Summer Benediction

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray – for men to become godly leaders at church and at home, for women’s hearts to be softened and for marriages for those who desire them. 

As is our annual tradition, we will be taking off the month of August from our routine of Monday lunch fasts-and-prays. I hope this is an opportunity to soak up the vibrancy of the end of the summer. Let’s be honest – I hate writing the words “end of summer” but I plan to use that as a reason to jump in the deep end – literally and figuratively!

A few quick notes before we disperse for our mini break:

First, thank you to everyone who has participated in a visible (ie: comments and emails!) way in the past year. We appreciate getting glimpses of your stories and hearing candid feedback from experiences that may be very different from each of our own experiences. Thank you for being gracious (even when you disagreed with us or one another) and honest.

Secondly, thank you to everyone who has participated in Monday praying. Looking at our culture, our circumstances or our sinful hearts can be a scary and deadening experience if not countered with the reality of who God is and what God has done for us. I think praying is one of the chief ways we are brought back into the reality of how life actually works: God is on the throne as our Father and the Sovereign King of the universe. We come as dependent and helpless sin-soaked creatures – but, in Jesus Christ, more importantly as redeemed and beloved children. I think I believe more than ever that godly marriages are little miracles in this world, and miracles require supernatural intervention. I’m praying for more supernatural interventions!

Thirdly, what a peculiar group we are. Our stories and current circumstances are all over the map. Most of us don’t know one another. And yet we are tied together by a shared desire for a godly marriage (for us or someone we love) and some inner conviction that we can’t make that happen in our own strength. And so there is a growing group of folks praying and fasting about these topics, and a handful of initially reluctant authors putting their hearts and journeys on display along the way. How crazy is that? I’m excited to see what sort of fruit this crazy bears. I’m glad to be on this journey with you.

Fourthly, what to do with August? Since we won’t be fasting and praying, perhaps it can be a month for intentional gratitude. Forget the theology and frameworks and articles for a moment. I just want to rest in God’s goodness this summer. Leave the unmet expectations and the dating disappointments and hoped-for “perfect” life on the shelf. There is life right here, right now. I don’t want to miss that.

When we come back in the fall, we’ll tackle some of the themes that have been running through this year and also bring some new voices into the conversation. We look forward to seeing more answered prayer and sharing and hearing more stories along the way. In the meantime, have a wonderful August.

In His Grace,

Amy

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [Romans 8:31-33] 

Posted in Author: Amy | 2 Comments

The Hardest Joy

On Mondays, we fast and pray for our hearts to be soft towards the Lord, for men to love Jesus, for existing marriages to be strengthened, and for new relationships and marriages to begin for those who desire it.

A couple of months ago, it struck me that the current fast.pray. writers have similar backgrounds – we grew up in Christian homes, attended Christian colleges, and fall in the “single: never-married” category. Because we write from our own experiences, we are missing some other perspectives in our conversation on being faithful, hope-filled single women.

I asked a long-time friend if she would share what the Lord has taught her about being the only member of her family who is a Christian and how that has influenced her journey of singleness. The rest of today’s post is from her heart.

Please consider praying for the salvation of Catherine’s family as you fast and pray this week.

Blessings,

Emily

When I was asked to write a post about the challenges of waiting on the Lord for marriage when your family is not faith-based, I easily identified a few of the more obvious options:

  • I could write about my parents’ attempts to set me up with the son of a friend and needing to politely turn down the invitation because I knew that this son did not love or even like Jesus and therefore wasn’t marriage potential.
  • I could write about when a man I was dating last summer visited my family and no one understood why he and I couldn’t share a room.
  • I could chronicle the numerous conversations my parents and I have had about various ways to “put myself out there” and create more opportunities to be noticed.

There are a lot of specific struggles that I could write about, reviewing advice I’ve been given, how I’ve handled the struggles well or poorly, and how it has affected this time of waiting in my life.

