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Made to Make a Difference

Max Lucado explains (and shows) how it's done.

By Sandy Feit


“When your grandchildren discover you lived during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and one billion people were hungry, how will they judge your response?” Several years ago, this question was posed to Max Lucado, and it kept him up at night. The profound implications of staggering need made the pastor/author ask some questions of his own: “What if we rocked the world with hope? Infiltrated all corners with God’s love and life? What if we followed the example of the Jerusalem church? This tiny sect expanded into a world-changing force. We still drink from their wells and eat from their trees of faith. How did they do it? What can we learn from their priorities and passion?”1

This introspection eventually resulted in his latest book, Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference. Max recently spoke with In Touch magazine about how each of us can have an impact on others—perhaps even after our own lifetime.

IN TOUCH MAGAZINE: So many of us race through life at 90 miles an hour. How might you motivate a busy, overcommitted person to become more interested in helping others?

MAX LUCADO: I think it depends on who that person is. If that person is a Christian, I might be so bold as to say, “Well, this is what we signed up for.” I do understand people are overextended. Yet I do my best to convince them that small things can make a big difference—just like a concert, where each person in the orchestra plays his part and a skilled conductor brings out great music. That’s the way God is: if we just do our small part, we trust that He’s going to create something wonderful out of it.

What about when our interests don’t line up with a particular ministry or area of service? Should we assume God has a different “assignment” for us, or might we possibly still have a part to play in that effort?

One of the things we can do is examine the [strengths] and abilities that we have. By asking, What’s the one thing I could do that a thousand other people can’t do? we can identify what skill set we can bring to this ministry. For some people, it would be social activism or some type of policy making. For others, it might be prayer and fasting. For still others, it might be hands-on acts of compassion.

Do you talk to non-Christians in a different way?

I do—I would say, “You know, there’s a secret to the Christian life that you might consider, and that is, you really begin to find your life by losing it. [In other words,] you find the meaning in life by losing it in the concern for other people. Whereas common sense or street wisdom says if you want to find your life, you focus on yourself. Jesus inverted that; He said it’s really better to give than receive. And the happiest people in the world are those who are living for someone other than themselves.

You suggest praying for “a resurgence of compassion and outpouring of service.” Why do you suppose so many people have trouble feeling for the brokenhearted or allowing tragic situations to inspire involvement?

One reason is because the statistics are just mind-numbing, and I don’t think we can live in those statistics very long without feeling overwhelmed. “Compassion fatigue” is a real [issue]. People say, “Well, there’s another world disaster. First there’s Haiti, then there’s Chile, and now there’s Pakistan—all within a matter of months. How can we respond to this?” So we begin to feel a numbness, sometimes even a cynicism, toward the problem of needy people. I think we have to be careful about that; we have to realize, No, I cannot do everything, but I can do my thing. I can do the one thing that God has called me to do.

We can also get educated. There are some situations where we don’t need to help; I’m trying to call people’s attention to the large numbers of people who do work but still don’t eat, because they live in a culture where they simply can’t get ahead. Those are the people that I think we can help.

Sometimes we assume we’re helping but in reality are making things worse. Do you have practical suggestions for avoiding this kind of pitfall?

First, partnering when possible is really helpful. For example, I may have a heart to get girls out of prostitution in Cambodia. But it’s foolish for me to think I’m going to do anything by flying over there, walking the streets, and giving girls money so they can get out. It’s just not going to help. There has to be some type of sophisticated strategy. So that’s where an organization like World Vision, International Justice Mission, or Compassion comes into play. Sometimes our best play is to partner with a group that knows how to drill water wells or understands how to handle the government issues.

Then, right here in our own cities, there are important common-sense things we can do. At our church’s benevolence office, we have the saying, “If they have to have help right now, we can’t help them,” because they should have known better. That’s kind of a hard stand, isn’t it? But we’ve found that there are things we can do [for immediate needs]—we never give cash, but we might give a voucher for groceries. And other practical things like explaining how to postpone paying their electric bill. Very seldom will the company really turn the power off if someone calls and makes an appeal.

You also advocate taking time to “see” the other person. How do we actually do that?

We help people on three levels: in our neighborhoods, in our cities, and internationally. I think the best thing to do is to begin in our neighborhood. There’s a man on our street—his next-door neighbor was a single lady who was so overwhelmed by bills and needs that she couldn’t even cut her grass. When the homeowners’ association was about to come down hard on her, this guy thought, I wonder why she can’t cut her grass. So he visited with her and found out that she had legitimate financial and health issues. Then, in a wonderful neighborly act, he recruited some of us to go and clean her yard out. That’s what “seeing the problem” means: finding the story behind the problem.

So understanding leads to compassion?

It really does. We have a lady in our church whose son is homeless. She allowed me to interview her in front of a leadership conference, so I asked why she was willing to share her story, which many people wouldn’t disclose because of the social stigma. She said, “I want to change the way people see the homeless. I want them to stop seeing problems and begin seeing mothers’ sons.”

Part of the idea is to place yourself in the shoes of needy people. The example in the Bible is Peter and John. Near the Beautiful Gate, they saw the crippled man (Acts 3:4a), and when they saw him, they could respond to him.

