Table of Contents
- Caleb: Focusing on God instead of the crowd
- Samuel: Hearing God’s voice over people’s
- Mary (Martha’s sister): Knowing what really matters
- Mary the mother of Jesus: Embracing a different path
- Jeremiah: Staying strong by staying close to God
- Paul: Embracing weaknesses instead of boasting about strengths
- Zacchaeus: Standing out by owning up
- Abigail: Acting on conviction instead of conforming
- Jonathan: Valuing friendship over being first
- Ruth: Letting your love be stronger than your fear
Halloween was one of my favorite holidays as a kid.
I made it my goal to never wear the same costume as someone else. One year I even showed up to school in my dad’s suit, a cane, and an old man mask; someone asked who I was, and I proudly and confidently declared, “I’m Grandpa Joe!” (someone I made up).
As an adult, I wish I still had the same childhood joy of embracing being different. I spend a lot of time and energy so focused on what everyone else is doing or thinking that I can’t just enjoy being me.
That’s why I love this video from comedian Bo Burnham. He pokes fun at the cliché tagline “Be yourself,” highlighting the fears many of us have that we are just uninteresting and not good enough:
Though Bo Burnham is joking here, I do often think that I’d be better off being like someone else. I resist being different and hide the things that make me who I am.
Thankfully, this isn’t how God wants us to live:
Let everyone be devoted to fulfill the work God has given them to do with excellence, and their joy will be in doing what’s right and being themselves, and not in being affirmed by others.Galatians 6:4 TPT
Each person has his or her own burden to bear and story to write.Galatians 6:5 VOICE
God has given each of us a story to write, and as we walk closely with him he’ll help us discover what it is. In fact, that’s one of the exciting things about building a relationship with God; we get to understand ourselves, our purpose, and our God-given destiny in this world. We are each here for a reason.
Spending all our time trying to please other people or comparing ourselves with them veers us off the path of our own story. It also stops us from discovering God for ourselves. God wants a relationship with you–not with the person you think you’re supposed to be.
The Bible gives us a lot of examples of people who found the courage to be themselves by believing that God loved them for who they were. This led them to be okay with being different, and by standing out from the crowd they made an impact on the world around them for the better.
Caleb: Focusing on God instead of the crowd
But my servant Caleb—this is a different story. He has a different spirit; he follows me passionately. I’ll bring him into the land that he scouted and his children will inherit it.Numbers 14:24 MSG
The book of Numbers tells us about how God freed the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, and then brought them to a new land to start fresh. But when Moses sent some men to check out the promised land, they got scared.
After seeing how big and powerful the people in this land seemed to be, the very men who were meant to inspire the Israelites to believe God would take care of them ended up spreading their fear to the people and leading them away from God.
We see in their story what I’m sure many of us have experienced in our own lives: fear can be contagious. Imagine being an Israelite in this time; if the brave warriors and leaders are freaked out, what chance do you have?
If we read this whole story in Numbers 13 and 14, we’ll see that God called out the Israelites for not trusting him to be powerful enough to lead them to victory. He took issue especially with the leaders, whose fear and weak faith led the Israelites to make people bigger than God.
In his rebuke, God made one exception: Caleb. In the midst of everyone’s fear, mistrust, and doubt, Caleb and his friend Joshua were unshakeable. While Caleb’s fellow leaders were convinced they were doomed for failure, Caleb was focused on what God was capable of. His faith in God’s abilities over his own gave Caleb the courage to speak out, regardless of what the crowd around him might have said.
When our faith is in God alone, like Caleb’s was, we won’t be tossed around or unsettled by everything that comes our way:
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.James 1:5-8 NLT
Take a minute to reflect on which list of characteristics from this passage describe you most:
- Easily knocked out
- Easily swayed
- Uncertain and doubtful
- Divided priorities
- Strong beliefs
- Single-minded focus
- Convinced of God’s ability to answer and pull through
If we find ourselves feeling unsettled, uncertain, and easily swayed, this may be a sign that something or someone else is bigger in our minds than God is. Caleb was confident to speak out because he had God and people in the right order.
Pause and reflect:
- Who takes up the most space in your mind? Who has the most influence over you?
Samuel: Hearing God’s voice over people’s
Caleb taught us that we will be more secure in ourselves when we make God bigger than people in our minds; now we can learn from Samuel how to do that.
Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the LORD by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the LORD were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.  One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed.  The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the Ark of God.  Suddenly the LORD called out, “Samuel!” “Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.  Then the LORD called out again, “Samuel!” Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” “I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”  Samuel did not yet know the LORD because he had never had a message from the LORD before.  So the LORD called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” Then Eli realized it was the LORD who was calling the boy.  So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.  And the LORD came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”1 Samuel 3:1-10 NLT
You can read about Samuel’s incredible life in the book of 1 Samuel, where he constantly pointed the Israelites back to God, regardless of whatever opposition he got. In the above story, we get a glimpse of what made him strong and courageous enough to stand by what he believed.
Growing up, Samuel lived at the Temple as an assistant to the priest Eli. Though he was constantly surrounded with images, conversations, and rituals that involved God, this passage tells us that he did not really know God for himself. How does that work?
Read more: Get to Know God By Getting to Know Yourself
The Bible seems to make it clear that though we can know everything there is to know about God, we won’t truly hear him until we know him personally. Samuel’s view of God was initially shaped by other people, and so when God tried to speak to him, he thought he must be hearing a person.
People will continue to be the loudest voice in our minds until we take the time to slow down and listen to God ourselves. We can do this by dedicating time to read the Bible and pray each day, with the intent of truly knowing and being known by God. If you find yourself hearing people’s voices as louder than God’s, take some time to reflect on how much you really seek out knowing God for yourself.
Pause and reflect:
- Have you been relying more on the Bible or other people for help in your relationship with God?
- What can you do to change your times with God to be more focused on knowing him personally?
- One way to start doing this is when you read the Bible, look for qualities of God in what you read. It’s easy to read the Bible with the intention of fixing or improving yourself, but looking for ways to know God more personally shifts the focus from yourself and people to God.
Mary (Martha’s sister): Knowing what really matters
Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.
Martha: “Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.”
Jesus: “Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.”Luke 10:38-42 Voice
What matters most to you? When we struggle to be ourselves, it’s easy to want to impress people, perform perfectly at the things we do, and live up to the (real or perceived) expectations of people in our lives. Living this way usually speeds us up as we strive to get everything done. Like Martha, we may get anxious or even angry about everything we think we need to do.
Mary was okay with being different from her sister, even though her sister got angry with her for it. Finishing a to-do list may be important, but Mary understood that completed tasks and impressive deeds are not what make us worthy of Jesus’ respect and love. He wants our hearts and our time, and he promises to take care of everything else we need (Matthew 6:33). Knowing this, Mary made a choice to be different from her sister.
What God wants from us is not performance, perfection, busyness, or achievement, but a relationship. This makes me think of Taylor Swift’s song “Sweet Nothing” from her Midnights album:
And the voices that implore
“You should be doing more”
To you I can admit
That I’m just too soft for all of it…
Outside they’re push and shoving
You’re in the kitchen humming
All that you ever wanted from me was
Though we may have voices in our minds telling us we should be doing more, God just wants us to be ourselves. He wants to hear how soft, weak, or afraid we feel. He wants to be a place where we can get excited and passionate without fear of being judged. All he ever wants from us is a relationship.
I’m asking GOD for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.Psalm 27:4-5 MSG
When we believe this is all God wants from us, we will be okay with living our lives differently than how the world around us tells us we should. We will be okay with slowing down and prioritizing our connection with God instead of rushing around to achieve and accomplish things. Our times with him will be the “quiet, secure place” we need in the midst of a noisy world, and people’s voices won’t be so loud in our minds.
Pause and reflect:
- How easy or difficult is it for you to prioritize your relationship with God over other people or things? Why?
- How would your relationship with God change if you believed God wants nothing from you but your true self?
Mary the mother of Jesus: Embracing a different path
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you! ”  Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.Luke 1:26-35,38 NLT
Before she became the mother of Jesus, Mary was just a regular teenage girl; scholars think she was probably about 14 years old when the angel Gabriel visited her. I’m sure she had in mind what her future was going to look like–she would get married, have kids, and live pretty much the same life as everyone around her.
But God had a different plan, and Mary had the remarkable faith to accept it.
When I don’t really believe in God’s power or his promises, I often settle for fitting in with the lives of those around me. I want to have a career that people admire, have an Instagram that’s ~aesthetic~, and be someone people want to be friends with, even if that means being fake. When presented with opportunities for a bigger vision, I tend to get irritated or overwhelmed, thinking it’s too much.
It would make sense if Mary felt worried about being different from others and what they might think of her if she went down this path. But ultimately, she decided to trust God, and the world was completely changed because of it.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”Henry David Thoreau
Maybe you feel like your path is different from others around you. If so, this Thoreau quote rings true—we should not measure ourselves by how well we keep pace with our peers, but where our own individual path leads. God has a great plan for each of us to help us influence others in ways no one else can. All we need to do is trust his process.
