Tomorrow I turn 23, and cannot with any sense of honesty in my heart call myself a man. Manhood to me is far more than physical maturity — can any one of us see my generation as "being an example to the believers" with our youth (1 Timothy 4:12)?
As for me, I have spoken with half a dozen pastors, all misunderstanding me in thinking I am asking for counseling, whereas I would just like to know what godly manhood and an expression of Christ as a man looks like. Godly men in my congregation have neither the time nor the will to take me under their wing either. DISCIPLESHIP is needed ... and I have no idea where to start as you can only go so far reading the Bible and praying.
Unfortunately with the confusing messages in our culture, and the lack of a clear, distinctive voice from the church, I am NOT unsure of my role but AM unsure if I am even capable of fulfilling it yet. You (Boundless) and Mohler and the Bible define the WHAT nicely ... the HOW is what I'm after.
It so happens that last night I took part in a passage ceremony for a friend's son, who turned 16 yesterday. His dad asked me and another mutual friend to join him in helping to mark this moment in his son's life. So my mind is fresh on the topic.
Defining and defending Biblical manhood has rightly been all the rage over the past couple of decades and much has been written and said about the need to return to it. I've benefited greatly from the conversation and even contributed a bit to it. I've especially appreciated the work of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in addressing some very critical issues on the subject.
I know you're frustrated and I think I know why. The thing you need to understand about biblical manhood is that a male does not check off a manly to-do list (get a well-paying job, buy a house, get married, raise some kids, teach Sunday school), and once accomplished "becomes" a "man." Rather, a male is always "becoming" a man. I know we're getting a little philosophical, but stick with me.
In the very same way that we (hopefully) mature as Christians over an entire lifetime, we males should continually be maturing into biblical manhood. At 23, you're not so much on a journey to manhood as if it were some "X-marks-the-spot" destination on a treasure map. You're on a journey of manhood.
I'm 20 years your senior and the same applies to me. Every day I hope to make progress on the journey of biblical manhood, but like you, I can't say I've arrived. I am, as it were, always arriving. Biblical manhood is both being and becoming.
Ideally, the journey itself makes us better and more biblical men. If I had waited until I had "attained" biblical manhood before I pursued a woman in marriage, I'd still be waiting. The pursuit itself, and marriage, and parenting, and pursuing an income, and pursuing an education, and many other life experiences were and are both my being a biblical man and contributing to my becoming a more biblical man.
So what exactly is this journey turning me into, or what am I being and becoming as a biblical man? I've thought long and hard about this question. I realize there are as many answers and opinions as there are people to give them, but if I had to boil it down I would say the very core of biblical manhood is the pursuit and experience of God Himself.
And therein lies what I believe to be a man's two greatest challenges and obstacles to biblical manhood: passivity and pride.
A man quickly discovers that the authentic pursuit of the triune God will take effort, not just daily, but breath by breath. I will quickly add that God gives the grace for that effort so that ultimately we cannot take credit for it, but we must act on that grace. He calls us and gives us the grace to answer.
Men are pretty good about dealing in large volumes of Christian information. We like God's statistics. We're not so sure about going after His heart. Where we seem to get lost is in the actual pursuit of the person of God, of intimacy with God. You don't see many modern-day "Davids" writing passionate praise poems to their heavenly Father. We're much more comfortable collecting and arranging and rearranging the information.
I think we're passive about pursuing God Himself because we know it will eventually require a breaking of our pride, and for the man, pride is king. As long as we're just gathering facts and information about God, we can keep Him at a safe distance. When we pull in close to Christ is when we feel the coal being put to our pride. Better to be passive, we reason, than to be broken.
I call it courageous humility, and biblical manhood absolutely demands that we go there.
And how do I get "there"? How do I get a desire for the person of God that is greater than any other desire? I turn off the T.V. I unplug the video game. I put this computer to sleep. I go into my closet and close the door. And I beg God for a passion for Him like I were pleading for oxygen. I'm not talking about "now I lay me down to sleep." I'm talking about pounding the floor for more of Him in my life. And I do it every day. Over time I experience the unspeakable thrill of the being, and becoming, a biblical man.
Biblical manhood is not something a man "attains" like a diploma after four years of study at the university; rather, it's a lifelong journey of being and becoming. Yes, godly men "do" certain things, and we could list a thousand of those things. But to then reason that doing those things makes one a godly man, is a huge, huge mistake.
I've known plenty of men whose behavior is highly moral for the most part, whose church attendance is fairly regular, who treat women with love and respect, and might even cook the pancakes for the men's prayer breakfast, but there's not a spark of godly life in them. There's no passion for Jesus, no orientation around the glory of God, no thought of walking in the Spirit. They're just moral men who do Christian activities. If you asked them how they've connected with God that week or how they have felt the leadership of His Spirit on this or that work project or in their roles as husbands or fathers, they wouldn't have a clue. I know this because I've been that man, and in more moments than I care to admit, I am that man.
On the other hand, you can find a man who reads his Bible, serves, attends church, and cooks pancakes right alongside the other guy and reflects the glory of God in every flip of the pancake. That's the godly one.
So if doing the list is not the difference, what is? The difference is the heart, plain and simple. God looks at the heart. At its core, godly manhood (and womanhood for that matter) is an issue of the heart. We need not run on to our list of things to do, until we have planted a flag right here and set up camp for a long time.
So here is my definition of biblical manhood as simply as I can put it: Biblical manhood is the state or condition of a man who is making progress in pursuing and knowing God himself (as opposed to merely accumulating facts about God — the facts must at some point lead to a fire in the heart for the Person of God), and who values these above all else.
A godly man is a man who is after the heart of God, who longs for God, and whose own heart belongs to God. This is much more than "I gave my heart to Jesus" when I was 12 years old at summer camp. This is a moment-by-moment giving over of our heart, our self, to the Father, to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, with a hope, a desire, a passion for His glory to be reflected in all we think and do. A godly man knows God, so much so that he can say, Oh God, you are my God. That, in a nutshell, is godly manhood.
Which of course begs the question: So how do I have a heart after God's heart? I think it starts right where you are — with desire (God given, I believe). In fact, I remember having only desire when I eked out this prayer, "God, I want to be a man after your heart, but to be honest, I don't have any passion for You right now at all. Please give me that passion." That simple prayer was the beginning of an amazing journey into the heart of God that continues today. What it has helped me realize is that a godly man is not made by a list, rather he is forged in the crucible of everyday life, where all the events and relationships of which he is a part are being used by God to draw the man into a greater intimacy with Him.
And it is in the crucible where I find God, because I am looking for Him; my senses are "awakened," as it were, to Him. When I am looking for Him, the Scriptures come alive, illuminated by His Spirit; prayer becomes a lifeline of conversation with the Holy One, and on my really good days I find myself like Paul, willing to give up all my religious pedigree simply to know Christ more fully.
Yes, there are a thousand practical things godly men should do, and some are of greater importance than others. We should study the scriptures. We should pay our bills on time. We should open doors for women. We should actively pursue godly relationships. We should serve. We should mentor someone and be mentored by someone. We should disciple and be discipled. We should read good books on biblical manhood.
I do all of these things and more. But if in doing them I have no greater love for Christ, no growing passion for the glory of God to be revealed through my life, no sense of a greater connection with the Spirit of God in my life, no deeper intimacy with the Father, then somewhere I have missed the point, and I need to go back to square one. You can't start at the fruit and work backwards. Fruit is borne out of abiding. This prayer I read long ago from A.W. Tozer is a great place to start:
O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed.
That kind of heart, if it is sincere, will not be ignored by God.
Copyright 2007 John Thomas. All rights reserved.