John Fuller: For a single person, seeking that special someone and longing to be married can become a central focus of your life, but like all of us, whether single or married, what’s most important is trusting God.
Tony Evans: And if you are walking with God and you believe in His providential hand, then you have to also believe that your life is in His hands, and that as you follow Him and obey Him, you can be at ease where you are, while you wait for what’s next.
End of Excerpt
John: Dr. Tony Evans joins us on today’s episode of Focus on the Family along with Lisa Anderson, who heads up our Boundless ministry, to address the topic of seeking God’s will as a single. Your host is Focus President Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, a woman wrote to us recently and said that she hears so many programs about marriage on our broadcast, which I think is a good thing.
John: We do a lot of those.
Jim: But she wishes that we would specifically address more single topics at times. And I can understand that request, and we do try to present variety in the program, and we also put a lot of effort into our Boundless outreach, and Lisa does a fantastic job on The Boundless Show, a successful podcast and radio program specifically for singles.
I recently went to Dallas, Texas to discuss what it means to cultivate a healthy single life, and I think you’ll appreciate the open and honest dialogue we had with Lisa and Dr. Evans.
John: And Dr. Evans, of course, the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas - among the many books he’s written is one called, Kingdom Single, which really addresses this topic thoroughly, and I hope you’ll get a copy from us at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Let’s go ahead and begin today’s conversation.
Jim: Tony, thanks for joining us again at Focus on the Family.
Tony: It’s always a joy, a privilege, an honor, and an opportunity to be with you and Focus.
Jim: Well, we’re down here in Dallas, your kind of home stomping ground, right?
Tony: Yeah, yeah. Dallas has been my home for over 40 years. And um, we love it here in Dallas. But - but we like when we visit Colorado, too.
Jim: That’s a nice place. It’s mostly the playground for those in Dallas.
Tony: That’s right.
Jim: That’s Colorado for you. Tony, research shows that about half of the population is single. That may be a shocking number. Lisa, you represent that half as a single.
Lisa Anderson: I do. Represent.
Jim: And as many as 90 percent of those singles, though, would like to be married someday. But you’re concerned that too many singles miss something that God has for them right now. What is it?
Tony: Well, when you are looking forward to something that has not yet happened, then you can miss the “now” that God has for you. When God created the first human being, they were created - Adam was created as a single man. He wasn’t created Adam and Eve as a couple.
Tony: And he was given a purpose in God’s creation prior to his even knowledge of a female who would become his wife. And God expected him to be fulfilled and fully free in his singlehood until God told him that, “I got somebody else for you.” If Adam would have been focused on the somebody else prior to maximizing his creative calling, then he would have missed out on that time that he had with just him and God before God gave him a mate. So, I’m concerned that far too many singles are living too frustrated, too discontent, because they’re not maximizing the “now” while they still anticipate the “later”.
Jim: Yeah. Now Lisa, with Boundless - this is your area. You have hundreds of thousands of single people tapping into Boundless and communicating with you. What do you see in that regard? Is there this discontent?
Lisa: I think there is. And I think it’s largely because they’ve been pressured, either by the church, by the culture, by their parents, by themselves, to think that they will have not arrived until they are married. So, somehow they’re in this waiting room, this waiting season, to become the thing that they are supposed to become, and they can’t fully do that apart from marriage. And so, there is frustration in that. And they feel like, “Okay, should I put my life on hold? Should I wait? Should I be sad? Should I just try to ignore it? What part do I play? What part does God play?” And so it breeds a lot of confusion and, I think, discouragement.
Jim: Tony, in that regard, being a pastor, how do you think God views the single person, and then how God views the married couple? Is there a difference the way He views it? So maybe our expectation is a little out of alignment?
Tony: Well, it is. First of all, God expects me and you and every person to be under His rule in the state that they are in. We are not to allow another state to change how He relates to us. So, if you’re married, you have guidelines for that. If you’re single, you have guidelines for that. And in both states, you are supposed to be fulfilled and fully free. You know, going back to the first person, Adam, God told him, you know, from every tree of the Garden, you may freely eat. The first use of freedom in human history came from God, and it came to a single person. And He commanded him to enjoy every tree in the Garden. So there was only one tree he couldn’t enjoy, and that was the tree in the midst of the Garden. He was commanded to enjoy all the other trees. It’s getting - focus on that one tree that can mess you up from enjoying all these other trees that are available to you. So, God has a lot of freedom, a lot of joy, a lot of excitement, for the single person if they will stop living for this one tree that they don’t have right now.
