Someone asked me a few weeks ago how I’ve gained the influence I have in my life and the question caught me off guard a little. I don’t necessarily see myself as being a person of huge influence, although I do feel really thankful for the way God has allowed me to use my gifts for the growth of his Kingdom.
But the first thing that came to mind was something I wrote about earlier this week—the passage from John 15 about how the only way to be a part of what God is doing is to stay connected to Jesus and connected to the Father.
It’s not really about theology or strategy, in other words. It’s about love.
But the second thing I thought about was how nearly every door of opportunity I’ve walked through in my life has been opened for me by someone else.
Knowing this has inspired me to open doors of opportunity for other people, which I believe has created a culture of reciprocity and generosity in my life. As I reflected on this idea I realized how vital this has been for me in terms of finding my calling, using my gifts, and gaining influence among those God has entrusted to me.
Here are three really important things I did without even realizing why they mattered:
First, I found people I admired and lived near them.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “we become like the people we hang around,” and for me, this couldn’t be any truer.
From a young age, I found people (men, mostly—but often times married couples or families) who embodied the values I wanted to see in my life, and I simply lived my life around them. I spent holidays with them. I asked them to go to lunch. I went to church with them. I just found reasons and excuses to be near them so I would become like them.
I didn’t think through this decision. I just did it. But when I reflect back I realize it was one of the most important decisions I ever made.
These people didn’t only open doors for me. They taught me, guided me, helped me understand right from wrong, and through relationship with them I was able to find myself.
Second, I was receptive to advice.
Once I found the people I wanted to be like and be around, I would ask them questions all the time and put their advice into practice. Sometimes the things they suggested didn’t work for me, but most of the time I found their direction really helpful.
As I’ve gotten older and started to mentor some younger men, I’ve realized why this thing I did without thinking about it mattered so much.
There is a certain trust you gain with someone when you take their advice.
We naturally promote people who listen to us.
I don’t think this means we have to listen to everyone who ever gives us advice (that could be a disaster). But choose a few people you trust and be willing to listen to them, even when their advice doesn’t make sense to you yet. Use the power of reasoning God has given you but also be willing to step out in faith toward something you can’t quite see yet.
Third, I gave back what I was given.
Like I mentioned above, there was a spirit of reciprocity that happened in my life because I instinctively gave back what was given to me. I believe this was God’s protection over me but I was never so focused on “getting ahead” in my own life that I missed those coming behind me who needed the same help, direction, and advice I’d needed years earlier.
The thing I have experienced, but didn’t expect, was the tremendous blessing I’ve received from giving back. Mentoring young pastors and the young people God has placed in my life has truly been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
I learn from them as much as they learn from me.
We need people ahead of us in life to show us the way, of course. But we also need people who are behind us.
The more we can be conduits of Jesus’ love, teaching, healing, and grace, the more we experience these things ourselves.