The Power Of Your Influence And The Influence Of Your Power
He was, by any standard of measurement, one of the most dominant and prominent personalities of the twentieth century.
He was an intellectual giant. He earned three doctoral degrees—one in medicine, one in theology, one in music. He was a respected physician, an admired theologian, an oft-quoted author, a superb organist, and the world’s foremost authority on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. His name was Albert Schweitzer. Some would say that he had it all. However, look at what he did. When he was thirty years old, he walked away from all that. He renounced the promise of fame and fortune in order to give his life in service to Jesus Christ as a missionary doctor in the jungles of Africa. On the banks of the Ogowe River at a little place called Lambarene, he built, quite literally with his own hands, a hospital. He paid for his medical supplies by giving occasional organ recitals in Vienna, London, and Paris. There, for sixty years until his death in 1965 at age ninety, he gave himself without reserve to the service of His Savior. He built his life upon two great principles—reverence for Christ and reverence for life— and what a magnificent life was his!
Consequently, Albert Schweitzer has had a great and powerful Christian influence on the world. I like what Norman Cousins had to say about him. He said: “The greatness of Albert Schweitzer was not so much what he has done but what others have done because of him. This is the true measure of the man.” Isn’t that a great word of tribute? “It’s not so much what he has done, but what others have done because of him.”
Cecil Myers, in his book, Living on Tiptoe, reminds us of a time when a group of educators in our country wanted to honor Albert Schweitzer and they brought him to America. The University of Chicago planned to give him an honorary degree. Dr. McGifford, the President of the university, led a delegation to meet Schweitzer’s train. The great man stepped down onto the station platform and they all greeted him warmly. Then, a few moments later, as they turned to leave the station, Schweitzer was gone. He just disappeared, vanished, slipped away. They looked everywhere for him. When at last they found him, guess what he was doing. He was carrying a suitcase for an elderly woman. You see, it was so much a part of his Christ-inspired life that it was natural for him, when he got off that train, to begin immediately to look for someone to help.
But what I remember most about that story was what Dr. McGifford said later when he reflected on it. He said: “When I saw Dr. Schweitzer helping that woman with her suitcase, I was wishing like everything that I could find somebody whose suitcase I could carry.” The power of influence. The power of example. The power of witness. It’s not just what we do in life that matters, it’s what others do because of us. Albert Schweitzer is a powerful example of a Christian who inspired those around him to want to do good and to be good.
Of course, the perfect example of this was Jesus Himself. It wasn’t just what He did, it was also what He caused others to do. It was the power of His influence. Think of the lives He touched, the lives He changed, the lives He saved. The weak and vacillating Simon Peter became a rock because of Christ’s influence. Mary Magdalene, a woman of the streets, became instead a woman of faith because of His influence. The self-seeking James, who had dreams of prestige and power and position, later became one of the first to lay down his life for the faith—and it was because of the influence of Christ. A small band of disciples—a motley crew with no money, no political power, no military weapons—quite literally turned the world upside down and altered the course of human history because of the influence Jesus had upon them.
“Now”, as James Francis expressed it, “Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of all human progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people upon this earth as profoundly as has this ‘One Solitary Life’”.
So it’s true. The power of a person’s influence, the impact of a person’s example on the world is the real measure of a person’s life. Given that truth, how do we measure up? We are called in Scripture to be “the light of the world”—to take up the torch of Christ’s ministry and hold it high. How are we doing? How bright is our light? What is the power of our influence? What kind of example do we set? Let me be more specific…
How do you influence others in your home?
Paul Gilbert put it in a little poem that goes like this:
You are writing a Gospel a chapter a day,
By deeds that you do, by words that you say,
Others read what you write whether faithless or true,
So what is the Gospel according to you?
What is the Gospel according to you at home? Are you proud of your influence at home?
Do you remember the poignant story of a little girl who had never heard the stories of Jesus, because her parents had never taken her to church, never told her about God. One day an uncle who was a devoted Christian came for a visit. He stayed with them for three days, and at each meal he would say a prayer of thanksgiving to God. The little girl was fascinated by this. She asked her uncle about it, and he told her about Jesus, about God’s love, and he also taught her how to pray. He taught her how to bow her head and close her eyes, clasp her hands and say a prayer of thanks to God. When the visit ended and the uncle departed, the next morning, the little girl came to breakfast and scrambled up into her chair. She bowed her head, closed her eyes, clasped her hands in front of her and waited for someone to say a prayer. All she heard was the tinkling of silverware and the crinkling of the morning paper. The little girl was confused. She looked up and said: “Mommy and Daddy, isn’t there a God today?”
Can people tell by the way that you live at home that there is indeed a God in your life today? My friends, there are too many homes where grace is not said before meals, too many homes where there are no conversations about the matters of the faith, too many homes where there are no family devotions, too many homes where the Bible is gathering dust on the shelf.