But I realized that those examples, while awkward and challenging, don’t get at the heart of the matter. The hardest part of pursuing righteousness, contentment, and purity in my wait for a spouse is knowing that how I wait is painting a picture of grace and faith for my family.  

When I choose to listen to the “brain trash” (as my friend calls it) about God not caring about my desire for marriage, or me being too flawed to be desirable as a wife, I lose an opportunity for my family to see God differently than the distant, subjective dictator in their minds. Conversely, when I choose to talk about how God has shaped my standards out of what He knows is best, and how He is giving great meaning to my life apart from my marital status, I give them a glimpse of the complicated beauty that is a faith-oriented life.

This is my hardest joy. It is hard because I don’t always do it well, and frankly find at times it’s easier to buy into their perspective than return to truth. It can feel defeating when your own family thinks you’re lessening your chances by holding such high and uncommon standards!

But it brings me joy because it is a unique opportunity for God to reveal Himself to them. They get to see how trusting God, while hard at times, also avoids a lot of other complications that come from being overly eager and impatient. They get to experience a bigger picture of what gives life value and vibrancy, and how God creatively meets our needs outside of a marriage relationship.

My singleness has started conversations that bring my family face-to-face with the Gospel, and that makes the waiting process invaluable!

Whether your family has prayed for your marriage since infancy, or like mine, still can’t quite understand why living together isn’t a viable alternative to pre-marital counseling, remember that God is at work for people to know Him, even in the process of waiting and trusting Him for marriage.

While we continue to pray for our own hearts to be shaped, let’s also remember those whose hearts could be softened towards God for the first time and pray that we would represent Him well!

Catherine

 

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Abstinence = Total Freedom

On Mondays, we pray and fast in the freedom of Christ. We pray and fast for three main reasons: that God would raise up men to walk in to relationships, that God would soften our hearts as women, and to give the gift of marriage for those who desire it.

I was going to write on a completely different topic today, but then, when I was walking through the church parking lot on my way to the service this morning, I saw a faded bumper sticker.

ABSTINENCE = TOTAL FREEDOM
Unwanted Pregnancy Prevention

I stopped and stared awkwardly at the bumper of car until the very nice Christian family came to crank up the car to go Panera Bread. I scratched that creepy, 1984-esque adhesion right off their automobile and then, proceeded to read aloud from Amy’s post from a few weeks ago about the awkward underlying assumptions of the True Love Waits movement.

Or, at least I would have if the service hadn’t been about to start.

Maybe, you’ve been heard that message before, if you just stop, halt, or repress your sex drive to a low simmer that never reaches the catastrophic, kitchen-ruining boil over that you will be free from sexual temptation, free from unwanted pregnancy, and more holy, to boot.

Yes, technically, not having sex is the only sure-fire way not to get pregnant, and I’m not saying that having sex outside of marriage equals total freedom either, but there is a shallowness that is pervasive in our dialog about human sexuality and marriage, especially in the Protestant church.

The bumper sticker and the attached well-meaning driver probably feels like they are contributing something valuable, but sadly it presents a flattened, unhelpful message to Christian singles who are trying to navigate living fully while being celibate. The message shouting at us in all caps, Arial Black is essentially: God made sex and sexuality for married people; you’re not married and shouldn’t be sexual. Just don’t have sex.

To keep me from getting out a Swiss Army knife and permanently damaging a car bumper, I just have to add a few things for the record.

You are human. You are inherently sexual. God made humans as men and women, male and female. You cannot be separated from your body, and so, regardless of whether or not you should have sex, you are sexual. It’s a part of being a human, created in the image of God for relationship with Him and for communicating His creativity to the universe. You cannot abstain from being female, from having female anatomy or biological responses. You are called to holiness, but you are not called to androgyny. You are half of humanity, and your femaleness is a built-in picture for our need for community with God and with people.

