What’s Wrong With Settling?

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Yesterday, I was talking with one of my sons about friends who are planning to enter into the mission field soon. I was sharing my excitement for their decision when my son interrupted me. “Will we be moving to another country, too?”

His voice reflected anxiety, not excitement, worry clouding his face. “I don’t know,” I told him. “I don’t know if that will be God’s call for us. But whether he is calling us to the mission field or not, he is still calling for us to be missionaries wherever we are.”

“So, we don’t have to move anytime soon?” he pressed. “That would be really hard.”

I could completely relate to his feelings. I am a homebody, someone who has rarely traveled outside this country (unless you count Canada), and after moving six times during the first decade of our marriage, when we arrived in our current home the last thing I ever wanted to do was to move again. Anywhere.

As the years have gone by, I’ve realized the challenging truth that the longer we stay in one place, the harder it is to have any desire to leave. And yet the God I see in Scripture, the God who calls us to go make disciples of all nations, is not one who seems to reward inertia. Is missional living incompatible with settling down?

I told my son that we have to be open to whatever path God sets before us, whether that means staying where we are or going somewhere completely different. One day, God may very well be calling us to a completely different city or country as missionaries, and as Christians we want to remain open to whatever God’s mission might be for us.

On the other hand, as God expresses in Jeremiah 29 when he tells the Israelites to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you to exile,” there can also be purpose in staying in one place and seeking to bring God’s blessings to those around us.

The challenge when we settle is that we tend to direct our energies inwardly, toward the building of our own homes and families, and in the process we forget that God desires for us to channel our energies outwardly, to “go” and find ways to have a positive impact in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces and communities, to find ways to make disciples of all nations while living in just one.

As in so many areas of the Christian life, there is a paradox here, a healthy tension to balance. We have to invest in people and places where we are, while simultaneously being open to the possibility that at any time, God could be calling us to go elsewhere. When I think of the stories from Scripture of so many people who were called to “go”, there was often very little advance notice. Abraham, Jonah, Ananias, just to a name a few, were all called to pick up and leave their current lives for a future one without any guarantees for safety and security.

Even the Israelites were not meant to stay in Babylon forever. Wherever you find yourself rooted today, may you both be thankful for where you are and also open to being sent somewhere unknown and unexpected, whether it is the next block, the next town, or even the next country over.

And as we seek the welfare of the cities we inhabit, and of the people God has called us to invest in, we must still hold loosely to the homes and lives we build, remembering that the essence of being mission- and Spirit-led people means that this world is meant to just be a temporary residence, that ultimately there is only one Home into which we will permanently settle.

8 Comments on “What’s Wrong With Settling?

  1. Helen,
    I think that no matter where we live or what we do, we must make sure that every day we are surrendering everything to God. My husband and I have been missionaries overseas for more than 9 years, and it’s funny, because the same “settling” issue has come up in our lives, even living in foreign countries. ;) Because we left our home country after only being married for 6 months, living in different places has become our norm and comfort. We currently love the country where we are and the ministry God has called us to at this time. And we have both had times where we need to work through this issue with God… “What if he called us somewhere else?” But when we surrender every day to God, seeking where he is working and how he wants us to join him in his work, all the concerns about where we live or how long we’ll be here really disappear… and his peace, strength, and grace fill us in new and deeper ways as we continue to grow closer to him.
    Thank you always for your writing – I love your honesty, challenges, and encouragement. :)

    • Ah, great point, Julie, about the fact that it’s less about “settling” and more about “surrendering.” You are absolutely correct. What I tend to see here in American suburbia, however, is that the “settling” makes it sometimes difficult to surrender or to even recognize that God might in fact be asking for a surrender in certain areas of our lives. But I completely agree with you that if our posture and desire is to truly be surrendered to God, then these other questions become less consequential, as we respond to God’s voice and direction in our lives. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. I think maybe you and your son are unnecessarily worried. “Missional” does not necessarily equal “missionary.” As an apostle pointed out (1 Cor 12.29), not all are apostles (=those who are sent forth.) The Benedictines (and Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove) show that there is also value in stability. This world IS our home, as the ending to the book of Revelation and indeed the whole Bible shows. God created it, God loved it, God redeemed it, God will remake it–for us. Settling is one way to honor God’s creation and redemption.

