Peer Pressure

Bucking the Crowd

by Eric Kreye

A small marine animal teaches a big lesson--it's the lowly shrimp!

Every time it molts--and it does this several times a year--this fascinating small creature does an amazing stunt. It places a tiny piece of sand in its own head.

This grain of sand is called a "statoscyst stone." Without it the shrimp has a difficult time surviving its turbulent habitat, because just a small tug of gravity helps the shrimp to know if it is right-side up or up-side down. Because of the grain of sand the shrimp maintains its equalibrium when tossed by the surging seas during its molting stage.

A marine biologist learned the secret of the shrimp's behavior by placing several shrimp in an aquarium. Instead of the usual sand at the bottom, he replaced it with steel filings. When the time came for the shrimp to molt, it reached for a piece of steel instead of the usual grain of sand.

The biologist then used a magnet, and immediately the shrimp flipped upside down and continued swimming without missing a beat. Apparently the pull on the steel in its head was stronger than the tug of gravity.

The scientist then took a shrimp from the ocean, with the usual piece of sand in its head, and put the shrimp into the aquarium. It was the only one who swam the usual way, while the other shrimp were swimming upside-down!

The latter might have begun to whisper about the newcomer, "Who does he think he is? Is he trying to impress someone by being so different?"

That's exactly what we humans do at times. If anyone is different from the rest of us, we are tempted to bring about isolation, ridicule, and sometimes even bring about persecution. One might call this peer pressure.

In our illustration the lone shrimp acted differently from the others that were all about him. In our society today it is easy to find ourselves going the opposite direction. When that happens, what do you think our little grain of sand should be? What will keep us upright?

One thing is sure and never changes--it is God's Word, the holy Bible! We can depend on its teachings to keep us right-side-up in an upside-down world.

The Psalmist says this:

"I have laid up thy word in my heart,
that I might not sin against thee."
--Psalm 119:11

In our constantly changing world we need something that we can fully depend on, something by which we can test everything that comes our way.

In our culture there is a tremendous amount of peer pressure to conform to other people's expectation, whatever the situation. In other words, become one with the crowd. After all, everybody's doing it!

Even advertising bombards us from morning to night. Use this, do that. The housewife hears every day that if she doesn't use brand x soap, her clothes will be gray. People won't like to be around you unless you use the right toothpaste. Young people display certain brand names on their jackets, shoes, hats, sun glasses. Eat this food, follow that diet, drink this, buy what we tell you and you are a winner!

The pressure to fit in is relentless. But what may be "in" today may be outdated by tomorrow!

The Bible gives many examples of individuals who had the strength of character to resist the pressure to conform.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon made a large image that exalted his kingdom, then ordered everyone to bow down to it. Three young captive Hebrews vowed that they would not worship the image, even if all others did.

The king had warned that if anybody did not bow down to the image, they would be thrown into a blazing furnace. But no such threat could alter the convictions of the three young Hebrews. They answered without hesitation:

"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace
the God we serve is able to save us from it,...
But even if he does not, we want you to know,
O king, that we will not serve your gods
or worship the image of gold you have set up."
--Daniel 3:16-18

The three captives were willing to face even the hottest furnace, rather that conform to the majority and go against their beliefs. As a result, they were thrown into the blazing furnace, but were delivered without the slightest harm. As the Bible says, there was not even the smell of smoke on their clothes. The king and the crowds saw with their own eyes how God protects those who courageously resist such subtle and often not so subtle pressures.

Another Hebrew captive, who served another king in Babylon, resisted intense pressure from the "crowd."

Daniel was chosen by the king as one of the top officers over the land of Babylon. And he was so successful, it made all the other officers jealous. They watched carefully to see how they might accuse him before the king of some negligence, but they found nothing to fault him. However, they did discover that Daniel prayed every day to the God of heaven before his open windows.

These scheming officers convinced the king to make a law that no one in the kingdom should pray to anyone but the king for 30 days. Those who disobeyed this law were to be thrown to the hungry lions!

Daniel got the message quickly, and obviously his life was in peril. Did he go home quietly that night and close the blinds and hide in his closet when he addressed the King of the Universe? On the contrary, the next time Daniel prayed, he opened his windows as usual. Quickly the spies hastened to the palace and reported just what they had found. Reluctantly the king gave the order that Daniel must be punished, and Daniel landed in the pit with the lions.

What happened to this brave man who would not "fit in" with what the rest of the officers thought should be done? As you read this fascinating story in the 6th chapter of Daniel, you discover that the God of the universe didn't prevent Daniel from being thrown to the lions, but He was right there and protected his faithful servant.

It isn't always easy to buck the crowd, to go against the tide of popular opinion, to stand alone for principle. It is reassuring to know that God is right beside us when we seek His wisdom and help, whatever the emergency. The apostle Paul gives the following good advice:

"Don't let the world around you
squeeze you into its own mould,
but let God re-make you
so that your whole attitude
of mind is changed."
--Romans 12:2

May God help us not to give in to the demands of the crowd and be pressed into its mold. Remember Dr. Martin Luther's famous words when ordered to deny what he had written and join the majority? "I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise." He was willing to endure any pressure to conform rather than go against what he knew was right.

Each one of us needs the "status stone" of God's Word, to have it securely fastened in our hearts and minds. It is imperative that we stay right-side-up in an unpredictable, topsy-turvy world. When the crowd cries foul, we need to stand in defense of our convictions and obedience to God's holy Word, no matter what may happen.

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