Can I Really Make A Difference?

Written By Tay Boon Jin

 Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

“50 Inspirational Quotes On Making A Difference”
“Quotes About Making A Difference (153 quotes)”
“The Power of One”

There is no lack of websites that encourage people to make a difference. One of the most common quotes which often pops up comes from the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, who said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Although most of these quotes are not given in context, it is not difficult to guess what they’re pointing towards. Poverty, war, crime, discrimination, and abuse of our environment are but some of the perennial issues we often read about in the news.

We sense the urgent need for a cure to the issues plaguing us. Yet, the problems our society face seem too big and complex, the resources needed to solve the problems too immense. “Can I make a difference?” becomes empty rhetoric and unachievable.

Of course, we’ve read of how some people made a huge impact individually. However, we may struggle to believe that what they achieve is actually attainable for us, too.


 The Root of the Problem

If we view the world from the big picture that God Himself has painted for us, we cannot but be persuaded that the root of all our problems is our sin. Thus, in some sense, there’s nothing that anyone can do that can make a real and permanent difference. The fallen state of our world makes human effort futile; the permeating effects of sins cannot be undone. In fact, each of us as a sinner contributes to the problem, in both large and small ways.

But God gave the solution to the world’s problem: the Lord Jesus Christ. He so loved the world that He sent His Son, who came in a humiliating fashion to take our punishment for us (John 3:16). If God holds the solution, perhaps the only difference we can truly make is to point someone to the solution by the word we preach and by the way we live.

When God makes us right and brings us back to Him, our perspective of the earthly life will change. A man may remain poor, but he no longer measures his worth by his wealth (or lack of it). A man may live in a war zone, but he trusts God for the peace in his heart.


Having the Right Motivation

That said, this does not change the fact that the social problems we face are tangible and affect us at every level. Neither does it mean that Christians should avoid all form of social good and humanitarian work. But perhaps we need to re-examine our motivations.

Jesus told this lesson in Matthew 25:31-40: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

In this passage, our Lord Jesus illustrates how a follower of His ought to respond to the needs in this world—by helping out in a very practical and tangible way. But Jesus doesn’t say this because He wants His disciples to change the world. Instead, the reason He gives for us to serve others, even the “least” of all, is this: By doing so, we are serving Jesus Himself. That should and must be our motivation as we go about doing social good. We are to live Christ-centered lives so that the world will be attracted to Jesus.

As we look at great men of faith who have gone before us, we see countless servants of God who have left their homes to sow the gospel seed in foreign lands. They did not go because they thought they could change the world; they went because God called. Some did not live to see the fruit of their labor; in fact, some gave their lives that the fruit may be borne.

In my recent phase of life, God has given me opportunities to minister to a poor community in another country. My initial encounter with this community got me thinking hard about how to meet their needs. Some of the ideas that sprang to mind included ways to alleviate poverty, put all the children through school and keep them there, guide the youths to find a clear and good purpose in life, and even provide employment for the adults. These were all good goals, but I soon realized that they were beyond my means. It was discouraging to know that I could not provide the help that they needed.

It was then that I was reminded of Jesus’ words that the smallest effort to the least is by no means insignificant. I began to look at how I could help the individual: provide socks and shoes when a kid went to school in slippers, provide a month’s breakfast when a kid stopped going to school because he had no food to sustain him through the morning’s learning, provide information to unemployed parents whenever I knew of factories that had job vacancies.

As each of these recipients thanked me for relieving them of their worries and needs at those points, it gave me opportunities to testify to them that God was the one who had provided. Some of them even thanked God with me.

So let’s continue to labor on in helping others practically and spiritually. Let’s take heart that God will bring about this great work of sanctifying His people to live lives that glorify Him. And ultimately, let’s be encouraged that God will bring about perfection in the world when Christ comes again!

Is God A Killjoy?

