The Fragrance of Christian Influence
People have long been aware of the value of influence. Plutarch said that “a word or nod from a good person has more weight than the eloquent speeches of others.”
Just as plants yield fragrances, so people exert influence — for good or ill.
What is influence? It sometimes is defined as the “ability to produce an effect without apparent force or direct authority.” Some people, by virtue of their personalities, have greater influence than others. A spiritual person longs to exude more influence for good. How can we develop greater Christian influence? Here are some principles for meditation.
Try to cultivate a genuine interest in people. Get to know the names of those with whom you have frequent contact — the lady at the market, your auto mechanic, your doctor, pharmacist, etc. Get on a first-name basis; inquire about their families, etc. In a bustling society, people are surprised and pleased when someone expresses personal interest in them.
When engaged in conversation with others, do not dominate the scene. Everyone has encountered the type of person with whom you cannot “get a word in edgewise,” and such motor-mouths are not appreciated. Be willing to listen as well as to converse. Show folks you value what they say — even if it’s trite and sometimes almost nonsensical.
Don’t be a know-it-all. No one is, but not-a-few think they are. There is no subject upon which they cannot pontificate for hours — whether they know anything about it or not. If you have a medical problem, they can completely diagnose it, recite a number of cases where friends have died of the ailment, and provide you with a healing remedy that may be ordered from Mexico. If your automobile is running “rough,” they know exactly what the problem is, though they may be unable to discern a screwdriver from a wrench. One can hardly influence others when he acts as if he knows everything about everything.
In attempting to exert Christian influence upon worldly friends, do not begin by correcting everything you observe that is wrong in their lives. If you attempt to initiate a relationship by immediately calling attention to their dress, language, recreational activities, political orientation, religious aberrations, etc., you likely will get nowhere with them. First, influence them by example. People listen to the way you talk, they observe how you dress, they soon become familiar with your patterns of religious activity. If they have a spark of spiritual interest, eventually they will comment or ask questions. Watch for open doors. You don’t have to break them down.
Be patient with people. Remember how long it took you to learn the fundamentals of the Christian life (read Titus 3:1-3). Growth does not come instantly, but slowly and steadily. If you appoint yourself as the one who sets the time-table for growth in the Christian “babe,” or for others who have spiritual problems, you will become frustrated and irritated — if and when your expectations are not met. Watch for signs of growth; encourage and commend these. Compassion and patience are not compromises.
In teaching, learn the art of indirect maneuvers. For example suppose a person says: “We are saved by faith, not works. Baptism is a work, so it can’t be a part of the salvation process.” Instead of responding, “That’s false doctrine!,” why not say something like this. “You know, there are a couple of passages on this theme that are intriguing. Jesus described ‘belief’ as a work [John 6:29; cf. Revelation 2:26], and God saw the ‘works’ of the people of Nineveh as they ‘repented’ [Matthew 12:41; Jonah 3:10], yet both belief and repentance are required by God. Why don’t we study these texts?”
Exerting influence is a skill- — almost an art form — and every Christian needs to study more about how to influence others for good, whether they be non-believers, weak kinsmen in Christ, family members, or special friends.