The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.
That’s a Japanese proverb I once read. It means that if someone doesn’t follow the set path or pattern in society, he is made to conform like the rest.
This mindset is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture where deviation is heavily frowned upon. Singapore is similar when you think about the lives of conformity we often lead. We begin our paper-chase from childhood, readying ourselves early for the rigid rat-race of life ahead.
Our culture does not lend itself well to people who want something radically different and adventurous. And I believe we can be intolerant of people who do not think like us.
So, I often feel close-minded: Stuck in the belief there’s only one kind of living, one end to education, one way to work, one type of church, one track of thinking … The list goes on!
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
The fear of non-conformity permeates even our relationship with God. Think about it: Are you afraid to be identified as a Christian?
If your answer was “yes”, you’re not the first. Jesus’ followers have always faced persecution. While we live in a nation that is multi-religious and and tolerant of all faiths, our persecution — if we want to call it that — manifests itself chiefly in social interactions.
But the price we pay is small, relative to other Christians elsewhere. It’s a mercy our battle’s merely against ridicule and sneers.
That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
And it’s no coincidence how Jesus tells his disciples they are the salt and light of the earth in the next verse. If we conform to the world, we lose our shine and our taste. We forget who we were called to be.
We are called to live lives like lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). That’s a life that looks nothing like what the world offers, or tells you is normal. The Christian life is supernatural — above the natural.
Such a life is counter-cultural not for the mere sake of standing out — but for God. So stick out, and let it be so that others see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
DON’T SNUFF OUT THEIR LIGHTS
If you see someone doing something differently, don’t let your first reaction be to change or destroy them. That’s what the religious leaders did. When they saw that Paul had converted to Christianity, they tried to snuff out his light without trying to understand.
What if they just talked to him? Have a level-headed discussion? They might not have missed out on knowing Christ!
But we should move from mere toleration to celebration. When someone is different, we shouldn’t be so surprised. God created us all uniquely with different personalities, likes and dislikes. Instead of reacting by tearing down — let us respond by inquiring.
Because people do things for reasons. It sounds simple enough, but there are reasons for why people are the way they are. So look for a reason to celebrate that person (1 Cor 13:7), believing the best of him.
If we conform to the world, we lose our shine and our taste. We forget who we were called to be.
Don’t hammer down the stake that sticks out. When someone decides to do the cleaner a favour by clearing his own tray — don’t criticise him for being a goody-two-shoes. When someone speaks with a foreign worker, join in the conversation!
Never be the one to snuff out the lights which others are shining for the glory of the Father. There’s already enough persecution to go around — we can’t have friendly fire in the Kingdom.
I’ll end with a quote by Marianne Williamson. She captures beautifully the heart behind standing out for God’s glory:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”