Our goal as Christians is not to avoid getting into trouble. It's also not to try to get into trouble. Our goal is to get into the right kind of trouble.
We've received a lot of criticism, both directly and behind our backs, since we started the Rebelution. Some people believe we are encouraging young people to grow up too fast. Others have picked apart our writing or speaking styles. Sometimes the criticism seems unfair, and that's hard. Other times we know it's true, and that's even harder.
When people bring criticism to us directly, our prayer is always to learn from it, regardless of the attitude with which it's given. We've also learned that criticism comes with the territory. Our goal is not to make everyone happy but to do what we believe is right and pleasing to God.
It's probably true that a person who makes it through life without making any enemies never stood up for anything important. If you are doing something important for the kingdom of God, certain people will avoid you or even persecute you.
Persecution in your life might look like snubbing, teasing, rumor spreading, or even losing a friendship. When that kind of thing happens, it's usually because you are being effective — whether you are openly talking about God or simply standing up for what you believe in, as Erika did.
Recently, all the seniors in my high-school government class had to do a political action project. Most of the kids in my class were doing issues that were fairly minor. One group's issue was to put another skate park in our county.
Another group's issue was to legalize marijuana. (This gives you a picture of what my school is like.)
I felt that God wanted me to do something bigger than what everyone else was doing: take a pro-life stance on the issue of abortion, a stance that is extremely unpopular in my school.
My best friend, Joanna, and I found two other girls passionate about this topic and began working on the project. Soon after we started, we had a minor communication problem that blew up into an ugly monster, resulting in two group members leaving to do their project on prochoice rights — totally changing their stance on abortion.
Then my teacher, who is pro-choice, said we couldn't use any type of image in our presentation because we'd be using "shock value" to get our point across. After telling him we would have facts along with the pictures to educate our peers on the truth of abortion, he let us use first trimester abortion pictures and medical diagrams of abortion.
The hardest part of the whole thing was when we got up and spoke to our peers about the injustice of abortion. Out of the twenty-five students we spoke to, two were prolife. My stomach was in knots and I felt like I could pass out, but Joanna and I had done our research and presented it in a very open-minded manner.
Everyone listened intently to our presentation, especially the guys. I was shocked by how many questions we received and how many comments I heard, like, "That's messed up!" The day after the presentation, a friend who had watched the presentation and is not usually open to other viewpoints came over to me and said, "Your presentation was very powerful, Erika. I don't usually think that way, but you did a really good job presenting!"
This was the hardest thing I've done so far. I experienced so many sleepless nights, long work hours, broken friendships, and hurtful words regarding my stance that at times I didn't think I was going to be able to pull it off. But I kept saying to myself, I'm doing hard things for Jesus! And with Him as my strength, I can do anything!
— Erika, age 18
In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan describes life as a never-ending downward escalator. In order to follow God, we have to sprint back up the escalator — and put up with all the perturbed glances and harsh words of those we bump into along the way. If we're not encountering any opposition, it's probably because we're just going with the crowd.
Our first response to persecution should be gratitude. That's right. We should rejoice! God has allowed us to join some pretty good company — including Jesus Himself, the apostles, and the prophets. If we are being persecuted because we are standing up for what is right and godly, we can consider ourselves blessed.
The night before He was betrayed, Jesus shared with his disciples: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:18–20).
In Luke 6:22–23, Jesus speaks to a great multitude of people, saying, "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets." In Acts 5:40–42, the apostle Paul describes the experiences of Peter and the other apostles, writing: "When [the council] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." And as Paul told Timothy, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV).
An important thing to remember, though, is that Jesus and the apostles did not seek the disapproval of others. No one knew better than the apostle Paul what it was like to be persecuted, and yet he wrote, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18, NIV). We live to draw others to God. God's thoughts toward us are more important than what others think, one way or the other.
If you are facing persecution in your family or at school, ask yourself, Am I being persecuted because I am doing something for God or because I am being a difficult person to live with? Am I holding on to my cause so tightly that I can't see how it is hurting others, or are my actions showing others who God is? Am I more interested in what God thinks of me than in whether I am popular or unpopular?
The two of us have to ask ourselves, Is our first response to a negative e-mail defensiveness or humility? If it's a criticism that comes up a lot, we have to ask, Is there a more effective way we can communicate our message? or, Is there any truth to this observation that we need to address?
Our goal as Christians is not to avoid getting into trouble. It's also not to try to get into trouble. Our goal is to get into the right kind of trouble. The right kind of trouble for Erika was doing her assignment as instructed, with her teacher's permission, and then speaking truth in front of her peers whether they were receptive or not.
If you believe you are doing what is right and pleasing to God, continue doing it. Easier said than done, huh? You might be surprised, though, at how your friends appreciate your sticking to your beliefs. Seeing your enthusiasm and commitment might change their opinion of you and what you believe, as Erika found. It might even motivate them to join you. If not, that's their decision — not yours.
Excerpted from Start Here by Alex Harris and Brett Harris with Elisa Stanford. Copyright © 2010 by Alex Harris and Brett Harris with Elisa Stanford. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books. All rights reserved.