Marriage: A Beautiful Shadow of a More Excellent and Certain Reality

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by Kaity Glick
I wait with eager expectation for my wedding day. The day when my friends and family gather to celebrate with me God’s faithfulness and love through the good gift of marriage.  The day when my future husband and I will enter into a covenant before God that by his grace we will be committed to one another for the rest of our lives. The day that we will begin our marriage and our relationship will become a picture of Christ and his bride the church.  The day for which we have been planning and hoping for months and even years. It will indeed be a joyous day that is worthy of celebrating.

But the joy of my earthly wedding day will pale in comparison to the day Christ returns: the wedding day of Christ and his bride the church. This joy will pale in comparison not because earthly weddings are not rightly to be celebrated as a good gift from the Lord, but because of the surpassing greatness of Christ’s union with his bride. Because on this heavenly wedding day, the church will finally experience what earthly marriage has been pointing to for all this time. Instead of having the picture or shadow of what is to come, we will experience the real thing. We will experience intimacy and union with Christ that is beyond what we could ever hope or imagine. This heavenly wedding day is recorded in Revelation 21:1-7. According to this passage there are two future realities that Christ’s bride has to look forward to: perfect union with God and God doing away with sadness and sin.

We will finally experience perfect union with God. Revelation 21:3 says, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.” In the Old Testament, the tabernacle served as a picture of the presence of God (Ex. 40:34). But while the presence of God rested upon the tabernacle that was in the camp of his people, he did not fully dwell among his people. They interacted with God in the way he prescribed through sacrifices mediated by the priests and through Moses, but the people themselves could not enter into God’s presence. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, in the New Testament era, Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them and are able to enter into the presence of God (Matt. 27:51).  But we still do not have God dwelling among us in a physical sense. In Revelation, the presence of God actually dwells among his people in both a physical and a spiritual sense. God’s people will no longer need to approach God through the mediation of a priest, but will instead dwell with Him. We will have perfect union with God both physically and spiritually.

Along with dwelling among his people, God will also “wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4a). We will no longer experience the pain and heartache that comes from living in a world that is broken by sin. There will be no more physical pain of injury or disease. No more emotional pain of broken relationships and difficult circumstances. The reason that God will be able to do away with sadness is because he will completely do away with sin. Revelation 21:4b says, “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” No longer will we fight against a sinful nature. No longer will sin bring about death and pain. No longer will our relationship with God and our relationships with others be torn because of our sin or because of the sins of others. We will live in perfect peace with God and with his people. We will no longer have the ability to do, say, think or feel anything that is displeasing to God. Because there is no sin, we will be able to fully experience union with our creator.

So as I long for my earthly wedding day, I seek to allow this yet unfulfilled longing to point my mind to a higher and more certain reality. Not just the fulfillment that may come if God allows me to marry, but the certain fulfillment that will come when Christ returns and is united fully and perfectly to his bride the church. Beyond the unfulfilled longing of earthly marriage, I should fight for this mindset in the face of any unfulfilled longing on this earth. My ultimate satisfaction will come when Christ returns and I dwell fully with the Lord and experience the end of sin and sadness. This reality is greater and more precious than any good gift God may choose to give on this earth.

Kaity Glick is a graduate of Boyce College and is getting married July 29th.


For more information on relationships and romance, be sure to find Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon’s new books Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement, (P&R, 2017).

 

The Cloud of Summer Reading

There are a thousand wonderful ways to spend summer. Parks, pools, parties, picnics, and people we love. The days just seem better in June and July.

This truth felt even more palpable when I was younger and in school. The only cloud that could possibly loom over my head was my summer reading. I was convinced my teachers cackled wildly when assigning me books over the break.

I’ve since learned that the cloud of summer reading is actually a rainbow that leads to a pot of gold. I’m now able to look back at books I’ve read and see how they charted my course. The summer winds of reading have often set my sails in the right direction and taken me places I would never have gone.

The summers I have spent well are the summers I’ve read. Reading doesn’t suck the fun out of things. It enhances everything. You can dive into a book in between dips at the pool. You can bring your kindle on a trip with the people you love. You can have the best of both worlds without skimping on either one.

