Cultivating Influence with God
(message notes from April 19, 2017)
We’re really going to bring this series home by focusing on the most important way that we can grow in influence, and that’s the way in which we can grow in influence with God. And maybe you don’t normally think about influence in your relationship with God. But the Bible makes it clear that God has friends. And he has people he can trust and people he can listen to. Abraham, Moses, and David were some of God’s friends, not perfect people, but people who understood his heart. People who stewarded their friendship with God well.
We need to be aware of the fact that we can influence God. If we are not aware of this and if we don’t really believe this, then we won’t pray because we’ll underestimate the difference our voice makes in God’s ear. If we don’t believe we can have influence with God, we won’t realize that our obedience has much impact in the grand scheme of things. It’s when we begin to take our influence with God seriously that great things begin to happen.
Another way to understand influence is a little word the Bible uses called FAVOR. I want to frame our understanding of favor today with a little verse in Luke.
Let’s take a look at Luke 2:52
“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
Favor is a free gift of God. You have favor from God when you are in Jesus as a redeemed believer. But at the same time, favor can be cultivated. So, it is something you can grow by faithful stewardship of your talents, time, relationships and resources or it something you can waste and squander.
We see this evident in the life of the prodigal son. He had received his entire inheritance and he walked in favor with his father, but instead of cultivating it, he chose to squander it.
Now, we’ve seen that there is favor with God and favor with man. Two very important but separate things.
Favor with God and favor with man are both important.
So, let’s talk about favor with man first. It is possible to have favor with people and be walking out of favor with God. This is what can happen when you pursue success or money or fame without fully acknowledging the need for God in your life.
This is when people lay a foundation of the Favor of Man and they pursue this as the cornerstone of their lives rather than favor with God. And this is really a foundation of shifting sand, or for our purposes, rotting wood. It will always have a catch to it. It will always have the devourer attached to it in some way.
You may have met people like this. It seems like everyone loves them and everything is going for them, but they struggle with serious issues like marital or family problems, addictions, or just a deep dissatisfaction. You can have external success your way, but you want the kind of success that God brings, the kind of success that will last.
King Nebuchadnezzar lived this kind of life. For a while, God let him go on like this, amassing wealth and power and might. But Neb’s foundation was revealed when he was found praising himself for all that he had done and not God. Then God (in his mercy) removed the favor of man from him for awhile and he became insane and he went out into the field and lived eating grass until he finally humbled himself before the Lord, and the Lord restored his sanity. So God removes his favor with man so he can lay a new foundation in his life where his life could be built on pursuing God’s favor first.
If you’ve been building favor with people but you’ve not been very focused on building favor with God, it’s not too late. You can run home like that prodigal son did and you will find a place at the table, you can begin to cultivate favor with God again, just like King Neb did.
It is possible to be walking in the favor of God and not experiencing the fullness of the favor you can have with people. There were many prophets in the Bible that struggled with the way people received them. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, sat in a prison for years and years because of the things he prophesied.
When you have favor with God, but you don’t have favor with man you can feel spiritually content, but you might feel isolated or misunderstood.
You can live without the favor of man, but you don’t ever want to live outside of the favor of God.
God might put you through a season of hiddenness, or he may be getting ready to, not to punish you, but because he is firming up your foundation. If you are in a time like this right now, you need to value this time. To know that God sees you and knows what you’re going through. This will not last forever, but during this time, you can make your foundation secure. You can keep cultivating your friendship with God through prayer and intimacy with him.. If you can’t find your delight in God in a season of hiddenness, you’ll never find it.
I’ll tell you something that Dave Ramsey says which is so true, “When you have momentum, you look much smarter than you are. When you don’t have it, you look much dumber than you are.” In other words: You are not the sum of your press release. You are who God says you are. And that’s good news. Some of you need to ground yourself in that promise for your season right now. Resist the temptation to succumb to what people think of you alone. The favor of man is fickle at best.
So the favor of God determines how high you rise in the eternal realm.
The favor of man determines how effectively you influence your world.
God wants you to walk in both favor with God and man like Jesus did, but it has to start on the right foundation.
This is the entire point of my message today: When you push down into the foundation of your favor with God, then God will push the lid up on your influence with people.
I want to walk you through the highlights of Daniel and his friends ups and downs in the first several chapters and show you how this principle plays out in their lives.
First of all in Daniel 1, Daniel decides he’s not going to eat the meat that went against the law of Moses, so he only eats vegetables. This showed that he valued cultivating his friendship with God over getting brownie points from the king. So, he pushes down over here on his foundation of favor with God and what is the result, God pushes up and he makes those four men look and act far better than their peers.
