Welcome to the “Spheres: maximizing your influence” message series from Abbott Loop Community Church! In this series you will learn how to be set up for divine positioning, how to cultivate a lifestyle of divine revelation, how to prepare for promotion, how to prepare for opposition, and how to cultivate influence with God.
The first thing you need to come to terms with when you consider how God can position you is this: You have a measure of influence. You each have at least one or more “spheres” that you influence. Whether it’s a little or a lot, it is important to acknowledge the measure of influence that you have. Because no matter how big or little you think your influence is, you and I are called to disciple nations.
And if we are to disciple nations, the second realization we need to come to is that God actually desires to grow our influence. Now, he can grow this influence in different ways. For some, he is going to grow your influence deep— having a lasting impact on our families or close friends or coworkers. And in other seasons, he may want to grow your influence wide, extending those spheres out and to reach more people than what you thought was possible. Most likely, he’s doing both a deep and wide work in your life. Either way, God wants to bring increase to the level of your current influence.
You have doors of influence all around you. But what are you doing with those doors? Are you walking right by them because you don’t see them? Are you banging your head on them because you think they are obstacles?
When we talk about influence in difficult times, I’d be hard pressed to find a better biblical example of godly influence in an ungodly world than Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). These four men actually accomplished the task of discipling a nation long before Jesus commanded all of us to make disciples of nations.
We have to realize that influence is something that we steward. That means it’s possible to grow influence and it is possible to squander influence. So we want to be in just the right position wherever God has us where we can steward our influence well.
When we position our hearts, God positions our opportunities.
Background on Daniel and his Friends:
These four young men were from the royal family, the tribe of Judah. Some have suggested that Daniel himself may have even been next in line to be Judah’s king. But a pagan king named Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon invaded and took those royals as prisoners. Some believe that these men were castrated as well. We don’t know for sure, but I can guarantee you, no matter how bad you think it is here, be glad you haven’t yet been captured and forced into the service of a foreign dictator. Their names were changed, so instead of being good Jewish names, they were now named after pagan gods. They were put into a Babylonian school where they were essentially brainwashed to be servants of pagan gods. They were given food that violated Jewish laws. If any time was a tough time to be a good Jewish boy, this was the time.
King Nebuchadnezzar knew what he was doing. How do you demoralize and strip a nation of its identity? And how do you build up your empire and reputation at the same time? You take their smartest, most handsome and prominent men, and instead of killing them off, you make them serve in your royal court. That way, you look really powerful because you are having royalty serve you, making you a king of kings. And then you get all the benefit of their intelligence and advantage. These men also had the advantage of understanding Jewish culture so deeply that Nebuchadnezzar would have that knowledge at his disposal when keeping this new people group in line and under his thumb.
In the World, Not Of the World:
The goal and challenge of every believer is to be “in the world, but not of the world.” We can err on one of two extremes and end up becoming poor stewards of our influence.
One extreme is the one that emphasizes not being of the world. On this side, we are so afraid of being contaminated by the world that can separate ourselves from the world so much that we no longer have any influence in it. And so we end up on the far right side of this diagram: “undefiled but ineffective.”
On the other extreme, we put such effort into being “in the world” that pretty soon, nothing will distinguish us from unbelievers. We sacrifice our principles in the name of being “relevant.” And this is a dangerous place to be because we can slide down a slippery slope of winking at sin so that God’s hand of blessing is no longer with us. And so we find ourselves on the left side of the diagram being “relevant” but indistinguishable from the world.
Where we really want to be is that space where those two circles overlap. We want to be both salt and light.
Salt is on the relevant side. Salt comes from the earth and complements the earth. Light, on the other hand, comes from above and light makes us separated from the darkness and makes truth become known, so light is on the blue side of the circle. But Jesus declared that we are to be both salt and light.
And there are two scriptures that really illustrate the importance of both sides of the diagram.
Romans 12:2a “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Here Paul is highlighting the need to come out of the world and be distinct. The same author the Apostle Paul, also says this in his letter to the Corinthians,
“… I become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:22
And here he is pointing out the need to be relevant to the people around us.
So we can see it’s that key balance between not conforming to the world, but being willing to adjust our ways in order to reach the world.
And so with this framework of understanding, we can see that…
Key #1 to Divine Positioning is this: Live your convictions. Hold a personal standard.
And as you can see, living your convictions pushes on the blue side of the diagram. When we live our convictions, we distinguish ourselves from the world.
In all their challenges, this, there was only ONE line that Daniel and his friends did not cross.
Daniel 1:8 says this, “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…”
So, Daniel set a standard for himself. And he knew that he was a slave and could be denied the right to live by this standard. But he put himself out there and risked drawing that line in the sand.
One of the first ways to extend our influence is to understand and live by our own convictions. A conviction is a belief in something you should or shouldn’t do for yourself. It is a personal standard. You are not necessarily condemning others for doing this thing or not doing this thing, but you have committed that for you… that you are going to live by a certain standard for yourself before the Lord.