In honor of summer, Spencer and I are going to blog about some of the books that have impacted us at different stages of life. This list isn’t comprehensive of what I would recommend and is more biographical of what has shaped me in life. Perhaps you will find one or two on this list that you want to explore these next couple of months. Here is my list:

Middle School: 

A Call to Die is a 40 day crash course on how to read the Bible. I’m not even sure if it is in print anymore, but it changed my life. My youth pastor recommended this book to me and I’m confident it is still bearing fruit in my life.

This was the first theological book I remember reading. I still remember staying up in bed reading and underlining sentences from the chapter on baptism. This book gave me a starting place to begin thinking about key doctrines of the Christian faith.

The book has been billed as “The Best-Selling International Adventure of All Time” and it captivated me. I loved the conviction and boldness of the young preacher. He was willing to share the gospel with gangs and risk everything. Even as a middle schooler I thought the speaking in tongues and the second blessing of the Spirit was wrong (and still do), but the story of courage shaped me.

High School: 

I needed this book. It was refreshment to my bones and a balm for my soul. I was drowning in temptation. I wanted something different that what I was seeing all around me. This book gave me conviction and clarity about how to live in “the world” in a way that honored Christ. I can’t recommend it enough.

I read this book in High School with a group of students and sections of it have stuck with me to this day. It isn’t a gripping novel to be consumed in a night, but it is a steady diet of meat and potatoes that strengthens essential skills.

When I read this book, it was actually 5 Who Changed the World and it was published by Southeastern Seminary. I’m thrilled it was picked up by B&H and expanded. The stories in here are truly compelling and life changing.

College: 

This is my favorite book outside of the Bible. It changed how I think about God and how I think about life. My only complaint is that this new edition removed the incredibly helpful appendix “Are There Two Wills in God?” Thankfully, you can now buy that appendix separately in a new book.

A wiser mentor gave me this book and it set me free. The short little book isn’t perfect, but it is liberating. If you struggle with knowing God’s will for your life, this book is for you.

This was required reading for my first class in college. I wish I had read it sooner or at least someone had taught me the content beforehand. It put my hermeneutical feet in concrete.

Current Summer Reading: 

I’m half way through and love it. The chapters are short and easy to summarize. We truly need God’s help to understand the Bible.

This book has helped me think deeply about the flawlessness of the Bible. If you have ever wondered about the accuracy of certain passages in Scripture, you will find this book thought provoking and helpful. The chapters are no more than four pages. I’ve been nibbling on it for a while now.

I’ve always been interested in politics and this scratches that itch. I’m reading this book on my kindle and it has actually been a problem because I can’t put it down at night. I’m enjoying evaluating the different White House Chiefs of Staff and whether or not they are good leaders. The author seems to have a liberal political perspective and there is some language in the book as he recounts history.


Sean Perron is the Chief of Staff at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and is the co-author of On Dating and On Engagement

A Young Pastor’s Prayer

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by Spencer Harmon

Lord,

I’m no war-torn pastor.  There are many trenches to come, trials to endure, taunts from the enemy. Every faithful shepherd I know walks with a limp from years of wrestling with Sunday’s text, Monday’s discouragements, Tuesday’s fatigue.  Despite this, your triumphant grace soaks their stories as they tell of your sustaining staff through the darkest valley.  They tell me that in every cross they carried, resurrection life bloomed.

Lord, these stories are grave and glad.  Trembling and hope gather in my soul like Joshua crossing Jordan on the brink of the Promised Land.  And so, Lord, I pray to you.

Although I need your endurance for the suffering to come.  Although I need insight to explain your word.  Although I need wisdom to give your people vision.  Although I need compassion for the needs I will see.  Although I need love for my enemies.  Although I need zeal to lead your people.  Although I need these things from you, I do not pray for those now.

