Consume Me

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It’s easy to tell what most occupies my thoughts and feelings because that is my most frequent and passionate topic of conversation.  I love my job, and I spend a lot of time there, so sometimes when I’m talking with my friends, I have to hold myself back because I realize that they probably aren’t all that interested in the finer points of classical ballet technique.  More often than not, though, my conversation starts with, “So, have you had any dates lately?” and ends with whining about still being single.  I’ve found that at my lowest points, I have become completely eaten up by the difficulties of singleness that I have no room left for communion with Christ.  My desire for marriage has become a gilded statue that I’ve set up in my heart, and when I retreat into my thoughts, the first thing I do is kneel at that shrine of desire.  I’ve got to take down that idol and put the Lord back on the throne, and that involves going to the cross and dying to desire.

Here’s the kicker: desiring marriage is natural and completely legitimate, but I need to ask myself these questions.  Is it something that is impinging upon my faith in the Lord?  Is it causing me to doubt His goodness or sovereignty, His grace or mercy?  Is it something that I desire above holiness?  Is it something I desire more than God’s glory in me?  Then I have to die to that desire.  Not in the sense that it may never be fulfilled, though that is a possibility I should consider.  But in the sense that I need to get rid of the things that are holding me back from full fellowship with the Lord, from knowing, loving, and serving Him wholeheartedly.  Singleness becomes a burden when I carry it myself and hold onto it instead of rolling it over to onto the Lord.  I need to allow Him to consume my desire so that I can be consumed by Him.

“How do you do that?” one might well ask.  Certainly I don’t have this one nailed down.  But I guess the best thing I can say is that surrender involves trust.  It is easy to sit in church and sing “I surrender, I am Yours.” But is that only because I think He will give me what I want?  Or maybe because the music is inspiring?  Real surrender means I am His regardless of where He takes me and what He gives or doesn’t give me.  It means my marital state is His too.  Because if I say “I surrender all” and I mean it, then I am His to do with as He wills.  He is in charge of my life.

So fancy words and high-minded ideas of surrender aside, what it boils down to is a moment by moment battle with my mind and heart.  Every time I find myself thinking about/obsessing over/fantasizing about a future mate, I’ve got to take that thought and desire and tell the Lord it’s His.  Verbally, if need be.  I’ve got to tell Him every day that I trust His plan and accept what He has in store for me that day. I must elevate my desire for God above my desire for marriage.  I do that by spending time in His word, in worship, in prayer.  It’s not easy.  My flesh fights it.  I would so much rather make myself miserable pining over dreams of a romantic future than tell the Lord I love Him and want Him to use me for His glory.  He didn’t promise it would be easy.  He did say it would be good.  Lord, consume my desires so that I can be consumed by You.

Blindness and Blessing

As I was doing my Bible study this morning, I came across this question: “How do you feel God singing a song of love over you?”  Usually when I read things like this, I have a Sunday school response that pops into my head, “Jesus died on the cross for me.”  But today, I’m ashamed to say, my first thought was of my material blessings: my fabulous apartment, a functioning car, family and friends who love me, a job I can’t wait to get to each day.  I was immediately taken aback.  I am such an American!  I think God loves me because I have things that make me happy and comfortable.  Which is why, when I get in a funk about being single, sometimes I wonder if God is taking as good care of me as He should, or if He really loves me if He is withholding the blessing of a mate. 

I started thinking more about blessings, and how the Bible says that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ.  And how I equate comfort with joy, and blessing with having what I want.  I thought about how I don’t really thank God for the spiritual blessings I have in Christ because they are often so intangible.  I mean, I can see my apartment and my car, I can touch my family.  But eternal life?  Righteousness in Christ?  I know I have these things, but I don’t often take time to experience them on more than an intellectual level.   What would that even look like?

What if all these tangible blessings were taken away?  I would be no less blessed in Christ than I am now.  What if I had the additional blessing of a mate?  I would be no more blessed in Christ than I am now.  Not that I shouldn’t be thankful for and enjoy the material things God has given me, but they are not the proof of God’s love for me.  The cross of Jesus is.  What if I experience desiring the blessing of a mate so that my appreciation of the spiritual blessings God has given me is sharpened?  Like a blind person, whose other senses are sharpened because one is missing.  They are keenly aware of the most minute sounds and their fingers become sensitive enough to read what appears to be a complex system of bumps because they are not distracted by sight.  As I am going through life alone, how am I more keenly aware of God’s presence and help? 

Would I be more attuned to my spiritual blessings with a mate, or would he be a hindrance to me experiencing the richness of God’s love for me?  Does my desire for a husband drive me to seek pleasure and fulfillment in God, or am I trying to find satisfaction in earthly things?

