32 years ago, a phrase entered my vocabulary from two teachers I had in junior high school (Belair Jr. High, Pine Bluff, Arkansas) – my first band director, Mr. E.M. Carlton, and my 8th Grade English teacher Mrs. Sandra Boone. While the phrase wasn’t one I remember either of these people using, these two dedicated teachers more clearly demonstrated the concept more clearly than any other teacher I had in school. It wasn’t that they blew their own horns (Mr. Carlton was a very good trombone player), but that they simply cared enough to “make a difference”. They invested in their students, and neither shied away from giving out tough love!
Little did I know that years later, this phrase would become my own life goal. First, as a teacher and band director myself, my desire was – through the medium of music – to make a difference in the lives of my students. The difference might not so much to be measured by awards, accomplishments, or accolades, but by changes in attitudes, desires, and aims in life. I remember one specific and very small example came when a former student from my humble 7th Grade music appreciation class who had no desire to be introduced to the music we studied, who several years later made a bee-line to find me to share with me that she had been able to see a musical we had studied in class – and how much she was grateful I had introduced her class to that whole genera of music. While not necessarily an eternal impact, it was a great honor to be able to help some students not only gain an appreciation for music in their lives beyond what was “popular”, but for some to actually grow to love music.
Then the Lord called me to ministry, and no surprise – that same phrase for life equally applies! The big difference now being it could be of eternal value! The life of a minister of the Gospel, preacher, and pastor is called in scripture is one of doing everything in the mission of “making a difference”. Isaiah put it like this in Isaiah 52:7:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
I like to believe that what I am charged with is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to this lost and dying world, to proclaim the truth that there is but One Way – The Way, The Truth and The Life. I am charged with being a “Watchman on the Wall” – crying out warnings of judgment. I am called to love those that God places in my life as sheep in a flock. Jesus calls His ministers to “feed my sheep”. With this charge also comes the serious reminder found in Romans 14:12 that I “will give an account” before the Lord.
As a pastor, I have seen some beautiful things, have witnessed some incredible change in lives, and have been blessed to indeed “make a difference”. But sometimes those attempts to make a difference are derailed – sometimes by those who would seek to disrupt anything that glorifies God or helps lead people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Satan would like nothing better than to derail the Gospel. But when the Devil loses one, he then goes to work to try to quell the Spirit, to prevent any real, life-long change. He sets his sights on being that bushel basket Jesus warns believers to not cover our light with. And sometimes it is the pastor who allows his light to be covered.
When my heart is broken to reach out to someone in need, only to be bashed or abused – it leads to discouragement that, when left unchecked, casts a shadow over the light of Christ in my life.
When I proclaim the need to forgive, yet hold on to unforgiveness in my heart – my light grows dimmer.
When I allow the inconsistencies I witness in others lead to inconsistencies in my own life –
When the harsh treatment I may receive turns into my own harshness towards others, especially my family –
What kind of “difference” am I making?
As surely as a consistent, Christ-centered, Bible-following life can make an eternal difference in someone’s life, so too can harsh words, poor decisions, or even missteps!
How many souls have been pushed away from church by the words or actions by a pastor or other minister (or me)?
How many lives have been shattered by abuses from the pulpit?
How many people I have come into contact with, within or outside the church, have I failed to “make a difference” (at least a positive difference) because of my own pity-party? How often have I, because of allowing myself to become jaded by what I have witnessed and experienced – and completely fail when compared to the words of my Savior in Matthew 25:34-46 – having not helped the poor, fed the hungry, visited those imprisoned, etc.?
I don’t “work for accolades and fame”. Any glory that might comes is due only to God. But my heart breaks when it seems that I am not making a difference at all.
When a preacher proclaims the Word and doesn’t see any apparent impact – he gets discouraged, with the question “did it make any difference?”
When pews or chairs stay empty on Sunday morning, discouragement grows like a cancer.
And discouragement, like a snowball rolling down a hillside, grows and become much more difficult to stop (much less reverse), further feeding the feeling of failure in the aim of making a difference.
And to be totally honest – I am personally struggling in ways I never have before. I am not wavering in my faith. I am not shaken in my absolute conviction that the Lord has called me to be a pastor. And I most certainly still desire, possibly more than anything else, to genuinely make a difference! I do not feel (I really hate feelings – a tough spot for someone who is a fairly emotional person) these days like I am making much of a real difference. I feel inadequate for all the Lord has placed before me – from my ministry, to being a husband and a father. I know and fully believe that the Lord equips and empowers those He calls. I just wish He would grant me an extra measure of His Grace. I long for an answer to the prayer like the one in 2 Kings 6:17 – where Elisha prayed “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” In that case, the LORD did open the yes of the young man – allowing Him to see that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Oh LORD – please open MY eyes to your presence, your power, and your perfect plan, because LORD – feel like I am just wandering in the wilderness. Lord – help me with more than just proclaiming your Word – I want to make a real difference. Lord – I need to see the plans you have for me – I need encouragement, I need wisdom. LORD – I need you. Help me to be the spiritual leader in my home, the husband I need to be, the father my girls need. LORD – guide my words and actions as I try to lead the people you have called me to care for. Help me to not be discouraged by people, but instead to recognize that the battle is not with people, but with the rulers, authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Lord, help me to really “take up the whole armor of God”, that I might “withstand in the evil day, having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:12-13). Lord – help the church you have entrusted to my care to also grasp the vision of making a difference, led by your Spirit.