If you’re single, you’ve got questions. I do, too.
How about … Do you trust God with your desire for marriage and intimacy? Do you pray with real faith, or are you resigned? Do you think your past failures ensure future disappointment? Do you think it’s wrong to pray about such desires? Are you tired of talking to God with years of seemingly unanswered prayers? Could you scream because of all the conflicting advice you read about singleness these days?!
I don’t ask these questions flippantly. I ask them soberly, tenderly, and with fresh wounds upon my own heart. And I would ask them of anyone who has an unfulfilled desire before the Lord. This is an age-old question. As Andrew Selle wrote in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, “The devil persuaded Eve that God was essentially untrustworthy and miserly. Don’t let him play the same trick on you.” Our spiritual enemy doesn’t need a bunch of new tricks. The old ones have been working adequately enough since time immemorial — though, praise God, they are only temporary diversions for the people of God!
The tension we experience is in the gap between our prayers and our circumstances. We have a desire, yet it seems that in God’s infinite purposes it is better that we wait on this desire to be fulfilled. It may be that we wait a certain time or that we wait indefinitely, finding out as we go that His grace truly is sufficient to sustain us. Either way, we can trust God with our desires because He is the perfect embodiment of steadfast loving-kindness and tender mercies to us. How do I know this, you might ask me in return? This is how He describes Himself throughout His Word — found in our infallible, live-giving, promise-infused Bibles. Here’s a good word picture of this tension from Selle: “You have prayed for your greatest desires. … You have asked of God, and now you must trust Him and entrust your desires to Him. Imagine that you have lifted those objects of your desire to God, and He has received them and presently holds them. Now you must let go of them. Surrender them to God, your Father.” Prayer puts our desires back into the hands of the One who can fulfill them, and they are kept safe there until the time is right in His perfect plan.
In the Meantime
While we have surrendered those desires for safekeeping, there is still a call upon us as followers of Christ to be fruitful in those seasons of waiting. Trust is an active verb.
This is the situation Jesus addressed in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Three servants each received a vast amount of money. One received five talents, a second received two talents, a third received one talent. The Bible notes that the master gave “to each according to his ability.” Now a talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer, so this master had been generous to all. But the third servant viewed this man as a harsh taskmaster. He took his one talent and hid his master’s money in the ground. When his master returned, he expressed his great distrust: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
The third servant had a low view of his master — and perhaps even of what he had received in comparison to the other servants — so he made no effort to multiply his talent. An extended season of singleness can present a similar temptation. We can think God has given us very little, so we do nothing with it. Despising the “one talent” of singleness, we don’t invest it to have something to show when He returns. We don’t try to multiply what He’s bestowed; we ungratefully just put it in a hole in the ground, and sit down to have a pity party.
Our lack of trust is revealed in our lack of investment in the Lord’s dearly beloved body — the church. When we view God as a generous master (for that is the truth), we will embrace what He’s given us and will look forward to giving Him an account of what we’ve done with His gift. We’ll tell Him of the many ways we invested it in the church and got a return. We’ll tell Him about the lessons we taught in children’s ministry. We’ll tell Him about the tithes and offerings we gave. We’ll tell Him about our prayers for the sick. We’ll tell Him about all the people in our small groups that we helped. We’ll tell Him about the plans we administrated and the meetings we attended that were for outreaches that impacted our communities. None of this will be news to Him, of course, but what a joyous account that will be — if we trust Him.
The parable of the talents reveals to us the sad consequences of not trusting God when He’s been generous to us. Precisely because the Lord is not a “harsh taskmaster,” He fully understands that there is suffering in living with deferred hopes. We can read His compassion in Proverbs 13:12 — “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” God’s Word recognizes how difficult it is to live with unfulfilled expectations. But this proverb simply notes the obvious. We can find the remedy for our sick hearts in what I call the “chain of hope” in Romans 5:3-6: “[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Emphasis added.)
As we persevere in doing good, we find the endurance to continue by the grace of God. This perseverance produces that noble character in us, and noble character produces hope. Hope doesn’t put us to shame because we are hoping in a God who has shed His blood for us and poured His love into our hearts!
What we find here in Romans is that years of waiting on God should produce more hope, not less. Is that an upside-down thought to you? It’s certainly not the way we would rationally think about hope. Waiting on God often shifts the content of our hope. As we wait, we see the many ways He proves His faithfulness to us — starting with the Cross and ending with the bright promise of heaven — and all the big and little mercies in between. That vista of grace can’t help but dwarf the outstanding request we have before God!
Praise Him in Uncertainty
Let me get personal here. Now that I’m 41 and still single, I see that I haven’t died of deferred hopes. Actually, life is pretty good. I would still like to be married, but this hope doesn’t consume me the way it used to. I am trusting that when I get to see the big picture from heaven’s viewpoint, I will agree that God’s plan for my life was the best, that the years I spent single were worth it for the ways God used me. If being single means that God is using me to reach many unbelievers, I know I’m not going to stand in heaven and resent His decision! There was a point in my early thirties, however, when you couldn’t have convinced me this would be the way I would feel now. I remember talking then to a single woman in her forties who told me it really wasn’t that bad to still be single. I just stared at her as she said those words. She might as well have been speaking a foreign language!
One thing I’ve learned to do is praise God in the middle of my dashed hopes. Years ago, when a hoped-for relationship wouldn’t happen or a friendship wouldn’t kindle into a romance, I would crash and burn emotionally. Sometimes it would take weeks to recover. But now I’ve learned something from the prophet Habakkuk and his closing psalm. He acknowledged the reality of suffering, but still aimed his emotions and will toward the One who is his salvation and strength. In recent years, I’ve trained myself to respond similarly. When I receive the disappointing news, I will retreat with a worship CD and sing with tears coursing down my cheeks — willing myself to praise the Lord in the midst of crushed hopes. I’ve learned to paraphrase Habakkuk 3:17-18 this way:
Though this friendship does not blossom,
nor love be in his heart,
though he chooses to pursue someone else,
and my prayers seem to go unanswered,
though others walk down the wedding aisle,
and I remain behind,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Carolyn McCulley is the media specialist for Sovereign Grace Ministries and is a member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD. This column is adapted from her book," Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred." (Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.gnpcb.org). The heart of the book is really found in the subtitle, on which this and other columns have been based. Carolyn welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit her website at www.carolynmcculley.com.