Recently I was having coffee with a man I had not seen in quite some time. The first words out of his mouth were quite unexpected as he asked me, “What kind of problems are you trying to solve?” He obviously was not interested in small talk.
What he was really asking me was “How are you making a difference in people’s lives?” Particularly when you consider how so many modern people are lost and experiencing so much pain. It led to a really good conversation.
This reminds me of an article written about the Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl and his book, Man’s Search For Meaning. The article spoke of a study performed by a team of psychiatrists who concluded that people today are more interested in finding happiness than meaning. They found that happiness is associated with taking, while leading a meaningful life corresponds with giving and making an impact on the lives of others.
J.P. Moreland says that we should see ourselves in light of a larger cause; “the outworking of God’s plan in history.” We should be preoccupied with finding our role in His cause and playing it well. Moreland says we should seek to become the kind of people who can skillfully make those around us better at living their lives.
I think we sometimes forget that people are of infinite value. When C.S. Lewis became a Christian, it changed his entire view of people. Armand Nicholi, who has written on the life of Lewis says:
Lewis’s new worldview changed his valuation of people. Death no longer marked the end of life, but only the end of the first chapter in a book that went on without end. Every human being, he now believed, would live forever – outliving every organization, every state, every civilization on earth. “There are no ordinary people,” Lewis reminded his audience in an address given at Oxford.
No one ever talks to “a mere mortal . . . it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors . . . your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your sense.”
People, in Lewis’s new view, transcend in time and significance everything else on earth. This forced him to set new priorities in his life – the first priority given to his relationship with God, the second priority, to his relationship with others.
I think we should also remember when we impact the lives of others, we never know who they may go out and influence. As the Pulitzer Prize historian Henry Adams put it; “A teacher affects eternity, he never knows where his influence ends.” Think about how this applies in the spiritual realm, how we truly have the opportunity to participate in the eternal purposes of God.
This reminds me of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The great take away from this movie is that one life influences another life, and then that life influences another, and so on.
In the movie, an angel named Clarence is attempting to prove to George Bailey how significant his life has been. He does this by showing George what life would have been like in Bedford Falls if George had never existed.
In a very powerful scene, the angel Clarence shows George the grave of his brother Harry. The tombstone reveals that his brother Harry died as a young boy. George protested that it was not true, Harry did not drown that day, because George had saved his life.
The words of Clarence the angel are haunting.
Clarence: “Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.”
George: “That’s a lie! Harry Bailey went to war. He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!”
Clarence: “Every man on that transport died. Harry was not there to save them because you weren’t there to save Harry.”
This is how life works. As Jerry Leachman says, “Life is a generational team effort.”
So what are we doing with our lives? Are we making a difference in others that will last over time? Are we investing in endeavors that will live on after we are gone.
One of the most unusual books in the Bible is the book of Ecclesiastes. It is very philosophical and thought-provoking. The author of the book, (who most people believe is King Solomon), speaks of the incredible wealth he has built up, the experience of every pleasure known to man, the knowledge he has gained, and all kinds of beautiful building projects he had completed. In the end, he experiences a real emptiness. He describes his life as vanity, like chasing after the wind. All that he experienced and accomplished was in vain.
Is there anything I can do with my life that is not vanity, that is not done in vain? Yes! The Apostle Paul put it in these words:
“Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)