As cars speed past my home with windows open and music spilling out, I wonder if singers—and more specifically, songwriters—are not among the most influential voices in our culture.
A couple centuries ago—before radio, iTunes, iPods, Pandora, or Spotify—I imagine hymn writers were some of the most influential people of their day. Men, women, and children sang their songs both corporately and as they went about their everyday work.
Anne Steele (1717–1778) was one of these major influencers—the first significant female hymn writer in history and purportedly the most popular Baptist hymn writer in the history of the church.
I was introduced to the late Anne Steele a couple years ago by my hymn-loving husband. In fact, if you ever unearth her three-volume work* in a used bookstore and sell it to me, Trevor and I just might name our first child after you in profound gratitude! (Anne is Trevor’s favorite hymn writer, and this book is a highly coveted treasure.) But I digress . . .
A Humble Heart
Anne never set out to become a successful writer. She wrote for her own personal reflection until her beloved pastor-father began to use her hymns in the church he pastored.
According to John Gadsby:
From early life [Anne] was exceedingly fond of poetry, but was very unwilling for her productions to be submitted to the public eye. When at last she gave her consent, she would not have her own name attached to the volumes, but published them under the signature of Theodosia (“The Gift of God”), and gave all the profits to charity.
Anne’s hymns first appeared in a hymnbook in 1769. Her father wrote in his diary:
Today Nanny sent part of her composition to London to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled and stirred her up to such a work, to direct in it and bless it for the good of many. I pray God to make it useful, and keep her humble.
Humble she remained. In one letter to her father—whom she affectionately referred to as “honoured father”—Anne wrote:
If while I am sleeping in the silent grave, my thoughts are of any real benefit to the meanest of the servants of my God, be the praise ascribed to the almighty Giver of all grace.
Oh, how they have benefitted Christ’s Body! And not because she was perfect. Anne wrestled with doubts and assurance of salvation. In fact, that’s one of the things I appreciate most about her writing: She’s so candid about a believer’s doubts, pain, fears, and—at times—profound suffering.
Centuries later, it’s apparent that Anne’s hymns have stood the test of time. Kevin Twit, founder of Indelible Grace—an organization that produces old hymns set to new music—writes, “I find her hymns so rich, and yet easily understood even by those living 250 years after her death!”
A Deep Faith
Another thing I appreciate about Anne’s hymns is that they aren’t merely intellectual exercises. As John Sheppard, author of a short memoir about Anne, wrote, “The emotions expressed were ever genuine, and the faith which awaked them was true and operative.”
That is probably due to how much she suffered:
Just three years after Anne was born, her mother passed away.
She suffered physically, living with chronic recurring malaria, painful stomach issues, and severe teeth pain . . . as well as seriously injuring herself when thrown from a horse at nineteen.
When she was twenty-one, her fiancé, Robert, drowned.
And yet those who knew her personally testify that in spite of all this, she . . .
possessed a native cheerfulness, which not even the agonizing pains of her latter days could deprive her of. In every short interval of abated suffering, she would, in a variety of ways, as well as by her enlivening conversation, give pleasure to all around her (Dr. Caleb Evans).
The only explanation is her rich, intimate relationship with God. For a glimpse into her enjoyment of Him, look at just a few of the unique ways she referred to God in her hymns:
Thou lovely source of true delight
Dear refuge of my weary soul
Eternal source of joys divine
Great source of boundless power and grace
Father of mercies in Thy word
Dear center of my best desires
Personally, I wonder if the closeness she experienced with her heavenly Father was related to her relationship with her earthly father, who referred to her in letters as “dear little Nancy, more and more entertaining.”
Anne lived with her father and stepmother until her father passed away. She spent her days writing (144 hymns, forty-eight psalms in verse, and about fifty poems) and helping her father with his pastoral duties. Anne herself died at age sixty-one, after nine painful years confined to her bed. Dr. Evans writes:
She often spoke, not merely with tranquility, but with joy, of her decease. . . . she took the most affectionate leave of weeping friends around her . . . her last words: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
Her tombstone in Broughton churchyard reads:
Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue, that sung on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;
But now in heaven she joins the angelic song,
In more harmonious, more exalted lays.
