Day 285

Dare to Be Different

Wisdom Psalm 119:18–19,23b-24
New Testament 1 Thessalonians 5:5a,6,8b–10,12–24
Old Testament Jeremiah 26:13a,15b

Introduction

I once had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Pastor Nadarkhani. Youcef Nadarkhani encountered Jesus Christ at the age of nineteen. He went on to become an ordained pastor and lead a church in Iran.

In 2010, aged thirty-two, married with two young children, he was arrested and sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ (converting to Christianity from Islam). Thankfully, two years later, after sustained international pressure, the decision was reversed.

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 then UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, paid tribute to his courage. The Guardian newspaper described him as ‘an inspiringly brave Christian’. Pastor Nadarkhani, like many Christians around the world today, still faces persecution for his faith.*

Jesus gives us a picture of true humanity. Dare to be different, by being like him. Don’t follow what the world tells you is desirable, but follow God by becoming more Christ-like.

Wisdom

Psalm 119:18–19,23b-24

18 Open my eyes that I may see
    wonderful things in your law.
19 I am a stranger on earth;
    do not hide your commands from me.

23your servant will meditate on your decrees.
24 Your statutes are my delight;
    they are my counselors.

Commentary

Be a ‘stranger’ on earth

Do you ever feel like you don’t quite fit in with those around you at school, work or in your neighbourhood? Do your values and lifestyle seem to be a little different? Do you sometimes face ‘scorn’ and ‘contempt’ (v.22)?

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, we are called to be different from those around us.

Unlike those around him, the psalmist writes, ‘My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times’ (Psalm 119:20). 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 you study the Bible. We only understand what is revealed by the Spirit.

Some of those around him are ‘bad neighbors’ who ‘maliciously gossip’ (v.23a, MSG). But God’s words are to him like ‘good neighbors’ (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).

Prayer

Lord, give me courage to live as a stranger on earth. Help me to be consumed with longing for your word, to meditate on what you say. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your word.

New Testament

1 Thessalonians 5:5a,6,8b–10,12–24

5 You are all children of the light… 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober… 8 putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Commentary

Live differently

Called to be different from the world around us, we are given practical instructions on how to do this. Paul writes, ‘Let us not be like others’ (v.6). Dare to be different. Paul uses four metaphors to describe the difference:

1. Light not darkness

The world around is living in darkness (v.4). Don’t run away from the darkness, rather, shine in it. ‘You are all children of the light’ (v.5a). Darkness implies ignorance and sin. You were in darkness. Jesus shines his light into your life. You are a child 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 your distinguishing characteristic.

2. Day not night

Paul writes, ‘You are... children of the day. You do not belong to the night’ (v.5). As well as the previous point about light and darkness, this also 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 when Jesus returns.

3. 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 is with you now. Jesus himself used this same language of keeping watch and being awake (Matthew 24:42; 25:13). Don’t go to sleep spiritually. Be prepared for the Lord’s coming – awake and watchful.

4. Sober not drunk

Paul writes, ‘Let us be self-controlled’ (1 Thessalonians 5:8). This word literally means ‘not intoxicated by wine’. Like the other metaphors it speaks of both a physical state and a spiritual reality. Drunkenness arises from a lack of self-control and an indulgence of the senses in order to escape reality. Seek to be self-controlled in every area of your life. Put on the clothing of faith, love and hope (v.8).

Your lifestyle is to be totally different from those around you. You are to honour your leaders: ‘We ask you to honor 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).

You 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 you want to bring out the best in people you must see the best in them.

Be kind to everyone. Kindness should be a distinguishing feature of your life: ‘Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else’ (v.15). Even little acts of kindness are so powerful that they can change the world around you.

You are a citizen of a different world. You 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 ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ – expressing your 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 you are not on your own. Paul prays, ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through’ (v.23), and he finishes on a resounding note of hope and help – ‘He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it’ (v.25).

Prayer

Lord, help me to dare to be different. Thank you that you died for me that I may live together with you (v.10). Help me to avoid every kind of evil (v.22) and live a life of love, kindness, joy and peace.

Old Testament

Jeremiah 26:13a,15b

13 ‘Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. 15 … for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.’

Commentary

Speak differently

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 for being different. Do 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).

*As a result of supporters all across the world standing up and demanding his freedom, Youcef Nadarkhani was eventually released from prison. However, it has since been reported that, on 22 July 2018, authorities broke into his home, beat him in front of his famiy and re-arrested him because of his Christian faith. He is being detained in a prison that is notorious for it’s inhumane treatment of those in custody. We encourage you to continue to pray for Pastor Nadarkhani and his family.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the examples of Pastor Nadarkhani, Jeremiah, Paul and, ultimately, Jesus himself, who were willing to dare to be different from those around them, even to the point of being sentenced to death. Give me courage to dare to be different and to speak the words you tell me to say.

Pippa adds

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.

Verse of the Day

1 Thessalonians 5:15

‘Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.'

Thought for the Day

Even little acts of kindness are so powerful that they can change the world around you.

Action for the Day

Pray today for help to 1. Live differently 2. Speak differently ||as you follow God.
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

The Guardian, ‘Iran: live free – and die’, 29 September 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/sep/29/iran-live-free-die-editorial [last accessed September 2018].

Tim Marshall, Sky News foreign affairs editor, news.sky.com, 13:57pm: Thursday 29 September 2011: http://news.sky.com/story/iran-christian-convert-may-still-be-hanged-10485456 [last accessed August 2016]

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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