It’s simple to powerfully influence others, although it’s not easy. And most of us have been going about it the wrong way.
As a DEvangelical—a fundamental Evangelicalism survivor—I remember how I used to cheer on the “Silent Majority”, the beginning of the American Evangelicals’ attempt in my generation to bring their version of biblical morals back into the society through political power. It was driven by the fear of the degeneration of the US from a Christian country to paganism. Legislations to impose and enforce what they perceived as biblical morals would be the most effective way to reverse that path to ruins.
Almost four decades later, the effort continues well into the 21st Century. The most notable outcome in the last several years is the vast majority of the Evangelicals’ support of Donald Trump. Many observers note that these “Trumpvangelicals” see Trump as their means to enact laws that reflect their values—driven by their sense of biblical morals—of suppressing LGBTQ rights, removing access to abortion, appointing Supreme Court judges sympathetic to their causes, and other issues on the conservative agenda which, crazy enough, includes the rights to own more weapons and the denial of compassion for refugees.
Is that what Jesus Christ really teaches Christians to do?
Jesus indeed commands his followers to bring into this world God’s kingdom and his righteousness. There’s a lot to say about what “God’s kingdom” means and it’s impossible to discuss it thoroughly here. It’s possible, however, to summarize it the way Jesus does. Jesus teaches that all the laws and commandments boil down to loving God and other people with all our heart, mind, and strength. When we love God and other people to the maximum of our abilities, God rules.
I’m not going to argue whether being anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion mean loving God and people. But do these issues define God’s kingdom and his righteousness? Should anyone support these issues at the expense of ignoring the character of the person at the top of the Nation, the Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful military force, and the leader of the world’s richest country as defined by materialism? What happens to loving God and people, and especially the marginalized and the poor in our and other nations?
Can we legislate and impose love?
Jesus’ command to love God and people with all our heart, mind, and strength is simple. Putting the command into action, however, takes a lifetime of listening, learning, and letting go of selfishness. God never forces anyone to love and it’s my “job” to understand what it means to love others as I love myself and to surrender my reluctance to value others at least as much as I myself. The highest love, as Jesus teaches, is when we sacrifice ourselves for the betterment of others. Paul the Apostle teaches in Philippians 2:3 to value others above ourselves.
Speaking from my own experience, the biggest obstacle for God to express his love to others through us is our desire to gratify ourselves. Knowing God through Jesus Christ enables a Christian to overcome this selfish desire to be served. A practising Christian can follow Jesus’ teaching to be a servant to others, as in Mark 10:45 and other places in the Gospels.
Let me illustrate from a personal experience. I grew up in Hong Kong. My parents expended most of their life savings to help me go to university in Indiana. The expectation was for me to help them migrate to North America when I established a home after graduation. After I graduated, I moved to Canada, found a good paying job, married a wonderful woman, got a new car, bought a modest home, and started a family. The selfish side of me wanted to just take care of our little family. Consequently, I made up all kinds of excuses against bringing my parents over. I was even hostile to my parents to subconsciously justify my selfishness.
Then I became a Christian.
The Spirit of Christ started overnight to teach me to love. The power of love works gradually and (agonizingly) slowly in my thoughts that lead to words and deeds. The first notable change was our decision to bring Mom and Dad to our home. They were classified as refugees when they escaped communism and persecution from southern China to Hong Kong shortly after World War II. Being a British colony then, my parents had no citizenship status in Hong Kong and were classified as “stateless” for the four decades of life there.
To make a long story short, we started my parents’ immigration process and soon welcomed them into our home and later into their own home across the street from us. In addition to enjoying family life with us and our children and their own friends, two outcomes of their migration to Canada were becoming Canadian citizens and putting their faith in Christ. After decades of being “stateless”, they finally had a place they can call home as Canadians and an eternal home with Christ as Christians.
The path of learning to love is different for everyone. My path is through struggling against materialism—worries over things that money can buy—and defensiveness—the fear of being wrong. Since it seems money can relieve most worldly worries, acquiring money dominates my thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. God has been patiently teaching me for over four decades the truth in Matthew 6:24-34. It’s up to me to obey Jesus’ teaching to not allow worries about money and the necessities of life to dominate me. Instead, I need to replace the fears of perceived poverty and financial inadequacy with reliance on God’s provision, thereby freeing myself up to seek “God’s kingdom and his righteousness”.
Jesus teaches in the Bible that when a widow gives her last two small copper coins, her offering carries more value than bags of coins that the rich gives. It’s a lad’s two fish and five loafs that feed five thousand. It’s through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection that God rescues the world from sin and all its ugly and tragic consequences. The path to bring in God’s kingdom and righteousness is not through domination and winning but by giving and serving.