Anne’s hymns live on; may her legacy live on in you and me as well:
Are you and I thoughtful and cheerful toward others even as we’re suffering?
Are we diligent but humble in stewarding our gifts to bless members of Christ’s Body?
Is our hope fixed on that day we will be with God face to face . . . or on the trivial pursuits we experience here and now?
Are we honest with God and with others about our doubts and struggles?
Do you and I deeply enjoy our glorious God and shower Him with the praise He deserves?
I leave you with two songs by Anne, set to music by Indelible Grace. The first is for those in pain; the second for those with hearts full of praise. Enjoy!
I wonder what you’ve been led to believe about life after marriage.
The message I heard before becoming a bride is that it’s all downhill after you exchange wedding vows.
Oh, no one ever said those words to me exactly. What they did say was, “Enjoy this [dating] season, Paula. Your boyfriend will never treat you better than he does now.” Doesn’t that sound a whole lot like “It’s all downhill after marriage” to you?
While Trevor and I were dating, I often shared this belief/fear with him, and he always told me he didn’t believe it; things would only get better. Oh, how I wanted to believe him, but I was skeptical. Could he really be right?
Well, nine months into marriage, I can joyfully say he was.
Wait for a humble, servant-hearted man who is on board with God’s beautiful design for marriage.
I love and enjoy my husband so much more than I did while I was dating him, and he loves me so much better than he did when he was dating me. Don’t get me wrong; wedded bliss doesn’t magically increase without the occasional tear-streaked faces, pained hearts, difficult conversations, and hard work. We had our fair share of these this past week. But we also had a wonderful date, punctuated by sweet, heartfelt conversation.
We blew our entire dating budget for the month at a Brazilian steakhouse, and then went shopping (yes, I managed to get him to shop with me!). But the delicious meal we consumed and the clothes we returned home with weren’t what made our date so wonderful.
It was the discussion my husband initiated. “I was listening to a rap song called ‘Date Night’ today,” he began, “and the lyrics said, ‘How am I doing good? How should I repent?’ What do you think?”
And so we sat at our table holding hands, building each other up, and then sharing how we can be even more helpful to each other. It was the kind of meaningful conversation nearly every wife longs for.
Why do I tell you this? To make you feel bad because you’re still single and I’m not? No way! I tell you this because you need to know that it is not all downhill after marriage.
Well, to be perfectly clear, that depends entirely on whom you marry. Since marriage, my burden has only increased that you choose and marry well. It matters, big time.
Wait for a humble, servant-hearted man who is on board with God’s beautiful design for marriage found in Ephesians 5:22–33. He won’t be a perfect man. But he–and your relationship–will only grow sweeter with time.
This is what I long for you. This is God’s desire for marriage: a tangible display of Christ-centered, Christ-like love that shows how awesome His
sacrificial love is for His Bride.
I wonder, what have you been believing about life after marriage?
I hear a really nice guy has been showing you a lot of attention lately. I know you’ve gone on a couple dates, and you like him a lot. He’s told you he’s a Christian, but you’re not sure how strong he is in his faith.
Maybe he is a Christian; maybe he isn’t. I don’t know. But here are a few thing I do know . . .
Be on the lookout for the fruit of faith. Anyone can claim to be a Christian (just like anyone can claim to be an astrophysicist), but there should be
evidence of Christ’s transformative work in His followers. James (Jesus’ brother) puts it like this:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? . . . So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (2:14, 17, emphasis added).
Pay attention to how this guy lives. Is he living like a young man who has been redeemed from the slave block of sin? Or is he still living like a slave to sin (Rom. 6:15–23)? Put him to the test (1 John 4:1). I’ve included one below.
You shouldn’t have to wonder if this guy is a Christian or not. It should be obvious. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
No, he’s not going to be perfect. Yes, we’re all in process. But if he truly has the Holy Spirit of God living in him, he will look more and more like His adoptive Father.
If he truly has the Holy Spirit of God living in him, he will look more and more like His adoptive Father.
