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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Three Questions About Celibacy

Ann outside Coventry Jesus Centre where she works


Recently a young woman emailed the Undividedblog with questions about Christian celibacy.

Ann Hawker (living in Coventry and a committed Christian celibate for 32 years), Steve Moseley (living in Warwickshire and a committed Christian celibate for 27 years) and Iain Gorrie (married with three children and living in Coventry) give their answers.

 


How do you keep an undivided heart?

Ann: Find ways that work for you to help you be aware of the love of God both personally and for people generally so that you don’t grow cold inside. Worship is one way of doing this.

Have an attitude of service so that you seek out ways to help others and don’t get too absorbed with yourself.

Steve, living for Jesus

Steve: I throw myself into Kingdom life! Celibacy is all about a relationship with God and devotion to the church – a “marriage” with the Kingdom of Jesus. If that sense of being “married” is lost, then you’ve become divided. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul talks about being free from “cares” – the power of natural demands that can sap your spiritual energy, dim your clarity of heart and vision, and compromise your devotion to the Kingdom of God.

Leaders and pastors can have many cares without having a spouse or kids! Protecting my celibate gift, sharing my heart with other celibates, worship and feeding my spirit are all important if I am to stay free from cares.

Also, in order to keep your celibate heart fresh you must embrace the cost now, today. The cost changes as you go along. For example in my late twenties being unable to have children was not for me a cost. Later, in my mid-thirties, the cost suddenly hit me! I had to bring the natural desire to have children painfully to the Cross. Over several years of surrendering, the Spirit took hold of the natural desire and transformed it so that I could become a spiritual father.

Does celibacy work outside of Christian community?

Ann: A call to celibacy can be received and maintained in whatever lifestyle setting you find yourself in.  However, in order to carry the wholeness and fruitfulness of celibacy it is important to have many different opportunities for wholesome relationships and human interaction and a sense of purpose and fulfilment.  This is probably easier within a fairly close community structure but can be achieved within a broader sense of community.  Celibacy is not at its best if it is simply a denial of something rather than an opportunity for something greater which in most cases would mean service and connection with others around.

Steve: I used to think that celibacy would only truly work within a Christian community like our own in the Jesus Fellowship/Jesus Army. However, in recent years I have seen many examples of celibates living on their own who are finding real fulfilment in their celibacy. Of course everyone is different but the crucial thing is relationships – whatever their living situation a celibate must be well related, knitted in to the Body of Christ and able to express their gifts and ministry.

Is celibacy really a ‘higher or harder’ calling than marriage?

Ann: It is a “harder” call in the sense that marriage is a more normal condition and standing against the natural tendency of romance, sexual gratification and close intimacy is a very real challenge.  There is also a great deal of fear of loneliness and of being without support in times of need that leads to a drive to find some kind of “special” relationship.

Steve: Higher: We need to differentiate between the gift and the person. Jesus is of course the model celibate and to be like Him must be the highest. He made it clear that not everyone could receive the gift (Matthew 19:10-12) but there is no suggestion of superiority for those who do. In 1 Corinthians 7 the words “do better” are referring to those who are “betrothed” or engaged to be married and are able to wait patiently for their wedding day. This is not referring to celibates. So, clearly the gift is the highest but in no way does it make celibates superior. The history of the Church is full of highly fruitful married brethren – it’s what you do with your gifts that matters.

Harder: For the majority of people marriage is the “natural” choice. Are we prepared to live differently and oppose peer pressure and all the natural expectations of parents, friends and the world around us? Celibacy in this sense is certainly a harder choice. Being able to trust your emotional life to God is a very big thing. However, no one would claim that natural life is easy!

Iain and his wife, Ruth

Iain: As a married person I find celibacy very inspiring, and would say that marriage and celibacy are very different callings. 1 Corinthians 7:38 says, “He who does not marry does better”. I would think that some aspects of celibacy are harder, like not having a special/exclusive companion, needing to deny your sexual desires, overcoming the expectations of others for a marriage partner etc. It’s hard to give a definitive answer as everyone’s different!

 
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Posted by on Fri 30th Nov 2012 in FAQ

 

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Flexible, Outpoured Life: Let God Choose

Let God choose …

Ruth Dowling made a commitment to celibacy when she was 24 and is now 53. She lives at ‘Spreading Flame,’ a Jesus Fellowship community house in London. For the last twenty five years Ruth has suffered from ME and has been unable to work for most of the time. However, she has fulfilled a somewhat hidden but vital ministry of prayer, befriending and encouragement. Let God choose …

Here are some of her thoughts:

“The fruit of a commitment to celibacy must be a flexible, outpoured life – let God choose what that means. As GD Watson writes: “It is a flexible spirit with no plans of its own” (The Inner Spirit of the Cross).