In Daniel 2, Daniel presses in to his friendship with God to interpret the King’s dream. He does not take the credit, but gives it to God and God pushes up on his influence. He gives him a high position and honor among the people.
In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were operating in civil disobedience when they refused to worship the king’s idol. And they were thrown into the fiery furnace. They came out unharmed and were put into an even higher position because they pressed down, God pushed up on their influence.
In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar is partying hard when a finger writes a message on the wall. Daniel has to give the bad news to the king. It’s not a fun word, but it’s a word of warning. Daniel could have been afraid to deliver bad news, but he stood his ground. And God took care of Daniel even though that king was killed that very night.
In Daniel 6, Daniel presses in to his friendship with God, when yet another king makes another stupid law that no one can worship anyone but him. But Daniel holds on to his friendship with God over obedience to the king. Daniel spends the night with the lions, but God pushes up and establishes his influence with this new king by rescuing him from the lions and getting all his enemies out of the way.
Pushing down means stewarding the best interests of our closest friend, God. And when God sees us caring for the things that concern him, then he cares for the things that concern us. That’s a foundation that God can build his kingdom on.
Can God trust you with influence? When people start flocking to you for answers, are you one who is so grounded in your identity with God that you can be sure to lead them to him?
Here is the danger. Even when we’ve started out by building our lives on favor with God, when God gives us favor with people, we can then start shoving other things into our foundation like accolades from people, money or a multitude of friends. Instead those things should never get into our foundation. If it does, it’s in the wrong place.
You don’t use wood as the primary element in a foundation. You need cement. The wood goes on top. So, what happens if you try shoving wood into the foundation? It would rot over time and compromise the foundation. It’s the same thing when we begin shoving favor with people (wood) into the foundation, it has the opposite effect than we want it to have. It actually erodes our favor with people instead of building it up.
What if Daniel and his friends had made a different choice at any point in time than the ones that they did?
What if Daniel or his friends would have caved to trying to please those around them rather than God, even just once? What if Daniel would have just eaten the food to fit in, or if Daniel sweetened the word to Belteshazzar just to make it not sound so rude, or if he caved and stopped praying with his window open just to not get in trouble, or if the three guys would have just pretended to worship the idol and not stood their ground. Every one of those times Daniel and his friends could have cared more about not losing their favor with people and could have compromised the next promotion God was trying to give them.
God wants to promote us, but it will often require us to lay down the security of the promotion itself.
Daniel had destiny written all over him. He was made for significance. But he was so grounded in his significance before his God, that any significance that God would give him with people was only icing on the cake.
- Daniel never let his desire to be significant in the eyes of men get him away from his desire to be significant in the eyes of God.
- Daniel never let his desire for connection with people get in the way of his connection with God.
- Daniel always drew a boundary line with people in his life if it got in the way of his connection to God.
- Daniel never relied fully on the promises of powerful men, he always leaned more on the promises of his God.
Following Daniel’s example is very difficult in real life! To be so grounded in the truth of what God thinks of you that you are willing to hold loosely man’s approval of you…that’s real influence.
People can be so afraid of what they will lose: your influence, power, money or relationships that they pursue them over God. The ironic thing is, your death grip on those things is pushing them even farther away from you.
- For fear of losing your spouse, you chase after them instead of chasing after God.
- For fear of losing your job, you chase after your boss or bow down to them instead of setting healthy boundaries and being obedient to God first.
- For fear of losing your children or your close friends, you are trying to make them happy instead of making it your aim to be pleasing to God.
When your foundation is built on the favor of God, all the other principles for building favor with others will work in your life as well. When you build the right way, there is no devourer attached to your life.
Living to please God first is especially difficult when you have success and things are going well.
We know that when Daniel entered the service of the king, it was pretty tough for him. But there were also certain perks to the job. For instance, Daniel had the privilege of dining from the king’s table. And so did all the other up and coming men of the court. But Daniel was convicted about this, so he only ate vegetables.
Here is the clip from Bill Johnson that inspired the next part of this teaching:
Another time in Daniel 10, when Daniel was serving king Cyrus and things were going pretty well for him. Daniel set aside time to seek the Lord. Let’s look at Daniel 10, verses 2-3.
2 In those days I Daniel mourned the days of three weeks.
3 I ate no desirable bread, and neither flesh, nor wine entered into my mouth, neither was I anointed with ointment: till the days of three weeks were accomplished. (Douay-Reims Bible)
So here we find Daniel fasting and praying, abstaining from “desirable” food. Well, it’s really interesting that the original word that we translate “desirable” food is the same word that is used to describe Daniel in this next verse.
