; though he may notice other attractive women, he helps me to know that I am the “apple of his eye.”No wondering eyes.
I dated a couple of guys who expected me to do all the work of keeping things on the straight and narrow, and I wanted a man who would do some of the work, too — indeed, who would actually take the lead in this area. I also had the putrid experience of being with guys who snuck glances at other women when they thought I wasn’t looking. And on the other hand, I had boyfriends who were so worried about lust that they practically relegated sex to sinful, but necessary behavior to indulge in every once in a while with one’s prudish, sexless wife. Yuck! I wanted a man who wanted me (yep, sexually), who had eyes only for me and yet waited for me.
I looked at Marvin with disbelief when he told me he didn’t even notice my body until we started dating. When we were just friends, he would not let himself look below my neck. He knew it wasn’t time to “go there”; so he didn’t. When we were dating, we established boundaries — and he did a better job than I in keeping them! And when we were engaged, we freely and honestly talked about sex; we both looked forward to it and often prayed about it together.
9. Spiritual leader. Reads his Bible, knows how to get the Rhema word of God, has a regular prayer life – wants to pray with me and read the Word together. Takes the lead in spiritual matters with me. Prophetic and intuitive. Calls me higher, encourages me to trust God. Has something to give spiritually.
I didn’t just want a church goer, or a guy who spoke Christian-eeze, but someone with a real relationship with the Lord. Someone who heard from God and had insights and revelation and got me thinking about deep stuff. There are so many shallow Christians out there and I didn’t want to marry one! I didn’t want a ball and chain around my ankles, but rather wind in my spiritual sails: someone who would run this race of faith with me, neck in neck, rather than lagging behind, sluggish and unmotivated.
10. Straight-forward personality: “black and white”- not overly analytical. Sees it and does it! Assertive: knows what he wants and goes after it!
I had dated plenty of indecisive men. They liked me, but didn’t know if they loved me or wanted to marry me. They liked their jobs, but didn’t know if they wanted to keep them. They liked their home, but constantly thought about moving. No stability. I had heard of men who when they saw their future wives for the first time, knew that they were going to marry them; that’s what I wanted! No hemming and hawing, no weighing and waiting. I wanted my man to see the prize and run after it, without compunction. And that’s exactly what I got.
11. Dynamic and personable. Easy to talk to. Comfortable around people, not awkward. People person – not a recluse.
I’m a social person and I wanted a man with whom I could go to parties and barbecues and he’d fit in, be comfortable and just a regular guy: someone who would laugh with my friends and put them at ease. No geeks, recluses or introverts. (In truth, Marvin is a bit of a geek, he likes to be alone and he’s more private than I am, but he also has a social side and can handle himself very well around people.)
12. Secure and mature. Encourages me to “go for it!”Not threatened by me being in the public eye or in leadership positions.
Being a woman in ministry is challenging! The church is still a man’s world and many men don’t think women should even be in the pulpit. However, God made it clear to me that He’s called me to be a teacher and to be in the public arena. My husband would have to not only deal with that, but like it and encourage me in it.
13. Physically bigger than me, taller, broad, healthy, in good shape.
I like wearing heels, I like dancing and I like hugging. All three are easier with taller men. I also like guys who are someone athletic and who would go biking and walking with me. I’d be willing to do without such things, but since they were my only physical stipulations, I didn’t feel too greedy asking for them!
14. Marriage and family: takes marriage seriously. Wants to marry and is ready for its responsibilities and commitment. Open to adoption.
Many men have no desire to adopt children; they want to have their own, or none at all, but have closed hearts when it comes to adopting someone else’s kid. Before we started dating, Marvin and I went to a fundraiser at a children’s home. As we looked at a video on foster children, Marvin casually said, “I’d like to adopt someday…”I took note!
15. Financially stable: has a good job and vision for his life, ministry and future in general. Not floundering. He likes his job; and has a sense of purpose and calling.