My prayer is this:

Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

I have been in your fields for only 8 months now and the stories reverberate in my soul: shepherds leaving their gates open to wolves with false teaching; shepherds leading their sheep over the cliffs of their own selfish ambitions; shepherds so busy tending to the sheep of the field they forget the flock at home.

So, Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

All of these shepherds started just like me:  watchful, sensitive, vigilant.  I don’t presume to know the path that took them from here to there.  I only note it’s existence and plead with you to keep me far from it.  I do not ask that you would keep me from stumbling.  I know I still fight my flesh and that you tend to teach through my weakness.  But I pray that as Satan roars at me during your discipline, your fatherly voice would lead me to repentance.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace when frost forms around my marriage.  Prevent me from growing content in giving my wife the leftovers of my time, presuming our love would be unblighted.  I have already seen once thriving marriages rotting like old fruit from a famine of time and affection.  Give me grace to answer my wife’s honesty with humility, her needs with nourishment, her cares with concern.  Lord, take my ministry if I ever begin to lose my marriage, for the former is void without the latter.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace when my chest swells with pride.  Guard me from the perils of “success.” If full pews mean a vain heart, bloated with self-sufficiency, deflate me with my weakness and confront me with my limits.  If I begin depending on my tools and abilities to reap a harvest, drain me of my fruitfulness until I am desperate again for the rain of your Spirit.  Give me grace to receive the wounds of friends with humility when I’m blinded by arrogance.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace to keep the windows of my soul open through regular confession.  Provide brothers who don’t fear me, mentors who see through me, partners who listen to me.  I’m finding that hypocrisy disguises itself as “privacy”, and I fear everyone will assume I’m always fine.  Keep me from valuing my reputation more than my soul.  When I begin to live heedlessly, assuming confession needs no place in my life, show me the danger of isolation without giving me over to its full effects.  Let your Spirit prevail in my life through the normal means of grace you have given me.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace to not neglect a loving and warm relationship with you.  When I begin to see your Word as a commodity of my profession rather than bread to my soul, a set of facts rather than a feast – draw me back into warm fellowship with you.  Wield the sword of your Word to cut through my excuses and make me tender to your shepherding voice.  Graciously bless me with a soul stirring vision of your Son in your Word when I grow dull and numb.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Father, lift these these hands when they droop in weakness, strengthen these knees when they buckle under burdens, loosen my tongue with stammers with sin, open my eyes afresh to the glory of your character.  I tremble when I consider my own strengths, abilities, and gifts.  But I find comfort in your grace, your earnestness, your mercy, and your zeal for your own name.  I take confidence in you, and shepherd your people as you shepherd me.

And as I carry this staff, still green and not well worn, I pray this prayer acknowledging your power and my great weakness: Lord, give me grace when I stumble.


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).

Life Through Books (2016)

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By Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon

The end of the year is closing, and many people are reflecting on the past and preparing  for the future. We’re not sure how you appraise your year, but we view life through the books that have impacted us. We don’t read just for the sake of “reading.” We read because we want to be changed.

We want to be better, more in love with God, more aware of reality, and more equipped to think wisely about life. We think through good books. If you are similar in this way, you might enjoy some recommendations for the next year. Below are five favorite books from each of us that we have read (or are still reading) in 2016.

Sean:

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I picked up this book because I never read it in middle school. I always wanted to read it because I have a small obsession with politics. The book is short, my copy is only 141 pages, and I found it captivating. I could have read it one sitting if time permitted. The book is a parable and never once mentions politics. Even if you are sick and tired of the 2016 election, you will still find this book enjoyable. Parts of it are creepy with relevance, and it is nothing less than sobering. I recommend reading it in order to make sure you have eyes to see when people are abusing power. You will realize that it isn’t just the animals on the farm who are saying: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

This is the shortest book on the list, 81 pages, but it is the most challenging. I guarantee that you won’t be able to mine all its depths with just one read. But don’t let that scare you. You should read it and wrestle with it before you realize that “you don’t have a chest” and are inhuman. This book is not necessarily an argument for the existence of God. It is an argument that Darwinism is essentially inhuman and incongruent with virtue.

