As a senior in high school, I played an accountant in The Actor’s Nightmare. He wakes up on stage, in the middle of a play, only he doesn’t remember any of his lines, or how he got on stage, or when he ever read a script or attended a rehearsal, or even what play he’s in. Everyone around him knows who they are and who he is, but he’s lost, clueless, and letting everyone down — all with a big audience watching.
The play was inspired by the awful recurring dream so many actors have, being suddenly thrust on stage to perform a show they do not recognize, in a role they cannot name, with lines they cannot recite. The nightmare, however, might also be an accurate picture of how many young single men (even Christian single men) feel in their actual, wide-awake lives. Who am I supposed to be? What role am I meant to play? Who are the good guys and bad guys? Where am I supposed to stand and work and live? What story am I in? What wars am I trying to win?
Stumbling Through Singleness
When I see that accountant stumbling around the stage, putting his foot in his mouth, sweating profusely, I see something of my own single life — wrestling with where to go to school, shuffling through majors, meeting new friends, losing touch with old ones, then reconnecting with some, starting my first job, and then my second job, and then my third job, moving from apartment to apartment, then house to house and city to city, trying to find a wife and failing, and then trying again and failing, and then mustering the courage to try again. All while everyone seems to be watching me sweat and stumble.
So how do you think the accountant figured out who he was? He studied the other people on stage. The keys to knowing who he was supposed to be lay with the men and women who had been placed, very intentionally, around him. What if the same is true for living as a more faithful single man? What if some of us stumble, wander, and struggle more than we have to because we spend so much time looking in at ourselves and so little time looking out and around at others? For some of us, it’s like we woke up on stage, in the middle of a play, and yet never mustered the courage to get out of bed, much less play an actual role.
My burden in this article is to give Christian single men better perspective and greater courage in singleness. I want to convince you that you are not as single or alone as you think. Because I wasted some single years. Because I’ve watched other men do the same. Because you don’t have to. I want to help men like you play the man God made you to be.
Fundamental Questions for Men
What questions do you think drive and consume the average twentysomething man? What kinds of questions keep him up at night and spur his decisions?
- Where do I work?
- What is my role?
- How much do I make?
- What do I want to watch?
- What did so-and-so say about so-and-so on Twitter?
- Where do I want to eat?
- Did my team win or lose?
- How much can I afford to buy?
Many men spend most of their best strength and energy, day after day, year after year, on shallow questions like these. I want you to ask better questions, bigger questions that will demand more of you and draw more out of you. In the end, I want you to see yourself, through these questions, as less isolated and alone.
1. Who’s Over Me?
Before we look at the relationships around us on stage, we need to remember who wrote the script for us. Before a man can be the man he was made to be, he needs to know and love the one who made him to be. If we could trace all the dysfunctions and failures that plague men to one root issue, it would be our disregard of God.
Do you believe that about yourself? Do you see that the health of every other relationship in your life grows out of your relationship with Christ? We’ll never faithfully act out the part we have been given if we’re out of touch with the Author of the story.
The apostle Paul writes specifically against sexual sin in 1 Corinthians 6, but what he says helps us make sense of every other dysfunction in a man’s life:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
As much as you may feel otherwise from day to day and week to week, you are not your own. You don’t get to do whatever you want, whenever you want — not if you’re in Christ. You belong to him twice over: he made you and he redeemed you. So glorify God in your body — consecrate your body, your time, your energy, your ambition more fully to him. Strive to cultivate, enjoy, and model an “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35).
2. Who’s Ahead of Me?
As a man, you will inevitably become like the men you admire, spend time with, and imitate. The calculus won’t always be easy, but discerning people will be able to trace aspects of who you are to the men who have had the most influence on you (for better or worse). Many young men fail to mature because they lack mature men to follow and learn from. They grow up and live without good fathers.
As I near forty, and have now discipled younger men for years, I believe no single earthly factor will determine a man’s maturity more than the man (or men) who father him. And yet too few men have good fathers in the faith. Maybe they have men they admire and imitate from afar, but they don’t have an older man who actually knows them well enough to affirm, confront, and encourage them specifically and personally. John Calvin and John Piper can be spiritual fathers for you (they are for me), but they can’t be your only fathers (or even your main ones).