16. A romantic (Enjoys romantic things like good food, wine, music, dancing, walking, talking, giving flowers, etc.).
So many Christians are tea-totalers, and yet I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Somehow, it didn’t seem romantic to go to an expensive restaurant and order wine while my date asked for orange juice! I also know men who don’t notice their wife’s perfume and others who think flowers are a waste of money. Nope, I wanted it all. Life is too short to be so practical!
17. A gentleman.
The first time Marvin and I took a walk together, he insisted on walking on the outside, next to the traffic. He apologized for his old fashioned nature but wouldn’t hear of it any other way. He also held doors, picked me up at home and paid for dinner. AND YET, he loved my mind, respected me as an equal and never patronized me. Wow.
18. Has good manners but is down to earth; can mix with the high and the low.
My father taught me to hate pretense. And so, I wanted my husband to be able to relate to blue collar, white collar and no collar men. I have both rich and poor friends and can easily go from one side of the tracks to another, and I wanted my husband to be able to do the same.
Most people have no idea that Marvin has a PhD, because he’s so down-to-earth, humble and, well, normal!
So, there’s my list. Again, you may value different things, but the important thing is that you have values! What are YOUR standards? If you are younger, you may have to look more at a guy’s potential, than what he actually already has, but there should be some hard evidence too! Maybe you’re in college and the guy you have your eye on doesn’t have a savings account. No problem, but is he wise with money? Does he blow every extra cent on toys? If so, is he open to change or will that be a constant source of tension? Maybe you’re in your twenties and your guy hasn’t found the ideal job yet. That’s ok, but does he have goals and desires. Is he working towards SOMEthing, or is he apathetic, content with earning barely enough and passion-less? If your guy has dabbled in pornography, has he repented, asked a mentor for accountability and removed any source of temptation from his life, or does he still toe the line and play with fire?
Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect man, but what is his HEART like? Is it teachable, pliable and soft or is it proud, obstinate and closed?
This Scripture guided me and became a source of confirmation that Marvin was the One:
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).
In truth, you should ultimately be physically attracted to the guy you marry. But the most important thing, the thing to examine and probe, is his heart.
“A woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?'”(Matt 26:7-8)
Have you ever wondered if your life is being wasted? Perhaps a voice inside taunts you, “You’re wasting your life!”Or people around you scorn, “What a waste!”
It can happen for any number of reasons:
You have a college degree and choose to leave your high paying job for the mission field. Your relatives respond, “Why this waste?”
You break up with a boyfriend after dating him for years, simply because you think God is telling you to. Your coworkers don’t understand and comment, “What a waste!”
You’re attractive and could easily snag a man for a little fun, but instead you consecrate your life to the Lord and hold out for the Best. Your worldly-wise sister teases, “Man, what a waste!”
You decide to spend your Saturdays serving at a homeless shelter, rather than taking classes for an advanced degree. Your peers see only the money you could be making. But your heart is not in a master’s program; it’s with the poor. They don’t understand it, but you feel tremendous joy when you’re there. Why this waste?
You’re a talented musician, but instead of pursuing a career in the rat-race music world, you serve as a worship leader in your small, unimpressive church. What a waste!
Instead of enjoying an early retirement and buying a sleek two-seater, you start taking in foster children, even after your own children are grown and gone. What a waste!
Instead of retiring to the beach, you sell all and become full time missionaries in a remote village with NONE of the comforts of home. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Waste!
It’s funny, if you spend your 20’s and 30’s in prodigal living, this is not a waste as long as you make money and land dates. But if you spend those years serving the Lord, impacting lives, but making little money and staying celibate, THIS is a waste!
When the woman in Matthew 26 poured the expensive perfume on Jesus, Jesus didn’t think it was a waste; he thought it was a beautiful thing and he said that she would be remembered and respected for it (while perhaps some of her critics would be forgotten…).
Are you wasting your life on Jesus?
Initially, many of the things God calls us to do seem like a waste. But is it waste or is it worship? Worship is giving ourselves lavishly to the Lord. Loving Him with abandon. Pouring, giving, wasting… Worship is never budgeted, rationed or reigned in. That’s why it’s messy sometimes (like pouring perfume all over the place!). The world and even other Christians might say you’re wasting your life, your resources, your youth… But really, you’re just worshiping. You’re pouring out your life as a fragrant offering to he King of the Universe. It’s really not that strange.
