“I want to make a difference!” How often have you heard these words – or expressed them yourself? Have you ever wondered what difference you’re actually making in this world, if any?
Many aging Baby Boomers wonder about this. Having devoted their lives to the pursuit of success and fulfillment, they’re hoping to have accomplished something of lasting significance. People who work in “behind the scenes” professions, where their work is unlikely to merit much public notice, often wonder what difference they’re making in society. From experience, I know that writers, largely a solitary, introverted lot, pour our hearts onto a page or computer screen not knowing who’s reading what we write. Or how they’re responding.
Some people dismiss the what difference am I making question altogether, replacing it with the more skeptical, “What difference can one person make anyway?” How can a single individual have an noteworthy effect on more than a handful of folks in their immediate sphere of influence?
Maybe that was the motivation behind the mournful Three Dog Night song of late ‘60s, “One Is the Loneliest Number.” Yes, usually we can accomplish much more working with others than we can alone. But let’s not underestimate the impact of one person.
|Anne Sullivan (right) works with deaf and blind|
Helen Keller in this public domain photo from
the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Think of Desmond Doss, the conscientious objector in World War II portrayed in the film, “Hacksaw Ridge.” Doss refused to carry a weapon because of his religious convictions, but serving in the unarmed role of medic was personally responsible for saving the lives of dozens of wounded soldiers. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his acts of bravery and selflessness.
Or consider author, activist and lecturer Helen Keller, who became the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. It was her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who was able to break through young Helen’s sensory isolation, helping her to communicate, learn, and develop into a highly accomplished woman despite her disabilities.
As we read the Scriptures, we find numerous examples of God using individuals to carry out His purposes. Noah and his ark, as well as Jonah the reluctant prophet, come to mind. There was Joseph, responsible for bringing the people of Israel to Egypt during a devastating famine, and even Rahab, a prostitute who protected the Israelite spies as they sized up Jericho.
But there’s someone else who was called to my attention recently: Philip the apostle, who had an unexpected encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. In the story, recounted in Acts 8, an angel directed Philip to meet the official, a key aide to the queen of Ethiopia.
The unnamed man was in his chariot, reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah that refers to the coming Messiah. Recognizing the Ethiopian was struggling to understand what it meant, “Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Placing his trust in Christ, the official spotted some water along the roadside and asked Philip to baptize him to confirm his new faith.
Almost immediately afterward, God’s Spirit whisked Philip away from there, and the Ethiopian “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). But the story doesn’t end there. Christian historians say this individual not only held to his faith, but was used by God to establish the Church not only in Ethiopia but also throughout Africa.
Philip’s obedient encounter with this man might have been brief, but the impact was profound – and it continues to this day. Not bad for an afternoon’s work!
So, the next time you’re asking yourself, “What difference can I make?”, remember the answer: Only God knows.