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“Use your time wisely.”

Has a parent or teacher ever said that to you? If so, they are correct in their instruction. But what exactly does it mean to manage your time? And why does it even matter if we use our time wisely or not?

Donald Whitney doesn’t include time management in his Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. However, he defines spiritual disciplines as “those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[1] Time management certainly fits his definition, not to mention that if you are going to practice his other suggested spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture reading, evangelism, journaling, and more, you’ll need to manage your time wisely.

From a practical perspective, time management is an adult life skill that can and should be learned and put into practice during your teenage years. Learning how to balance school, work, homework, sports, a social life, and volunteering…as well as personal devotions, catechism, young people’s fundraisers, evangelism efforts, oh, and sleep a few hours too…will prepare you to be efficient and productive in the workplace or in your home as an adult.

The world has much to say about time management, and we can make use of some of these tips and tricks. But what does God say about managing our time?

First, let’s remember that God is in control of time. He created the structure of times and seasons in our lives and ensured that there is a season and a time for everything (Eccl. 3). God is eternal, but we are not. He has given each of us a specific number of days, hours, minutes, seconds, and breaths to exist here on this earth. James 4:14b confirms this for us: “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Quite simply, this means that our time here on this earth is a gift from God, and we should honor God by using that gift wisely. Ephesians 5:15–16 specifically instruct us not to be foolish, but instead to behave wisely by “redeeming the time.”

The fact that God is in control of time also means that while it is wise for us to make plans (Luke 14:28), ultimately those plans might not work out, because God is really the one who makes the plans (Prov. 16:9).

So God has created time, it’s a gift, we need to use it wisely, and he’s in control of time. What do all these concepts mean for us as believers? How should these ideas guide you in your walk as a Christian young person?

Negatively, we shouldn’t waste time. Ugh, I know, right? I’m sure you’ve heard that before. But God cares about how we use our time. Proverbs refers to the “sluggard” many times, and that sluggard is never put in a positive light. The modern-day sluggard is a time waster, and our modern-day lifestyle provides the sluggard with a variety of ways to waste his time. There are so many temptations and options to spend our time doing things that aren’t important.

I don’t mean that you can’t ever just do “nothing.” Relax, unwind, rest, take a break, go on vacation. Rather, wasting time means scrolling through Instagram when you should be doing homework, hitting snooze three times when you could be up and doing your devotions, and watching entire seasons of your favorite show on Netflix when you should be going to bed so that you aren’t sleeping through government class tomorrow. It’s a good practice occasionally (or often!) to ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now important? Or is there something else I could be doing that is a better use of my time?”

Another example of wasting time is attempting to multitask: for instance, doing homework while watching football, studying for your algebra test while texting your boyfriend, or checking email in between writing paragraphs of your Beacon Lights article (guilty). Single-focus activities are much more productive, efficient, and effective. You will get your homework done much faster and have fewer wrong answers if you DVR the game and watch it after your homework is finished.

Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are wasting time. Instead, we feel like we don’t have “enough” time. The only way to know for sure where your time is going is to pay attention to what you are doing with your time. For three days or so, write down what you are doing every minute of the day. This “time audit” in and of itself will take up some of your time. But you’ll easily be able to see the reality of where your time is going, and you can use the results to decide what you can change about your daily schedule and habits to find “more” time.

Being intentional with your time is something you should implement whether or not you complete a time audit. All this means is that you should make a plan for each day. Many of you use academic planners to remember when specific assignments are due and what day you have a chemistry test. The same concept can be applied to your life outside of school. Your work hours, church activities, soccer games, estimated homework hours, and more can be written down on a calendar or in a planner. After reading this issue of Beacon Lights, you’ll realize that you also need to make time for reading the Bible, praying, and journaling. So look at your planner and decide what time each day you will set aside to do these important things. Fill your time intentionally with important things, or you’ll unintentionally allow less important things to fill your time.

As you live out the schedule you created for yourself, keep in mind that God has already decided how much time your homework will take, how many minutes it will take you to get to work, and how many words your prayer will be. While this might frustrate some of the Type A personalities among us, the truth is that this is an immense comfort! God has each minute under control, so that even if our day doesn’t play out like we planned, it’s still for our good.

Galatians 6:9 encourages us to “not be weary in well doing.” “Well-doing” is literally “doing good.” God has given us the good gift of time, so let’s use our time for good, thereby glorifying him.

 

Originally published January 2020, Vol. 79 No. 1

[1] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991, 2014), 4.

Depression and Anxiety

Lisa DeBoer

 

Note: I am not dispensing medical advice in this article, and what I write here should not be substituted for clinical treatment by a medical doctor and/or clinical counselor. Further, I cannot possibly cover every aspect of this sensitive and complex subject in an article. Entire books have been written on these conditions, and I will only skim the surface here. However, it is my hope and prayer that this article can provide you with some direction if you are currently struggling with one or both of these conditions.

