Knowing Your Context

Last week, I wrote a short article called “Live the Message” which laid out a broad vision that our lives in Christ should be different and therefore look different. This week I want to dig in deeper to what that might mean in different contexts. Specifically, what does it mean to live out the kingdom of God where you live and work?

Recognizing Context

We’ve all been there. It’s your first day at a new school or job. Maybe your family moved, or you’ve just graduated high school and now you’re off to college. You want to make a good impression, either for finding new friends, or to be respected by your co-workers and boss. What you really want to do is just fit in. You don’t want to be rejected. You are seeking to assimilate into a new context, also called the culture, that thing “in the air” of any institution or workplace. It’s the unstated way of doing things, you might say, and desiring to adapt to this is not a bad thing, but it’s also not ultimate.

As Jesus taught us how to pray, we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s reign — his kingdom — comes to earth in and through his people. And what we are called to do, in whatever context we might find ourselves, is to display a little more of his reign in word and deed.  There is wisdom in finding your bearings, in observing and learning and finding your way around, but at some point, God is calling us to not just blend in, but to lean in. 

Below are three questions to help us to know where and how to lean in when it comes to our contexts:

1) What are good and bad components of my context?

Every context will have things to be celebrated, and things that need redeeming. God calls us to rejoice in righteousness and stand against wrong. Expect that these things are real, and that you’re going to encounter them. There isn’t neutral ground, but it’s more like everything is on a trajectory toward health or detriment. We should be aware of this in our contexts, and faithfully look for ways to seek the good of others.

For example, your work environment is likely to have a problem with gossip. Whether it is complaining about the boss or chit-chat about the personal lives of a colleague, you have a choice to either join in that conversation or redirect it. Resist sliding into the negative components of your context, and perhaps work toward creating newer, healthier habits in the break-room.

2) What are specific challenges and opportunities I have related to my vocation?

Beyond contexts, there are also specific challenges for different vocations. Here again we have significant opportunity to be salt and light.  For example, as a financial planner, the temptation is to love money and depend on it, to find security in life insurance or retirement planning. The opportunity you have is to help others have a healthy view of money, to help them to be free of the love of money and to steward their finances well. You have an opportunity to share with others why you put your hope in God and not the uncertainty of riches.

For medical professionals, the challenges can come from many directions, but especially in the area of ethics. What does God think about humans, and what does it mean for their care? You get to support and love people who, in many cases, are going through a very difficult time, sometimes life-changing. You are called to care for people when they need it the most, and what you believe about God — and your experience of his grace — is going to shine through.

3) What’s a next step to live out the kingdom of God in my context?

Sometimes our context can be overwhelming. Maybe it’s big and intimidating, and the bad components feel too cemented to be changed. Hang in there. You won’t be able to change anything over night, but plan for the long-haul. Daily, sometimes one conversation at a time, display the reign of God in your own life. Enact the will of God on this earth — just as it is in heaven — moment by moment. One day Jesus will make all things new (Revelation 11:15).