A man's sexuality is a lot like a spring. It seems to be always on and often has no real direction. Here's how to channel it toward life-giving pursuits.
PART 1: State of the Sexual Union »
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"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2, ESV).
I was recently asked a really tough question: "What does a normal, healthy, single man in today’s society look like?" The question implies that our culture does a poor job of teaching young men how to pursue marriage and steward their sexuality at any stage of life.
Actually, that’s too pleasant a way to say it. Society today encourages the worst in young men. Pop culture prophets on TV, in music and film all seem to push men to worship at the high altars of self-serving consumerism, dedicated materialism, sexual hedonism and spiritual agnosticism.
The most consistent cultural portrait of men is that of laughing adolescents who never grow up, never dedicate themselves to serving God or others, and who view women as an assemblage of body parts.
I’m not saying this to shake the shaming stick at anyone, but to simply acknowledge that it’s hard out there for young men today. Even though considerable numbers of young men participate in the culture’s male narrative to some degree, deep down, I suspect many desire a different kind of life which cuts through the fog of lust and greed, and inspires them to become who they were created to be.
Given that society has organized itself against a life of sexual purity and mature masculinity, a man who desires marriage and to carefully steward his sexuality may, at times, feel abnormal. For a young man battling temptation and seeing others indulge their lusts seemingly without harm and with much apparent enjoyment, the pressure to conform is tremendous. Who can stand alone in the midst of all this sexual madness?
The prophet Elijah thought he was the last of the faithful, but God revealed to him 7,000 who had never bowed to gods of the day. Those pursuing sexual purity may feel alone, but there are great numbers of godly young men earnestly seeking God’s plan for sexuality. You need to know that you are not alone, but you are a cultural anomaly. Dedication to sexual purity makes you stand out and invites the scorn and ridicule of the world. Just ask NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who is, perhaps, our nation’s most famous male virgin.
The Greek word martyria, from which we get our word martyr, reveals what the call of purity looks like. It means "to testify to." The young man who cultivates a habit of sexual purity is a martyr — a true witness — to his God-given identity as a man made in the image and likeness of the Trinity and redeemed from sin to glorify God, including through his body. In a sexually idolatrous age, this is a living witness of the highest order.
Recovering what it means to be a healthy man in God’s design is the first and most important step in a life of purity. A man battling temptation is far stronger when he lives toward what he is for rather than leans away from what he is against. After all, what kind of motorist drives with his eyes constantly fixed to the rearview mirror?
Still, even though true to the core of our existence, it is difficult for many church-going men to proudly declare, "I am a sexual being." In a "thou shalt not" religious culture dedicated to suppressing the sexual impulse, this seems tantamount to heresy, like spitting on a sacred text. Yet, this sexual hush-hush is precisely the problem. By not encouraging us to understand and tame our sexual nature, the do-gooders condemn us to a silent life of failure, misery and shame.
Missing is the idea that I can be a sexual man and not be threatening to others and myself. It’s as if Christians collectively believe that Jesus can redeem all sins except the sexual ones. We seem to harbor near complete suspicion of the power and allure of the opposite sex. Others could be a danger to our purity, so we treat all interaction between men and women with suspicion, including what otherwise would be healthy gender-affirming touch. Men and women alike wither without the frequent pure embrace of a brother or sister in Christ. Of course, some caution is warranted, as we have too often used the women in our lives, particularly through the lustful gaze. Yet, is there really no hope for the redemption of healthy relationships between the sexes?
Change the Channel
In the corner of our family farm is a natural spring that gurgles constantly. Left alone, it does little more than muddy the ground. Yet, when my father attaches piping, he can direct its flow to far parts of the pasture, providing clean cool water wherever the cattle are. It becomes productive.
A man’s sexuality is a lot like that spring. It seems to be always on, and it quite often has no real direction or purpose. Without guidance and borders, it is a murky mess. Enter the sexual world of "normal" young men today.
Your goal as a single and sexual Christian man is to recognize the tremendous gifts of your sexuality — that it reveals the self-giving nature of God, creates a means of incredible intimacy with your spouse, and has the capacity and calling to bring forth new life — and to channel its extraordinary energy and creativity into productive, life-giving pursuits.