“Writing this article is giving me anxiety.”

“I’m so depressed about my test grade.”

“This job is giving me an anxiety attack.”

“This weather is so depressing.”

The terms “anxiety” and “depression” get thrown around a lot. Sometimes these terms are used properly, and other times they are used to exaggerate our description of thoughts and feelings.

Mayo Clinic’s website defines depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think, and behave, and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.”

The same organization doesn’t neatly define anxiety as one condition, but says that “People with anxiety disorders experience frequent and excessive anxiety, fear, terror, and panic in regards to everyday situations. These feelings are unhealthy if they affect your quality of life and prevent you from functioning in a normal manner.”

Quite simply, anxiety can be summed up as excessive, intense worry, and depression can be summed up as excessive, intense sadness. Both of these conditions can show up as fatigue, racing thoughts, crankiness, wild swings of emotions, anger, a sense of hopelessness, apathy (not caring about anything), lack of motivation to do anything, weight gain or loss, trouble concentrating and making decisions, insomnia or sleeping more than normal, stomachaches, and digestive problems.

You know at least one person your age, and probably at your school, with depression or anxiety. Statistics vary, but multiple studies have reported that at least 70% of teens say that depression and anxiety are a “major problem” for people their age. Girls are at least twice as likely as boys to suffer from depression or anxiety. These conditions are fairly common, and we as Christians should not be surprised when we encounter these problems within our churches and schools. Jesus himself reminds us in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world.

Go back and read the definitions of depression and anxiety again. Can you see how they are related? Depression and anxiety often, but not always, go hand in hand. It’s a feed-forward cycle: if you are depressed you will most likely have anxious thoughts and feelings, and anxious thoughts and feelings can cause (or worsen) feelings of depression.

Another cycle worth noting is that of cause and symptoms. For example, physical imbalances of certain hormones and/or brain chemicals can be one contributing factor (cause) to your depression, and your depression can cause physical symptoms like heart palpitations and fatigue. A spiritual valley in which you aren’t living in the assurance of God’s providence can cause anxiety, which can make it difficult to trust God (symptom).

So are you really anxious or depressed? It can be helpful to uncover what you really mean when you say you are feeling anxious or that you are depressed. Both of these labels can be used to describe a variety of emotions. Do you mean that you are sad? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Angry? Worried? Hurt? Nervous? Disappointed? Accurately labeling your emotions can help you work through them, in your own head or in your conversations with parents, counselors, and friends.

Depression and anxiety can both range from mild (feeling down) to moderate (letting those “downer” feelings overtake you and affect your ability to function) to severe (suicidal thoughts and urges).

If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, please stop reading this article immediately and go talk to someone about how you are feeling. Precious daughter of the King, please know that there are many people who love you and care about your spiritual and emotional well-being.

In general, the range from mild to moderate depression/anxiety can be partially determined by the answer to this question: “Do I even want to feel better?” Answering yes or no does not give you an official diagnosis, but it can help you determine the severity of your condition. Asaph struggled with wanting to feel better, as he tells us in Psalm 77:2b: “my soul refused to be comforted.”

There is certainly a spiritual aspect to your depression and/or anxiety. The Bible tells us of many of God’s people who battled spiritual depression and anxiety, including Asaph in Psalm 77, the prophet Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations, and David, whose bones waxed old within him while he refused to confess his sin (Ps. 32).

There are those who teach that all depression is the result of unconfessed sin, not having enough faith, or not praying hard enough. While your spiritual life certainly plays a major role in your thoughts and emotions, there are many other considerations that directly and indirectly affect whether or not you will be clinically depressed or anxious. These include physical (brain chemical imbalances, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies), environmental/geographical (the famously cloudy skies of Michigan!), genetic (you’re more likely to struggle with depression or anxiety if someone else in your family does), and relational (yes, good friends are important to mental health!).

Before we move on to “what can I do about my depression?” I’d like you to consider that your emotions and feelings are controlled by your thoughts. Emotions are a valid expression of what is going on inside of us; however, your thoughts control those emotions, and you choose your thoughts. The Bible makes a distinction between these two aspects of our being in Mark 12:30, where we are instructed to love God with our heart, soul, and mind.

Changing your thought patterns is one key to alleviating your depression and anxiety. In fact, we can be changed by the renewing of our minds! (Rom. 12:2). What are you choosing to think about? If you constantly have negative, bitter, and angry thoughts running through your head, you are choosing to think those thoughts. Philippians 4:8 tells us what we should be thinking about: things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy!

