One of the recurring themes that I hear in my conversations with teenagers is the feeling of isolation because of what they believe.
This past Winter, I led two retreats to winter camp with my middle and high school students, as well as spoke at another one. In all, I encountered several hundred students and adult leaders from my own church, along with several dozen others. In general, I met and spoke with students and leaders from varying socio-economic, geographical, and denominational bounds who all admitted to feeling isolated from culture, friendships, and in some cases, even family members because of their faith. One of my own adult high school leaders told me that this issue permeates nearly all of her conversations with students and ought to be something that we regularly address at our program.
As I reflected on the enormity of the issue, my heart initially broke for both the students under my care, as well as for all teenagers and adults who feel isolated. What an awful emotion to feel, especially because of what one believes - ironically, a faith structure that promotes joy, peace, and love.
As I thought more on this issue, however, I soon realized that this emotion not only recurs in the here and now present lives of the teenagers with whom I serve, but isolation also pervades each one of the letters from Scripture. From Abraham to Jesus to Paul to disciples now, isolation is a real, genuine characteristic of faith in Christ. Jesus warned us that those who hate him will also hate us, alluding to the resultant feelings of isolation and otherness within the core nature of our faith. In fact, one could argue that as one experiences isolation because of faith in Christ, then at that point one can truly identify as a disciple of Christ.
More and more over the last several months, I began to realize this issue is not a 2015 postmodern, post-Christian teenager issue. Rather, isolation is a deeply human, generational issue for those who stake their life on the cause of Christ.
Thus, since then, my heart has turned from empathy for Christian followers - teenagers and adults alike - to a renewed vision for how all Christians may embrace isolation and turn it into a motivation for personal growth and evangelism. Here, I believe Elijah can teach us how to do exactly that.
Most people know the story of Elijah and the Fire from Heaven. If not - or if you need a refresher- then you can read all about it in 1 Kings 18.
I first heard this story when I was a Freshman in high school. I can recall listening so intently to the speaker tell us about the bold faith of Elijah, declaring before nearly a thousand prophets of Baal and Asherah, that the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God! As a high school student, I thought, "If only I could have faith like Elijah and boldly declare my faith before others... If only!" As if to say that living my faith in real life - making no distinction between my inner thoughts and outward actions - would be impossible for a dweeb like me. Only a true man like Elijah or someone I read about in a book could make such a declaration of faith and truth!
I can imagine that many of the teenagers I know, along with adults, must feel the same way. Only 'Bible Heroes' (whatever that means) and crazy confident men and women - people other than me - possess the power and strength to do such acts.
Yet, at another glance of this living history from 1 Kings 18, I read something altogether different...
Elijah merely prepared the way for God to reveal himself. In fact, according to this chapter, Elijah simply rebuilt the alter, followed the customs of sacrificial law, and then dumped water all over it to make it impossible for anyone to claim this victory as human achievement.
Quite simply, Elijah set the stage for God to prove himself as the one and only God, and the prophets of Baal and Asherah as wrong.
Elijah stood up against 850 people, plus his own people who turned against him. It was at least 1 against 1000, if not more! Here, Elijah epitomizes isolation. In fact, in this chapter, Elijah confesses to being the only prophet left in Israel that either did not flee or face death at the hands of Jezebel. Therefore, in addition to isolation, one could also surmise that Elijah also faced death and destruction by going up against all of those people that day on Mount Carmel!
This slice of living history from 1 Kings 18 and Elijah teaches us 2 main ideas about isolation:
1. God is real and wants to prove it. God the Father proved to all of us in the most concrete way possible through Jesus the Son that God desires more than anything to exist in a love relationship with every person... ever, demonstrating with greater power in the resurrection of his Son than even what happened 1 Kings 18!
2. You do not need to prove God. Notice that Elijah did not prove the validity, reality, strength, or presence of God in this passage. Rather God proved himself to everyone.
Therefore, let God be God, and do your part as a follower to live your life as a witness and sacrifice for the transformation that has taken place in you!
If your friends mock or ridicule your faith, be cautious to respond in vengeance by proving them wrong or setting yourself up to look better. You do not need to justify yourself. Rather, the Father has already justified you and made you right through the sacrifice of Jesus. As a follower of Christ, God sees you with a 10 on your head. He loves you, and nothing can break that love.
If your friends mock or ridicule your faith, then pray for them, love them even harder, demonstrate to them what it means to really follow Jesus, and let God prove himself worthy - just like he did with you. God promised to do so. Elijah just set the stage for God to act. That's it. Do the same. Set the stage for God to do something amazing through your love, forgiveness, grace, generosity, sacrifice, and spoken truth about the reality of Christ in you!
Has God not proved himself trustworthy, good, and powerful in all of our lives? Then you can trust that he can do the same in your friend, who by the way has also been created in his image. God already knows your friends, family, and enemies inside and out, so pray that they may see God as their creator and not something to be ridiculed.
I believe if we take this stance, then our isolation may slowly give way to a growing, faithful community of other like-minded Christ followers called the Church who led by the Spirit can do more for the cause of Christ than Elijah ever imagined!
QUESTION: How may you set the stage for God to act in the lives of those who ridicule you for what you believe?