Why?

There is nothing like the big V-Day to get you thinking about candy, flowers, and, of course, love. Each week we connect through this blog post, joining each other in prayer for love to fill the air and hearts to be joined together in marriage. We believe and hope that God will hear our prayers, for ourselves and others to find love and be united in holy matrimony. Do you ever wonder what it is that we are actually praying for? Is the culmination of our prayers for all of us to find spouses, ride off into the sunset and live blissfully ever after, the end?

Love is wonderful, marriage is good, but we know that wonderful and good do not always translate into ever after. Have you noticed that there are few stories in the Bible detailing how someone moved from singleness to marriage? Ruth found Boaz in a wheat field and their music-filled, “you’re the one” moment involved a threshing floor. Maybe this would work in Iowa, running through the wheat fields flagging down combines for eligible men, not sure, but it does make for a good mental video. Rebecca wed Isaac because she watered some camels. Perhaps the equivalent is putting gas in some man’s car? The Bible doesn’t really speak to how we are to go about finding a spouse. I’d also venture a guess that if you polled your married friends you would find just as many stories on how they met and married their spouses.

See, I believe God is much more concerned with why we do something than how.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. Proverbs 21:2

But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. Jeremiah 17:10

Imagine how boring life would be if God gave us step-by-step instructions for how He wanted us to do stuff. We each get to live out our own creative stories of how God is at work in our lives, doesn’t that just get you all excited? There is a connecting thread of purpose in the stories of Ruth and Rebecca that lead to the importance of “why” they married. God was completing His promise to Abraham that his descendants would be greater than the stars and out of them would come the Savior of the world. These couples and their offspring are in the lineage of Jesus; their unions fulfilled a greater purpose.

A few weeks ago, I devoured Tim Keller’s book “The Meaning of Marriage.” For those unfamiliar with Tim Keller, he is a pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City. He wrote this book based on a sermon series he preached several years ago to a congregation of 80% singles. I know what some of you are thinking, get me to NYC, with those odds I’ve got to find a spouse! He writes the book with a single audience in mind and really dissects the “why” of marriage.

Dominant western culture says that the purpose and meaning of marriage is self-fulfillment. Chemistry and sexual compatibility are paramount in forming a relationship with someone, and we can look no further than the top-rated box office hits for how this plays out in our culture. However, God desires for us to live outside of self and our desires, wants, and needs and look to the needs of others.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

As we explore the “why” of marriage, let’s delve into excerpts from Tim’s book:

What if, however, you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? (page 149)

And the main message of this chapter is that the key to giving marriage that kind of priority is spiritual friendship. So many marriages are begun with the journey of God only as an afterthought. Many Christians congratulate themselves that they have married another believer, but they look at their prospective spouse’s faith as simply one more factor that makes him or her compatible, like common interests and hobbies. But that is not what spiritual friendship is. It is eagerly helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways. (pages 144-145)

This Monday, let’s not just pray for marriages, let’s pray that God develops spiritual friendships that challenge us to grow more Christ-like, flourish in love, and expand the kingdom of God!

Happily ever after,

Michelle

Posted in Author: Michelle | 8 Comments

Seven Thousand Men

On Mondays, we fast and pray for men and women to more boldly and faithfully show forth God’s image in relation to one another, and for marriages to those who desire them.

At a recent family baby shower, one of my lovely cousins (who has 5 kids!) was telling me that she looks forward to someday meeting my future spouse. I laughed and said, “ME TOO!” On one hand, I was so happy to feel emotionally stable and not-defensive at a baby shower and in a conversation about singleness. That itself is huge evidence of God’s grace in my heart and life! (Granted, I’ll probably be sobbing on my floor later in the week for something completely inconsequential, but I’ll take the stability as today’s gift.).

Yet on the other hand, a dark voice in the deep of my heart says…“There is no such man. You’ve seen you. You’ve seen the options. You’ve seen the culture. You know it’s impossible.”

All three of those categories give me pause. Yes, I know my own junk: the broken patterns of my past and present, the lonely, empty places sometimes filled by sinful relational choices, the lack of love for others, the deep-rooted anxiety and unseen expectations. I know the Lord is at work in all those areas…but I also know I can be a relational tornado, which makes me afraid that marrying a godly man will somehow be harder.

Secondly, I’ve seen the options. I’ve seen some friends’ promising relationships recently end in disappointment. I’ve got my own tragic dating track record. I don’t see any quickly apparent pool of godly men who want to date/get married. And even though I live in an urban area which is technically full of single adults, I can’t really say that I see the caliber or quantity of godly men to give me much external hope that marriage is a possibility.

