Location Matters

  • Nathan Schneider
Map of the world with flag markers

My family and I had lived in western Colorado for some of the most formative years of my life. I was nine when we moved there from Virginia, and we spent seven years there…the longest we had ever lived in one place.

Life in Colorado was fun as a kid. Our house butted up against a massive sandrock cliff face spanning the entire northern edge of town. At some points, these cliffs were completely vertical, rising to a height of 100 feet or more. But where they entered our backyard, they sloped gently upward to the ridge above. I spent countless hours playing with friends on the sandrocks behind my house.

My social network…before there was a digital social network…was healthy and growing. If I wasn’t playing in summer-league baseball, then I was at Tae Kwon Do. In the winter, my sister and I would travel with a ski club to the various skiing venues around the state. When spring came, it was swim season in high school, a sport for which both my sister and I excelled.

You could say that life in Colorado was good. It was satisfying. It was where I first learned to drive on backcountry roads on the way to piano lessons as a…[gulp]…thirteen-year-old. It was where I finished elementary school, finished middle school and junior high, and where I started high school. It was where I first learned to play french horn, play in a marching band, learned to ski, launch a model rocket. You get the idea.

Then I learned we were moving to Alaska. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school, and excitedly anticipating a good swim season in the spring. The news was hard to process. So much of my life was invested here. It was what I knew. It contained the people I loved and cared about.

Yet, then again, there was Alaska. The mystique was honestly captivating. That’s what made the news conflicting. Had the destination been Iowa or Texas or anywhere else, I think it would have been easier to just be upset, but with Alaska there was something compelling.

Nonetheless, moving away wasn’t easy. It’s usually not. I was leaving friends and places I knew and loved. I was missing event and activities I was looking forward to and training for. I was leaving my social network with the inevitable requirement of building a brand new one…something that doesn’t come as easy for me as it does for some. In short, this was a difficult move. I wasn’t devastated, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Fast-forward twenty-one years and I can’t imagine what my life would look like without Alaska. The place that seemed so daunting…the place that represented the removal of a boy from his little circle of comfort and growth…became the place of so many milestones. God was in that move, bringing me and my family to where he wanted us to be.

Sometimes it’s hard to see God’s hand in where he has us. We seem stuck in a place we don’t belong, don’t fit in, and don’t want to be. But we should consider our geography just as important in God’s purposes for us as our gifts, talents, jobs, and families. Even where we live is part of his providence, part of his purposes for us, and part of his mission for our lives.

When God rescued a people from slavery in Egypt, he brought them to a special land he had for them. He had chosen this land for them, having promised it to their forefather Abraham. God had big plans for this people. He had entered into covenant with them at Sinai. They were to be a nation set apart from all others. They were to look different, talk different, and act different. They were to be a holy nation.

More than that, they were to be a kingdom of priests…a nation that acted as a mediator between God and the nations. They would be the conduit of God’s blessing, the channel through which God would save and bless the world. They were to live in obedience to God’s covenant, displaying his glory and holiness in their lives, so that through their interactions with the nations they would attract the world.

Israel’s geography was of paramount importance in this mission. The land where God had placed them was a tiny little plot of land. Bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea and on the east by vast desert, the land is a tiny little strip of earth. At its northern end, around the Sea of Galilea, it measures a mere 25-30 miles wide. At its southern end around the Dead Sea, the land broadens to around 55 miles wide. From north to south, the land of Canaan measures just about 150 miles, making it no larger in area than the size of Connecticut and Delaware combined.

In fact, the land of Canaan is the driest and least fertile part of the larger geographical region known as the Fertile Crescent. From an economic and agricultural perspective, Egypt’s Nile delta is far more fertile and economically resourceful. At first blush, one might wonder why God would ever place his people in such a location.

But God does nothing without purpose…certainly not with his special people who are to be his sovereign means of redemption for the nations. In fact, God had placed this small and insignificant people in the most economically and militarily strategic position in the Ancient Near East.

As it turns out, this tiny little strip of land called Canaan actually forms a land bridge linking the continents of Asia and Africa. It was the location of the major trade routes between Egypt in the south and Mesopotamia in the north. For this reason, it was also of supreme military significance, making it a coveted piece of real estate. Every dominant international power asserted its control regularly in that land. It became a frequent location for major battles, and superpowers in the north (Assyria,  Babylon, Medo-Persia, etc.) wrestled with the superpower in the south (Egypt) for control over the region. In short, whoever, could control the land of Canaan controlled the trade routes, and throughout Israel’s history, this control was passed around frequently to whichever nation currently sat on the international throne of power.

This is where God placed his people. From a biblical perspective, they were literally in the center of the known world. Their mission was to introduce the nations to God and his law. Rather than going out to all the nations, God had put them in a place where all the nations had to come to them. There would be danger in that. The powers that surrounded them would vie for their land. They would be threatened to be uprooted. But God promised to protect them and give them peace and security if only they would trust him and walk in his statutes. Even more than that, he promised to bless them with productivity and fertile ground far beyond the natural means the land could offer. God promised to make it clear to every person who passed through the land that Israel’s God was real, and he is greater than any other gods that vied for their loyalty.

Of course, we know how the story goes. Israel wrestled with God for the entirety of her history, all the way to the point where God removed them from their land.

There are lots of lessons here, but I want us to learn just one. Geography matters. Location matters. God has us where we are for a reason. On the surface, it might seem like we’re living where we are because of a job, or because of school, or because this is where our family lives. We might feel completely satisfied with that, or we might struggle with overwhelming discontentment. Regardless, God has providentially brought us to where we are right now.

Here’s the thing: Israel’s mission in the Old Testament, while different in ways, is essentially the same as ours in the New. The only difference is, while Israel was told to stay and let the nations come to them, we’re told to go and take the gospel message to the world. That means that where we are right now matters. It’s part of the process, part of the plan. So while we often think about where we live as a place that either helps us or hurts us in our plans for our lives, we don’t often think about why God has us where we are and how our location factors in to his plan for our lives.

In the end, the gospel is mobile. It travels well. Wherever God has us, the gospel message goes with us. That means that where God has us, we’re still on mission.

Location matters.