The other day, while we were awaiting our planes in Naples, a friend said to me, “You know, Joe, people spend the first half of their lives trying to be a success, and the second-half trying to become significant.”
He added, “You know what I mean, trying to decide what kind of record I’ll leave behind. My legacy. How will I be remembered?”
I’ve thought about that ever since.
What I said to him at the moment was, “One of our favorite SBC pastors, Dr. Frank Pollard, was once asked how he wanted to be remembered after his death. He stunned the questioner into silence with his answer. ‘I don’t want to be remembered. I’m just the messenger.'”
Frank’s word set the gold standard for those of us in the Lord’s work.
The issue remains, however, and deserves some thought: What does it mean to become significant in this world? and how can I attain it?
So, the title of this piece is a misnomer. We’re not actually focusing on how “we” can become “somebody.” In Creation, God made us somebody: “a little lower than the angels,” is how the Psalmist put it (Ps. 8:5). In redemption, God showed us the true value He places on us: “God so loved (us) that He gave His only begotten Son….” (John 3:16).
The question rather becomes How can I make a lasting difference in my world? So that when I depart, I will leave behind a legacy of faithfulness, I’ll leave people who are better off for my having been here.
Let’s make a list of ways to make a significant difference in this world.
But first, let’s set down some “Do Nots” which need to be mentioned.
1) Do not try to do everything.
You cannot fill all the needs around you. You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot and shouldn’t try. Find the thing God has uniquely prepared you to do.
When I was in seminary, a prominent leader said, “Wherever there is a need is the mission field, and the nearest believer is the missionary.” That sounded spiritual and it brought forth a chorus of ‘amens.’ But it’s wrong. Very wrong. God never intends that we respond to every need around us, otherwise we would be nervous wrecks, dropping the task at hand to run to another one we just spotted.
What counts is what God has shown us as our call, a work for which He has gifted us.
2) Do not underestimate your ability to do something big.
“What can I do? I’m only one person.” Ever say that? It’s actually a joke. We’re all “one persons.” No one is two people. Anything that gets done will be done by one person here, one there, and one over there.
You are one. Get started. But do not allow yourself the luxury of falling for this deception from the wicked one, a lie that has paralyzed good people from action for too long.
You can do all things (that He wants you to do) through Christ who strengthens you.
3) Do not dismiss a task or ministry or role because it’s too small.
Take it and make it something special.
A deacon who served as president of the American Bankers Association once told me how he rose from obscurity to that lofty position. “I was named to chair a lowly committee in the ABA,” he said, “one that had never done anything. But I saw something going on in banking that connected with our committee, worked up a presentation, and went all over the country speaking on it.” In time, he was so well-known that electing him to national leadership was the obvious thing to do.
According to Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus loves to use small beginnings to achieve great results. If you make yourself small enough, He might use you. Or me.
4) Do not keep measuring your impact.
You are not your own judge, not your own record keeper. Keep your eyes on the Lord, on submitting yourself to others, on doing the job at hand.
Depression has many fathers, but nothing engenders this soul-sickness like the feeling that your work has meant nothing, that no fruit has come from your efforts. (The irony, of course, is that if you are working for the wrong “Master,” this may be the case. But when we serve the living God in the place where He placed us, no matter how insignificant, we are successes.)
5) Do not fail to encourage your co-workers and colleagues.
You are competing with none of them. Your job is to be part of the answer, not another of the problems. Since most of your colleagues will be focusing on themselves, you will be one of the few who devote yourself to encouraging each of them.
This point was almost an after-thought. But in our attempts to leave a lasting legacy, it’s easy to narrow our focus and lose all thoughts of the beloved friends and family around us. None of us are one-man shows. We are part of a family of believers, as well as the human family. Let us be encouragers.
6) Do not keep your head down so long that you might miss opportunities to do more that your work has created.
Keep the big picture in mind. What else is the Lord showing you that could be done?
7) Do not ignore the Spirit within you. Listen to your heart.
Here then is my list of ways of making a significant difference in the lives of those around you, so you will be missed when you are called away.
By working in the background, more or less anonymously, you can have a vital role in far more areas than by direct involvement. These areas come to mind:
–A ministry of giving anonymously.
