The Strength in Aloneness

Aloneness

“A servant of God must stand so much alone that he never knows he is alone.”  –Oswald Chambers

“Everyone deserted me…. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” –Apostle Paul, 2 Timothy 4:16b-17a HCSB

We need people. I’ll get that declaration out of the way at the beginning! God never meant for us to live in isolation. I highly value the network of trustworthy people God has given me to connect with on various levels, and encourage others to find and embrace their own network.

But having a connection to people is secondary, not primary.

If you’re scratching your head at this point, I understand. Most of the messages we get from society and even from church indicate that a meaningful life comes from being connected to other people, especially a spouse and family. The truth in that assumption is that living for something or someone other than ourselves gives us meaning in life. The lie in that assumption is that being attached to another person or persons gives us value.

True Value and Meaning

The full truth is we have value because God created us and loves us, and we find meaning in life when we live out our God-given purpose. People can come and go in our lives, and circumstances can change, but the truth of what gives us value and meaning in life remains constant and can never be taken from us. This is the secret of learning to stand so much alone that we never realize we are alone, as Oswald Chambers said in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.[1]  When God is our sole Source for joy, meaning, and purpose, the coming and going of people in our lives, as well as any change in circumstances, does not affect our joy, meaning, and purpose.

A great example of this was Paul and Barnabas after it became apparent they had differing opinions about including John Mark on their missionary trip. While they both felt so strongly that they parted ways, each continued to pursue the calling God had given them personally. If either had believed they needed the other to accomplish their individual callings, the disagreement would have been disastrous. Instead, it freed them both to live their own God-given life purpose: Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, and Barnabas to encourage Christians young in the faith.

The person who has served as the greatest example of this in my own life is my father. He first heard and accepted God’s calling to serve Him when he was in his early 20s – first as a single man in Germany and Nepal, and then as a married man in Belize and numerous locations in the States. After 50 years of marriage to my mother who was his ideal partner and companion in life, he is now single again. But while it is evident he misses my mother tremendously, her death hasn’t affected his joy, meaning, and purpose in life. His God-given purpose to live for Jesus and encourage others to live for Him is as primary in his life now as it was while his wife was living, and as it was before he married her.

The strength of learning to stand so much alone that we never realize we are alone, is that we are freed to live God’s purpose no matter who or what comes and goes in our lives.

The Benefits of Learning Aloneness in God

Aloneness with God is not just for singles. As I pointed out in my father’s life, knowing his purpose aside from his marital status has given him a meaningful and joyful life – before marriage, during marriage, and after marriage. There are significant benefits for everyone in learning aloneness with God:

  • We live joyfully and purposefully no matter what happens, because we know our God-given purpose is not dependent on circumstances or people
  • We become strong and confident – not because of self-reliance or self-sufficiency, but because we rely fully on God alone
  • We live in freedom from fear and anxiety because we know that no matter what, God is with us
  • We have a strong connection with our Heavenly Father because we realize while everything and everyone else may come and go, He alone remains constant

Advantages for Singles

As Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 7, singles have more freedom to have an undivided focus in living for the Lord and in learning this aloneness with God:

  • Freedom to follow God’s calling without needing to make it fit in with a spouse’s purpose and calling
  • Freedom to choose if and when to be with others according to God’s purpose for us, rather than to fill a marital obligation
  • Freedom of more time alone with God to strengthen our relationship with Him
  • Freedom to rely on God alone as our Provider, rather than being tempted to rely on a spouse to fill that role

Of course, those who have a life partner in marriage have their own set of advantages, and often the life purposes of a married couple fit hand in glove, adding strength to both.

The bottom line is, no matter our circumstances, learning to stand so much alone with God that we never feel alone is a blessing and gift for every Christian, and one I urge you to grasp firmly and value deeply!

[1] Chambers, Oswald (1927). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (April 22; Kindle Locations 1848-1849). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

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Better Than Sons And Daughters


Called to reproduce spiritually

 

I’ll never forget the tears that came to the eyes of a 90-year-old single woman as she mentioned the absence of grandchildren in her life. She had never married but had spent years on the mission field and as a mentor to many all her life, including me. She was highly respected in our church and by all who knew her. She was one of those people whose vitality made you forget her age, and we all marveled at her keen mind and interest in everyone around her. Knowing all this I was surprised by her tears, while also realizing the need at all stages of life to mourn the absence of that which never was.

Childlessness is an ache many singles and couples carry. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be especially challenging. While these days honor the men and women who have given of themselves to raise children, they often leave those who are childless wondering if their contribution in life has any similar merit. Sermons, books, and inspirational quotes meant to encourage parents sometimes inadvertently pass judgment on the childless.

