Ever wish you were more influential for the gospel? It's a truly noble desire. Unless, you start to think that your influence might be enhanced, if only you were more successful. It's not uncommon to be thinking along these lines -
“If I could only get this business off the ground, it’ll give me the credibility I need to share the gospel with my business associates”
“Once I get promoted, I’ll be able better positioned to influence my co-workers…”
“If I achieved prominence or recognition in my field, I’d use my position as a platform to honor God…”
It can be tempting to believe that particular success or notoriety would offer better opportunities to influence those around us.... except it doesn't always work that way. Tom Krattenmaker's article in USA Today tells the story of how the late Reggie White, NFL Hall of Famer came to realize that personal notoriety doesn't necessarily make for an effective proclaimation of God's truth.
In the arena of sports, few were as outspoken on matters of faith as the late Reggie White. During his Hall of Fame career as the NFL's leading defensive end, Reggie White would unabashedly proclaim his faith in public settings. Indeed, the “Minister of Defense” was as well known for his evangelistic zeal and commitment to his family as for his uncanny ability to sack quarterbacks. Yet, just before his untimely death, Reggie recognized the folly of the semi-celebrity Christian serving up endorsements for Jesus Christ.
“I used to have people tell me, 'God has given you the ability to play football so you could tell the world about him,' … "Well, he doesn't need football to let the world know about him."
The USA Today article tells the full story of Reggie’s transformation from gospel pitch man to a thoughtful witness for Jesus Christ. It's notable that Reggie White was humble enough to realize he needed to change his approach –
"Most people who wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this theologian. ... I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I got sick of it. I've been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of Scripture. I came to the realization I'd become more of a motivational speaker than a teacher of the word."
Most of us may not be called upon to offer personal testimonies to the masses. However, we too can fall prey to the notion that our personal success will somehow lend the necessary credibility to our message. The apostle Paul thought differently about the notion of influence for the sake of the gospel. When addressing the Christians in Corinth, he made the point of reminding them that they were nothing special when measured by the world's standards.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
Paul did this to remind the Corinthians that the calling they received was all of grace and not because of their intellect, position or heritage. By God's design, their election by God was meant to nullify self exaltation and to lead to a boasting in Jesus Christ.
To paraphrase Reggie White - God doesn't need us to be successful or influential to let the world know about him. It may be that the influence we hope to gain with an unbelieving world begins with service, not success. Here's how Jesus viewed this -
"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
While God does use men and women of standing to accomplish his will, Jesus' words reminds us that true greatness and lasting influence come by way of humble service . Our influence must be rooted, not in our achievements or personal standing but in God who delights in using the weak.
Waiting for success to enable a better testimony? Perhaps there's no need for us to wait after all. With the right perspective, we might find that we're best suited to be used by God right now.