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....
Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.
- 1 Corinthians 7:17, 24 (NIV)
It’s the complaining. I know, Facebook can be a great tool, and I do enjoy using it to stay in touch with friends. But all the complaining: about politics, about spouses, about work, about kids, about...well, almost everything. Sometimes it’s even non-specific complaining, like posting “Worst day ever,” with no further explanation, for a status update.
Worst ever? Now I have to know what made it so bad, because, let’s face it, there have been some pretty bad days in human history. I’d love to know what traffic jam or fight with a spouse or job situation made it the worst ever. And I’ve had more than one Facebook friend post those exact words.
More than one worst day ever, among one guy’s 200-something Facebook friends? I mean, what are the odds?
Not that I’ve never complained. And not that Facebook is responsible for the human propensity for whining. (Though it has given all the pathological whiners an audience, when before maybe their friends would just avoid them for a day or two.) Complaining seems to be something we do - some of, at least - almost instinctively. It becomes a habit, I think. Maybe it’s a way for us to include others in our suffering. We can’t always have our lives exactly as we’d like them to be, but maybe complaining about it is a way to get support and sympathy from the people around us.
Of course, the difference between asking for support and sympathy and complaining is in how often we do it and how long we go on. And some of us are complaining marathoners.
So it might surprise us to know that the Bible calls at least some complaining by another word - grumbling - and that God considers grumbling a pretty serious offense. When we grumble and complain incessantly, after all, it at least looks as though we’re forgetting or doubting that God is good, that he’s faithful, that he’s powerful, that he’s wise, and that he’s all of these things to a much higher degree than we are. Complaining and grumbling are for people who don’t know God and so can’t trust him. Those of us who know him are called to be content: to trust God to provide what we don’t have, or to help us get along without it.
Paul knew a lot about finding contentment in Jesus - in the love he knew in Jesus, in the presence of Jesus in his life, and in the work Jesus had given him to do. He lived with persecution, hunger, imprisonment, disease, and the threat of death. Still, somehow he refrained from leaving “worst day ever” in his writings. Instead, he wrote about how he found contentment and strength in difficult situations through Jesus.
He expected other believers to model the same contentment as well, and that’s where he speaks to me. I have to ask myself how many times I’ve wished that this little thing or that little thing was different in my life. How many times in my life I’ve thought about how it would be nice to live somewhere else, or do something else. As though it’s just about me.
“Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them,” Paul wrote to some Christians in the town of Corinth. He told them that Gentiles don’t have to be Jews, and Jews don’t have to be Gentiles. Single people shouldn’t be obsessed with finding someone to marry, and married people - even if married to a non-Christian partner - shouldn’t try to get out of their marriage. “Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.”
Even for slaves, the rule doesn’t change. That’s the tough one for me, with my American self-determinism and individualism asserting itself. But Paul even tells Christian slaves not to waste a lot of time trying to get released (though he relents by saying it’s certainly OK if it happens!).
See, none of those life situations necessarily has any bearing one way or the other on the one most important life situation - being “in Christ.” In Christ, a slave is free and a free man is a slave. In Christ, all other relationships, loyalties, and identities become background for our real identity. In Christ, every person is on equal footing and equally responsible to the same Lord.
So, in whatever situation we find ourselves, our primary question should not be how to get to a different or better one, but what the Lord has for us to do right where we are now.
So instead of grumbling about our jobs, maybe we should look around at the co-workers God has placed around us. How can we be a blessing to them? How can we share our faith with them? How can we make their lives better?
Or, instead of wishing all the time for Mr. or Mrs. Right, maybe those who are single should think about the opportunities their singleness gives them to work for the Lord on short-term mission trips, or in supporting a missionary or relief worker. As a single person, what can you give to the Lord and his people that a married person couldn’t?
And those of us who are married should maybe worry less about making our partners the way we want them to be, and instead think about being the kind of spouse the Lord wants us to be. We can think about how to love our spouses and our children as the Lord wants us to, and minister to them as he’s called us to.
We’ll find ourselves complaining less, I think, when we see our lives - just as they are - as a calling from the Lord to live for him among the people and work he’s given us. It may not be what we imagined when we were kids. It may not be as easy or as comfortable as the lives others seem to live. It may even be potholed with sickness, or heartbreak, or disappointment. But it’s the life he’s given us, and faithfulness demands that we live it to his glory to the best of our ability.
Until he calls us somewhere else.
And you might even find, as you live the life he’s called you to for him, that you start to see little joys that you had missed before. And you may one day realize that the life you once wished fervently was different is what you actually wanted all along.
If so, I hope you’ll post that on Facebook.