This book will help you think critically about truth, virtue, and morality. It will increase your ability to think intellectually about the most significant issues in life.  To my surprise, I also found this book to be an interesting companion to Animal Farm because it discusses how the removal of objective virtue ensures an abuse of power and unhinged dominance.

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez

There is a small list of people who influence me on a regular basis. Francis Schaeffer is one of them. His writings and ministry shape the way I think. I can’t get his books He is there and He is Not Silent or The God Who Is There out of my mind. It is a holy haunting in my head.

This biography by Colin Duriez is able to zoom into historical details to satisfy my inner nerd and also tell the broad story of the Schaeffer’s ministry. Pick up this book if you want to know more about the hospitality of the Schaeffer’s along with their deep convictions that have impacted innumerable people.

Standing Strong: How to Resist the Enemy of Your Soul by John MacArthur

This is a book about how to fight the devil. John MacArthur takes you through the spiritual armor of God in a way that is devotional, practical, and easy to understand. He argues that faith and repentance are the ways to combat demonic activity. If you pick up this book, I’m confident it will help you grow in your spiritual walk with Christ.

Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children by John A. Younts

A friend at church recommended this book to me back in the summer. I ordered it then, but didn’t start reading it until this month. Jenny and I have reading a few pages each night before bed in order to help us with a couple of counseling cases involving children. This book is simple, practical, and full of the gospel.

It hits right at home because it addresses the most basic conversations we have on a hour-by-hour basis. Do you find it difficult to talk about God with your kids? Does it feel unnatural to talk about the Bible each day? This book will help oil the spiritual hinges of your house and enable you to have a long-term impact on your family.

Spencer:

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John Frame

Philosophy and theology impact almost everything in our culture.  Pop songs and Bible tracts stand on the shoulders of philosophers and theologians.  That’s why John Frame’s A History was so enlightening for me earlier this summer.  Frame is a seasoned teacher, and his simplicity and depth attest to it.  He gives helpful, clear, and deep overviews of the major players and ideas in philosophy and theology.  But what benefitted me the most was Frame’s ability to set each thinker in context, show how their ideas affect us today, and to biblically evaluate their ideas.  This isn’t a book to read from cover to cover, but is a helpful resource for any Christian to have on their shelf.  I’d particularly recommend it to any student getting ready to enter into college.  

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies

I’m cheating here.  I read this book at the very end of last year.  However, it’s ideas shaped me in 2016, and so it deserves to be recommended here.  

I love productivity books and tools.  I haven’t read deeply in the literature, but I have read enough to know that productivity books are a dime a dozen.  Most of us don’t have time to wade through all the techniques, life hacks, and shortcuts most productivity gurus offer.  But Challies’ book is different because it offers a simple, short, practical approach to productivity that busy mom’s, overwhelmed students, and frazzled professionals can apply to their life.  This book shines because it’s both doable and devotional.  It’s my first recommendation for anyone wanting to grow in productivity.

America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by Grant Wacker

I read (actually listened) to this book for two reasons.  

First, I’ve always been drawn to Billy Graham.   I have always admired Graham’s personal integrity, humility, character, and commitment to proclaiming Christ to those who are lost.  Reading this book gave me a closer look at the man, blemishes and all, and left me challenged and inspired.

Second, I just began pastoring a congregation made up of many elderly people whose understanding of what it means to be a Christian in America was shaped by the life and ministry of Billy Graham.  As I was reading this book and listening to Wacker’s observations of how Graham shaped the nation’s understanding of Christianity, I felt like  I was studying my people.  Wacker helped me grapple with, understand, and appreciate what was American Christianity in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s through the filter of Graham’s ministry.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book took my breathe away on several occasions.  Anthony Doerr’s metaphors bring a sense of awe at even the most common experiences of life.  Doerr’s sentences are like sweet serenades that you never want to end.  This book, set in World War II France and Germany, takes the people and places we call common and fills them with meaning.  The story is joyful yet tinged with sorrow, dark and yet filled with shafts of light.

Disclaimer, this book has brief language and a few disturbing scenes and descriptions as a result of its setting in World War II.  