Jim: That is really good.
Tony: I thought so.
Jim: It’s a wonderful metaphor for life, isn’t it?
Jim: What in us draws us to the one thing we can’t have? And that usually is something that’s harmful to us. Why do we do that?
Tony: Well, they did it because of Satan. So...
Jim: And why do we do it?
Tony: ...We do it for the same reason. There are legitimate desires that are within the will of God, but God wants to manage how those desires are executed and when those desires are executed. And what He has given the single person is a lot more trees to enjoy than they realize. And because they’re not focused on that - but the enemy can point them to this one area and drift that desire in one direction, causing them to lose out on all that God wants to do in, to, through, for and by them as His kingdom representative as a single Christian.
Jim: In your wonderful book now, Kingdom Single, what does it mean to be a kingdom-minded single?
Tony: Well, kingdom, of course, Focus would know this...
Jim: Kingdom Man and Kingdom Couple.
Tony: Yeah. So kingdom is the unifying theme of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, there’s really only one message - the glory of God through the advancement of His kingdom. The word kingdom means rule. So, God wants to rule all that He created. So, when it comes to being single, a single Christian is a Christian who has committed themselves to live out their completeness, under the rule of God. Single, they are unmarried, but they’re also complete. You know, I use the illustration in the book of - when I was talking to a group of singles, I had two keys. And I put them on a key ring. And then I, uh, took one of the keys off the key ring. I said, “Now, is this key still a complete key, even though it’s no longer on a ring? Or has it lost its completeness, because it’s not with this other key?” And of course everybody said, “Well, it’s still complete.” And I said, “And so are you.” You’re a complete person, regardless of whether there’s a ring on.
Single means unique. Single means one of a kind. And that is who you are. And when you begin to look at yourself that way, then marriage becomes a bonus. It doesn’t become a defining essence for who you are and how you are to view yourself, or how you are to let other people view you.
Jim: Boy, that is so well said. And I hope people who are in the single stage are catching that. Lisa, describe for us - you know, some of us have been married awhile, and singleness was a long time ago. And you’re living the dream.
Lisa: I am.
One thing I love about what Tony says in the book is he talks about being single puts you in the best spiritual position - or the best spiritual condition.
Lisa: I love this because you’re not divided. You get to live undivided in devotion, in attention, in your purpose, and how you live it out. And it is so freeing to realize that - I mean, not that married people are necessarily dysfunctional, or scattered, or whatever.
Jim: Wait a second, now.
Lisa: But - but we have the opportunity, and I’ve seen this lived out, to be kind of single-minded in that sense, and it’s a benefit.
Jim: Well, let me ask you this, Tony, studying this, being single, now being married 40 years to your wonderful wife, I...
Jim: Oh, 48!
Tony: Oh, yeah. Don’t take away my (unintelligible).
Jim: Okay, well, you’re definitely an expert. But when you - when you look at the function of marriage, so often I’ve said on the broadcast here that it seems obvious that the Lord has done this, in part, to knock out the selfishness in each one of us. It’s one of the benefits of marriage, although it’s one of the most painful things of marriage. It shows you how selfish you are.
Jim: So, in the 180 degree opposite of that for a single, how do they guard against being selfish and some of those attributes - good attributes - that you learn in marriage? How do you, as a single, guard against those trappings of being single?
Tony: Just because you’re single doesn’t mean you have to be alone. And that’s why God builds community. It is one of the worst things a single Christian can do - any Christian, but especially a single Christian - is to allow your singleness to put you in isolation. God wants you in community. He wants you serving. He wants you benefiting others. And when you are fulfilling your calling under God - generally as a Christian and then specific to you, given your gifts, talents, skills - then you are engaging with other people, which fights against that selfishness. The problem is, we live in a “me” generation, where people are focused on themselves, which is against the kingdom of God. You are actually keeping God away if you are only focused on me, myself and I. So what God wants is He wants you and me to be engaged in the unique thing that He has us to do for His kingdom. And in that, He joins us to root out some of the things in us that need to be transformed.
Jim: And that sounds like revival...
Jim: ...When you move closer to that center - God-centered life. Tony, out of Scripture you take a couple of examples. I think Joseph and Ruth. What impresses you about them in their singleness?