Trust me on this one. You don’t want someone who maybe, possibly, probably, hopefully is a Christian. One who just barely squeezes by. You want a thriving Christian. A white-hot Christian. A young man who is well on his way to being able to lead you spiritually.
So here are a few questions to ask about him, straight from 1 John:
Does he walk in “light,” or does he walk in “darkness” (1 John 1:6–7)?
Does he confess his sins, or does he claim not to have sin in his life (1 John 1:8–10)?
Does he keep God’s commandments, or does he live differently than Jesus lived (1 John 2:3–6)?
Does he believe that Jesus came to earth and took on human flesh, or does he not believe this (1 John 4:2–3)?
Does he have the Spirit of God? The Son of God? Or is he just doing life on his own (1 John 3:24; 4:12)?
If the majority of your answers were on the right side of the comma rather than the left, this guy is not for you, nice as he might seem. God is the
treasure in this life—and in the life to come—and you will want a man who will consistently point you to this treasure . . . through his words and his life.
How about you? Are you currently dating or considering dating someone you have doubts about? Where does this post find you today? I’d love to hear from you.
Congrats! You’ve worked so hard, and now commencement is over. I was cheering big as you walked across the stage, and I’m praying for you as you make this transition out of college. I remember well the conflicting emotions: mourning all the goodbyes, anticipating all the adventures just ahead.
Speaking of adventures just ahead . . . let’s talk about that, because if your experience is anything like mine, reality won’t quite meet your expectations.
Let’s Talk About . . . Your Friends
Your circle of peers is likely going to decrease. Significantly. You’ll no longer have a built-in community to play intramural basketball or to go out with for ice cream.
You’ll need to work to find new friends. You might look right past them at first, because some will be older than you, others younger, and most not much like you at all. And while that might not feel okay, it really is. They have a lot to offer you, and you have a lot to offer them. Befriend newly-married couples. Befriend preteens. Befriend families with kids. Befriend senior citizens.
Let’s Talk About . . . Your Local Church
Where can you find all these new friends? The best place to look is at a local, Christ-centered, Bible-teaching church. Of course, that’s not the only reason you’re attending, but as you spend time with these brothers and sisters in Christ week after week—hopefully in smaller settings throughout the week
as well as in corporate worship on Sundays—you will begin to feel and receive true affection for and from them.
Let’s Talk About . . . Your Relationship with God
It’s not enough to just hear about God. You need to hear from God through His Word.
Attending a local church is important, but it’s not your only connection to God. And while the Christian life is not meant to be an individual affair, it is deeply personal. It’s not enough to just hear about God. You need to hear from God through His Word, as that’s the way He’s chosen to reveal more about
Are you aware of and in tune with His presence as you go about your day?
Are you regularly spending time studying His Word?
Are you talking to Him about everything, as He is your Father, your Counselor, your Lord, and your Shepherd?
Are you praising Him with songs—even if you have a terrible voice or you’re feeling depressed? (That’s the best time to sing, actually!)
Let’s Talk About . . . Your Career
It’s rare that you’ll get your dream job right out of college. Don’t be discouraged if your first job seems . . . beneath you. Mine sure felt like that. But I had a ton to learn about blessing my employer rather than making a name for myself.
Learn, learn, learn. Grow, grow, grow. Give more than you take.
So be patient. It’s not likely that your first job will end up being your lifelong career. Learn, learn, learn. Grow, grow, grow. Give more than you take.
Trust God and know that a) He doesn’t waste anything, b) He is still writing your story, and c) He is where satisfaction is found. True contentment is found in Him, not in a dream job.
Let’s Talk About . . . Your Ultimate Purpose
True happiness and peace come from knowing, enjoying, and seeking to make much of Him, not much of ourselves.
Life is not about us; it’s all about God. They won’t tell you this in your business classes, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We were created by God and for Him. True happiness and peace come from knowing, enjoying, and seeking to make much of Him, not much of ourselves.
I’d love to hear back from you. What are your expectations for friends? Do you plan to commit to a local church? What’s your plan for pursuing God daily? What are your career dreams? And what do you consider to be your ultimate purpose?