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Butterfield

Butterfield’s follow-up book to Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert continues to speak to the toughest issues about sexual identity with tenderness and transparency.  The first three chapters on conversion, identity, and repentance are worth the price of the book.  Her final chapter on community and hospitality embody the type of warmth that the New Testament pictures when it calls the church the household of God (Eph. 2:19).  Read this book if you want to be equipped to speak into the complexities of our day with both biblical fidelity and warm compassion for the lost around you.  


 

Sean and Spencer are the authors of Letters to a Romantic: Biblical Guidance on Dating and Letters to a Romantic: Biblical Guidance on Engagement (P&R, 2017)

Some Clarification and Suggestions from a Theology of Biblical Counseling

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Post by Sean Perron
Yesterday I read David Murray’s blog post. Murray graciously asked for replies to his blog post and I hope these quotes are helpful.
Below are some of my suggestions and also some clarifications from Dr. Heath Lambert’s book A Theology of Biblical Counseling. My main suggestion is that Murray should have read the entirety of Lambert’s book before writing his post.
Murray Question 1: “Is there any revelation outside the Bible?”
Has God revealed any truth about these topics (information about obesity, nutrition, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.) outside the Bible?
Lambert’s clarification: 
Rich Resources Outside Scripture
Some believe that embrace of the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling necessarily entails rejection of true information outside of the Bible. This is a fairly common objection to the kind of biblical sufficiency that I am discussing here…
…From the very beginning of the biblical counseling movement, leaders have made clear their belief in the legitimacy of sources of information outside of Scripture. Biblical counselors do not ignore or outright reject extra-biblical sources or counseling insights. In fact, I would argue that biblical counselors have demonstrated a high level of theological sophistication about the use of extra-biblical data, often greater than our brothers to the theological left. The biblical counseling position is that there is much true information that exists outside the Bible—that found in the sciences, for example. (53-54)
Murray’s Suggested Clarification: 
“Without the qualification of ‘special revelation’ (or spiritual truth), I think we risk being understood as saying that there is no general revelation, no truth, outside of Scripture on any topic.”
One of Lambert’s printed clarification in chapter two: 
The call to be compassionate counselors requires that a thoroughgoing theology of biblical counseling must not only address the sufficient resources for counseling within Scripture but must also address the relevance of resources that exist outside of Scripture. This is an issue that has the highest practical and personal implications for counselors. We must consider this matter very carefully if we are to be compassionate. Considering the matter in this way requires that we understand the doctrine of common grace. (66-67)
I began this chapter on the resources for counseling outside Scripture by asking what is necessary to help Rick, Wendy, Gail, Trenyan, Jenny, Scott, Drew, Amber, Sean, and Sarah. To answer that question, we examined common grace and saw that, indeed, God does allow unbelievers to come to know true principles that are helpful in counseling. (100)
The quotes that answer this question are too numerous for me to reproduce in this post.
I also want to point Murray and readers to
Appendix A: Statement from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors  Regarding Mental Disorders, Medicine, and Counseling

