One of the stranger verses in the Bible is found in Ecclesiastes 11:1, "Cast your bread upon the waters, and you will find it after many days."
When I read that verse, I think of Hansel and Gretel. They left a trail of breadcrumbs by which they hoped to find their way home. But alas, no surprise, the crumbs were eaten by the birds and so the trail was lost.
How in the world could throwing your bread on the surface of water yield an eventual return? (Unless you're feeding catfish, and the plan is to fatten them up for a big fish fry - otherwise, it doesn't seem to make much sense).
But perhaps the New English Translation can help us here: "Send your grain overseas, for after many days you will get a return." That statement seems plain enough.
Whatever the best wording of the sentence, the intent of the lesson seems clear. If we risk, let go, & invest, then there can be a reward. But if there is no risk, no release, and no investment—then there is sure to be no yield. There will be no productivity.
You and I can't make a difference without investing something; without sacrificing something; without planting some seeds.
Jesus' half brother wrote, "Have compassion; make a difference" (Jude 1:22).
The Apostle Paul wrote more than once of his fear of failing to make a difference. He called it "running or laboring in vain" (see Galatians 2:2 & 4:11, Philippians 2:16, & 1st Thessalonians 2:1 & 3:5).
Jesus, Solomon, & James all spoke and/or wrote about the emptiness of fruitlessness. If we aren't having an impact; if we aren't making a real difference, then what is the point?
Twice this week I've heard other believers point out the relative lack of success in the life and ministry of Noah. And surely, it must have been discouraging to him that (other than his wife, 3 sons, and 3 daughter's-in-law) nobody believed his message. Nobody heeded his warnings. Nobody followed his example. Nobody else build an ark to preserve themselves from the impending Deluge.
But wait, quite literally, Noah was casting his bread upon the waters. His only impact on the generations he was leaving behind was to condemn them to their own faithless fate. So, from that perspective he didn't make a difference in the way we might would hope he could have. However, his faith made your life and mine possible. He made a difference for every species on the ark, including the human species. The difference Noah made is immeasurable if not infinite.
And, I want to make a difference too. Don't you?
I don't want to do busywork. I don't want to just go through the motions. I don't want my life to be all smoke and no fire. I want to hear the commendation, "Well done, Dave! You were a good and a faithful servant. I was able to use you. Your life mattered. You're ministry made a difference."
Doubltess you have heard the chorus of the song that goes like this: "Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord. I'm so glad you gave."
And, maybe you've heard the story of "The Boy and the Starfish." Look it up if you' haven't. In the story the boy couldn't save every beached starfish, but he could make a difference for the ones he rescued. His comment, "I just made a difference for that one,” (as he tossed one of the stranded creatures back into the water) illustrates powerfully how we can each make a difference.
We can change the world one moment at a time; one person at a time; one decision at a time.
Perhaps you're familiar with this old proverb.
Q: How does one eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.
Spurgeon had a witness. Churchill had a mother. And Socrates had a teacher.
"The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world" (William Ross Wallace).
According to the school of thought and philosophy called existential nihilism, nothing matters.
Then there is materialism, which claims that matter is all there is.
But according to the Bible, neither of those perspectives are correct. The Bible's claim is that everything matters.
In the branch of mathematics called chaos theory there is something labeled "the butterfly effect." It is "the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere" (from Oxford Languages via Google).
This is contrary to the example of a pebble thrown into a flowing river. While there is a momentary sound and ripples, the flow of the river ultimately remains unchanged. The pebble is virtually irrelevant.
But these are all reasonable and rational attempts at grasping the significance or insignificance of our lives. The tools of logic and experience are useful, but limited.
By revelation we know that ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER for good for those who love God, who are called in agreement with His purpose.
By revelation we know that we are commanded to bring glory to God in all that we do. Even in eating and drinking.
Jesus Himself said that even the service of offering a cup of water to someone "in the name of a disciple" is not an act lost on God. God sees. He knows. He cares. And, He rewards.
The widow's mite might not have mattered for the temple budget, but it mattered to God. In fact, it mattered more than the abundance of money that others donated. It made a difference. It made waves in heaven.
Jesus pointed out that there is rejoicing in heaven in the presence of the angels when 1 sinner repents. It only takes the return of 1 lost sheep for heaven to pause and celebrate. He asked, "What would a man give in exchange for his soul?" And He answered His own question by pointing out that the whole value of the world is not as great as the value of one's own soul. So, if (in the whole entirety of our life's journey) we influence even one soul (and that only in part), still our life has been worth living. We have made a difference. For the good.
On the other hand, if we fail and thereby trip up some tender one who is watching us. That too makes a difference. The difference is not for the better though. And, this is why Jesus spoke of millstones and necks and drowning. Our errors make a difference too.