And then there’s the culture…add all that into the context of cultural decay around gender/marriage/children, the cancer of pornographic images and words, and confusion about the purpose and gift of human sexuality (including its celibate forms), and perhaps an overarching loss of relational hope (h/t to Dale Keuhne on that front).

Yikes. It’s enough to make me cry, eat salted caramel chocolates and/or crawl under a rock and hide.

And that’s why I love 1 Kings 19. Elijah is just great. After a major win against Ahab and his false idols, he is terrified by Jezebel and runs into the wilderness. Elijah is having such a terrible day that he sits down under a lone tree and asks to die (verse 4): It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.

Instead, God comes and initiates a conversation with Elijah, and asks him what is wrong. Elijah (my translation): “Look, it’s pretty much just me at this point. I’m trying to do what is right because I believe you. But the rest of your stupid people have seriously destroyed everything, and now they’re looking to kill me too. Did I mention that I’M THE ONLY ONE LEFT? Yep. Me. That’s it, God. Just me.”

Honestly, some of me can identity with Elijah. I feel like I’m the only one looking at the disaster zone of my heart, the lack of men, and the disintegrating culture. It can feel like no one cares what it means to live a counter-cultural life as a celibate, believing single adult. I feel like I’m the only one left (in lots of ways) and, sometimes, I want to sit down under a tree and cry too.

Thankfully, God is still God. He doesn’t quash Elijah’s original complaint but instead cares for him in three ways:

  • God brings food for Elijah (verse 5, 7): God twice sends an angel to provide for Elijah’s physical needs because He says the journey is too great for you. He sends Elijah the needed provision for the next task immediately ahead of Elijah. That is an incredible encouragement to me. God knows what is in front of me, and He sends the fuel I need for the next step.
  • God speaks to Elijah in unexpected ways (verses 9-14): After feeding Elijah, God sends him on 40-day journey, and then asks Elijah to tell Him his complaint. And He responds in the quietest, least predictable manner….sound familiar? God is not what we expect, does not operate how we expect, and is not always where we expect…and yet, He’s there and He’s listening and responding. That is comfort to my soul.
  • God has things we can’t see (verse 18): This is the original verse that God brought to my mind on a particular day that I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of cultural brokenness. I despaired that there were absolutely no godly, single men anywhere. And this verse came to mind: Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him. 

NB: Baal was that era’s pagan fertility god who was worshiped with sexual orgies and temple prostitution.) So Elijah had no idea that God had kept thousands of God-fearing Israelites who hadn’t bowed to the pressure of the culture’s sexual practices. I don’t want to take the verse out of context, but I think it is safe to say that God has His people stashed where we might least expect them. When it looks like all hope is dashed, this is a constant reminder to me of God’s prerogative and ability to guide His people…and I’d like to think that can include to marriage, if that is His will.

So when that dark voice in my heart tells me the horizon is too dark and there’s no one left, I instead want to listen to the still, small voice that speaks truth and directs my steps.

Praying with you and for you,

Amy

Posted in Author: Amy | 12 Comments

Made Weaker

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray for men and women to be progressively more shaped into God’s image and for marriages to those who desire them.

Late last year, I was reading through the book of Judges and seeing as it’s not, on the surface, the most encouraging book of the Bible, I found reading it to be challenging. Why on earth would I want to read about an obese guy getting stabbed, a dude dying by tent peg, and a creep going all serial killer on his mistress? (I kept thinking. Just keep reading, eventually, you’re going to get to Ruth.) So, of course, when my church started its January sermon series on the book of Judges, I thought, I have no idea how this is going to get by without a parental warning.

This week, we made around to Gideon. Gideon was this weak, nobody. He was the least impressive member of his ridiculously unimpressive family. He was an insecure, people-pleaser who needed constant reassurance from God (even though God had shown up and promised to be with him). Maybe, Jesus had Gideon in mind when He made that faith as small as a mustard seed comment. Somehow, it’s this guy who God decided to use to rescue Israel from their enemies. My pastor’s question from this morning is still ringing in my ears this afternoon:

What did God do in response to Gideon’s weakness?
God made Gideon even weaker.

At the beginning of Judges 7, Gideon has an army of 22,000 men. When God was finished organizing the worst battle plan in the history of warfare, Gideon had 300 men and as their weapons, trumpets, torches, and jars.  This “army” is a complete laughing stock, and yet, they saw victory.