Jesus’ followers clamored for positions of power. But Jesus teaches that the path to greatness is through serving: “…whoever would be first must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:27-28). If Christians want the rest of the world to adopt their faith and set of values, the best way forward is to sacrificially serve others.
Internet searches for top influential persons in history often include Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, among scientists, inventors, artists, rulers, politicians, Internet innovators, entertainers, and philosophers. The common thread among those I name includes love and tireless service for others at great cost to themselves. But most of us—me included—want to hoard, win, and live a life of ease. It takes literally a transformation of the heart to put others above ourselves.
Transformation of a Christian’s heart starts with knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews 1:3 tells us that in Christ, God shows us his divine character. This portrayal is described in various translations of the Bible as: “the brightness of [God’s] glory and express image of His person” (New King James), “sole expression of the glory … perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature” (Amplified), “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (New Revised Standard). Through Jesus Christ, God shows us in a way understandable by humans what God is like. When we seek to know Christ, we learn to see exactly how God wants us to know him.
When we become a Christian and receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, the indwelling Spirit of Christ opens our hearts and minds to recognize the divine character of God. We learn Christ’s view of God. Through Christ, we see God. Our knowledge of God teaches us to think differently, away from insecurity toward security, from defensiveness toward vulnerability, and from inadequacy toward contentment. Consequently, our words and deeds toward our spheres of influence become increasingly kind, humble, and generous.
This is how Christians gain power.
I must make one thing perfectly clear: Love is not a means to power. We love because God calls us to love and it must be unconditional. Love with the expectation of gaining influence or reward is not love. Whatever love accomplishes is up to God and the recipients of love.
History shows us that historical figures who epitomize love have accomplished much. The influential historical persons listed above have changed the course of nations and the world. That’s power—the power of love. Furthermore, there are millions of less famous heroes regardless of religious faith who have made serving others their life vocation. They establish orphanages, hospitals, humanitarian relief organizations, institutions of learning, places of worship, and other personal efforts and establishments, big and small, that seek the betterment of others. As a result, numerous lives and the texture of the world are changed for the better.
But how does this apply to each of us? Our transformations are limited by the extent to which we surrender our grip on our earthly life, including our possessions, our neurotic need to hang on to grudges, our demand for financial security, and, in general, our reluctance to entrust our needs to God. Personally, we know we have been transformed to some extent and our change in character reflects that. We have become a little bit kinder, gentler, and more humble and generous. We slowly—embarrassingly slowly—learn to hear and submit to the voice of the Spirit of Christ in our interactions with our sphere of influence through texts, phone calls, emails, face-to-face conversations, what we buy, what we give, etc.
We don’t know what the power of God achieves through our words and deeds of obedience. God’s work ranges from earth-shattering to obscure. Some are immediate and some take ages—sometimes beyond our lifetime—to become apparent. Some are short-lived and some have centuries-long impact.
Our “job” is to have faith in Christ that results in sensitivity and obedience to the Spirit’s prompts. These prompts come in many forms. They may be distinctive instructions (some hear directly from God; I don’t), the proverbial “still small voice” as impressions in our heart and mind, compelling life circumstances, Bible teachings, advice from others, and as varied as any life experiences, most of which are beyond our control.
Faith tells us there is no need for us to understand fully how God’s power operates. We have seen enough evidence through the Creation and life experiences. I’m certain what we can observe is just the tip of an infinitely large iceberg. What we can perceive with our physical eyes, body, and brain is severely limited.
Our focus, therefore, is to keep this big picture in mind and concentrate on our thought life and in turn our interactions with the physical world in words and deeds.
God’s power is unleashed through the Spirit working through hearts and minds that are obedient to God’s voice. The more intimately and submissively we connect with the Spirit, the more effectively Christ’s light, living water, and power flow through us to destinations and accomplish things that may never be known to us in this life. Whatever the eternal impacts from the power that flows through our temporal words and deeds of obedience, they will be far beyond our wildest imagination.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us … For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7; 17-18, New International Version)
If Christians — or anyone — want to bring about betterment for the world through changes in the society and their nations, they should personally take the path of loving service. Most of us won’t be Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Teresa. Pew Research Center estimates there are over two billion humans who call themselves Christians. If one percent of Christians (20 million) each gives just one percent of what these historical giants have given, imagine a world with two hundred thousand Mother Teresa’s or Mahatma Gandhi’s or Martin Luther King’s! That would be powerful indeed.
The path to power is through sacrificial loving service, not by imposing our values through domination and control, and especially not through politicians.