Celibacy and marriage redeem sex. This bumper sticker theology implies that marriage is gaining something of elemental value and that celibacy is refraining from something of innate worth (with the side benefit of not having an unexpected pregnancy or an STD). Christopher West explains this faulting thinking this way:

Hey, marriage is the only ‘legitimate’ chance you Christians get to indulge your lusts…You [are] condemning yourself to a life of hopeless repression.

West counters that prevailing view that exists both inside and outside the church.

The difference between marriage and celibacy must never be understood as the difference between having a ‘legitimate’ outlet for sexual lust on the one hand and having to repress it on the other. Christ calls everyone—no matter his or her [marital status]—to experience redemption from the domination of lust. Only from this perspective [can Christian] celibacy and marriage make any sense. Both vocations—if they are to be lived as Christ intends—flow from the same experience of the redemption of sexual desire…

The point is that our sexuality calls us to give ourselves away in life-giving love. The celibate person doesn’t reject [or abstain from] this call. He just lives it in a different way.

You are, by your created design, sexual. You have the desire for earthly marriage and family. But, God hasn’t provided that for you at this point. God doesn’t say abstain from being a woman; hold back on living, and turn off that stove. Instead, He is with you in your sacrifice and desire to be holy, inviting you to redeem sexual desire by living fruitfully and passionately today—making use of your desire to mother, to nurture, to give of yourself.

We have been called to an abundant, joyfully sacrificial life—not one easily explained in three words and a symbol on a piece of sticky plastic.

I’m just glad that I didn’t have a pocketknife with me. A viral Instagram or YouTube link of a crazed, single woman defacing a car in a church parking lot doesn’t really have a nice ring to it.

Blessings on you as you pray, fast, and redeem sexual desire this week.

Anna

 

Posted in Author: Anna | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

He’s Got Your Back

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray that men would walk uprightly with God, that women’s hearts would be softened, and that God would grant marriages to those who long for them.

Driving home from the Father’s Day festivities the other week, I started thinking about my dad (I like to keep my thoughts in line with the day’s theme). I was reflecting on the stuff we do together (or I rope him into doing), and my mind wandered to my bathroom project I naively started and thought I could finish while my dad was on vacation. Eight months later, I had a functioning bathroom again, and my dad had been over several times to help me keep the project moving. My girl muscles just do not hold the power of a man arm that rivals the circumference of my thigh.

Someone once asked me how I got to be so adventurous with house projects. My response was something like, “I know my dad has my back!” I would never try half of the things I attempt, if I didn’t know I had a skilled father to call on for assistance.

While in the car on Father’s Day Sunday, it hit me, shouldn’t I have the same trust in God and believe He will have my back? I should be able to step out in faith knowing that God has my back. So why do I feel more reticent when it comes to exercising faith in God?

Trusting that my dad has my back when I attempt to repair my dryer or decide to make an off-street parking space behind my house seems to come naturally. So why is it any different with my Heavenly Father? Shouldn’t I know without any doubt that He has my back when I live by faith?

I was reading in 2 Timothy 4 this week and Paul practically says the same thing about trusting God, only he didn’t say “God’s got your back!” In the end of chapter 4, Paul mentions to Timothy that he feels alone and abandoned, as no one had come to his aid during his trial. He was sitting in prison without any visitors. In the midst of being alone and imprisoned, Paul keeps perspective and says in verse 17:

But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.

Paul trusted that God had his back through prison and abandonment, and continued to step out in faith. Do I really believe God has my back to that level of self denial for the cause of the Gospel? I want to live on the edge of faith and trust that God has my back.

I’ve heard faith is like a muscle and needs to be exercised, so I’m trusting and believing…

- as I commit to giving and recognizing my resources are God’s gift (dual income or not), He will have my back.

- as I serve others and put aside selfish ways, He will have my back.

- as I approach relationships with men differently than society (treating them as brothers until dating and keeping sex for marriage), He will have my back.

- as I meander through a semblance of a career that I thought I’d depart from for motherhood, He will have my back.

