In 2021 a survey of 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 was done, in response to what they would consider to be their dream job. They discovered that 60 percent of respondents were more interested in starting their own business than engaging in what might be considered more traditional employment. Another survey of 3,000 children, ages 8 to 12, revealed that 29 percent listed “YouTuber” as their first choice. Yet another survey of 1,000 children, ages 6 to 17, found that 52 percent were looking forward to a YouTube career. But what was interesting about all three surveys was that it was clear that they had been influenced. Of the 1,000 teenagers in the first survey, 37 percent cited social media influencers being responsible for the choice of their future career.1
We are living in what some call the “age of influence.” It’s a reference to the phenomenon of social media influencers who inspire people on any variety of topics or brands. Need baby products? Someone is there to tell you exactly what you should buy. Traveling to a vacation location? Someone will tell you the best place to take a selfie. Not sure what to wear to an event? How to dress for success for any moment is available at your fingertips on your nearest cell phone.
Wanting to influence others isn’t that unusual. We can probably all tell at least one story in which someone copied what we were doing or wearing, and we realized either with pride or annoyance that someone had done so. Perhaps we dreamed of being the leader—whether of the line in first grade or the team in middle school or the main role of the high school drama. Wanting to influence and lead others is natural for many. And now for some on social media, it has become a primary goal.
But let’s go back even further. A quick perusal of the Bible will find that influence is as old as, well, the beginning of time. We can pause on any number of Bible stories to discover influence as a primary factor. But let’s focus on one individual—Saul. He was literally head and shoulders taller than everyone else. This seemed to suggest his influence and leadership potential. Interestingly, where Saul begins looks like anything but. We don’t find him center stage. He’s hiding in the baggage. Let’s take a closer look at how one attempting to blend in with luggage could ever end up as one of the key influencers on Israel’s history. It’s ultimately a story of how influence can be misused, misguided, and wasted.
The Charismatic Mask
At first Saul possessed qualities that garnered him favor and acclaim. He was chosen by God and accepted by the people; his physical appearance was impressive; and he had a certain amount of charisma and charm. Charisma and good looks, however, while they may help with influence, don’t guarantee effective leadership. Saul proved to be superficial, masking a deeper flaw in his character—he thrived on the need for approval.
“One great defect in the character of Saul was his love of approbation. This trait had had a controlling influence over his actions and thoughts; everything was marked by his desire for praise and self-exaltation. His standard of right and wrong was the low standard of popular applause. No man is safe who lives that he may please men, and does not seek first for the approbation of God. It was the ambition of Saul to be first in the estimation of men.”2
Thus, we find our first lesson in influence. If the desire for wanting to influence others stems from a deeper need for others’ approval, we may be on dangerous ground. To live for “likes” or “followers” may cause us to compromise our values or lose sight of our spiritual compass.
The Poison of Jealousy
A primary catalyst that led Saul down the path toward poor leadership was jealousy. When David, a young, handsome, courageous warrior, emerged victorious against the Philistines, the people praised David more than Saul. Instead of embracing David’s success and using it to benefit the kingdom, Saul allowed jealousy to consume him. This toxic reaction fueled his actions and distorted his judgment.
We also must recognize the insidious nature of jealousy. It breeds resentment, sows discord among others, and corrodes trust. When we allow jealousy to fester, we lose sight of our ability to influence, nurture, and support those around us in a positive way. Unfortunately, where influence can be for the greater good, it can also impact those around us, whether family, friends, or those in our wider sphere, causing negativity, envy, and conflict.
The desire to influence often causes us to focus on followers. It naturally can lead to competition, because if someone else has more followers, then there is the race to surpass them. This can be fueled by jealousy no different than Saul’s need to have the people praise him more than David. We must be careful that our influence comes from looking to Jesus and imitating His traits rather than those around us.
The Power of Fear
Fear can be another potent force that can cloud our judgment and lead us astray. With Saul, his jealousy of David’s growing popularity grew to fear as he perceived a threat to his own influence. His fear drove him to make rash decisions, further eroding his leadership.
We find in this a reminder to confront and address our fears head-on. We should cultivate an environment in which open communication is encouraged, and concerns can be voiced without fear of retribution. My favorite example of this comes from Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar.3 He described the secret of his corporate success as well as the success of Pixar and Disney Animation as candor and having kind, honest people in a brain trust that can be straightforward without fear of penalty. This extends to life in general. By acknowledging and managing our fears, we can make more rational and better-informed decisions, thereby avoiding the downward spiral of poor leadership and misused influence.
The Destructive Impact of Insecurity
Where there is jealousy and fear, insecurity is not far off. As Saul compared himself to David’s achievements, he became increasingly aware of his own inadequacies. Instead of addressing his insecurities constructively, Saul instead sought to undermine and eliminate the perceived threat to his authority.
Again, we today are not immune. We must prioritize personal growth and self-awareness. It is vital to acknowledge and address our own insecurities and shortcomings. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by allowing people who not only respect and appreciate us to be our close associates, but ultimately want us to be the best influencers or leaders possible. This may result in their giving an honest assessment that addresses weaknesses and traits that may need adjusting. When we create a culture that values vulnerability, fosters personal development, and encourages collaboration rather than resorting to destructive tactics, we increase our influence.
Saul’s poor leadership had far-reaching and devastating consequences for Israel. His misguided actions not only impacted him personally, but reverberated throughout his 40-year reign on Israel’s throne, leaving an indelible mark on the history of Israel. His obsession with maintaining his own position hindered the growth and potential of his kingdom.
His desperate hold of power led him down a treacherous path of unethical behavior that went against the very principles of his kingdom. Saul’s moral compass became increasingly distorted. In his pursuit of self-preservation, he sacrificed integrity.
His erratic behavior and unjust treatment eroded the trust and loyalty of those around him. Instead of fostering a united front, Saul sowed seeds of discord and mistrust, creating an environment rife with tension and animosity. When trust is shattered, the ability to influence is compromised.
Influence as a result of leadership or influence that extends simply from living a consecrated life can be affected if we take our eyes off Jesus and look increasingly to ourselves or others. There can be long-reaching consequences when we exhibit negative influence that is experienced in our life or those around us.
In Conclusion The story of King Saul serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of how influence for evil can result in terrible consequences. His is a cautionary tale that must be heeded to avoid falling into the same trap. While we do not sit on a kingly throne making decisions for a nation, we do, in our everyday life, make decisions that influence others. By learning from Saul’s mistakes, we can chart a different course. Let’s avoid the dangers of misusing the influence God has given each of us. Let us recommit ourselves to leave a lasting impact through what we do and say, whether it be through our actions or our social media postings. We have a world to influence for His kingdom.
2 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908), p. 650.
3Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (TransWorld Publishers Limited, 2014).