Self-proclaimed Perfection

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray – for men to become godly leaders at church and at home; for soft hearts that are responsive to the Lord; and for strong, Christ-centered marriages for those who desire them.

Sometimes when I hear that a couple has broken up or a marriage has ended, there is a little, tiny part of me that feels vindicated. Smug.

“I could have told them it would never work out.”

“They got married too young.”

“I would never let it get to the point in MY marriage where we would call it quits.”

But lately, that’s not been my response. I wish I could say that it is all the work of God in me, revealing my pride and putting compassion in its place. Instead, it has been the startling increase of divorce among my Christian friends, including one couple I had long admired as a model for my marriage.

My new response to breakups has been to mourn a loss and a humbled heart reminding me that my self-proclaimed perfection will only lead to a fall (1 Corinthians 10:12 &  Proverbs 16: 18). And, there is a loss of hope that I must lay at the foot of Jesus, a reminder that my true hope must be in Him.

We’ve talked before about the “Great Divide” that often exists between marrieds and singles in the church, and one important area where we can rally together is in our prayer for marriage.

The struggle of singles is to find a like-minded, godly spouse. The struggle of those who are married is to find (and be) a like-minded, godly spouse.

Hmm…that doesn’t sound so different.

This week, let’s pray for compassion for those who are hurting – in marriages or in singleness – thankful that He hears our prayers and is the God of all comfort and the source of our hope and salvation.

Love to you today,

Emily

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Posted in Author: Emily | 7 Comments

Where’s the horse?

School is back in session, football is taking over the airways, and FastPray is once again filling your inbox. During the August hiatus the FastPray writers gathered to discuss the blog, life, and the finer art of eating stuff from Trader Joe’s. We feel rejuvenated and excited about our collective return to fasting and praying on Mondays.

This is the last post I will write as a 30-something; that’s right kids I’m turning 40. There are so many things to be thankful for these days, not the least of which is the timeless aspect of being childless. Obviously if I had a teenager in tow people would know I’m not under 30. On a recent flight from Colorado my seat-mate asked me if I was still in college; I smiled inside and out and broke the news about my real age. In my 39 11/12 years of existence I’ve learned that life has a lot to do with perspective and hope.

You may have heard the story made popular by Ronald Reagan (yes, I’m making an 80’s reference which dates me) about twin boys of 5 or 6 with diametrically opposing perspectives. The parents were concerned about their sons’ extreme dispositions, so they took them to a psychiatrist.

The pessimistic boy was put in a room filled to the ceiling with brand new toys. He entered the room and began crying because he was afraid he would break the toys. The optimistic boy was escorted into another room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. The boy entered and let out a yelp of excitement. When asked why he was excited, he exclaimed “With all of this manure, there has to be a horse in here somewhere!”

The reality of turning 40 and being single does not bode well for marriage prospects, statistically speaking, but here is where hope comes in to play. I don’t place my hope in marriage though, no my hope is in a Savior that loves me and has a plan for me. Cliché? Not for me! While the expectations of my 20-year-old self are a chasm apart from the 40-year-old reality, I could have never planned what HAS filled my life. See, it’s hope in a loving Savior that propels me forward to experience life to its fullest.

I’m not bragging here, but there is fullness of life to be had as a single adult. I’ve floated in the Dead Sea, walked around the rim of a volcano in Indonesia, volunteered for extended periods of time in France and Switzerland, spoiled (and continue to spoil) my niece and 6 nephews with fun adventures, ate Tim Tams for dinner one time, and attended countless Broadway shows, sports games, and cultural events. There is so much life out there to experience and it doesn’t have to wait for a ring on your finger! What does an abundantly filled life look like for you? I’m not saying it needs to be filled with travel and events to be abundant (so First World), but are you living with hope and a perspective to find joy in a room filled with toys or manure?

My prayer this Monday is for a perspective on life to keep us thankful and for a hope in a Savior to continue to propel us forward! Jesus is calling you to LIVE!

I borrowed the picture below from this site (John 10:10)…

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Bring on abundant life!
Michelle

Posted in Author: Michelle | 11 Comments

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