- as I seek Jesus, explore His plan for my life, and exercise my faith in Him, He will have my back!

Just as my bathroom remodel had its challenges, this journey of faith will too. Bumps, bruises, and scars will all be part of the ride, but they are all what build character and make for great stories of God’s faithfulness. In the end all that matters is, as Paul declared, “that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.”

He’s got your back!

Michelle

Posted in Author: Michelle | 8 Comments

True Love Waits: An Awkward Retrospective

We fast and pray on Mondays for marriages to those who desire them, for men walk upright into relationship, and for women to be softened instead of becoming embittered. 

Want to know what is a strange feeling? Finding my old True Love Waits “pledge card” signed by my teenage self at a summer youth conference years ago.  Weird. Reminded me of all the Josh Harris books and creepy wedding-band-esque rings and overly dramatic skits about the dangers of having sex before marriage. Some part of it made me laugh, but I was a bit sad to think how much I had believed that life was as clear-cut as “sign an abstinence pledge, don’t have sex, find nice boy, get married, have kids, figure out the rest later.”

I’m not the only evangelical kid of the late-90s who got sad (and then angry) upon learning that real life was a bit more dicey than the formula. Finding the pledge card triggered some musings over the basic premise of TLW: save yourself for marriage. When I hear that now, I hear some messed-up assumptions:

  • It’s self-centered: the pledge was mostly about me and making sure I had the best shot at a good marriage with amazing sex (obvi) due to my abstinent teenage years.  To be fair, this was an excellent marketing point that meshed quite well with my culture’s overt worship of sexual indulgence. The church just said you can have all the indulgence – just make sure you’ve put a ring on it first. Sounds great – where do I sign?!
  • It’s self-reliant: The pledge said that I was the one who had to do the saving…it was up to me to bring my best self into marriage. The pledge was making a commitment to “God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children” that I would be sexually abstinent until marriage. Notice that God is the party to which I commit, not the strength by which I live out the pledge.
  • It’s a defensive posture: TLW language often made it sound like I (as a teen) had some magically sexually sinless heart and body.  And it was my job to protect that from other people aka boys. The idea that sexual sin was already alive and well inside my heart somehow got lost in the mix.
  • Marriage is the goal line: This has been, to my single celibate self, the most destructive lie. There was never any conversation in TLW about not getting married. The goal was to get the virginity football to the marriage end zone. That’s it. Game over. End of story. So not getting married caused some serious theological problems for me. What was the purpose of being abstinent if I wasn’t ever going to get married anyway? Where exactly is this mythical spouse for whom I’ve been “saving myself” (albeit poorly)? And do I miss out on “true love” if I don’t find that spouse?

Fast forward to today: my experience as a single, trying-to-date, celibate adult has often been awkward. Sometimes it feels like the realistic path is to get angry at how TLW misled me and instead jump into the culture’s hook-up-centric Tinder cesspool.  But I know that isn’t a better option…and it often ends badly. Sexual sin always leads to bondage. There isn’t life at the end of misused sexuality…no matter what shape it takes.

I don’t want to be enslaved to self-centered bitterness because I’m angry at and cynical toward “the church.” And I don’t want to be enslaved to my culture’s idol of selfish sexual consumption.

Maybe there’s a different path. A path of following a living God who gave us the gift of His Spirit to lead us, in real-time, toward freedom in truth.  A God who gave Himself to pay for all the lies and all the rebellious, entitled, consumer, selfish sexual sin of our individual choices and the consequences of others’ equally sinful choices toward us.

I think it is better to follow God’s design, just not for the reasons TLW said it was.  God does know what He’s talking about when it comes to our bodies and our souls and our loves – whether I get married or not. God knows all the lies I absorb on a daily basis, and He’s relentless at knocking them down so I can glimpse more of Him – which is the only thing that really changes me.