A quote I read one Mother’s Day illustrates this well. As I opened the bulletin in church that morning, I was presented with this message in bold type: “The highest calling of womanhood is motherhood.” While intending to affirm and encourage mothers, the message conveyed judgment and condemnation to me that somehow, by no choice of my own, I had missed that highest calling. I’m grateful the Lord immediately whispered to me that the quote was not true, and was a human’s perspective, not His.

What God Says About Our Life’s Purpose

More important than what people think, though, is what God says. As we open the Bible and begin reading in Genesis, we see that God’s command to the first man and woman is to “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” [1]  After the world had been destroyed by the flood, God’s command to Noah and his sons was once again, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” [2] Further in Genesis we see that the great promise God gave to Abraham was that “I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you.” [3] This promise/command was passed down to Isaac, [4] and to Jacob. [5]

The emphasis of the Old Testament was the looking forward to a specific event: the coming of the Messiah. Every man and woman longed to be the parent or ancestor to this Promised One. To be denied a child was to be denied the possibility of this blessing.

As we turn the pages to the New Testament, we read that the Messiah was indeed born, grew to be a man, and through His death and resurrection became the Savior of the world. Before He went back to heaven He gave a new command, one which was to become the new focus and purpose of our lives as Christians:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [6]

Throughout the New Testament we no longer see the command to “multiply and replenish the earth,” nor do we see the lament of women who were barren.

Jesus had prepared His disciples for this new emphasis and purpose for our lives when He told them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.” [7] He also drove this point home when his mother and brothers came to see Him and He said, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?” He looked around at His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.” [8]

We see this new focus in Paul’s writings as well:

“I want you to be without concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. Now I am saying this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but because of what is proper and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction.” [9]

So as we read through the New Testament we can see that the emphasis has shifted away from that of multiplying biologically as families, and has moved towards the importance of multiplying disciples for the Family of God. 

Biological families are still His design and plan for continuing the human race, and the intact family is the ideal means of multiplying disciples for God’s Family when parents raise their little ones to serve Him. The purpose of having children should always primarily be to raise them to be disciples of Jesus, not for the fulfillment of human desires.

Our Desire to Have Children

We desire to have children for several reasons.

One is to experience the joys of having our own child. This seems to particularly affect women, perhaps because their bodies regularly remind them of their capacity for bearing a child. However, many men also have an innate desire to pass on their name, and traditionally children have been an indication of a man’s manhood and strength.

Another reason is because parenthood makes us “normal” and enables us to fit in with our peers who get married, have children and, in due time, have grandchildren as well. We seem to have this innate desire to be like everyone else.

A third reason is to pass on our values and beliefs to the next generation, leaving a heritage to our children and grandchildren. We all want our lives to matter, and to leave a contribution that long outlasts us.

Our Desires Fulfill God’s Purpose

As we take a closer look at these basic desires for wanting to be parents — to have the experience of reproducing biologically, to fit in and be normal, and to influence future generations — we should take note that the first two are basically for our own personal fulfillment (while also recognizing them as normal desires and part of how God designed us).

However, the third desire for having children — to influence future generations — is part of God’s New Testament command to “go and make disciples.” It is a desire we can fulfill whether married or single. In fact, as Christians, it is far more than a desire and a goal—it is a command which Jesus gave us.

Fulfilling this Command is Not Optional

Those who have children and raise them to be disciples of Christ are fulfilling this command. It involves much personal sacrifice and giving up of one’s own aspirations to achieve the goal of producing not only biological offspring, but spiritual offspring.

Those who don’t have biological children also have the responsibility of multiplying spiritually, and have the opportunity to do so in perhaps more far-reaching ways than having children, if they use their freedom to do so. Accomplishing this also involves much personal sacrifice and giving up of one’s own aspirations, just as parenthood does. Paul, a single spiritual “parent,” referred to this lifestyle as a sacrificial and yet joyous one: “Even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” [10]

Every Christian a Parent

Whether married or single, every Christian is called to reproduce and be a spiritual parent to spiritual children. The possibilities of ways to reproduce spiritually are endless, and God has given us the uniqueness of our own personalities and talents to creatively reproduce for the Family of God.