When I come to prayer on Mondays (and most days), I frequently feel like Gideon. I feel insecure, and I am constantly asking God for reassurance–a sign that He hears my prayers (whether that’s for a spouse, for vocational direction, or for restored relationships.) I try to be bold in my prayers, but I crave more confidence that I will see the “goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I don’t want to sing about a day in the future when my faith shall be sight. I want it to be today!

Why did God make Gideon weaker?
God wanted Israel to give Him the glory for the victory.

Why does God allow weakness and insecurity in our lives?
God wants to show us that He brings victory.

Gideon’s story is an embodiment of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

When we see answers to prayer, whether it’s your prayers for a spouse, your prayers to be set free from worry and anxiety, or your prayers for victory over a besetting sin, we will know without a doubt that we didn’t see these because we were strong, but because our God is.

Blessings,
Anna

Posted in Author: Anna | Tagged | 4 Comments

The FastPray All-Time Top 10

On Mondays, we fast and pray for lunch (or longer) that God would do three things. We pray that He would make women humble, soft, and receptive to His plans and purposes. We pray that God would embolden men to lead both in relationships and the church. And, finally, we pray that God would give the gift of marriage to those who desire it.

This week we’re doing something a little bit different. We are grateful to have started a new year with all of you, but we wanted to take moment to go back and look over some of the posts that have spoken to us as a community over the years. We’ve had so many great writers, men and women of God who have desired to see Him move in our generation.

Take a look at our all-time, top ten posts and be encouraged that the Lord has been working.

  1. The Feeling – Rachel, a former writer, describes that moment when she realized that the “strange mix of being lonely, of wanting a deep connection with another person, and of desiring to be fully loved” that she associated with being single didn’t just fade after she got married.
  2. A Testimony of Answered Prayer – Emily writes about how the Lord finally answered her prayer for marriage in ways she didn’t expect.
  3. The Marriage Calculator – Amy’s classic post about how we try to fit our stories and desire for marriage into rubrics that can be measured.
  4. A Letter to My Single Self – Former writer, Anne’s cogent wisdom on the things she wished she would have remembered when she was single.
  5. Celibacy – Anne’s second top 10 post from 2011 on practical ways of working out what it means to live as a celibate, obedient, unmarried follower of Jesus.
  6. Power for Powerful Prayer – Former writer, Connally’s post about how we should let our longings, aches, confusion or even hopes fuel for our prayers for new and robust life.
  7. Praying Expectantly – From early 2012, another former writer’s description about what it means to pray boldly, expecting God to move and work.
  8. (Not) Afraid to Hope – Amy’s first post on the FastPray blog from 2011 on what it means to hope in and serve “an all-powerful God who is not bound by time, and whose plans are unchangeable and unimaginable.”
  9. Lies About Lust – Amy and a friend dive into the uncomfortable topic of lust and provide some insight into the lies singles believe about sexuality.
  10. My Plan B is God’s Plan A – Emily’s honest look back over how God unexpectedly used  online dating to introduce her to her boyfriend (now husband).

Whether you’ve been with us since the beginning or have come along rather recently, we’re so glad that you’re here, praying and fasting with us every week.

Love and prayers from the FastPray Team.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

To fear or not to fear?

On Mondays, we fast and pray for God to raise up men and women who increasingly trust Him with their hearts, lives and relationships, and for marriage to be given to those who desire it.

Do you ever have butterflies find your stomach without knowingly luring them in?

An incredible 2014 was coming to a close, a year filled with adventure and God’s faithfulness, but I found myself gripped with pangs of fear at the end of it. Why was fear jumping into my thoughts when I had experienced a “mountaintop-high” of a year? I felt stuck. Trapped in singleness. Grounded like a teenager in my house without a chance of moving to a home with a real kitchen in the burbs. Fear was playing out a scene of almost certain doom and financial hardship. My present realities were overshadowing the monuments of God’s provision and faithfulness constructed through the years. I know better than to dwell on fear, but the butterflies persisted in making their presence known.

I’ve read the story of Elijah in 1 Kings. It has always perplexed me how he could pray down fire from heaven and watch God consume a water-logged altar in the front of Baal worshippers, and then be fleeing in fear in the next chapter. How could he not trust God more than he feared Jezebel?

My fear and wrong thinking were brought to light one morning while listening to a podcast of a Christmas Eve message. The pastor pointed out that the entire purpose of the gospel is about Jesus coming to relieve our fear. God chose to send angels to visit shepherds on a remote hill with sheep to announce the birth of the Savior. The message to the shepherds was “Fear not! There is a baby wrapped in cloth! ” Jesus came to remove our fear!

