One of the biggest decisions a person makes in life is whether they believe they are here by accident, or whether there is a God who has a plan for them. I think you are here today because you believe the latter — and the Bible teaches us that outlook.
I Peter 1:1 opens by saying that it is written “to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia & Bithynia …”. Peter was writing to Christians who had been scattered because of the persecution that had broken out against Christians in Israel, and as a result the believers there were scattered all over the Mediterranean world. The people he addressed in this letter had moved to what we would call Turkey today.
But the word “scattered” here does not necessarily mean “randomly cast about.” There is nothing “random” with God. Like a wise gardener, He places His plants and seeds just where He wants them. One commentator said that we might translate this, “strategically placed.” So Peter is saying something important to them: he says, you are not where you are by accident. God has “strategically placed” you right where you are, for His purposes. And he goes on later in the book to tell how he wants them to be witnesses for the Lord where they are. But right off the bat, he wanted them to know that they were not where they were by accident, but that God had a purpose for them being just where they were.
We each need to realize that the same thing is true for us as well. Why am I where I am, pastoring today? It is because God has strategically placed me here. Why are you teaching where you are today? It is not an accident. God has strategically placed you where you are, for His purposes.
I had quite an unexpected journey to get to where I am serving right now. I had pastored in Southern Baptist churches for almost 30 years when I suddenly became sick. After almost a year on medical leave I stepped down to allow them to call a healthy pastor. At the time there was no human hope of recovery. But after two years of recuperation in Norman, Oklahoma, God raised me up and called me to pastor here in Morganton, at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church. I shared a message last Sunday on 6 of the purposes for which God sometimes allows difficulties to come into our lives, but I still do not know all of His reasons for what happened to me. But one thing I know: I am not here by accident. I am here by the express plan and purpose of God — and that makes me believe that He is going to do something special here! He has “strategically placed” me here for a reason!
But it is not only those in the first century, or me, for whom this is true. It is true for each one of us who knows Jesus as our Savior. God has “strategically placed” us, sown us like a seed, to flourish and bear fruit for Him exactly where He wants us to be — each and every one of us. That means that you are right where God wants you to be right now: in this town, in this particular school, in this teaching assignment — and when those kids walk through your classroom on Monday morning, they are going to be exactly the kids that God has selected for you. You are the one God placed there to make a difference in their lives. And you WILL make a difference in their lives. Teachers do that.
I had a public school teacher who made a huge difference in my life. When my family & I moved to Harrah, Oklahoma in the 3rd grade, I was probably a lot like some of the kids you will have in class: we weren’t well-off, and I didn’t have the best haircut or clothes. But there was a member of our church, a public school teacher, who ended up taking me and other kids from our town under his wing. He taught us, encouraged us, mentored us, and had as much influence on my life as any pastor or youth minister. I believe that God put him right where he was for a reason — and I myself was at least one of those reasons. I am grateful for him, and grateful to God for “strategically planting” Joe Winters as a public school teacher in my life.
I asked my wife Cheryl last night: do you remember any of your public school teachers from elementary school? And she started naming them, one by one, and recounted all the contributions they had each made: the ones who encouraged her, who brought a special speaker in, etc. — I was amazed. We are 56 years old, so we are talking FIFTY YEARS LATER she is still remembering the contributions those teachers made in her life!
The thing I hope you realize, is that 50 years from now, some of the kids who are going to be walking through the door of your classroom Monday will be talking about YOU, and the influence you had on their lives: how you taught them, loved them, mentored them, and made a difference for them. They are not here by accident; and neither are you. God has chosen you to make a difference in their lives, for His purposes.
Now, just because that’s true doesn’t mean it is going to be easy. Just because God had “strategically planted” those Christians in Turkey in the first century didn’t mean it was going to be easy for them. In fact, if you read later in I Peter it indicates they had some difficult times. But they could face those difficulties because they knew they were exactly where God had planted them to serve Him.
And you can have that same confidence. God has strategically placed you where you are. That doesn’t mean that everything is going to be easy for you. But it does mean that you can have confidence that you can face your difficulties with God’s help, because you are where He wants you to be, and if that’s true, then you know that He will give you everything you need, as you walk with Him every day in His word and prayer.
But it begins with having the confidence that what this verse says is true: you are not here by accident. You are right at the town, at the school, and with the kids, that God has planned for you to have, because He has something special for you to do here, something which will make a difference in 50 years — and in eternity!
Let’s pray together, and ask God to help each of us to believe that, and then to be what He has planned for us to be right here where He has planted us …