Breaking Free from the Crowds: To Be Holy and Set Apart

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A part of God’s call – throughout the Bible and to you and me today – is to be holy and set apart.

One of the ways I understand this call is simply to live more like God than the world – in a world that increasingly looks less and less like the Creator intended it to.

We witness in the book of Genesis several different occasions when God’s created seem to stray from what God desired. It starts with the original sin and the premature exit of Adam and Even from the Garden and God’s immediate presence. A few pages later we read of a creation so out of order that God floods the earth and starts afresh with Noah and his family. And a few pages after that we read of God scattering the people and scrambling their languages because they have once again chosen to stray from him in ways that are harmful and dishonoring.

Enter Abram.

In Genesis 12 and following we read of how God takes a decidedly different approach to loving and leading his creation. He calls out Abram. He calls him from the comfort and security of that which he knew to go to an unnamed place, for an unknown future, with only the promise that he would be blessed.

He would be blessed – as he stepped out in faith – and his blessing had the potential to reach the world.

But he had to trust God in order to do this.

And he had to have faith in God in order to trust him.

And he had to be open and attentive to God in order to really grow his faith.

This post is the third in a four part series exploring the ways in which our Adversary actively works to distract us from living the With-God life – the full life in Christ that we are made for.

In my first post I focused on the distraction of noise and in my second post I focused on the distraction of hurry – both identified by author Richard Foster in the late 1970s when he wrote: “In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “muchness” and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.”

Today I want to talk about the cultural distraction of crowds.

Crowds have always been a powerful force in our North American culture. Crowds have the power to influence, to create momentum, to charge emotions, and to make a substantial impact on whatever they choose to focus upon.

In many instances, crowds have become the thermometer we’ve learned to use when trying to decide what to do, what to think, how to act, and even who to become.

Why do we look to the crowds? Because we want to fit in. We want to be accepted. We want to be “in,” and not on the outside looking in.

But just like Abram, I believe God calls all of his children to live lives that are holy and set apart. God wants us to be willing to go against the grain of the crowds, when necessary, in order to honor him and ultimately point others to him.

God wants us to want him – more than we want the wants and ways of the crowds of this world.

And as you well know, living this kind of With-God life does not just happen. It requires, more than anything else, a desire to honor and please God out of our growing love and affection for him.

So how do we cultivate such a desire and love when it seems to be so far from what we find throughout much of culture? The answer will not be found in the crowds all around us, but in our willingness to regularly seek out and practice the discipline of solitude.

If we desire to know God, and have the ability to discern his still small voice amidst the chaos of the noisy crowds, then we must find ways to physically, emotionally, and mentally withdraw from those crowds on a regular basis. As we do this, we create the space for God to meet us where we are, speak to our hearts and minds, and give us a proper perspective on the things that we learn and experience within the crowds of life.

And it’s only when we choose to consistently withdraw from the crowds that we become the kind of salt and light that God can then use to influence the crowds and communities we find ourselves – in healthy and generative ways.

So how do we do this? How do we begin to pull back from the crowds? How do we keep from crowding God out of our lives? How do we begin to engage the discipline of solitude in ways that are helpful and life re-orienting? Here are a few ideas to get us started:

1) Look for “little solitudes” that you can participate in each day.

In other words, if you have a few quiet moments alone, don’t jump on your phone or turn on the TV. Instead, acknowledge God in your midst and spend that time in prayer, silence, worship, or wonder.

2) Leave the crowds.

Get up, go outside or off campus or out of the office, and find a place where you can be alone for a few moments.

3) Think about what you think about.

Consider why you think (or believe, or practice) what you do. Is this something that “the masses” have led you to? Or is it something that your faith in Christ has led you to? Make change wherever necessary.

4) Try to become more aware of how “crowds” are impacting your days and weeks.

What do you seek in them? What do you find? Are you looking in the right place(s) for the right thing(s)?

There’s much more that can be explored here. But this will hopefully serve as a springboard for personal evaluation and intentional choices about life and faith.

What do you think? How big of an issue are “crowds” in your life?

Order Guy’s book, Noise. Hurry. Crowds. in our store now.

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Dr. Guy Chmieleski serves as the University Minister at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and author of Seedbed books, Shaping Their Future and Campus Gods. He is also the founder of FaithONCampus.com, a popular blog focused on better equipping mentors of college students. He has earned a Master of Arts in Ministry from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a Doctorate of Ministry with an emphasis in Spiritual Formation and Leadership Development from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Guy and his wife Heather reside just south of Nashville with their five children Derek, Autumn, Kaiya, Noll, and Lailie Grace.

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