Pet training, or "obedience school for dogs," is held in a very distracting place for your dog to walk. I am referring to the dog training class at PetSmart. In our class, the trainer is a young man who handled bomb dogs in the military. He attempts to help us train our new dog Marley. While, this is an excellent endeavor and he does a good job in teaching us to train Marley, every 7 minutes he also attempts to sell me a new PetSmart product. I guess we should have probably expected this. The problem is when the trainer tells us to walk Marley dog around the store, we are obviously walking around a pet store, which has two things: dog food/treats and pet toys. When walking around the store, it is very difficult to keep Marley controlled since he is surrounded by little doggy temptations.
Let's translate this scenario to our spiritual life. Jesus sent us into the world. The Great Commission and Acts 1:8 tell us we are to be a part of the world. We are going to be here on this earth. Yet, scripture also tells us in Romans 12:2, and in several others places, to not be conformed to the pattern of this world. How do we do both? How do we keep ourselves unstained by the sinful world we live in and yet still be missional? Here are a few suggestions:
- Have self-awareness. Whether it is a bar, the beach or a restaurant buffet, understand where your weaknesses are and avoid those places. While it is important you spend time with not-yet-Christians in places where they are, if a place causes you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, then simply do not go there. People spend time in other places. You do not have to go to a place that will throw your own spiritual walk down the drain in order to be a witness.
- Prepare spiritually. It matters not if you are 16, 26 or 36, peer pressure can be strong a force. If the conversation turns to inappropriate topics, gossip or something else you know does not need to be discussed, typically one of two things happens. First, you may become judgmental and begin "casting lots" of really negative religious vibes all over the place or you may join in. The believer should do neither; the believer should either sit and listen not saying a word or if the relationship is at a place where this can happen, try to lovingly correct.
Keep in mind this truth: lost people act like lost people. When a lost person cusses in a story they are telling, it is simply their sinful nature jumping out. If you decide to be the judge right up front, it is very possible you could turn that relationship off for good.
Thus, prepare your heart spiritually for what you know will happen. Mediate on the word of God and spend time in prayer before you head out, knowing that He will be the one thing to keep you strong in the midst of conversations and situations, which could throw your spiritual walk right down the drain. Consider memorizing Romans 12:2 about not being conformed to the image of this world.
- Gather weekly with the body of Christ. Christians have created a sub-culture, which if we allow it, will never put us around those who do not yet know Jesus. It is also true, though, that weekly attendance in church, and perhaps some sort of small group, can prepare you for the times God has moved in your heart to be on mission in a tough spot. The reason scripture says not to stop meeting together is not because God is interested in packed out church buildings for preachers to be prideful; it is because He knew you will need the strength to carry on each day. Jesus said it best: "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). Be light in every situation you have the opportunity, and yet guard yourself from letting that light burn out.