Invisible Impact


Several years ago, when I was in college, I wrote my final seminar paper looking for a particular relationship between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution. After months of research and writing, I came to the terrifying realization that I had no conclusion. I couldn’t tell what effect the Awakening had on the Revolution! There were echoes and hints, but no concrete evidence leading to any particular conclusion. I had no answer to the historical problem I was trying to solve! I brought my panic into a meeting with my advising professor. He calmly and wisely asked, “Well, isn’t that an answer?”

I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself. Of course it’s an answer! History is complicated, and there is no reason to assume that we will be able to understand everything. Put another way, Providence is complicated, and sometimes we can’t pinpoint Point A when we’re standing at Point B.

At Bethlehem College & Seminary we talk a lot about disproportionate impact. We are small, but aim high believing that God will do great things for his glory through our efforts. We hope that our work will affect the world on a large scale. It would be nice to know that in 200 years someone will look back and say — “Bethlehem College & Seminary had a huge impact on [insert something impressive and God-glorifying here].” But in all likelihood, nothing that extravagant will ever be said (at least not credibly). And that’s okay.

After all, we are finite, and it is impossible for us to understand the impact a tiny action has on one day, let alone the century. But God is the one who weaves history together, and the moments we forget are remembered and even foreordained by him. I’m encouraged by that. After spending four years as an administrative assistant, I want to remember the duties I performed as chief letter-sender, copy paper-orderer, database-keeper, and accounting paperwork-filer not simply as tasks, but as necessary events in the timeline of God’s plan for history.

Historians use the term “counter-factual history” to describe a form of study that asks “what would have happened if such-and-such had or hadn’t happened?” It’s generally considered poor scholarship. In this case, though, I think it illustrates my point. Bear with me for a moment of wild imagining: Maybe that time I made Jason Abell late for his meeting because I forgot to make copies for him allowed whoever was waiting for him to read an email and learn that his sister really needed encouragement. Maybe the encouragement offered eventually resulted in the sister moving to Mozambique and becoming a missionary who, after twenty years of seeing little fruit, the Lord used to bring about the eruption of a massive revival in Malawi. Had I not forgotten those copies, the revival in Malawi wouldn’t have taken place.

That’s crazy, right? But it’s not impossible, and it’s almost untraceable. In 200 years, could anyone argue that I caused that massive, imaginary revival in Malawi? If anyone asked me at the time of the revival, I’m sure that the future, hypothetical me would say, “no.” But I’m pretty sure that if someone asked Rebekah if she caused the birth of Christ by being punctual to her chores at the well, she would have said “no” too. Now, this is only counter-factual history — let’s not assume too much. But let’s also remember that “the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

The potential in each little action we take is astronomical because God is determining our steps. We might not ever know what he does through the completion of menial tasks, and we may never see the impact we’re praying for. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t occur. The Great Awakening probably had a huge effect on the American Revolution; we just can’t see the whole picture. So let’s keep praying for Bethlehem College & Seminary, in hope and belief that God will use us. What we are doing here may never directly bring about massive spiritual, social, or political change, but it might — we can’t see the whole picture yet.

Jamie Carlson
Administrative Assistant & Manager of BCS Press 
Bethlehem College & Seminary

Prayer Requests …

  1. That God will do great things for his glory through our efforts here at Bethlehem College & Seminary in the lives of our students and those they minister to after they graduate.
  2. Rejoice with us for the wonderful ways God used Jamie to bless and influence our College & Seminary over the last four years.
  3. That we would continue to be sensitive to where God is determining and directing our steps as we finish the 2014-2015 school year and plan for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year.