And he saith unto me: Daniel, man greatly desired, attend to the words that I am speaking unto thee, and stand on thy station, for now I have been sent unto thee. ‘And when he speaketh with me this word, I have stood trembling. (Young’s Literal Translation) – Daniel 10:11
So here we have Daniel refusing desirable food and then God responds back by referring to Daniel as the man greatly desired.
Let’s pretend that I have in my purse all the things that represent the favor God has given to me. He’s given me money, resources, a power bar, a whistle, gum, keys…. all this stuff I can now use. Hopefully I will use this stuff wisely.
Now, what if I gave all this stuff to my 6 year old? Well, you know he’d immediately blow the whistle, chew the gum, eat the candy bar, push the buttons on the keys…but the point is, he’d immediately use everything that was in there. A person of maturity would utilize these things, but not all at once and only for the greater good.
And that’s what Daniel did. When he fasted and did not use the fullness of his perks or his authority just because it was in the purse. So, a mature person would only blow the whistle when she was in trouble, or offer the gum to others around them or save the power bar for when it was necessary.
God has a great desire for people who forgo their own desires.
- When you have every right to point out someone’s flaw, but you choose to overlook it because this person is having a bad day, you stand out to God
- When you have every right to be happy, but you choose to mourn with someone who doesn’t have it so great, God sees you and takes notice.
- When you see a job undone and it’s not in your scope of responsibility, but you choose to do it anyway, that kind of thing makes you desirable to God.
An immature person always takes their own personal rights and uses them immediately and often without considering the bigger picture. But a powerful person uses what they need and looks to the bigger purpose.
- It’s when you act like a powerful person, God begins to sit up and take notice. He begins to think of you as the kind of person he can use in greater ways. When we build on the right foundation, then God will do all the things we talked about in this series so far.
- He will position us right where we can have the greatest impact.
- He will give us revelation and share his secrets with us because he can trust us.
- We will be prepared for the promotion he wants to give us
- We will stand secure when opposition comes, as it always does…
Kevin Zadai said, “your faithfulness has put a demand on heaven.” In other words, when you are faithful to God and you lean on his faithfulness to you, the desires of your heart will come to pass.
When Daniel prayed, God immediately sent out angels. Not just because Daniel prayed, but it was because Daniel was a faithful man who prayed to a faithful God. Daniel’s faithfulness placed a demand on a big answer from heaven.
God cares about your success even more than you do. Remember when the disciples came to Jesus and asked which of them would be the greatest? He never lectured them and told them that they shouldn’t even be trying to be great. Instead, he simply told them that the way to greatness was the opposite of what they thought. The way to be great was by becoming a servant of all.
James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”
God never says, humble yourself before me so I can bury you. Or humble yourself before me so I can take every reward away from you. He wants us to humble ourselves so that he can lift us up to be a beacon of light for the world around us. He wants to lift us up to seat us in the heavenly realms with him. But the way up is down.
- Am I fully convinced that God wants to help me grow in favor with God and people? If not, what could be getting in the way of my knowledge of His goodness?
- In what area of my life do I sometimes allow the favor of man to get into my foundation, or come to depend on it too much?
- What does it look like in my life to live FROM the favor of God instead of FOR the favor of God?
- In what way does God want me to “press down” and cultivate my favor with him right now?
If you’ve never received this free favor from God and your want it, please pray this prayer.
“Jesus, I’m done trying to prop up my life by my own strength. I’m tired of trying to please those around me. I want success your way, Jesus. I want to live from your favor. I ask you, Jesus to fill me up, Father God I ask you to forgive me of my sins and see me the way you see your son Jesus. Thank you that I can now walk fully accepted in you. You are the smile that I’m living for, and no one else.”
For those of you who have found yourselves building on a foundation of what other people think of you, you may have started with the right foundation but now it’s being compromised and you’re tempted to become a people pleaser. It’s time to recommit your life to Jesus in a fresh way.
Pray this prayer below.
“Thank you, God, for the free gift of favor you’ve given me through Jesus Christ. Thank you that if I never did another thing, you would still love me as your child. I choose this day to risk everything I have of value in my life to be obedient to you. I trust that when I humble myself before you, that you will be faithful to lift me up. You are a good God who gives good gifts to your children. You are for me and not against me. Thank you for the influence, favor and blessing you have prepared for me. I choose to be brave and to follow you anywhere you lead. Amen.”
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