If you are struggling with mild to moderate depression, anxiety, or both, what can you do? Treatment of depression and anxiety is much more complex than a list of “10 Tips to Feel Better.” However, there are, in fact, some things that you can (and maybe should!) try.

  1. Check your spiritual life. Are you skipping your personal devotions? Do you have an unconfessed sin that is standing between you and God? This is not the only reason you might be feeling down, but it’s something to consider. Depression can mean you just don’t feel like doing anything, including reading the Bible and praying. My friend, you don’t need to feel motivated to spend time in the word! Choose to open your Bible, and choose to read Psalm 77. Asaph struggles with depression in the first half of the psalm, but in the second half he chooses to think about and meditate on the power and goodness of God. He chooses to think on “these things” (refer back to Philippians 4:8)—and if you are regularly filling your mind with the hope of salvation and the assurance of eternal life, you’ll be able to think on those things instead of that nasty DM that you received last night.
  2. Consider medication, with the guidance of your parents and your doctor. Balancing your brain chemicals can sometimes make changing your thought patterns a little easier, and help you want to feel better. Starting on an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication is a very personal decision, and one that should be made carefully and prayerfully. Medication should not be viewed as a magic happy pill, but it’s a helpful tool for many who struggle. At the very least, get some bloodwork/lab tests done. Sometimes correcting a basic vitamin or mineral deficiency (such a Vitamin D) can feel life-changing.
  3. Take care of your physical body. Eat more vegetables and less candy, drink more water and less pop, and get some form of exercise every day. I don’t just say these things because I’m a health coach. Research has shown a direct connection between increased exercise (cardio or weights) and improved mood/decreased depression symptoms. Also, junk food directly messes with your brain chemicals. Maybe it’s not cool to bring veggies and dip to school, but your mental health is worth it. So go for a run, fill up your water bottle, pump some iron, and eat your greens.
  4. Spend less time on social media. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that what we’re seeing is everyone else’s highlight reel and not actually their real life, and this can contribute to your feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, hurt, disappointment, and sadness. Pay attention to how you feel (as a result of what you are thinking!) during and after scrolling Instagram. Maybe you need to get off your beanbag and go take a walk instead of double-tapping.
  5. Talk to someone: a good friend, your mom, your pastor, a mentor, or a licensed counselor. Making sense of your thoughts and emotions is sometimes more easily accomplished out loud, and this person can listen, pray with you and for you, and provide you with wise spiritual and practical advice. Proverbs 11:14 is good encouragement for us to utilize our trusted relationships in this way: “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” God created us relational beings, and even the most introverted person will benefit from working through problems and trials with a fellow believer.
  6. Get out of your own head by taking the focus off yourself. I’m not accusing you of being selfish, and I realize it’s easier said than done to look up and out instead of down and in. You can do this in two ways. Focus on who God is, and focus on the needs of others and how you can possibly help them, pray for them, or be a friend to them.

Depression and anxiety are complex, and you shouldn’t expect to “fix” these conditions overnight. However, remember that although we have trials in this world, we can still “be of good cheer; I [Christ] have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

 

Lisa Deboer is a wife and mother and attends Zion Protestant Reformed Church.

 

Originally published April 2020, Vol 79 No 4

Dear Young Lady in Waiting,

 

To be honest, writing this letter makes me really nervous.  You see, I’m married.  And someone already told me that because I’m married and you’re single, you might not even read this.  This is a mismatch of sorts…a married person writing to you about your single life.  So who am I to give you advice on how to handle your situation?  I understand that it may be difficult for you to hear from me regarding this, but please know that it is difficult for me to write to you about this as well.

 

I already wrote a letter to your friend who is dating.  But what about you, the one who is not dating?  Are you hoping to marry in the Lord someday?  Or do you think you would be content to remain single for the rest of your life?  Your answer might be different from another single girl’s answer, and for that matter, maybe you don’t even know the answer to that question right now.  However, it is a question that you should be asking.  Philippians 4:6 encourages you to go to God in prayer with every thing.  So ask God to guide you in this matter also.  With much prayer, and maybe even after much time, God will reveal his will to you.

