Overwhelming odds can make cowards of us all.
Because there is so much to be done, we can easily lose heart and do nothing. Because there are so many to reach, it is easy to forget that God wants to use us to touch those few within our sphere of responsibility.
I remember the first time I felt overwhelmed regarding ministry in a vast arena. My life had been quiet and manageable. From my birthplace in a south Texas country town I moved with my family to Houston, where we lived through my high school years. Our home was small and secure. After my marriage, a hitch in the Marine Corps, and seminary, Cynthia and I became involved in ministries that were like our past . . . small, pleasant, and fulfilling. Our children were small, our lives were relaxed and rather simple, and our scope of God’s work was quite comfortable.
The call to Fullerton, California, in 1971 changed all that. In fact, it was as the plane descended over Los Angeles when we were coming to candidate that I got this overwhelming feeling. I looked out the little window and watched as mile after mile of houses and freeways and buildings passed beneath us. I tried to imagine ministering to this sprawling metropolis of never-ending humanity. I thought, How can I possibly get my arms around this monstrous task? What can I do to reach the multiple millions in Southern California?
Suddenly, God gently reminded me, as He does to this day: I will never reach them all—that is humanly impossible. But I am responsible for those I come in contact with, and with God’s help, I will make a difference in their lives.
I stopped paying attention to the enormity of the impossible and started pouring my time and energy into the possible—the people and the place [to which] God had called me and my family. Call my vision limited if you will, but it has made all the difference in my peace of mind. I cannot do it all . . . I cannot get my arms around the vast boundaries of our region (no one can!), but I am able to touch those who come into the scope of my “radar screen.” Peace of mind comes in knowing that in at least their lives, my touch can make a difference, even if it is only one here and another there.
That kind of thinking is illustrated vividly in a story I read recently. A businessman and his wife were busy to the point of exhaustion. They were committed to each other, their family, their church, their work, their friends.
Needing a break, they escaped for a few days of relaxation at an oceanfront hotel. One night a violent storm lashed the beach and sent massive breakers thundering against the shore. The man lay in bed listening and thinking about his own stormy life of never-ending demands and pressures.
The wind finally died down and shortly before daybreak the man slipped out of bed and took a walk along the beach to see what damage had been done. As he strolled, he saw that the beach was covered with starfish that had been thrown ashore and helplessly stranded by the great waves. Once the morning sun burned through the clouds, the starfish would dry out and die.
Suddenly the man saw an interesting sight. A young boy who had also noticed the plight of the starfish was picking them up, one at a time, and flinging them back into the ocean.
“Why are you doing that?” the man asked the lad as he got close enough to be heard. “Can’t you see that one person will never make a difference—you’ll never be able to get all those starfish back into the water. There are just too many.”
“Yes, that’s true,” the boy sighed as he bent over and picked up another and tossed it into the water. Then as he watched it sink, he looked at the man, smiled, and said, “But I sure made a difference to that one.”
One person cannot beat the odds. There will always be more to reach than time or energy or commitment can provide. But the truth is that each one of us can touch a few. How wrong we would be to stop helping anyone because we cannot help everyone.
Don’t panic. Count on the Lord to honor and multiply even your smallest efforts. Last time I checked, He was still rewarding faithfulness.
Taken from Charles R. Swindoll, “You Can Make a Difference,” in The Finishing Touch: Becoming God’s Masterpiece (Dallas: Word, 1994), 186-87.