Our lives, our work: What kind of influence do we exert?

“David left there [Gath] and escaped to the cave of Adullam; when his brothers and all his father’s house heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them.

“Those who were with him numbered about four hundred” (1 Samuel 22:1, 2).1

My earliest memory of any discussion of this passage is in the context of church planting. I was a young theology student when a group of members from a church my father had recently pastored formed a new church in a town a few miles away. My father referred to the new congregation as an “Adullam’s cave.” He explained this appellation by describing the attitudes and circumstances of many of the founding members.

In the past, it was more common for new churches to start from a congregational split. Every time I heard about such a church plant, I would be reminded of my father’s words and Adullam’s cave. Early this year I read comments on this verse by leadership expert John Maxwell. He stimulated my thinking.

After slaying Goliath, David was invited into Saul’s palace, where he learned a great deal about ruling the kingdom of Israel, including the art of warfare. Unfortunately, Saul’s jealousy forced David into exile. It is at this point in David’s life that we pick up the story in this passage. Try to imagine the people who gathered around David: everyone who was in distress; everyone in debt; everyone discontented. Or in the words of David himself: “I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords” (Psalm 57:4).

What was David to do with these people? Are these the kind of people who were to resist King Saul?

Was this the group with whom David was to launch a revolution? What kind of leaders – or warriors – would the discontented and distressed make?

David tells how he related to his circumstances: “My heart is steadfast, O God, … I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds” (Psalm 57:7-10).

What happens to the discontented?

As we live in David’s sandals, note what became of his distressed and discontented followers. “David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?’ The Lord said to David, ‘Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.’ But David’s men said to him, ‘Look, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?’ Then David inquired of the Lord again. The Lord answered him, ‘Yes, go down to Keilah; for I will give the Philistines into your hand.’ So David and his men went to Keilah, fought with the Philistines, brought away their livestock, and dealt them a heavy defeat. Thus David rescued the inhabitants of Keilah” (1 Samuel 23:1-5).

The strength and valor of those who followed David to Adullam’s cave continued. They kept conquering the nations of Canaan, annihilating the Geshurites, Gezrites and the Amalekites.

They were also successful in eluding King Saul. “David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but the Lord did not give him into his hand” (1 Samuel 23:14).

As the story unfolds, David’s group increases from 400 to 600 people (1 Samuel 23:13).

When David escaped to the cave, he attracted the distressed and discontented. But by modeling dependence on God, he transformed his men into effective warriors – and leaders. When David ascended the throne they were prepared to take on leadership for the nation.

Two questions

David’s experience confronts us with two questions: what kind of people do we attract? What happens to those people because of their association with us?

Look over your life. Think about the people who gravitate to you as friends, associates, or followers. What kind of people are they? Are they visionaries and achievers? Or are they grumblers and complainers? Have you noticed that people tend to judge us not only by the friends we choose, but also by the people we attract as colleagues, or choose for employees?

Implicit in this first question is another: What kind of people are we? We will never attract the optimistic if we are gloomy and pessimistic; we will never attract the visionary if we see no hope; we will never capture the imagination and enthusiasm of people around us if we ignore opportunities and focus on problems.

Then there’s the second question: what happens to people who associate with us? Our parents always told us to be careful when picking our friends because of the influence they can have on us, but this story also challenges us to think about how we influence people. As we see from David’s example, even the distressed and discontented need not remain in their discontent! It is in our power to influence them. Sometimes I wonder if we give too little regard to the influence of association. If, as is suggested by the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 3:18), we become like the things we admire, then certainly we will influence those who look up to us!

“If we gather not with Christ we scatter abroad. We all have an influence, and that influence is telling upon the destiny of others for their present and future good or for their eternal loss.”2

“Every act of our lives affects others for good or evil. Our influence is tending upward or downward; it is felt, acted upon, and to a greater or less degree reproduced by others. If by our example we aid others in the development of good principles, we give them power to do good. In their turn they exert the same beneficial influence upon others, and thus hundreds and thousands are affected by our unconscious influence.”3

Are our optimism, vision, imagination and faith contagious? Do people who associate with us become more dependent on the Lord Jesus, or more forgetful of His claims on us? Are they more at rest in His goodness and grace? Are they more determined to do His bidding? Are they more eager to build His kingdom?

“You may never know the result of your influence from day to day, but be sure that it is exerted for good or evil. …Throw a pebble into the lake and a wave is formed, and another and another; and as they increase, the circle widens until they reach the very shore. Thus our influence, though apparently insignificant, may continue to extend far beyond our knowledge or control.”4

What kind of people do we attract?

What happens to those people because of their association with us?

Halvard B. Thomsen (D.Min., Andrews University), is Assistant to the President for Administration, North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. E-mail: halvard.thomsen@nad.adventist.org.


  1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from The New Revised Standard Version.
  2. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publ. Assn, 1948), vol. 3, p. 528.
  3. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 133.
  4. Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, (January 24, 1882).