 

You see, the single life can be fulfilling, and single people hold a special place in the church of Christ.  Romans 12:4–8 reminds us that the body of believers has many different members, each with their own gifts and talents…and single people are no exception to this.  But they have the somewhat enviable freedom to share their gifts and talents without being concerned about putting their spouse and children first.  Being single is not a “problem,” and single people are not to be pitied.  If after much thought and prayer, you have decided that God is leading you down the path of the single life, then this letter is not for you.  A dear, single friend of mine is willing to write to you in the near future regarding that topic.  However, if you are hoping to date and get married someday, or even think that it’s a slight possibility, then read on…

 

So why do you want to date?  As you’ve probably guessed, dating is (usually!) fun.  Having a boyfriend is (most of the time!) fun.  But, as I wrote in a letter to your friend, you should date or look to date with the end goal of marrying in the Lord.  Desiring to date and get married is not something to be ashamed of.  Proverbs 18:22 says, “Whoso findeth a wife [or in your case, a husband] findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.”  If you have sincerely prayed that God would reveal his will to you concerning this, then the strong desire to be a Godly wife and mother can only be seen as coming from him.

 

I do not know your exact situation, so therefore I don’t know why you are not dating.  Maybe it’s because you are shy, and guys scare you.  Maybe it’s because you had a relationship end badly, so you are not ready for another one.  Maybe the only guys asking are ones you are not interested in, so you’ve said “no thanks” a few times.  Or maybe it’s as simple as the fact that no one is asking.  Some of my words of advice may not apply to you, but it is my prayer that something I have to say here will speak to your heart, regardless of the reason you are not dating.

 

Please know that I was in your situation once.  I’ll be honest:  I was young and probably a little foolish.  But still, I wasn’t dating, and I wanted to date.  I know that it’s not an easy situation to be in, whether you are 16, 21, or 26.  Therefore, what I am about to say is a combination of my own experiences and my conversations with single girls—conversations with girls who were single for years before they found “the one”.  Yes, I interviewed women before I sat down to write this letter.  These few words of advice are not just my words.  They are hard-won words of wisdom from a variety of women.  These words are heartfelt, and were spoken from the perspective of looking back on their single years with fondness, and sometimes looking back on their single years from the perspective of “I should have done that differently.”  As well, they are words spoken with love and concern (but not pity!) for you and your situation.  Because we all know it’s not easy.

 

First, remember that your current position of singleness is not a bad thing.  There are many benefits to not dating.  These benefits will be explored in a future letter from my friend, but just remember that you are not an object of pity.  There will always be people (some of them well-meaning) who will wonder out loud why you don’t have a boyfriend or ask if you met anyone at the retreat, and generally give you a negative vibe about being single.  Don’t be afraid to smile, politely reply that you are single right now because it’s God’s will for you, and walk away.

 

Next, keep in mind that all things happen in God’s time.  Not our time.  Psalm 90:4 reminds us that God is an eternal being when it says “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”  This means that he doesn’t do things according to human timelines.  Even if you know in your heart that you are called to be a wife and mother, it doesn’t mean that it will happen for you tomorrow.  Or next year.  Or the year after that.  Patience in this matter is not always easy, but remember who is in control.  He has a plan for your life…one that he knew about before you were even born.

 

Practically speaking, this means that your high school and/or college years should not be spent wishing you had a boyfriend.  Dating is fun, but it can also be stressful.  So enjoy this time with your girlfriends, your family, and your guy friends.  God is blessing you with this season of single life, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying it.  You know this doesn’t mean go out dancing and drinking.  But this time in your life can be full of joy.  Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 reminds us to rejoice and enjoy the fruits of our labor as a gift of God.

 

However, that same text in Ecclesiastes 3 says that we should do good in our lives.  Please don’t spend your days or evenings twiddling your thumbs, waiting for your knight in shining armor to show up.  Use your time wisely, and get involved in your church, school, and community.  Go to Bible study, join discussion groups, and use your gifts and talents in the service of the kingdom.  Your help is needed and can be used in so many areas (See my list of 25 Ways Single Young People Can Serve the Church of Christ at www.youngcalvinists.org). Not only that, but maybe you’ll find that your knight is attending Bible study too, or working alongside you at a fundraiser.

 

Be very careful about saying no to a first date with a fellow believer.  You may think the guy is not marriage material, but on the other hand, how will you know unless you get to know him better?  Going on one date does not cue “Here Comes the Bride”.  There are some very serious questions that you’ll need to ask yourself about the person you’ll date someday…questions that will help you decide if he’s “the one” or not (again, refer to the letter I wrote to your friend who is dating).  But if you don’t give him a chance, you’ll never even have the opportunity to ask those questions.

 

Don’t automatically assume that the guy you went to school with your whole life is not date-able.  You might think you know way too much about him, but the truth is that you know probably know as much about him as he does about you…and he doesn’t know everything about you, right?  Further, being friends first is never a bad thing.

 

Those things being said, you still have the right to be picky for the right reasons (but only after that first date).  Don’t let your strong desire to date and get married cause you to settle for less than “in the Lord”.  We all know that text about not being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14), but your criteria should go even further than that.  The person you date should strengthen and encourage you in your walk with Christ.  He should possess qualities that will help him grow into being the spiritual leader in your home.  Don’t settle for less than that.

