The Shadows We Cast
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You can always drop a little love into the hearts of those on your way, and they will know that God has loved them that day.—David Brandt Berg
The smallest bark on life’s tumultuous ocean
Will leave a track behind for evermore;
The slightest wave of influence set in motion
Extends and widens to the eternal shore.
Every one of us casts a shadow. There hangs about us a sort of penumbra1—a strange, indefinable something—which we call personal influence, which has its effect on every other life on which it falls. It goes with us wherever we go. It is not something we can have when we want to have it, and then lay it aside when we will, as we lay aside a garment. It is something that always pours out from our life, like light from a lamp, like heat from flame, like perfume from a flower.
No one can live, and not have influence. Says Elihu Burritt: “No human being can come into this world without increasing or diminishing the sum total of human happiness, not only of the present, but of every subsequent age of humanity. No one can detach himself from this connection. There is no sequestered spot in the universe, no dark niche along the disk of non-existence, to which he can retreat from his relations to others, where he can withdraw the influence of his existence upon the moral destiny of the world; everywhere his presence or absence will be felt, everywhere he will have companions who will be better or worse for his influence.” These are true words. To be at all is to have influence, either for good or evil, over other lives.
The ministry of personal influence is something very wonderful. Without being conscious of it, we are always impressing others by this strange power that goes out from us. Others watch us and their actions are modified by ours. Many a life has been started on a career of beauty and blessing by the influence of one noble act. The disciples saw their Master praying, and were so impressed by his earnestness, or by the radiancy they saw on his face, as he communed with his Father, that when he joined them again they asked him to teach them how to pray. Every true soul is impressed continually by the glimpses it has of loveliness, of holiness, or of nobleness in others.
Every good life leaves in the world a twofold ministry: that of the things it does directly to bless others, and that of the silent influence it exerts, through which others are made better, or are inspired to do like good things.—J. R. Miller2
There is a silent personal influence, like a shadow, which goes out from everyone, and this influence is always leaving results and impressions wherever it touches. You cannot live a day and not touch some other life. Wherever you go, your shadow falls on others, and they are either better or worse for your presence. Our influence depends upon what we are more than upon what we do. It is by living a beautiful life that we bless the world. I do not underestimate holy activities. Good deeds must characterize every true life. Our hands must do mighty works. But if the life itself is noble, beautiful, holy, Christ-like, one that is itself a blessing, an inspiration, the worth of the influence is many times multiplied.
Every Christian can preach sermons every day—at home and among neighbors and friends—by the beauty of holiness in his own common life. Wherever a true Christian goes, his life ought to be an inspiration. Our silent influence ought to touch other lives with blessing. People ought to feel stronger, happier, more earnest after meeting us. Our very faces ought to shed light, shining like holy lamps into sad and weary hearts. Our lives ought to be blessings to human sorrow and need all about us.—J. R. Miller
Says a thoughtful writer, speaking of influence: “Let a man press nearer to Christ, and open his nature more widely to admit the energy of Christ, and, whether he knows it or not—it is better, perhaps, if he does not know it—he will certainly be growing in power for God with men, and for men with God.” We get power for Christ only as we become filled with the very life of Christ.
Everywhere about us there are lives, cold, cheerless, and dull, which by the touch of our hand, in loving warmth, in Christ’s name, would be wondrously blessed and transformed. Someone tells of going into a jeweler’s store to look at certain gems. Among other stones he was shown an opal. As it lay there, however, it appeared dull and altogether lustreless. Then the jeweller took it in his hand and held it for some moments, and again showed it to his customer. Now it gleamed and flashed with all the glories of the rainbow. It needed the touch and warmth of a human hand to bring out its iridescence.
There are human lives everywhere about us that are rich in their possibilities of beauty and glory. No gems or jewels are so precious; but as we see them in their earthly condition, they are dull and lustreless, without brightness or loveliness. Perhaps they are even covered with stain and denied by sin. Yet they need only the touch of the hand of Christ to bring out the radiance, the loveliness, the beauty of the divine image in them. And you and I must be the hand of Christ to these lustreless or stained lives. Touching them with our warm love, the sleeping splendor that is in them … will yet shine out, the beginning of glory for them.
The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mould us.
Which are the people who have influenced us most? Not the ones who thought they did, but those who had not the remotest notion that they were influencing us. In the Christian life the implicit is never conscious; if it is conscious, it ceases to have this unaffected loveliness which is the characteristic of the touch of Jesus. We always know when Jesus is at work because He produces in the commonplace something that is inspiring.—Oswald Chambers
Everybody has influence! “No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” Your life is bound to affect others! “No man is an island!” Sometimes just a word or a glance or a smile can make a big difference—how you look or sound or seem. If it’s not cheerful and victorious and uplifting, it’s bound to hurt somebody and pull them down with you. You’re either going to pull people up to your level or drag them down to yours—one or the other!—David Brandt Berg
There is never an end of opportunities for personal helpfulness... There is a rich, possible wayside ministry, for instance, made up of countless small courtesies, gentle words, mere passing touches on the lives of those we casually meet! Impulses given by putting a little more warmth into our ordinary salutations; influences flowing directly or indirectly from the things we do, and the words we speak.
We naturally crave gentleness. It is like a genial summer to our life. Beneath its warm, nourishing influence, beautiful things in us grow.—J. R. Miller
You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.—Matthew 5:13–163
Compiled by Philip Martin. Published on Anchor June 2015. Read by Simon Peterson.
1 Penumbra: the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object.
2 From Making the Most of Life, published 1891.