Tony: Well, Ruth - she fulfills - what is it? Luke 6:38, it says, “give and it will be given to you,” which most people leave out the main word there, is the word “it.” The thing you want, and the thing you need, give to somebody else. It is the “it” that you give. So, whatever the “it” is that you are needing for you, offer it to somebody else, while you wait for it to boomerang back to you. So, she gave a relationship to Naomi. And she got one from Boaz. So, it is using what God has given you in your singleness to serve somebody else. And let’s see how God boomerangs that back for you to be served in another way. So, it shows me the servant heart. And that’s what Boaz noticed, by the way, her serving heart to her mother-in-law Naomi.
And then, Joseph, who goes through this 13 year up and down scenario in his life. It’s bad one moment. It’s better the next moment. Then it goes left the next moment. And then he thinks it’s getting better. And then he’s forgotten. And it’s on and on and on. But it’s - the Scripture says he stayed in this up and down single state, then it says, “until the time”. God has got His hand on the clock. And He knows when the bell should go off, if the bell should go off, and when the bell should go off. So Joseph, it says, even when things were not going well, the Lord was with him. So, the good news for a single is, even if it’s not working out, even if you’re struggling with temptation, like Joseph had to face Potiphar’s wife, even when - when you don’t know if you are going to make it in this state, you should be able to say, “God is with me.” And if God is with you, He will take you and meander you from where you are to the place you ought to be in a way that brings Him glory and brings you good.
Jim: Lisa, when you hear that, how do you react as a single? I mean, does this resonate with you?
Lisa: Yeah. It’s like, why didn’t I hear this 15 or 20 years ago? And maybe I did, but just didn’t understand it, or just didn’t apply it to myself. But it is very, um, you know, I think I’ve realized just in recent years how, in reading Scripture - yeah, to deny ourself and to take up our cross is not just for married people. To serve others is not just for married people. We are all called to grow and to sacrifice and to be in a spot where we’re fully trusting God with what we have and with what we don’t have, quite frankly. And so, yeah, for those who are struggling financially, what does it look like for them to give back and to do that selflessly, and to do it joyfully? And so, I think the principles, as you practice them - now, they’re hard to walk out, because again, it’s trust. You know, you have to trust God with where you are right now. But in doing that, you see great reward.
Jim: Let me ask about the angst that so many singles seem to have. I’m not saying everyone. But Lisa, there does seem to be this constant pressure - maybe coming from your parents, even, you know, “Honey, when are you going to get married?” I can hear that. And how do you process that so that you feel confident, still, that God is with you, God does hear your desires and He cares about you? Because I would think that, I mean, after you’ve gone 10 years wanting to be married, maybe you’re hitting 30, 32, maybe 40, and that has not been answered, how do you maintain that hope that God knows where you’re at, and the bell hasn’t gone off yet, as Tony described, and you have to stay inspired by Him and in love with Him, even though that deepest desire is not being met?
Lisa: Yeah. And I wouldn’t say, you know, there’s not, like, a huge diss on married people here, where it’s like, “Oh, my goodness. They all just think I’m a train wreck and whatever.” Most married people, if they have good marriages, want me to have what they have. They don’t understand my story. And so, they’re like, “Surely, you know, if you get married, you’re going to have this great relationship, like I have.” And that is fabulous. But, in that is implied - and I’ve heard this in the church too - that because I’m not married, I might be incomplete. Or I might be wounded. Or I might be, you know, not - there are just a lot of issues I think around that. And so it’s like, whoa, I feel like I’m constantly doing a PR campaign for myself to be like, “No, really, no, really, like, God’s got this. God understands.”
Tony: Well, you know, two illustrations in my family, I dedicated this book to my wife’s two sisters, who are both single. One is over 60. One is over 70. Never married, virgins. How is that possible? If you were to ask them, they would tell you their love affair with the Lord Jesus Christ has run so deep, and their fulfillment in their calling - because they’re both serving the Lord - is so rich that they’d rather be single than somebody coming in and messing that up.
Tony: And they are looking forward to the day when they present themselves - if God doesn’t give them a mate - before the Lord as pure virgins and receive the reward for their faithfulness. But they’re not miserable. If God brings somebody, it’s fine. But they are full of joy. They’re happy all the time, you know. And that is because Christ has become so real and their ministry so rich, that they can be fulfilled kingdom singles, because everything they do operates under the covering and rule of God in their lives.