 

I don’t want this to read like an instruction manual on “how to get a guy.”  But keep in mind that asking out a girl can be stressful for the guy! This means that if you are interested, then make his job easier and act interested. Make conversation, ask questions, smile, and laugh at his jokes.  There’s a fine line between showing interest and being pushy.  Be careful to not cross that line.

 

Get together with mixed groups.  Girlfriends are tons of fun, but if you hang out exclusively with girls, it’s going to be intimidating for any guy to ask you out.  Host a bonfire, start a book club, plan a beach day.  If you are too shy to handle this, ask a friend to do the calling.  Regardless of whether or not you start dating someone as a result of these gatherings, it’s still beneficial for Christian young people to mingle and fellowship.

 

The way you dress is directly related to the kind of guy you will attract.  If a guy wants to date you because you wear low-cut shirts and short skirts, then don’t be surprised if you’re on a date some day and you see him looking at another girl who is wearing a low-cut shirt and a short skirt.  We, as Christian women, whether married or single, are called to dress and behave modestly.  As well, Romans 14:13 instructs us not to “put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in [our] brother’s way.”  If you’re dressing immodestly, I can guarantee that you are being a stumbling block for your young single brothers in Christ.  That being said, remember that modest apparel does not equal sloppy or frumpy.  There are plenty of cute, modest fashion options out there that don’t involve turtlenecks.

 

Education is never a waste.  Spend your single years getting your degree.  If you’re sure college is not for you, then at the very least, read good literature and work on improving your skills in other areas.  Your education and acquired skills can be utilized now as a benefit to others in the church.  But you’ll also use them in many situations someday as a wife and mother.

 

Remember that your identity is found in Christ.  Your worth does not depend on whether or not you have a boyfriend, and your value does not rest on how long it takes for a guy to notice you.  You are a sinner saved by grace, fearfully and wonderfully made in his image, and as such, are a beloved child of God.

 

Pray.  James 5:16 encourages us in our prayer life when it says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous [wo]man availeth much.”  Pray that God will reveal his will to you in this matter.  Pray for patience and wisdom as God works out his plan in your life.  Pray for your future boyfriend and husband, even though you don’t know who he is.  Pray that God will work in both of your hearts, preparing you for each other, and for the commitment of marriage.

 

And I will also pray for you, my single friend.

 

Sincerely,

Lisa

Dear Friend,

 

So, you’re dating.  I heard he’s a pretty cool guy, and easy on the eyes too.  Oh, and he’s on the soccer team, and he gets good grades, huh?  I bet you love hanging out with him.  Those dating years are so much fun.  So, are you going to marry him?

 

Say what?!  Yeah, I know.  You’re only 16 (or maybe 18 or 21).  Way too young to think about getting married, right?  Wrong.  You may not be old enough or mature enough actually to get married yet, but you’re old enough to think about getting married.  If you’re old enough to date, then you’re old enough to think about marriage.  Because after all, why are you dating?  It’s so easy to date just for fun…because let’s be honest, having a boyfriend can be a lot of fun.  But you should be dating in order to get to know him better.  Because it’s only after you know him well that can you decide if this is someone you could (or should) marry someday.

 

So think about your boyfriend.  If you married him, would you be marrying in the Lord?

 

“Marrying in the Lord.”  That’s a phrase that you’ve probably heard quite a bit.  Of course, it means that you marry a fellow believer.  Someone who worships the same God and Lord as you do.  2 Corinthians 6:14 reminds us to be “…not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…”  But what exactly does that mean?  I’m going to tell you right now that marrying in the Lord doesn’t just mean that you marry someone that belongs to a denomination with the right initials.  Or that you marry someone who is willing to join your denomination.  It goes much deeper than that.

 

You should be dating someone who can and will become a godly husband and father.  He will need to step up to the plate as the spiritual leader in your home someday, as we read in 1 Corinthians 3:11: “…the head of the woman is the man…”  You and your children will need to rely on him for spiritual guidance and support.  I don’t mean that he needs to have the maturity and wisdom of a 40-year-old father right now, today.  But you should see signs that he could someday fill that position, and he should be showing a desire and willingness to grow into that role.

 

So how in the world do you know if your boyfriend can be all that if you would marry him?  Of course, none of us can predict the future.  And maybe it’s even a little bit scary to think that far ahead.  But there are almost always signs, whether positive or negative, that will become clear if you ask yourself (and maybe your boyfriend) some questions.  These aren’t necessarily first-date questions.  These are questions that you can and should be asking as your relationship progresses.  Some of the “right” answers will depend on your (and his) situation.  But if you don’t like most of the answers, then you should probably ask yourself one more question:  Why am I dating this person?