A soon-to-be-graduate asked: “I really want a career that not only glorifies God but also gives me financial security. Am I wrong?”
I think the answer depends on two things:
1) her definition of financial security, and
2) her motivation for wanting financial security.
By “financially secure,” does she mean that she will have enough to cover her expenses and bless others in need? Because that’s wise. We know from God’s Word:
It is important to work hard and earn your own living so you won’t be a burden to others.
“We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess. 3:11–12).
We are to honor God with our money.
“Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Prov. 3:9–10, emphasis added).
It is good to have enough money to share with others.
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, sothat he may have something to share with anyone in need”(Eph. 4:28, emphasis added).
“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
So if by “financially secure,” this girl means she will have enough to cover her expenses and bless others in need, that’s wonderful!
But I don’t know her heart. She could be asking, “Is it wrong to want enough money so I can have a closet full of expensive clothes and drive a fancy convertible into the garage of my luxury home?”
Is she wanting to never have any financial needs that she might have to trust God to meet? If this is the case, God’s Word warns:
Riches are anything but secure; they are uncertain.
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).
Riches are deceitful and can choke out God’s Word.
“They . . . hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of richesand the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18–19).
If you trust in riches, it’ll trip you up.
“Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf” (Prov. 11:28, emphasis added).
Trusting in God, who cannot be moved, is so much more secure than trusting in riches that can be stolen or decrease in value.
There are temptations that come with both poverty and riches.
“Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8–9).
What a great prayer to pray! Will you pray it with me?
“Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me.”
So what does this mean as you search for a career? Ask yourself:
Would this amount of money allow me . . .
To honor God first?
Not to be a burden to others?
The freedom to share with those in need?
If so, it’s enough money.
How about you? How much money do you hope to make in your future career, and what’s your motivation?
This morning a girl wrote me that she’s struggling with “how to know God’s will for my career.” I figure she’s not alone, so I’m sharing my response here in hopes that it will help you, too, as you face this daunting decision.
First, a little history.
We’re living in a super unique time. Choices abound. Schooling, military service, full-time ministry, an apprenticeship, an internship, a job directly out of high school . . . these are just a few of your options.
But it wasn’t always like this.
“During Bible times,” Gary Friesen writes in Decision Making and the Will of God, “sons usually took up the occupations of their fathers . . . daughters became wives. Asking a young Israelite if he had discovered God’s will for his life’s work would probably elicit a blank stare.”
Yet somehow we’ve come to believe that we have to discover God’s specific will for exactly where we work.
I just don’t think it works that way.
Scripture shows that God is not concerned with what career you choose (unless, of course, it’s in direct disobedience to His revealed will in Scripture, such as prostitution) as He is about how you work at your career.
As Gary Friesen shares in his book, your work is to be characterized by:
Must be diligent in your work, with the idea that your ultimate superior is the Lord (Eph. 6:6–8; Col. 3:23).
Must work as hard when no one is watching as you do under direct supervision (Eph. 6:6).
Must regard your employer as worthy of all honor (1 Tim. 6:1) and show respect even to those supervisors
who are unreasonable (1 Peter 2:18).
Must not take advantage of an employer who is also a believer, but rather serve him all the more out of love (1 Tim. 6:2).
So can we tweak the question? Rather than asking “What is God’s will for my career?” can we ask “How can I best serve God through my work?”
Don’t fret when you don’t hear a voice from heaven telling you that you should move to Alaska to work in the fishing industry or that you should enroll in Bible college in Chicago. You have great freedom in choosing your work.
Instead, listen to His clear voice through Scripture and learn how to please Him in the way that you work. How can you best serve God with the gifts He has given you?
I’d love to hear from you. Have you been more focused on finding exactly where God wants you to work, or have you been obeying His moral will regarding how you work? What specific step will you commit to take after reading this post to glorify God in the way that you work?
