Are you a person of influence? I understand hesitation here. You may not want to say “yes” or believe that you, an ordinary person, might be influential. All too easily, we think of influence as something that pertains only to the super-elite—the gifted communicators, the dynamic leaders, the wealthy, athletes, musicians, actors, etc. When we buy into this lie, though, we quietly disqualify ourselves from a role (and a blessing) Christ has for us. In Luke 5:1-11, we see that the boat itself was ordinary, but the presence of Jesus made it a vessel for something extraordinary. “‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break” (Luke 5:5-6). This should give us hope! It means that our ordinary lives (our boats) can wield incredible influence if they are filled with Christ.
I grew up on the outer banks of North Carolina in a small fishing village. When I say small, I mean small. The entire island is 3.7 square miles. That was my world. We left the island only on special occasions or to go clothes shopping for the beginning of school. I had two brothers, and we lived next door to my Granny. Everyone knew my name and the names of my parents (and grandparents). This communal familiarity made it incredibly difficult to get into trouble; everyone was watching me. On some days, that was irritating, but it also helped to create a deep sense of rootedness. It was a small world, but it was my world.
I have had a strong sense of smallness from an early age. My town was small; I could ride my bike across the entire island in about 15 minutes if I pedaled fast. Additionally, it was a small town near the ocean. If you’ve ever stood on the beach, you know how the ocean can make you feel small. Personally, I was small in stature and had to work to overcome other people who underestimated me. And finally, I was the youngest of three boys, so I was often referred to as “the baby” instead of by my name! If anyone knows what it feels like to feel small and ordinary, it is me. My understanding of smallness comes from feeling like a nobody born in the middle of nowhere.
However, it is because I know that I am small that I can thank God for how big His plans for me are. As a kid, I seldom left my small island, but now as part of His call on my life, God has taken me around the globe and empowered me to help advance the Kingdom. Despite my smallness, God has included and used me. Through this, I have come to discover that influence does not depend on being big or on having a big life, big skills, or big resources. Oswald Chambers states, “It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people.”1
My father lived this lesson out for me every day. If I had to sum up my childhood in two words, I would choose “fish” and “faith”—the bookends of my father’s life. As you travel down Island Road in our small fishing village, you’ll come to an intersection—the only significant one on the island. If you turn left, you’ll arrive at the little brick church that was known simply as God’s house. If you turn right, the road will take you down to the fish house. I learned many lessons at each of those houses, but the most impactful one was that my dad was the same man in God’s house as he was at the fish house. That reality made all the difference for me as an impressionable kid.
My dad probably knew that his life was small. Commercial fishing is not a glamorous or romantic profession, and it demands hard work. My dad struggled to make a living for his family. He missed a lot of my childhood because he was at sea—the only way he could pay the bills. My dad didn’t drive new cars, and he didn’t have money to take his family on exotic vacations or invest in the stock market. In the end, my dad left behind a small ranch house on a piece of property that was given to him and a life insurance policy that would enable my mom to keep the house and live comfortably. My dad didn’t score a lot of points as far as the world was concerned—but I think the world keeps score differently than the kingdom of God. The world keeps score with finite things such as how much you bring to the fish house and what it does to swell your bank account. My dad, though, was only concerned about what God thought. He operated this way whether he was in the house of God or the fish house, and that has made an eternal difference.
My dad’s willingness to let God use his small life meant that he had a tremendous impact, not just on me and my brothers, but also on the thousands of people that we have been able to reach through God’s call on our lives.
Simon Peter probably thought that his boat was just a fishing boat—it wasn’t big or impressive. However, it turns out that in Jesus’ hands, the boat was used for much more than ordinary fishing. Jesus gets into that ordinary boat and asks to use it differently—to use it for Kingdom purposes (Luke 5:1-11). You have ordinary things that might seem to hold you back, too: relationships, habits, daily routines, boundaries that limit your reach, etc. Far from being the things that hinder your influence, though, these pieces of ordinary life are the exact things that, in Jesus’ hands, can be so influential. We influence other people just by being with them.
Influence is not merely about huge, gregarious personalities or dynamic speaking that moves entire populations. It is mostly about those little moments that you might not even remember. So before you write off the influence of your life and say something like, “you should probably find another boat,” remember that Jesus can see more than you can see, and if you let Him in, you just might be more influential than you think. We have to learn to see our lives the way Jesus sees them—as influential, useful, and valuable. There is no such thing as a life that Jesus can’t use for the Kingdom. There are no useless boats. Will you let Him use yours?
Stephen Willis is lead pastor at Lynchburg First Church of the Nazarene in Lynchburg, Virginia.
1. Oswald Chambers, “Impulsiveness or Discipleship?” My Utmost for His Highest. utmost.org/impulsiveness-or-discipleship/
Please note: This article was originally published in 2021. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.