How I Spent Most of My Life Asking the Wrong Question

I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of spending most of my life asking the wrong question. I could blame it on the culture of our education system, Christian reading material, incorrect theological doctrine, personality questionnaires, or every single person who approached me as a kid and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But I’m not going to do that. Because I think it’s time to own up to the fact that like many others, I have asked the wrong question. I have misplaced my focus and pinned myself on the center of the sphere of life and mistakenly believed that the world I inhabit revolves around me.

So before I go any further, let’s pretend for a minute that our dreams, aspirations, plans, hopes, and desires don’t carry any weight. Let’s imagine taking all of those things and tossing them into a great abyss, with no promise of ever getting them back. Sounds a bit dramatic, I know. But just for the sake of starting with a clean slate…let’s do that.

When I graduated from college, I felt a little bit lost and purposeless. So I bought a bunch of books that were supposed to help me find my strengths. I charted my strengths, wrote down brief descriptions, read some practical examples of what I could do to find purpose while utilizing my gifts. And it felt like such an empty endeavor.

It was then that I realized that I can never search within myself to find satisfaction or confidence or purpose. The best part of me – the only part of me that is good – is God. The only reason I have any purpose at all is because I was designed by God, for His glory.

But as I stumbled through the self-help section of a local Christian bookstore, that truth was a bit easy to miss.

So back to the part where our own plans don’t matter and where the quest for “purpose” isn’t as difficult at it seems…

I’ve been reading a book by an incredible man named David Platt. And this is what he says in Radical (p. 159-160):

I find it interesting that one of the most common questions asked today among Christians is “What is God’s will for my life?” or “How do I find God’s will for my life?” Many Christians have almost assumed the attitude that they would obey God if he would just show them what he wanted them to do.

In the middle of a Christian culture asking, “How do I find God’s will for my life?” I bring good news. His will is not lost.

The will of God is for you and me to give our lives urgently and recklessly to making the gospel and the glory of God known among all peoples, particularly those who have never even heard of Jesus. The question, therefore, is not “Can we find God’s will?” The question is “Will we obey God’s will?”

Did that smack you across the face as hard as it smacked me?

Think about it. We say we love God, we’re doing ministry for God, we’re shining as lights in the darkness for God. But how many times do we make our “ministry” or our career or our “calling” our god and then just slap the name of God on it to affirm that we have purpose beyond ourselves?

How many times have I asked God that question – “What is your will for my life?”

God makes His will clear in His Word. He issues our purpose, a command to be obeyed, for all of those found in Christ:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

~Matthew 28:19-20

I’m not sure why, but somewhere along the lines, we made this an “option” of following Jesus. And in doing so, we missed out on our purpose.

In going to Africa, I realize that it will be a fun, exciting, difficult, stretching, painful, and joyful experience. And one thing that God keeps reminding me is that my purpose for existing is not so I could go to Africa. My purpose for existing is to MAKE HIS NAME KNOWN. To speak truth into hearts that are wickedly deceived, to bring light into dark areas of the world. And the awesome thing is, we can do this wherever God calls us to be.

I do believe that God very much meant for us to go to ALL NATIONS, just as He said. But I also believe that we can be serving our purpose by making God known and teaching and discipling others in His truths wherever we are.

It’s time to abandon our question of “purpose,” though. Because we already have the answer. Maybe you aren’t in ministry and don’t see yourself doing full-time ministry ever. And that is okay. But your purpose remains the same: go, tell others about Christ, disciple them in the Word, obey what God has commanded us in the Word.

This is easier said than done, I understand. I anticipate a difficult experience in Africa in part because I am afraid there are many dreams and desires I want to hold onto. But I think those can come into play in all of this.

Remember that imaginary abyss where you tossed your dreams and desires? God gives us gifts, talents, and dreams for a reason. It is just hard to discern which desires are from Him and which were put there by the world.

My challenge to you – and to me – is to offer up each piece of that and ask God how it fits in with our primary purpose for existing. God’s will for our lives will always be to glorify Him and make Him known. But that will look different for each of us. And our gifts, talents, dreams, and desires will fit into that differently.

