Only two? There are hundreds of ways Christians can be weird. Ah, but there’s a qualifier: weird for God’s glory. That means all kinds of pious-feeling postures, from the finger-wagging grump to the wide-eyed, chart-creating conspiracist, don’t make the cut.
So, what are a couple ways we Christians can be weird in a way that draws people to God?
Our instructor in this master class on Christian weirdness is Paul. Yes, Paul the apostle. But he films this lesson during a part of his life when he’s not known as Paul the apostle. It’s during a trip in which Paul is known simply as 1 in 276 people aboard a ship headed for Rome. Most of the 276 were prisoners, including Paul.
Let’s introduce this story by quoting something Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus was searching for the right way to describe the generation of his day, and here’s what he came up with:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” (Matt. 11:16-17)
As we walk through this story in the life of Paul, let’s keep Jesus’ saying in mind. To him, his generation was like kids trying to get everyone to play along—sometimes a wedding, sometimes a funeral—and then rebuking whoever didn’t dance or weep when they were supposed to. They kept trying to get Jesus to play along—and he kept disappointing them.
If there’s a time in the New Testament to put yourself in the place of an apostle, it’s probably here on the ship headed for Rome. Paul’s not healing somebody or preaching to a gathered crowd. He’s just trying to live like Jesus as just 1 in 276. In fact, this moment when Paul is aboard the ship looks a lot like this cultural moment in a post-Christian society, where Christian are not seen as anything special—but are seen as troublemakers because of their beliefs.
So, how can you make a difference when you’re just 1 in 276?
Paul shows how. Along the voyage from Judea to Rome, the ship stops at the island of Crete. With winter on its way, prisoner Paul gets a check in his spirit and tells the centurion there’s danger if they continue. The centurion is unimpressed, and explains to Paul that both the captain and the ship’s owner are certain they should continue on so they can reach a harbor that’s better to spend the winter in.
Maybe they said something like, Come on, Paul. Everything’s going to be fine. We’ve got a window here we need to take. We’ve got 275 people here who see nothing wrong with setting sail. I’ve checked with the experts, and literally everybody agrees that we need to move—except for you.
Yet even though they play the pipe and urge Paul to dance along, Paul doesn’t join in the dance.
And just as Paul predicted, a hurricane-like force catches the ship and won’t let up. They try everything they can think of to save the ship—passing ropes under the ship to hold it together, lowering the anchor, jettisoning the cargo. And yet, as Luke narrates as a passenger on the ship, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27:20).
Cue the funeral music. Yet again, Paul refuses to join in.
Paul urges the 275 to keep courage. Not one of them will be lost. An angel has visited Paul the night before to reassure him that, even though the ship will be lost, everyone will come through the storm alive and so there is no real reason to fear. “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me” (Acts 27:25).
“We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”
Earlier, Paul had met everyone’s optimism with, “This isn’t a good idea.” Now Paul meets their despair with, “This isn’t a hopeless situation.”
Here are a couple ways to be weird in a way that glorifies God and draws people to him:
First, don’t dance when you should weep.
The sitcom that plays the laugh track after a perverse joke. The hit song about adultery that plays all the time. The culture which urges us to celebrate what God says is a sin. Coming at us from every angle are opportunities to dance along with a self-serving culture. But if it’s something to weep about, refuse to join in with the dance. May be weird, according to them. But standing on truth is the loving thing to do. Just playing along isn’t love, it’s apathy.
And do you know what happens when they don’t listen to the truth? It gets dark. It gets hopeless. Despair sets in. And when that happens…
Second, don’t despair when you should hope.
When a culture rejects God and follows its own shadow into ever-deeper darkness, despair sets in. Yet another weird thing that sets disciples of Jesus apart is a body armor of resilience called trusting in God. We see even in awful situations reasons to hope in God. Difficulties should not be our cue for despair, but for hope-fueling practices such as prayer, worship, and repentance.
Weird, huh? Perhaps, but it shouldn’t bother me. It would be far, far weirder to quit following God in order to play along to the whims of a moody and childish culture.
Don’t dance when you should weep and don’t despair when you should hope.