Service to others is where men come fully alive. We were made to pour ourselves out for others. Too often we confine our sexuality to our genitalia and miss its fuller expression that is integrated into our entire masculine identity. Sex is far more about who we are than what we do with our bodies. In the absence of the spousal union, young men can dedicate their excess sexual energy to godly pursuits and serving others. This isn’t just homey advice. When we become who we were made to be, our sexuality makes more sense and more easily aligns with our God-given identity. Hands-on mission work, such as disaster relief, community clean-ups and playing with orphans overseas will make the heart of a man sing.
Here’s a challenge: If you want to feel fully alive as a man, take your grandmother on a date. You will open doors for her and help her to her seat. You will hold out your arm to steady her and speak politely all evening. Do this, and learn the honor and respect you should afford all women. Not because women are incapable of opening their own doors, but because to do so is to practice service to others, especially without seeking reward.
Drawing on the Divine
The idea of "practice" is helpful, because as everyone knows, you don’t master a talent without long hours of practice and frequent failure. The Christian community tends to expect Christian men to naturally tame a fallen and willful sexuality but without guidance and without clear role models showing how it is done. Is it any wonder why so many of us get bogged down in a life of sexual diversion and uncertainty about marriage?
In one of the great ironies of life, a great role model for men learning to steward their sexuality is a Catholic priest. "But wait," you protest, "the Catholic priest has willingly chosen a celibate life. I want to get married and expect to have sex at some point. I just want to know what to do now."
The priest is a good model not because he has chosen a celibate life, but because he joyfully embraces his calling. Most young men I know who seek marriage and authentic expression of sexuality are frustrated and may even be bitter about their state in life. Lost is the idea that God may be actually calling men to singleness at this time to prepare them for a higher life of love and service in marriage. God may actually be protecting your future wife from you right now! Remember, too, that the priest embraces a life of chastity, which is the right ordering of sexuality at any stage of life. The young man who merely focuses on what he does not have misses the point altogether.
The path of chastity involves what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction." We step, step, step toward our goal of sexual purity, not getting discouraged when we aren’t magically teleported to perfect living after the first day. We are quick to confess our sins to one another, as James 5:16 teaches, and continue moving forward.
But none of us can do this alone and in our own power. Paul reminds us in Romans 7:19 of the battle we all face: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." In Paul and in each of us is the law of sin working against the law of God. Yet Paul does not teach us to fight harder against the sin. Rather, he explains in Romans 8:5 that freedom comes by turning our allegiances to sin over to the Holy Spirit: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit."
R.A.Torrey wrote that the only good option is to let go of our control and open ourselves to the work God desires to do in us. He wrote, "The Christian life is not to be lived in the realm of natural temperament, and Christian work is not to be done in the power of natural endowment. The Christian life is to be lived in the realm of the Spirit, and Christian work is to be done in the power of the Spirit."
The indwelling and daily ministrations of the Holy Spirit are absolutely essential to a life of purity. "Blessed are the pure in heart," Jesus said, "for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8). So often we try to create a godly life on our own, guided by church leaders and the Bible, of course, but still under our own intellect, emotion and will.
If you do not have a daily, personal and intimate relationship with the Spirit of God, this might be the time to invite Him into your heart to begin the process of cleaning out His temple, your body. The Lord desires to heal and transform us. Will you let Him? Will you invite Him?
Your Muddling Friends
Finally, the chaste life requires some folks on the ground walking with you every step of the way. English poet John Donne wrote that "no man is an island," which offends a perversely individualized and socially isolated society. We too often think that we must stoically press forward through difficulty like the hunter in a Hemingway story.
What kind of support system do you have in place? Who is there that you can really trust to watch you stumble and help you up again with compassion and grace? If you don’t have a friend like that, start praying for one. Chances are there are at least a couple of guys in your circle who would like to take this journey with you.
One of my favorite lines comes in the novel Brendan by Frederick Buechner. After traveling much of the unknown world in his search for paradise, the sixth-century Irish saint finds himself in the dirty, stinking hut of a fellow monk. As the older one-legged monk struggles to stand up, he stumbles and begins to fall. Brendan catches him and in the process realizes what he had sought the world over. "To lend each other a hand when we’re falling," he says. "Perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end."
PART 3: Sexy Single Women »
Copyright 2012 Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved.