Without a doubt, your input affects your output. We can find this pattern throughout the world around us. For example, we become what we eat. If we continue to eat junk food, our physical body will become vulnerable to illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. If we enter wrong data in a computer program, we will get wrong results. If we sow an apple seed, we would not get oranges. What we sow is what we will reap.
The same thing could be said regarding our character. What we enter into our minds can begin to affect our behavior and character. There are five influences that feed our brain and can alter how our brain is programmed and how we will act in different scenarios. Piece by piece, like a puzzle, they come together to form who we really are. They influence how we think, how we respond to different circumstances, how we speak, what we speak, what we value in life, what we spend most of our time in, and how we treat others around us.
The Bible is full of verses instructing us to guard our hearts because all of man’s actions, whether good or bad come from what is already stored in it. You are in reality what your heart is. Put another way, the real you is reflected in your thoughts, desires and motives. Consider the following verses:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
It’s possible to live a holy life in an unholy world; however it starts with what we put in our hearts. Remember our input affects our output. Many people can live an outward moral life and yet be filled with evil, sinful desires that destroy them from the inside. Such were the religious leaders during Jesus’ day. Jesus confronts the elite religious leaders directly by accusing them of being morally good on the outside, for everyone to see and admire, yet filled with dead men’s bones on the inside. In spite of all their work by attempting to keep the entire law of God, they are all dismissed as being filled with hypocrisy, self-indulgence, greed, and wickedness. God is more interested on what happens inside of us, because what happens inside of us would naturally alter what happens on the outside.
Guarding our hearts is probably the hardest part in trying to avoid all the ungodly influences that the world throws our way on a daily basis. It’s all around us, on billboards, commercials, television shows, magazines, the internet, movies, music and co-workers. If we guard our heart, above all else, we will ensure that no evil influence makes its domain in there. So, how are we to know the essentials that influence our hearts which in turn affect our character and behavior?
Here is a list of five powerful factors that can help influence our character; either for good or for bad, and can change our lives.
What you allow to enter your visual senses
The images that pop up on the screen of your computer or television set, or a page on a magazine can impact your thought patterns and even your behavior. The brain processes visual stimuli that can in turn change your decision on a particular matter. Think about how marketing agencies spend millions of dollars on visual ad campaigns, commercials and billboards so that they can influence you to buy their product or service. It is a very powerful tool.
While we are often told that keeping good eye contact is essential for effective communication, deep, long looks should only be reserved for our spouse. What we allow to enter through our eyes will enter our minds, because the eyes are the window to the soul. Lusting starts with the eyes and enters the heart. Jesus made it clear that adultery is not only committed in the actual, physical act, but even in the thought itself. Matthew writes, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:28). Pay attention to the close connection between “looking” and the “heart.” If you look lustfully, you have already committed adultery in your heart. At times, our imagination and fantasy are just as strong, just as real, and just as genuine as the actual act.
How many countless victims have fallen prey to pornography due to its enticing visual stimulation and creating addicts; How many countless victims have fallen prey to depression and isolation because they compare themselves to beauty models who look more beautiful than they; How many countless victims have fallen prey to greed and selfishness because their eyes have lusted after material possessions and power.
What you allow to enter your hearing senses
I am certain you have heard the children’s adage, “Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I am sure the person who came up with this had good intentions, but it is absolutely false. Words do hurt us; and sometimes more than sticks and stones. By the rule of contraries, words can also bring healing and restoration. The Bible is filled with verses that speak about the influence of the spoken word. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). Listening to wisdom is compared to finding life and receiving favor form the Lord (Proverbs 8: 34-35). If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials will become wicked (Proverbs 29:12). It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:5).
What we listen to can have a great influence on our character and attitude. Listening to music is a good way to enjoying our time and expressing our self. However, depending on the type of music we listen to, can positively or negatively impact us. Due to the overwhelming influence music has on its hearers, we should not allow ourselves to listen to music which promotes sin and ungodliness.
Entire Sub-groups and sub-cultures are created through varying genres of music, allowing its listeners to conform to the musician’s ideals, goals, and worldview. The power of music influences its listeners to change their appearance and behavior to reflect that of the musical style of the musician(s) they identify themselves with. Slowly but surely, they find themselves conforming to the subtleties and subliminal messages that are pumped out. Sadly, they experiment with different styles until they have found their identity. We are not to conform ourselves into the pattern of this world, but we are supposed to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).
