Perhaps the greatest temptation in singleness is to assume marriage will meet our unmet needs, solve our weaknesses, organize our lives, and unleash our gifts. Far from the solution, Paul makes marriage out to be a kind of problematic “Plan B” for Christian life and ministry. Marry if you must, but be warned that following Jesus is not easier when you join yourself to another sinner in a fallen world. While marriage may bring joy, help, and relief in certain areas, it immediately multiplies our distractions, because we’re responsible for this other person—his or her needs, dreams, and growth. It’s a high calling, and a good one, but a demanding one, nonetheless, that will keep us from all kinds of other good things.
If God leads you to marry, you may never again know a time like the one you’re in right now. A season of singleness is not the minor leagues of marriage. It has the potential to be a unique period of undivided devotion to Christ and undistracted ministry to others. With the Spirit in you and the calendar clear, God has given you the means to make a lasting difference for His kingdom. You’re all dressed up, having every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), with literally everywhere to go.
But where do I go, and what do I do? I can’t answer that for everyone, but following are five lessons that may help you change the world (or at least your little piece of it) while you’re not yet married. With God’s help and leading, you have the freedom to invest yourself, your time, your resources, your youth, and your flexibility in relationships, ministries, and causes that can bear unbelievable fruit—to live single, satisfied, and sent. God has given you the means to make a lasting difference for his kingdom.
- Remember that true greatness will often look like weakness.
Most of the time, instead of pursuing greatness through sacrifice, I find myself expecting God to make life a little more comfortable, or relationships a little easier, or ministry a little more fruitful, or affirmation a little more regular. But He says, instead, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44). Servants in this life will rule the next. Slaves in this life will be kings forever. True greatness isn’t the kind that appears in bold letters on our favorite website. No, it shows up in the details of other people’s lives. If we aspire to be great, we need to give ourselves to the small, mundane, easily overlooked needs around us.
- Notice the people God has already put around you.
God has put you on the planet and in your neighborhood so that you and all the people in your life might seek him. That’s God’s mission statement for your campus, your apartment building, your block—wherever you live, study, or work. Paul says that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26–27).
- Practice selflessness while you’re still single.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4). That will only get harder in marriage, so practice now. We should think of a few people or families for whom we could lay down our single life. No one is expecting you to care and provide for others right now—no one, that is, except for God. Let’s be mindful of the needs of others, especially those in the church, and consider contributing. It could be money or food, or just time and energy. Maybe especially time and energy.
- Say yes to the spontaneous.
It’s just a fact—marriage murders spontaneity; not entirely, but massively. One of your greatest spiritual gifts as a single person is your yes. Yes to a random phone conversation. Yes to coffee. Yes to help with the move. Yes to stepping in when someone’s sick. Yes to a late-night movie or the special event downtown. You have the unbelievable freedom to say yes when married people can’t even ask the question. When the spouse doesn’t exist yet, you cannot hurt him or her with the selfless, impulsive decisions you make to serve others. If you get married, you will not always have the same freedom. Be willing to say yes and be a blessing to others, even when you don’t always feel like it.
- Do radical, time-consuming things for God.
Just as you are free to say yes to spontaneous things, you’re also able to say yes to things that require more of you than a married person can afford. Dream bigger, more-costly dreams. Start a daily prayer meeting or some regular outreach. Commit to mentor and disciple several men or women younger than you. Organize a new Christ-centered community service project. Do all of the above. You’d be surprised, with God’s Spirit in you and a resolve to spend your singleness well, how much you and your not-yet-married friends are truly capable of, especially when you dream and work together. Be radical but not reckless. The idea is not to spread yourself dangerously thin, so make decisions prayerfully and in community with people who love you and can tell you no. Now please, ask yourself, “How could you use your gifts to do something radical or time-consuming to tell others about Jesus?”