As we fast and pray together this week, think about places where you might have absorbed lies about sex or the body or romantic love from the church or the culture or elsewhere. And let’s enjoy the fact that those lies are absolutely no match for the truth and freedom of the Gospel.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. (Romans 8:1-3)

By His Grace,

Amy

Posted in Author: Amy | 20 Comments

Going for Broke

We fast and pray for God to change our hearts, raise up godly men, and give the gift of marriage to those who desire it.

Lately, my conversations with God have sounded a lot like talking with a two-year-old toddler. With a tilted head, curious eyes and a ceaseless line of questions, He’s always asking me why.

God, I really want to be married.

Why do you want to be married, Jacqueline?

There are lots of reasons!

Like what?

You know. Companionship. Family. Intimacy. Love.

Mhmm. So why do you want those things?

Because they’re good things! I want a best friend to do life with. I want someone to raise a family with. I want someone to do ministry with. And since you asked, quite frankly I want someone to have a whole lot of sex with. You know, to make up for all these years I’ve been going without.

(I picture God smiling at that one)

Fair enough, Jac. But why?

Because I don’t want to spend my life alone.

Why not?

Because!

Because why?

Because I don’t! Because I’m tired of taking care of things all by myself. Because I want someone who can take care of me. Because I want someone who can provide for me. Because I want someone who knows how to fix a freaking washing machine.

Mmmm. So…you want a provider?

Well…yeah. Yeah I do.

It usually doesn’t take long for us to get to the bottom of things (“things” meaning namely, my true heart motive). His line of questioning makes a lot of sense, though. Over and over again in Scripture, I see a God who cares far more about our reasons than our actions. A God who knows that the right thing with the wrong heart is actually the wrong thing. A God who does not looks at the outward appearance but instead looks at the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7).

And, when we get to the bottom of things, I have to acknowledge that one of the biggest reasons I want to be married is because I want someone to take care of me financially.

There. I said it.

I know it sounds old-fashioned and anti-feminist. After all, I’m a strong, independent woman who isn’t afraid to work hard and get her hands dirty. I’ve had to handle leases and budgets and repair shops and tow trucks and broken washing machines. And I have no problem being a big girl and taking care of adult responsibilities.

I guess…I just expected a lot of those responsibilities to be temporary.

Maybe that’s just me. But as I talk with a lot of my single friends, especially those women who are in their thirties, forties and fifties, I often hear that same unmet expectation. The ache to be taken care of by a husband. That desire for someone else to shoulder the burden of provision.

The irony is that it’s not just a single woman’s ache.

See, I’ve been dating a pretty phenomenal guy for about nine months, and barring an unexpected intervention, we’re quickly moving toward engagement. He is hardworking, strong, tender, intelligent and he pursues the Lord with all his heart. But the nature of his work means that, if we get married, we’ll both need to work hard, live simply and budget creatively. We’ll both need to shoulder the burden of provision.

But just when my heart starts to protest, that’s when God stops asking me questions and starts making statements:

Jacqueline, Michael is not your provider. I am.

Consider the lilies. See how they grow. They don’t toil. They don’t work. They don’t spin. And yet even Solomon in all his splendor was not dressed like one of these. If then, I clothe the lilies and the grass like this—which is today in the field and tomorrow burnt up, then how much more will I clothe, dress adorn and take care of you, oh dear one of little faith? (Luke 12:27-28)

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ I, your heavenly Father, know that you need those things. But if you seek first My kingdom and My righteousness, then all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6: 31-33)

And I will liberally supply your every need according to My riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:9)

His tender voice pierces my spirit, and that’s when I remember that all of us—single or married, man or woman—will never need to shoulder the ultimate burden of provision.

Why?

Because our Abba Father, our Jehovah Jireh, our all-powerful Provider with all the riches of heaven and earth at His disposal has already obligated Himself to shoulder that burden.

As we fast and pray this Monday, let’s ask for the kind of childlike, trusting faith that God wants us to exercise, reminding ourselves that He has been, always is and always will be I AM, the God who Provides.

Praying along with you!

