There are defining moments in history and in a person’s life, that point at which the essential nature or character of a person is revealed or identified or shaped. There are moments in life which seem especially significant or important, decisions which are made which can change the course of our lives or, depending on the person’s influence, which can shape history.

This week has seen the death of Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister in the UK from 1979 to 1990. I cannot change the fact that I grew up during the ‘Thatcher years’, years when this woman had significant influence in the area in which I lived for the majority of those years, years which changed the nature of the local area and which were incredibly defining for the place and people among whom I still live. As I have listened to political comment over the past few days, it is clear that she was loved and hated in equal measures and obviously left a political legacy which will be written about in the history books for years to come. (It’s always strange to me to think that I am now hearing about events in my life as historical markers, which is beginning to make me feel very old!)

Nonetheless, I am constantly reminded that we are not necessarily defined by the conditions or circumstances in which we live. These have enormous influence over us. The ‘nature vs nurture’ debate of sociology obviously does have a good deal of impact on the people we become. But as I have been meditating on the life of David – who lived among the Philistine culture for a good part of his life – and on the life of Jesus – who lived among Roman and Greek influence and yet who could never have been said to have been dominated by these cultures – I have begun to see that the kingdom of God is about more than being shaped by the culture and conditions all around us, however pervasive or dominant these may be.

The defining moment of my life occurred in October 1983, in the middle of Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister. That moment has nothing whatsoever to do with the political climate of the time. The defining moment which shaped the essential nature of my life occurred when I surrendered to Jesus for the first time and understood that His death on the cross was sufficient to atone for my sins and allow me to become a child of God. His influence on me became the defining essence of who I am.

We don’t ‘escape’ the influences of the world around us necessarily and have to be careful not to be moulded or shaped by the culture we live in. Paul tells the Romans: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2) In the Message version, we read: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

God becomes our defining moment, the point at which we are changed from the inside out. Our values, thought patterns and actions are influenced and shaped by all we learn of Him and from Him. We will always, like Margaret Thatcher, have a date of birth and a date of death that are historical points which will tell future historians something about the times in which we lived. But when we think of great heroes of the faith, it’s not the historical circumstances they lived in which define them. It is the power of God working in their lives, often to transform the cultures, which impress us. Think of William Wilberforce influencing the prevalent culture of slavery, or Hudson-Taylor, shaping the religious life of China, or Mother Teresa, working to help the poor in India. These people lived in historical circumstances which did not define them. The power of God in their lives and their obedience to the call of God were the things we remember nowadays.

Let’s allow God to be the only One who defines us and let’s understand that what He can achieve through surrendered hearts is greater than we can possibly imagine – so great that it really can leave His impression on our culture and on history.