Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let's get contextual.

Let’s get contextual.

The other day, I got an email from LinkedIn. If you’re not familiar, LinkedIn is a business-networking site that is similar in some ways to MySpace. At the bottom of the email I read this sentence:

“Fact: More people have joined LinkedIn than live in Sweden

Wow, I thought, that seems like a ton of people. I mean they have more members than a whole country! Good for them.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that number might not be so big. I mean really, how many people live in Sweden? 50 million? 100 million? When I looked it up I was surprised to find that the population for Sweden was only 9 million. That’s a lot of people, don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty excited about having 100 people visit my site every month, but in terms of Internet traffic, that’s pretty small for LinkedIn.

Think about, MySpace has something like 200 million members. These are the kinds of numbers we’re impressed with now. If LinkedIn had told me, “Fact: More than 9 million people have joined LinkedIn,” I would have considered them a failure. They would have successfully managed to get less than 5% of the membership of MySpace. Big deal. But instead, they compared themselves to Sweden and in doing so created a great example of the power of context.

Context is critical these days because we’re all so overwhelmed with stimuli. With the average person seeing up to 5,000 marketing messages a day, context is perhaps the only real way to break through the clutter. Context frames the message for us, it edits out the parts that don’t matter and presents only the most crucial details.

The question becomes, in what context does God communicate? He’s clearly not limited to any particular model, but does use context to reach us? And if he does, is there anything we can do to help create a contextual situation where he can speak?

I think there is. I think that sometimes we can’t hear God because he’s out of context. He’s lowercase and insignificant and constrained primarily to Easter services and Christmas Eve services. Then we pack our lives so full of other stuff that it then becomes impossible for God to even have the room to speak to us.

One of the things that recently interested me as I write my book about the Prodigal Son story is the brief mention of the famine. It’s easy to miss. In Luke 15:14 it says, “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.” Note that it wasn’t that he just spent all his money, there was also a severe famine. The famine, set the context for recognition of his need, not that he ran out of money.

Which makes me wonder if more often than not, what we need most to contextually hear the Lord is a famine? Are there ever feast moments? Times when we think, “I am so overwhelmingly happy that I must find a way to express this in God?” Or is it always the other way around. Stripped free of everything. Famine weighing down on us with hungry teeth, desolate and poor, we find our context. Suddenly we are not god anymore.

Suddenly we need God. Suddenly despite all outward appearances, context is in our favor.

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