Why isn’t the golden rule more intuitive? We’ve all been on the receiving end and know what it feels like to be ignored or dismissed. Why, then, are we so deficient at offering compassion?

It’s just so easy to put a “cocoon” around ourselves—we can really stay out of touch with people and not know suffering. But when we do know suffering, we are overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of it, the volume of it, the impossibility of it

We can get angry and think, Oh man, somebody else needs to be helped.

I think the biblical response to that is: First, realize you cannot do everything, but you can do something—and trust our sovereign God [for direction].

Second, align yourself with healthy churches or healthy nonprofits or both, who do know how to help the poor, even though we do not.

And third, guard against that cynicism—it’s not from God. God gives compassion; the Devil gives cynicism. Matthew 9:36 says that when Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion upon them. Somehow He knew they were sheep without a shepherd, and they needed somebody to guide them. In other words, He understood them. So a good way to begin is by praying, “God, keep my heart soft, just like Yours.”

1 Outlive Your Life, p.6

Editor’s Note: Outlive Your Life not only explains the value of making an impact locally and globally but also serves as its own illustration. One hundred percent of the book’s royalties will benefit women and children through World Vision and the James 1:27 Foundation, a small San Antonio ministry that assists single moms.

Copyright 2014 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. www.intouch.org. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.


17 comments
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  • March 26, 2011 01:06 PM

    by

    Jesus is faithful to move us with his great compassion towards others,all we need to do is ask and follow through when He shows us todo.As Jesus did what the Father showed Him.
  • March 24, 2011 11:46 PM

    by

    I have been feeling terible the last couple days, readind this article lifted me up. It remind me that there's greater things in life than my problems.
  • March 16, 2011 11:56 PM

    by Brenda Beutel

    This article gives excellent examples of how we as christians can reach out to others. It is a great reminder that it doesn't always have to be monitary, helping others can take on many forms. In addition service to our neighbors was brought out. Often we overlook the need that is right infront of us while we feel overwhelmed by the vast need of the world that we feel powerless to help. Excellent article!
  • March 13, 2011 03:44 PM

    by Gorgeous Soul

    These words are really encouraging and enlightening, specially on me who is currently on the same road of life. God bless!
  • March 13, 2011 07:07 AM

    by

    The article is really inspirational. Noone ever knows what tomorrow brings and it could be anyone's family member as well as ourselves. Helping others is a conduit of God's intent for all humanity.
  • March 12, 2011 01:38 PM

    by

    Excellent article. This focuses on my purpose in life and that of most Christians, to make a real difference in some small way. That is the way Jesus lived and why we call ourselves His disciples.

    The reminder that the cynicism is not from God is also important; that's the way the enemy wants to attack us.

    Go in His Love and challenge yourself every day to make a small difference in your own area of influence.

    Lynn
    Colorado
  • March 10, 2011 07:07 PM

    by

    it changes my perspective about life and others
  • March 10, 2011 11:51 AM

    by

    This article was amazing and oh so true, as Christians we need to listen to our Savior and follow his lead and do whatever we can possibly do for the less fortunate. It is so true that giving is much better than receiving!! If we all do SOMETHING then ALOT MORE will be done and all together we CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!!
  • March 09, 2011 08:51 PM

    by

    It has impact my life just reading it, how Jesus had compass for his people.
    It help me see it more clear how Jesus see people and they false.
    Carol,Hughes.
  • March 09, 2011 07:02 PM

    by

    This article taught me that God created me to serve others the way God showed His service to other people. I may not be so rich but in my own little ways I can be of help to other people.
  • March 08, 2011 10:01 PM

    by

    The word cynicism by the author was mentioned and we as God's children must seek his strength to overcome that. I have lived a good amount of years now and realize that if we focus on Christ's love, mercy and grace we can change the world one person at a time as Max suggests. Look who our Father is and what he did when he was on Earth and now in our hearts each day. My frustration at times is I want to do so much more but must wait patiently for Christ to put me at the place wants me to be. I will keep waiting and praying for all of us to have that.
  • March 07, 2011 02:36 PM

    by SV

    Good article
  • March 07, 2011 09:29 AM

    by

    This was a great article, and so true!!!
  • March 03, 2011 08:14 PM

    by

    As followers of Jesus Christ, I believe He wants us to have compassion and to be involved in the lives of people that He most of the time strategically place before us. The above illustrations are the best ways to minister to others in need, that is, to give to well established organizations, and to get involve in the local church ministries.
    I also believe that calling / ministering could be geographical. When you are at the right place to minster, there are no words to express the joy to do it whole heartedly. We should however only follow God's prompting, and not just do it because others are doing it.
    V.F
  • March 03, 2011 02:40 PM

    by

    This indeed is a very kind and nice Christian outlook on life.

    Mary
    Boston
  • March 03, 2011 12:18 PM

    by

    Great article, really caused me to think about what I can do for others.
  • March 01, 2011 08:38 PM

    by

    I agree, I hope his book touches more hearts to generat an outpouringof small deeds contributing to taks that will become great.

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