Written By Tay Boon Jin

Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 16 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

Killjoy was the name of a low-budget horror movie made in the year 2000. The narrative is about a toy clown named Killjoy that a young man tries to bring to life, after his love interest is stolen by a thuggish gang member. But before the spell can take effect, the young man is killed. Eventually, Killjoy comes to life and starts to wreak horrific revenge on those who killed its master. Sounds exciting? Well, the movie was lambasted by reviewers as a “poorly constructed horror film” with some even saying it was the “worst movie”. To the makers of the film, the reviewers were probably the real killjoys.

In life, there are many people that we deem as killjoys. It could be the boss who always gives us extra work to do over the weekends or that one friend who for some reason or another, always cancels appointments at the very last minute. But to some individuals, there is no greater killjoy than God himself. Today, many blame God when joyful moments cease or when they fail to experience joy in their lives.

Regardless of where we stand, we can all agree on this fact: We regard joy, also known as the feeling of great delight or pleasure, very highly in our lives, and rightly so! After all, man is created to enjoy the utmost pleasure. Man is to take pleasure, and much pleasure for that matter, in his environment, his vocation and his relationships. After all, the Bible tells us that man was created to be in a lasting, permanent and satisfying blissful state.

Yet, consider this irony: today, movie makers make millions churning out plots that bring the audience to the edge of their seats by a sudden turn of events in an otherwise happy story. In the past, the tension would invariably be resolved at the end by a positive turn of events. But these days, a happy ending is no longer a guarantee. Some postmodern filmmakers choose to leave the audience hanging with a plotline that ends abruptly or ominously, placing the blame on God or fate.

Just like in the case of the moviemakers, perhaps we are the real killjoys, not God. What else could be the reason for our delightful moments being cut short or denied? Consider, for instance, moments where we take delight in wrong pleasures, such as when police storm in to raid a drug den the very moment a group of drug takers are high on drugs. To the drug takers, the police are certainly a killjoy but to a bystander, it is apparent that the drug takers are better off without that pleasure. Or if a man indulges in food and suffers a heart attack while gorging his 100th dish, would we say that God was the killjoy (for taking his life)? Logically, we would “blame” the man himself—it is a consequence of his own insatiable appetite.

In labelling God a killjoy or rather, the killjoy, we have made ourselves the measure of all things. Like Eve, the first woman created, we have defined our delight apart from the One who gave us life—the one who gave man the Garden, the vocation to rule over creation and the relationship to love one another. The psalmist says in Psalm 16, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v. 11 ESV). God is the source of joy and it is pleasurable to God when His creatures are full of joy in Him!

On the contrary, we are God’s killjoy—if God’s joy could ever be killed that is—when we nailed Jesus Christ to the cross because we delighted in what we ought not to. The first Garden was beautiful and one can only imagine the true joy and delight Adam had. His first vocation was not toilsome as he exercised the authority vested on him to name the animals. The first sight of his first companion was a delight that led him to unite with the woman in one flesh. Within the safe boundaries God laid, the first man and woman could live, work, and play freely.

But the tension in the narrative was created when man failed to obey God’s instruction and rejected what is truly delightful—God Himself. The eternal union of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was mysteriously “broken” so that by the Son’s death, we may live. When we call on the Lord Jesus to save us from drowning in the sin of our delights, He pulls us to safety, because Jesus Christ took the punishment due to us. Now, He gives us life abundantly, to enjoy once again what God has lovingly given to us to enjoy.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

God is no killjoy. Instead, He affords us the greatest joy if we only believe and trust Him.

What Do We Do When There Seems To Be No Hope?

Written by Tay Boon Jin

Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysiareaching children through the teaching of English.

Whenever it comes to the part of a movie where a disaster unravels or innocent lives are in peril, we grip our chairs in anticipation for the turning point when help would come or the hero would spring into action—a beacon of hope amidst a despondent situation. And when hope comes for a brief moment but eventually goes away, the sense of loss is even more pronounced.

