For many years growing up, I read the word in a bible that I still own; it’s black, slightly dog-eared, and well thumbed. Inside the front cover is an inscription from Mike, dated 1994. I remember Mike well, he lived with us for a while, and my lasting memory of him is walking along a beach in Northumberland with him talking to me about Jesus and about the need to make a personal choice to follow. Mike wasn’t one of the church leaders, or one of my blood relatives, he was an international student. He is one of the first people I can remember discipling me. I think this serves to demonstrate to us all the impact of discipleship, and that even if you’re only in a place for a season you can still use that season well.
It could be easy to come to a new place and think of the fact that you only have a finite amount of time there, you arrive knowing that it’s most likely not going to be your permanent home. In biblical times you’d have been called a sojourner and that puts you in good company, and in God’s heart in a very special way. You’re positioned by God to be able to have an impact, whether you’re there for three weeks, three months or three years.
It’s not just literal sojourners, either. How often do we come up with reasons why our circumstances are not yet in the right place for us to do things? Why we have yet to reach our destination? I’ll serve when my career is on target. I’ll disciple someone else when I’ve got my own family sorted. I’ll invest in other relationships once I’ve found a romantic one. You know the way it goes? Tomorrow never comes.
Abraham is a fantastic example for us to look at because he is a man who lived an often nomadic life and yet always served God where he was. We can see the impact this had if we look at Genesis 23. Abraham is old and well advanced in years, living in the land of the Hittites, and his wife Sarah dies. As it is not his land, he must go and ask his hosts for somewhere to bury Sarah.
“I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” The Hittites answered Abraham, “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.” Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land.
– Genesis 23:4-7 (ESV)
The reaction of the Hittites to Abraham’s request says everything. “You are a prince of God among us.” Abraham had such a huge impact on his hosts that when he came to them with a request they heaped honour upon him. Abraham was a sojourner, but he took God into the world of the people in whose land he stayed. It should be the same for us; if work or study takes us away from home, do we get planted and make a difference or do we take the attitude that it’s a waiting room and not make the effort? If we’re in circumstances that are keeping us from our destination, do we roll up our sleeves and make disciples anyway?
Abraham spent almost all of his life as a sojourner, he left Ur as a young man and he did not return. If he had decided that a particular place was solely a waiting room for where God was taking him then he would have achieved nothing. What Abraham did was realise that his whole life was rooted in God, wherever his physical location happened to be. He served in his location, knowing that God would eventually take him to his destination. I know many people in my community who have done and do the same.
When Mike gave an eleven year old boy a bible he was choosing that though he was there only for a season, he would serve God in it. We all need to do that, wherever we are. If we think of where we are in life as just a waiting room we’ll idle our time and never reach our goal. We’re positioned where we are because someone in our world needs us. We need to get alongside someone, encourage them, tell them about the story God has written in our lives, maybe even buy them a bible. We may never see that person again but equally, twenty years from now, how would it feel to receive an email saying you made a difference?