Jacqueline

Jacqueline has been a part of the FastPray community for years and is guest writer for us this week.

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Grumbling and Fighting

On Mondays, we pray and fast for lunch for three reasons. First, we pray that we would allow God to soften our hearts as women—being open to everything He’s doing in our lives. Second, we pray for men—that God would raise them up, confirm for them who they are in Christ, and embolden them to lead in relationships and in the church. Third, we pray that God would give the gift of marriage to those who desire it.

Four years ago this summer, I made the day-long journey from East Asia to the United States. I’d lived in a city teeming with people and bicycles for three years; a city filled with the aroma of dumplings and roasted sweet potatoes—among other unpleasant smells that I’m choosing to forget. I left my teaching position with a heavy heart, and I don’t always know that it was for the right reasons. One of the underlying reasons, was that I realized in those three years that I was lonely and desperately wanted to be married, and I didn’t see how God could provide a husband for me where I was. I’d had a few relational dust-ups along the way, and my heart was having trouble healing. So, I came home—unable to put my worries and fears about singleness into words.

Even though I’m still not married, God has taken care of me. I have avenues for talking about singleness and my unexpected life. As is often the case with longings that haven’t been realized, it’s not always easy to explain your story and fears to family, friends, or well-meaning pastors. I just want to be intuitively understood. (Welcome to Pipe Dreaming 101.)

God has been good to me, but I more often than not, I still have a grumbling attitude about being single.

I don’t want to have to continually wave the singles flag in the corner of the sanctuary when people ask if you’ve ever heard of online dating or a married pastor spits out another cliché about single folks just needing to try just a little bit harder or wait a little bit longer.

I just don’t have the words or enough godliness or sheer patience to push back (or push forward?) with better thinking on singleness in the church or with biblical perspectives of living as a woman who wants to make babies but who is choosing to obey the call to chastity. (I may be single, but I don’t have some Holy Spirit-infused, ZapNTrap device that kills off hormones like mosquitoes, leaving me with a blue glow and a magical “gift of celibacy.” If you can find one, let me know.)

On Saturday morning, I was reading from Exodus 14, which is the story of the Israelites being chased by Pharaoh’s army, and God parting the Red Sea. In the previous chapters, Israel had been in a pretty terrible spot. Slavery. 400 years. Bricks without straw. No home. Dirt poor. And, in the middle of all of that, God rescued them in pretty spectacular fashion.

In the middle of chapter 14, the Israelites are on the edge of the Red Sea, and they see the army coming, and they start freaking out big time. Why did you bring us here? You have abandoned us here to die. We could have just made better graves in Egypt. Who gives a rat’s hindquarters if God has taken care of us in the past? We’re still in a terrible place with no way out. Moses, you suck for bringing us here. In that moment, Moses says in verse 14:

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.

When I read that, I laughed. God cares enough to fight for me, regardless of my whining. He hasn’t left me with my bad attitude to somehow muddle through on my own—shouting from the church basement to be heard. Don’t forget about singles! Why am I here? I should have stayed in East Asia. There’s no way out of here.

He says… shhh… I’m fighting for you.

I’m not advocating for total silence, but the Lord reminded my heart this weekend He is the one who fights for me, for you, for bristly singles with unmet longing, for cynical married people with heartbreak, for His broken people.

The blog posts on singleness, FastPray Mondays asking for the gift of marriage, emails to sensitive elders in the church who want to hear the hearts of single women, informal discussions with co-workers and friends about the single life, none of those are wrong, but it’s so important for me to remember that the Lord is the one fighting for me and for you. And, because He’s carrying the burden, I can walk in freedom and joy in the day that He’s made and given.

As I was writing, a line from a song called, The Art of Celebration, came to mind:

Oh, praise the One who fights for me,
And, shields my soul eternally.

Enjoy it as you pray and fast this week.

Blessings,
Anna

Posted in Author: Anna | Tagged , | 25 Comments