Alexander Maclaren was one of history’s great preachers. He had five sons and all five entered the ministry. Once at a family reunion Maclaren and all five sons were present. A family friend walked up to them and said: “Who’s the best preacher in the family?” Without a moment’s hesitation they answered: “Our mother.” Isn’t that wonderful? Thank God for mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles who speak a good word for Jesus in the home.
How powerful is your influence for Jesus Christ in the home? You see, it’s not just what we do, it’s also what others do because of us.
And how do you influence others at church?
I keep thinking of an incident which took place in a fashionable church in Richmond, Virginia just after the Civil War. It happened just as the congregation was about to receive Holy Communion. From the back of the church a black man got up and walked down the center aisle to receive the sacrament. When the people saw him, there was an audible gasp. They were shocked to see a black man in their church, let alone kneeling at the altar. So no one moved. No one else got up to go to the altar. It was an awkward moment. Not even the minister moved to serve the man communion. The tension began to mount. Something awful, it seemed, was about to happen. Well, something did happen, but it wasn’t awful. From the back of the church another person came walking down the center aisle—a stately, dignified man who was undoubtedly the most respected person in the congregation. He walked down to the altar, knelt right next to the black man, and held out his cupped hands to receive the sacrament. The minister then walked over to the two men; one black, one white, and served them together. With that, others got up, many of them weeping openly, and began to make their way down front to take communion. What could have been an absolutely disastrous moment turned out to be an absolutely beautiful one instead. By the way, that distinguished man who went down and knelt beside the black man was none other than General Robert E. Lee.
So what is the power of your influence at church? For one of you, at least, it is powerful indeed. I got a call not long ago from a young woman telling me that she had hit a rocky time in her life. She had long since stopped going to church, and in fact categorized herself as an atheist. Then she ran into this big problem she couldn’t handle and in desperation reached out for God. She said: “But I didn’t know how to find Him. I had drifted so far away. I felt depressed, overwhelmed, alone. I decided to give the church one more chance. I realize now that it was not fair, but I was going to try the church one more time as a test and I chose to come to your church. I walked in and immediately felt accepted. People greeted me at the door and an usher helped me to a seat. I happened to sit next to a wonderful lady”—and she then called the name of that lady who is in the congregation today—”and she welcomed me during the service and then she talked with me for awhile after the service. The way she accepted me has helped to turn my life around.”
The power of your influence at church. Ken Medema, the blind songwriter, seldom fails to help us see God’s truth. He wrote these words about the church:
If this is not a place where tears are understood,
Then where shall I go to cry?
If this is not a place where my spirit can take wings,
Then where shall I go to fly?
When people come here, whether to cry or to fly, your influence can make a powerful difference in their lives. You see, it’s not just what we do, it’s what others do because of us.
Then how do you influence others in the world?
How do you influence others at work, at school, or at social events—in casual conversation, or even in encounters with strangers? Are you the light of the world? Can people see the light of Jesus Christ in you?
In Cherbourg, France, during World War II, a chapel was demolished by the invading armies. In that chapel there had stood a hand-carved crucifix which was regarded as a masterpiece. As the people sifted through the rubble of the chapel, they found the pieces of the crucifix and were able to reassemble it—except for the hands. The extended hands of Christ were gone. They advertised all over France for a master artist to come and re-carve and replace the hands. Artists came, looked at the statue, and said: “I can’t do it. I can’t make it match.” After a year of similar responses from noted artists all over the world, the townspeople decided to leave it. If you go there today, you find a beautiful little chapel with this exquisite crucifix- Jesus Christ with arms extended but no hands. Underneath is a sign which reads: “Christ has no hands but our hands.”
Dear friends, if we are ever to convince the outside world of the validity of our faith, then we must practice what we preach. The world is not particularly interested in theological debate, but it is profoundly interested in whether or not our faith is impacting the behavior of human lives. The one evidence which the world can never refute is the evidence of a transformed life. And the only power capable of transforming a human life is the power of Jesus Christ. In other words, the power of your influence in the world will be determined by the influence of the power of Jesus Christ in your life.
That’s why I keep coming back to this pulpit Sunday after Sunday, pouring out my heart and my life before you; trying to help you to see that no one in all of history, no matter how strong and imposing that person might have been—no one has ever captured the world’s imagination as Jesus has. There is no one else who has ever lived like Him, and there is no one else whom so many have sought to be like in their living. As Carlyle put it: “Higher than Him thought cannot go.” Jesus is the best thing that I know. He is the One on whom I am betting my life. It is He who has called me to the pulpit, and I have spent these last nearly fourteen years trying to proclaim Jesus and to live Jesus among you. And what drives me so that I cannot slow down, even when some of you lovingly tell me to slow down—what burns like a fire in my bones consuming me bit by bit is the desire that you should know Christ and believe Christ and live Christ and share Christ in your life. I am giving my all to call you to give your all to Him. Because when Christ lives in your life, you can be a light to this world.
Remember, beloved, when it comes to the faith, it’s not just what we do, it’s what others do because of us.
Tuck that away in your heart today, please.