Who can say of you what Paul says of the younger men in Corinth?
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:14–16)
He can say, I’ve known you well enough to call you beloved children, and you’ve known me well enough to imitate my way of life. What older man knows you well enough to say that? What older man do you know well enough to imitate how he meets with God, how he loves his wife and children, how he serves the church, how he wins the lost? If you don’t yet have a father relationship like that, who could that man be? The best place to begin looking is in your local church, where the family of God — fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers — lives together and loves one another (Matthew 12:49–50).
In my experience, the younger man will often have to initiate relationships like these, so don’t wait for an older man to come put his arm around you. Identify the men worth imitating, and then go and ask them for wisdom, for counsel, for time, for fathering. Look for ways to come alongside them in the ordinary rhythms of their lives. Make it as easy as possible for them to spend time with you.
3. Who’s Beside Me?
After a good father, every man also needs good brothers. He needs friends. And not just any friends, but friends who consistently draw him toward God and draw God out of him. This is why men instinctively love the picture from Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Sharpen iron for what? He’s likely talking about sharpening an axe or a sword. Men sharpen one another for battle, and we’re all at war (Ephesians 6:12). Who helps you fight well?
These aren’t buddies you watch football with or play video games with online. They’re men whose faith makes your heart rise and run after Christ, who kneel down and pick you up when you stumble and fall, who rally you to live worthy of your calling and hold you accountable, who jump into the hard trenches of life and ministry with you. They’re not just men anymore, or even just friends; they’re brothers.
We’re looking for something deeper and stronger than biological brotherhood. Proverbs says of this rare kind of friend, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Do you have male friends like that? If not, who might become your company of iron? Again, start with your church. At first, it may not seem that you have a lot in common with those men, but if you share Christ, you have far more in common than you realize. Every friendship that’s risen to this level in my life started with meeting to open God’s word together. Most of them grew and matured through serving the church in some tangible way together.
4. Who’s Behind Me?
Few men have good fathers in the faith. I’m tempted to say even fewer have found and made sons in the faith. But every man of God should be a spiritual father to someone. This is what faithful Christianity is: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Who are those disciples for you? If nothing in our lives looks or sounds like Jesus’s Commission, then are we really living a Christian life? Can we really say we’re following Christ?
The apostle Paul had many sons in the faith, including a young man named Timothy. He says to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). In other words, Timothy, as I have been a father to you in Christ, go and be a father to others. Take a younger, less mature man under your wing for a season, and patiently and diligently teach him the ropes of following Jesus. Draw him into your life and marriage and family and work, and then live so that you can say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). As you do, you’ll be surprised how much you grow and benefit from pouring your life into him (Philippians 4:1).
It really doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you have been a Christian. If you’re old enough to read this article, some younger man — in your church, in your neighborhood, at your job — looks up to you. How are you stewarding his eyes? How are you engaging his questions, desires, and failures? Again, don’t wait for him to ask you for help or counsel. Go and be a father.
5. Who’s Against Me?
Satan knows that the most solid single men are the men most loved by spiritual fathers, brothers, and sons. He’ll do whatever he can to make you feel alone, and then to make that loneliness feel like freedom. He’ll make danger feel safe. He’ll slowly lead you away from the kinds of relationships you need, and then distract you with meaningless anxieties and pleasures. Do you even know you live at war?
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. (1 Peter 5:8–9)
In your apartment, at your desk, beside your bed, on your computer, even over your Bible, you have an enemy. A fierce and intimidating enemy. If the Christian life feels hard — if relationships like the ones I’m describing above feel unrealistic or even impossible at times — it’s partly because someone is relentlessly attacking and undermining you. He’s not a metaphor. He’s a real spiritual being, and he hates you. He wants to devour you.
But if you are Christ’s man, the one who lives in you is stronger than the one who wars against you. And he’s not a metaphor or a fairytale, either. He’s the King of the universe, the Warrior who will judge the earth, and you are fighting on his side. So don’t ignore your enemy or underestimate him, but don’t back down either. Lean on the men you need — fathers, brothers, and sons — and follow Christ into battle.