One of the things I’ve noticed about myself that I hate is how easily I am influenced by the people around me. When someone is older than me, I tend to to be less able to be the influencer and am more likely to be influenced by them. When someone is my age and is smarter, taller, more talented, more respected or popular than myself, I usually end up being influenced by their thinking more than influencing them.
I’ve also noticed how much a good story can influence my thinking. There has been a surge in the quantity of documentaries in the last decade. I enjoy watching a good documentary. Many of the documentaries I’ve watched have deeply shaped my thinking about topics. I watched the documentary “Poverty, Inc.” and discovered much of the damage that has been done around the world by Not for profits and Non Government Organizations. I watched a documentary about fracking and it greatly affected my views on the practice.
Whether we like it or not, as human beings we are deeply affected by the stories we hear and the people we love. I have been deeply influenced by people in my life. That I can remember, I was never a positive or optimistic person. But when an older, fellow associate pastor came to my office one day to vent his frustrations about our senior pastor it had a great impact on me. I became equally critical and negative. When I’m in relationship with someone who’s more positive and optimistic, I become more positive and optimistic.
As I have shared in the past and will continue to share, one of the major reasons I gave up talk radio and talk news channels was because I was greatly affected by the story they told about our leaders and our nation. When you listen to people who are angry all the time about everything, you become angry all the time about everything. And when you’re prone to negativity anyway, being around doom and gloomers all the time can lead you to think the world is going to end soon and lead you to buy an old pickup truck that is EMP proof. Not that I would have done something like that.
The two greatest influences in our lives are people and stories. An incredibly powerful influence in our life is the story that someone we love tells us. Whether that’s a story about themselves or about something they’re dealing with, this story has great power in our lives. But not just that. The people in our lives are telling us a story about themselves and ourselves. Sometimes we around people who tell us a better story about ourselves than we tell ourselves. Other times we’re around others who do the opposite.
The truth is, we become like the people we spend time with. We are shaped by the people in our lives and the stories they are telling. We are shaped by all the stories we hear. The people we are becoming is a result of the input and influences in our lives.
Our brains are really incredible. When someone tells us a story, our brain synchronizes with their brain. Stories activate parts of our brain that help us to bring the storytellers story to life in our own mind. Then our mind starts drawing in connections to other stories in our live or that we have told. Neuroscientists say “neurons that wire together, fire together.” So, when someone tells you a story that gets some of your neurons firing, other neurons that are wired to those neurons will fire too. You may find yourself experiencing feelings and emotions that have nothing to do with the story you’re being told.
When a speaker is telling a story, not only do the brainwaves of the people who are hearing the story start to look alike, but so do the brainwaves of the speaker and the listener start to line up.
Stories actually light up more of the brain than when we’re processing data alone. Only two areas of the brain light up when we’re dealing with information. But 5 areas light up with a story.
What’s with all the data about brains and stories? It’s to illustrate the fact that the people we spend the most time with and the stories we absorb have the greatest affect on us.
So, if we are going to become love, we have to think about our inputs and our influences. We’ve covered a lot of territory this week talking about our light pollution problem and how it’s keeping us from seeing God. Which is why we’ve been asking if we can give up something we are currently doing to find 5 more minutes per day with God.
See, if we’re going to become like God, we have to spend more time with Him. If we want to be like Jesus, we have to spend time with Jesus. Since God is love, if we want to become love, we have to spend more time with God if we stand a chance of becoming like Him. We will never be like Christ if we don’t spend time with Him.
At the same time, if we want to become love like God is love, we need to be around other believers who are on the same journey towards becoming love. This doesn’t mean we have to surround ourselves with perfect people. But, it does mean that we need to be around people who are undergoing the same transformative process as us. Are the people around you working to become more like Christ on a regular basis? Or do they act as though they’ve arrived and got it all figured out? Or are they just flat out jerks who claim to be Christ-followers but act nothing like Christ?
Along those same lines, if we want to become love like God is love, we need to be taking in the story of God more than we are taking in the story of the world. We talked about that this week with testing the spirits and not participating in the dead devil’s work. The spirit of antichrist has saturated the media and our lives with a story that runs contrary to God’s story. Does that mean we have to completely unplug from TV, movies and every story? To be honest, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing. But, I also know that’s not very likely. At the very least, we need to become much more vigilant than we have been about the stories we give access to our minds and hearts.
The moguls of society are master storytellers. Just like we have all experienced with a good book, movie, documentary, tv show, etc., we get sucked in. Like my wife and I. Back in the day before Netflix was a thing, we would check out seasons of 24 on DVD from the library and binge-watch them until 2 o 3 in the morning. The screenwriters of that show were masters at hooking us in for “just one more.”
But just because something grabs us and draws us in, just because a story really moves us and makes us emotional doesn’t mean it’s a story we should give access to our hearts. I’m completely fascinated with stories. I listen to a podcast of people telling their stories. Many of the stories that get told offer a very different moral perspective than my own. But, I still find myself resonating with their story and rooting for them. As a pastor, a student of God’s story and a student of stories in particular, I’m pretty good at being able to see when a story is trying to move me in the wrong direction. Even still, I can be swayed.
You’re the same. That’s how God created us. He wanted us to be moved by His story. The Bible was originally shared from generation to generation orally, as a story. God made us to be formed and shaped by story because that’s how He wants to shape us to be like himself. But there are also many people who have learned how to use stories to manipulate us and move us in the wrong direction.
Nearly every advertisement, every show, movie, documentary, book and so on is promoting an identity. They are trying to use story to shape our identity in such a way that we buy their product, believe in their agenda and become a part of their movement. I think this is a great contributing factor to the anxiety we are seeing in our society right now. There are hundreds if not thousands of competing identities being pushed on us from all directions and we don’t know who we’re supposed to be. We’ll never become love this way. We’ll only become more selfish and self-preserving.
To become love we have to start giving precedence and dominance to God’s story in our lives. We have to surround ourselves with His story. We have to surround ourselves with people who are telling the same God story and seeking to be shaped by it. This is the only path to transformation. If we want people to be drawn to God’s love in our lives, we have to let His love be the story of our lives.
What do you think? Can you find 5 more minutes to spend with God and give Him more influence over your story?
I have made a worksheet to help you determine how you’re doing at giving God enough input and influence in your life. I call it the Input/Influence audit. It’s a free download available at thejesushabit.com. Just click on resources.