Appendix B: Biblical Counseling, General Revelation, and Common Grace

Murray writes: “I’m hopeful that Heath will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent chapters, but it’s unqualified generalizations like these that confuse people and have created justifiable resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. With just a couple of extra words, the potential confusion is avoided and understandable reasons to resist are removed.”
My Suggestion for Murray’s Post:
I’m hopeful that Murray will go on to add such qualifications in subsequent blog posts, but it’s blog posts like his review of first chapter of Lambert’s book that confuse people and have created resistance to the biblical counseling movement over the years. By waiting just a couple of extra pages, the potential confusion is avoided and reasons to resist are removed. I wish Murray had refrained from blogging before he finished A Theology of Biblical Counseling.
What Counseling Requires 
Murray’s Question 2: “Does ‘problems’ here mean all problems (such as autism, or those Heath mentioned earlier – employment problems or choosing a college)?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification: 
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 3: “Is God’s prescribed solution (singular) to our problems (plural) always simply ‘faith in Christ’?”
One Quote of Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
Murray’s Question 4: “Is this the only solution to all our problems?”
One Quote with Lambert’s Clarification:
Biblical counselors shall encourage the use of physical examinations and testing by physicians for diagnosis of medical problems, the treatment of these problems, and the relief of symptoms, which might cause, contribute to, or complicate counseling issues. (324)
My Suggestion: Murray may consider being slow to blog and quick to read. Murray may consider if he is answering a matter before he hears all of the facts. I also pray that Murray would be more open to changing his position on counseling.
Other Minor Suggestions: 
  • Murray suggests Lambert should use the word “necessitates” instead of “requires.” We should not quibble over words that mean the same thing. Requires and necessitates are the same thing. These words are synonymous.
I close with this quote from Murray which I apply to this post and my suggestions:
I offer these questions and clarifications in the spirit of iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17), and in the hope that my biblical counseling colleagues will see the need for much greater clarity, carefulness, and consistency, if we are to have a hope of building the credibility of our discipline and expanding the availability and usefulness of biblical counseling throughout the world. I’m looking forward to learning from any responses to the questions, further questions to me, and hopefully clearer and more consistent definitions at the foundational level. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented anything, please let me know as this was not my intention.
Sean Perron

Four Years Later: 25 Reasons

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by Sean Perron
Four years ago I wrote out a list of 25 reasons why I was thrilled to marry Jennifer Whiteaker. This year I wanted to revise the list.
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Marrying Jenny is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She stunned me with her life and love four years ago and that has only continued.
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Here are just a few of the reasons why I love you Jenny Perron: 
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  1. You desire to be found faithful before God
  2. Your submission is a sweet aroma
  3. You squeeze me tightly and hold me loosely
  4. You hide yourself in the shadow of God
  5. Your Spirit is lovely beyond compare
  6. You smirk at the storms ahead
  7. You are planted by streams of water and bloom in every season
  8. Your joy is brighter than a tulip farm and your stem is strong to serve the world his beauty
  9. You are radiant and reverent in your worship
  10. Adventure is your middle name… and your first name… and now your last name
  11. Your brown eyes are unparalleled in beauty
  12. You are confident in his image
  13. You care about the rights of all who are destitute
  14. You open your mouth for the mute
  15. You open your hand to the poor
  16. You inherit the earth
  17. Your heart is soft to conviction and committed to a clear conscience
  18. You call evil evil and good good
  19. Your well is filled with songs, hymns, and spiritual hums
  20. Your gold is giving
  21. People want more of your pleasant presence
  22. Thoughtfulness flows from you like a waterfall
  23. Your smile has a domino effect
  24. You pray more than there are minutes in an hour
  25. Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness

Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing: Cultivating Joy In Singleness

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

Marriage celebrations aren’t always joyful.  

There are certainly those overflowing with joy:  the older couple reminiscing on their wedding joy, the newly engaged couple dreaming of their own wedding day, the parents of the bride and groom beaming with pride.  However, marriage celebrations can also be painful reminders of a persistent suffering – the suffering of singleness.  To be sure, there are singles who are not suffering.  They are content with their season of life, enjoying the freedom that singleness brings.  For others, however, singleness is a burden that they struggle to carry.  They long for the companionship of a spouse, to come home to a friend,  and the intimacy of love.  

You may know exactly what I’m talking about.  You enjoy weddings, engagement parties, and celebrating the excitement of matrimony with friends.  Yet, there is a tinge of pain – perhaps felt on the drive home or as you hear another couple make vows – that reverberates in your heart.  You long to rejoice with your friends, but struggle with this unmet desire.  

On top of this, you hear the call of the Bible to rejoice with those who rejoice, but your heart does not feel it.  How am I supposed to rejoice while suffering?  Can this sorrow and joy exist within the same heart?

The Composite Joy of the Body of Christ

If we are honest, many of us hear the call to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15) as a call to force a crooked smile on your face at an engagement party.  We think: “Good for them!”, and may genuinely mean it.  However, the dominant tone of our hearts is a deep groan of “How long, O Lord?”