You’d need a go-between for this, someone (a banker?) who would channel your gifts to the recipient and keep it confidential. I know people who have a working relationship with the manager of a men’s clothing store. From time to time, the manager will call a struggling preacher and say, “Someone has made arrangements for you to have a new suit. Come in when you can and let me show you what we have.” The preacher gets a brand-new outfit where price was no object, and never knows the name of his benefactor. One result is that he is grateful to everyone he meets, since that person might be the perpetrator!
–A ministry of praying.
Prayer goes into the biggest board rooms and seats of power in the world. There is no place off limits to its effectiveness. The only limitation on your prayers is your faith. And nothing tells the story on our faith like our prayers.
We sometimes speak of various totalitarian governments as being closed to the Lord’s work. But none are closed to the Gospel or to prayer. They are closed only to traditional ways of sending missionaries.
If we believe God, and if we care for people, we will pray.
–A ministry of writing.
Today, with the internet, you can get addresses for movie stars, all kinds of celebrities and leaders, as well as the lesser knowns of our world. What if you began a ministry of writing them words of encouragement. Let me emphasize, I do not mean writing them over the internet. Hand write the letters. Make them personal. Pour yourself into them. Pray for the Spirit’s direction in how to do this.
The internet is a mixed blessing. People who get lots of e-mail tire of all those “greeting cards” and other attachments which take time to open, and which clutter up mailboxes. But as fewer and fewer hand-written letters are sent each year, receiving one becomes a real occasion.
Here are some things that come to mind…..
1) Serve the servants.
Two mornings ago, after a massive rainstorm that destroyed the cardboard boxes of old magazines and other throwaways I’d placed on the curb behind my house, I went out and thanked the garbagemen for their excellent work. Then, I handed each one a twenty-dollar bill.
Ministers are servants. Missionaries are servants. Public servants can be found in every community. What if you devoted yourself to making their lives better?
You know the household of Stephanas, that is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints… (I Corinthians 16:15).
2) Find the overlooked in your world and see what the Lord wishes you to do.
The kids in the trailer park. The families there. The blighted neighborhoods in your town. The school there. The failing school in your town. The latch-key kids. Those needing tutoring. The hungry, the unemployed, the troubled.
Is there an area in your town where the residents are so poor or so “something” (foreign, isolated, ousted) that they will not come to established churches? Perhaps you should begin a ministry in that trailer park or apartment building.
A friend whose college son was injured in a hazing incident spent weeks in the ICU waiting room at a local hospital. When the son died and he returned home to Tennessee, the distraught father began devoting himself to ministry in the ICUs of his local hospitals. He said, “I never knew there was this kind of suffering in these places.”
What about the homeless, the foreign visitors, the discouraged?
3) Tell some troubled person about Jesus and help him/her to become His disciple.
I’m reading the current Stephen King best-seller, “11/22/1963,” at the moment. The premise is simple enough, even if a little bizarre. A schoolteacher named Jake Epping finds a way to go back to 1958 to “fix” the past. In order to address some severe inequities he knew of, he got a handgun and returned to the past to (ahem) “bump off” some key troublemakers. One of those was Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassinator of JFK, hence the title of the book.
Now, I’m only 1/3 of the way through this 800-page book, but I find myself in a constant conversation with Jake. “Hey, schoolteacher–you don’t have to kill the guy. Convert him. Let God change his heart!”
But this is how we do things, isn’t it? To get a bad guy out of the way, kill him.
God’s way is to kill the old man through the cross of Jesus. (As I type this, tomorrow is Easter. There is no better reminder of God’s provision for life-changing remedies. The problem is, as the Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians, the natural man finds this to be foolishness. After all, can anyone imagine Stephen King writing a book on a fellow returning to a time in the past in order to tell a bad guy about Jesus in order to change history? Sounds good to me.)
There is no end to this article, I’ve decided. After all, the list of works one may leave behind in order to a) make life better for others and b) make himself missed when he departs is infinite. So, rather than belabor the point, I’ll stop here.
For those who are obedient followers of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit has gifted you spiritually to do certain things, and–how good is this!–He indwells you to point those things out. Further, He even strengthens you as you begin to respond to His prompting to carry it out.
No excuses, now. No procrastination. Just obedience.