 

How was he raised?  For what did he get disciplined?  What was let go?  Would he raise his children the same way, or would he do things slightly different than his parents did?  Did his parents obey the command in Ephesians 6:4b to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”?

 

What is his dad like?  How does he lead family devotions?  How does his dad treat his mom?  What kinds of things do he and his dad do together?  Do they watch and play sports together?  If so, that’s fine.  But do they discuss sermons too?  If his dad is not a positive role model, does your boyfriend see and understand this?

 

What kind of relationship do his parents have?  Remember, this is the marriage model he has observed for much of his life and may try to imitate.

 

How does he treat his siblings?  Does he get along with them?  If he has older siblings, are they a positive or negative influence on his thoughts and decisions?  Do you like his siblings?  If you get married, they will be part of your family for the rest of your life.

 

How does his family observe the Sabbath?  Does he faithfully attend both services?  What about between services…is the TV on?  Or is the Beacon Lights open?

 

Is he someone you can respect?  Can you see yourself submitting willingly to his leadership?  Ephesians 5:22 doesn’t say “sometimes” or “most of the time” when it instructs us to “…submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”

 

How does he react when you bring up spiritual matters?  Does it make him uncomfortable to talk about the sermon?  Or can he discuss preservation of the saints just as willingly as he analyzes his most recent soccer game?

 

How does he handle disagreements?  Does he argue loudly and get upset, or does he discuss things calmly?

 

Is he active in church life?  Does he attend Bible Study and/or Young People’s Society?  This is important for his spiritual development, especially since he will someday be head of his home.

 

Is he good-looking?  Oh, wait, that doesn’t really matter.  If you’re attracted to his personality, then his outward appearance automatically becomes attractive to you as well, doesn’t it?

 

Does he listen to and willingly take advice from those older and wiser than he?  Or does he always have all the answers?  Proverbs 1:7 reminds us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

 

What kind of work ethic does he have?  How does he speak about his employer?  Laziness is not cool, and someday it will mean that you might not be able to afford groceries or pay the tuition bill.  1 Timothy 5:8: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”  As well, is he a good steward of his money, or does he spend it on frivolous things?  Does he give to the church?  Is he willing to support you so that you can someday stay home with your children?

 

Does he listen to what you have to say?  Or does he brush it off as unimportant?  Does he treat you the same when you’re alone together as he does in front of his friends, or does he act “too cool” and put you down when his guy friends are around?

 

Does he make you want to be a better person?  Does he encourage you to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ?

 

Do you like him for who he is right now?  Of course, we all grow, learn, and change as we mature.  But if you think you can change someone’s personality after you get married, you’re dreaming.

 

Does he respect your body and your desire to remain pure?  Or does he push to make your relationship more physical than you want it to be?

 

For that matter, are you concerned about remaining pure?  The temptations are ever-present and very real, aren’t they?  1 Corinthians 6:18 says to “Flee fornication.”  That doesn’t just mean walk around it, but run away from it.  So many things could be said here, but the best advice I can give you is to use common sense.  Don’t hang out in your bedroom with the door closed.  Go on dates in public places.  Don’t send texts with double meanings.  Go on double-dates with your friends, or hang out in group settings.  Keep your jokes clean.  Don’t wear shirts that give your boyfriend an eyeful.  Don’t sit in a car in the corner of a dark parking lot to “talk”.  Pray regularly with your boyfriend.  Before, during, or after your date…or all three would be fine too!  It makes it a whole lot more difficult to “go too far” if you know you’re going to pray together at the end of the night.

 

So, back to all these questions you’re asking yourself.  The point of these questions is to encourage you to look beyond how much fun you’ve been having with your boyfriend on the weekends.  There’s nothing wrong with having fun together.  In fact, if you don’t have fun together, then you should seriously consider breaking up with him.  But think about what kind of man he will mature into.  Think about building a life, a home, a family together.  A marriage is much more than a series of Friday nights.  If you cannot imagine spending a lifetime together, or you do not think your boyfriend will ever grow to be a spiritual leader, then by all means end your relationship now.  The longer you wait, the harder it will be to have that conversation.

 

If you like the answers to a lot of those questions, and all signs point to your boyfriend’s growing into a godly father and husband, then we have a few more things to talk about.  I was in your shoes not all that long ago, so hopefully you don’t mind if I pass along a few words of advice.  Not because I know it all, but because I care about you and your relationship.

 

Be yourself.  Don’t hide your true personality.  Not only is this living a lie, but it’s not fair to your boyfriend.  Be honest and open.  If he doesn’t like you for who you are, then he’s not someone you’d want to marry anyway.

