Written by Robbie Down
When I was in the tenth grade I was in love with music—particularly worship music. I loved to listen to, play, and lead worship music. I started to think that much of it sounded the same, and how it could step out of its box. So, I started to write my own. I worked hard at writing, composing, and showing others my work. I saved money so that I could record and release my songs and ideas. My Christian community was aware of what I was doing, but my friends at high school weren’t.
To tell the truth, I was scared that my non-Christian friends would think of me differently when they saw I was releasing a worship album. The day the album came out I vividly remember my nerves as I walked into school. Now that the truth was out, my friends would think I was some religious freak. The first person I saw was Brooklyn, my locker neighbour. My stomach dropped as my mind raced through hundreds of possible jeers.
As I spun the combination on my lock she piped up, “Hey Robbie, I listened to your music thing, it sounds pretty nice!”
“Sounds pretty nice?” I thought. “Did she have any clue that I was singing about Jesus and how He saved me?”
As I went through the rest of my day almost no one seemed to comment on the fact that the music I released was about my God. That was an eye-opening experience, because it became apparent I wasn’t acting out the faith I so strongly believed in. The Jesus in my words wasn’t evident in my day-to-day life.
In a recent conversation with my dear friend Parker, who is studying theology at Ambrose University, he shared his personal experience of how high school affected his identity. He said that friends’ expectations can have great influence. All his friends wanted to hear about was the parties he went to or the girls he hung out with, etc. All they cared about is what he did and who he did it with. This defined his worthiness of attention.
In this situation, it can be tempting to set aside your faith and join the crowd so you receive that satisfying affirmation. Yet, if you are altering your habits to fit in with those around you, who are you living for? Aren’t we called to stand out and be salt and light to those around us? (Matthew 5:13-16). Naturally, when you spend extensive time with someone, you become accustomed to the jokes and habits they have and will often conform to them yourself.
I experienced this often at camp. For example, Patagonia outdoor apparel was glorified at my camp. Whether it was the identifier with money or the logo that screamed “I love outdoors more than you,” it was a must-have for all staff members. The real wildfire at camp were the never-ending jokes. Often these jokes were at others’ expense. At first, I endeavoured to stay away from them, but as the days went on I found myself using the same sarcasm as everyone else, just because it made them laugh harder.
On the flip side, Paul tells us to walk in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), which means we need to listen to, talk with, and act like the Holy Spirit. God knew that we would instinctively follow and become like those whom we spend the most time and conversation with, and He wants that person to be with Him. My friend Parker listed three pivotal things that grounded him to his identity in Christ; gospel-centred preaching, community-based worship, and community-based engagement.
The rate at which we are sold the idea that we need to be seen to be loved is immense. We don’t always need a preacher to tell us what is wrong in our lives; often, we’re already overly aware of things we shouldn’t be doing. But we can never hear enough times the truth of who we are in Christ and how we are found and made complete—fully known and fully loved by Him. Moving this truth from your head to your heart comes in the form of worship.
To worship is to put ourselves and God in the proper places. This means lifting God to the highest status in our lives and acknowledging that we are simply His children. It’s difficult to keep God in His proper place when so many of those around you are worshipping other things. Having friends around you whom you trust and who aren’t afraid of calling you out on your mistakes will naturally bring you closer to God.
“Culture is critical in expressing our kingdom citizenship,” writes T. M. Moore in Culture Matters. “If all that we do is consciously designed to reflect the glory of God, and if we are consistently seeking the kingdom and His righteousness as our first priority in all things (Matthew 6:33), then our cultural activities, preferences, and practices will necessarily reveal us to be a people different from those around us in the world.” Helping yourself to the habits of those around isn’t the engagement Moore is talking about here. We are called to be in the world but not of it (Romans 12:2), meaning that our visible and hidden identity is continually rooted in Christ, even if those around us have different priorities.
So, like any child who is proud of the work their father does, we can and ought to be constantly speaking of the things our Father in Heaven does. How He takes our minds out of simplistic things and sets them on His mysteries. How He draws us away from the fleeting delights of our making and pulls us into the portion that is His presence. May we forget the ways we are all too often expected to act in, and walk towards Him who is always calling us.