Have you ever been in a season of life where you felt stuck? Where you knew something needed to change, but you weren’t sure what? I felt that way for the first half of 2022. Looking back, I learned a big lesson about how God brings about change in our lives.
Eight months ago, I quit my job as a Lab Tech and started a new one as a Lab Supervisor in a medical clinic. But for several months before I quit, I was wrestling with God about whether it was really time for me to leave yet. It seems silly now; the reasons to leave far outweighed any reason to stay. But I felt I had not yet learned all the lessons I needed to learn at that job. What I didn’t realize was that God didn’t need specific circumstances to teach me those lessons; He could teach me the same thing at my new job too. But I’d always looked at experiences like jobs as a means for God to teach me something, and as soon as I learned the lesson, I could move on to whatever was next. It turns out that’s not always true. That brought me to this question: does God ONLY want to change me inwardly, or does He care about my circumstances too?
As Christians we’re told to be grateful in all circumstances (see Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4). However, I don’t think this means that we have to love all circumstances. I absolutely believe that in Christ we have all we need, wherever we are. Even missionaries in a jail cell in a foreign country have all they need (this is the situation Paul is writing from in the above passage). But I don’t think this means that all circumstances equally allow us to thrive. Here’s how I know.
The book of Exodus in the Bible tells us about God’s chosen nation, Israel, being enslaved in Egypt for about 400 years. I haven’t been a slave in Egypt before, but I can tell you with certainty: they were not thriving. Had God abandoned them? No, not at all. We’ll get there in a moment. They had all they needed in Him. But their circumstances were not allowing them to thrive in the ways that we were made to.
Fast forward to the end of the book: God parts the Red Sea, frees Israel from Egypt, and brings them out into the desert en route to a new Promised Land. This tells me that God did not care ONLY about His people having the bare minimum they needed to survive. No, God cared about their physical circumstances enough to prepare for them a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8)– a land where they would be able to thrive. New circumstances won’t solve ALL our problems, but they can definitely be a doorway to greater thriving.
So, we’ve established that God does indeed care about our circumstances, and that some situations do allow us to thrive more than others. Now we need to come back around to the part about God wanting to change us inwardly, because this part is true as well. When Israel got to the Promised Land, they didn’t just enter in and then thrive for the rest of their lives. It was actually quite the opposite. God gave them clear instructions as to how they were to live in this new land: how to worship Him, how to treat others living in the land, and how to regularly thank God for bringing them there– and they failed miserably. This tells me that He cared deeply about their growth and inward change as well as their circumstances. But here’s this truth again– God does not always require us to earn good gifts by continued good behavior. He just gives good gifts because He is a good God. When Israel failed to trust God, He did not immediately take away their Promised Land. But He did let surrounding enemy nations invade and slowly chip away at their new life. He let the natural course of things happen, because that was what Israel chose– and in doing so, they lost their closeness with God. All this to say: God does care deeply about our circumstances and wants us to be in a place where we can thrive. But He also requires that wherever we are, we remain faithful to Him, because He wants to change us into more of His image.
For me, God didn’t need me to change BEFORE He gave me the good gift of a better circumstance where I could better thrive. But He did continue to change me once I was in my new job, because He cares about growing me into the image of Christ too. Better circumstances won’t solve all our problems– it is wise to be wary of that lie. But a healthier workplace did reduce my stress, and I started growing in greater ways than I had been at my old job. So when God leads us to a new Promised Land, we should thank Him for the good gift that we could never earn. And then we should seek to grow and transform more into the image of Christ, so we can glorify Him both outwardly in our situation and inwardly in our hearts.