“It isn’t a good idea to become celibate only in order to fulfil a specific ministry because your ministry may well change with time.

“Most importantly, celibacy is about loving, about being devoted to the Lord and the brethren and those we seek to serve.”

 
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Posted by on Thu 22nd Nov 2012 in Interviews

 

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Why Celibate?

Piers Denholm-Young from the Jesus Fellowship, Coventry, speaks about his experience of celibacy:

I was thinking about why I am celibate. It’s good to revisit something like this.

I originally asked God in 1976 if I could be celibate. I was 24 and inspired by the possibility of being like Francis of Assisi and following Jesus the Lamb wherever he went. To me it was the highest way and I didn’t want to opt for anything less. Call it youthful ambition perhaps, but there you are.

I also felt that I could hack it. I had been engaged and we ended it, so I knew something of such an attachment. I definitely was not interested in having children, or devoting a large part of my capacity to raising a family. I wanted to be free to serve God, though what that would entail I had little idea. But my prayer was one of those that shoots through the ceiling and you know it’s got through.

So it was not really a surprise when my prayer was answered. Brethren sensed my calling, and one or two things I read confirmed it to me.

I made no vow then, but just accepted that I was celibate. I felt free of the game of looking at women (sisters) as possible partners, and pressed on with life in community.

I was given the virtue name Single Hearted – more interesting than Denholm-Young, and it was plain sailing for the first 20 years or so. Community was quite segregated and there was limited casual interaction between brothers and sisters. While being rather austere, it made celibacy simpler.

It took me a while to accept wearing a silver ring – what would my parents think? But since 1987 I have worn one and never taken it off.

I did have a couple of short experiences of falling for people that passed off quite quickly, and then in the third decade I had a more serious heart struggle over someone that I found myself alongside, but nothing was said and again I managed to let go and it blew over. The fourth decade – that’s another story for another time.

Back to my reasons for being celibate.

Quite early on I started enjoying spiritual fathering, finding sons, and some daughters, that I could train. That remains a wonderful motive for being celibate. They grow up faster than natural kids, and you get grandchildren pretty soon too. They become your crown and joy, and even the delinquent ones continue to be in your heart.

God keeps showing me that celibacy gives the freedom to love widely, rather than being limited to a wife and children, and then what’s left over for others. That makes marriage sound like a mean affair, and in fact it knocks a lot of selfishness out of people, while celibates like me can be quite selfish in their freedom if they are not careful. But I do enjoy being available to love the poor (especially at the Jesus Centre drop-in), my natural sister, my community house family including children, friends near and far, people I bump into randomly, or meet in evangelism. Plus I can love nature on mountains or in the back garden (I’m well known for liking bugs); it can be a real empathy.

And of course there is more time and freedom to seek and love God. I call it sitting by the sea when I go down the cellar or somewhere quiet and take time with him. I may pray or write verses or just be still (my weakest one). I can check my own heart, meditate, find prophetic insight, pursue a theme, and so on. I have scope to study scripture and read, to fast, to walk in the night. I’m free to waste time too, so it’s a responsibility.

Celibacy is an offering to God. One of the strongest words I ever heard from God was at a big event the church had in the early 90′s. I realised how much it had cost us so far to build, and it brought me to tears in the Spirit as I heard God say ‘I have made you (to be) an offering’. We are corporately a living sacrifice to him, and celibacy is a particular expression of this, an offering of love to him who first loved us and called us to be part of his bride. It is painful at times, but rich.

Celibates love Jesus. Now that does not instantly float my boat; after all he is a man, albeit a majestic man and an incomparable role model. But my images are of a bearded man with long hair (did he?) and a long white robe. I love him for what he did for me, but not for looking like that. However, he made it clear that we can love him in ways other than singing soppy songs with tearful eyes. Sorry – I do get moved by songs once in a while, and of course manly David loved God in song and prayer. His presence brings me to unsentimental tears.
He said ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’, so obedience is loving him. And his new command was to love one another, so I love Jesus by loving my brethren and being there for them. I also love him by doing good to ‘the least of these my brethren’ (Matthew 25.40) and meeting the needs of the poor and rejected. For Peter to love him meant to feed Jesus’ sheep, and as a pastor I must do that too; celibacy helps me have capacity. Plus I guess that to advance the kingdom with gifts and the gospel is to love Jesus. So there are lots of ways that I can work it out.

