Friday, October 12, 2007

Courage and Influence

When we follow Jesus our lives begin to be infused with courage. The old fears that have held us back begin to fall off as we begin to do those things Jesus has prepared for us to do. I have noticed this reality in my life and the opponents of Jesus have also noticed this truth in the lives of His followers. Take for an example the account of Peter and John that Luke writes in Acts 4:
Now as they [the Jewish Religious Council] observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus (Acts 4:1,3; NASB).

The confidence of Peter and John led them to courageously proclaim Jesus in the face of hostile opposition. They were able to overcome their fear of persecution and death because they knew that Jesus had conquered death, and He promised the same to them.

Kelli, a quiet, conscientious fourteen-year-old, attended a public high school in the middle of a very liberal city. Her greatest struggle in ninth grade was not academic, but spiritual. When she learned about See You At The Pole it was something she felt she should do. Although several other kids in her church youth group had expressed interest in participating, most of her classmates had never even heard of the event. When she mentioned to them, their reaction was swift and abrupt: “What a dumb idea!” they told her. “If you show up at the flagpole and pray, everybody in school will think you’re strange. You’ll get stuck with everybody calling you weird for the rest of your life. Just pray by yourself at home!”

The night before See You At The Pole Kelli’s dad could sense she was really struggling. “Kelli, is everything okay?” She looked up at him and made a valiant effort to hold back her tears.

“Dad, I really want to do the right thing. I feel that praying at the flagpole is something I should do tomorrow, but I don’t know one other person who will be there. What if I get there and no one else shows up? What if my friends find out and think I’m just weird?”

Kelli’s dad reached out and put his arm around her shoulders. “Kelli, I have always been so proud of you and your stand for Christ. This may be one of the hardest tests you’ve had so far, and I know you’ll make the right decision. I’ll take you to school tomorrow, and whatever you decide to do about the flagpole prayer is all right with me.”

It was barely dawn when Kelli woke her dad. “Dad,” she whispered, “will you take me to school now? I’m going to pray at the flagpole--even if I’m the only one there.”

Her father’s heart ached as he watched his precious girl grip the car’s armrest all the way to school. Her face was pale but determined as she smiled at him. “It’s okay, Dad. I prayed about this, and all night long I kept hearing the same song in my head: ‘Though none go with me, I’ll follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.’ I guess being considered weird wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to me.”

As the car rounded the corner in front of the school, Kelli noticed quite a crowd had gathered--but not to pray. She recognized many of her friends and lots of other kids who were considered “popular” huddled near the flagpole. They were giggling and pointing at two students standing near the flagpole with their heads bowed in prayer. Momentary panic flashed across Kelli’s face as she opened the car door.

Her dad reached over and took her hand. “Kelli, just remember, I love you no matter which of those two groups out there you join.” Kelli smiled and nodded as she left the safety of the car and headed across the street. Her dad felt tears stinging his eyes as he watched his daughter bravely walk over toward the flagpole. How he wished he could go along, holding her hand for support. For a long, torturous minute, he watched her join the two students at the flagpole and bow her head in front of some of the most influential kids in the school. He was so proud that she had the courage to stand up for her convictions.

Suddenly, several teens broke loose from the watching crowd. Together they moved over to the flagpole and stood by Kelli. She lifted her head long enough to smile at them before continuing her prayer. As her dad watched, the number of students in the two groups began to shift. Before he finally drove away, the largest group by far was made up of those bowing their heads at the flagpole. He eagerly looked forward to talking with Kelli. He already knew exactly what he was going to say: “Kelli, I think you made the difference. I think those kids were waiting for you” (Taken from Stories For The Teen’s Heart 3; pp. 110-111)
We have much more influence than we think we do. I want you to think about that statement for a moment. Who do you have influence over? How have you seen that influence in their lives? I don’t care how beautiful or ugly you are, and I don’t care how smart or dumb you may think you are; every one of us has the power to influence someone else. Influence has very little to do with our talents, intelligence, or looks. Our influence is determined by something quite different. Erwin McManus wrote:
Character is the resource from which influence draws. Relationships are the venue through which influence travel (Seizing Your Divine Moment; p. 112).
Erwin McManus points out that our influence is determined by two factors. These two factors can only be seen in our lives when we decide to live a life of courage. Fear is the main obstacle that we have to overcome as we seek to be an agent of influence in this world. When we live with courage we are able these two factors come together to produce influence.

1. Our influence is determined by our character.
{15} But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, {16} keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16; NIV).
Character is how we live our lives. In order to have the character that God wants us to have we must first set apart Jesus as Lord in our lives. That means instead of living the way we want to live we live the way He has called us to live. We put other people ahead of ourselves, we serve, and we stay away from evil and pursue what is good. Living this way will make people question, What is the difference? What is this hope you have? That give us the opportunity to respond with love and gentleness, allowing them to know what Jesus has done for us. As the apostle Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy; Be careful about the way you live and about what you teach. Keep on doing this, and you will save not only yourself, but the people who hear you (1 Timothy 4:16; CEV).

Character is about how well we live what we say we believe. It is the opposite of being a hypocrite. A hypocrite will say one thing and do another, but a person of character will say something and do his/her best accomplish it. If we claim to follow Jesus our lives had better reflect that reality. How we live gives credibility to what we say we believe. By living godly lives, people will be drawn to Jesus. Courage is important because it strengthens us to do the right thing even when the rest of the world is doing the opposite.

2. Our influence is determined by our relationships.
{17} From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. {18} When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. {19} I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. {20} You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:17-20; NIV).
Paul calls for the elders of the church at Ephesus. When they get to Paul, he reminds them of the time they were together. He was able to do that because they had a relationship, they went though that experience together. These men had been with Paul while he proclaimed Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles. It was through relationships that Paul was able to influence people. Paul will later write that our freedom that we have in Jesus is a freedom to build relationships and to show love: For you have been called to live in freedom--not freedom to satisfy your flesh, but freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13; NLT).

We cannot hope to influence people if we don’t make an effort to interact with them. Relationships are essential in sharing the Gospel and showing God’s love to others. Yet often we will find that relationships are hard and that hurt will come because of them. Courage helps us to face the heartache, the hopeless conditions, and the tragedy that we will encounter when we make an effort to build relationships with other people.

We have the ability to influence other people. Many of the people you know are waiting for someone to follow. Are you going to be the person who will make the difference in their lives? When we have character and relationships which are fueled by God given courage we become difference makers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well said, may God bless you.

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