Lord, may we be people who desire to fulfill the Great Commission – may we be people who desire to live URGENTLY and RECKLESSLY to make the Gospel known to all people. Remove the selfishness that is associated with our questions of purpose and reveal to us your ways, which are so much higher than ours. Give us eyes to see the people in front of us so we might see them and love them and meet their needs. And Lord, teach us how our dreams fit into your great purpose of furthering your glory all over the earth. Amen.

 

the whisper that is louder than my noise

Life is funny. One minute you can be knee-deep in worship and your spirit is stirred and you feel vulnerable and excited and invested and the next, you can be  self-analyzing and overthinking everything while mentally and emotionally withdrawing from all of the stimulus. Then you can go home and throw on some sweats and headphones and dance like a fool while cleaning and trying to sort through what is trash and what is worth keeping.

And just when it seems like the music is the escape from having to feel any more emotions – just when it seems like you are emotionally detached enough to revert back to the closed off person that you used to be – God breaks through the noise, because He’s sovereign and doesn’t care how loud our noise is – and shatters your heart.

Maybe that has never happened to you. But that has been my night.

I’m currently sitting on a comforter, on the floor, in the middle of boxes and shredded paper in an attempt to get rid of everything that I won’t need when I move to Africa. And in the middle of my hardened shell that builds when fear convinces me that I’ve been too vulnerable and that vulnerability is dangerous, God just split the shell right down the middle with a bunch of reminders of what has been.

God is gentle with me in ways that I don’t get. Because I feel like sometimes I just deserve a slap across the face since I know better than to withdraw from the God who rescued and redeemed me and continues to rescue me daily. But no, God is so tender and careful with me.

So I’m sitting here shredding old bank statements when I come across all of these papers and letters and folders that just blow my mind.

I’m moving to another country on the other side of the world in January – which is usually the month when I journal a ton and reflect on the past year – and in the middle of my cleaning frenzy, God tossed all of these reminders into my lap of what this past year has held.

So here is just a snapshot of the year in review…

I wrote a full-length play, procrastinated and revised a million times, defended my thesis, and graduated from the University Honors College at MTSU with a double-major and a minor. Took a one-week songwriting class and wrote a song about the prostitutes that I met in the Red Light District of Amsterdam last summer.

I fell in love, trusted God through a hard end to a relationship, learned that I have a ton of room for growth when it comes to depending on others. I confessed a major sin struggle to a few people and God freed me from the shackles that seemed to bind me to shame and self-condemnation. Broke my wrist, had surgery, had pins, plates, and screws permanently set into my right arm. I went through physical therapy for three months and learned that healing takes a lot of time.

I’ve continued to build a relationship with my biological dad, whom I didn’t have contact with for a long time, and God has continued to honor that in neat ways. I’ve been to the weddings of really close friends, wondered if I will ever have a wedding of my own, wrestled with my sense of purpose and self-worth as a college grad, and learned more about identity in Christ vs. identity in self.

And now I’m getting ready to move to Africa for at least 6 months. And I’m remembering that Africa is not the goal, the pinnacle, or my purpose for being alive. God is always the goal. Jesus has walked with me through every step of this journey and moving to the other side of the world is just another step in that journey. It’s just another part of this life of trusting and obeying and believing that God’s plans are so much higher than mine – which is hard to do.

When I stare at a flashing cursor on a white, blank page a year from now, I’m sure the experiences that have yet to come will be in this list of mind-blowing markers in my life. But no person, no place, no event can ever take the place of Jesus in my heart. I could mistakenly idolize Africa and crown it king in my life, but that would be hypocrisy, blasphemy, and idolatry. The experience isn’t what defines us. The experience shapes us. But God – who is constant in and through every experience – defines us.

So God, when you find me alone in my room with my music blaring, the doors of my heart ready to close, and my emotions on the verge of retirement for the week, I trust that you are sovereign. And that it is safe to surrender to You time and time again, even if the safety of surrender means a dangerous existence of trusting and obeying, come what may.

Here I am. Samuel spoke those words to you. Take and use me. Surely Daniel spoke the same.

Here am I. Designed for your glory. Molded for your glory. If there is no other purpose to my life than that, then it is with great purpose that I continue to walk into the next day.

A lot of days I feel like it’s just you and me, Jesus. I feel the weight of my solitude at so many different points. And you are kind to surround me with people who are amazing and who love and care for me. And you are kind to take me into the wilderness, alone, to test my heart and see if I will be fully surrendered to you even if it is a lonely journey. And you are kind to fill me when I feel completely empty. So thank you, Lord.