The Lord has often encouraged me with Isaiah 54 which uses the metaphor of a childless woman:

“Rejoice, childless one, who did not give birth; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the forsaken one will be more than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let your tent curtains be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your ropes, and drive your pegs deep. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will dispossess nations and inhabit the desolate cities. Do not be afraid, for you will not be put to shame; don’t be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and you will no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood. Indeed, your husband is your Maker —His name is Yahweh of Hosts — and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth.” [11]

Isaiah also uses the metaphor of a childless man in Isaiah 56:

“The eunuch should not say, “Look, I am a dried-up tree.” For the Lord says this: “For the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold firmly to My covenant, I will give them, in My house and within My walls, a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give each of them an everlasting name that will never be cut off..” [12]

The New Testament has several examples of spiritual parents. The Apostle John, a single man and most likely childless, wrote, “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” [13] Paul referred to Timothy as “my son”: “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” [14] He also said that he had “fathered” Onesimus: “I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I fathered him while I was in chains.” [15] We have no indication that either of these men had biological children, and yet their spiritual children were many. In fact, we today are spiritual descendants of Paul and John!

Parenthood — Our Highest Calling

Parenthood is part of our highest calling if we mean giving birth to spiritual children and nurturing disciples for Christ. Passing on our faith to future generations is God’s command to every Christian, not just to parents.

While it distressed me a bit to see my 90-year-old friend shed tears over the absence of biological grandchildren, it was also a joy to see her smile through those tears as I read Isaiah 54 to her. It was a joy to me to remind her that in the two letters she’d just read to me, both young people had mentioned she was like a grandmother to them. One was a young man from Honduras, the other a young woman from China; both she had mentored spiritually. She had indeed enlarged her tent throughout her life. Her spiritual children and grandchildren were not only many, but spread far and wide across the globe. I left her apartment that day humbled that I’d had a part in helping her see the far-reaching productiveness of her for God’s Kingdom, which was her greatest desire. She has since passed on to her Heavenly home, but she left a legacy that will live on through eternity!

The absence of children and grandchildren may always present a certain amount of emotional difficulty throughout our lives if we are childless. But if we are reproducing spiritually by encouraging others in a relationship with Jesus, we can be sure we will also leave a heritage for coming generations, even for eternity, that is “better than sons and daughters”!

[1] Genesis 1:28

[2] Genesis 9:1

[3] Genesis 17:6

[4] Genesis 28:3

[5] Genesis 35:11

[6] Matthew 28:19-20

[7] Luke 14:26

[8] Matthew 12:48-50

[9] 1 Corinthians 7:29-35

[10] Philippians 2:17

[11] Isaiah 54:1-5

[12] Isaiah 56:3-5

[13] 3 John 1:14

[14] 2 Timothy 2:1

[15] Philemon 1:9-10

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Here Am I. Send Me.

Here am I with all my inadequacies and hindrances

“Here Am I. Send Me.”

These are the words Isaiah responded with to the Lord when He asked, “Who should I send? Who will go for Us?” I believe the willingness evidenced in those two short sentences is the same willingness God desires for the heart of every Follower of Jesus. He has a purpose and plan for each of us to fulfill – a work for us to do as long as we have breath.

Here Am I

Are we ready to say these words to God? We often feel our present circumstances hinder our being available for the Lord’s assignments, and we feel inadequate, or vulnerable. We have many “buts,” “if onlys,” and “I will whens” that we respond to God with, rather than Isaiah’s simple, “Here am I”:

But I am single. I can’t do that alone!”

If only I had my house paid off, then I’d be free to do that.”

I will when my children are grown – it’s impossible as a single parent!”

If God is asking something of us, though, can we not trust He already knows all these hindrances? He knows how inadequate we might fell as a single, how weighed down by financial worries, and how tied down by our responsibilities. And yet He asks us anyway. He asks because He already knows how He is going to provide for those concerns that are holding us back.

Hindrances

In her study on Thessalonians, Children of the Day, Beth Moore writes of the possibilities that result when we remove the hindrance from a difficulty. She cites several examples:

Heartbreak – hindrance = depth

Singleness – hindrance = gospel globetrotter

Childlessness – hindrance = father/mother of many

Disappointment – hindrance = faith

Devastation – hindrance = trust

My pain – hindrance = my passion

And the one that sums up all the possible hindrances we may experience:

My life – all hindrances = my God-ordained destiny.

Here am I with all my inadequacies and hindrances

These results are from a human’s limited perspective of what can happen when a hindrance is removed from a difficulty. Can you imagine what God, in all His sovereignty, is able to do when we allow Him to remove the hindrances from our lives? It is exciting to contemplate all that He might accomplish through us if we are willing to ignore the seeming obstacles and say to the Lord, “Here am I, with all these hindrances and inadequacies, but I am willing to do whatever You ask of me, and I acknowledge that You know what to do with these seeming impossibilities.”

That’s all He asks us of us: willingness. He doesn’t ask us to solve the hindrance or to figure out how to remove them. He’ll take care of all that. The very first step is for us to simply say, “Here am I.”

Send Me

In Isaiah’s case, the sending involved speaking God’s message to a group of people who really didn’t want to hear that message. It most certainly removed Isaiah from his secure comfort zone. And yet he still told God, “Send me.” Most new experiences require us to be willing to step outside of what is familiar and comfortable, and move into something unfamiliar and unknown, which is certainly not conducive to feeling comfortable and secure. But we can trust that God is our security and choose to take that step anyway.

I don’t know what God may be asking of you, but I know He is asking something of each one of us. He has a purpose, plan, and mission for our lives. As long as we are here, God has work for us to do.

I am privileged to be writing a book on my father’s life, and this message was given to him when he was just a young man of 19. At the time the man he was working for had just lost his life to cancer, leaving behind a widow and four young children. My father responded in anger to God, demanding of Him, “Why did you take Raymond? Why didn’t you take me instead?”

Here am I Lord - Send me

And God responded just as clearly to him as if He had been standing in human form in front of him, “Raymond’s work was finished, but I still have work for you to do.”

Not long after that God sent my father halfway around the world to Nepal, and that was the first of many ministry assignments God has had for him in his over eighty years of life so far. It has been a life of many sacrifices, but also one of many blessings. Today, my father’s message to young and old alike is that if they are alive, God has work for them to do. That message is not just textbook theory for him, it is the story of his life.

What is God asking of you? It may be as “simple” as writing a blog post from your heart, as my niece did last week; or going halfway around the world, as my father did many years ago. Whatever it is – can you trust Him to take care of all your hesitancies, all your insecurities, and all the hindrances? I have no doubt there are many blessings awaiting your obedience to His call if you do!

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Extravagant Love

Extravagant Love

The word “extravagant” means “unrestrained” or “recklessly wasteful.” I think those terms adequately describe the love of a woman in the Bible who, out of deep gratefulness, broke an expensive bottle of fragrance and poured it over Jesus’ head in a dramatic display of her love and devotion to Him.[1]

Those who were present started scolding her for her wastefulness, saying she could have sold it and given the money to the poor. To them this seemed a far better use of something so valuable.

Jesus’ response to them is priceless. You would think He would have agreed there were better uses for something so valuable. Instead, He told them to leave her alone, and praised her for her extravagant display of affection to Him.

a single person's love and devotion to Jesus

I love this story for two reasons. One, Jesus immediately shot down the self-righteous judgment of those who thought they knew what this woman should have done with the fragrance. Two, He praised her extravagance – senseless as it seemed!

I’m slowly learning to ignore the “shoulds” from others as God shows me over and over to follow Him and not worry what others think. We Christians love to have measuring sticks to measure each other with, and then use those very measuring sticks to beat each other up – figuratively, of course. I’ve purposely chosen to lay aside those measuring sticks – both the ones I’m tempted to judge others with, and the ones others use to judge me.

These measuring sticks aren’t something new. So many times in Jesus’ day the religious leaders tried to impose “shoulds” on others, and time after time Jesus rebuked them. He had only two “shoulds”: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and, love your neighbor as yourself.

This woman was certainly loving God with all her being – including using an expensive item she owned to express that love.

I know of a woman who spent her entire adult life as a missionary nurse in Nepal. She traveled from village to village teaching women how to prepare nutritious meals for their families, and telling them how much God loved them. In the over 35 years she served there, the Christian church grew significantly.

a difficult decision

But this didn’t all just happen. When she was a young woman she made a difficult decision. She knew without a doubt God was calling her to be a missionary. But when she discovered her boyfriend had no intention of going into mission work, she was presented with a tough choice: marry him and live the young woman’s dream of a husband and family, or give him up – and the possibility of marriage and children – to follow God’s call on her life.

She chose the latter. She broke her precious bottle of perfume – the hopes and dreams of having a family – and poured it out for the Lord in an extravagant offering of devotion to Him. Her sacrifice probably appeared foolish to some. But her choice brought many into Christ’s Kingdom and brought much honor to Him, who also forfeited having a spouse and family to fulfill God’s purpose for Him.

There are many other ways to be extravagant in our love for Jesus, including serving God with a spouse and raising children to serve Him if that’s what He calls you to. Each of us has our own precious bottle of fragrance, perhaps more than one. Will we use it for our own enjoyment and self-gratification? Will we follow others’ opinions of what we should do with it? Or will we sacrificially offer it back to God in whatever way He asks us to, as an extravagant display of our love and devotion to Him?

[1] Mark 14:3-6

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