Listening to dirty jokes or stories that allow your mind to think thoughts that don’t bring honor to God and no value to your well-being should be stopped. Allowing yourself to listen in and participate in gossip hurts you more than you can realize. Allowing yourself to listen to negative people, on a continual basis, can have damaging effects on your own behavior and outlook on life. Paul admonishes his readers, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). We should not participate on either side (speaking or listening) of this transaction.
What you allow your mind to entertain itself with and spend your time meditating on
The activities you spend your time on could have an influence on your life. The books you read, the movies you watch, the places you go to, the amount of time you spend reading the Bible and praying, and the meditations of your heart all play a small, but crucial role on your thinking patterns, desires, habits and character. Over time your actions become habits and later turn to become your character.
Many Christians have lost the art of meditating on the word of God, and therefore, have brought themselves spiritual problems. The closest most of us come to meditating on the word of God is scripture memorization. While it is good to memorize scripture, meditating is much deeper than that. We must memorize, think about, meditate upon, entertain ourselves with, bring into memory, reflect on, ponder, contemplate, consider, redirect and apply our thoughts on the word of God. The Psalmist writes, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97). When Joshua was leading the children of Israel passed down to him from Moses, he specifically instructed them to meditate on the book of the law day and night. “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).
We all can become anxious and lose sleep at times when we are thinking about our problems and not meditating on the word of God as we should. What is entertaining your mind? What are you meditating on? The Psalmist meditated on the word of God when he could not sleep at night (Psalm 119:148). When the Psalmist was worried for the safety of his life, he meditated on the word of God (Psalm 119:23). How is a young person to stay on the path to purity? By keeping the word of God (Psalm 119:9). When you suffer in life, where do you draw your comfort from? The Psalmist said, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” (Psalm 119:50). As we can see, all of our life’s problems can be solved by simply meditating our minds on the word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and its primary focus is on the supremacy of God’s word and how we are to meditate on it. The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Why don’t we meditate what we learned from Psalm 119 and apply it to John 11:35.
What you spend most of your time thinking about
What we feed our mind, we simultaneously feed our heart. Our hearts and minds are sometimes used interchangeably in the Bible. From the moment we wake up, to the moment we sleep, our minds are constantly being shaped into the things we spend most of our time thinking about during the day.
Paul reminds the Colossians, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3: 1-2). Paul is giving a command to deliberately set our heart, in verse one, and mind, in verse two, on things in heaven. The data we put in our heart and mind will eventually dictate the outcome of our thoughts and ultimately our actions. What are you thinking about? What is your heart dwelling on?
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” We must replace our evil thoughts with the thoughts which are found in the list above in order that we may be pleasing to the Lord.
Consider the following:
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
By: Lao Tzu
Your inner thoughts and the pattern of your inner thoughts you allow yourself to develop will often mold and shape your character and behavior. It is who you really are and who you will eventually become.
Who you associate with
Paul taught that, our character can be influenced by the people we associate ourselves with. He said, “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character”” (1 Cor. 15:33). This is not a new concept to the New Testament. To see more examples of this, you can go to the Old Testament where God instructed the Israelites not to inter-marry with other pagan cultures so that they would not influence them. In Particular, God told the Israelites not to inter-marry the Canaanites because he knew that if they did marry them, they would be pulled away from following God, and turn to worship other false gods (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).
God chose Israel to be set apart from the rest of the pagan gentiles and become a holy nation (Leviticus 11:44). They were not to even comingle with them, lest they should turn their heart away to other gods and sin against the Lord. Another example of this was King Solomon. By marrying multiple pagan wives and concubines his heart was turned to other gods. Consider how the wisest man who ever lived was influenced by the people he associated with: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 11:4).
Little by little, the power of influence from those who we associate with can have a great impact on our character and our decisions. If we don’t guard our hearts by who we associate with, we can become accustomed to the patterns of this evil world system. The slow moral decay can even desensitize the most pious person if they walk among the wicked. The first verse of the first Psalm begins with the admonishment to be wise who we associate with by assigning a blessing to those who give heed to the Psalmist’s warning; “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers…” (Psalm 1:1).
The next time you are considering what influences your character, think about the five ways mentioned above. These are some of the building blocks to help you hone in your attention. Each element has its own structure and can be used to either help you build your character or help you destroy your character depending on how you use them. These five factors can also help you build stronger relationships with others as you redirect your attention on sharpening your own character. You will reap what you sow.