When Hope Seems Lost

Hope. It has become a heartbreaking word to me. Every time I meet someone and start dating and it doesn’t work out, my hopes are dashed. My hopes of one day being married have gradually faded to almost nothing. Once flourishing, they are now neglected and walled up in a corner of my heart that I rarely open, in fear of overwhelming disappointment.
People love to throw around brave phrases like ‘hope does not disappoint.’ It’s hard not to be accusatory toward God when hope goes unfulfilled. So I’ve taught myself to smother my hope for a mate, to say, “God desires something else for me, and because it is His plan, it must be better.” I work to keep my faith in God’s goodness intact and my hope minimally alive. Because I know God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness, with the eternal part of my being than with my physical body.
But still, however difficult it may be, when my hopes are crushed, I have to reevaluate where my hope lies. Because God doesn’t lie. So if He says, “Those who hope in Me will not be put to shame,” and He is not a liar, somewhere my hope got sidetracked.
My heart has grown small in the hope for a husband. Just like when you go on a diet, and your stomach shrinks because you are eating less, so your appetite shrinks. My heart’s appetite has been become too small and self-centered to absorb what God has for it, and I’m wasting away because my hope is feeding on itself. I have to increase my heart’s appetite for hope. But what do I feed it?
This morning I read Romans 5: 1-5. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us.” (Romans 5: 1-5, NIV.)
There’s two things I am supposed to rejoice in: sufferings and the hope of the glory of God. Wow. This wrecks me. I don’t rejoice in suffering. I complain about it. But according to this passage, I’m not supposed to rejoice in sufferings only for their own sake, I’m to rejoice in them because of what they produce: perseverance, character, and hope. Hope of the glory of God.
That word for glory means the character, image, or reflection of. So if I hope and exult in God’s character being glorified and known by others, if I hope in God’s character being worked out in me, my hope will not disappoint me. In another passage, Paul talks about his suffering for the sake of the gospel. He goes on to say, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporal, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:15-18, NIV). Paul’s trials were certainly bigger than my momentary longing for a husband. And marriage, as wonderful as it is, is only temporary, for our time on earth; I am an eternal being.
Now if only my heart can grow enough to apprehend this truth, hope will bloom in every corner. If my joy is found in God being glorified, then my hope ought to be found there too. If, by my being single, God is glorified more than my being married, and if anyone is encouraged or strengthened in their faith, then bring it on. Because my joy is only going to increase.
It doesn’t mean that I’m unspiritual if my heart still aches over my unfulfilled desire. It just means that my main spiritual appetite has to be satisfied with the feast that the Lord has for me in Him. And if one day He chooses to bless me with the sweetness of marriage, like dessert after a great meal, then I will praise Him for it. But in the meantime, I am no less satisfied spiritually because I have all the richness of Christ to feast on.
I’m not going to stop hoping that one day I’ll be married. But that hope always has to be swallowed up by the hope and joy I find in God’s glory. If the lesser hope starts to choke out or efface the greater one, then I need to feed and stimulate the greater. Maybe that’s what David had in mind when he said, “I run in the path of Your commands, for You have enlarged my heart (Psalm 119:32).”

True Joy

The other day I was doing a Bible study on the verse “His divine power has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness.” The author asked the question, “How do you feel about this verse?” Which is a funny question, since it doesn’t really matter how I feel about God’s word since it is true no matter what. But I decided to answer the question anyway. And to tell the truth, I struggled with my answer. Because there is a part of me that feels very skeptical about this verse. I mean, there are Christians across the globe who are starving, and need food. Christians in jail who need to be released. My lovely young friend who suffers from a debilitating illness and needs to be healed. And very often, I feel like I need a spouse, for my heart’s sake, for my purity’s sake, and for my sanity’s sake. Clearly this verse is talking about need on a different level than I am.
It helps, in some measure, to put things in perspective. I’m not the only person hurting in the world. There are women whose hearts ache because they are unable to have children. There are those who long to serve the Lord in a career of ministry, but have found the doors closed. And there are those truly suffering for our faith all over the world. My lack seems small compared to that. If the Lord allows me to be in need of something I perceive as vital to my life and godliness, there must be something else I need more. If I think I need a husband so that I can be fulfilled emotionally, satisfied sexually, or helped spiritually, and the Lord has not given me a husband, then I must look to the Lord to fill those needs.
But my even with some perspective, my pain and need are still legitimate. So I have to cry to the Lord, “Why do You say ‘no’ to real needs?” And the answer comes back sweeter than I could imagine. “My precious child, there is nothing you need more than Me. I am enough for every need, every desire of your longing heart. And I am able to satisfy your heart more completely than you yet know. Find true joy in Me.”
I admit I don’t have that nailed down yet. It’s true that when I feel the most pain and I choose to turn my heart to the Lord, there is a joy that I can’t explain, though the pain never fully leaves. But I think joy and heartache are not mutually exclusive terms here on earth. That’s why heaven is so wonderful, because there, joy is perfect. Every tear is wiped away and every heartache is extinguished in the beautiful presence of the Lord, where every need is perfectly met forever.