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SEEING SINGLENESS FROM GOD'S POINT OF VIEW
CHARLES SIMEON was a pastor in Cambridge, England. For over fifty years, he faithfully served God in this university town and was used by Him to create an environment wherein people could grow. As a result, many from his church were thrust into ministry.
A number of years ago, I heard a series of lectures by Gordon McDonald on the life of Charles Simeon. As a single man at that time, I was struck by Simeon's words:
I should hate the university above all places if I were a married man. I shall never marry. In my present state, I am quite a rich man and almost as free from care as an angel. Had I married, I would have had to resign my fellowship and with it my usefulness. I have never felt it a great sacrifice but have appreciated the opportunity to invest in men.
While I did greatly benefit from my own longer season of singleness, I could never fully identify with Simeon's words. Yet they were helpful along with the examples of other godly single men and women who were clearly taking advantage of the practical benefits of their single status.
First Corinthians 7 is a special chapter of Scripture. If it were the only portion of Scripture we considered in relation to marriage, we might come to some wrong conclusions. On the other hand, if we ignore its contribution, we will clearly miss an important part of God's message on this subject.
On three occasions in 1 Corinthians 7 the goodness of singleness is affirmed (verses 1, 8, 26). This is the balancing truth to the general principle that it is "not good" for man to be alone—and thus, the provision of marriage (Genesis 2:18). God, therefore, sees the single state as one of special opportunity because a person's life can be less encumbered with the responsibility of pleasing his or her mate (1 Corinthians 7:32–34) and in this sense more available to the Lord.
A married person cannot function as if he were single. He cannot or at least should not ignore his family responsibilities in order to be available to everybody who needs to be visited or counseled. In this way a person who has no spouse or children can play a more involved role in the life of the church.
The teaching of 1 Corinthians 7 is needed in order to give balance to the subject of marriage. Usually people do not need to be exhorted about the benefits of marriage. This is somewhat innate to the way God has made every person. Making the most of one's time of singleness is the best preparation for marriage in the will of God. Even 1 Corinthians 7 is not attempting to restrain a person from marriage but rather to promote the opportunity in singleness to devote oneself to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).
While I was going through graduate school to prepare for ministry, it was obvious to me that God did not want me to pursue marriage. In my first week of graduate school, my attention was drawn to Proverbs 24:27, which we will look deeper at in chapter 3. While I was resting in the truth that I was now in a preparatory time that allowed my singleness to be an advantage, I continuously needed this conviction reinforced. The joys and privileges of marriage were obvious, and I was also being reminded that ministries often prefer their positions to be filled with married men. I had to "fight" to rest in the benefits of my present state.
I devoted a day to studying 1 Corinthians 7 in order to realize afresh the advantage of my singleness. After a time of study I took a walk and was praying through portions of this chapter. I quoted 1 Corinthians 7:32–35:
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is seemly and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
As I was walking down Swiss Avenue in Dallas and quoting these verses, I looked up at the beautiful sky and pondered the awesome privilege of being able to enjoy undistracted devotion to the Lord who created the universe. This gift is given to all for a period of time and to some for a lifetime.
I later returned to my dorm room and discovered a note from a young lady whom I had noticed that summer. She was asking if I would be willing to take her to the airport. Her godliness and beauty had caught my eye, and I was willing! Momentarily, my meditation of 1 Corinthians 7 was forgotten.
That evening I was a little restless, so I got up to seek the Lord. I had been studying Proverbs and was on chapter 5 of this book of wisdom. I was struck by Proverbs 5:18, which encourages the married man to "rejoice in the wife of [his] youth." I made no connection of this verse to the lovely girl that I would take to the airport the next morning, and after that I would never have any further contact with her. I did, however, make a connection with it to my meditation of 1 Corinthians 7, which led me into a time of worship.
I worshipped God for His beautiful plan. He says that singleness is good and has many spiritual advantages. To affirm the goodness and advantage of singleness is not to deprecate marriage. He also says that marriage is good, and when God gives it, it is to be enjoyed to its fullness. To affirm the goodness of marriage is not to belittle the exalted state of singleness. I worshipped God that whatever His will was for me in this matter—to be single or married—it was good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:2).CHAPTER 2
WAITING ON GOD FOR A MATE
THE COUNSEL that is given in 1 Corinthians 7:27 is to not "seek" to change one's marital status. However, it is also obvious that it is God's will to change many people's status from singleness to marriage, because marriage is indeed His creation (Genesis 2:18–25).
In seeking the Lord, a believer who is single desires not merely to be married but to marry with the full blessing of God. Author Tim Kimmel illustrated entering into the marriage covenant without thinking through what this commitment fully means:
Minister: "Do you take this woman with all her immaturity, self-centeredness, nagging, tears, and tensions to be your wife—forever?"
The dumb ox, temporarily hypnotized by the prospect of being able to sleep with her every night mumbles, "I do."
Then the preacher asks the starry-eyed bride who is all of twenty, "Do you take this man with all of his lusts, moods, indifference, immaturity, and lack of discipline to be your husband—forever?"
She thinks that "forever" means all of next week, because she has never experienced one month of tediousness, responsibility, or denial of her wishes, so she chirps, "I do," in the thought that now she has become a woman.
Then the patient minister parrots, "By authority committed unto me as a minister of Christ, I pronounce you man and wife...."
As he does he prays a silent prayer for forgiveness, for he knows he lies. They are not now husband and wife and he knows that few of them will ever be. They are now legally permitted to breed, fuss, spend each other's money and be held responsible for each other's bills. It is now legal for them to destroy each other, so long as they don't do it with a gun or club. And the minister goes home wondering if there isn't a more honest way to earn a living.
In my graduate school years, I ran across a book called Silhouettes by Helen Kooiman. Each chapter tells the story of a woman behind a notable man of God. For example there was a chapter on the mother of Billy Graham, the mother of Bill Bright, and chapters on the wives of such men as Edward Hill and Arthur DeMoss. The chapter that struck me more than any other was the one about Heather Olford, the wife of Dr. Stephen Olford.
I could identify with Dr. Olford's entering the public ministry as a single man. He sought God for wisdom as to how to approach the whole issue of relationships and marriage in a way that maintained his Christian testimony in the midst of his demanding ministry. After doing an in-depth study of the subject, God impressed him with Jesus' reference to Genesis 2 when He was questioned about the whole matter of marriage and divorce (Matthew 19:3–6).
Dr. Olford discovered from Genesis 2 that God's concern is greater than ours in this matter. Adam did not have the ability to analyze what he was missing or what he needed, for he had never seen a woman. It was God who analyzed the need in Adam's life for a suitable companion.
The Lord not only explained to Adam what he needed but also provided the woman to meet his need and fulfill His plan. In Dr. Olford's words:
When God explained to Adam what was lacking in his life, he must have acquiesced to God's will, or else God would never have imposed a woman on his life, for to have done so against Adam's will would have been an immoral act. God caused a deep sleep to come upon him, and Adam was prepared to rest in the will of God until God awakened him to the right partner. Only while Adam was asleep in the will of God could God create the woman that was suitable for him in every respect.
Then, of course, there was the awakening—God's consummation of the love, courtship and marriage, as it were. When Adam awakened, the woman that God brought him matched him perfectly. There was an affinity of spirit, soul, body, for they had met in God.
As far as I was concerned, this revolutionized my thinking. Having seen this truth, I decided I was not going to do any kind of exploring to find a wife; I was going to sleep in the will of God. And the amazing thing is that when you sleep in God's will, He puts a protection around you. Many young women could have broken into my life between the ages of twenty-five and thirty, but they were held off while I did the job God wanted me to do.
The remainder of the chapter explains how in the midst of his ministry he met lovely Heather Brown, who was also involved in ministry and pursuing God's will for her life. God not only enabled them to be acquainted through several mutual ministry opportunities together but also provided a providential meeting. Dr. Olford was recuperating in Ireland from an illness and preparing himself for a ministry in Belfast. During this exact time, Heather was returning to her home in Ireland from a time of ministry.
Heather's sister, Lilian, asked Stephen to join her family for a trip to the Belfast docks. That morning he had read Proverbs 18:22 in his devotions: "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." Before the convention began where Stephen was to speak, the Brown family planned a day's outing to the beach. For a variety of reasons, only Stephen and Heather were able to go. As they were driving through the beautiful countryside, he began to share his heart about his plans and directions for ministry that God had given him. Then Heather poured out her desires, burdens, and yearning to serve Christ through her music. Suddenly Stephen pulled to the side of the road and stopped the car. In his words: "The jigsaw puzzle so perfectly matched that it was not funny. We bowed our heads, I found myself praying that God would guide our lives. As I prayed I thanked Him for Heather, for giving her to me, and accepted her by faith, so that I really proposed to her in my prayers. She followed with a prayer and did exactly the same thing. And when she finished, for the first time in five years I kissed a girl, and we were engaged at that very moment."
