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October 5, 1997

Context, Context, Context

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“That sounds great Steve, but you don’t know my situation…my company…my family…my difficult employees…my competition…my unruly children…my financial situation…my life.”
Whether I’m coaching a client, grabbing coffee with an old friend, or offering guidance to a young entrepreneur, I often hear some version of this statement. In fact, this very thought seems to be the default response from most of us when anyone tries to inject a little wisdom into our world. What’s interesting is that these responses, which may at first appear dismissive, do not usually emerge because we don’t want the wisdom or because we don’t think it’s actually very wise. The issue, more often than not, is contextualization.
We want to apply the great application point from last week’s sermon to our lives. We want to align our life with the truths of scripture. We want to use the advice given by our boss during our review. We want to take what we see working in the lives of those we admire and apply it to our own…but, we can’t. Why?
Because contextualization is hard. It’s not easy to take scriptural truth, parenting wisdom, or strategic guidance and apply it to our own unique context, and your context is unique. I often say that strategy and useful strategy are not the same thing. Useful strategy includes context, trust and deep subject matter expertise. Context is huge. Even if the details of your work or family or ministry situation may be similar to that of another person, you are unique. Your voice, your createdness, is unique. What it means for you to flourish is unique and must figured out as it where.
So, as you read through the last pages of this short book and consider how you might more fully embrace the abundant life that Christ came to provide, be conscious of your context and remember two things. First, as you take whatever wisdom you (hopefully) have gleaned and attempt to apply it to your life, remember that nourishing rest or silence or community probably looks different for you than it does for me. If you find silence in the quiet of the morning with a cup of a coffee and the sunrise, that’s great, set your alarm and get up early. If, however, your silence is found in a long run just after the sun goes down and the crickets start chirping, that’s fine too…lace up your shoes and go. The personalized discipline is what is important, not how it is manifested.
Second, remember to never allow your context to become an excuse for not flourishing. To put it another way, regardless of how rest or silence or community may look in your life, YOU need rest and silence and community to flourish. No matter how difficult your situation may be, no matter how lousy your job is or disobedient your kids are, God desires for you to flourish. Your situation can never disqualify you from the abundant life.
The Apostle Paul embodied this truth more fully than perhaps anyone. Here’s a quick recap of his unique context –
…beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11: 23-28

And yet…Paul flourished. Through all these unique pressures and challenges he thrived and fulfilled the calling set before him in a profound way. Why can’t we?

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For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord,
plans for your welfare, not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

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