And thank you for the gentle reminders of the journey that you have brought me on, even in the past year. Please continue to hold me accountable, speaking your truth, your grace, your mercy, your discipline. And even when this journey of surrender seems like more than I can bear, show me my scar again and remind me that you died so I could live and my life is of no value if I don’t live like I am dead to myself because now, I am crucified with Christ.

i’m moving to south africa

Hi friends!

I am heading to South Africa the first week of January to join the YWAM team in Muizenberg, Capetown. I will still be using this blog occasionally, but if you want to keep up with my Africa plans and read more about that experience, all of those details can be found at this page.

Blessed by all of you and grateful to be connected!

-s

Why I’m Not Praying for My Future Spouse

Everyone reaches the point in their life where their friend circle starts looking a lot like Noah’s ark – everyone starts pairing off and walking two-by-two. Engagements are announced, weddings are planned, prayers are spoken, tears are shed, vows are read, marriage is celebrated. And it’s beautiful. Because God is the Master Designer, and He designed marriage to be beautiful.

What’s new, however, is the information age in which everything is quickly accessible and an engagement announcement that perhaps, once upon a time, was a big deal, sit down, in-person announcement is suddenly just another segment in the daily Facebook newsfeed. And because these things generally happen in great numbers, many of these engagements happen around the same time. And so do the respective weddings.

And while marriage is still beautiful, to the members of Noah’s menagerie who have yet to be paired off, the constant pairing and matchmaking leaves them kicking up the dust and saying, “Well, there goes another one. Make that two.” I say this only because I have heard this from other single women, and some men, that I know. And I get it.

It’s weird when friendships change because your best friend is married and suddenly your schedules don’t match up anymore. It didn’t used to matter what time you left your friend’s house – you could talk all night before, but now that she’s married…things change.

But it’s more than that.

I think that singles could handle the flurry of wedding announcements in and of themselves. Personally, I loved the wedding invitation collage on my bulletin board this past spring. I carefully marked each date on my calendar, made travel arrangements when necessary, and eagerly anticipated celebrating the marriages of my dear friends.

The damaging part of our culture is that the majority of those who are already married are incredibly eager to marry off their remaining single friends. So they ask us if we’ve met “someone” yet or if the guy whose picture is plastered on our Facebook profile has “popped the question” yet. And it’s awkward and uncomfortable. Because what if there isn’t a “somebody” in sight? And what if the guy in the picture is just a good friend and the dating conversation hasn’t even come up yet?

Generally, it seems that friends who have found their “someone” want to speed up the process for those who have not. If Single Girl hasn’t met anyone yet – no problem. There’s this guy who is friends with so-and-so who would be just perfect, so you two should meet. If Single Girl has started spending more time with Cute-and-must-be-single Boy, then the questions start flying about interest and love and marriage and yikes – someone please put on the brakes.

And heaven forbid if Single Girl starts pursuing her career or thinking about something other than meeting “the one” – then there probably needs to be some sort of intervention – like signing them up for the church’s singles small group – after all, everyone knows that the singles small group was the inspiration for eharmony.com. Or if there’s no hope for that, at least she is the perfect person to volunteer for every single task that absolutely no married person would ever commit to, since they have responsibilities and a life and everything.

I say all of this not because I have been personally offended by any of these approaches, but because I see and know people – a whole lot of single people – who have been. Who are tired of the pressure to find the right person right now. And maybe, who aren’t called to marriage now or possibly ever.

Have we ever thought of that? That some people just aren’t called to marriage?

Don’t get me wrong, I would like to be married. I would love to have a best friend and helpmate who gets me, cares for me, and is in my life for better or for worse. But I know that I am not ready for marriage right now. And that God is calling me to full service and devotion to Him for the rest of my life, whether or not I ever get married.

A long time ago, my mom encouraged me to pray for my future husband. And I did. I think I even wrote a letter or two. But I was 13 back then and the reality of marriage seemed so far off. Today, marriage is very much a reality for many of my friends and very much a possibility for me at this stage of life. Except at this moment, marriage is not an impending reality. And that’s okay. Because God has graciously given me plenty of people to love and invest in at this season of life.

