If you’ve never had the opportunity to read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, we think you’d really enjoy it. It’s a bit like a running commentary that has helped me see familiar portions of Scripture in a whole new light. Here’s a passage I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, from 1 Corinthians 7. Paul is replying to a letter the Corinthians wrote to him, posing a series of questions about what it means to live as a committed Christian. Their list of questions is lost to us, but fortunately we have Paul’s answers—and they’re just as relevant to us today as they were to Greek Christians 2,000 years ago. Consider this piece of advice:
And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there….Stay where you were when God called your name. Were you a slave? Slavery is no roadblock to obeying and believing. I don’t mean you’re stuck and can’t leave. If you have a chance at freedom, go ahead and take it. I’m simply trying to point out that under your new Master you’re going to experience a marvelous freedom you would never have dreamed of. On the other hand, if you were free when Christ called you, you’ll experience a delightful “enslavement to God” you would never have dreamed of. All of you, slave and free both, were once held hostage in a sinful society. Then a huge sum was paid out for your ransom. So please don’t, out of old habit, slip back into being or doing what everyone else tells you. Friends, stay where you were called to be. God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side.
A pastor friend told me recently about one of his church’s overseas missionaries who had become disillusioned and discouraged. He thought that by becoming a missionary and moving overseas, the Christian life would become clearer and simpler. As he saw it, becoming a missionary was the epitome of a fully committed life, and the result should have been a life of clarity and simplicity—but it wasn’t. Becoming a missionary and moving overseas didn’t make his Christian life any simpler or easier; he just exchanged one set of problems for another.
I once heard a visiting speaker in a church say, “Two-thirds of God is GO!” The wiseguy side of me (which is always lurking just below the surface) immediately thought, “And God spelled backwards is DOG. So?” But the speaker was making a claim that I find common in Christian circles: that true spirituality, true commitment, is always found somewhere else. If you’re serious about discovering what it means to live life as a Christian, then pack your bags, because you won’t find it staying where you are.
Paul disagreed. He told the Corinthians, “Where you are right now is God’s place for you….Stay where you were called to be.” I think there are two very important lessons to be learned from his words.
First: God is everywhere, so you won’t get closer to God by physically relocating. The pursuit of God is more like a treadmill than a track; it has to happen right now, right there, wherever you happen to be—or it won’t happen at all. The problem with the “Two-thirds of God is GO” approach is that it turns us into spiritual migrant workers, always thinking that some other place or time holds the key to living as a serious Christian.
Second: The sovereignty of God was at work at your life long before you began to follow him—even before you were born. Your talents, your interests, your occupation, even your choice of a place to call home—none of it is an accident, and God invites you to explore what it means to follow Him right now, right there, before you start packing to go somewhere else.
This may sound like strange advice coming from a man and woman who have been “missionaries” for 36 years. But over the years Joy and I have learned that our vocation and our travels don’t make commitment any easier or life any simpler. This is simply the way we’ve been called to live out our Christian lives, and you have the very same calling—wherever you happen to be. “Where you are right now is God’s place for you,” Paul reminds us, so “Live and obey and love and believe right there.”