Some years ago there was a young man in Washington state—we’ll call him Tim Milliken—who was a devout Christian. He was also a very talented musician, and he was convinced God had given him his musical ability to share his faith and help spread the Gospel. Tim wrote and performed his own songs, gave concerts, and even appeared on TV a few times—all the while hoping to make the world a better place through inspiring and uplifting music. After a few years, however, he became discouraged. Was he really helping anyone or making any difference? Perhaps he should quit and spend his life doing something else.
One evening Tim was on what he figured might be his last musical road trip, staying at a motel in Dayton, Ohio—halfway across the country from the state of Washington, and a place where he knew absolutely no one. Tim started walking down an unfamiliar street, looking for a place to buy a Pepsi, and as he walked past a payphone, it started ringing at that exact instant. He stopped in surprise, and after a moment’s hesitation, picked it up and said, “Hello?” To his absolute shock, the operator announced, “I have a person-to-person phone call for Mr. Timothy Milliken.” Tim’s first thought was, “Wait a minute—I must be on Candid Camera.” He looked around, but the street was deserted, and there were no hidden cameras. Tim responded, “Uh, that’s me,” and the operator made the connection. The caller turned out to be an emotionally distressed woman who was at the end of her rope, and about to commit suicide. However, she had seen Tim perform on TV, and in her moment of desperation thought, “Here’s someone who would understand and might be able to help me—if only I knew how to reach him.” As she prayed desperately for a way to find him, the number of the payphone Tim was approaching at that exact instant flashed into her mind in a vision. As Tim later said, “What are the odds of that? A billion to one?” Anyway, after talking to Tim, the woman changed her mind about committing suicide. Not only was her life saved, but Tim received his answer: he was making a difference, and the Lord was calling him to continue his music ministry (Brown, The God of Miracles, p. 24). This is a true story, and it makes an important point: Jesus is able to use us in unexpected and even miraculous ways—if we give Him the chance.
Whenever the subjects of vocations, ministry, and evangelization come up, a very common response on the part of many Christians—especially Catholics—is “No, no, not me: I’m just an ordinary person. God couldn’t be calling me; there must be some mistake.” However, some things are too important to be left to the professionals; God delights in using average people, just like you and me, to make it clear that it’s His grace which makes the difference. The Twelve Apostles were ordinary men, just as human as any of us—but when Jesus gave them power and authority, they did extraordinary things. As the saying goes, God doesn’t call the powerful; rather, He empowers those whom He calls. We see this illustrated in the Book of Amos (7:12-15). Amaziah, the religious professional, had gone astray and was misusing his authority; thus, God chose a religious amateur, a humble shepherd and vinedresser named Amos, to proclaim His truth. The same thing can happen to and through any of us, for as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14), God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and has lavished the riches of His grace upon us. Needless to say, the Lord expects some return on the spiritual blessings He’s given us; He wants us to bear witness to His love and allow His grace to flow through us.
A high school boy named Mark was walking home from school when he saw another boy drop the things he was carrying: an armful of books, two sweaters, and a few other items. Mark helped the boy, whose name was Bill, pick up his things, and helped him carry them home; Bill invited him in, so they had a snack, played a few video games, and talked for awhile. Soon they became friends, and a few years later, after their graduation, Bill said, “I want to thank you for saving my life.” When Mark responded “What are you talking about?,” Bill explained, “Did you ever wonder why I was carrying all those things home on the day we met? I had given up on life, and was going to take an overdose of sleeping pills, but I didn’t want to leave a mess in my locker at school for someone else to clean up. But after we spent time together, talking and laughing, I realized it was possible for other people to like and respect me, and I decided life was worth another chance—so you really did save my life. Thanks” (Chicken Soup for the Soul, p. 35).
One little act of kindness on our part can proclaim the Gospel, change the course of someone else’s life, and thus make a real difference. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love” (op. cit.) As long as our hearts are open, Jesus is capable of using us for His glory and for the well-being of others. Smiling at a stranger, going out of our way to do a favor for someone in need, biting our tongue when we’re tempted to say something cruel, changing the subject when a conversation degenerates into gossip, firmly but respectfully disagreeing when someone unjustly criticizes the Church, sincerely offering to pray for a person in great distress, visiting someone who’s lonely, welcoming someone who appears shy or ill at ease, expressing genuine appreciation when another person does something kind, inviting a grieving or unemployed person out to lunch, volunteering at a charitable organization, or simply asking ourselves in any situation “What would Jesus do?,” and then acting in that manner, are all ways of putting our faith into practice and letting ourselves become instruments of divine grace. These things don’t require any special training or qualifications, other than a humble willingness to serve—and sometimes the results will be truly amazing. Chances are each of us has already done more good than we realize, and wasted more opportunities than we’d imagine. Let us ask for God’s grace, that we may be able to follow the plan He has in mind for us—for this is how we’ll fulfill our mission in the world and prepare ourselves for the wonders of Heaven.