I live in the same town where I was born.
Instagram is my preferred form of social media and it keeps me connected to some of the people I love most who are thousands of miles away. I scroll through pictures of them running ministries in South Africa, working on staff with Hillsong in Europe, raising their kids in the California sun—and here I am, posting pictures of my boys in many of the same parks that I once explored as a child.
I turned 30 at the end of last year and while my 20s came with travel, change and new life, they were also home to a disappointing number of “stay where you are” moments.
Staying doesn’t have to be about location. It can be as simple as a job opportunity that doesn’t develop or a plan for progress that seems to fall backward instead of forward.
Many of us interpret “stay where you are” as code for “wait a little longer.” Sometimes, that is what it means. Sometimes, the thing we are waiting for is simply not yet realized and we carry hope for the day when the timing is right.
At best, we equate staying with this sense that God will tell us what to do down the road. At worst, we equate waiting with boredom, complacency or a sense that we were forgotten and everyone else was called.
A better way
In Luke 8, Jesus heals a man who had been overcome by demons. The town reacts out of fear and confusion and asks Jesus to leave. As Jesus is stepping onto a boat to sail away, the man “begged to go with him.” We’ve all read the stories of Jesus gathering circles of people to himself as he travelled, calling them out of fishing boats and trees and jobs. I think we tend to have a romanticized picture of what it looked like for people to leave everything behind and follow Jesus into unknown places. So it may be a little surprising, even unsettling, to read Jesus’ response.
“… but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’”
I don’t know about you, but I would have felt slighted by this. The boat was where the action was. The boat was the exciting place to be. It was a clear vehicle towards hope.
Instead of complaining though, the man did exactly what Jesus asked. He went home and told everyone he could find “how much Jesus had done for him.”
Imagine the desperation in this man’s voice as he begged Jesus to let him on the boat. Imagine the compassion in Jesus’ eyes as He told the man that where He needed him the most was right where he was. Imagine the sting of disappointment he may have felt at first, and then imagine his faithful resolve to do what Jesus asked.
Church culture is never short on well-meaning responses for disappointment.
Anything along the lines of a phrase like “when God closes a door, He opens a window,” may be intended for encouragement, but I would suggest that it lacks the depth people actually need in those desperate moments when everything feels like a setback.
Feeling passed over by God, we can easily slip into deep hurt, fueled by confusion and a belief that others were called out while we were ignored.
Jesus didn’t send the man home because He was indifferent, but because that is where He needed him to be. He sent the man home with purpose and a mission, to tell everyone about the good things God had done.
This final exchange between the man and Jesus comes in a scene of great chaos. The town is afraid of Jesus, not understanding what has just happened. They are asking him to leave them out of great fear. Picture the heart of Christ in this moment, being rushed away from the very people He loves because they are afraid of him, and then in the middle of that painful noise, this man cries out to be allowed on the boat. The turmoil of conflicting emotions that Jesus must have experienced is remarkable to reflect on.
Called to meet fear with truth
Jesus sent him home with an active purpose, to meet fear with truth. He walked back home commissioned by Christ to give an account of what God had done for him. He was called to reveal the true character of God as seen through Jesus Christ, in a place where the identity of Christ was greatly misunderstood.
Most of our life is spent staying. We have seasons where we get up and our circumstances change in dramatic ways, but all of that time in between is about faithfully staying—in our marriages, our jobs, our families, our relationships, our communities.
If our faithfulness is marked by bitterness or idle complacency, we are wasting the time and opportunity we were called to. In every season, our calling is the same as this man’s: to meet fear with truth by testifying of the great things God has done.
If the theme of our lives is resentment or apathy, the message of God’s faithfulness and character will be lost.
Sometimes change looks like a transition: travel, college, new jobs, marriage, new homes, new elected officials. Sometimes change looks like a call to stay where we are planted and grow deeper with what we have, actively seeking the Kingdom of God in our neighborhoods and homes and workplaces.
Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
Imagine the impact this man’s story had on the people in his town. Now imagine the impact our stories can have on the people around us, if we set aside our discontent and live in full gratitude for the good things God has done, speaking truth in the face of darkness and fear.