The motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” As a self-help guru and someone who writes and speaks on motivation and success, his emphasis is on surrounding yourself with successful people who will push you onwards and upwards rather than drag you down.
Personally, when I think of motivational speakers, the first thing that comes to mind is Matt Foley, more than the type of success-oriented clap trap that most motivational speakers are pushing. However, I do think there is some validity to this point, but rather than limiting it to people, I think it would be better to say we are the average of the five biggest influences that we allow to dominate our lives.
More and more, people are spending less time interacting with other people in any real or meaningful ways. Unless your job is customer service, sales, ministry or social services, you probably spend more time in front of things (including devices) than you do in front of people. So rather than simply asking who are the 5 people who you spend the most time with, it is probably better to ask, what are the five people/things in my life that dominate my time, thoughts and emotions more than anything else. Here is a list of some possible answers for that question:
- My family — for most of us who live with our family, this will be the #1 influence in our lives. Hopefully, this is a positive influence and you have healthy family relationships, but unfortunately many people find themselves in abusive, unhealthy families. Recognizing how powerful our family relationships are should motivate us to invest heavily in developing healthy or more healthy marriages and interactions with our family members overall. Your mental stability and emotional well-being is heavily intertwined with this area.
- Work and school relationships — Hopefully, you have a good work environment that encourages you regularly and doesn’t just pay the bills. This is connected to not only your job fulfillment with the tasks you engage with, but also the people you interact with. Many people sacrifice joy by choosing working environments that promise more money or career advancement opportunities, but little day to day joyful interactions. Who we are and what we will become is tied to our working relationships. Don’t choose to live your day to day existence with people who drag you into the abyss.
- Yourself — We spend time alone, but how do we spend it? Are you afraid of being alone with your own thoughts? Learning to be comfortable with ourselves and to know our own faults and strengths is not a bad thing, but can be a helpful process for understanding what needs to change in our lives. Negative self-talk can also be one of the most destructive influences. The voices in your head are usually your own, telling you an ongoing message, but if that message isn’t grounded in the truth, you will find yourself reinforcing a false sense of self.
- Community/Church — Finding people in your community who care about the things that you do and that you can work together towards common goals with is good for your personal growth and mental health. A mentor or pastor (someone who is a little bit ahead of where you want to be) can be very helpful in helping you to understand your long term desires and goals. Serving others is good for the soul and pushes our personal growth.
- God — The greatest positive influence in our life is God. He is our only hope for real progress in our journey to become more like what we were created to be. We spend time with God in prayer and by reading and studying the Bible. In Christ, we can be the best version of ourselves.
- Entertainment — What we choose to focus on with our free time can also have a powerful impact on our lives. Videos, social media and video games are an easy solution to fill our time. Some people may find themselves more influenced by virtual friends who they’ve never actually met than any real face-to-face interactions. You may even find your language and thought patterns coming to resemble those of your dominant audio/visual input. Our entertainment choices can easily become one of our greatest influences.
There are other choices, but this covers most of the main areas of influence. So, what are your top five influences? Are they positive or negative? Do you want to become like the people and things that dominate your time?
Evaluating Influences from God’s Word
The Bible talks frequently about this subject because God knows the impact of time invested. He knows that we are being discipled by the way we spend our time and the people and information that flows into our lives. Here are a few of the verses that we can use to evaluate whether these are the best disciplers for keeping our lives pointed in the right direction.
- Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” — 1 Corinthians 15:33 — Just look at the things that Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church in his two long letters found in the New Testament and you can see they were filled with problems. Corinth was a pagan city and much of the church came from a background that was steeped in immorality. This verse points to the truth that even if you have good character, you can be corrupted by the wrong sort of influences. Bad company can even be found in the church. Hanging out with those who are angry, bitter, divisive or gossipy will have an impact on us.
- Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? — 2 Corinthians 6:14 — This verse is often used to teach the principle that Christians shouldn’t marry unbelievers. That is one application, but it has a wider principle. As followers of Christ, we shouldn’t tie our lives to those who don’t follow Christ. This doesn’t mean we are all supposed to find a cave somewhere and become monks, but it is the picture of binding your life together in a permanent way with someone who does not follow the same guidance (Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Bible). We should be very careful about making unbelievers any of the main influencers in our life.
- But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. — 1 Corinthians 5:11 — This specifically mentions distancing ourselves from those who claim to be followers of Christ, but live in a way that shows that it is a lie. We’re actually to be more careful with these sort of influences than with unbelievers. We don’t yoke ourselves together with unbelievers, but we don’t even spend any time with people like this.
- Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. — Proverbs 13:20 — Proverbs is filled with warnings about foolishness and the encouragements to be wise, pursue wisdom and walk with the wise. Wisdom is incredibly valuable, whether we obtain it from our own experiences or by learning from the experiences of others. If we hang out with fools, who refuse to learn from their mistakes, we will suffer harm, whether we make the same mistakes or not.
- As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. — Proverbs 27:17 — We should want to spend time with people who sharpen us, helping us to grow in our faith and in our lives. Do the majority of the people in your life sharpen you, or leave you dull?
- Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. — Proverbs 22:24–25 — Do you have people in your life who are completely unpredictable, ruled by their passions and you never know when they are going to blow up? Not only is it difficult to be around people like that, but the Bible specifically warns of the danger that we might become like them if we’re not careful.
- Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5–6 — The best influence is grounded in the Lord, in His Word and in people who are on the same path to follow Him. If we want our life headed in the right direction, the surest way is to make sure the majority of what influences our lives is in line with the wisdom of the God who created everything.
God loves you and desires for you to find true joy in Him and the world He created. He has communicated with us through His Word a framework for reality and through that influence, we can bind our lives to the Truth to live a life that is filled with fewer regrets and more joy. That is a life that every follower of Christ should want, but we frequently derail ourselves by choosing to become the average of influences that when you look at it in the scope of the greater picture, are below average at best.