Every now and again I like to publicly reply to some of the questions that come my way via email (or, as is largely the case today, through events I have attended). Here are my answers to a selection of questions I thought were particularly interesting.
How can you encourage someone who is struggling with habitual sin?
In different areas and to different degrees we all struggle with habitual sins. And we will continue to do so until we are in the presence of the Lord. So I suppose the first thing I would want to communicate is that you are not alone in battling deeply-rooted sin. This is the normal Christian experience. And then I would want to encourage you that the fact that you are struggling against this sin and that you are eager to see progress against it is evidence of the Lord’s work within you. It is God who helps us identify sin and who gives us the longing to be free of it.
Yet the normalcy of sin should in no way permit complacency in battling hard against it. Bound up in the word “habitual” is “habit” which helps show both the difficulty of the challenge and the solution. We are creatures of habit. Over time we create habits that are hard to break. This is wonderful when those habits are positive and terrible when they are negative.
So when you identify a habitual sin, you need to trace the ways in which you have trained yourself to follow particular patterns of behavior. Once you understand how this sin follows a behavioral pattern, you need to interrupt the habit at the very root and not just the point at which you commit the actual sin. In fact. You need to interrupt it at the point of desire, and not just action. Meanwhile, you need to discipline yourself to develop new and better habits. When we discuss matters like “spiritual disciplines,” we are really just discussing the habits of the Christian life that will lead us into godliness.
All the while remember that it is Christ who gives you the desire and the ability to put sin to death and to come alive to righteousness. He does not leave you alone in this task, but indwells you by his Spirit. You can have confidence in this battle that God is battling with you, for you, and within you. And the battle is not merely about the actions we take, but the very things our hearts desire.
What are the most important things to look for in a spouse?
Character, character, and character. Obviously, there are other matters to consider like some degree of physical attraction, shared life goals, and similar doctrinal convictions. Yet nothing counts for more than Christian character. Lemuel got it right when he said, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). And so, too, is a man.
The person you marry will have the closest view of your sinfulness and will offer the most input on addressing it. Would you rather this person be known for Christian character or vocational success?
The person you marry will accompany you through some deep and dark valleys of suffering and sorrow. Are you likely to endure these times better with a beautiful person or with a godly one?
The person you marry will have the most significant impact on the spiritual and social development of your children. Would you rather have them raised by a person focused on wealth or a person focused on godliness?
You may find a person who has all of this and more. But if we are addressing priorities in a potential spouse, there is no priority more important and more desirable than distinctly Christian character. This is the one that must trump all others.
Is there biblically anything wrong with a single woman indicating interest in a single man or even making the first move by inviting him out for a coffee?
The Bible has a lot to say about marriage and about the relationship between a husband and a wife. But it has very little to say about the process of getting there. And I suspect this is because that process tends to be closely bound to cultural norms. In biblical times most marriages were arranged (e.g. Isaac and Rebekah) or pseudo-arranged (e.g. Jacob and Leah/Rachel) within family or cultural relationships. What we know in a modern Western context as “dating” would have been as foreign to them as arranged marriages are to most of us.
There are probably a couple of useful biblical principles we can muster to our cause. Marriage is to be “in the Lord,” so that Christians must only pursue other Christians (1 Corinthians 7:39). Unmarried Christians are to relate to one another in a way similar to family members, so that men are to treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). It’s good to fix in your mind that “if she’s not your wife, she’s your sister” (or, “if he’s not your husband, he’s your brother.”). And, of course, we must always love, serve, honor, and protect one another, and perhaps especially so in areas of special vulnerability like love and romance.
With all that said, I can’t think of a place where the Bible forbids women from making the first move, indicating interest, or prompting a coffee date. Neither do I think this introduces any necessary concern that it will forever invert gender roles so that, should the couple marry, the man will never be the leader in the home.
To push a little more, it could be that God has gifted a particular woman, or perhaps even all women, to be more perceptive than men in certain ways. I often think of Miller’s words that “woman’s quick intuition often sees at a glance what man’s slow logic is long in discovering.” This has certainly proven true in my experience. Either way, if a woman sees a possibility a man does not, the Bible gives no notion that it would be wrong for her to express it.
The fact is, God gives us freedom in many areas and where there is no clear biblical command or direction we do not need to fear transgressing his will. Many such fears are more about transcending cultural traditions than ones the Bible is concerned about.
What should the Christian’s response to drag shows in front of children in libraries be? Should there be a course of action other than prayer?
The rise of drag shows for children is one of the most obvious and distressing realities—or symbolic acts, even—of life in the late stages of the sexual revolution. It stands alongside transgenderism as the clearest evidence of the ways humanity is eager to both invert and pervert God’s design and to do so among even the youngest and most vulnerable people. There is something almost sacramental about it.
This question twice uses the word should which implies some kind of moral responsibility—that there is a necessary set of actions a Christian must take to be faithful to the Lord in the light of drag shows. Yet I am struck that in New Testament times there were many hideously inappropriate and exploitative forms of entertainment and many horrible social practices and customs, yet when God addressed Christians through the biblical writers, he did not demand certain responses to them. Rather, he addressed their own desires, motives, and actions and presumably gave them freedom to respond in different ways according to opportunity, position, burden, and so on.
And I think this is instructive. There are myriad social ills and none of us has the time, capacity, or knowledge to address them all. Meanwhile, it seems that God burdens us differently so that where one person may have a deep concern for the cause of abortion, another will have a deep concern for the cause of euthanasia, and another for the cause of drag shows. I think we can take these burdens as being from the Lord and to follow them into action toward that specific cause. This does not mean we are ambivalent about other issues, but merely that they do not press so deeply upon our hearts. We must always be careful that we do not judge the faithfulness of others by their passion for our preferred cause. It’s better far to understand and rejoice that God is working in a thousand ways through the diverse gifts, desires, and burdens he gives to his people.
So I suppose I would say that there is no necessary action any of us must take in the light of drag shows at schools and libraries other than to live godly, upright lives. The better question might be something like this: What could be the Christian’s response to drag shows in front of children in libraries? In that case, prayer is certainly first and key. Beyond that, much will depend on context and opportunity. Some may wish to approach the issue politically, some may wish to write op-eds in local papers, some may wish to register concern at a school board meeting, some may wish to protest or picket, and so on. There are many ways Christians can express their dismay and concern and to speak God’s truth in the face of man’s lies.
How can I acknowledge and address laziness in my life?
Why don’t you start by admitting your need for rest. God made us as weak, limited, finite creatures. Even in a perfect world the perfect God built in a pattern of rest, then codified it in his Law: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.… For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” We are to work hard in this world, but also to rest. We have been given sober responsibilities by the Lord, yet responsibilities that do not supplant the necessity to rest. Put simply, we cannot honor God if we do not cease from our work. It’s for this reason that it’s wise to build regular patterns of rest—weekly rest, periodic rest, annual rest, and so on.
When we have admitted our need for rest we can then consider when and if we are making time to do so. We are resting when we are deliberately stepping away from our day-to-day responsibilities, and especially those related to our primary vocations. This will look as different as our lives and circumstances. The rest of a retiree may bear little resemblance to the rest of a nursing mother, or the rest of a farmer to the rest of a school teacher.
Once we have learned to rest and have built patterns of rest, we are in a position to evaluate whether we are truly resting or merely being lazy. If an activity or period of inactivity is in some way equipping us to take up our God-given duties with fresh energy it is rest; if it’s just escaping from our God-given duty and sapping our energy, it may well be laziness. (Also see this)