Pause and reflect:
- What “different path” do you need to embrace in your life?
Jeremiah: Staying strong by staying close to God
The LORD gave me this message: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
“O Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
The LORD replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!”`Jeremiah 1:4-8 NLT
When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies.Jeremiah 15:16 NLT
When God called Jeremiah to speak for him as a prophet, the first thing he said was “I knew you before you were born.” The life of a prophet wouldn’t always be easy; Jeremiah would have to tell people things they needed (but didn’t necessarily want) to hear.
Before calling him to stand up and stand out as a spiritual leader, God took the time to express how well he knew Jeremiah and that he had chosen him for something special. Even though Jeremiah felt too young and inexperienced to speak for God, God reminded him that he was with him, so he didn’t need to be afraid.
In Jeremiah 15, we see that Jeremiah also took the time to know God. Just as God knew and chose him, Jeremiah also chose to know God, spending time with his Word and finding joy in having a relationship with God.
And then hard times came, things didn’t go the way he expected, and there seemed to be no solution to opposition or conflict in relationships. Can you relate? I can. Jeremiah handled these challenges by letting God know exactly what he was feeling:
“I never joined the people in their merry feasts. I sat alone because your hand was on me. I was filled with indignation at their sins. Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry.”
This is how the LORD responds: “If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak good words rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. You must influence them; do not let them influence you! They will fight against you like an attacking army, but I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze. They will not conquer you, for I am with you to protect and rescue you. I, the LORD, have spoken!Jeremiah 15:17-20 NLT
In his prayer to God, Jeremiah was completely himself. He cried out to God, expressing his pain, doubt, and fear over whether God would help him.
Rather than reprimand Jeremiah for questioning him, God simply called him to return to him. He reminded him of what he told him at the very beginning: I’ll be with you, so you don’t have to be afraid. Jeremiah had started to let people influence him more than God, and so he began to get afraid and doubtful. But God knew that once Jeremiah came back to God, he could influence people, rather than be influenced by them.
Are you this honest with God in prayer? Are you willing to cry out to him, expressing your fear and doubt? The courage to influence others starts with the willingness to know and be known by God.
Pause and reflect:
- What percentage of your heart are you honest about with God?
- Do you have doubts you need to acknowledge in your relationship with God?
- Who could you influence by deciding to be honest?
Paul: Embracing weaknesses instead of boasting about strengths
But I must not be too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me. So a painful problem was given to me—an angel from Satan, sent to make me suffer, so that I would not think that I am better than anyone else.  I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. But the Lord said, “My grace is all you need. Only when you are weak can everything be done completely by my power.” So I will gladly boast about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can stay in me.  Yes, I am glad to have weaknesses if they are for Christ. I am glad to be insulted and have hard times. I am glad when I am persecuted and have problems, because it is when I am weak that I am really strong.2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ERV
One of the main reasons I choose to not be myself is because of I don’t like my flaws and weaknesses: I’m terrible at attaching in relationships, I’m a know-it-all, I’m awkward in social situations, I’m 27 and I still get nervous making phone calls—just to name a few things.
I hate feeling weak, so I tend to cover up these flaws by diverting attention away from them. I act like I know what I’m doing and try to be a useful and good friend, giving great advice to everyone so that there’s no room for anyone to know me. I constantly compare myself to and criticize others in my head to not feel inferior. But all of these efforts never make me feel any stronger; if anything, they just make me feel more insecure.
Paul learned a very different way of handling weaknesses in his life: embracing them gladly. Though at first he too wanted to get rid of the things in his life that made him feel weak, he learned to value and embrace those weaknesses. Instead of covering his weaknesses and boasting about his strengths—and he had many—he saw how much more of God and his power he had access to when he embraced weaknesses. He didn’t have to earn or make up for anything, because God’s grace was enough. This freed him up to be completely confident in who he was.
Rather than being ashamed of his flaws, Paul was so secure in himself that even when wrongly imprisoned he wanted others to have what he had:
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”Acts 26:28-29 NIV
I have so much more fun in life when I’m okay with being weak. I feel so much less pressure, I enjoy my friendships, and I get to see that I’m loved despite my awkwardness or occasional arrogance (okay, maybe not so occasional). When I stop trying to fool myself and others about how strong I am, I can actually get access to real strength and power–God’s.
Pause and reflect:
- What flaws or weaknesses do you try to cover up?
- How can those weaknesses actually bring you closer to God and make you more effective at helping others?
