A reminder for the New Year

By Kenneth G. Hodder, Commissioner

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task (1 Cor. 3:5).

Some years ago, Fortune magazine carried an article by writer Brian Dumaine entitled, “Why Do We Work?” Dumaine explored employee motivation and related the following story about three stone masons:

In the days of misty towers, distressed maidens and stalwart knights, a young man, walking down a road, came upon a laborer fiercely pounding away at a stone with hammer and chisel. The lad asked the worker, who looked frustrated and angry, “What are you doing?” The laborer answered in a pained voice: “I’m trying to shape this stone, and it is back-breaking work.” The youth continued his journey and soon came upon another man chipping away at a similar stone, who looked neither particularly angry nor happy. “What are you doing?” the young man asked. “I’m shaping a stone for a building.” The young man went on and before long came to a third worker chipping away at a stone, but this worker was singing happily as he worked. “What are you doing?” the young man asked. The worker smiled and replied, “I’m building a cathedral.”

There is not one among us who does not wish to have a lasting impact on the world. Everyone wants to leave a mark that others will see, to make a difference, and much of what we do and say is directed toward that goal.

This natural impulse, which God planted deep within us, can be turned to different ends. For example, it is a potent source for the creative muse, and it is one force behind the scientific and technological advances that have made the world a better place. However, if we are not careful, this same tendency can slowly but inexorably skew our ability to distinguish between what is valuable and what is worthless.

There is another danger. If our individual or collective efforts for a lasting impact on the world bring success, we will experience personal satisfaction and might even achieve a certain amount of prominence. But if we ever sense that we have failed, we can easily grow embittered or despondent. One cannot help but recall the suicide note left by the cartoonist Ralph Barton: “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, and from house to house, visited great countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day.”

This is one reason why the message of Jesus Christ can have such a shattering impact upon the human heart, because while the gospel never allows us to indulge unjustified notions of self-importance, neither will it allow us to sit on the sidelines and let the world pass by unaffected by our presence. Instead, Christ redirects our energies and forces us to commit ourselves to the achievement of goals that serve something (and someone) far greater.

The Apostle Paul knew that a lasting impact upon the world is not found in any act of creation, but in the less visible act of stimulation. The greatest glory of any work of art is found not in its tangible form but in the power of the message it conveys. Similarly, and paradoxically, it is the degree to which we can turn the thoughts of others to something greater than ourselves that we achieve, albeit perhaps unknown to anyone but God, the impact that we have sought all along.

So whatever roles we may play this year at home, at work, or in the corps (however humble they may be), it is our faithfulness in those roles that will make the biggest difference.

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