Part 3…Outside influences. Many different things can happen in the world and in our lives that affect who we become. People can be affected by positive influences, such as the birth of a baby or the receiving of a new job. Negative influences, such as the death of a loved one, crime, or injustice in the world, can also affect who we become. We can allow these circumstances to bring us closer to or drive us further from the Lord. On a large scale, happenings in the world around us take their toll on who we become. I am sure every one of us has vivid memories of where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001. This catastrophe brings up an array of memories for many different Americans. Each year, we turn on the news to see a replay of that fateful September day. We may have been affected by becoming more fearful or anxious about the world in which we live. It may have caused us to reach out to people in need and look beyond our own needs. It may have caused us to harbor feelings of bitterness or anger toward the people responsible for this devastation. And that is just one event that could have affected who we are today. On a more personal level, 11 days ago, our daughter came into the world! What a huge impact she has already made on our lives! We are now parents! Even in this short time of being parents, we already have so much love for our daughter. As we became parents, we assumed a whole lot of responsibility. This little life is dependent on us for everything! Our bodies ache from sleepless nights as we are forced to become more selfless so that she can survive. Her smiles and coos encourage us and overwhelm us as we ponder how gracious the Lord has been for entrusting her to us. We will forever be affected by her, and our roles as parents will continue to shape who we are.
There are several examples in God’s Word of people who were affected by difficult outside influences, circumstances in which they had to make a choice in how to respond. The first example that came to my mind was Joseph. Upon reading the narrative of his life, it’s easy to be quick to say how unfair his circumstances were. It wasn’t his fault that he was his father’s favorite child! It wasn’t his fault that God gave him dreams. It wasn’t his fault that his dreams depicted that his family would bow down to him. It wasn’t his fault that Potipher’s wife lied about his intentions. It wasn’t his fault that the cupbearer forgot to mention his service to Pharoah. He followed the Lord no matter the tough circumstances in which he faced. He remained loyal in the midst of temptation. His faith remained strong in the midst of a pagan culture. He feared the Lord and spared and loved his brothers even though he could have killed them as soon as he saw them requesting grain during the famine. He could have blamed God for his tough times, and he could have made a lot of different decisions in order to “get back” at his brothers. I can think of so many opportunities he could have taken to spitefully punish his brothers for the pain they incurred upon him. Out of pride, he could have reminded them of his dreams. Instead, he viewed his circumstances as the sovereign plan of the Lord. He didn’t give his brothers credit for how his future turned unfolded – he clearly saw that it was God’s will that he be in Egypt, and God used what his brothers meant for harm (Genesis 50:19-21). What would you have done?
Another example that came to my mind was that of Esther. She was a Jewish girl who was forced to enter the palace of King Xerxes in order for him to choose a new wife. She was chosen as queen, and she hid her Jewish heritage for a time. Once she discovered Haman’s evil plot, she was encouraged and challenged by Mordecai to go before the king uninvited in order to save her people. She didn’t ask to be chosen as queen. And in a quick turn of events, she was faced with the choice to bravely approach the king and possibly be killed or to shrink back and hide her heritage in order to save herself. She was definitely affected by outside influences, being forced to marry a complete stranger. She could have been bitter about her future. She could have been prideful about her new status. She could have forgotten her faith and turned to pagan religions in order to hopefully save herself. She could have allowed fear to hinder her from being obedient. Instead, she remained faithful to the Lord and to her people. She considered the consequences and still chose to bravely defend her people, even in direct disobedience to the protocol of approaching the king (Esther 4:12-17). What would you have done?
Let us be encouraged that no matter what happens to us or affects us, God is sovereign over all things AND He loves us more than we could ever imagine. We can take comfort in this fact – whether we are facing joyous or trying situations! The part that we play is simple and crucial – how will we respond, and how will we allow our circumstances to affect who we become?
- Consider Joseph’s and Esther’s stories. How do you think you would have responded if you were in their shoes? What can you learn from their trust in and obedience to the Lord amidst tough times?
- Consider what your response usually is when you face difficult times? Do you turn to the Lord? Do you blame him? Are you quick or slow to see God’s sovereign purposes in those situations? Ask the Lord to help you trust Him no matter what situation you are faced with. Ask Him to give you faith to obey.
- Read Paul’s description of the outside influences that he faced in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Many of us would classify these sufferings as unfair in light of how Paul served Christ. However, Paul is not complaining when he’s listing his sufferings. In fact, he is boasting in Christ! Let us learn from the many examples of people in Scripture (Remember, they are just ordinary people like us!) who obeyed God and trusted in Him instead of allowing hard times to drive them further away from Him.