 

Laugh together.  Enjoy your time together!  But ask the hard questions and have the serious talks too.  This is your opportunity to get to know each other.  Take advantage of it.

 

Be realistic in your expectations.  Romance doesn’t have to be expensive, and guys don’t always remember important dates.  Extend grace, offer to plan the outing once in awhile, and remind your boyfriend that a five dollar pizza eaten at the beach together is wonderful!

 

Don’t ditch your girlfriends.  Yes, it’s important to spend time with your boyfriend, getting to know each other.  But time apart is healthy too.  As well, ask your girlfriends their opinion about your boyfriend.  I don’t mean you should “kiss and tell” or gossip, but you can ask your friends for their honest opinion about your relationship.  Good, true friends usually have solid insight and advice.

 

If texting, Instagraming, tweeting, and posting Facebook statuses are the primary ways you communicate with each other, then you need to schedule a real date that doesn’t involve any sort of screen. Face-to-face communication is vital to any relationship.  Marriage means you’ll spend a lot of time together, and hiding behind your keyboard is no way to prepare for that.  Fifty or sixty years is a long time to live with someone whom you can’t look in the eye.

 

Pray.  Pray with your boyfriend, and pray for your boyfriend.  Pray for guidance in your relationship.  Ask God to help you remain chaste.  Pray that God will form and shape each of you into a godly spouse.

 

Enjoy this time in your life.  Marriage is a good and beautiful thing, but don’t wish away these months or years of dating.  Almost every girl daydreams about getting swept off her feet, but the reality is that it takes time to get to know someone.

 

Talk to your parents.  And to his parents.  Tell them where you went on your date and what you did.  Or go out for dinner as a couple, but then have dessert and play cards with Dad and Mom.  Ask your mom how she knew that your dad was “the one”.  Make sure your boyfriend can look your dad in the eye.  Don’t forget that Dad and Mom dated too.  Your parents faced the same issues, temptations, and questions that you are facing right now, so believe it or not, they really do “get it.”

 

Don’t expect perfection.  I gave you a list of questions as a starting point.  But those questions are not designed to help you find a perfect guy.  They’re supposed to help you decide if the guy you’re with is the perfect guy for you.  If you dump your knight the first time you see a crack in his armor, you’ll probably find something wrong with the next guy too.  And the next one.

 

Be careful about dropping the L word.  Just because he says it doesn’t mean you have to say it back if you’re not ready.  True love is not that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you hold hands for the first time.  Nor is true love portrayed by anything that comes out of Hollywood or Nashville.  Love is a choice and a commitment.

 

Remember that your identity is found in Christ.  Your worth does not depend on your boyfriend’s remembering to text you, and your value does not rest on how many dates it took to get your first kiss.  You are a sinner saved by grace, fearfully and wonderfully made in his image…and as such, are a beloved child of God.

 

I sincerely hope that he’s “the one”, and I’m praying that God will guide your relationship.

 

Your friend,

Lisa

Crazy Love Book Review

 

I begin this review with a bit of trepidation, because after stalling and procrastinating for weeks on end, I still can’t decide if I’m going to recommend that you read this book.  Crazy Love was (and still is) a conundrum to me.

 

Our summer book club chose Crazy Love, by Francis Chan, thinking that it would make for some good discussion…and it most definitely did.  It was interesting to see the opinions of our book club members shift and change as we made our way through the chapters.  Most of us came to similar conclusions, but we took different routes on our way to those conclusions.

 

I’ll admit that I literally judged this book by its cover.  (Check it out online and you’ll see what I mean.)   Add to that the fact that Crazy Love is written by the pastor of a mega-church, and I certainly didn’t expect to agree with very much of it.

 

Francis Chan’s book is geared toward the “average” Christian in America today.  It is directed at the conservative, upright, church-going believer who “does all the right things.”  The premise of this book is simple:  God’s love for his people is so illogically, absurdly gracious and undeserved that it could be considered “crazy” by someone looking in on the Christian faith from the outside.  If we as Christians really believe this, shouldn’t we be responding in a fashion that is similarly “crazy” when viewed by unbelievers?  We as believers can identify with and agree with this premise.  The life of the antithesis will always appear crazy to the unbeliever.  We do not (or should not) care about the things that the world cares about, such as money, fame, and outward beauty.

 

Our book club agreed with the premise of the book, but in the practical working out of the premise, we at least partially parted ways with Chan.   Chan encourages the Christian to perform radical acts in response to God’s radical love for us—radical acts such as moving to Africa to serve the poor, downsizing our houses so that we can give more to the church, moving to the ghetto so that we can witness to gang members, quitting our jobs to stay home with our kids, and staying committed to one spouse for our entire lives.  Oh, wait a minute.  The last two are not mentioned by Chan.  But marriage for life is considered radical in today’s society.  A college-educated woman who quits her well-paying job to be a mother in the home would be considered crazy in the eyes of the world.  My point is this:  although we might not agree with everything Chan says, we can certainly apply his ideas to our own lives.

