When talking about influence, let’s consider Websters definition: “The capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” The truth is we all are influenced by someone or something, and in the same regard we are influencers ourselves. In John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he bemones, “Leadership is about influence, nothing more, nothing less.” So, if leadership is influence, who wouldn’t like to improve their ability to influence others? I believe, in order to be the best leader I can be, I need to increase my ability to influence others. There are some practical ways we can all improve our ability to influence others we interact with.
The first point to consider is to be willing to step into someone’s life, regardless of position, and influence them where they are. Everyone wants to be an influence to those who are at the top of their game. Who wants to influence those who are struggling, and at the lowest point? Most people will simply pass on jumping into someone else’s mess, someone else’s pain. However, great influencers, great leaders, reach out to those that are down and help back up. When you invest in those who are struggling, your influence is multiplied and you will have a greater return on your investment.
Another key to improving your ability to influence others is being consistent. When you are consistent in your actions, your words, walk with integrity, you build trust with those you interact with. When others trust you, they may be empowered to make the difficult choices, do the difficult work, and move to a more positive position. We all enjoy dealing with others who say what they mean, mean what they say, and then follow through with what they said. In constructing walls out of brick, things are held together by the mortar. Consistency in your influence is like the “mortar” that holds the assorted pieces of the relationship together. If you have relationship A.D.D. and can’t seem to stick it out your level of influence will be minimal.
The greatest influential relations are based on a transformational principle as opposed to a transactional one. If you’re like me, you want the best for others. When you approach the opportunity to influence others with idea of what you can do for them, rather that what you can get from them, your influence has more weight. By using your influence to help someone grow and transform, instead of your own personal gain, the influence is proven more valuable. If you can practice this principle you are coming at things from pure perspective. More often than than not you will be blessed in the process.
Feelings can change. For some people their feelings change with the wind and you never know how you will need to approach things. Where feelings are fickle, commitment is steadfast. Commitment is not supposed to change. Just like being consistent builds trust in the relationship, being committed lets the other person they can count on you. Your influence can only grow when others know you are there for them. If you are a person of faith, your commitment to others is actually a sign of love. Love is the greatest influencer of all, and if you approach influencing opportunities from this position, success is almost guaranteed.
When we talk about faithfulness we are saying, “Dependable in light of our current circumstances.” When you tell someone, “You can count on me,” that means, if you are faithful the person, they can count of you regardless of what comes about. I believe we all want to be faithful. As a husband or wife, we want to be faithful to our spouse. As a parent, we want to be faithful in providing for our children. The truth of the matter is, if we are going to be faithful it is usually going to cost us something. Provision requires work and effort; things come at a cost. The same is true for the Christian as we live out our life in a fallen world.
Christianity is the only world religion where salvation is a free gift. Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) … For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Every other world religion requires its followers to “do” something in order to receive salvation. Although the Christian does not “pay” for “do” anything to receive salvation, to live the life Jesus wants us to live does come at a price. The price is tribulation. The Bibles describes in several verses how the believer will face struggle and hatred solely for claiming the name of Jesus. The funny thing is we are supposed to pray for and bless those who persecute us. This is the type of follower Jesus is looking for and he describes this in our text: Revelation 2:8-11
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’”
The Apostle John addresses the church of Smyrna by saying “God, meaning Jesus, has something to say to you.” The phrase “first and the last” found in verse 8, is seen multiple times in the book of Isaiah and describes God. Add this to, “was dead and has come to life,” depicts it’s Jesus doing the talking. In his deity, Jesus came to earth; and in his human flesh, was put to death. Yet, he displayed his power by rising from the grave and is alive today. Amen! The first thing Jesus says to the believers in Smyrna is “I know your tribulation and your poverty.” Jesus knows everything! If you feel you are going through a struggle, having a difficult time, rest assured, Jesus knows. Nothing takes him by surprise. As a matter of fact, Satan cannot do anything to harm you unless he first gets permission from God himself. So, why was the church in Smyrna facing tribulation and poverty?