Jim: That’s beautiful. I mean, that’s the way it should be. Tony, describe for me that difference with gender. I mean, that may be more easily done for a woman than maybe a single man. How do you recommend for single men to be able to manage those physical impulses?
Tony: Well, first of all, a man has to understand that, you know, in Kingdom Man we talk about the fact that the definition of a kingdom man is a man who’s operating under the rule of God in his life. And so, Adam was a man, okay? What kept him under control, so to speak, was the fact that he was fully operating in naming things. I love the naming, because what - naming is to exercise authority in the Bible. When a man can be mannish in his realm and express that energy in other positive ways under the rule of God, he can manage his libido in a responsible way and not leave a bunch of bruised women in the wake of satisfying their sexual urges, because they have to answer to the One to whom they’re ultimately responsible, while fulfilling their naming agenda that God gives a man to do.
Jim: Yeah, that is powerful and well said. There’s a bit of humor in that, though, because I’m thinking maybe that was the point, where God decided Adam needed a woman...
Tony: Well, it was the point...
Jim: ...Because Adam probably went, “Did anybody write this down?”
He was just naming. Nobody wrote it down. Let me turn to, really, a deep comment that you make in the book, and I want you to explain it further for us. You believe that God has designed each of us to live in what you call biblical freedom, released from illegitimate bondage. I mean, we can think deeply about that. What are you driving at?
Tony: Well, we are allowing things to hold us hostage that are outside of the will of God. We allow certain people to hold us hostage. We allow our past to hold us hostage. We allow our sexuality to hold us hostage. That’s illegitimate bondage. God wants you to be in bondage to Him. And whenever anything else can trump that, that’s called illegitimate bondage. And illegitimate bondage will always impede on freedom. Freedom gives you the right to enjoy the goodness of God in your life. When you submit to illegitimate bondage, you trump the enjoyment of God’s work in your life. So, what a lot of singles - marrieds, too - but what a lot of singles are doing is they’re blocking God from fully expressing to them the fullness that they can have - Jesus called it the abundant life - because they’re allowing illegitimate bondage to keep them from the rest of the trees in the Garden.
Jim: Yeah. I want to really ask both of you this question. You know, Focus on the Family, we’re about marriage and parenting. I’m often thinking in my quiet time to be careful to not make family an idolatrous act. And I’d like that response from both of you. Lisa, you as a single - Tony, you as a married pastor - how can we make family sometimes an idol in our lives?
Lisa: Yeah. I think it’s - you know, I’ve often heard teaching, too, on the “don’t make marriage an idol”. And I think it is. You know, I mean, if we know that idolatry is anything that is taking God’s rightful place in our lives, it seems that when we’re focused on the here and now, whether that is our single status or the things we don’t have or our wife or our kids, it’s cluttering of our lives, of our attention, of our affections. And so, I think that’s where maybe singles have a little bit of a benefit, because in leaning into the grief of what we don’t have, we are much more attuned to go to Jesus Christ directly as our source of comfort and of connection and, you know, really purpose, I think. And so what I am is single today. And I’m walking a path today that God has ordained for me. And I can be okay with that because I know where I’m going.
Tony: Well, you know, an idol - you talk about marriage being an idol - an idol is any noun - person, place, thing or thought - that you look to as your source. God can’t do certain things. He can’t lie, the Bible says. There’s another thing He can’t do. He can’t be second. So, if marriage is first, marriage then becomes an idol. And God becomes, now, subject to your god, in your own thinking and your own mind. So, you never want to make marriage an idol, because the moment you do that, you have kept God out of your life, because you’ve now created another god. Even if you are a single, so looking to marriage, that the looking to it becomes your god. Now you’ve still kept God away.
Jim: Interesting. Before we leave today - and I’m gonna come back next time, if we can do that, pick up the topic, continue to talk about singleness - but this idea of discontent - our culture is rife with discontent. And this area particularly, can be the root of it, that God’s not answering my prayer, that - you just get filled with discontent. And it’s easy to do, because the culture is fueling it as well. So, how does a single not become discontent with their singleness and with their state in relationship to God?
Tony: Well, first of all, the one who talks about content and discontent is a single man, the Apostle Paul...
