By Richard Blackaby
I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a home that was a laboratory for godly influence. My father, Henry, was a shy, introverted Canadian. But God used him to exert enormous influence on others. As his first-born child, I was keenly aware of how exceedingly ordinary my father was. I could produce an extensive list of his shortcomings. Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny that many people wanted to hear from him. Growing up, people regularly came to our home to ask my father questions. Large crowds gathered to hear him speak at conferences. As he became better known, he was invited to the White House on more than one occasion, as well as to the United Nations and the Pentagon. He met with a number of world leaders on several continents. Watching my father, I wondered at an early age why some people are influential and others aren’t. Why are some people constantly being asked to share their thoughts, while others can’t find anyone who will listen to them?
Society is inundated with people who want to influence others. Political candidates constantly vie for people’s attention. Social media has provided a forum in which anyone can pontificate about their views, regardless of how misguided they might be. People clamor for attention and, at times, go to great lengths to obtain it. People often make outrageous or eye-catching statements on social media for no other apparent reason than to capture people’s attention for a few brief moments.
What does it take to be a person of genuine influence? What kind of person must you be for people to take you seriously? Here are a few thoughts:
Have something of value to say
Modern society mistakenly assumes all opinions are equally valuable. This presumption is patently ridiculous. If a total stranger at the table next to mine at Starbucks is talking about what stocks to invest in, I might listen for a moment to see if he has anything insightful to say. But if that person is Warren Buffet, I’ll be calling my broker before I finish my latte! While everyone is free to hold and express an opinion, clearly not every viewpoint is backed by a successful track record and adequate knowledge. I once served on a discussion panel at a conference where we were asked for our thoughts about a movie that was recently released. One panel member had strong opinions about the movie. Ironically, he had not actually seen it. Those who had were far more favorably disposed.
How do you become someone who has something to say? Study. Think. Prepare. If you haven’t done your homework, remain silent. Too many people want the prestige of influence without paying the price to earn it. Many pastors want to be invited to speak at conferences, but they are unwilling to rise at 4 a.m. each morning like my father did so they have something fresh and insightful to say.
Refrain from speaking when you have nothing of value to contribute
I have known people who spoke to every issue, regardless of whether they had anything to contribute. I remember attending meetings with my father when I was a boy. During the business sessions, I observed the same people repeatedly approaching the microphones to speak. It was clear to everyone that these people had not pondered the matters and that their brain was desperately attempting to catch up with their mouth! Their words had no impact on the crowd, but they would nevertheless return to the microphone again and again with something new to say. Even as a youth, I recognized how pitiful it looks when you long to be taken seriously but have nothing of substance to offer. The author of Proverbs sagely declares, “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (Prov. 17:28). It is humbling to acknowledge that we may never appear more profound than when we say nothing.
Always Tell the Truth, Regardless of How Unpopular
Sadly, in today’s politically correct climate, people frequently say things that are patently untrue but politically correct. In corporate America, people are tempted to say what management wants to hear rather than what they need to hear. If you always tell the truth, you may not always be popular, but your opinions will carry weight. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Neville Chamberlain wanted everyone to agree with him that the peace treaty he had signed with Hitler would provide “peace with honor.” Winston Churchill, rather than towing the popular line, told the truth. His honesty initially made him an object of ridicule. But people ultimately turned to him for guidance, because they discerned that he would always share the facts, however harsh they might be. If you only tell people what they want to hear, you may avoid conflict, but, in the long run, you will also be ignored.
Influential people have an uncanny sense of timing. Jesus warned His followers to beware of casting pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). There is no point in sharing precious truth with someone who will only despise it. Better to wait until the time is ripe and the audience is open.
I remember seeing this scenario play out with my father many years ago. A prominent leader in our denomination believed our churches should make a significant change. He made a motion that the denomination should vote on his proposal the following year. He then proceeded to travel across the country convincing people to accept his viewpoint and enlisting support for the upcoming motion. At the following year’s convention meeting, the man made a powerful presentation. There was no opposition, and it appeared the motion would pass unanimously. As the discussion wound down to a close, a pastor spoke up and said, “We have not heard anything from Henry. I’d like to know what he thinks about this proposal.” Indeed, my father had remained quiet throughout the proceedings. Dad rose and briefly shared how he had some concerns about the proposal, both biblically and practically. Then he sat down. I could feel the air leave the room. The vote was taken, and the motion was resoundingly defeated. The man pushing the proposal was so angry that he immediately left the meeting and drove home. Ironically, he later complained that my father had exerted undue influence on the denomination! This man had spent a year campaigning. My father had merely answered a question. That day I witnessed the profound difference between those who use worldly methods to influence others and those who exert influence because they are people of influence.
Most importantly, be led by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul exhorted, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:16-18).
We live in confusing times. Predicting the future is impossible. But we have access to someone who knows the future. The Holy Spirit knows the counsel of God the Father. He understands what matters and what doesn’t. With such a valuable resource available, it is foolish not to cultivate our relationship with the Spirit.
Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit at his or her new birth. But there is a profound difference between having the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. D.L. Moody said we must continually be refilled with the Spirit because we “leak!”
Wise leaders regularly study God’s word. They spend time in quiet and solitude so they can discern God’s still, small voice. Insightful leaders commune with God frequently so they know what is on His heart.
It always intrigued me that people would go to such lengths to hear my father’s opinion. I realized that he didn’t have a much higher IQ than average people. He didn’t possess “insider information.” But he regularly talked with God, and everyone knew it. If people know you commune with almighty God, they will want to know what you have heard.
In the confusing, divisive time in which we live, we need God to grant us the maximum influence possible, not for our sake but for the benefit of the people around us who need to hear God’s wisdom.
In 2020, the nation needs you to be a person of significant spiritual influence. What are you willing to do this year so you become one?
Reposted with permission from Richard Blackaby www.richardblackaby.com/becoming-a-person-of-influence/ Richard is the President of Blackaby Ministries International, an international speaker, and the author or co-author of more than 30 books.
Photo: Courtesy of Blackaby Ministries: Henry Blackaby shakes hands with President Bush, May 2006 in the East Room of the White House when Blackaby was honorary chairman of the National Day of Prayer.