I like to think that I am making a worthwhile contribution to the world. I spend a fair bit of my thought time dreaming about ways that I can make the world a better place – how I can influence people for good.
Now you may be surprised that I have that desire. In fact, based on the degree of success I’ve had in influencing others for good, you may well be justified for thinking: “It doesn’t look like he’s trying to do any such thing.”
But let me unpack my thinking a little bit. You may even be able to relate to me.
I feel a sense of satisfaction when something I say influences a strategic outcome or solves a problem. The higher the level of decision-making or the wider the reach, the greater the satisfaction I feel. Or when an idea that I come up with ends up being chosen and implemented. Or when I am chosen to be part of, or better still, to lead a team or a project. Or when I am able to impart words of wisdom to someone in need of answers. Or when I get to spend some time with a key leader of a good cause, or better still that person needs me in some way.
I’m married to an amazing woman who is not like me. She does not get “high” on influence in the same way I do. She happily says no to leadership – to opportunities to mix and mingle with people of influence.
I’m glad she isn’t motivated by influence like me. For both her own sake, and also for mine.
If it wasn’t for observing my wife, I would not recognise so clearly my intoxication. What I thought was a noble desire to make something worthwhile of my life – to make a difference for good in the world – is often really just me feeding my pride (Luke 11:43).
For me it feels great to be interlinked and networked with people who are recognised as making a difference in the world. I tell myself that my life is worthwhile! That I must be growing closer to the life that God has called me to live.
But, really, what should tell me that my life is worthwhile? Only this: that Jesus, my Creator, would die for me! (See Eph 2:4-9.) That’s it! Nothing I do will ever make my life any more meaningful or worthwhile. Every other human relationship or achievement pales into nothingness (or even a negative!) in comparison (Phil 3:8, Is 64:6).
Come to think of it, why should I feel any better because it was my idea that solved a problem, or that started a great new initiative, than if it was someone else’s idea? If I really cared about the kingdom of God, would I really prefer that I was the source of the great ideas? Shouldn’t it really only matter to me that great ideas are gaining influence – from anywhere or anyone? (Matt 23:6)
And if I thought my worth was demonstrated by the ideas and influence that I contribute, or the networks I am part of (Luke 18:11), what does that say about Jesus’ ultimate statement of my worth on Calvary? (Rom 2:4)
I’m even slightly drunk on influence in my motivation for writing this piece. There’s a part of me that wants you to read this and think “Wow! That Daniel guy… Ahem, that Dr Livingston rather… He’s really onto something there – I like what he wrote.” Guilty. (Luke 20:46.) I want as many “Likes” and comments as possible. I admit I’m totally intoxicated on influence!
But even though my motives are still tainted with pride and selfishness, I’m sharing this anyway. Perhaps it may help someone else realise that pursuing satisfaction by “getting high on influence” is shallow, fleeting and superficial.
What if someone else gets appointed to that desired leadership position, or to that Board or committee. Or someone else has better success in turning people’s lives around for good (Luke 14:8, Mark 9:38-41, 1 Cor 1:10-19). How can we find satisfaction independent of the success or failure of our ideas, leadership, influence and networking?
I’m happy to report that I’ve found ultimate satisfaction in Jesus. My satisfaction and worth are entirely in Him (1 Cor 1:30-31, Col 2:10). He saw our worth even when we were rebels. He died for us anyway. For you. For me (Rom 5:8). And already calls us His children (1 Jn 3:1).
Now that I know this, should I not bother to use my influence for good, because I might get my kicks out of my influence instead of my identity in Christ? No. Jesus still encourages us to be the “salt of the earth” and to “let your light shine.” But the reason we should be an influence for good is so that others will “glorify your father in heaven”, not to increase our own personal satisfaction or sense of worth (Matt: 5:13-16).
Brother Yun of the book The Heavenly Man experienced numerous amazing miracles of God’s leading, enabling him to be a massive positive influence in China. But he had to learn this lesson too. His words are golden:
“We are absolutely nothing. We have nothing to be proud about. We have no abilities and nothing to offer God. The fact that he chooses to use us is only due to his grace. It has nothing to do with us. If God should choose to raise up others for his purpose and never use us again we would have nothing to complain about” (p 345).