1. Determine if you have the “gift” of marriage or singleness.
Dr. Friesen explains it like this:
The decision to marry or remain single lies within the area of freedom. The apostle [Paul] had a definite preference for [singleness] that he “wished” all others could choose. But he knew he could not give his desire the force of a command. For not everyone “has the gift.” God graces each believer differently. It is likely that Paul’s meaning is that some are “gifted” to enjoy singleness while others are “gifted” to enjoy marriage with its extra responsibilities (1 Cor. 7:7).
The first issue for you to work out is whether it’s best for you to be married or single. Surprisingly, “there is no command from Scripture one way or the other.” That means you don’t need to spend hours trying to discern God’s “still, small voice.” You don’t need to determine whether God is calling you to marriage or singleness.
Since both marriage and singleness are gifts from God, and since you are free to serve God as a single girl and once you’re married, both are good options. (You can read 1 Corinthians 7 for the pros and cons of both marriage and singleness.)
Now is a good time to think through this, even if there’s no guy knocking at your door yet. It will be less for you to figure out when a guy does come knocking.
2. Determine if your prospect is a believer.
Now—assuming you desire to be married, and there’s a guy pursuing you—you first need to ask if Scripture says anything about choosing a spouse. (And it does!) Scripture is clear: A believer in Christ may only marry another believer in Christ. This is vitally important. As Dr. Friesen explains:
The point is that not only are the believers’ values, goals, standards, motivations, and means of enablement for living incompatible with those of an unbeliever; they are diametrically opposed! They are serving two different lords that are archenemies of one another.
God has given you a whole lot of freedom beyond this one command. Don’t disobey Him here. Look first and foremost for a godly, Jesus-loving guy.
3. Seek wise counsel.
What do your parents think of this guy?
What does your pastor say?
Once you’re engaged, get some premarital counseling, and listen well to what your counselor thinks of you two.
Those around you will be a lot more clearheaded than you will with romance clouding your brain. Heed their counsel.
4. Use common sense.
Do you two share the same values? Here are just a few things Friesen encourages you to note: age, finances, employment, education, personal goals, personality traits, birth control, principles of child rearing, hobbies, family background, socioeconomic background, and possessions.
I didn’t always understand the freedom God has given in wisely choosing a spouse. I used to try to figure out if it was God’s will for me to marry a guy by praying and then watching for “signs” from God. And it was confusing! Here’s an example from an old journal entry:
I was talking on the phone with Dad tonight when Jim texted. Actually, at that particular moment, Dad was praying that my future husband would find me, when I heard the text come in. Coincidence, or God at work? I don’t know . . .
Jim was also confused, because after months of sending me confusing signals, he told me that as he’d prayed about pursuing me, he “sensed a yellow light.” He didn’t have a “red light” from God, but he also didn’t have a “green light.” He also told me that as he asked God whether now was the time to pursue marriage or not, God had been “annoyingly silent.” I think that’s because God had already given him the freedom to decide himself.
Needless to say, I ended up telling Jim goodbye (you can read how that went down in chapter 15 of my book). And oh, I’m so glad I did.
Because a few years later, God plopped Trevor Marsteller in my lap. Well, in my Twitter feed, to be exact. As I began to date Trevor (he was a believer, so he was fair game), I kept my eyes wide open and used the wisdom God has given me through His Word and community.
Make a wise decision based on the Word of God, wise counsel, and common sense.
It’s not that there were zero concerns. But as I brought those to God, to Trevor, and to wise counselors, in the end they weren’t game changers. Although Trevor wasn’t perfect (no guy but Jesus is!), I could see that he was “perfect” for me in so many ways. These three main things gave me the confidence to continue moving forward to marriage. And if you’re wondering, six months into marriage I am so grateful I chose him!
Back to you now, though.
Bottom line: Stop looking for handwriting in the sky telling you that this guy is “the one.” Make a wise decision based on the Word of God, wise counsel, and common sense. God has given you a ton of freedom. Choose wisely, and as you do, be blessed!
I’d love to hear from you. Does this sound surprisingly . . . simple? What questions do you have after reading this post?
When should you start to date (or court)? Here are three tell-tale signs (among others) that you’re ready:
1. Your authority figures give you the green light.
I heard from a girl recently who wrote:
I like this dude, and he happens to like me back. One day after school, we talked, and he told me that he likes me, and so I told him I like him, too. I have heard from many people that he is going to ask me to be his girlfriend . . . and that’s where things get crazy.