...and things weren’t going well when he said it. You know, he’s in jail, when he - when he says it. So, he’s single. He’s alone. He’s in jail. And he says he had to learn to be content. He had to learn it, because contentment is - like you said, often doesn’t come very naturally to us.
Jim: I mean, that sounds like a journey. It’s not like it happens in an instant.
Tony: That’s right. But, it is a lesson that has to happen in a couple ways. One, you have to be willing to learn it. And secondly, you have to recognize that God is going to put you in experiences to teach it. So, it’s a learning situation. But the one thing that enabled Paul in his singleness to learn contentment was his knowledge of the providence of God. The providence of God is His invisible hand steering behind the steering wheel of your life. And God knows how to bring things in, to take things out, to make relationship opportunities, to take relationship opportunities away. And if you are walking with God, and you believe in His providential hand, then you have to also believe that your life is in His hands, and that as you follow Him and obey Him, you can be at ease where you are while you wait for what’s next. Contentment is simply being satisfied where you are. It doesn’t mean not having the desire for more. It is saying you’re not controlled by a desire for more.
Jim: Right. That is good. And Lisa, how does that live out?
Lisa: Yeah. I mean, I think for me, it’s just understanding and preaching myself every day that God is both all-powerful and all-good. So, He has all the power to accomplish what He wants. And He has my best interests, both for now and for eternity, at heart. And, I remember in my 20s, you know, I just kind of was too busy with my career. And I was kind of believing the script of what everyone told me of just, you know, “Okay, Lisa, you know, singleness, it’s a problem to be solved. We need to get you, you know, hitched. We need to make this happen. We need to find someone great.” You know, kind of the script of like, you know, you cannot possibly enter your 30s not having had sex, or not having been in a relationship. And then I get into my 30s, and so I’m, like, desperate. And I’m, like, trying to make up for lost time. And I’m just stating, “Okay, are you a Christian? Okay, I better go out with you.” And it was just frantic and nutty. And - and I feel like a - a switch flipped, as I hit 40. And it was like, you know what? I will never have the story of my friends. I will never be a homeschooling mom, driving kids in a minivan. I will never be - that is passed. And so now, it’s almost this expectant joy of, like, what will God do? What could this look like? And it may be that I remain single, and I stay content in that. And that’s a process. Or, it may be that I get married in the future. But, I just feel like knowing that God has got this, that He has my back, that He cares about me, and He has a story that I cannot even anticipate, helps me walk each day.
Tony: Now, see, that’s a providential perspective, ‘cause, now I know God’s gonna give you a husband with - who already has kids. So He’s goin’ - you’re goin’ to be able to be that driver around.
Lisa: Tony already prayed for my husband, you guys...
Tony: I did. I did. I did.
Lisa: ...before we started taping. He did. Yes.
Tony: And we do that at church. We pray that - and when we specifically ask to pray, we have seen God answer that prayer. We have seen God answer. I got a call the other day who told me after five years - this was a guy - after five years, that God has brought - and he is for the first time married, 55-years-old.
Jim: Wow. Tony, Lisa, let’s come back next time - pick up the questions. This is really good. I think people are benefiting. Hopefully moms and dads are benefiting with their adult children who are still single.
Jim: That’s kind of a common thing today with half the population not married.
Tony: And more moms and dads need to pray for their children’s mates, rather than complain that they don’t have one.
Jim: I agree. I agree. Let’s do it.
John: A really good conversation with Jim Daly, Dr. Tony Evans, and Lisa Anderson on today’s Focus on the Family. And if you’re single, a great way to follow up is to request a copy of the book by Dr. Evans, Kingdom Single. It’s gonna help you in your relationship with God and finding contentment and joy in Him, while maintaining trust in His plan for your life. Ask for Kingdom Single, when you contact us. Our number is 800-232-6459 or stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: And let me remind you again of Focus on the Family’s very important outreach to singles that Lisa is heading up, called Boundless. Find out more when you call us or visit the website.
And if you can help support Focus on the Family with a financial gift, as we reach out to singles, and perhaps prepare them for marriage, and offer help to married couples as well, we would greatly appreciate it. And when you make a donation today, for any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Kingdom Single as our way of saying thank you.
John: Again, the number to donate and get a copy of that book is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here at Focus on the Family, thanks for listening today. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We’ll continue the discussion with Dr. Tony Evans and Lisa Anderson, and once again, help you thrive in Christ.