Smyrna was located in present day Turkey so it was a seaport controlled by the Roman empire. There was vibrant trade and commerce in Smyrna and it was not difficult to earn a good wage and live a comfortable life. That is unless you were a Christian. The Roman empire was ruled by a Caesar. A Caesar is a title, much like a king, emperor, or president. The Roman practice was to worship Caesar like God. This was no problem for the people in Smyrna until they became a Christian. When you are a Christian you are to “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOURMIND’” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). You see, the Smyrna believers could not worship Caesar as god because they worshiped Jesus. In light of their decision, the Roman government seized their property and made it difficult for them to earn a living. You might be facing some of similar struggles in your life as a Christian today. We know there are followers of Jesus Christ all around the world who face every struggle known to man just because of their faith. However, Jesus knows the struggle. He knows the pain. So, why does Jesus allow struggle and pain in our lives?
There are several reasons the Christian may face struggles in this life, and we see it in the Bible. One way God allows trials is to keep us humble. Look at the life of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. In this passages Paul describes “a thorn in his flesh” and how he asked God three times to remove it. God did not remove it, but he answered him back, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” In order to keep the greatest missionary to ever live and writer of 2/3 of the New Testament humble, God kept Paul under a constant trial. Yet, Paul remained faithful. Sometimes we must endure struggles because God wants us to be able to help others through our experience. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 explains how when we find comfort in our affliction, can comfort those who are experiencing the same thing. Sometimes people do not understand another person’s struggle and have a hard time ministering to them. But when you have “walked in another person’s shoes” you can understand what they are feeling and comfort them accordingly. Jesus’ brother, James, teaches us the various trials we face produces endurance and when endurance has its way we are made complete (James 1:2-3). So, sometimes God uses struggles in life to grow us. The trick is to find the purpose in the pain. I think we all will agree, when we face times of struggle we tend to get closer to Jesus. Philippians 3:10 teaches us we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” Suffering leads us to pray more, read scripture more, be more devoted to Jesus.
As if facing trials in life isn’t bad enough, sometimes you must deal with fake people in the church. Apparently, the church was full of people who weren’t what they said they were. Jesus calls them the “synagogue of Satan” in verse 9. Just because someone goes to church doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Just because someone prays or reads the Bible, does not make them a Christian. You can even believe in Jesus just like the demons do (James 2:9) and not be a Christian. Sadly, some estimates say 8 out of 10 people in the United States who claim to be a Christian have no clue what it takes and are living a lie. So, before we end this message, let’s be clear on what the Bible says it takes to be a Christian. First, you have to admit and confess with your mouth you are a sinner and are in need of a savior. The Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23). Then you must believe Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Then you must choose Jesus and make him Lord of your life (Romans 10:13, John 3:18). If this describes you, Great!
It is good to have comfort in Jesus because there will come a day when things are going to worse than what they are right now. Jesus tells the believers in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (v. 10). Wait a minute, wasn’t the church in Smyrna already suffering? Yes, but it was about to get worse. History teaches the Christians in the Roman empire faced great persecution. Starting with Nero in 64 AD, the Roman government treated Christians harshly. This continued for many years in which the all the apostles, except for John, would be put to death. John was exiled to the island of Patmos and wrote the book of Revelation around 94 AD. Historians describe the persecution of the Christian church lasted till 313 AD, when Constantine became Emperor. We do not know what the Christians in Smyrna faced, but it must have been bad because Jesus challenged them to be faithful unto death. If they remained faithful they would receive “the crown of life” (v. 10). The crown of life is not salvation, but a reward for standing true. Think about the Olympic Games and how when someone finishes first they are given a gold medal. The crown of life is like that. The Bible teaches when the Christian goes to Heaven they will lay their crown down at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:10-11). However, only the faithful will receive a crown. What will you have to lay at the feet of Jesus?
I think it is a fair statement to say, “Everyone wants to get along.” Yet, it seems we find ourselves in conflict with others from time to time. So, what do we do to get back to the peace we all desire? Might I suggest, approaching conflict with a peacemaker’s mentality. You might not be a person of faith, but the Bible gives some pretty good instruction in this area. Romans 12:18 reads, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Now that’s a pretty large undertaking to live out; especially in dealing with people who are not as interested in being at peace.
One this for certain, if you are going to attempt at being a “peacemaker,” it will require intentionality and a few ideas along the way. It will also require understanding, empathy, courage, and a steadfastness to resolve the conflict at hand. The following ideas are by no means exhaustive, but can be a launch point for your efforts.