My parent will NOT let me date. And if they find out that I am dating . . . let’s just say that I will die. LITERALLY.
I am not dating him right now, but I just have a feeling that he will ask me . . . and I don’t know what to do. I really like him, and he likes me. This is very rare!!! When ur crush likes u back . . . Rare. My friends are like, “Just say yes, and just don’t tell your parents,” but I am like, “They will find out!!!”
I can relate. I told her:
We have a lot in common. My parents had the same rules . . . plus some. Growing up I thought they were totally unreasonable, and I dated behind their backs (and was always discovered).
Now, looking back, I can see that God was protecting me from myself through my parents. It sure wasn’t fun in junior high and high school, but now I am SO grateful I wasn’t allowed to get my way. I actually ended up dedicating my book to my parents. Here’s a little taste:
“[Thank you] for keeping such close tabs on me during those tumultuous teen years! At the time I thought you were just plain ol’ mean, but now I can’t thank you enough for sparing me a harvest of regret.”
You’ll end up being grateful, too, for those strict parents. Even though you feel anything but gratitude now, know this:
God promises to bless those who honor and obey their parents (Eph. 6:1–3). And He always keeps His promises! It’s not just
a suggestion; He commands it. If you disobey your parents, you’re ultimately disobeying God.
If this guy really, really likes you, he will wait for as long as it takes. And if he is the kind of guy you want to end up with long-term, he will
NOT encourage you to disobey your parents.
God promises to bless those who honor and obey their parents. And He always keeps His promises!
Please, please trust me. Going behind your parents’ backs will only end in regret. And if you already have, it’s not too late to get out.
(Psst . . . If you’re struggling with your parents’ rules, here are some posts I’ve written in the past that may help.)
Let me add that just because an authority figure says you can date whenever you want doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Maybe this authority figure isn’t currently making the wisest decisions. In this case, ask yourself if you’re ready for marriage. That’s right. Marriage.
2. You’re ready for marriage.
That’s the point of dating, after all. Ben Stuart explains it like this: “Dating is not a status. It’s a process (of evaluating a person for marriage).”
That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily feel completely ready for marriage, as in, “Oh, yeah, I got this covered, no sweat.” But you’re actually at a point in life where you’re old—and mature—enough to get married. You don’t have something else you have to complete first, like a big chunk of schooling.
The practical advice I give the singles at our church is, if you cannot happily see yourself as a married woman in less than one year, then you are not ready to date.
But what if I met someone super special, you ask? And they actually like me? Shouldn’t I do something about that?!
Why would you, if marriage isn’t even a possibility?
I’ve gotta side with Scott and with the writer of the Song of Solomon on this one. Over and over throughout the book the warning is given, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires,” or until the appropriate time (2:7; 3:5; 8:4).
Song of Solomon 8:7 explains why: “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.” And as the verse before says, “It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.”
God knows that if we don’t wait to experience true love in the safe context of a God-blessed marriage, we will get severely burned.
Can you imagine a blazing forest fire that several rivers worth of water cannot extinguish? That would be one intense firestorm. God knows that if we don’t wait to experience true love in the safe context of a God-blessed marriage, we will get severely burned.
Better to build healthy ways of relating with all guys and to pursue your relationship with Christ at this stage in life. You will not regret it. Promise.
Another way to know if you’re ready to date is . . .
3. You have pursued and served God wholeheartedly as a single, and now a godly guy is pursuing you that you think you could be even more effective in serving Christ with as a team.
In the biggest section of Scripture on singleness and marriage, Paul writes,
In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God (1 Cor. 7:24).
Make it the goal of your life not to change your status, but to serve God as effectively and energetically as possible in whatever state you are. The contemporary poster says it well: “Bloom where you are planted now!”
In declaring this principle Paul was not forbidding marriage for single people or freedom for slaves. If the opportunity comes along and it is expedient to take it, do so (7:21). His point was that people tend to concentrate on the wrong things. They pour their energies into changing their condition for their own sake rather than into changing the world for Christ’s sake (p. 293).