What on the surface may seem impulsive is really the fruit of a life of godly restraint and waiting on God for His timing and provision.CHAPTER 3
FINDING GOD'S PROVISION ON THE OTHER SIDE OF A TEMPTATION
A DEAR FRIEND, Michael, requested to introduce our wedding by relating to the wedding guests how God had led Penny and me to marry. The process of our relationship is something that he had prayerfully and compassionately observed. I had never heard of such a request to do a "prologue" to a wedding, but I did consent. I even gave him my personal diary that I kept in the close to seven years of the relationship. With his masterful skill as a storyteller, he communicated the story on that crisp November day in 1988. I am humbled by it and how God has used it to encourage others. We have repeatedly been encouraged to put our story in written form over the past fifteen years. The following pages are an effort to obey these promptings.
BIRTH, SALVATION, COLLEGE YEARS, CALL TO MINISTRY
I was "born" in Montgomery, Alabama in 1952 and "born again" in the same city when Billy Graham came to Crampton Bowl thirteen years later. My growth as a Christian was limited in the next years, but God did prompt me to read His Word.
After joining the Air Force Reserve and serving six months active duty, I attended Auburn University but did not know the Lord well enough to allow Him to form my ambitions and plans. There I decided to study business and was met with outward success of making the Dean's List, joining a good social fraternity, and being elected president at the School of Business as a freshman. Such outward success did not quench the thirsts of my heart. I knew that inwardly I was full of fears and anxieties and was not living for Christ and did not even know how to do so.
In December of 1971, I wandered into Buster's room, a fellow fraternity brother. He was the most unusual person in the fraternity. He not only was a Christian, but his express purpose for joining the fraternity was to lead people to Christ. Up to this point in my life I had never met a Christian who took a stand for Christ in an environment where it was not at all popular to do so. Buster's roommate was moving out and so was mine. I requested to room with him, and God used this relationship to draw me into a full surrender of my life to the Lord. This surrender eventually led to a complete change of plans. While I finished my degree in business, I sensed God's clear call into vocational ministry.
SEMINARY AND PROVERBS 24:27
While I wanted to go into ministry immediately, older and wiser men as well as my loving parents counseled me to get training. After working in a local church, I attended Dallas Theological Seminary. In my first week of classes God spoke to me from His Word in my personal devotions. He used Proverbs 24:27 to give me some direction for the next years:
Prepare your work outside
And make it ready for yourself in the field;
Afterwards, then, build your house.
In the book of Proverbs to "build a house" refers to marrying and rearing a family. This verse says that this is preceded by a preparatory time. I deeply sensed that I was to not focus on marriage at this time but instead consider my schooling as years of undistracted preparation. I did not realize that schooling would last as long as it did. After finishing four years of graduate school that led to a master's of theology, I was encouraged to enter the doctoral program, which lasted two additional years in Dallas, and I spent two more years writing my dissertation in Chicago. The Lord used those seminary years to guide me to pursue a teaching ministry, and in 1980 He graciously opened the door for me to teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
EARLY YEARS IN CHICAGO
When I arrived in Chicago I reminded God of Proverbs 24:27. According to my timetable it was time to "build my house." The transition from living in a graduate school dorm with numerous colleagues and companions to living by myself in a large high-rise apartment was quite lonely. It was an adjustment when I first began to ride the commuter train and sit next to someone for almost an hour and have the other person hardly speak. Where I was raised, if you sit next to someone for an hour, you learn about most of his life. This loneliness compelled me to look to the Lord in a new way. It was a time of experientially learning what it meant to "delight in the Lord."
While I was tempted to enter into a relationship, it was clear to me that my years of being prepared by God were not over. I "married" my ministry and threw my life into teaching and writing my dissertation.
TEMPTATION AND GOD'S PROVISION
God calls us to be content in Him regardless of our circumstances or marital status. Some times will prove to be more difficult than others. For me, it was during "break" times that my need for companionship was accentuated. During a two-week spring break in March, I needed to go through my library and catalog it. I thought of a sweet Christian girl who might be very helpful in this project. In fact, it seemed like a great idea!
Later, I was meditating on Matthew 4:1–11 and noted that Satan's first temptation was directed in the area of Jesus' obvious need. I felt that if I had fasted forty days and nights and someone suggested to me to turn stones into bread (and if I had the power to do so), I would genuinely thank them for the suggestion. Christ's response was different.
Excerpted from Believing God for His Best by Bill Thrasher. Copyright © 2004 Bill Thrasher. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Seeing Singleness from God's Point of View
2. Waiting on God for a Mate
3. Finding God's Provision on the Other Side of a Temptation
4. Repenting of Idolatry After Experiencing Love at First Sight
5. Rebirth of the Vision: Purify My Heart Admist Closed Doors
6. Experiencing God's Providence and Delayed Answers to Prayers
7. Learning from the Other Side of the Story
8. Developing a Conviction Before God
9. Discovering the Secret of Contentment
10. Making an Important Commitment
11. Pondering a New Direction
12. Handling Your Passion
13. Discerning God's Will
14. The Secret of Waiting