When I think of the song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I think actually it’s a bit of a misnomer. I actually think there are TWO most wonderful times of the year … CHRISTmas, and football season! And when I think of football season, I think of impact. That could be the impact of a player recently drafted to a team (shout out to DK and his near-immediate impact on the Giants last year and certainly this coming one), a key player signed by or traded to a team, or a college recruit who even as a freshman makes a strong contribution.
But there’s a different and more football-fun type of impact. A hard hit that literally can remove a guy from the ground and send him to his back on the turf. I have to admit, watching plays like that can’t help but get my adrenaline rushing and wishing I could be back in my high school days (though as a QB back then I would typically be the “hittee” not the “hitter”). When we’d see those types of bone-jarring hits in the past, inevitably you’d hear “Ooh … that’s gonna leave a mark!”
So with that frame of reference (that admittedly has NOTHING to do with the Bible, but more about how much I can’t wait for football season), it’s no wonder I thought about impact and leaving a mark as I read from Acts 17 to Acts 25 this past week. Particularly when we read the second half of Acts and we read about Paul’s impact on Christendom, we can’t help but being awestruck as we understand the way he pursued his ministry (especially in light of his history), and the mark he left. But there was one passage in Acts 19 that drew my attention (Acts 19:11-12) as it talks about the effect of Paul’s life as he traveled in Ephesus and throughout Asia …
God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.
Paul’s very touch left a mark, had an impact, even to the extent of being able to heal diseases and cast out evil spirits. Thinking more broadly, it’s clear to see that Paul’s very LIFE made a mark, and a positive one. Ours can too, but there are some very key distinctions we should consider and about which we should wonder as it regards our lives and their effect.
To be sure, Paul’s faith and faithfulness were so powerful (through God’s equipping) that even his touch held the power to change lives long after he’d gone. In the book, Integrity by Henry Cloud, he talks about this phenomenon in the framework of leadership and the wake often created by speeding boats on a body of water, and he wonders what type of wake we as leaders leave behind us. Is it one that leaves people behind damaged and disheveled or cared-for and comforted? Clearly, there is an effect to every life; the question is whether it’s a constructive one or a destructive one.
So let’s turn the magnified side of the mirror toward ourselves …
What type of impact do our lives have? Can people relate to us and seek to be more like Jesus because of us? Do we inspire reflection and change? Do we move people in a way that helps them push forward in life, or do we somehow suck life out of them? Does our example, like Paul’s, move people toward healing, or to the opposite end, does it deplete their health and psyche?
The bottom line is that every interaction we have with someone leaves a mark. The question is, what type of mark does it leave? If I reflect in honesty back on today I have to admit that not every interaction I have has left a plus sign in the impact column. If I have to get really super introspective, I can say that even the interactions I’ve had with Helen today haven’t necessarily left a positive mark.
Ouch … but it’s an important reminder that every interface counts … and that we can’t take any one for granted. It’s important that, on balance, we have more positive than negative … but it’s just as important that the last interactions were additions to the account. How many people live in regret upon the loss of a loved one simply on the basis that their last encounters weren’t the best? That’s not the impact I want, nor with which I want to leave someone.
The question, then, becomes how do we work to up the odds of our lives having a positive impact and leaving a positive mark? Interestingly, this same Paul gives us a clue in Acts 20:22-24 …
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Paul was sold out to the call God placed on his life. He considered his life “worth nothing to me” and was focused alone on testifying to God’s grace. With this emphasis and sacrificial commitment to giving God the glory in every way, there was little chance that his life would leave anything other than a positive imprint on those he engaged with. Surely, there were times when people didn’t receive his message, or receive it well … and there were disagreements (with Barnabas about John Mark … Acts 15:39), but that makes him human just like the rest of us.
But what his example and life show is that, if we want to live a life that leaves a positive mark on those we know, meet, and encounter, we have to commit to living a life surrendered to God’s will, and to the way He calls us to live. Paul was so dedicated to this that he was unconcerned about the price he would have to pay, including prison and hardships … which included beatings and stoning. That sort of dedication to God can only rub off in a positive way. That’s how we should direct ourselves as well.
When it comes right down to it, as Jesus told us, when we are willing to lose our lives, we’ll gain them … and what we see in this passage is that we’re not the only ones that gain. We see, as it regards our lives, that’s gonna leave a mark … and a good one!
Soli Deo gloria!