We are constantly influencing and being influenced.
Even now, as you read this, you are being influenced by these words. You are taking them in and letting them dance in your mind. You’re interested and focused. For that, I thank you.
We look to entertainment, education, conversation, nature, and God. We look to others, our elders, our peers, our leaders, and coworkers. We look around for the rules. We incorporate these things into our customs, our culture, our values, our behavior. Even quirks, like how I stir my coffee counter-clockwise, and how I count to 3 at stop signs. I’ve gotten these from others. I’ve been taught these things. I have given someone else enough influence over me that I copied and applied their actions.
If you look at teenagers and college students, you see influence at its high peak (at least I do). They’re looking at each other, other generations, the media… they’re looking to figure out their place in the world, how to plan their adult lives, their dreams, their strengths.
Women look at catalogs, at Pinterest, and at each other to figure out what to wear. A year ago, I didn’t know I wanted a sweater with lace on it. But I saw it and I thought it was cute on the ad, and I was influenced enough to pick it up and purchase it. Sometimes a friend would come shopping with me and say “OH YOU HAVE TO GET THAT!” and guess what? I trusted their opinion enough to buy the thing.
The problem with influence, however, is when we get off-balance. We begin to be influenced by people who are not leading us to make great decisions or living lives that we want to mirror. We start to suffer the consequences of influence, of being influenced to complain, influenced to be irresponsible, influenced to treat others poorly.
You’d think the hammer would come down on the influencer, that they’d be the ones to receive their due for their part in poor decisions, but no. The person who is influenced is the one who suffers the consequences. They have a choice: to either influence or be influenced. And they know that if they continue down the path of sheep, they’ll soon turn into victims of their own poor judgment.
I have learned that people change. They become byproducts of their environments, and if those environments are toxic enough, that they, too, carry toxicity around. Their advice, conversations, and entertainment… are trash. Completely useless to me. They start selling materialism to someone who doesn’t buy it. They start describing their entertainment to someone who couldn’t care less about those things. They start complaining about things that aren’t real problems, because they lack perspective. They haven’t seen what I’ve seen, and they probably won’t. And though it breaks my heart that they’re living small lives inside their poisoned sub-cultures, I know I have to be cautious to intentionally impart wisdom and not receive any influence from them. It takes control, and it takes me being comfortable saying “no” and saying it often.
Believe it or not, we’re called to be friends with people who contribute 0% to our lives and our walks with God. They probably don’t realize it, and that’s probably a good thing. Jesus modeled it. He was a real friend to people whose lives looked nothing like His. He could take their good traits with their questionable choices, and love without the person realizing He would never make the decisions they were making. He influenced fully and perfectly, and He received influence flawlessly and carefully. He could hang, but He didn’t get dragged down.
I’ve heard it said “you’re an average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” and I have mixed feelings about that. Jesus wasn’t an average of His friends. But I bet He spent the most of those 33 years in communion with the Father, and I bet He had Joseph’s mannerisms, and that He had the same smile crinkles that His mom had. And when His friends were weeping for Lazarus, He wept. When His disciples complained and doubted, He got frustrated. You can see it in His words. When Peter cut a soldier’s ear off, I bet Jesus reacted strongly to calm His friend down. He was influenced, but He wasn’t overthrown. He let the behaviors of others affect Him, but not change Him. He was the constant. And thankfully He still is.
I pray that we learn to define our Constant, and that we lead from that. I pray that we set our eyes on eternal things, and speak from that. I pray that we are fully entertained by the presence of God, and that we don’t go looking for amusement in drunkenness, debauchery, drugs, and crappy relationships. Trust me, those are dead-end streets and huge time-wasters. Life’s hardships will be waiting for you to deal with them right where you left them, and the best feeling is when you have loving support you can trust to influence you wisely in your decisions.
Look for people who will pray with you. Look for people who ask you how your walk with God is going. Look for people who want to spend quality time with you without any other motive but to spend time with you. Look for wisdom, and people who have walked through life making decisions you respect. Loyalty. Commitment. Kindness. Good moms. Good dads. Look for those who are quick to make peace, slow to anger, rich in love. Let those people weigh in, and let them in close. They’re not perfect, but they’re great company for the journey. They’re walking where you wanna go.
What’s influencing you today? Who is leading you? Who are you leading? Are you making a difference in this world at all, or are you a consumer? I pray you use your measure of influence wisely. I pray you are hyper-aware of the permission you give to others to affect your behavior, your relationships, and your lifestyle. You were made for the great things, and given dreams for a reason. You were given something unique to carry, a heart to do something that reflects the heart of God in you. I pray you realize that while you still have time, and that you get to enjoy what it’s like to live as the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s a lifestyle of influence.