The simple definition of sojourner is “a temporary resident”. To me the word conjures up so much more.
As we were reading Exodus, I was moved by the command in 23:9 which says “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” God is talking to people of Israel who had spent the last 400 years as slaves in Egypt. They were clearly not treated like honored guests there, but driven hard. They were oppressed, to be sure.
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Anytime, too that either Exodus or Leviticus talks about a Sabbath rest of any kind, it mentions the sojourner or the “alien” among them… Make sure they also get to rest. Any guest should be treated like family. Conversely in Leviticus 25 it talks about what you should do when your own brother is too poor to own his home or even “maintain himself” (vs. 35), you are to treat him like a sojourner- you won’t make him work for you like a slave, but treat him as an honored guest.
There is God, being funny again. Treat strangers like brothers and brothers like strangers. It actually makes so much sense, right?..
Where I really wanted to go with this idea of a sojourner, though, was God’s heart for the people that follow Him. Things have changed drastically for the people of God from the time Exodus was written up until now. Jesus has come and made of Himself the perfect sacrifice for sin so that no one has to slaughter a bull ever again. Good stuff, of course.
But I think that it is still in God’s heart that we be sojourners. Peter talks about how to live “throughout the time of exile.”
If the Promised Land is a physical example of the eternal reality of heaven as a final destination for God’s people, then our time on earth can also be paralleled with the time Israel spent in the desert “wandering”.
To help you think deeper about this in your own life I’ll ask two questions:
1. What does physical stability usually lead to?
2. How do you feel when you travel?
For me, the answer to the first question is that physical stability usually leads me to laziness. This doesn’t mean that I think it’s bad to own a house or put down roots. It does mean that unless you have other things that challenge you, total security and stability are likely to lend themselves to emotional apathy. I have routines that can be disturbed, habits that are hard to break and am much more closed off to interruption or surprise.
For the second question, I would say that traveling causes me to feel excited, insecure, vigilant, dependent on God, open to the new things I find and the new people I meet. I listen more closely to instructions, pay more attention to customs, feel very grateful for gifts of food or shelter.
I’m more tired when I get into bed at night and more curious when I wake up in the morning.
Although I have wanted to be a “missionary” since I was 17, to be honest I haven’t really understood the deal. Going to other countries, although it is awesome, is also a lot of other things. Awkward, disorienting, confusing… you don’t understand customs or language and you don’t always have skills that are really helpful to the people there. Also, if you’re going to a country that has heard about Jesus, then it can seem a little arrogant to think that you bring something extra to the table.
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But on the other side of those observations I think there is something really important that occurs in foreign missions. Whether you are a Chinese person going to Brazil or a British person going to Malawi or you are like me, a loud America willing to go anywhere, here is what you get. You yourself have to absolutely depend on God. The people that you go to? They get to host a sojourner and practice their hospitality. You get to learn from each other. God has created each culture to uniquely display His character and when you go somewhere really different, you not only bring your differentness with you, but you are awakened to the differentness of others.
I am all for native people people raised up in their areas to minister and disciple their people. Please hear that. It is so important to not bring a cultural Christianity and enforce things that will only belittle other people. But just as God had a lot of work to do to reorder the worldview of the Israelites in order for them to walk with Him, all of us, all over, need our lives reordered by Jesus. By His humility and sacrificial love, His acceptance of outsiders and His total obedience to God.
And, after all, not even Jesus had a home here on earth.