Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections on Influence

I've been thinking about an old favorite verse lately... "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life" (Proverbs 4:23, NLT). As far as I can remember, this verse has been referenced in support of avoiding negative influences that might lead to sin. Don't watch rated R movies, don't listen to music with hyper-sexual content, don't hang out with people who only watch or listen to said movies and music. And then later, when the possibility of dating became a reality, it was don't let yourself get too emotionally attached, don't share too many intimate details, don't let yourself fall in love at such a young age. Guard your heart.

It's not that these exhortations didn't have merit. I can honestly say that while I was not a super rebellious teenager by any stretch of the imagination, the heartache I experienced and the patterns of sin that followed me into adulthood could have at least been lessened if I'd been a little more vigilant about guarding my heart from some negative influences.

However.

While negative influences certainly need to be guarded against, what about the "positive" influences? Consider how many positive influences you have in your own life: parents, spouses, friends, other family, pastors, Bible study leaders and other members, maybe a counselor or professors, not to mention the books you're reading or podcasts you listen to... maybe we can add John MacArthur, Beth Moore, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, Kelli Minter, and more to that list of positive influences in your life. They're all speaking truth, teaching the Word of God, doing their best to "minister" to the community of believers. But at what point does this become too much of a good thing?

If you are the kind of person who finds themselves caught up in "shoulds," there might be a different lesson in this verse for you. When you allow so many people to speak into your life with their versions of Scripture and Scriptural truth, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the way Christianity "should" look; inevitably, not quite like it does in your life. If you allow so many people to "should" on you, you find yourself anxious, depressed, and exhausted. Now what?

Guard your heart. Not only from the negative influences, but from too many positive influences as well. Choose a few trusted individuals to speak into your life, and keep that boundary. The more times you repeat your troubles, (even in the form of a prayer request), the more you dwell on them. Maybe limit yourself to one spiritual book/podcast at a time, allowing yourself the chance to actually enjoy what you read or hear, and process it. And above all else, don't forget that YOU have access to the Lord yourself. YOU can open your Bible and be taught by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. You don't have to rely on the input of others to live in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ; Christ in you is absolutely enough. He will accomplish the good work He started in you, with or without John Piper (no offense, John). Whittle down the list of positive influences, and lean on the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might...

In the words of my sixth grade Home Ec teacher, "Too much of a good thing is still TOO MUCH."