Recent events have shown that these scenarios are not too distant from real life. Almost every day, we hear about individuals in life-threatening situations: some trapped in natural or man-made disasters; others taken as hostages or made prisoners (some simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time; others because of their nationality, beliefs, or even lifestyle). Similar to how we are at the movies, we sit at the edges of our seats, hoping and praying that things would turn out fine as we watch updates about attempts made to rescue the victims from their unfortunate plights. When rescue efforts have been successful, we pump our fists in the air. And when the converse happens, we shake our heads and cry out in anguish. All hope is lost.

If you think about it, this lack of guarantee of deliverance and rescue from dire straits extends even to daily aspects of life. Perhaps it is a debilitating illness that has been enslaving you for a long time and you’re wondering if the latest drug development could finally be the cure to your condition. Or maybe it’s a broken and messy family situation you’re stuck in and you can’t wait to get married to the one who can lift you out of your sorry state into a new life—happily ever after.

Regardless of what we’re each facing, hope is an important concept in our lives but at times, seems so slippery and elusive. Is there any certain hope we can cling on to—a hope that will stay and not leave?

Some 2,000 years ago this theme was all played out, not in an epic movie, but in real life in the city of Jerusalem.

To the disciples: Jesus’ death meant all hope was lost

Hanging on the cross for sins He did not commit, Jesus Christ was abandoned—His disciples were not there with Him. They had fled not just from the scene of Jesus’ death but from the Master whom they had spent the last three years with in close interaction. Their initial motivation to follow Jesus Christ was simple—He could do what no ordinary men can do. They pinned their hopes on Him being the one sent by God to liberate the Jews from the bondage under men’s (Roman) rule. They followed Him, watched Him perform works of miracles, and listened to Him preach about the kingdom of God. They were amazed by what they were given to witness. Truly, He had the power to restore the kingdom to Israel. Their confidence grew with that hope of a new king. They even argued about who would be the greatest when the kingdom comes and took up arms when the religious leaders confronted Jesus. There was hope for them and for Israel!

But God had a very different plan for how His kingdom will be set up. It would be by blood, not through war, but by the humble sacrifice of one man alone: Jesus Christ. When the authorities took Jesus, fear beset the disciples. Jesus was questioned, flogged, and made to carry the cross through the town and eventually nailed to a cross. He died the death of a criminal, totally unbefitting of a king and savior. If Jesus had been the new king sent by God, He would not be defeated! In the disciples’ eyes, Jesus had failed. Whatever hope they originally had in the Savior was completely extinguished.

If you think about it, all of us have pinned our hope on something or someone to give us confidence in the current situations which we are in. Perhaps it was someone who we thought would love us and take care of us the rest of our lives or something like material acquisition to lift us from deprivation. Or maybe it was some medical cure that would free us from the pain of ill health or death, or from losing a loved one. But when we find ourselves unloved, deprived, and in pain at the end, we start to question if our object of hope is real in the first place. When we conclude that the object of hope brings us nowhere further from the prospects we dread, we give up trusting it, some of us driven to discouragement, some to defeat, and some to despair. We tell ourselves that the way out of these feelings would be to end it all.

To God: Jesus’ death was the ultimate means of hope

But this is not the case when the object of hope is truly of power. Just when the disciples were feeling dejected, Jesus Christ appeared before them. The One who had died had risen from the dead and this was highly significant—it proved that Jesus is truly the Son of God. This miracle was the climax of all the other miracles that the disciples had seen. Jesus had overcome death—this means there is a true hope not just on earth but for eternity.

The resurrection and reappearance of Jesus brought about a new understanding for the disciples. All along, they had identified the wrong issue and placed great value in the wrong thing. They thought that restoration of the kingdom to Israel was what was most important. But the real problem which men faced was sin. As the true hope, Jesus made a way for salvation of the soul. Jesus came, died to pay for our sin’s penalty, and rose again to give us a new life with the new standing before God our Judge.

When we are faced with a hopeless situation, and feel there is just too much discouragement and despair, look at the reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we understand that God has given us His only Son, will He not also journey with us through life’s ups and downs and lead us safely home? With Jesus’ death and resurrection, the light and momentary troubles need not weigh us down to the point of despair but should drive us to look forward to the day when Jesus shall come again and perfect all things.