I’d love to hear from you. Do you think you’re ready to date (or court)? Why or why not?
For the past month I’ve had the unexpected privilege of corresponding with an atheist. He first emailed me because he took issue with my post “I’m Falling in Love with an Atheist.” I responded, and we’ve been writing back and forth ever since.
When I was your age, I would’ve freaked at the idea of dialoguing with an atheist. I’m not an apologist (someone skilled in the defense or proof of Christianity), and I’ve never aspired to be one. A fair amount of the time I feel simple and not-so-smart.
God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him.
But God brought this man across my path. Plus, I have the Word of God and the Spirit of God to help me. I might as well learn a thing or two about how to use them, huh?
You probably don’t feel like an expert either. But I want to encourage you to respectfully and kindly engage with that atheist rather than running in fear the next time you cross paths. Here are ten tips to help you as you do:
1. Don’t wait ’til you have all the answers.
You’ll never have all the answers or be able to fully wrap your mind around God. He’s way too big for that! Besides, how do you think you’ll learn? (With uncomfortable situations like this that will drive you to God’s Word for answers, that’s how!) What a great opportunity for you to stretch your brain—and your faith—muscles.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
2. Don’t freak out when your atheist friend makes God sound like a fool.
If their arguments appear convincing, if they sound like they know more about God’s Word than you do, that doesn’t mean God’s Word is broken. Go study the passages they mentioned in context (atheists and Christians can both be bad at taking verses out of context). Remember, God’s Word is perfect.
The word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him (Ps. 18:30).
3. Don’t feel like you have to offer an answer right away.
It’s okay to tell them, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” and then spend time thinking, praying, and researching before responding. Some people are just “quicker on their feet,” and that’s okay.
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things (Prov. 15:28).
4. Expect a whole lot of objections.
These will range from “the Bible is full of contradictions” to “the Bible has so many translations from so many different languages” to “the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament” to a whole lot more. (None of these objections “hold,” by the way, if you do your homework.) If you stick with your atheist friend long enough, these aren’t usually the main reason they don’t believe in God. Listen for their main objection. It might take several conversations to get there.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out (Prov. 20:5).
5. Be winsome in how you share truth.
When Jesus shared truth, it was “with grace.” (That is, except for the times He talked with the religious snobs who claimed to know God but trusted in their own “good” works.) Jessie Minassian writes about sharing truth in love. Here’s just a taste:
To paraphrase Paul’s famous love chapter (1 Cor. 13), if I can quote apologists, argue with atheists, and verbally spar with the biggest skeptics but don’t love them to pieces, then all my clever words amount to exactly nothing.
Your atheist friend is not your enemy. They’re held captive by your shared enemy: “The god of this world [notice the “little g” god—this is referring to Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
6. Continue to share truth from the Bible with your friend, even if they don’t believe in the Bible.
How can they believe if they do not hear the truth? If you ever offend your atheist friend, may it be with God’s words and not your own.
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
If your friend hears God’s Word but never believes it, the fault did not lie with God’s Word, but with the condition of his or her heart (see Matt. 13:1–23).
7. Know that answering their questions and providing “evidence” will never be enough to change their minds.
God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him. Pray, pray, pray that God will do just that.
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14, emphasis added).
My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (Rom. 10:1).
8. It’s not about you.
Don’t let your hopes be dashed if your atheist friend doesn’t change his or her mind. Don’t think you’re the bomb-dot-com if he or she does. It has not been a waste if they don’t become a believer through your conversation(s). Who knows what God has done in their heart through their interaction with you. But even if their heart has only grown more hard, if you have studied God’s Word with a vengeance; if your faith has grown, it has been worth it.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6–7).
Keep sharing the gospel with them every chance you get.
Even as you’re seeking to answer their questions, don’t forget to point them to Jesus every chance you get.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16–17).
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Rom. 12:4–6).
I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever lovingly challenged an atheist’s beliefs? How did it go? Do you have any other tips to add to this list?