This week I’ve been looking at 1 Samuel 8, where the people of Israel ask Samuel, the prophet, for a king, ‘such as all the other nations have.’ In case we missed it, they say it again later: ‘We want a King over us, then we shall be like all the other nations.’ They had the unique honour of being God’s chosen people, set apart from the other nations. But here, they’re looking around and they decide they want to ditch God and be like the other nations: ‘they have rejected [the LORD] as their King.’ It’s just astonishingly ungrateful, rebellious and, well, stupid. The Lord has shown them over and over that he’s the one who provides for them and fights for them, but they’d rather trust in something else instead – be it a box (the ark), a foreign god or, now, a human king.
One reason for their rejection of the Lord seems to be a sort of peer pressure. They look around them at all the other nations, and they feel very small and very different. I suppose this feeling is what many of our children might experience when they’re with unbelievers, be it at school or anywhere else. In his excellent commentary on 1 Samuel, Dale Ralph Davis quotes Alexander Maclaren:
‘One of the first lessons which we have to learn… is a wholesome disregard of other people’s ways.’ (p.88)
I don’t know about you, but in my gut there lurks a fear my children will be more influenced by their peers and teachers than by us, their parents. From seemingly little things such as which trainers to wear and which scooter to scoot, right up to, I suppose, whether or not to take drugs and jump of a balcony (argh!), peer pressure is always going to be a part of children’s lives.
I’m so thankful that, as yet, my four-year-old seems naively unaware of the issues of fashion and what’s cool, but I know that, eventually, all kids want to fit in. I remember it well myself – the desperate desire to be doing the right thing, listening to the right music, saying the right words. I was terrified of being noticed for the wrong reasons. I wish I’d known then that it’s actually OK – even a good thing! – to stand out from the crowd.
So I’m going to be asking God our Father to help my kids to know that, actually, they don’t need to fit in because they are always welcome in the Kingdom of God. They’re always noticed for the right reasons. They’re always accepted; always loved; always understood. One of the reasons I treasure my church family is that they give my kids that kind of security. And I hope and pray that as they see this lived out through God’s people, my children would know that it’s just a shadow of the love and acceptance they have from their Heavenly Father. Then, even if we can’t afford a Nintendo DS or we’re the only ones not going to the Halloween party, that won’t consume them because they’ll know that their identity is in Christ.
So I can pray, and I can teach my children this stuff, but there’s another thing I really should do. Yep, there it is! Live it out!
Peer pressure – remember that teenage problem? Oh hang on, you mean like the pressure to put my children’s education first, to get on the property ladder, to go on nice holidays, to keep up with the latest fashions and music trends, to dress my kids nicely, to have a clean and tidy home, to go back to work and fulfil my “true potential”, to spend my weekends taking my children from ballet to swimming lessons, to go to the gym..? This pressure to conform to a certain standard will look different depending on your culture and background, but whether it bothers us or not I think we all experience it to some degree. Some of us don’t mind standing out, but even so we are bombarded daily by the idolatry of our society.
I think 1 Samuel 8 should teach us to be on our guard. The values of the culture around us can easily creep into the church, and before we know it our Christian community is putting their trust in something other than the Lord, such as success in education, or job security, or having nice stuff. (These are very Western examples, so please forgive me if you can’t relate to them!)
We have made decisions as a family which make absolutely no sense to our friends who aren’t believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course! And so we try to avoid their mystified, sometimes offended and occasionally angry gazes, and plough on. That can be hard enough, but even amongst the Christians we know we’ve had some rather awkward conversations about the choices we’ve made for our family. And don’t get me wrong, we’re not exactly radicals – I wish we were! But some things, especially when children are involved, can be seen as just taking this Christian thing a bit too far.
So what I’m trying to say is that, naturally, we’re like the Israelites. We want to fit in, and we’re inclined to put our trust in whatever those around us are trusting in. And if I’m not battling against that inclination, then how can I expect my kids to want to stand out for Jesus? And what an honour it is to do that. Look at Israel – The Lord had made them a people; rescued them out of Egypt, and brought them into the Promised Land. Why wouldn’t they want to stand out? But how much more should we desire to be different, to stand out for our King Jesus? Think of all He’s done for us, rescuing us from slavery to sin, and fighting for us the battle we could never win – against death! How can we look to anything else to provide for us and protect us? I’m so thankful that we have the Spirit in us, giving us that desire to keep turning from idols and trusting in the Lord. And let’s keep reminding each other what a privilege it is to be children of God. Here’s how Peter puts it:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10.
How precious it is to be God’s people. Let’s pray we’d set an example to our children, showing them that as the people of God we might not always fit in, but belonging to God is much better than belonging anywhere else.