I remember reading an old quote from Charles M. Schulz. He was talking about how he came up with his Peanuts cartoons (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang), and he referred to artificial ways of trying to come up with something that is funny. While he didn’t seem to like these “mechanical” solutions to generating new ideas for cartoons, the one he mentioned was “putting a character in an unfamiliar situation”1.
Do you ever feel like your life is like a character in a cartoon, where the artist only knows this one way to be funny? That is, do you feel like you’re always a character in an unfamiliar situation? Sometimes, I feel like a fish out of water, or like I really don’t belong somewhere that I find myself. On a business trip once, I remember stopping by a T-shirt shop on the street, looking for a gift to take home to my wife, but I found that it was really more of a head shop. After browsing the T-shirts, I left politely, but I heard one clerk say to the other (about me), “This probably wasn’t the kind of shop he was looking for.”
Being out of our element can be uncomfortable, and sometimes we’d really, really like to change things. There is a time and a place to pick up and go somewhere new, whether moving to a new house, getting a new job, or just making a major change in our lives. However, there are other times where we are called to serve God right where we are.
I don’t want to over-generalize this verse (so I encourage you to read all of 1 Corinthians 7, if you’re not familiar with it), but for at least Paul’s audience in Corinth, they were called to not try to change certain circumstances of theirs from where God had called them.
Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches.
1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT
Of course, this doesn’t mean that life must always remain status quo. Many people in the Bible were called to make significant changes in their service to God, but these overhauls were done though God’s guidance and calling, through God’s instructions and commandments, and through God’s provision and intervention.
There are people in abusive or dangerous situations that just need to get out and get away (and, if we aren’t those people, we can help them to do so). God sometimes calls His people to do dramatic things (like in Genesis 12:1). And, although no follower of Jesus is perfect when choosing to accept Him as Lord (nor do we necessarily shed our sinful nature while still on this fallen earth), we should definitely work towards righteousness, enabled by the Holy Spirit and living in gratitude to God.
And, God sometimes calls us to new things. While we are sometimes called to “bloom where we are planted”, other times God calls us to something completely different.
However, God can use His people anywhere that He decides to. He is more than powerful enough to effect significant change in unusual situations. Consider these people who followed God’s plan for their lives:
- A Hebrew shepherd (who was also an ex-convict; albeit wrongfully accused), who was put in charge of running the country of Egypt. [Joseph]
- A former rabbi-in-training who traveled about the Mediterranean region, and obtained audiences with both political and military leaders. [Paul]
- A bunch of fisherman and other young men preaching a sermon that started the church. [Peter and several of Jesus’ other apostles]
- A farmer (I think) leading a small band to military victory against a vastly superior force. [Gideon]
Choosing to follow Jesus doesn’t mean that we must necessarily change our marital status, our heritage, or our employment situation (to broadly paraphrase some of the examples that Paul gave in this chapter). Instead, God may have a plan for you right where you are. It could be that He has arranged it so that you are specifically needed in exactly your situation – whether right now, or in the future (as you develop relationships and righteousness).
So, unless He is calling you to something different, serve God right where you are. He doesn’t need you to change your circumstances, in order for Him to be able to use you. And, He doesn’t need you to get a specific collect degree, a bank account of a specific size, or a particular job before you can do His will.
A wise friend of mine told me years ago about being a minister (his profession), “If you can do anything else, do that. If not, be a minister.” Given how many lives he has influenced positively over his ministerial career, I think that there was some humor in that. However, his quote makes a great point: no matter your role, there are people you can share the love – and the message – of God with. And your circle of influence may very well include souls who no pastor or minister may ever be able to reach out to in the same way as you.
Or, as has been quoted by someone (maybe Oscar Wilde, but we’re not sure), “Be you. Everybody else is already taken.”
- It took some searching, but I finally found the original paragraph near the back of a book from my kid’s “library”. The book is, “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Me”, by Charles M. Schulz with R. Smith Kiliper, Fawcett Columbine, New York, (c) 1980. The paragraph, from pages 114-115, says this: “There are mechanical ways of doing this that all cartoonists develop. The most obvious one is to put one of the characters in a situation where he or she doesn’t belong, or put an object in an unfamiliar situation, but these are mechanical ways, and they produce only mechanical ideas.” ↩