by David Phelps
"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa
The end of the old year -- and the beginning of the new -- is a time for reflection. As 1998 drew to a close, I found myself reflecting on the time I've spent writing this column -- over three-and-a-half years. It seemed like a long time to be doing something so insubstantial. Then I heard that Alistair Cooke, host of Masterpiece Theater on PBS, was celebrating his ninetieth birthday, and the 2600th installment of his radio program, "Letter From America," which he has been doing for fifty two years! That's longer than I've been doing anything; in fact, it's longer than I've been alive. At half an hour per broadcast, his radio program could play continuously for over fifty four days. By comparison, I'm barely a pup.
Not long ago, my wife, Charlotte, made an interesting discovery: She found that she could remove the key from her car's ignition while the engine was still running. You may be wondering, "Is this some new feature that wasn't in the owner's manual?" No. The mystery was solved when I looked at her key: It was so badly worn that it could be removed from the ignition with the engine running. The "teeth" that were supposed to mesh with the lock mechanism to hold the key in place were worn smooth. Of course, it didn't get that way over night but through years of use.
Several years ago, a coworker, Randy, who hadn't seen me in quite a while, took one look at me and exclaimed, "Wow, Dave, you're really getting gray!" Afterward, a look in the mirror revealed that he was right: My hair was indeed streaked with gray. Since then, the whole incident has become a joke for Charlotte and me.
Things like this aren't perceptible on a daily basis. We can't watch our hair turn gray, our clothes wear out, the seasons change, or our children grow (although sometimes they seem to grow so fast we can almost watch them grow).
As we begin the new year, the days will start becoming longer; there will be a little more daylight each day. It won't be possible to detect the extra minutes of daylight for some time but eventually we'll all notice the difference: The world will look brighter, our outlook will be improved, we'll feel better, and it will seem as though winter is almost over.
In the same way, the effects of our witness aren't always perceptible: We can't see lives being changed or souls being turned to Christ. When we feed the hungry, clothe those in need, or provide shelter for those who have no homes, it may seem that we're not making much of a difference. But we are fighting a battle that has already been won, whose outcome is already certain. We are assured of victory as long as we don't quit (I Cor. 15:57-58; I John 5:4-8). Our acts of witness may not matter to us, but they matter to the people who receive them. And they matter to God (Matt. 25:34-40). As long as we keep on, we can make a difference.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Heb. 12:1-3 RSV).