Make a Difference

Why Make A Difference?









Paul Serwinek, PhD


Mere Christianity is BASIC, SIMPLE Christianity, Christianity with the emphasis on PRACTICAL day to day living by JESUS’ example and teachings. The basic principles are clearly delineated in Scripture. There is the Father, Son, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to die for our sins and show us the way to live for true holiness etc. However, PERSONAL INTERPRETATION of doctrines which are not explained in full detail in the Bible must never be a source for DIVISION among us. For Christian to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples and helping them to a relationship with the Lord, WE MUST BE UNITED as brothers and sisters in Christ, where ever and however possible!


Have you ever been driving on a winding country road on a cloudy dark night? How about driving through a strange city and losing your bearings? That’s when you need a beacon or compass.  Life in general offers such dark roads and strange surroundings at times.  That’s when a life compass could come in handy. What I’ve been mulling over is whether there is such a thing as an all-encompassing worthy direction we all can strive toward and a compass to find the way.  To answer that question you will need to enter the realm of thought.   If you’re not spiritually or religiously minded yet, I ask you to consider my ideas from a purely philosophical view.  After all, this is a question meditated upon with conclusions tested long before any religion in existence today ever was.  What I’m asking is, though we’re all unique with different talents, is there such a thing as an all encompassing life aim suitable for all of us to make our own?

I’m proposing this since I’ve come to realize over the years that the people who pose this question to themselves and settle on an answer seem to invariably find satisfying, happy lives.  From my observations over time, I can affirm, if you ask this question of yourself and comprehend the simple answer that will come to you, you’ll find the happiness you desire. Let me tell you about the direction and compass I found beneficial over the years.

First, we recognize we’re all different with diverse talents, aptitudes, personalities, body types and to that extent we will have individualistic goals to satisfy our particular needs.  If you’re an athlete you’ll never be happy till you make room for that physical aspect of life. Your response need not be all-consuming but nevertheless must somehow be present. Each of us has some directives within himself that needs fulfilling.  I know myself, I’m a thinker (a blessing & a curse) but for years I felt something was missing till I discerned what it was.  I had to mull over the great philosophical questions of life, many of which I came to find were Biblical questions too.  Until I made room and took the time to research these life issues to the level I felt necessary for me, I wasn’t fully satisfied with life. I imagine if you have musical talents you’d never feel truly YOU till you embraced a musical project. These examples indicate that individual purpose or goal direction is necessary, but now, what about direction and purpose shared in common by all humans?

The point I find worrisome is many individuals never come to ask the bigger question. They may have realized, “yes, I am responsible for myself, yes, I accept the notion I am beholden to others, parent, spouses, family, business associates and I should value those relationships. Somehow they never have consciously thought through why these relationships exist; they just socially grew into them. It just happened.  The bigger question, the one with the harder to comprehend answer is this…What responsibility do I have toward those outside of me and does my role in life include others? Ultimately what should I be doing with my life and should my life have a meaning or purpose?  When I say “purpose” I’m talking “goal.”  Do I personally have a general goal in life in common with others?   Well, as we’ve seen, life does not progress without direction. The tendency is toward stagnation if a destination beyond present circumstance is not considered and focused upon. Goals and intentions give life direction. It’s like the compass we talked about earlier. Like wilderness or strange city driving, you’ll need direction and a compass when you encounter a strange situation in your life.  Once a goal focused on, biological studies indicate there appears to be a mechanism within humans (and other forms of life) to work toward the realization of that worthy goal. I can easily demonstrate historically that “life goals” have predated all religions that exist today. Even Christianity, the way of life most responsible for modern society and scientific advancement through history, firmly insists that all humans need viable goals.  Also I know from my past business career, that company growth and employee security only comes when a business has written plans and measurable goals.  If necessary for a business, then that conscious planning would appear to be incumbent on all human units in any community too.   But, I’ve discovered, pursuing these goals to attainment will only bring you so much satisfaction.  Not till you can share “you” (your talents and personality) with others will you truly begin to sense fulfillment.

Now let me venture further, again asking, what about a universal goal or aim?  As a Christian I know there is such a concept, though I’m not just writing from a religious viewpoint. In fact, universal goals were first introduced in writing some 4,000 years ago and long before then orally. The Christian purpose or goal in particular has stood the test of time and actually took some 1500 years to fully write down by some hundred or more contributors setting down personal “journal entries”  of their experiences, with each coming to the same conclusions and with each practicing that common outlook to prove its veracity. So consider their thoughts from a philosophical viewpoint if you’re not spiritually minded at this point in your life.