There is a theme that I return to, which is the quest of the human heart for union. The fall and our physical limitations leave us essentially lonely. We are made in the image of the triune God and so we long for oneness with others while still being ourselves. Even marriage with its intimacy can be an elusive reaching for the union of being that we are made for (I have known a taste of it, sublime but still limited). Celibacy is one path in the quest, loving many, exploring how to love God and to know him more.

We shall only find our full home and consummation of union in glory, but for now our hearts draw us on after Jesus.

 
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Posted by on Fri 16th Nov 2012 in Interviews

 

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No Longer Mine, But Yours – The Celibate Spirit: An Old and a New Hymn

“Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”

Frances Ridley Havergal was born in 1836, the youngest child of a Church of England minister. She became a Christian when she was fourteen.

Frances began writing poetry when she was seven and in her life wrote numerous hymns and poems as well as booklets. Her writings are permeated with a deep love for Jesus and a desire to live ALL her life in undivided devotion to Him – a total consecration.

Francis was a pianist and singer and used her musical gifts to reach people in hospital wards. She visited the poor and went into people’s houses to read the Bible and tell them about Jesus. She sometimes led meetings, too, to lead people into a fuller consecration. She was an avid Bible student and skilled linguist – being proficient in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

In her lifetime,several men wanted to marry Frances but she felt that if she married it would diminish her devotion to Jesus and she deliberately chose to remain single and leave marriage aside.

The most famous hymn penned by Frances is:“Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.” She wrote it after she helped several people to find faith in Jesus.

“I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration; and these little couplets formed themselves, and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished with ‘ever only, ALL FOR THEE!'”

In 1878 Frances wrote the following letter to a friend:

“The Lord has shown me another little step, and, of course, I have taken it with extreme delight.’Take my silver and my gold’ now means shipping off all my ornaments to the church Missionary House, including a jewel cabinet that is really fit for a countess, where all will be accepted and disposed of for me … Nearly fifty articles are being packed up. I don’t think I ever packed a box with such pleasure.”

Frances died in 1879, at the age of forty-two.

*                        *                           *

Renate Roth comes from Switzerland.  She tells her story:

I met the Jesus Fellowship while I was working as a volunteer at Ashburnham Place (a Christian conference centre) during the summer months of  1979. God opened my eyes to the beauty and possibility of a shared lifestyle, as we read in the early chapters of Acts. Visiting one of the Church’s households for a few days before returning to Switzerland, I heard God’s call and moved into community in October 1981.

Inspired by the lives of many of my friends who were celibates, I considered this way of life before God over some time, until I knew in my heart that this was God’s call for me. I made my vow of celibacy in January 2000 before the whole church.

Inspired by the message of Frances Havergal’s famous hymn, Renate has written the following words to express her own longing to live totally devoted to Jesus:

Take my will and make it strong for You, Lord
May it be no longer mine, but Yours
I long that all I ‘will’ may bring You glory
Lord, take my will, and make it strong for You.

Take my hands and let them move for others
At the impulse of Your mighty love
May they be hands that bless Your chosen people
Lord, take my hands, and let them move for You.

Take my voice and let me sing for ever
Songs of praises to my Lord and King
A sacrifice of worship and thanksgiving
Lord, take my voice, and let me sing for You.

Take my love, and fill my life with Yours, Lord
At Your feet its treasure store I pour
May it refresh the feet of Your redeemed ones
Lord, take my love, and fill my life with Yours.

Take my heart, it shall be Yours for ever
May it be a royal throne for You
Come purify my longings and desires
Lord, take my heart, it shall be Yours alone.

Lord, take myself and these my Zion brethren,
Transform our hearts to love with Jesus’ love,
That world will see we’re Your disciples
And join themselves to our Redeemer’s Bride.

In the Old Testament ‘Zion’ was the district in Jerusalem where the temple stood and the Jews saw it as the place where God was present in a special way – in the midst of His people. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament about the restoration of Zion after its destruction in 587BC at the hands of the Babylonians. Over the centuries Christians have seen the church as ‘Zion’ and part of the fulfilment of these prophecies.

 
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Posted by on Thu 8th Nov 2012 in Historical, Poetry