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Dare to be Different
Youcef Nadarkhani became a Christian at the age of nineteen. He went on to become an ordained pastor and lead a church in Iran. He is now thirty-five years old and has two young children.
In 2010 he was arrested and sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ (for refusing to renounce his faith). Thankfully, after sustained international pressure, the decision was finally reversed last month.
During his trial, Pastor Nadarkhani refused to recant his belief despite facing a death sentence. He told the judge: ‘I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.’ The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, paid tribute to his courage. The Guardian newspaper described him as ‘an inspiringly brave Christian’.
Jesus gives us a picture of true humanity. We must dare to be different, by being like him, a true man or true woman. We are called not to follow what the world tells us is desirable, but to follow God by becoming more Christ-like.
1. Dare to live as ‘strangers’ on earthPsalm 119:17-24
Do you ever feel like you don’t quite fit in with those around you at work or in your neighbourhood? Do your values and lifestyle seem to be a little different?
The psalmist says, ‘I am a stranger on earth’ (v.19). All the great men and women in the Old Testament were ‘strangers on earth’ (Hebrews 11:13). The apostle Peter writes, ‘Live your lives as strangers here’ (1 Peter 1:17). Like the psalmist, as servants of God they were called to be different from those around them.
As he reads the Scriptures, he prays, ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law’ (v.18). This is a great prayer to pray when we study the Bible. We only understand what is revealed by the Spirit. Unlike those around him, the psalmist writes, ‘My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times’ (v.20).
Some of those around him are ‘bad neighbours’ who ‘maliciously gossip’ (v.23a, MSG). On the other hand, God’s words are to him like ‘good neighbours’ (v.24, MSG). He writes, ‘I’m absorbed in pondering your wise counsel. Yes, your sayings on life are what give me delight; I listen to them as to good neighbours!’ (vv.23b–24, MSG).
Lord, give us courage to live as strangers on earth. May we not be put off when rulers sit together and slander us. Help us, like the psalmist, to be consumed with longing for your word, to meditate on your decrees (v.23) and to pray like the early Christians: ‘Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness’ (Acts 4:29).
2. Dare to live a different lifestyle1 Thessalonians 5:1-28
As Paul ends his first letter to the Thessalonians, he calls them to be different from the world around them and gives them practical instruction on how to do this. He writes, ‘Let us not be like others’ (v.6). We are to dare to be different. He uses four metaphors to describe the difference:
- Light not darkness
The world around is living in darkness (v.4). We are not to run away from the darkness, rather we are to shine in it. ‘You are all children of the light’ (v.5a). Darkness implies ignorance and sin. We were in darkness. Jesus shines his light into our lives. We are children of the light. To be a child of something is to be characterised by that thing. When Christians are spoken of as ‘children of the light’, it means that ‘light’ is their distinguishing characteristic.
- Day not night
Paul writes, ‘You are ... children of the day. We do not belong to the night’ (v.5). This is similar to the previous point in that day is the period of light, whereas night is of darkness. But it is also slightly different in that it refers back to ‘the day of the Lord’ (v.2). We are children of the day of the Lord, with all that this means in terms of anticipation and participation in the triumph of that great day.
- Awake not asleep
Paul writes, ‘Let us not be like others, who are asleep … For those who sleep, sleep at night’ (vv.6–7). He goes on, ‘Whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him’ (v.10). Jesus used this same language of keeping watch and being awake (Matthew 24:42, Matthew 25:13). It is possible to go to sleep spiritually and not be prepared for the Lord’s coming. As Christians we need to be awake and watchful.
- Sober not drunk
Paul writes, ‘Let us be self-controlled’ (v.8). This word literally means ‘not intoxicated by wine’. Like the other metaphors it does not refer only to the physical state, but is a picture of the spiritual reality. Drunkenness arises from a lack of self-control and an indulgence of the senses in order to escape reality. The Christian should be self-controlled in every way. We should put on the clothing of faith, love and hope (v.8).
Our lifestyle is to be totally different from those around us. Paul gives practical instruction about how we do this. We are to honour our leaders: ‘We ask you to honour those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!’ (vv.12–13a, MSG).
We are called to a life of respect (v.12). Always treat people with respect. Always stay peaceful (v.13). ‘Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out’ (vv.14–15, MSG). If we want to bring out the best in people we must see the best in them.
We are citizens of a different world. We have to learn a new language. What Paul describes here is effectively the grammar of a new language. ‘Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances’ (v.16). Prayer should be like breathing – something we do continually, but often unconsciously. Instead of always complaining – we are to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ – expressing our thanks to God and other people – in little things as well as big things.
‘Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil’ (vv.19–22).
All this can seem a very daunting prospect but here Paul reminds us that we are not on our own. He prays, ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through’ (v.23) and finishes on a resounding note of hope and help – ‘He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it’ (v.25).
Lord, help us to have the courage to live like this. Help us to dare to be different – not to be like others. Help us to be children of the day rather than children of the night. Thank you that you died for us that we may live together with you (v.10). Help us to avoid every kind of evil (v.22) and live lives of love, joy and peace.
3. Dare to speak a different messageJeremiah 25:15-26:24
People do not always want to hear God’s views. It takes courage to speak God’s words to a society that has its own views which may be very different to God’s.
Jeremiah’s ministry required great courage. He had to dare to be different from the prophets around. They were all prophesying peace, but Jeremiah knew that the exile was coming. He was warning the people about the coming disaster.
God said to him, ‘Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways’ (26:2–3).
However, ‘As soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die!” ’ (v.8).
Jeremiah’s response was again very courageous. He said, ‘Change the way you’re living, change your behaviour. Listen obediently to the Message of your God. Maybe God will reconsider the disaster he has threatened … If you kill me, you’re killing an innocent man … God sent me and told me what to say. You’ve been listening to God speak, not Jeremiah’ (vv.13–15, MSG).
In fact, like Youcef Nadarkhani, Jeremiah escaped the death sentence – but both men were willing to pay the ultimate price to stay true to God. We may not face the same pressure, but the world around us will often dislike us being different. We should not be surprised or dismayed by such opposition – as Jesus told his disciples, ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ ‘But,’ Jesus continued, ‘take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).
Lord, thank you for the examples of Jeremiah, Paul and ultimately Jesus himself who were willing to dare to be different from those around, even to the point of being sentenced to death.
Give us courage to dare to be different. Give us courage to proclaim everything you command us and not to omit a single word.
1 Thessalonians 5:10
‘He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.’
Such comforting words to know that we never stop living with Jesus. There is a continuation between this life and the next. Life on earth, as we know it, will come to an end, but the life we live with Christ will go on forever.