The Web We Weave With Words


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

Recently I happened upon a fund-raising site for a person who wants to make a mission trip. She described some of the things she expects to do if she can make the trip, and then she said, “Even though I will be there for only a short time, I want to make a difference.”

This person used a phrase we hear every day, because the phrase has achieved some prominence in common usage as a way to express a charitable commitment. People are often invited to participate in a charity project in order to “make a difference.” Young people asked what they want to do when they grow up will respond by saying, “I want to make a difference.” I don’t know who said this phrase first, but it has attained great popularity.

That doesn’t make it the right way to describe the work of a Christian on a mission for Christ.

I am certain that the person who used this phrase in her fund-raising effort did not mean what she actually said. Her other statements belie the message of this phrase. She said that she wanted to share Christ with people and show them what he is like. That is not the message of this phrase. She said that she wanted to touch people with Christ’s love. That is not the message of this phrase. She said that she wanted to push back spiritual darkness and physical pain. That is not the message of this phrase.

The message of the phrase, “make a difference” is, “Look at me. See what I do. Take notice of me, because what I do changes things.” The implication of the phrase is that the “difference” she makes will be a good thing for the people who experience it, and the phrase therefore invites praise of the person who “makes” that difference.

This is not the work of a Christian on a mission for Christ, and I know that the person who  used the phrase used it because it is so common in our culture, not because she thought about the meaning of it. She really wanted to say that she hopes to serve the people by pointing them to Christ and inviting them to praise him for what he will do in their lives. She really wants to open people’s hearts and minds to the Christ who will make a real and eternal difference in their lives.

Common usage of this phrase supports deliberately secular work and secular goals. Feeding the hungry is something Christ teaches us to do, and that work makes a difference until the hunger recurs, but if feeding the hungry is nothing more than putting food in people’s mouths, it does not achieve the kind of change Christ has in mind.

When Jesus fed five thousand people, they were agog. What a man! The next morning, after Jesus and the disciples had slipped away, the crowd chased Jesus down near Capernaum and asked, “How did you wind up over here?” Jesus knew that they were not concerned for his well-being or his means to pay for transportation. He replied, “Look, I know you aren’t concerned for my health. You followed me all the way over here, because I gave you food. That food was just a temporary fix. It didn’t do you any eternal good. It didn’t change you. That is not the sort of food to give your energy for. You need the food that endures for eternal life.” (See John 6:22-40) In other words, Christ used the feeding of hungry mouths to open empty hearts to his truth.

This is what the young woman wanted to say when she was trying to raise funds for her mission trip. She didn’t want to ask people to be impressed by her self-sacrifice in going on the mission trip. She doesn’t hope to come home to a parade and a certificate of award for helping sick and hungry people in a third-world country. She wants to touch empty, sick hearts with the love of Christ and give people something that will satisfy their eternal hunger. She doesn’t want people to remember her. She wants people to remember that she gave them Christ.

There is no “sin” in the word this woman used. I am not trying to suggest that. I am, rather, saying that when we speak of the work we want to do, we must speak with the same commitment to Christ that we will apply in the work itself. Our words and our deeds are the testimony everyone sees and hears. People who hear that we are Christians will start judging what Christianity is by what they hear and what they see us do. If all they see are charitable acts, and all they hear are secular phrases, then they are not introduced to Christ and his claim on our lives. It isn’t wicked; it is a lost opportunity to testify.

We miss a lot of such opportunities. The condition of the world witnesses to a deep heart-hunger of people for that eternal food Christ offered to the people after he had fed them temporary bread. We don’t want people to waste time being impressed by us. We want them to see Christ and receive what only he can give. It would be a shame to “make a difference” in time and space while failing utterly to show people the Christ who will change them eternally.

6 thoughts on “The Web We Weave With Words”

  1. Great insight for understanding our role in participating on a mission trip and learning how to communicate it to others. I had a similar observation, and wrote about in a trip devotion…


    1. Your story is inspiring and instructional. It takes strong faith to praise God for sending you to cultivate that field without any hope of ever knowing what the harvest will be. Thank you for sharing.
      It is, indeed, all about God and his work, not about us.


  2. Yes, indeed. This is the reason that it isn’t enough to feed the hungry, important as that is. We must also do what only Christians can do — feed the spirits of the hungry with Christ, our eternal bread of life.


  3. Great post! It reminds me of a message my pastor told us about how he changed his wording after being humbled. He said that he used to say “I want to do great things for God!” But after his humbling experience, his mentor told him to sat “I want to do things for a great God!” He said that this rewording took his sights off of himself and on to God.


  4. Very good article! One of my favorite quotes echoes what you’re saying. I like to remember it as a way to try and remember that it’s all about Christ.

    George Whitefield
    “Let me die, and let my name die with me. To God be the glory.”


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