Long ago the ancients recognized that some goals were superior to physical or material destinations. To me the fact that every society and civilization has adopted the identical rules for human decency proves they come from a common source and therefore are goals all mankind holds in common.  Jesus stated it very succinctly and clearly when he was confronted with the question, “What is the greatest commandment (or what is incumbent on all humans)?” His reply, “Love the Lord, God… and the second like it is loving your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-9)  Now I know a religious person might summarize this by saying, “We’re here to praise God or serve God.” Only my opinion, but I don’t think God’s definition of praise is  a group standing around saying or praying, “Praise God.” I think he’s more heartened to observe those who connect with him doing something, helping someone.  And what does that “serve God” mean in practice?  Here the Bible is very clear.  St. Paul put it in practical terms by encouraging, “Let us not become weary in doing GOOD.” (Galatians 6:9)  We’re here to Love God and neighbor and accomplish that by doing Good.  There is always a way we can contribute regardless of our abilities or circumstances. St Peter ( 1 Peter 4:10) avers and summarizes what all the other bible writers through history were affirming, “Each one should use whatever gifts (talents or abilities) he has received to SERVE others, faithfully administering God’s grace in various forms.” We’re here to use our abilities (whatever they may be) to serve (help or do good) to our neighbors and others.  The apostle James gives several practical suggestions (James 1:27), “[The] religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (the World being those who think only of themselves).” I’ve always encouraged, “Make a difference in the lives of others” since it conveys the spirit of giving of self. But now that that phrase has become popular in the media, I’m afraid it’s going to become rather trite.  In the future, I’m thinking of simply asking others, “Are you doing good?”  However, when we read that Peter advised to “use the gifts you received to serve others” that may have a negative connation to some. Being a servant is not the most appealing of occupations. But serving others is really the highest, most laudable activity possible.  In fact, the most prestigious careers today, doctor, business executive, teacher, etc. are all service occupations. Such service can make the greatest difference in the life of others. But even a small gesture of concern for others can change any life completely.

look back with fondness to my kindergarten teacher many years past. What she told me on one occasion changed my life forever.  After school she came up to me and put her hand on my head and complemented me saying, “Paul, I’ve noticed you’re really smart!”  And you know what?  I believed it. From then on I always did well in school. I couldn’t help it. I looked up to her as an authority figure, and she said I was very smart. It must be true, or at least I grew up believing that. Here some 50+ years later I sometimes wonder if it’s really true. But I’m certainly not going to second guess my teacher after all these years. She cared and she made a difference in my life, a major difference.

You parents, I hope you realize one of your major life purposes is to make a positive difference in your children’s lives. If you do nothing more noteworthy in your life than give your children love, security, direction and encouragement you have made a difference greater than any a human could ever conceive. Probably nothing you will ever do hence forth in your life compares in value to the lasting difference you make when you consciously took time for your children.

I contend our purpose and our life’s goal is very simple. We’re here to “make a positive difference.” Life is not a free ride; we’ve got work to do.  However you feel comfortable wording it, whether you call it “doing good”, “serving others”, “giving of self” or “giving back to society,” they all connote the same actions. I especially prefer “make a positive difference” since it’s a general phrase and it encourages you to do something where you can see the results almost immediately. This is the compass I was talking about earlier.  When I need a hint as to what to do next I simply ask, “How can I make a positive difference today?” And it’s not complicated. Smiling and saying “thank you” as if you mean it, going out of your way to return something someone has dropped. So small, but you’re doing the 2 biggest things you could possibly do, you’re loving God (shown by following his example) and you’re loving your neighbor. What else is there? According to Jesus that’s the bulk of your responsibly while here. It’s not complicated. I know some religious friends tend to complicate matters. But what makes Jesus so endearing is his simple approach to life. He avers the greatest things you can do with your life is to show Love, to God and to others who are just like you. Now that you’ve gotten the ideas of sages, prophets and philosophers, can you put into one sentence what overarching purpose you’d like to accomplish? Will you construct a compass you can go back to when in doubt of where (the direction) you need to go next?

Before you decide on your personal choice of a compass phrase, let me pass this on to you. I saw an article recently in “Money Magazine” of all places.  Here was a wealthy, high powered executive making his confession and giving his advice and I had to take note. The executive, Mr. Christensen, put his advice like this, “The more I focused on the problems in my life, the more miserable I was. And then somehow I realized focusing on myself and my problems wasn’t making me happier. I started to say, “Every day of my life I need to find somebody else who I could help to become a better and a happier person.” Once I started to reorient my life in this direction, the happiness returned.”

I appreciated that advice, “Every day…find someone else who [you] can help. “ You needn’t look far. Just a smile at someone, an encouragement for someone, or doing something out of the ordinary for someone.  Contribute those little pieces of good daily and then open yourself up to using your talents and abilities in ways you never imagined.  I know I’ve been kind of nudging you in a certain direction when I prod you to decide on a personal compass statement, but I know if you decide on one, your life will suddenly appear more clear and meaningful.  You’ll be taking the advice of countless successful people urging you to do the same. There is nothing like having meaning and direction in life. You’re not just living but living on purpose.

Paul Serwinek, PhD.