On Love & Obedience in the Staying

I have spent most of my life surrounded by “going” people. Let me explain what I mean. In the church, there are those God asks to go: to travel somewhere far away, spend time with people in a culture not their own, and to share the love of Jesus in that place, being a signpost of the Kingdom of God in previously unfamiliar surroundings. Maybe you know people like this, too. Maybe you are one, and that's awesome! For some reason, in my little corner of the world, there have been lots of people who have this calling. I’m really and truly grateful for that. I consider it a gift to have grown up with examples of people living their lives listening to God’s voice, and doing whatever he says no matter where it takes them. All the churches I’ve ever spent time in have had a major focus on “going.” Every summer I seemed to spend a significant amount of time at the airport: going, returning, sending, or receiving. Again, I am so so thankful. My perspective is wider, my trust in God is deeper, and my understanding of God’s love is broader because of my experience. It normalized for me what many call “being sold out for Jesus”. What does that even mean? Isn’t that kind of the point of being a follower of Jesus? Didn’t Jesus himself say “anyone who wants to follow me must take up his cross”? I don’t think the early disciples really had a choice. I mean, imagine Peter saying, “Hmmm….sit in my comfortable pew, pal around with Jesus and also make lots of money and kind of live the way I was planning to anyway, or….MARTYRDOM.” Nope, that’s not how it worked. Jesus WAS a revolution. If the early disciples chose him they chose giving up everything. And it hasn’t changed, but our culture likes to dupe us into believing there are “navy seal”/“Indiana Jones” Christians and there are regular Christians. I’m calling bull. You follow Jesus or you don’t. He has your life and your whole being or he doesn’t. And it’s not your location that matters, as long as you’re actively listening and obeying.

One thing I love about the church is that we’re a HUGE body of people, spread all around the world. We are diverse, and there is such beauty and richness and depth in that! God doesn’t ask me to live the same life he asks you to live. We’re all on a different journey and no two lives will look the same. In our mutual callings to love our neighbor as ourselves, you may be called to be a neighbor to the witchdoctor of a mountain village in Peru, and I may be called to be a neighbor to the American CEO. And it would be disobedience for me to go when God’s called me to stay.

I’ll admit that my life has been a lot more staying than I anticipated. I sort of always expected to be a “going” one. And in talking to many others who are trying to be faithful to an unexpected calling, I’ve learned I’m not alone in my experience. Can we all just admit that sometimes staying is hard? It's hard to stay in the same exhausting job, in the same group of people who rub you wrong, or hurt you or irritate you, in the same city for years with no sense of adventure or liveliness. Staying can be just as much a sacrifice as going.

Think about this: the person who boards that plane to China at age 27 is often the person who's staying in China at age 35. And it doesn't feel the same. Staying never feels glamorous. There's a certain adventure and romance in the going—it’s scary, certainly, but exciting. There's not much excitement in the staying. There's perseverance, there's mundane obedience, there's a dullness and a "taking out the trash" kind of feeling. Again. Every single day. Coming up against the same hardships that seemed to spark an energy in the beginning, but are now wearing down the spirit.

All of us who follow Jesus should be a "going" people, in some sense. From Abraham, to Moses, to Isaiah, to Jesus, to the early disciples, to us now, we have a calling. Every last one of us has been SENT by God to a place and to a people, to be the manifest love of Jesus. Maybe, like Lydia or Luke, it's your professional sphere. Maybe, like the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well, it's your neighborhood or village. Maybe, like Paul, it's constantly changing and you're called to travel and preach and establish church plants. Maybe it's to Scotland or Thailand or India or Elliott County, Kentucky. I don't know where you've been sent, only you do. But I can tell you this with certainty: location does not determine godliness. Yes, it's absolutely true that those who have sacrificed much will be rewarded for that. But being called to North Omaha makes you no more or less important, spiritual, fill-in-the-blank, than the one who's called to Nairobi. In the Kingdom of God, what matters is obedience to the King. What matters is love.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

—Jesus (Matthew 22:37-40)

“If you love me, obey my commandments.”

—Jesus (John 14:15)

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

—Jesus (John 15:9 & 10)

Obedience and love. Love and obedience. That's what it's about. And some are asked to walk out their love and obedience in Cambodia and some in Canada. So don't assume that because your next door neighbor is bringing you cookies instead of preaching on the streets of Calcutta that they haven't sacrificed for Jesus. Don't assume that every person faithfully sticking it out in a job that's not overtly spiritual is "stuck in a rut", or has "missed the boat." God does have a plan for each of us. And we have to follow the map that God lays out for us instead of constantly comparing it to that of others.

I want to live today in love and obedience, right where I am. If I’m focused on where I’m not it keeps me from living as a beacon of love here and now. Though my “here and now” doesn’t seem particularly flashy or exotic, I want to live wholeheartedly, radiant with God’s love in every little day. Because when all my seemingly “little” days are added up at the end, I want them to amount to “Well done, good and faithful servant”. The mundane obedience is not glamorous. No one will be commending me for this, and I’d be lying if I said I was humble enough to never struggle with that. I’m human. But in my very deep core, I truly want my life to be about Jesus, not me. So if all my little days of "staying" in obedience and love are pleasing to him, then it’s worth it. Jesus is enough of a reason for me. Even when life is unexpected, or unglamorous, or unexciting, Jesus is always, always worth it.

So whether you’re in Singapore or suburbia (like me), let’s be faithful today. Let’s listen for the voice of God and obey, and love lavishly like our life depends on it. Because it truly does.