How I serve God in the world has more to do with my heart than my marital status.
I couldn't believe what was happening.
The shuttle driver was prophesying. Not just praying with gusto, as I had seen him do in the past, but full out prophesying. What had begun as a simple prayer for the children in the Sunday school class I teach had become a very personal word from God to me.
I'd had half a dozen spiritual conversations with Tony, the 50-something shuttle driver at my local mechanic shop, and he'd prayed for me before. But this day was different. Without knowing my personal history, Tony proclaimed:
"Thank you, Lord, for preserving her. Thank you for preserving her purity. You have set her aside for a purpose. She is a vessel of honor."
My eyes filled with tears. I knew God was speaking the words directly to me. I know I am precious to the Lord and that He is overseeing my life, but sometimes it's hard to believe He has a plan bigger than the one I see. Tony helped me to glimpse it.
When I got to my desk, I looked up 2 Timothy 2:20-21, the verse from Tony's prayer:
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
The Other Existence
Many of my friends have gotten married and had children. I've enjoyed watching their families grow. Their pictures hang on my fridge, I devour their Christmas letters and I laugh at the cute online videos.
My own brother became a father three years ago. I love watching him be a dad. As I watch Matt hold and kiss his little boys, I see a tenderness and self-sacrifice that was not there a few years ago. Nothing has changed him more than being a father.
When I see the happiness of the blissfully married, I sometimes yearn for what they have. And why shouldn't I? Their covenant and community are earthly pictures of the unity of God. I am created to recognize the beauty in that.
Perhaps this is the reason that even though I know I am created in God's image as much as anyone, on some level, I feel like less of a person because I am single. Why else would I feel like changing the topic when people start asking me why I am not yet married? Or feel like I have nothing to contribute to all the mommy talk conversations of my married girlfriends?
Reconciling the call God has on my life with what He is doing in the lives of my married friends can be difficult. And when feelings of inferiority creep in, especially regarding my spiritual life, it makes matters worse.
This is one reason I believe the church has sought to elevate singleness in recent years. Some have used Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7:8 to make a case for singleness being desirable and even preferable to marriage — "a gift." Those who promote this view may not actually be trying to say that singleness is superior to marriage, but rather establish that singles are equally valuable to God.
As we have discussed in previous articles, we live in a culture in which marrying well is a challenge. Many Christian singles would love to be married, but though they desire marriage, and are praying and preparing for it, it simply has not happened.
While I believe that God's opinion of me is not wrapped up in my marital status, I sometimes receive these messages from those around me. One that is particularly insidious says that a spiritual deficiency of which I am unaware or a lack of God's favor or direction in my life is keeping me single. In other words: If I were holier, I'd be married by now.
That is why the driver's words touched me so deeply. How wonderful to hear God telling me that He has a plan and purpose behind my singleness — especially in my commitment to purity. In His eyes, my single years are not a waste.
Much of the talk on singleness today seems to either devalue marriage or over-value it. We live in a culture that is hostile toward marriage. TV alone could convince you matrimony is a losing proposition. But that is not God's view. He established marriage to meet humanity's basic need for companionship and intimacy, and, as such, it is His intention for most people.
At the same time, we know that marriage isn't the answer to our deepest longing for communion. Plenty of my married friends would tell you some of their loneliest moments have occurred since they tied the knot. At their deepest level, all humans long for communion with Christ. So how can we adopt a balanced view of God's intention for marriage and singleness?
First we must realize that God's will for people isn't dependent on marital status. Both faithful marriage and chaste singleness proclaim God. Marriage is an earthly reflection of the union with Christ and other believers awaiting us in heaven. Celibate singleness declares that ultimate union by forgoing sexual union on earth for a season — or, in special cases, for a lifetime.
Ephesians 5:25-27 says:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
By loving their spouses devotedly, married men and women demonstrate on a small scale Christ's love for the church. And by keeping themselves pure, singles express the significance of Christ's coming union with His church (a moment fraught with such greatness that the trials of denying the flesh in this life pale in comparison). In both states — singleness and marriage — a believer reflects Christ through a lifestyle of self-giving.
At this time, I do that by serving the people God has placed in my life — friends, the kids in my Sunday school class, my housemate. In the future, I may fulfill this calling by serving a husband and children. Now I minister as an individual; in the future, I may minister through a family unit. In both states, my life testifies to God's miraculous plan as I pour it out for His use.
Let me offer some encouragement to those who have either remained virgins or committed themselves to second virginity. "True love waits" can ring a little hollow when you're a decade (or two) past high school. Especially in a culture that places extreme value on sexual conquest and experimentation.
While my convictions are deeply set at this point, I won't say that I haven't resonated with David's words in Psalm 73:13: "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence."
Sometimes it feels like my commitment to sexual purity is a waste. That thinking is the result of living in a world that scorns purity and celebrates licentiousness. But the truth is God cherishes purity. And ultimately, I am not the one who has kept my heart pure; through His Spirit, the Lord has preserved it as a testimony to Himself. This is a high calling. Purity in singleness is a special offering to the Lord.
Yes, sexual purity will set you apart. But set apart (which is the meaning of the word holy) is what God calls us to be (1 Peter 1:15-16). I am reminded of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. Five of them waited with their lamps full of oil. Their preparedness was a testimony to their desire for the coming bridegroom and their faith that he would actually come.
As I sat in that shuttle two weeks ago, Tony's words reminded me of my high calling. There have been times when I have felt dissatisfied with my current position in life. Sometimes I wonder if God is really ordering my steps.
I think singles must feel more acutely than most that we are "aliens and strangers" in this world (1 Peter 2:11). The thing is, all people long for something more because this earth is not our true home.
And so the gap between single and married is not so wide after all. All of us wait eagerly for our ultimate union with our heavenly Bridegroom. And as we live faithfully — single and married — our very lives proclaim Christ to the world.
As I opened the door to leave, Tony looked me right in the eye: "Whew!" he exclaimed. "God's hand is on you!" A shuttle van was the last place I expected to hear that reminder, but maybe that's why it meant so much. Someday I may very well be married. Right now I am single. Either way, I want to be a vessel of honor.
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