“When in Rome, do as the Romans”
It’s a popular maxim. In essence, it advocates that we conform to the prevailing culture wherever we find ourselves. While that may be a smart move in a few cases, it’s somehow hard to swallow that line completely without feeling a bit like a hypocrite.
There’s the age-long debate about man being shaped by his environment vs. man being the determinant of his environment. Both sides possess valid points and my plan today does not include taking sides with either opinion. I’m concerned about something else today.
I live in Lagos, Nigeria; one of the largest cities in Africa and as any Lagosian will tell you, it can get quite ‘mad’ here. Actually, no one needs to tell you- a day out will convince you beyond doubt that this is indeed a unique environment. Everywhere you turn, life seems to be on fast forward.
This is Lagos
Omo, na Lagos you dey o!
It’s repeated so often you’d not be wrong to wonder if that fact was under debate. But I get what they mean- Lagos, the most densely populated city in West Africa and one of the fastest growing cities in the world has been aptly described as an urban jungle.
I have witnessed several instances where otherwise ‘normal’ looking, seemingly decent individuals suddenly burst into bizarre fits of rage, cursing and swearing over otherwise trivial matters. I’ve seen so called believers rain abuses on others at the slightest irritation. Strange things happen in this city, and the overwhelming explanation is “this is Lagos”.
But I’m thinking today, so what? So what that this is Lagos? Must we conform? Must we let the urban jungle turn us into vicious animals? Yes I understand that life in a city CAN be sooo abrasive, that sometimes, the last thing on your mind is being nice to someone; but that’s what makes you different. That’s what makes us different from lower life forms- we can choose to NOT give in to the environment.
We don’t have to go with the flow. We don’t have to blend in. Yes I’m in Lagos, but I don’t have to follow the tide of disrespect, the rude and caustic speech patterns, the selfishness or the craftiness. We’ve been called to shine as lights- we ARE lights. If we’re not shining out here on the streets, on the bus, in the market places and classrooms, where else is our light needed? If we hide our light when we step out in the midst of darkness, of what use is it then?
God calls us to be different. To talk differently. To walk in love and peace with all men. Now that doesn’t mean we become footmats or let others ride on us (no one ever rode on Jesus- he was way too tough for that!). But it does mean that sometimes, just sometimes, we may need to take in a minor loss in order to keep the light shining in our hearts. It means we’ll have to beat the instinctive urge to lash back when someone spits foul words at us. It will demand that we show courtesy for others in an environment that’s choking with the ‘my own first’ mindset.
Yes, it’ll require us to be different. But isn’t that the whole point of being a believer? Paul had this thought to share with us:
“Do all things without grumbling and faultfinding and complaining…that you may show yourselves to be blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish (faultless, unrebukable) in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation [spiritually perverted and perverse], among whom you are seen as bright lights (stars or beacons shining out clearly) in the [dark] world
-Philippians 2:14,15 (The Amplified Bible)
I like the sound of that- beacons shining out clearly. Wouldn’t you just love to be described that way?
It starts in our hearts. If there’s no love in there, we can’t instantly produce it in the heat of provocation. It takes more than will-power. Loving the unlovable, the disrespectful and the inconsiderate will take more than what we have in us on our own. It’ll take the love of God in our hearts.
Almost every day, I still pray this: Lord, help me to love people like you love. See, ultimately, love is the strongest sermon we can preach. It’s what people can see, sense and quickly relate with; not our deep understanding of ancient Greek and Hebrew or the impressive catalogue of scriptures we’ve stored up in our heads. It’s the love, the kindness, that make us different and stand out for good in the unpleasant cultures where we find ourselves.
Here’s my challenge to you today: Wherever you are, whatever city or town you’re reading this from, do something deliberate to make someone else smile TODAY. Give a surprise gift- no matter how tiny. As long as it’s from a loving heart, it counts. Make that phone call to a friend or family member just to say ‘thank you for being a part of my world’. Help a stranger bear a burden. Smile at someone. Bless that little child on your street with a word of encouragement. Just do something, anything to express the love of Christ in your heart.
Yes, this is Lagos; but we rep a higher kingdom. We choose to blend out. We will not let the hardness outside kill the love and tenderness within. The environment may look like an urban jungle, but we refuse to become animals.
Thank you for reading today. I look forward to your reactions to this post.
Live by Design.