Sometimes my deluded thoughts lead me to think the message should be “Fear not, when I send you a man!” Because obviously then I’ll feel secure and have no cause for fear. How incorrect is that line of thinking? I asked my sister-in-law, Tabitha, to weigh in on the fear issue from her perspective. She married my brother practically the day after her college graduation, so our daily lives are completely different, yet I know many of our heart struggles are similar.

Granted, when I said “I do” and our family grew from 2 to 6 over the years, certain fears I had as a single woman subsided. Being a homeschooling family, there is constant activity in our home, so I do not fear silence and loneliness on a daily basis; however, one fear that I have personally always struggled with, and has been amplified by our growing family, is the fear of failure. If I fail now, at anything, the effects of my failure will be felt and experienced by my whole family. And, since this mother hen wants to take care of her brood, my list of fears have grown to include things I fear for my husband and children.

God has helped me recognize and navigate my own journey with fear. For the past two years, I have started my year with honing in on one word that I strive to live by, and every decision I make, thought I think, and word I say are filtered through that word and its profound meaning in my life. Last year, the word was obedience. Because of that word and the overwhelmingly passionate pursuit of its deeply personal meaning, I obeyed the Lord and accomplished something that He had been prompting me to do for years.

This year, my word is brave. Really, it is a continuation of the obedient life I am striving for in Christ. However, until I recognize my fears, face them head-on with my Savior, and realize that He has already won the victory, I will never be truly free of fear. Paul Baloche, in his song, Hosanna, sings, “In Your Presence all our fears are washed away.” Only in the presence of His perfect love can we be truly fearless. His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). He makes us brave…single, married, divorced, or widowed. We all have fears. The strength and faith to face them isn’t found in our status, but rather our identity in Christ. Amanda Cook and Bethel Music sing beautifully the revelation both Michelle and I have had in light of our fears,

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

Putting fear in its place!
Michelle & Tabitha

Posted in Author: Michelle | 4 Comments

Praying is Doing

We fast and pray on Mondays for God’s Will to be done in our lives concerning marriage and for hearts that find hope in Him whether single or married. We pray for men and women to come to know Jesus.

When I first started writing for fast.pray., I shared the blog with a friend with whom I’d had countless why-am-I-single/what-is-God-doing/not-doing conversations. The response was something like this: “This is all well and good, but how does this help me find a spouse? I want advice on what I should do.”

Over the years, we’ve also had readers ask us writers for examples of things we have done to try to meet someone.

We’ve individually and collectively done quite a lot. There’ve been forays into online dating, attendance at parties, involvement in our churches’ young adult groups, visits to other churches’ young adult groups, blind dates, new outfits, new hairstyles/color, grad school (I’m not too proud to admit that part of my motivation for going to grad school was to get into a new circle of people, only to arrive at orientation and find my cohort was all female), and smiles to cute strangers.

Between the self-inflicted pressure and the “encouragement” of friends and family to “get out more,” there’s no end of ways to try to meet Future Spouse.

But the most important thing we’ve done is to stay connected to this community and each other in an *attempt* to keep our hearts soft toward however the Lord is leading in our lives, whether or not marriage and a family is in the picture (although it’s something for which we pray).

For me, the main role fast.pray. has played in my life is to adjust my attitude as I’ve come before the Lord on Mondays – physically, spiritually, and emotionally hungry. Praying for spouses for guy- and girl-friends who are single, praying for all of you, and praying for strong marriages for friends who are married has helped prevent the time from becoming too centered around my problems, for when I’m focused only on myself is when I’m most unhappy and the most unpleasant to be around.

I’ve learned/am learning to have compassion and how to share another’s pain even though I might not share the exact struggle. I’ve started asking myself in all areas life, “How am I responding to this as one who has {eternal} hope?”

Amy, Anna, Michelle, and I met last week, and we agreed that the angst keenly felt in years past has changed. I KNOW that being in community and prayer have been key contributors to that fact.

To paraphrase something my pastor shared today, “The power of prayer is not found in the words but in the attitude behind the prayer – of humbling yourself before God, acknowledging you can’t handle the situation by yourself.”

That’s a main goal behind our weekly fasting and praying. For attitudes to be changed through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. Not to give away any secrets, but our “formula” behind writing is something like: my struggle + God’s truth + how to respond in humble hope and obedience. (Think of Paul in Romans 11.)

This week, let’s focus on the heart, praying against bitterness and for compassion, and take the time to be quiet before the Lord. No worrying about what you are or aren’t doing is allowed!

