Even if we cannot change the world, Mother Teresa’s famous saying encourages us that we can still have an effect, can still change some things for the better. But we are too often content to make a few ripples in our own corner of some small pond of life, and we don’t take advantage of just how far ripples can spread.
In their 2006 book, Outflow: Outward-Focused Living in a Self-Focused World, Steve Sjogren and Dave Ping use the analogy of Christ’s commission to his disciples, recorded in the Book of Acts, to spread the Gospel by being “…my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts1:8b). Sjogren and Ping relate these outward-flowing ripples to our relationship first with God (Jerusalem), then family and friends (Judea), our community (Samaria), and our whole personal world (the ends of the earth).
It’s a neat analogy, though for the purposes of this article I would prefer to modify it a little for several reasons. While we certainly need to develop our relationship with God, we don’t carry the message to him in the same way we do the other levels, and for most of us, ancient Judea’s prickly relationship with Samaria doesn’t exactly match that of us with our community.
From the perspective of doing the work of God, we might perhaps adapt Outflow’s structure to our relationship with our family and friends (Jerusalem), our community (Judea), more distant and less culturally similar communities (Samaria), and the far distant areas of the world (ends of the earth).
But, however we look at this analogy, it provides an excellent framework for us to analyze our own efforts to do the work of God. Many Christians spend a great deal of time and energy trying to find their “personal calling” – trying to ascertain whether they are called to local outreach or some foreign mission, and even those who are confident they have found or know their calling may sometimes limit their own effectiveness by thinking within the box – and geographic limitations – of the calling they perceive.
Sjogren and Ping’s Outflow analogy helps us to look at Acts 1:8 with fresh eyes – to see a potential for our service at all those levels rather than just at one. If we think about it, whatever our own area of focus may be, there is nothing stopping us working in some way and certainly praying for every level of the expanding work of the Kingdom. After all, many of the same disciples who preached in Jerusalem also worked in the widening circles beyond. We, too, can perhaps do physical outreach in our own neighborhood while supporting in whatever way we can those doing work in distant areas. The important thing is to understand that we do have opportunities to send out ripples at every level if we will only look for ways to do so. A letter of encouragement to a distant mission team, for example, might help to the same extent as serving in a soup kitchen in our own neighborhood. We don’t always have to choose between near and far; we can often do both. We just need to remember – we may not all be able to make waves, but we can all make ripples.