Cyrus Hamlin was one of the most fascinating men of the nineteenth century—an educator, a missionary, a statesman, and an inventor. He learned early in life about the joy of making a difference. He was only eleven when he was allowed to go into town alone on Muster Day, a great holiday in Maine, featuring parades and all sorts of exciting activities. His mother gave him seven cents for gingerbread; but as she put the coins in his hand, she said, “Perhaps you will stop at Mrs. Farrar’s and put a cent or two in the contribution box.”
Walking to town, Cyrus debated how to divide up his coins: how many he would give and how many he would keep. When he arrived in town, he dumped all seven cents in the contribution box. That night he returned home hungry as a bear, and his mother gave him a bowl of bread and milk. He later called it the best meal he ever had. From that experience, he learned the joy of giving, of contributing, of helping others, and of making a difference. But that’s not all.
Years later while in Turkey during the Crimean War, Cyrus noticed how badly the sick and wounded soldiers suffered because there were no clean clothes for their bodies or sheets for their beds. He invented a washing machine using materials at hand. He later said that he had been credited with sixteen different professions including university president and professor of theology, but that of “washerwoman” was the one of which he was most proud.
Whether it’s giving a handful of coins to the needy or washing clothes for the sick, there’s joy in serving Jesus. We live in a world in which no one wants to step up and make a difference. We’re afraid our lives will be interrupted, our comfort disrupted, or our leisure circumvented. But history has proven that men and women who have truly stepped up, sacrificed, and become involved in making a difference were changed for the better, and for the happier.
Take the apostle Paul, for example. He didn’t own a house as far as we know. He didn’t have a wife. He had no stable income or regular vacations. He had no retirement account, and he spent his final days in a Roman prison. But he uses the words joy, rejoice, gladness, and cheer sixty-seven times in his several letters.
Sometimes we think we’ll become useful “some day”; but right now, we’re too busy trying to make it through another week. But the secret to making a difference is to do something NOW. “How wonderful it is,” wrote Anne Frank, “that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Think of some small little change you can make in your routine or a small improvement you can try at home. The accumulation of little improvements makes for big changes in attitude in our homes and churches, and in our own hearts.
It’s also helpful to change the way we think of ourselves. We’ve been trained by the popular culture to think of ourselves as consumers who need to be served and as customers who need to be satisfied. But let’s think of ourselves as servants who want to change the world.
Richard Wurmbrand was the Romanian minister who wrote Tortured for Christ. On February 29, 1948, he was arrested on his way to church. Despite harsh interrogation and torture, he refused to denounce the Lord Jesus; and as a result, he was sentenced to years of solitary confinement in a dank cell thirty feet below ground. He had no Bible and no book, and no communication with family or friends was allowed. He was cut off from every communication and comfort.
But Wurmbrand knew he could still make a difference. He established a routine in which he composed three hundred poems and committed them to memory. He prepared and preached a new sermon every day, even though no one but himself heard it. From this experience came a lifetime of ministering to the persecuted church after his release.
We can live without our conveniences, and there are some amenities we may need to forego. But wherever we are, we can be of use if we learn to think of ourselves in terms of servanthood. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I...” wrote Robert Frost, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Dr. Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California. For more information on Turning Point, go to www.DavidJeremiah.org.