    • LaVonne, yes, absolutely: “missional” and “missionary” are not one in the same. I completely concur. There are so many ways to live a missional life that have nothing to do with leaving one’s setting, and God can and does ask for some of us to stay rooted in a particular place to further his mission. I am also with you in that I don’t believe that the promise of a new heaven and a new earth means that we shouldn’t be working towards redemption in this time and place, wherever we may be. I wonder, though, if something happens when we find ourselves settled anywhere, that the temptation is to get too comfortable, deadening our ability to truly hear God’s call should there be one to a different place. I certainly feel this way in my own life, that as the years go by it becomes harder to imagine uprooting and going elsewhere, for any purpose. I just want to make sure that my mind, heart, and soul are always open to God’s leading, even if it seems out of the ordinary, even if it seems illogical, even if it seems like too much of a risk or a change. And if I’m too settled, I wonder if I will be able to hear those leadings, should they occur. But your points are well taken. I appreciate your comments!

      • When I was a kid, it was always in my heart to be a missionary – to go to other countries to spread the love of Jesus Christ. Perhaps because I had asked Jesus to live in my heart at a young age? I believe so. When I grew up, God challenged me through a friend: “If you cannot build the kingdom of God right where you are at, how can you expect to build the kingdom of God anywhere else?” From that time on, I somehow, deep down inside, knew that where ever I find myself, I have to build the kingdom of God in individuals. If I do not do that, then I am never free to go anywhere else. And I believe, because God is a loving God, and because he is not wicked that he would leave us to live in confusion, that as we continue pursuing him, asking him, and keeping our minds on him, he will give us clear direction. When he wants us to go, it will be obvious. I do like to claim scriptures as promises for my life, and this is one of them – Isaiah 26:3 – “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”

        For the past 32 years, I’ve lived in Indiana. It’s been difficult at times because I’ve always wanted to get out of Indiana. But I’ve lived in nearly every corner of Indiana and in the middle, too. Presently, my family and I are at a crossroads. We’ve been in Marion for almost seven years, and I’ve never felt like this was the place where we are going to live for a long time. And just this week, my husband was told that in June, his position at his job is closing. We’re going somewhere. Perhaps to another place in Indiana? It was, admittedly, uncomfortable for me at first to think about leaving Indiana, as much as I’ve wanted to get out of it. I’ve lived here my whole life. I know this place almost like I know the mole on my face. But perhaps God wants us to leave Indiana now? I’m not really sure. But I do think I need to rest in Him and keep my mind focused on him and do what he wants me to do on a daily basis. And I think it will be fine. Everything will work out. Because it’s his promise. But, O, how I’ve been struggling for the past few days to stay focused on him. I need to focus on him.

        Thanks for writing out your thoughts about this issue. It has provoked me to think and encourage and exhort myself in a most interesting moment in my life.

  3. Pingback: What’s Wrong With Settling? | Moms of Faith- Christian Mom News Aggregator

  4. “The challenge when we settle is that we tend to direct our energies inwardly, toward the building of our own homes and families, and in the process we forget that God desires for us to channel our energies outwardly, to “go” and find ways to have a positive impact in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces and communities, to find ways to make disciples of all nations while living in just one.”

    This is the “problem” that my family has had withwith settling. Our lives became so focused on the life inside our home with our five children, homeschooling, buying/remodeling our first home, etc. that we neglected sharing our lives, love, and the gospel to impact the world around us. We were growing “upward” while forgetting to also “outward.”

    Our focus on our family and home wasn’t wrong or bad but we are realizing the importance of “holding on loosely” (as you mentioned) to our plans and leaving room for the Spirit’s leading. Thanks for encouraging others not to forget our mission to reach others while we establish our families, homes, and lives.

  5. I love the tension. In our going let’s make sure we settle down. Jesus put it this way: Luke 10:1-7 “Now go….I am sending you out……(Yet) Don’t move around from home to home. Stay in one place…

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