Think about this. You have the privilege of exerting a godly influence on maybe one person or two, your friends, your family, the people you work around, your children, your grandchildren. All of us have the awesome possibility, responsibility, and privilege of being a godly influence.
—Charles F. Stanley, “The Requirements of a Godly Influence”
My mother, sisters, and I went to church every Sunday in dresses Mom sewed—with little puffed sleeves, Peter Pan collars, skirts that fell to just above the knees, and bows that tied in the back. Our hair was brushed and secured with a barrette; our feet were in lace ruffle ankle socks and patent leather Mary Janes. On Easter Sunday, we added white hats and little purses.
I still remember the pressure and guilt I felt when turning in the weekly Sunday School envelope with boxes to check for each spiritual discipline: Sunday School and church attendance? Lesson studied? Scripture read? Gospel shared? Later in the sanctuary, a stained-glass Jesus looked out over the congregation with a lamb in His arms, while sacred music emanated from the organ, reminding us to enter the house of God with reverence.
After we sang hymns, the pastor—with his suit, well-polished shoes, and jet-black pomaded hair—would stand and deliver the Word of God. His voice boomed, and I felt as if he were yelling at me every week. I was scared of the man who pointed out our failings and warned of the consequences that would follow if we did not repent. At the same time, his other words nourished my soul. He took the time to visit in our home and patiently explained the gospel with drawings on the back of a church bulletin. He was the first of many who told me that I had the responsibility to share the good news that had been given to me: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
In trying to be a faithful steward of my God-given gift of salvation, I’d been trying to choose who and when and where. But salvation is the Lord’s work from beginning to end. We become influencers for Christ when we let the Holy Spirit direct us.
So I did what any good Christian would do. Full of evangelistic zeal, I shared first with my best friend. I regurgitated the gospel presentation, convinced that, like me, she would be grateful to escape the hell that comes unless one has a personal relationship with our Savior. But she didn’t believe in life after death. My next attempts to share the gospel targeted my alcoholic uncles. Neither of them believed in God. One made a joke and the other asked me hard questions like, How could a loving and all-powerful God still allow bad things to happen? I concluded that I didn’t know enough, so I spent years trying to change that. However, these efforts did not improve my results in soul winning.
Years later, my husband demonstrated the piece I was missing. He simply talks to people and serves them when possible. The gospel conversations just happen as he goes about his day. In trying to be a faithful steward of my God-given gift of salvation, I’d been trying to choose who and when and where. But salvation is the Lord’s work from beginning to end. We become influencers for Christ when we let the Holy Spirit direct us. Some of the fruit of our efforts on earth may not even be revealed until heaven.
Almost 50 years have passed since my first rudimentary efforts to reach out to others for Christ, and while I’m grateful for the disciplines developed from well-meaning Sunday school teachers, I’ve quit trying to check boxes. People aren’t tools to be used so I can feel good about where I am with God. They are gifts that many times leave or are taken away too soon. When I make the effort to get to know them individually, I find that each person is a beautiful hodgepodge of strengths and weaknesses with a unique story, and I am blessed by those willing to share with me any part of their time on this planet. I still believe Christians have a responsibility to be a godly influence, but these days I’m more focused on what a privilege it is to know and love others. And it’s always exciting when the Lord gives me an opportunity to share what He’s done for me.