A few days ago, on the last weekend of the Christmas holidays, my sister Judy and her husband Jamie hosted a family dinner at their home in Westboro for all the Hartgerinks who were within driving range. As usually happens at such gatherings, the conversation was lively and stimulating. My family is populated by people who hold strong convictions and express them freely, so animated discussions are the norm.
One noteworthy event of the evening was that Jamie introduced me to Kiva, one of his latest passions. Kiva is an innovative enterprise offering an internet-based mechanism through which individuals can invest directly in microfinance loans to entrepreneurs in the Third World. Microfinance is a great concept, and I might blog about it in more depth sometime soon. Enabling small entrepreneurs to be successful is one of the most effective ways of ending the cycle of poverty. It’s a concept that an increasing number of Christian agencies and enterprises have been implementing to great effect in recent years (Kiva itself, although not an explicitly Christian enterprise, was founded by Christians as a direct expression of Biblically-based convictions – for more background, click here).
But that’s a topic for another day. Today, I want to look at the themes of impact and influence. Prompted by the discussion last Saturday evening, as well as other recent events and conversations, I’ve been thinking about the power we have to influence others. I have come to the conclusion that many of us underestimate the impact that we can have on those around us.
Of course, we have probably all known at least one or two of those seemingly self-assured individuals who simply blaze a trail and expect others to follow, not wasting any time wondering if they have impact. They have a true gift of leadership, and people follow them naturally.
But this post isn’t for the natural leaders. It’s for the rest of you – those of you who don’t think of yourselves as leaders. I myself am a fairly quiet person. I was a middle child – the third in a family of four (I mention this because birth order has a significant impact on how we perceive ourselves). I don’t really see myself as a natural leader – I am more comfortable working alongside leaders, supporting them and helping them succeed. However, I do want my life to count for something – and I am often surprised at the impact people say I have had on them.
Let me relate one snippet of our dinner conversation that illustrates my point. At some point during the meal, my nephew Adam (age 18) was holding forth on some topic or other when he used a word that few people of his generation use, let alone even know. It got my attention because this was a word that my father – Adam’s Opa – used often. Although English was not his first language, Dad used it very well – better than many native English-speakers. He and Mom also spent a lot of time with their grandchildren over the years, especially the Cameron children (Simon, Adam and Sarah) who lived very close to them. As a result, many of their habits, convictions, passions and humourous foibles rubbed off on their grandchildren. We see this not only in more significant matters such as character and convictions, but even in small personal habits – mannerisms, turns of phrase, and even vocabulary.
My siblings and I are different in many ways, but we and our children also have many attributes in common, one of which is a very lively sense of social responsibility. Why does our family care about such things? At least in part, because concern for the poor and downtrodden was modelled for us by my parents, both of whom were people of integrity and compassion who were active in several social causes. My parents left an imprint on their children and grandchildren.
This post isn’t really about my parents, or Kiva, or Adam. It is about influence. All of us have the potential to leave a significant imprint on the people around us. We may not all be leaders in the public sense of that word but we can all be influencers – each using our own gifts and abilities, which differ from person to person. If even secular people realize this, believers in Jesus ought to realize it even more. One major stumbling block is the common tendency to compare ourselves to others whom we may see as more gifted, more articulate, more capable than us. A helpful observation by author and Bible teacher Craig Hill is that Satan wants you to focus on what you don’t have and what you can’t do, whereas God wants you to focus on what you do have and what you can do.
Jesus, whom I call Lord, told his followers to let our light shine before people, that all might see our good works and praise our Father in heaven. We are to draw attention not to ourselves, but to Him, so that his light might shine through us. We aren’t all the same, and we don’t all have the same gifts, but we can all influence the world around us. We don’t even have to try hard to do this. All we have to do is get our focus off of ourselves onto God, and pay attention to the opportunities that He puts in front of us, trusting Him to lead us. If we believe that Jesus is alive and that He lives in us, nothing could be more natural than to let His life flow out through us to touch the people around us – people He loves, people He died for, people he wants to see included in His Kingdom that is coming.
I want my life to count for something; I want to leave an imprint – the imprint of Jesus. How about you?
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NOTE to City Church small group leaders – I’ve included this post in the Small Groups category because it could function as a useful discussion topic in small groups. Representing the character of Jesus to others is a key small group value.