I was fortunate that early in life, I was exposed to other people’s needs that were much greater than my own. Traveling in the developing world, I saw that I could make a difference in their lives. The paradox is that in focusing on helping meet their needs, my own life was enriched.
We’ve been created to make a difference. We dream of doing so. God made us with an inner urge to come alongside those who are struggling and to help them. It’s what truly makes us happy. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” He should know—he wired us that way.
Don’t you feel good when you make a difference in someone’s life? If you were feeling like a dim lightbulb, doesn’t your light shine a little brighter?
The problem is, a world full of obligations and distractions weighs us down, isolates and keeps us locked down. School loans, car payments, mortgages, and the jobs that help us pay those bills, all limit our sense of possibilities.
In the fight to breathe life into our dreams, the enemy of your soul has two main strategies to keep you from making a difference in the lives of others.
1. Redirect your commitment elsewhere.
If most people dream about how they could make a difference, why is it that they don’t do their dream?
Because dreams require commitment. If we’re already committed elsewhere, our dreams whither and eventually die.
The enemy’s strategy is “death by a thousand cuts”—get you to commit to someone else’s agenda and you postpone your own dreams of helping others. At your place of work, if you perform, you’ll be rewarded—a quid pro quo. It’s called “building your career.”
A career says, “You need to keep climbing. If you’re not climbing, you’re not OK. Do what’s prudent.”
Careers mortgage your dreams for someone else’s. They take your natural generosity and starch it and press it into a mold that looks enough like you that you stay in the game.
2. Make you more cautious.
A second thing that slowly kills our dreams is that we become more cautious over time. We start out in life with an appetite for risk. The soul longs for freedom; God built us to make a difference.
But as we acquire stuff and responsibility, our risks cost more and we begin to hedge our bets. It’s our hedging that kills our dreams. The corporate life and the careers that it produces harness you to a set of policies and procedures that can slowly choke the life out of you. And so we cling to what we find safe and predictable.
The trouble is that the best stuff you ever do in life will probably require some risk. The best stories are the ones where people showed courage in the face of risk.
Ten years ago, when the idea of going to Africa to help address the AIDS problem came to me, it required that I basically take a sabbatical from my regular life. It was crazy, but I did it. I took Karen and three of our kids along, and we put everything else on hold. I could do it because that’s the kind of life-altering risk I ask others to take all the time.
It seemed reckless in that I had to embrace risk over security. But I realized that when considering whether to take a risk or not, the biggest risk lay in not pursuing the dream God had given me.
How to make a difference:
The way to break out of the cycle that keeps you from making a difference is to first of all recognize what God has called you to do. Maybe you’re right where he has called you now. Maybe paying off your debt is exactly what you need to be doing. But if you’re going to delay doing your dream, at least make sure it’s connected to the big picture.
What is the big picture? Where could you make a difference? Spend time thinking about that. Cultivate your dream in your thoughts and conversations and prayers.
Don’t let your current circumstances smother your righteous dreams. There is more for you, but you have to nurture your dream. Set aside time to see in your mind’s eye what God has called you to do. Then seek him for the plan to realize it.
And when you can see your dream, commit to it. Decide to make a difference. That decision is the most important step you’ll take. It will help you take the kind of faith steps that God will reward.