“Your adornment must not be merely external…but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” (I Peter 3: 3-4)

Lovingly,

Emily

Posted in Author: Emily | Leave a comment

Homeless, but Seeing Signs for Home.

On Mondays, we fast and pray for God to raise up men and women who increasingly trust Him with their hearts, lives and relationships, and for marriage to be given to those who desire it. 

[Luke 9:57-58]: As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

One of my habitual gripes with singleness is its frequent relational transitions. I have wonderful friends, yet no one individual has met my church family, my college friends, my grad school friends, my coworkers and my family. If I made photo Christmas cards, there would be different people on the card every year and the address would change every other year. My furnishings are a hodgepodge of whatever my current roommates and I have brought together. In short, it often feels like there aren’t many anchors in my life, relational or otherwise.

I tend to affix this feeling of not being anchored to not being married. I tell myself: “If I were married, there would be at least one person who would be in all of these chapters. The same person would be in vacation pictures and on Christmas cards. I’d have a travel buddy, plans for NYE and someone to sit with at church.” In short, I assume that marriage would provide a relational anchor. I would know where home is, and all my “stuff” would finally be in that place called home.

Some bits of this are true. We long to know and to be known, and that’s good.  It’s true that we need others through life. We are created in God’s image which includes His constant communal nature inside the trinity. God says it isn’t good for us to be alone (Gen 2:18). We are unique beings with particular stories, and it is in line with our God-given design to long to share ourselves with others.  And marriage is a God-designed pattern for that to happen in many people’s lives, including many of the currently single folks reading this blog (yes, we’re praying for you!).

However, extrapolating that good longing to mean that I must be married in order to experience God’s design, or that marriage will absolutely provide those things are equally problematic.

We don’t have to be married to experience God’s good design. Jesus and Paul both make it quite clear that being married is not any kind of prerequisite to being loved by God or living His good design for kingdom life. Much to the contrary (see 1 Corinthians 7). Also key fact: Jesus and Paul were unmarried. Why does no one ever talk about this from the pulpit? (Ok, sorry. Pet peeve.)

Jesus elevates his spiritual family above his biological family, which is a call he issues to anyone who would follow Him (Matt. 12:48). In the verse above, He notes that if you want a cushy life where you always feel at home, following Jesus probably isn’t your best bet. But He also promises abundant life and the aid of His Spirit to transform individual believers into a body (the church) that shows the world what love really means (Romans 12:5). And key fact: one of the characteristics of this body is caring for those who end up outside of the traditional familial social structures (James 1:27).

Marriage won’t necessarily or fully provide the stability or the sense of being known that we truly crave. Marriage is a good gift but it’s still two fallen people trying to love each other – which pretty much guarantees things will go awry. Even the best marriages can’t provide permanent-enough or deep-enough anchors to quiet our infinite longings. And sometimes this relational anchor suddenly comes apart with an unforeseen addiction or affair or accident. Sometimes inhabiting the same space feels more like a prison cell than a cozy home. Sometimes the problem is my own heart and its selfishness which damages the bond that marriage should have been.

And above individual circumstances, the New Testament writers make it clear that all of life on this side of eternity is characterized by waiting, by groaning and by hoping for that which we can’t yet see. Paul compares earthly life to a race, a fight and an upward call. As believers, we are all sojourners in a land which is not our true home. Feeling homeless is part of the deal.

Unmet longing is a (strange) gift (that I’d like to return sometimes). The longings inherent in our good design (for relational stability, for a godly man to walk with, for a sense of belonging) do have a purpose – to drive us to the only One who has what it takes to be our home, our unmovable anchor, and our certain future. He has seen all the chapters past: He knows all the angry journaling, hopeful journaling and ugly breakdown crying journaling. He’s seen every disappointing date (or lack thereof) and frustrating conversation with a condescending person in another stage of life. He knows how painful bachelorette parties and bad wedding homilies can be (I remind myself of this as necessary). He doesn’t despise our longing but asks us to trust Him with them.

My prayer on Monday: that His sufficiency would be our refuge and our joy. That His presence and His care would prompt both deeper honesty and deeper faith.  That we can see the unmet longings as signposts pointing to Him.

By His Grace,

Amy

PS: I feel like I’ve been writing roughly the same post for the past six months, and so I apologize if it’s getting boring. I’m simply struck by the heavy cultural (secular and church) expectations for marriage. I’m convinced that these expectations both suffocate people who are married, and dishearten people who aren’t married. That is not helping anyone – which is why I keep writing about it.

Posted in Author: Amy | 19 Comments