I attended an evangelism school in my teens and I remember one of the speakers encouraging us to “dedicate our 20s to the Lord.” I wasn’t keen. I had milestones I wanted to reach and things I wanted to do. Serving God actively could fit in later.
“I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35, NLT)
When I came across this text I laughed at Paul’s assumption about what all unmarried people should be doing. Is this your reality, or that of your fellow singletons? When I was growing up, establishing yourself in society and building a good foundation for the future were placed on a higher pedestal than doing the Lord’s work. That isn’t to say it wasn’t important – it just wasn’t as important. Paul’s emphasis on this particular quality of unmarried life highlights how much of a priority it ought to be.
The most fulfilling thing you can do in singleness is serve God.
After his conversion, Paul – an unmarried man – travelled far and wide to share the gospel. He lived this text throughout his entire post-conversion experience. For most people, however, singleness only lasts for a season. Marriage brings with it other responsibilities which compete with your ability to do the Lord’s work. It’s not that married people can’t or don’t care for the things of Lord – they are simply unable to dedicate as much time to it as a single person should.
Throughout my late teens and early twenties there was only one thing I was concerned about: my career. My mind was focused on what to study and which profession to choose. My plans evolved as time went on, but eventually I decided I wanted to become a researcher in educational psychology. Assuming everything had gone to plan, I would currently be pursuing a PhD and be engaged/married. If that had been the case, the majority of my unmarried life would have been focused on education.
It’s impossible to focus on God if you’re enamoured by your distractors.
Thinking about how to please God isn’t something you can do passively. I honestly can’t say I thought about the things of the Lord to the same extent as I did my career and marriage. Of course, it would be impractical to suggest that one shouldn’t think about those things. However, to place those things above God – at a time when you’re best able to be serve Him – is to do God a disservice.
If you’ve read Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, you’ll know that studying for my master’s degree didn’t go to plan. Of course that was a huge setback in terms of my long term goals; however, in hindsight, I wonder if I’d be happy if I’d succeeded. To be a ‘Master of Education’ would have been an honour and it would have opened the door to future opportunities in academia. Nevertheless, throughout the course I struggled with my ‘why’: I was determined to make my undergraduate degree count. Surely I hadn’t just wasted three years studying psychology if I wasn’t going to use it directly? Cashing in on my ‘transferable skills’ and taking the time to think about what I was actually passionate about seemed too effortful. I liked research. I liked helping kids. There’s an MEd in Psychology of Education. Why not?
Time spent with God sheds clarity on a variety of things, including your vocation.
If I could go back in time and tell my younger self anything, it would be to slow down. The allure of doing what felt safe and practical prevented me from exploring other options. Tragically, I stopped going to church for a little while just so I’d have an extra day to do mountains of postgrad work…. all for the sake of something that didn’t really excite me, it just ‘made sense.’ I’m not condemning those who pursue multiple degrees for their respective career path; however, I recognise that everything I did, I did for me. When you involve God from the beginning, everything you do – including your degree(s) – can be used for His glory.
Doing the Lord’s work can be interpreted in many ways, but at it’s core is service. However, a lot of Christians ‘do’ things in church who don’t have a heart for ministry. I was involved in many different church activities prior to my brief departure, but I did them out of a sense of duty rather than something I was truly invested in. In contrast, Paul seems to be suggesting that ministry should spring from an internal desire to please the Lord; in other words, you’re not waiting to be asked and it’s more than an obligation.
Don’t put the Lord’s work on the back burner – you might never get around to doing it!
Actively doing the Lord’s work is something you have to be intentional about. Although I spoke about my career goals as a distraction from thinking about (and subsequently doing) the Lord’s work, it’s not either/or. Plenty of people use their profession in ministry. Nevertheless, your career in singleness, much like a spouse in marriage, can be the thing which distracts you from actively doing the Lord’s work. Consequently, you must be vigilant about whether you’re equally/more concerned about pleasing the Lord as you are about landing that promotion, or securing a spouse.
If you’re unmarried, I’m hoping that your main takeaway is that you need to focus your attention on God. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Talk to God – I can’t stress how important it is for you to take the time to ask: what do you want me to do? What more can I do? What should I change? It’s easy to assume you’re pleasing the Lord when you’re simply serving Him in a way you find convenient. Ask Him earnestly… you might be surprised by what He says.
- Wholeheartedly be involved with/start a ministry – this blog has helped me to stay accountable and focused on God in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t. Use your talents for His glory – it’ll be a blessing to you and others.
- Go on missions – if you’ve been impressed to volunteer nationally or internationally – GO!
- Attend training and use it – I’m always excited to attend various church events and gain lots of knowledge. Knowledge that I subsequently hoard when so many could be blessed by my sharing. Don’t be like me!
- Look for needs and pray about how to fill them – it’s funny how much you see when you actually look. I’m sure your church and your local community need something, if only you would take the time to be sensitive to their needs.
All unmarried people should be actively involved in doing the Lord’s work. Neglecting the most important aspect of your unmarried life doesn’t bode well for your married life.