Standing up for your beliefs gets lonely when no one joins you. I worked in a skilled care facility years ago, as part of a team that did music and activity therapy with Alzheimer’s and stroke patients. One day, my team leader asked me to start “enhancing” the notes I put into patients’ charts. She wanted me to indicate that certain patients participated at higher levels than they were, to justify their stay in a rehab facility as opposed to a regular nursing home.
An awkward conversation followed. She pleaded with me, explaining that our department could experience layoffs if the patient count didn’t remain at a certain level. I knew, I couldn’t lie, regardless of what name my superior called it or the resulting consequences. Tight-lipped she listened to my explanation, and although she accepted it, after that I ate lunch and took my breaks alone. The team made it clear I’d been culled from the herd.
The prophet Micah expresses some of those lonely feelings in chapter seven. From his perspective, he’s one man standing alone for righteousness, amid people who called themselves God followers.
“How miserable I am! I feel like the fruit picker after the harvest who can find nothing to eat. Not a cluster of grapes or a single early fig can be found to satisfy my hunger. The godly people have all disappeared; not one honest person is left on the earth. They are all murderers, setting traps even for their own brothers. Both their hands are equally skilled at doing evil. Officials and judges alike demand bribes. The people with influence get what they want, and together they scheme to twist justice” Micah 7: 1-3 (NLT).
Micah poetically describes the corruption and lack of integrity within Israel and Judah, alluding to righteousness as a fruit that can’t be found anywhere in the culture around him. Fellow believers, all in for God, share similar feelings with me sometimes. Along with me, they’ve felt spiritually alone when they make a stand against a cultural current that contradicts God’s values. Family gatherings, workplaces and friendship circles can become cold and distant when you are the one salmon swimming upstream.
In the 6th grade, my daughter Jennifer, experienced God in a fresh way. Her heart became sensitive to behaviors that didn’t please her Heavenly Father. She realized that within her circle of school friends, conversations trended towards gossip and criticism. Since most of the girls professed faith in Christ, she tried to say sweetly (truly, she is one of the kindest people I know) that maybe they all needed to stop talking about other girls’ flaws. Sadly, they did not receive the suggestion well and shunned Jennifer the rest of the year. The loneliness she felt tore my heart, while at the same time swelling it with admiration for her courage to follow Jesus more faithfully.
How did Micah hang in there and how do we stand firm when God calls us to be a spiritual trendsetter instead of a cultural lemming? First, I need to recognize, like Micah did, that although I might be strong in one area of righteous living, I might be weak in others. If there’s even a glimmer of pride in my stance, I’ll probably tumble hard, at some point. Standing for righteousness demands that I do it cloaked in humility, otherwise, I can come across as legalistic, judgmental and arrogant. Micah acknowledged his own sin within a wicked culture, and I need to do the same.
“As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him. But after that, he will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies” Micah 7:7-9 (NLT).
Second, only intimacy with God will show me where the narrow roads are and which broad highways I need to exit from. The Bible gives us a wealth of guidelines and laws but only the Spirit of God can help us to rightly apply them to circumstances. Lots of complex situations created by sin, which I might encounter, are not specifically discussed in the Bible. Handling them in a Christ-like way takes finesse and wisdom from God.
Third, the only way I can endure the rejection of standing solitary without caving, is when my strength comes from God alone, not the approval of others. I don’t like it when people are ticked off at me because I won’t go with a flow, I believe to be wrong. People who are cheering for you one day may be snarling at you the next. Remember the crowd that shouted “Hosanna,” to Jesus one week then screamed for his crucifixion the days later? Some things never change. When your behavior pricks people to consider that they might be caught in sin, they seldom thank you, initially.
David’s Psalms comfort and stabilize me in those moments. Psalms 11 and 13 are special favorites of mine. There are many others in which David cries out to God concerning his feelings of fear, isolation and loneliness, caused by opposing wicked King Saul.
I want to live dangerously, like Micah, Joshua and Caleb, Corrie Ten Boom, A. W. Tozer and so many others who stood up for God’s agenda when the Christian culture around them did not.
God, help me to steer my ship right into the wind and waves of people’s rejection and disapproval if that’s the price for obeying you.