WordPress tells me that people from 164 different countries read this blog. I’m asking for grace today, if you’re from one of the 163 countries that is not South Africa. Because today I’m writing to my compatriots.
If you’re a regular around here, you’ll know that I write because I’m passionate about using my time and my potential to be all God created me to be, for his renown in this generation and the next. I only know how to be my very ordinary self, and I write from my very ordinary context – from who I am and what I know – as it may relate to others living under grace and burning with an urgency to change the world. I’m a conversationalist more than I am a controversialist, but today, I’m going there.
Because from what I’m reading in the headlines and between the lines of real life, we’re in crisis.
The national psyche has darkened in a way I haven’t experienced in my lifetime, which has been characterised by fluctuating crests of optimism and troughs of despair. I’ve come to expect that hope will rise and fear will flood – in equal, opposite, ironic measure. It’s how we roll.
I was born in 1977, when Apartheid was alive and kicking and people were restless. I was fast asleep and unaware the night in 1985 when P.W. Botha delivered his Rubicon speech but we lived how it continued to Rubik’s cube our lives into separate colours, separate cultures. I was in Grade 8 in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and we got the first smattering of black faces in our high school in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria. I was in Matric in 1994 when the first democratic elections were held. I couldn’t vote because I’d only just turned 17 but I remember the footage – queues and queues and queues of enfranchised people who possibly for the first time, felt like people.
So, like you, I’ve lived through the incredible triumphs of an African democracy ridding itself of suffocating oppression. I’ve also lived through the new evils of a new age. I’ve looked north of our borders and seen history repeat itself prophetically. I’ve been worried. And so very, very sad.
And here’s what I know to be true.
It’s true that changed people change a nation. And the only thing that changes people is changed hearts. And the only One who can change hearts is Jesus. Economics, education, medical care: all good and necessary. But even in the freest and fairest and most affluent and benevolent of all democracies, those things can effect skin-deep changes; maybe even sway the culture. But they have no power over the hearts of people.
It’s from changed hearts – hearts turned soft by turning to Jesus – that behaviour changes. Deeply. Intrinsically. And that changes how people live, love and work to build families, finances and infrastructure.
And Christians in South Africa, we know Jesus. We can tell the stories of changing grace because we’re living them.
We’re living the grace stories of remarkable resilience and the palpable awareness of our vitality and mortality, which lends us urgency and opportunity to be brave and to make a significant difference.
We’re living the grace stories of what it looks like to hold the tension of cutting-edge first world and destitute third world, in the same city, on the same day, every day, because it’s our actual geographic, political, historic and economic reality.
We’re living the grace stories – the joy and faith stories – of knowing we were born for such a time as this and so we keep shining light in the darkness. We look at Scripture and we kind of get it – how God never really called his people to a life of ease and safety. He pretty much sent them into danger and it’s exactly in uncertain times that we need leaders.
It’s also true that as believers living for God’s glory to complete his mission on Earth and knowing that this life is not the end, we’re ultimately faced with two choices when it comes to what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives and where we’re going to live them:
We can choose lifestyle, or we can choose legacy.
Neither dictates whether we stay in South Africa, or leave. But one is about earthly comfort. It has us making decisions out of anger, fear or hedonism. The other is about eternal consequence. It has us making decisions out of obedience to God’s call on our lives.
So like, if you choose lifestyle, you might say, ‘I choose big skies, big possibilities and big slices of milk tart. I choose weather and the warmth of people who totally get my jokes. I choose the twilight cries of hadidas. I choose zest, entrepreneurship and people arriving to visit in their stokies. I choose the lifestyle of South Africa.’ Or you might say, ‘I choose a stronger currency and a white Christmas. I choose to order things on Amazon and actually have them delivered. I choose lower crime rates and less corruption. I choose the lifestyle of emigration.’ Neither choice is wrong. But neither choice necessarily reflects God’s heart for you. All it really reflects is your priorities, and the things that you call comfort.
If you choose legacy, you’re saying, ‘I choose my relationship with God and others over what’s easy, safe or comfortable. It’s a privilege to be living and leading at this unprecedented time in [our nation’s / the world’s] history. I have gifts and a unique capacity that [my / another] country needs. There’s Kingdom work to be done and God is calling me to do it. I choose to sow seeds for a harvest I may never live to reap. I choose to leave a legacy in [South Africa / another country].’ That kind of decision foregrounds what will really matter in the end.
I can make this personal if you like. We have a visually impaired son. For him, a driver’s licence will only ever be preceded by a miracle. The slick ease and promised independence of first world public transport, for example, is attractive (= lifestyle). Yet the thought of giving up the fibre of our existence and robbing him and his little brother of the indescribably textured richness of growing up in the same city and suburbs as his cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents (=legacy)? That overwhelms me with something quite close to grief.
So really the issue of leaving a legacy – getting to the end of your life and knowing you invested in people (because, well, what else matters?) – it’s not, Should we stay or should we go? Because we can all argue ourselves into plausibility.
The issue is, Be obedient.
Be obedient to the call. And the only way you’ll know what God is calling you to or from is if you’re walking closely enough to him to hear his voice. Keep a soft heart – stay tender. If your prayer is, ‘God, I want to go or stay, according to your will, your way, in your strength, and for your glory,’ he won’t let you miss that. And then, keep a strong spirit to answer the call, whatever it is.
And if you’re still not sure you’re hearing any call at all because your strength has almost run dry? Go into today with the bit you have left. Do just the next right thing. Do it excellently, where you are, just today. Be an excellent student, an excellent parent, an excellent maker of French toast or manager of millions. Bring up your kids to be excellent citizens of the world and the Kingdom. Ask yourself, ‘What breaks my heart?’ Lean into that area, today, and be excellent. Deal excellently with every person who intersects your life, today. In your sphere of influence today, control what you can – excellently – and throw yourself on the mercy of God for the rest. A whole lot of excellent todays paints an iridescent tomorrow. That’s legacy. (You could tweet that.)
I pray that you would know the deep peace, sure hope, surprising joy and abiding contentment of Jesus Christ as you contemplate your context, your calling and the matchless love of the living, sovereign God who sees every shack and shopping mall, who paints every African sunset and who will one day roll up all of history for his glory. And I pray that you would rest in what Corrie ten Boom said –
‘There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The centre of His will is our only safety – let us pray that we may always know it!’
. . .
You’re so welcome to share your own brave grace stories in the comments, or share this with your peeps if you think it might encourage them. You can also contact me here, keep in touch on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up to get these posts by email.
(Pick up a copy of Dragons and Dirt: The truth about changing the world – and the courage it requires by heading over here.)