Some pastors are known for their controversial political views, others for their less-than-orthodox teachings, but it’s hard to beat the Rev. Sheryl Ruthven when it comes to making attention-getting claims: she believes herself to be a prophetess who is the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene, one of the women Jesus healed. Not only does she claim to speak for God, but it’s been revealed to her that cats are sacred, and God has given then a special role to play in the end times. (Apocalypse Meow: How a Cult That Believes Cats Are Divine Beings Ended Up in Tennessee, Bob Smietana, Nashville Scene, Sept. 28, 2016)
The earth is flat. COVID vaccines contain microscopic tracking chips. Boys can become girls just by changing their pronouns. The world is full of bizarre ideas and influencers who are pushing them for all they’re worth.
Solomon Asch created an experiment in 1951 to see how easily individuals would conform to the beliefs of the people around them. He discovered that 1/3 of the participants in his experiment would choose what they knew to be a wrong answer rather than go against the contrarian opinions of their fellow participants.
We’re easily influenced, especially when we want people to like us.
In the Psalms, as in many of Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, two ways of living are presented. There’s the way of truth and the way of deception. One way brings joy, the other sorrow. Psalm 1 presents us with the same two choices, the same two roads.
But it starts off with a warning about the danger of being influenced by the wrong people.
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. Psalm 1:1 (NLT)
To put it in more modern language:
- Don’t take advice from people on a dead end road;
- Don’t hang out with people who only want to drag you down;
- And, don’t join in with people who make a habit of insulting and belittling everything that’s good and godly.
It seems like every day someone wants to tell me how to think, or how to live, or what to believe, or what’s true, what’s good, what will make me happy. The radio and TV news explain how to think about the day’s events. Social media is a battleground for hearts and minds on every subject from how to vote, how to eat, what to believe, what to say and what not to say. In fact, it’s now possible to earn a good living by promoting yourself as a social media “influencer.” And what’s the hope of every influencer? That you’ll listen to them and follow.
I doubt that we’re aware of how much we’re influenced by the loud voices we’re hearing, and I doubt that we often stop to ask who those voices speak for: God, or themselves.
Who do you listen to? Who is influencing you?
The Psalmist is telling us that we need to think critically about the voices that we’re hearing, and to exercise judgment and discernment when it comes to who we’re going to be influenced by.
This is why it’s so important to know the Word of God. The voices that influence our thinking and living can be subtle. They appeal to our vanity, they appeal to our pride, they appeal to our prejudices – I don’t mean racial prejudices alone, but the big list of things that are so dear to our hearts that we never question them. Political prejudices. Mental constructs about the world, about history, about reality that we accept as gospel.
Psalm 1 urges us to evaluate the words of the influencers against what we know is true as God has revealed it. When we ignore the advice of people who are promoting their own causes rather than God’s goodness, when we walk away from people who want us to ignore what we know is God’s truth, when we refuse to align ourselves with whatever group is promoting the latest cause or fad or lifestyle, we automatically say, “I belong to God, and that means something.”
It’s hard to do that, but it’s vital. It’s hard to swim upstream against a strong current, but that’s what the Psalmist says we must do.
Which is why the Holy Spirit is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. He lives in us, he is God’s voice, God’s very heart inside of us, and his desire is to give us the discernment we need so that we can tell the difference between God’s voice and the voice of our own self-serving impulses. Jesus said:
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT)
Though God’s road is narrow, it is not hidden. Jesus Christ erected a historical road marker on that road when he was crucified, buried, and then rose from the dead.
Before throwing in with the influencers, may I suggest you first examine the words and life of the man who said:
“I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.” John 14:6 (NLT)