We must be careful not to preach our convictions and impose them on others– otherwise legalism can result. Instead we preach God’s word alone, but live our convictions humbly and quietly before God.
A new standard might be your key to unlocking a new level of influence in your life.
Daniel carefully stewards the favor he has already gained with the chief official to do this. Daniel has this way of always seeing a situation from the perspective of the person he is talking to. The official is afraid that he’s gonna get in trouble if he lets these 4 Jewish boys pass on meat and then they get all sickly looking. He knows that the king would hate that. So, instead of demanding his rights, Daniel asks to give the new meal plan a chance for 10 days. If they looked sickly after 10 days, then Daniel would acquiesce and go back to eating the king’s food. And God came through for them. At the end of the 10 days, they looked better and healthier than all their peers.
So the end result is this: when you follow your convictions for your life, favor and blessings flow. Don’t ignore your convictions. Pray about them. Find out if they are coming from God. Don’t just make rules for yourself, but follow the Spirit in this. Don’t impose them on others, but live them powerfully. If you follow your convictions and do this not to condemn others, but as a humble sacrifice between you and God, God can set you apart from the crowd and position you to give you more favor and influence than you ever would have imagined. It’s a holy thing to live by a conviction before the Lord and it can be the key to your breakthrough.
Key #2 for Divine Positioning: Pursue excellence at whatever you do.
Daniel and his friends were outstanding in every way. Do you realize that God has made you to be outstanding? Outstanding simply means to stand out, apart from the crowd. God is not a God of mediocrity.
Why would God care about excellence? Because he wants to extend our influence so that we can disciple nations. And we grow in excellence by partnering with God. After all, who is more excellent than God?
We work hard with the talents and skills that we have and then we let God give them that extra supernatural lift as he did for those four men… making them ten times smarter and more skilled than their peers.
Here’s the truth: We don’t earn God’s love with excellence, but we earn a place at the table of the world with excellence. In reality, the most humble thing you could do is to serve the world with excellence.
Do you see a person skilled in his work? He will take his position before kings; he will not take his position before obscure people. – Proverbs 22:29
Excellence and skill sets us up for Divine Positioning. And so it’s time for us to begin believing that God wants to make us great at what we do, no matter your formal position or title or lack thereof.
When we believe that God wants to make us excellent, it erases every excuse we have for laziness. Did you know that it takes 10,000 hours to be considered an expert-level of proficiency in that thing? Excellence requires more than talent. It requires work. God cannot grow something we are not willing to help cultivate through sacrifice. God doesn’t ask you to be better than anyone else. He just asks you to be the best version of you.
And when you do that, some of you will be surprised at how high you can fly. In the case of these men, their best was 10 times higher than all their peers. That’s amazing. And it’s just like God to do that.
Key #3 to Divine Positioning: Love Your Sphere(s).
I want you to notice throughout the book of Daniel, how Daniel’s heart comes through in how he loves the people around him. Even though he is in a pagan environment, he loves the nation that he serves. And even though this nation came in by force and took over, he doesn’t seek to subvert it, but he make it apparent that he wants the nation of Babylon to succeed. He loves his king, he has the best interests of all those around him in mind. And he demonstrates that love again and again. In our culture, we often think that if we love people, we have to condone everything they do. It’s just not true. Don’t hold back your love, even when, and especially when you disagree. Your love could be the biggest key you have to unlocking your influence and changing hearts.
Part of real love is getting rid of the “us” and “them” mentality.
Nebuchadnezzar was about the worst kind of boss you can imagine. He was using these men just to puff up his own influence and to make himself look good. Daniel had every right to see Nebuchadnezzar and his crew as the evil “them.” But Daniel chose to work with them and see them as “us.”
Over time, Daniel was able to influence this guy and this nation so much that this “them” truly became “us.” Nebuchadnezzar and even other kings Daniel served eventually became worshippers of God.
Think about this. Daniel started as a slave with absolutely no title or formal position. But he came to serve. He lived his convictions, he served with excellence, and he loved well.
Daniel had royal blood. Even though he never sat on the throne of Babylon, Daniel was an influencer over this nation like none other. Through all the kings and kingdoms that rose and fell, Daniel served the Lord and continued to disciple this nation. And because God placed him there, through good times and bad, no one could take that influence away.
You and I are a lot more like Daniel and his 3 friends than we may think. Like them, we too have royal blood. If you are a believer, you are in the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ. And you are strategically positioned to disciple the nation or spheres to which he has called you. Even if you are treated unfairly and stripped of all your personal rights like Daniel was, you can still have influence. You can reign by taking the position of a servant. Will you be willing to see those doors of influence and to walk through them?
1. God thank you for the influence you’ve given me in my current spheres. Where do you want to expand my influence?
2. God, is there a new standard you’d like me to set for this season of my life? If so, what can I do to begin living by this standard?
3. Where can I increase in excellence in what it is that I do? Is there a desire in my heart for a supernatural increase in excellence? If so, pray that God would give you that increase and ask him how you can partner with him in this increase.