I was talking to an older gentlemen after preaching at a local church a few weeks ago and he shared with me a story about an encounter he had with God. He told me when he was a young officer in the Navy he remembered praying at a beautiful chapel and as he prayed a light was beaming through the stained glass. This was a purely natural occurrence and he described it as something simple yet beautiful. The sun bounced off of the colors of the glass creating a rainbow of images capturing his eye. He didn’t claim any divine mystical experience, just that this was something which added to his already prayerful state making his experience a memorable one. He was praying and admiring how nature and man could create such an effect when he claims God shared with him a profound insight. In this peaceful place this gentlemen remembers God giving him the directive to make the world a better place before he died.
Perhaps it was because this gentleman was living through the tail end of World War II or thinking about what he might do after retiring from the military. Whatever the reason, he felt God was urging him to take the world as he received it and make it a much better place by the time he took his last breath. As this much aged gentlemen shared his story with me I thought what a very simple yet profound vocation God shared with him those many years ago. How important it is we take whatever we receive and in some way make it better for those coming after us. In fact, that’s the Christian mandate. Take the world in whatever condition you find it and make it flourish for the kingdom of God. We may live among the wealthy who have no sense of profound and transcendent ideas. These fellow sojourners may be caught up in materialism and earthly pleasure. We need to meet them in the midsts of their materialism and help them know a better way of life; a way demonstrating meaning and purpose, a way that shows them Christ. Some of us dwell in the most destitute and war torn parts of the world. We have to transform that part of the world by being living icons of peace, faith, forgiveness, love, and concern for others. We don’t get to choose where we’re born or the conditions surrounding it but we do get the choice to do something with it. Our mandate is the same as this gentlemen’s, make the world a better place than when you entered it.
After pondering the profound simplicity of what was shared that Sunday morning, I started thinking how one might begin to make the world a better place than when they came into existence. Here’s what I came up with:
- Learn what’s important to love and how to love it well – We’re driven primarily by love. Even when we’re provided with the most logical and conclusive argument for doing something we often fail to do it. Most of the time we fail because we aren’t passionate about what we’re asked to do or it conflicts with what we love. In the writings of Augustine of Hippo one reads love is the motivating force in the lives of people and when love is disordered sin emerges. Instead of loving God first and our neighbor as ourselves, we love in a disordered way causing pain for ourselves and the people in our lives. Augustine writes in the Confessions, (book 13.9), “My weight is my love, and by it I am carried wheresoever I am carried.” We should be very mindful of discovering how to love well but even more so what it is we should love. We leave the world a little better when we love what we should in the proper way.
- Learn to think well and be careful what you think about- If we form our hearts well our minds follow, but our minds aren’t simply robots executing the heart’s desire. While we may initially react with our intuitions, our minds can slowly shift our focus and change our hearts. If we fill our minds with rubbish, poor thinking, and ponder upon the negatives, we can’t recognize what’s good, beautiful, true, and worth thinking about. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Often it’s a well formed mind helping us counter ill formed love and passion. If we think about that which lifts the human condition to the heavens the world becomes a better place than if we dwell in the baseness of pure animal pleasure desired by an undisciplined soul. Pleasure is good when it’s directed toward heavenly things and the world is a better place when people think well and deeply about great ideas and values.
- Care for the eternal within the temporal – Too often we look around and view the world with temporal eyes ignoring the transcendent that lies within it. Creation becomes nothing more than something to use and throw away for immediate purposes. People become nothing more than cogs in a system and all that matters is what I need, desire, and want to fulfill my present ambitions. By caring about the eternal within the temporal, the present world becomes a conduit to God’s grace and the spiritual lights up the earthly in a magnificent way. God is no longer distant and uninterested in our present situation, he becomes an approachable reality through creation. When we understand temporal things from an eternal perspective we’re more intentional and careful about how we use the things we’re blessed with and engage the people we live with.
- Discover ways to serve others constantly – If we truly desire to be agents of change we have to focus on how we can meet the needs of others with the gifts and talents we have. When serving becomes second nature we immediately look for what’s best for others and often find ourselves fulfilled and at peace when we help. If you’re doing things for purely selfish reasons you never really make a permanent change in the world. You may be rewarded with money or popularity, but the peace a fulfilling life of service provides slips away and eventually what you thought you did so well becomes mere dust. Often it’s within the anonymity of our lives we have the most impact on others. It’s not your legacy that matters as much as the fact you cared enough to help another human being regardless of the cost or recognition that came with it. Develop a love for service and let your work become one simple drop of water in an ocean of grace God pours into the world.
- Encourage others to care – The more we convince others caring is important the more people will help us change the world. The process begins by letting them know they’re loved and were created to be agents of love in a broken world. Remind your fellow human beings they’re more than the limits they’ve let others yoke them with and can do incredible things in the midsts of their very ordinary ways of living. Encourage them to care; care for others, care for what’s sacred, care for creation, care for themselves, but most importantly inspire them to develop a love for caring in general. There’s nothing more dangerous than a mass group of people who become indifferent to the suffering, abuse, and coldness surrounding them. It’s this attitude of indifference that creates atrocities like genocide, violence, war, and prejudice. We must be people who care about a great many things.
I know there’s more to making the world a better place than these five simple suggestions encompass, but the truth is change starts with you and these suggestions can be a starting place for that to happen. If you can foster a sense of proper love, good thinking, finding the eternal within the temporal, a life of service, and an attitude of care, you can begin to fulfill what my good friend believed God asked him to do in that small Navy chapel so many years ago. You can leave the world a better place when you take your final breath and in doing so leave something good behind for others to build upon.