Zacchaeus: Standing out by owning up
Zacchaeus was a tax collector, which was a profession that many people despised because tax collectors were known for deceitfully cheating others out of their money. Yet when Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a better look at Jesus, Jesus saw something in him that was different from the crowd, and told him he would come stay with him.
But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”Luke 19:7-10 NLT
Zacchaeus was different from the crowd because he had the courage to admit when he was wrong. He didn’t try to defend himself or blame others, but took full responsibility, deciding to give when he had otherwise held back. He had made mistakes, but he owned up to them and was willing to do everything possible to make things right. This was all Jesus was looking for – not a perfect record, but a responsive heart.
Pause and reflect:
- How easily do you take responsibility when you’ve done wrong?
- Are you more concerned with being right than with making things right?
Abigail: Acting on conviction instead of conforming
The book of 1 Samuel tells us about the life of David. He went through a lot of ups and downs, but stuck with God through them all. Even when King Saul hunted him down, David didn’t waver in his reliance on God.
But one day, in an interaction with a foolish rich man named Nabal, something snapped in him. After protecting Nabal’s shepherds for months, David asked Nabal for food for his travels. When Nabal rudely and aggressively rejected him, David rallied his troops to kill every man in Nabal’s household.
When Nabal’s wife, Abigail, heard about this, she sprung into action. She didn’t conform to Nabal’s selfish attitude, nor did she side with David in his anger. With her own convictions, she spoke up, humbly and courageously reminding David of his conscience toward God:
“When the LORD has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel,  don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance. And when the LORD has done these great things for you, please remember me, your servant!”1 Samuel 25:0-31 NLT
You can read the whole story in 1 Samuel 25, where David listens to Abigail, and God takes care of Nabal. Because Abigail was willing to speak up, she saved David from a staggering burden on his conscience. When we’re willing to step out courageously, we can help our friends by telling each other the truth even when it’s scary. That’s how we will each grow to become who we’re meant to be.
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.  He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.Ephesians 4:15-16 NLT
Pause and reflect:
- What stops you from speaking up to your friends?
- How can you choose to love your friends by telling them truth this week?
Jonathan: Valuing friendship over being first
One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him.  Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God.  “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.”  So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the LORD. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.1 Samuel 23:15-18 NLT
Jonathan was another great friend of David’s. As the son of King Saul, Jonathan very much could have been jealous, angry, and competitive with David, whom God had chosen to be the next king. Instead, Jonathan’s attitude was different; he believed in and fought for David. He valued friendship instead of being first in line to be king. He was happy to be “next to” David, not in front of him. When David seemed to be doubtful and discouraged, Jonathan encouraged him and reminded him of God’s purpose for his life.
I think Jonathan must have believed that God had a special purpose for his own life too—even if it was different from the one he may have initially expected.
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.Galatians 5:26 MSG
When we believe we are each originals, we won’t feel the need to compete or compare ourselves. There are far more interesting things to do with our lives than to be better than the person next to us!
When I lose sight of God’s purpose for my life, I become competitive in relationships. I either get insecure that I feel less than them, or I get critical and put myself above them. All of this can be avoided when I believe that God chose me for me. Jonathan was so convinced of his own purpose that he felt no need to compete with his friend and was freed up to push David to not give up and embrace his own purpose, too.
Pause and reflect:
- How confident do you feel that God has made you “an original”?
- Are there any people in your life you tend to compete with? How would your friendships change if you decided to value friendship over being first?
Ruth: Letting your love be stronger than your fear
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.Ruth 1:14-18 NLT
Naomi was an Israelite who moved to Moab with her family and stayed there for years. After both her husband and sons died, a dejected Naomi decided to travel back home. But Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law, wouldn’t let her go it alone. Though Ruth was subjecting herself to possible discrimination and rejection as a foreigner, her love for Naomi was stronger than any fear she may have had about being different from everyone else.
Is there anyone in your life whom you love this deeply? This is how deeply God loves each of us, and we can learn from him how to love:
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG
Pause and reflect:
- Do you love cautiously or extravagantly?
- Who can you choose to be a friend to like Ruth was to Naomi?
- What would it look like to love like God does?
There are so many more people in the Bible who had the courage to be themselves because of their relationship with God. Here are just a few if you want to study this more in your own Bible study!
- Esther – embraced her differences to stand up for her people (Book of Esther).
- Nicodemus – risked being different so he could learn from Jesus (John 3:1-21).
- Peter – learned to lead by being his messy self (Matthew 16:21-23, Acts 2:14, 36-38).
- Deborah – chose to lead and take action when no one else would (Judges 4).