 

As mentioned already, Chan encourages remarkable acts of self-denial in our Christian life.  This raised many questions in our minds and in our discussions:  Does true, Biblical love for God always look “crazy”, or is there room for quiet, humble, everyday Christianity (i.e. mothers in the home, faithful schoolteachers, good stewards of time and money)?  Are we able to serve God and respond in love to him right where we are, or are we called to uproot our families and live somewhere less comfortable?  If everyone moved to Africa to minister to the poor, what would happen to the church here?  Is there a problem with our “typical” stable church community of fellow believers worshiping together, helping each other, and giving evidence of our love for God in this way?  Does it mean that we don’t love God enough if we are comfortable?  Should we feel guilty for being socially, spiritually, and financially comfortable?  Personal evangelism makes some of us uncomfortable. Does that count?  Do sacrifice and service  equate to Christianity and a closer relationship with God?  Or are sacrifice and service a manifestation of a close relationship with God?  Some of these questions were rhetorical, others made for great book club discussion, and still others had to be answered for ourselves.

 

We noted that many of the radical acts referred to by Chan involve money, giving, and financial self-denial.  He attacks the comfortable, middle-class lifestyle of many Christians with a vengeance.  While it was good for all of us to examine our hearts in this matter, we felt that Chan focused heavily on financial giving as a way of showing our love for Christ.  The impression is left that if you give more, you are a better Christian.  The author at times causes the reader to feel guilty for experiencing God’s good gifts instead of encouraging us to enjoy them and use them in his service.

 

Any prospective reader of Crazy Love needs to be aware that pre-millennialism and the social gospel are sprinkled throughout the pages of this book.  This was no surprise, given the topic of the book.  What was surprising to us was that in spite of all Chan’s talk about doing good works, he is careful to avoid a works-righteousness theology.  He addresses this in the third chapter, insisting that God’s mercy cannot be earned.  He stresses that all our good works could never outweigh our sins, and refers to Isaiah 64:6: “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”

 

Chan makes many good points throughout the book…and then stops.  There were many times when we felt like we were left hanging.  Some of his thoughts and ideas were not fully developed, and the reader is left to decide what comes next.  Whether intentional or not, this was at times frustrating.

 

Many of the chapter titles in this book are designed to get your attention.  “Marketing tactics” was the term used by one of our members.  Titles such as “Stop Praying”, “You Might Not Finish This Chapter”, and “Serving Leftovers to a Holy God” will definitely draw in the reader.  In spite of the catchy (and sometimes annoying) titles, most of the chapters had interesting, thoughtful points to make.  “Stop Praying” refers to standing in awe of God and his works, before just “rush[ing] into God’s presence with words.”  “You Might Not Finish This Chapter” is all about how our lives are fragile, and each day could be our last—so are we ready to meet our Maker?

 

In addition to the points mentioned in the chapters above, there are many other thought-provoking themes fleshed out in this book.  Chan writes an entire chapter on lukewarm Christianity, and although some of the specifics focus heavily on finances, there are other aspects of a lukewarm faith that should resonate with all of us.  “Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven,” and “Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go…” were two that stuck with me.

 

The author has an interesting way of looking at and interpreting Scripture passages.  Sometimes this sent me scrambling for the context and my commentaries, and other times all I could do was nod in agreement.  A great example of this is when Chan suggests inserting your own name into the well-known chapter on love.  Read 1 Corinthians 13, and every time the word “charity” appears, replace it with your own name.  “______ suffereth long and is kind.  _______ envieth not…”  Then ask yourself if those things are true.  Are you squirming yet?  I am.

 

Crazy Love is a good book for the discerning reader.  Read it carefully, read it thoughtfully, and read it with your Bible nearby.  Francis Chan will entertain you, challenge you, frustrate you, prod you, and yes, lead you to the foot of the cross.

 

Although I do not agree with everything in Crazy Love, I still liked the book.  It made me take a good, hard, look at myself and how I live my life.  Chan’s words resonated with me in ways I did not expect.  Crazy, huh?

 

Special thanks to Brendan Looyenga and Sarah Kamps for putting their thoughts on paper and thus contributing heavily to this book review.  Some of “my” words are direct quotations from their wonderfully detailed and copious notes.  Thanks also to the rest of our book club (Michael DeBoer, Mitchell Kamps, Justin and Cathie Koole, and Kelly Looyenga) for their insightful comments during our lively discussions this summer, thereby also contributing to this review.

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