Christianity 201

August 14, 2015

Wishing You Were Someplace Else

It’s very easy to wish your circumstances were different. If only we’d bought that other house. If only I had taken the other job. If only I had married the other person. If only I had moved to that other city.

Earlier today I found myself stuck by the wording of 1 Cor. 7:17 in the NIV:

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

The specific context is marriage; and the earlier verses can be applied what a new believer is to do if they find themselves married to a non-believer; as well as to widows, the unmarried, etc. But the verse also seems to speak to the broader life issues I outlined in the first paragraph.

We have friends who were missionaries in Kenya, East Africa. One young man who was confined to a wheelchair accepted Christ as Savior and Lord and felt called to be a missionary. The Christian workers there presented him with the impracticalities of this, but he felt assured of the Lord’s protection from weather and wild animals, so when last seen, he was headed off in his wheelchair along a dirt path to destinations unknown.

While I don’t know how that story ended, I do know of people in North America who have followed the call of Christ, and felt that immediately they were to quit their job and go into ministry. I am sure that this works out well for some of them, but no doubt others get caught up in the zeal of the moment, missing out on the possibility that Christ has now called them to be his representative in whatever office, factory, school, neighborhood, etc. they find themselves living.

Closer to the verse’s context, I am sure that other have used their new-found faith to justify leaving an unbelieving spouse. Eugene Peterson translates the same verse this way:

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. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches.

At the root of this is a general discontentment. Ray Pritchard notes:

  • If we’re young, we want to be older. If we’re old, we wish we were younger.
  • If it’s old, we want something new. If it’s new, we want something newer.
  • If it’s small, we want something bigger. If it’s big, we want something really big.
  • If we have a hundred dollars, we want two hundred. If we have two hundred, we want five hundred.
  • If we have an apartment, we want a condo. If we have a condo, we want a house. If we have a house, we want a bigger house. Or a new house. Or a nicer house. Or maybe we want to scale down and live in an apartment again.
  • If we have a job, we dream of a better job, a bigger job, a closer job, with a bigger office, a better boss, better benefits, more challenge, bigger opportunity, nicer people to work for, and more vacation time.
  • If we’re single, we dream of being married. If we’re married, … (you can finish that sentence yourself.).

We Were Born Discontented. None of this is unusual in any way. We were born discontented and some of us stay that way forever. And a certain amount of discontentment can be good for the soul. It’s not wrong to have dreams about what the future might hold. The hope of something better drives us forward and keeps us working, inventing, striving, creating and innovating. But there is a kind of discontentment that leads in a wrong direction. Here are five signs that discontentment is dragging us down spiritually:

1) Envy. The inability to rejoice at the success of others.
2) Uncontrolled Ambition. The desire to win at all costs, no matter what it takes or who gets trampled in the process.
3) Critical Spirit. The tendency to make negative, hurtful, cutting remarks about others.
4) Complaining Spirit. The disposition to make excuses and to blame others or bad circumstances for our problems. A refusal to take personal responsibility. Inability to be thankful for what we already have.
5) Outbursts of Anger. Angry words spoken because our expectations were not met.

The discontented person looks around and says, “I deserve something better than this.” Because he is never happy and never satisfied, he drags others into the swamp with him. No wonder Benjamin Franklin declared, “Contentment makes a poor man rich, discontent makes a rich man poor.”

He goes on to note:

The first principle is repeated three times in this paragraph:

“Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him” (v. 17).

“Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (v. 20).

“Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to” (v. 24).

This is a case where the meaning is very clear: Lead the life God assigns to you. God has given each of us a job to do. He has gifted each person in a certain way and has assigned us a particular place in life. This reflects a very high view of God’s sovereignty. We are both assigned and called to a certain place in life. The Greek words are very strong and definite. The old Puritans used to say, “God orders everything with perfect wisdom.” I wonder how many of us would say that. Almost unconsciously, we want to change “everything” to “some things” or “a few things” or even “most things.” But “everything?” Isn’t that going too far? What about all the pain and suffering and evil in the world? How can that be “ordered” by God? We can either talk about that for the next 70 years and still not settle it, or we can simply say that if God doesn’t “order” all things, then he’s not really God at all. He’s not the author of evil but even evil must serve his ultimate purpose. Sin cannot exist outside of God’s control or else God isn’t truly sovereign. I freely admit this is a mystery, but it is a mystery inherent in being creatures and not the Creator. The fact that we can’t fully understand these things simply proves once again that “he’s God and we’re not.”

This is just a small part of larger sermon manuscript; you can read the whole text at Sermon Central.

Of course, I couldn’t just stop there without reminding us of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:

11b I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12a I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…

Again, while the specific context is marriage and family-related, Paul is laying down a principle here that applies broadly; but oh, how often we wish were just someplace else. While some of this is a reasoned consideration of life options, I am sure that some of it is just an escapist mentality or a fantasy mindset.

God has you exactly where you are today to fulfill his purposes in your world. Remember Pritchard’s words above: Lead the life God assigns to you.

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