Minding Your Influence
By Elizabeth Murphy
When my two oldest sons were in middle school they started skateboarding at the same time it became possible to post short videos on the internet. Suddenly a huge portion of their free time was spent editing tape, picking music, and creating videos of their latest and greatest skate adventures to share with their friends—and the world. Someone in the world saw it and sent an email to my husband and me asking if we knew what our sons were up to and what kind of music they were using in a video they had posted. We did not. When asked, they told us the name of the song and admitted they chose it for how well it matched the rhythm of the skating and didn’t pay much attention to the words. We found those words on-line, printed them, and had the boys read them to us out loud. They were horrified. They were reminded at a young age that they had the opportunity to use their influence; no matter how limited, for good or bad.
In this digital age we all have greater influence on others than ever before and they have influence over us. I love so many of the things I receive on-line, but I view just as many things, both at my request and unsolicited, that cause me trouble. I jump to conclusions, doubt things I know to be true, judge, and, worst of all, I share them casually and carelessly with others. To influence means to move, compel or sway someone to produce effects on the actions, behaviors and opinions of others. As a follower of Christ, I want to be a careful steward of the influence God has given to me. To do that I need to first remember three things about myself: from whom I came, through whom I live, and to whom I am accountable.
Speaker and author, Stuart Briscoe shared these thoughts in a recent message as he talked about how we as Jesus followers interact with the world around us. When it comes to our on-line presence we must take it further and ask, “Whom should I believe”?
I did a Google search for “What should I believe on the internet?” There were 38,900,000 responses. If I am going to mind my influence I need to be more careful so I’ve come up with a list of questions and cautions to use going forward.
What is the source of the information?
Is it credible, meaning is it worthy of belief, is it trustworthy? If you can’t find a source or it takes layers of digging, it should give you pause. The size of someone’s audience or number of likes they have on Facebook or followers on Instagram is not the basis of their credibility. Google is not a discerning source either.
One way to check your source when you find something online is to see if there are written sources to back it up. Reputable publishers vet their information very carefully. Does the source have a scholarly reputation or is it just someone’s opinion? Look for additional sources that have layers of review such as large news organizations like the New York Times.
Another question to ask is who else trusts this source? At a recent retreat, I read from The Message paraphrase along with other versions of the Bible. Afterwards, a woman challenged me on my use of The Message. She suggested a website to back up her position.
The first thing on the site was a list of all those who should not be trusted as a result of using The Message. The first name on the list was Billy Graham followed by a long list of many of my personal spiritual heroes. I felt I could trust who they trusted, so I wrote the woman back and told her I appreciated her comments, but I would continue to use and love The Message. (For a reputable list of Bible versions and related commentary check out biblegateway.com.)
Why do I believe this?
Is it because I want to believe it or because I know it’s true? We often rely more heavily on our feelings than we do on the facts, so a careful check of our emotions is important if we are going to mind our influence. I find this is most true when I feel someone has been wronged. My righteous indignation flares up and if I don’t slow down, practice patience, and thoroughly investigate, I pass on falsehoods and enflame already out-of-control arguments.
I am so grateful I didn’t have to debate the many issues that mothers face today on the internet. My circle was small and the voices I heard were both experienced and trusted. If I could advise a mom now, I would tell her to limit the voices she listens to and trust herself and the God who picked her as the mother of her children.
When it comes to social media, do I know this person, their beliefs, and what they stand for?
Guilt by association is a real danger when it comes to passing along someone else’s ideas or opinions.
Have I read the material thoroughly?
Sometimes the title and the first few paragraphs of a post are so compelling and well done I hit send without thinking. I did this recently with a Facebook post and someone sent it back with a comment about reading all the way to the end and why if I had, I would have seen the author’s final conclusion and disagreed. Red faced, I read it slowly and thoroughly and then searched for the words to apologize for my hasty mistake.
Does this writer have actual experience to draw from?
I am often asked to speak to groups of moms of young children. At 55 years old I am both a mother of four nearly grown boys and a grandmother (a new one, but I officially have the title)! I feel irrelevant and struggle to prepare what I think will be helpful to these women. A young mom encouraged me by saying, “I want to hear from someone who has been there, not another mommy who is just in the trenches with me. I need wisdom, the kind that comes from experience.”
Does the entirety of God’s Word support this position?
I am so troubled by the teaching of God’s Word these days that pulls verses and uses them to prove a point without the context to support them. Long ago my friend, Jill Briscoe, taught me to look up a verse in Scripture and then find every other verse in the Bible that speaks to the same thing. That way we let the Bible speak to the Bible. I have never forgotten that very wise advice. Resources like biblegateway.com and Logos Bible software are very helpful in this along with a good old-fashioned concordance.
Most importantly, have I prayed and studied this?
I believe God wants us to be careful with both our minds and hearts, what we allow in and what we pass on. His Word tells us how and what will happen when we do.
Proverbs 24:2 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Ephesians 4:29-32 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Colossians 3:12-15 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
I know my sons remember that episode so many years ago where they didn’t mind their influence; they didn’t know they had to. We all have influence, no matter how insignificant we feel and need to work harder toward using it to honor God. We Christians do ourselves so much harm when we aren’t thoughtful and careful. Invite God into your online presence and listen intently for His voice. He is the way, the truth, and the light—and can be trusted before and above all things.