It was my 14th birthday when I became the little Christian fish in the big non-Christian pond. Going to a healthy, Bible-teaching school growing up had been a huge privilege, one I had become acutely aware of the longer I spent there. But on my first day of high school, the Christian influences around me had completely faded away. I went from a school where every student was either a Christian or came from a Christian family to a school where there were hardly any practicing believers besides my brother and me.
I felt trapped. Instead of feeling safe hanging out with friends who shared my convictions and worldview, I had nowhere safe to run within the public school walls. If I wanted Christ to be a big part of my school, I would have to be the engineer for change, not just a cog in the machine.
In dealing with the uncomfortable feelings of trying to find my place as a transplant into a school whose members had all grown up together, I had to take action. So in response to these elements, I did… not nearly enough.
To my regret, I spent more time in high school trying either to blend into the shadows or fit in quietly than trying to share the Good News of God’s love with my peers. I didn’t compromise my testimony, but I also didn’t do much to lead others to salvation. But in those moments that I did publicly defend my faith and share my love for the Lord, I felt great peace and joy in knowing God’s name had been glorified in a dark place.
It’s a lot harder to bring someone to Christ who knows all about Him and decides his life is doing just fine without Him than someone who is just learning about His goodness for the first time.
My environment was one that many have experienced in their schools or workplaces. It wasn’t that my classmates didn’t know Jesus and had to be approached with the gospel for the first time. It’s that they knew and just didn’t care. It’s a lot harder to bring someone to Christ who knows all about Him and decides his life is doing just fine without Him than someone who is just learning about His goodness for the first time.
But God’s Word gives us a few excellent examples from Israel’s history of how to follow the Lord when no one else is.
For long periods of time in its history, Israel has strayed far from God. The days of Elijah were no exception. The nation was caught up in idolatry. King Ahab led the nation’s normalization of sin. He worshiped Baal, a false god; set up a wooden image and an altar for Baal; and “did more to provoke the Lᴏʀᴅ God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33).
Rather than give in to the evil of his day, Elijah risked his life to stand against the king. He first called for a drought (17:1), which the Lord provided. That put him in hot water. But he tackled an even more dangerous assignment when he challenged the prophets of Baal to determine which God was real and would answer their calls with fire. Elijah knew he was risking his life. If he failed, the king of Israel and 450 of Elijah’s enemies were ready and waiting to kill him for defying their authority and gods.
But God was with Elijah, and He didn’t allow His prophet to suffer at his enemies’ hands. God answered the call with fire from heaven, and Elijah turned the tables on the false prophets and captured and killed them.
Though he wished for death, he was simply being tasked with another opportunity to trust God.
Yet just a couple verses later, Elijah faced another challenge from Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, and he feared for his life. Though he wished for death, he was simply being tasked with another opportunity to trust God. After a meeting with God who appeared to him not in the wind or earthquake or fire but in a still, small voice (19:11–12), Elijah found the strength to continue to obey the Lord in the midst of trouble, even carrying out God’s command to condemn King Ahab at great personal risk (21:20–24).
Through doubt and fear that ultimately led to obedience, Elijah learned how to follow God at any cost, even when his life was at stake.
Daniel’s situation was quite different from Elijah’s. Instead of standing out in a pagan period of Israel, he was in Babylonian captivity along with many of the rest of the Israelites of his time. He never hesitated in Scripture to diverge from the standard of his time to obey God. When he was chosen by King Nebuchadnezzar’s emissary as a young man and offered the king’s delicacies, a special privilege few in his position could ever dream to see, he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). God rewarded his faithfulness by shocking the Babylonian authorities when his diet of vegetables and water caused him to look “better and fatter in flesh” than those who enjoyed the king’s delicacies (v. 15).
Living counter-culturally as he did wasn’t a popular decision among his fellow citizens. Though he distinguished himself enough to be one of three governors of the land, the satraps working under his authority did not respect him (6:1–4). The only way they thought they could justify humiliating him was by attacking his faith in the Lord. So they did—they established a law to trap Daniel by criminalizing prayer to God (v. 7). Daniel unashamedly remained faithful to God, praying publicly toward Jerusalem, as was his custom, at the expense of being thrown into a lions’ den to be killed (v. 10, 16). Yet the Lord intervened for Him again, closing the mouths of the lions to spare him and instead causing the king to throw his accusers into the den.
Actions like that made Daniel stick out like a sore thumb in Babylon. His friends stuck out, too. Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-Nego), who like Daniel were captives from Judah, drew the attention of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom when they refused to worship his golden image. They learned just how severe an authority’s wrath could be—it earned them a trip to execution in a fiery furnace. Yet the furnace, though hot enough to kill guards simply standing near it, did not end the faithful Jewish men’s lives. In fact they were joined by a fourth presence, perhaps Jesus Himself (3:25). Not only weren’t they burned, they didn’t even smell like smoke when they walked out of the furnace!
Even when the stakes are high, we should always choose to place our trust in God and publicly make our love for Him known.
You’re Not Alone
The examples from these heroes of our faith stand strong for us today. Whether you’re the only Christian in your class or entire school or in your workplace or family, you don’t have to curl up and keep a low profile. Even when the stakes are high, we should always choose to place our trust in God and publicly make our love for Him known. These men from the Bible showed that no obstacle, whether ostracization, torture, or death, is too great for a child of God. He saved His servants then, and He can save us today too. But as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego faithfully told King Nebuchadnezzar, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” May we all be willing to boldly follow God no matter the cost like these heroes of the faith.