I can relate to the Matthew 26 woman. As I’ve shared before, when I graduated from Dartmouth College 18 years ago, I felt the Lord tugging on my heart to stay in my college town and serve at my church. What a waste! I was tall, young and talented and I stowed away in a little New England community for my entire young adult life – initially as a church secretary! I did it because like Ruth of old I followed my heart, rather than my head. Most of the time, my head was like a child being dragged, kicking and screaming in submission; it wasn’t pretty, but the end result was a life yielded to the Lord. This honored Him and ultimately blessed me beyond comprehension! (It was in this little, ummm, boring community that my husband came along, my purpose crystallized and the desires of my heart were fulfilled.) Believe me, my husband is quite blessed that I wasted my 20’s and 30’s on serving the Lord rather than loose living!
But along the way, I heard from every possible source: you’re wasting your life. Strangers in supermarkets, college professors, pastors, saved and unsaved friends. At one point or another about 90% of the people with whom I interacted thought I was pouring my life onto barren soil.
Only Jesus knows the big picture. His ways are not our ways and His wisdom appears foolish. From the beginning of time, God has asked His people to trod unique paths and do unusual things. You’re no exception. God doesn’t change. If He hasn’t already, He will indeed soon ask you to choose the road less traveled and look the fool: in a job choice, relationship, financial decision or the way you spend your time… Follow Him, knowing that in the end you too will be respected and your critics humbled.
“His sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:4-5).
I love the story of Hannah and Samuel. We see the heart of a woman laboring under the weight of an intense, unfulfilled desire to have a son. She’s honest with God and others about the vacancy in her heart and in the end we see that a longing fulfilled is indeed a tree of life. But we also see the fight of faith she had to engage in. We witness her turmoil as three distinct voices try to discourage and defeat her before she receives her prized son.
Voice #1: The Mocking Voice. Hannah’s husband, Elkhana, actually had two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. Elkhana loved Hannah the most but she was barren. Peniniah, on the other hand, was a Fertile Myrtle; she had gobs of children! Now, in those days, women obtained much of their sense of self worth from the number of sons they bore. So even though Elkhana loved Hannah more and demonstrated it to her, she could not help but feel second-rate and inferior. And Peniniah loved to rub her nose in it.
“So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same-Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle” (I Sam 1:6-7).
And how did Hannah respond? “Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat” (vs. 7).
Women then were not so different from women now. How would you like it if you were barren and in response, your husband married another woman to bear his children? Polygamy was never God’s best and just as it would cause jealousy and strife in a family now, it did then, too. Wives are meant to be cherished exclusive of anyone else and the marriage covenant is to be honored even above having children. But polygamy was so prevalent at the time, even Godly men succumbed to it.
Anyway, I am sure Hannah prayed earnestly month after month that she would conceive – with no results. But all the while, she could hear Peninnah’s voice mocking her: Your husband doesn’t really love you. How could he? You’ve given him no sons! He loves me more. Or God has left you; he doesn’t hear you! There’s something wrong with you. All the other women have children and you have none!
I remember a similar voice, not of a person, but of the Enemy, taunting me as I watched friend after friend get married and I remained single: There’s something wrong with you – deeply wrong. You must have some major defect because no body will marry you. Those promises work for others, but they won’t work for you. You’re a special case. You will always be the 5th wheel. You will never be the bride.
The purpose of this mocking voice is to get us to give in to a spirit of self-pity, to become discouraged, give up and to feel rejected by God. If the devil has his way, you will build a wall between you and God and withdraw part of your heart from him. You may still go to church, read your bible and pray, but a part of your heart will be closed off, wounded and dark. You will feel inferior and unworthy and you will conclude that prayer really doesn’t work for you – at least in the areas that really matter.
Notice that Peninnah taunted Hannah the most on the way to Tabernacle! Does the Devil bother you the most when you’re on the way to church – or talking to church people? God’s people can be incredibly insensitive and we have to develop a thick skin to deflect some of the comments that come out of people’s mouths.
