How to be joyful Christians in a society that is openly hostile to us
As people of faith, there are many reasons why we can feel alone in this world. There are also many situations that can cause us to end up isolated, which only adds to that loneliness. But we should never feel alone, because Jesus is always with us. When He left the apostles and ascended to Heaven, their initial reaction was one of fear. They were just like us, afraid of being alone in a world that didn’t understand them or their beliefs, and even wanted them dead. They were literally the only people in the world who knew the truth about Jesus, and yet He told them to share the Gospel with everyone, despite the inherent dangers that presented. He knew most of them would end up sacrificing their lives for Him, but He also knew His Holy Spirit would give them the courage, strength, wisdom, and perseverance to overcome any and all obstacles that stood in their way.
In his epistles, Paul says we should pray without ceasing. This is how we can stay in constant contact with God. It’s also how we can find peace, and can remain in a continual state of grace that won’t allow us to be disturbed by the ups and downs of life. We don’t have to be constantly asking God for things we want or need, He already knows what we need. It’s ok to ask for those things from time to time, but our time in prayer with Him is better spent thanking Him for all the blessings He’s given us, and just sharing with him our hopes, dreams, fears, and thoughts in general. We should also prioritize asking Him for virtues like humility, patience, kindness, fortitude, temperance, and others, because those are prayers He always says yes to.
As Christians, we need to learn to develop a concrete relationship with Jesus, and not just see Him as an abstract being who isn’t involved in our day to day lives. He wouldn’t have sacrificed His life for us if He didn’t want to be that involved with us. But He gave us free will and therefore can’t and won’t force us to open our hearts and minds up to Him. We have to choose to do that. We have to start seeing Him as a real person who wants to be a part of our lives, because He is, and not just “the man upstairs”.
Once we learn how to pray, and develop that strong relationship with Jesus, we can’t keep it hidden, but must share it with the world. The Church has always said that we should be “in the world, but not of it”. But that doesn’t mean we have to be alone. God created us to be social creatures, because our interactions can, and ideally should strengthen our bonds with each other, which ultimately has the effect of strengthening our relationship with God.
Even though as people of faith we see the world in a completely different way than our atheist peers, we can find common ground in our humanity, and in the conscience we all share that help us have a basic understanding of right and wrong. We can use this common ground to reach out to non-believers.
Satan wants to isolate us, in fact that’s one of the main ways he tries to neutralize us as followers of Jesus. There are two consequences to Christians being isolated: 1)We can’t share the love and wisdom we’ve received from Jesus, and without sharing it, it’s wasted. 2)Without having meaningful relationships with our fellow man, our thoughts turn inwards, and we are more likely to become selfish and give into temptations and despair, and form bad habits that are hard to break.When we’re alone, we can easily become consumed with our own survival.
It’s easy to see the vast chasm separating believers from non-believers, but we shouldn’t fear it. The apostles faced that same chasm when they were tasked with sharing the Gospel with the Romans, Greeks, and other Gentiles. They had nothing in common with these groups of people, and in fact in most cases they didn’t even share their language. But they overcame these differences and converted many people. How did they do it? Because they had the Holy Spirit, and that caused them to be on fire with love of God, and to have a burning desire to share that love with everyone they met, and to save souls.
Our number one goal in life should be to do God’s will, and that involves saving souls. It won’t be easy, but God never said it would be easy. Jesus called us not just to make peace with or accept our enemies, but to love them. He wants us to have the same desire to save souls that He does, as He showed us on the Cross when He said “I thirst”. His thirst wasn’t for water, but for saving souls.
We can quickly fall into the trap of relying on ourselves, and wondering how we can have peace in a society that is openly hostile to us. But again we have the example of the early Christians. The Romans persecuted and hated them, yet we have stories about how they were filled with joy and peace, even as they were being tortured in some cases. How was this possible? Because they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and weren’t relying on themselves and their own limited abilities. God will give us the courage and the words we need to do His will, and not just survive, but thrive in this world.
We mustn't allow the culture of death and celebrity we’re surrounded by to influence us, but we should understand it and be familiar with it enough to be able to relate to younger generations, and non-believers in general. We have to meet people where they’re at in their spiritual journey, not where we want them to be.
Jesus gave us the perfect example of how to do this. He not only interacted with the most corrupt and sinful people of His time (the tax collector, the adulteress, etc), He even ate with them, and got to know them on a personal level. He knew that the power of His love could overcome the differences between them, and the same can be true for us, if we stay close to Him. He saw through their sins and the stigma surrounding them, and saw their humanity. He envisioned the good person they could be in the future. We must do this as well with every person we interact with, no matter how they treat us, and we should expect nothing in return. That’s what being a selfless Christian is all about, otherwise we’re no different than non-believers. Even they love those who love them.
Rather than letting the culture influence us, we should try to influence it, more by our actions than by our words. As the song goes: “How will they know we’re Christians? By our love”.
But for this to be the case, we need strong families, churches, and communities of our own. Before we can evangelize others, we have to know what we stand for and believe in, and we ideally should have a social support system to keep us strong in our faith, especially when we have moments of doubt and weakness. The early Christians had such thriving communities, it’s what helped them stay strong in the faith amidst persecution, and even death. There’s one command that Jesus issued to His followers more than any other. It was “Do not fear”. He calls us to be unafraid now, even in a hostile and ever-changing culture and world.
With His indomitable Spirit, as Christians we can follow that command, and take comfort in the fact that we don’t have to be “successful” in the eyes of the world, or convert everyone we meet. Jesus already defeated Satan by dying on the Cross and purchasing our salvation for us. The battle has already been fought and won, we just have to decide if we wanna be on the side of the Winner, or the Loser.
All we have to do is share His love with everyone we meet and plant the seed, and He’ll take care of the rest. This world isn’t our true home, Heaven is. But if we follow Jesus’ teachings, and put Him and others above ourselves, we can experience some of the infinite joy and peace that awaits us in Heaven.
If our goal is to get to Heaven, we must also try to bring as many people with us as possible. If we save even one soul, with God’s help, all the sacrifice and suffering we go through will have been worth it. Just like Jesus would have been willing to die if only one person existed on the planet, so too we must be willing to sacrifice everything for even one person, out of love for them. This is the kind of radical, unconditional love God is calling us to have.
By having this perspective, and constantly keeping our gaze towards Heaven, while living in the present moment, we can have a peace that surpasses all understanding. God will reward us for our efforts, both in this life and in the next, and we can be joyful Christians, no matter what the world thinks of us.