Usually conflict in relationships, either personal or professional, result from one or both parties feeling hurt in some way. If this the case, be the first to apologize. Swallow some pride and don’t wait on the other party to apologize. This will give opportunity for the other party to respond in like manner. Apologies do not come with explanations. Using “but” or “because” after an apology is not much of an apology and does not give you the right to lay out your case. A sincere apology is one where you own up, take responsibility for the words you said or action you have taken. In the same breath, only apologize if you have something to apologize for. Apologizing just for the sake of rendering peace does not promote resolution, but it could foster codependent lifestyles.
Sometimes promoting peace does not deal with conflict, but rather unresolved issues. This is where intentionality and courage come into play. If issues go unresolved for long periods of time, they will fester and eventually come to the surface larger than they were at conception. In any relationship, personal or professional, meet your issues with the other person head on and deal with them the best way possible. When you meet issues head on, it gives the parties involved to work together as a team to develop meaningful solutions to achieve the peace both desire. It also helps to be empathetic to the other persons situation and their past circumstances.
Regardless of the situation, communication plays a vital role in achieving peace. In times of stress and anger, words will be said but may not be heard or understood. For example, with elevated heart rates men develop substantial hearing loss. The male brain begins to secrete hormones associated with the natural fight of flight process, thus limiting their ability to hear. Self-preservation supersedes hearing. Studies have shown when you communicate by speaking the truth in love, the point is generally better received. Techniques such as bookending a complaint with two compliments can be beneficial. Research also shows for every harsh comment it will take five positive comments to regain sociable communication pattern. However, sometimes it may just be better to bite your tongue. If your desire is to keep and restore peace, it might be better to leave things unsaid. Think about three points when thinking about what to say: Is what I’m about say true? Is what I’m about to say serve a purpose? Does what I’m about to say encourage or edify the other person? Unless you can answer yes to all three, what you want to say may be better unsaid.
Finally, if you are at an impasse, and a peaceful resolution seems unattainable, look to an outside source for help. A trusted friend, a mutual and neutral party, a pastor, coach, or counselor may serve to be beneficial to helping you solve the issue at hand. With an extra set of eyes focusing on the points of conflict, chances are a team effort will establish strategies to achieve the desired peace both parties desire.
If you have been around the block a time or two, you’ve undoubtedly experienced conflict in your relationships. Whether it’s in a personal relationship with your significant other, or a professional one with a co-worker or boss, conflict will raise its ugly head from time to time. How do we successfully deal with conflict and move back to the harmony we all desire? One key aspect to handling conflict is to approach it in a spirit of empathy. By definition, empathy is the identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. It doesn’t mean you agree their point of view; just that you are willing to walk in their shows for a moment in time. When you approach conflict with a spirit of empathy several things will occur that will empower you to move toward a resolution.
The first thing that occurs when practicing empathy is you see things from a different point of view. When you refuse to operate in defense mode, you objectively see things from the other person’s perspective. Again, you don’t necessarily have to agree with perspective, but with an objective and open mind, you can see other solutions to the conflict at hand.
The second thing that happens when operating with empathy is it allows you to understand the other person’s feelings. During conflict, emotions can run hot and it may be difficult to manage your own feelings. With an empathetic spirit, you are better able to keep your feelings in check, and in turn, identify and understand the other person’s feelings. The understanding of the other person’s feelings helps to create an emotionally safe environment and can help both of you see the big picture.
A third benefit in practicing empathy is helps you to understand the other person’s motivations. In the heat of conflict our ability to think clearly is diminished and we can make assumptions about the other person’s motivation. We mistakenly assume their motivation is self-serving and not in our best interest. Although you might disagree with the other person’s motivation, it does not mean they are trying to harm you. The empathetic spirit allows you to step outside your own assumptions and see the picture more clearly.
Still a fourth benefit to practicing empathy is it keeps the conflict at hand from creating irreversible damage. Without empathy, the smallest disagreement has the possibility to escalate into a full scale blow out. Full scale arguments can lead to hurtful words being said and regretful actions taken. By being intentionally empathetic, and objectively mindful of the other person, the anger levels will remain manageable. Empathy simply removes the fuel needed for the explosion to occur.
A final benefit to practicing empathy is becomes second nature to your personality. This practice will help reduce the number and frequency of conflicting events. While conflict in life, either in personal relationships or professional ones is inevitable, practicing empathy toward one another could help you to avoid unnecessary arguments in the future. When you do have conflicts or disagreements, you’ll be less likely to let them escalate into world war three.