When the war in Ukraine began in the winter of 2022, my friend Shanna found herself on the front lines. As a missionary in Eastern Europe, she witnessed thousands of Ukrainian mothers, grandmothers, and children flooding to her city. Shanna and her family and church community jumped into action, and she began to post photos on social media of living rooms, kitchens, and church sanctuaries full of refugees fleeing the violence.
Shanna captioned many of her posts: “Do what you can. With what you have. Right where you are.”
While this common-sense quote can be traced back to Theodore Roosevelt, it encapsulates deeply biblical ideas. In fact, these three punchy sentences echo the greatest missionary of all time: the apostle Paul. Paul taught that God gave us all we have, determined when and where we would live, and created us to seek him. This message, delivered in Athens while standing among statues of the pagan gods of the Areopagus, rings true today—more than two thousand years after he first gave it.
While you may not venture across the world to share the gospel as Paul did or as Shanna is now doing (though some of you will!), Paul’s message is not just for people in full-time ministry or “extra-credit Christians.” It’s for you, and me, and all who follow Jesus.
God gave us all that we have
One of the first things Paul said to his pagan listeners was, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth … gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25). Laying an essential foundation for all humans across time and space, Paul said we are not self-made. All we have comes from the Lord of heaven and earth. Our breath, our bodies, our homes, our cars, our educations, our family members, and even our limitations are from God our Maker. And as the Giver of life, and breath, and everything, he alone is allowed to determine how we might use all that we have. You aren’t an owner—you’re a steward, so do what you can with what you have.
God determined when and where we would live
It’s no mistake that God ordained us to live in the twenty-first century and in our current neighborhoods, states, and countries. Paul proclaimed to his listeners in Athens that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). The God of the universe determined that we would live exactly when and where we find ourselves right now. It’s no mistake that we are the nationalities, ethnicities, and citizens that we are. You’re here on history’s timeline and in your particular place on purpose, so do what you can right where you are.
God’s intention is that we would seek him and find him
Paul concluded that we live when and where we are so that we might “seek God, and perhaps feel [our] way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). Our place in history and our position on the globe is by design, that we might find the God who made us. And he says he is near. Every detail in our lives is by God’s hand, that we might cry out to him, find him, and follow him. This is what we were made to do, no matter our circumstances.
Acts 17 offers a framework for living with a missional mindset right where we are. The following three steps put these truths into practice:
It’s no coincidence that Paul, a bold and courageous missionary who often endured persecution and danger, told us to pray in all things (Phil. 4:6), without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), steadfastly (Col. 4:2), at all times (Eph. 6:18), constantly (Rom. 12:12), in every place (1 Tim. 2:8), and for all people (1 Tim. 2:1). Paul knew his own weakness, but he also knew the sovereign strength of our God. He began, continued, and completed everything with prayer.
In pursuing missional living, this step is key but often overlooked. If we are to respond to the Great Commandment to love God and love others (Matt. 22:36–40), as well as the Great Commission to teach all peoples about the love and mercy of Jesus (Matt. 28:19–20), then we need to know something of the people to whom we have been called. For most of us, that’s the very people who live in our own communities. As we prayerfully get to know our neighbors, co-workers, and classmates, we must seek to understand what they feel they need. This will help us know how to love them well. Do they need food? Tutoring? Friendship? A walking partner? Help with their kids? As we genuinely see our neighbors and their needs and then care for them, we will have the chance to share the love of Jesus with them.
At some point, no matter how daunting it may feel, we are called to go. Our going may be across the street, across the office, across the city, or across the world, but Jesus did indeed say, “Go therefore and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). There comes a point, after praying and studying, where we must set out in trust that our God will enable us to respond to his call.
You and I may not have refugees flooding to our city like my friend Shanna, and we may not set out on one missionary journey after another like Paul. But let us pause and consider what the Lord has given us and where he has placed us. Let us study our surroundings and ask God to show us how we might reach out in love to the very people he has placed in our midst. And then, let’s be willing to go in obedience.
May we do what we can. With what we have. Right where we are.
Meet the Author
Jen Oshman is the author of Welcome: Loving Your Church by Making Space for Everyone. Jen is a wife, mom, and writer, and has served as a missionary and pastor’s wife for over two decades on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado, where her family planted Redemption Parker.