Don’t get me wrong – I think prayer is so important and so vital to growth and communion with God and a greater understanding of the things which may be hidden from us at certain points in our life. And I believe that it is important to pray for your spouse and possibly even for a future spouse. But when I pray for my spouse, I don’t “name it and claim it,” so to speak. This is what my prayer sounds like:

Lord, if it is in your perfect design for me to get married one day, please be with the man that you have for me to marry one day. Please strengthen his love for you and please reveal yourself to him more and more. And God, if there is that person for me, please allow us to love you the most – more than we care for each other – and then let us love each other in a way that glorifies you and points others towards you. But if it is not in your plan for me to marry, may I continue to serve and glorify and honor you and may I live out my calling to the fullest, seeking to worship you even when it is hard. Amen.

See, I can’t pray for my future spouse because I don’t know if there is one. And you can say, “That’s silly. Of course you’re going to get married. Most people get married. I mean, don’t you want to get married?”

But whether I want to be married or not is irrelevant. There are a lot of things that I want to do in life and many of them probably wouldn’t bring glory to God. The purpose of marriage is to bring glory to God, but I know plenty of older single individuals who are bringing plenty of glory to God by being devoted to Christ and sold out to His plans even when those plans don’t include marriage.

Our purpose on earth is to become more like Christ. I definitely believe marriage is a sanctifying tool (which is part of the reason that I sometimes think I need to be married eventually…I need a lot of sanctifying). However, being single for the remainder of one’s life on earth can also be very sanctifying. Because it teaches us to suppress certain desires or emotions and surrender them so that God’s desires can be at the forefront of our hearts.

The biggest reason that I am not consistently praying for my future spouse is that I believe it is an abuse of prayer in my life, at this time. The purpose of prayer – always – is to get a hold of God, not of the answer, as Oswald Chambers would say. So if I am praying for the man I will one day marry at a season in my life when I know that marriage is not supposed to be the thing occupying my thoughts and desires because God has a different calling for me at the time, then I might be missing something that God wants me to pray about.

If I am testing God to see if He will give me something (or rather, someone) if I beg or plead long enough, then I fear that my motive would be incorrect. There are things right now in my life that I know I need to be seeking God’s counsel about, such as “Who can I minister to today?” or “What sin is keeping me from experiencing full joy and freedom in Christ?” or “Who or what am I idolizing in place of God?”

The crux for me, though, is this: God is not the means to an end. God doesn’t bless us with marriage because of something good we did. And if I am praying for a spouse merely to gain God’s favor so that He will give me a husband sooner than later, my heart is totally in the wrong place.

So when I say I am not praying for my future spouse, it is not out of bitterness or disdain for marriage, but out of a conviction that there are other places for my heart to focus in this season. I recognize that praying for my spouse now could distract me from what God has laid before me. Perhaps by focusing on what God has not given me yet, I will miss out on being grateful for what He has given me. And unless God confirms that I will be married one day, I feel that I cannot pray with the presumption that there is a husband for me out there somewhere. Though, I believe that it is definitely within the realm of God’s power to provide me with a husband, if that is His desire.

For all my single friends – God has a purpose for you now. And He doesn’t view us as less adequate for His work. Rather, as single champions of Christ, we have more flexibility to “go” when God says go and minister in ways which are unique to those who are not married and do not have the responsibility of others to care for.

For all my married friends – God has purposes for you now. To demonstrate with your lives the love that Christ has for His Church and to be an example to other married couples (and singles) of what it looks like to do life with someone else. I would encourage you, though, not to expect the same lifestyle from your single friends that you are currently leading. Maybe God has a different calling for them that isn’t any greater or less than yours, but rather different.

For my single friends who are praying for their future spouse, that is awesome. But please know, that while God may have someone for you in the future, He very much has plans for you right now, right where He has planted you. He is not limited by our circumstances, so I pray that you will feel the fullness of God and may be equipped to trust and obey and walk into whatever calling He has for you.

God’s goodness is not conditional on whether or not we are married or entertaining the idea – His goodness is constant for all of His children and may manifest itself differently for each of us, regardless of our surroundings.

May we pray to seek Him, not in an attempt to manipulate what our future may look like or to what degree God will bless us. He blesses us every day by offering all of Himself. May our joy come from the knowledge of that truth and may our confidence rest in His promise to never leave or forsake us.