But rejoicing with those who rejoice is not like a forced smile on a family photo.  It is an ownership of the joy of another because it sees God at work.  The joy you are called to experience at your friend’s’ engagement party or marriage ceremony is not some blind naivete  that ignores your own desires to be married.  Instead, it is a celebration of God’s good plans in the life of someone who is deeply connected to you.

This means that your joy is meant to be a composite joy. The joy of the Christian is equally composed of the work of God in their own life and the work of God in the lives of fellow Christians.  This is what Paul means when he writes that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  The joy of the Christian is a many-membered tapestry that interweaves the threads of our lives with one another.

So then, the engagement party or marriage ceremony of your friend is actually an opportunity to experience real, warm-hearted joy.  Most of the time when we find it difficult to celebrate with another Christian, it is not because it is not possible.  Rather, it’s because we are not willing to experience joy in this way.  We limit the potential moments of rejoicing in our lives to those times when things align to our preferences.  The world transforms into the size of a clenched fist that holds its plans, rather than the big world where our happy God is busy blessing his children (Jeremiah 32:41).

How do you see other believers?  Are they only a catalyst of despair anytime they get something you don’t have?  Or are they a member of the same body as you so that their joy is your joy?  Are you soaking yourself in the picture of the church as your family so that the metaphor becomes reality?  The key to rejoicing with those who rejoice is to see the victories of others as your own.

Joy and Sorrow Under the Same Roof

But most of us are not dominated by only despair at the engagement party or marriage ceremony.  Instead, we often experience a tangled web of rejoicing and sorrow, pleasure and frustration, contentment and restlessness.  We rejoice to see God at work, but the desire for marriage aches like a tender bruise being pressed.  This isn’t selfishness – it’s a reminder of a unwanted suffering.

Singles often experience unnecessary guilt because they don’t understand the idea of earnest waiting.  Earnest waiting happens when the truths of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility meet in some suffering in our lives.  When Christians suffer, two responses are to exist in their hearts.  First, they are to wait on the Lord.  The posture of our hearts is to be one of a weaned child trusting its parent (Ps. 131:2).  We are to not take matters into our own hands, but hope fully in our God (Psalm 37:34, 62:5, Proverbs 20:22).  For many Christian singles, this is the primary battleground.  However, Christians are also to be persistent with the Lord.  A wrong application of the sovereignty of God is to assume that we are not to pray for relief from suffering.  Although the heroes of our faith trusted God, Hannah prayed for a child (1 Samuel 1:9-18), the church in Acts prayed for Peter to be released from prison (Acts 12:5), and Jesus honors the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).

It is not sinful to feel the sting of unwanted singleness at a marriage ceremony.  It is sinful to allow this sting to translate into a grumbling heart towards the Lord and others.  You can be sorrowful and yet rejoice at the same time.  You cannot grumble and rejoice at the same time.  Do your sorrows roll up into prayer toward the God who knows your needs?  Or do your sorrow’s knot up your soul with a complaining heart?

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

The pendulum could currently be swinging to either extreme for you.  You may be sorrowful, rejoicing, or both.  Either way, God calls you to take steps of faith now.  Are you sorrowful?  Call on friends to partner with you in your prayer for a spouse and for a heart that waits on the Lord.  Are you rejoicing?  Cultivate a lifestyle that loses itself in the joy of others.  Go all out to celebrate the work of God in the lives of others through attending parties, serving on the day of the wedding, and giving your life away for the good of others.  In other words: live the Christian life – weeping and laughing, repenting and believing, grateful while groaning.

These truths are not to be exclusively applied to singleness and marriage.  The Christian life is full of trials, and yet we are called to rejoice in them (1 Peter 4:12-13).  We are not called to merely rejoice with those who rejoice; we are called to rejoice in God (Habakkuk 3:18, Philippians 4:4).  This rejoicing in God is the bedrock to rejoicing with others.  In singleness, and a million other sufferings, our hearts must be confident that he does not withhold good things from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

 

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.