Has a Mocking Voice been droning in your ears, trying to weaken you and get you to stop pressing into God’s promises? The Devil loves to taunt us and parade before our eyes all the reasons why not: why God’s promises are not for us – and yet they are for everyone else. In the end, we can feel forgotten.
But hear this Voice! “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) This is the Voice of God, reminding you and reminding me that God hasn’t forgotten us! Sometimes when I am nursing my son, I can’t take my eyes off him. He is so lovely and peaceful when he’s latched on, gulping down sustenance. He often just falls asleep there. Those times are precious and I will miss them when he is weaned. Thoughts of forgetting him or neglecting him are absurd. He is my flesh and blood and I would kill – and die – for him. And yet God humbles me and says, “You could actually forget him BUT I will NEVER forget you!”
This is the picture God uses when trying to convey his relentless love for us. He is our El Shaddai – the Breasty One who nourishes us and supplies all of our needs. He hasn’t forgotten you – no matter how long you’ve been contending for His promises. He hears and He will supply.
The second voice Hannah heard was the Voice of Good Enough. And it came through her husband:
“Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (vs 8).
When we are praying earnestly for something we care deeply about, there will always be somebody who will tell us to just be content with what we have. Now, aren’t we supposed to be content in all things? Yes. Paul said he could be content whether rich or poor, full or hungry. So yes, we need to enjoy life, be grateful and find God’s peace even before the answer comes. But that does mean that we should deny our desires and pretend everything is ok. Scripture says that a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. That means God expects us to have longings!
If there’s a deep desire in your heart that has lingered and lingered, don’t settle for second best. Don’t put on a smiley religious face and smugly say, “Well, God is good; I don’t really need that anyway…” God is good, but be honest with yourself and honest with him! If you’re contending for a financial breakthrough, there will always be people who say, “You know, compared to Africa, America is rich!” That may be true, but God also called us to get out of debt, be generous and leave an inheritance for our children’s children! That means it is not God’s best to live pay check to pay check. That means we are supposed to have more money then we actually need month to month. So don’t settle for the “Barely Getting By” club! God has better.
This message of Good Enough came from Hannah’s husband who loved her. Similarly, the Voice of Good Enough often comes through those who know us the best – partly because they’re tired of hearing us bellyache about whatever it is we’re waiting for. They also want us to be happy and in a desperate attempt to see a smile on our face, they will actually encourage us to deny our desires and settle.
Don’t let these dear people lull you to sleep. Don’t let them entice you into letting go of the promise. Keep holding on – even if they are tired of seeing you struggle.
If you’re single, yes, find God’s contentment and peace, but if you feel in your heart that you are meant to be married, don’t settle for anything less! Don’t settle down in the Land of Good Enough. Keep pressing in until you dwell in the Land of God’s Best!
The last voice is the Voice of Judgment. And it came through Eli – the priest! “Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!” (vs 13-14)
Basically, he accused her of being in the flesh; of being excessive, needy – even sinful. He wants her to be stoic and unemotional about her prayers. But Hannah says,
“I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” (vs. 1-16)
When was the last time you prayed out of great anguish and grief? When have you wept before the Lord, revealing your deepest feelings to him?
Remember, the Persistent Widow knocked and knocked and knocked until the judge opened the door. She wasn’t stoic about it and she wasn’t passive. She was a pain in the butt – but she got results! Bear your soul before the Lord – no matter how ugly or unseemly it is. And don’t let anyone stop you.
Hannah got results. God heard her cries and He opened her womb – 6 times!
Remember, YOU are the one who has the most authority to lay hold of God’s promises for YOU! We can sometimes think that we have to get prayer from someone more spiritual than us – and sometimes it IS good to get people praying and receive strength and encouragement from brothers and sisters. But in the end, YOU can stand before God, bare your heart and see His goodness in the Land of the Living. Just keep listening to the Voice of the Good Shepherd. THAT voice and that voice alone will speak truth, encouragement and hope.