You Can(’t) Change the World! - Devotional

I can recall a speaker at my college telling us that we couldn’t change the world. To an idealistic twenty-year-old brimming with hope for a grand future, as yet unjaded by adult life, it sounded sad. It didn’t convince me that I couldn’t change the world; but it did convince me that our speaker was a pessimist of a particularly tragic kind—the kind that gives up too soon. The message ran against the grain of everything I had been taught to believe, both by my Christian faith and my American culture. After all, wasn’t there limitless potential for every one of us? Couldn’t I be anything I wanted to be, if only I dreamed big and worked hard?

Well over a decade has gone by since I listened to that speech. In that time, I worked in some of the remotest parts of Africa, studied theology in seminary, wrote novels, pastored a church and raised a family. And now I can see something of the speaker’s point. The odds are very, very low that I, Matt Burden, will ever do anything that will so shake the habits and institutions of modern humanity that it would ever be said of me that I had changed the world.

God has many, many, many people who are just as gifted as me (and many who are much more gifted). He has many, many people who are just as on fire to change the world. And even if he didn’t have all those gifted, on-fire people, he still wouldn’t need me. There is absolutely nothing that God cannot accomplish apart from me or you.

All this is not said to be a downer, but simply to tell the truth. Too many people have been handed gold-gilt visions of glorious careers and earth-shattering potential only to find out that life is really pretty hard, that the problems of this world are often beyond our limited potential to solve, and that God is not in the business of sending us bounding from mountaintop to mountaintop without having to traverse the valleys in between. Too many young Christians have had their dreams ruined by the harsh disillusionment of finding out too late that they are not God’s chosen one.

But here’s the good news. Once I realized that I can’t change the world on my own, that my gifts are not great enough and my limitations too great, then I’m in a position to study the other side of the coin. And that other side of the coin tells me that yes, I actually can change the world.

But there’s an important qualifier to that statement. I can change the world, but that “I” is not the personal, individualistic “I” that we usually mean. It’s not “individual I” that can change the world, it’s “theological I.” I-who-am-one-lowly-member-of-the-Body-of-Christ, I can change the world. I-who-am-one-tiny-stone-in-the-great-edifice-of-the-Kingdom-of-God, I can change the world. I-who-am-united-with-Christ-and-sealed-with-the-Spirit, I can change the world. No one may ever know my name or my role in God’s world-changing revolution, but I can be an instrument of that revolution nonetheless, simply because I stand with Him.

Mary Hayden Green Pike, the nationally-famous abolitionist author from Calais and the Second Baptist Church in the 1800s, put it this way: “I suppose that in some places, at least, we each of us leave footprints on the sands of time, though the work of each one seems so little. It is a comfort to know that, though individual traces may be lost, the tramp of passing generations will wear a broad and permanent pathway, on which those who come after may march into the new kingdom, wherein righteousness dwells.”

It is God, working through his people collectively, that changes the world. So here’s the challenge: get involved in church and plug yourself into the revolution that has been quietly transforming the world for 2000 years. You can be a part of the greatest story of all time.