In 1913, a young man about twenty years old took a walking tour in the rural province of Provence (pronounced “Pró_váhnce”), in southern France. A walking tour is when you hike through the countryside with a backpack and sleeping bag, traveling mainly on back roads or trails and sleeping at campsites or local farms or villages.
Provence was a rather barren and desolate area at the time, as it had been almost totally denuded of trees due to overcutting and too-intensive agriculture. The topsoil had then been washed away by the rains, as there were no tree roots to hold it in place.
Little farming was being done now because of the poor condition of the land. The villages were old and run-down, and most of the villagers had moved elsewhere. Even the wildlife had fled, as without trees the protective undergrowth had thinned, food was scarce, and few streams and ponds remained.
The young hiker stopped one night at the humble cottage of a shepherd, who, although gray-haired and in his midfifties, was still strong and stalwart. The young man spent the night there, enjoying the shepherd’s hospitality, and he ended up staying several days with him.
The visitor observed with some curiosity that the shepherd spent his evening hours sorting nuts by lamplight—acorns, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and others. He would lay them down in a row, carefully examine them, cull out the bad ones, and when he had finally finished his evening’s work, put the good nuts in a knapsack.
Then, as he led his sheep to graze the next day, he would plant the nuts along the way. While his sheep were pasturing in one area, he would walk several paces and thrust the end of his shepherd’s staff into the ground, making a shallow hole. Then he would drop in one of his nuts and use his foot to cover it over with earth. Then he would walk several paces more, push his staff into the dry ground, and drop in another nut. He spent all his daylight hours walking over this region of Provence as he grazed his sheep, each day covering a different area where there were few trees, planting nuts.
Watching this, the young man wondered what in the world the shepherd was trying to do, so he finally asked him.
“Well, young man,” the shepherd replied, “I’m planting trees.”
“But why?” the young visitor asked. “It will be years and years before these trees ever get to where they could do you any good! You might not even live long enough to see them grow!”
The shepherd replied, “Yes, but some day they’ll do somebody some good and they’ll help to restore this dry land. I may never see it, but perhaps my children will.”
The young man marveled at the shepherd’s foresight, vision, and unselfishness, that he was willing to prepare the land for future generations, even though he might never see the results or reap the benefits himself.
Twenty years later, when in his forties, the hiker once again visited this same area and was astounded at what he saw. One great valley was completely covered with a beautiful forest of all kinds of trees. They were young trees, of course, but trees nevertheless. Life had sprung forth all over the valley! The grass had grown much greener, the shrubbery and the wildlife had returned, the soil was moist again, and the farmers were again cultivating their fields.
He wondered what had happened to the old shepherd, and to his amazement found that he was still alive, hale and hearty, still living in his little cottage—and still sorting his nuts each evening.
Our visitor then learned that a delegation from the French Parliament had recently come down from Paris to investigate what seemed to be a new natural forest. They eventually learned that the entire forest had, in fact, been planted by this one shepherd as he watched his sheep, day by day and year after year. As a result, the whole valley was covered with beautiful young trees and underbrush. The delegation was so impressed and grateful to this shepherd for having reforested this entire area single-handedly that they persuaded Parliament to give him a special pension.
The visitor said he was amazed at the change, not only in the beautiful trees, but also in the revived agriculture, the renewed wildlife, and the beautiful lush grass and shrubbery. The little farms were thriving, and the villages seemed to have come to life again. What a contrast from when he had visited there twenty years before, when the villages had been run-down and abandoned!
Now all was thriving, just because of one man’s foresight, one man’s diligence, one man’s patience, one man’s sacrifice, one man’s faithfulness just to do what one man could do, day by day, day in and day out for a number of years.
But that’s not the end of the story. Remember how the young man told the shepherd, “You’ll never live to see if you accomplished anything good or not”? Well, as it turned out, the shepherd lived to be eighty-nine. He did live to see his forest full-grown and beautiful, transforming an entire region. God blessed him with seeing the results of all his hard labors, how he had succeeded in changing his world. He lived to see what God had done through him.
It reminds me of what Paul wrote in the New Testament: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).
So if you’re sometimes discouraged with the world the way it is, don’t give up! We read that great empires and governments, armies and wars change the course of history and the face of the earth, so sometimes we’re discouraged and think, “Well, who am I? What can I do? It all seems so hopeless and impossible! It looks like there’s nothing that one person can do to change things for the better, so what’s the use of trying?”
But as proven by this humble shepherd, over a period of years one man can change the world! You may not be able to change the whole world, but you can change your part of the world. If you have changed just one life, you have changed a part of the world and you have proven that there is hope that it can all be changed! If one life can be changed, it shows that it’s possible that more lives can be changed. It can start with one person—maybe you!
Since my wife and I came to this city a few years ago, many lives have been changed. It has sometimes been very slow, trying, painstaking work with few results for all of our hard work, but lives are changing as a result of the many seeds that we have planted. It was only the two of us at first, but now hundreds of others that we have won to Jesus are also telling others, planting seeds from which more new “trees” will grow. Everybody is talking about us and what we’re doing, our work, our faith and beliefs. We’re helping to change our part of the world!
It seemed like an impossible situation, but we just began planting the seeds of God’s Word and Christ’s love in the hearts of those around us. We didn’t try to change them all at once. We couldn’t. We just worked slowly, patiently, heart by heart, life by life, with tender loving care, day by day, year by year.
And now everyone is beginning to see the results and talking about them, and they are changing! A prominent physician who was at first quite skeptical about our efforts to spiritually influence people has since admitted that we are having a tremendous impact on the city. He said: “Our city has needed this for a long time. We’re rich materially, but we have not had the spiritual influence that you brought here, and it’s very needed.”
So we have affected this town. Not everybody has come to know Jesus, but nearly everyone has heard the message of God’s love. Many have visited us and experienced the love of God and the truth of His Word that we share with them, little by little, day by day, person by person, heart by heart, seed by seed. Now a whole new forest is beginning to grow and be seen, so that people are talking about it and marveling!
You can do it too! Start with your own heart, your own mind, your own spirit, your own life, by receiving Jesus into your life, reading His Word, and putting its principles into practice in your life. Change your life, your home, your family, and you’ve changed a whole world—your world!
Then you and your little family can start trying to change your neighbors and friends and the people you come in contact with from day to day. You can make a special effort to reach lonely, hungry, needy hearts who are seeking love, seeking truth, seeking they know not what, but seeking happiness—desperately seeking to satisfy their yearning hearts that are so empty and barren and desolate for lack of the water of God’s Word and the warm sunshine of His love.
You can start individually, personally, just you or your little family, planting seeds, one by one, in heart after heart, day by day, by doing loving deeds for others and by telling them about Jesus. You could also give or recommend Christian materials to those you meet, to help them understand God’s Word. Patiently plant the seeds of the truth of God’s Word into that empty hole of an empty heart, then cover it with God’s love, and trust the great, warm, loving sunshine of His Spirit and the water of His Word to bring forth the miracle of new life.
It may seem only a tiny little bud at first, just a little sprig, just one insignificant little green shoot. What is that to the forest that’s needed? Well, it’s a beginning. It’s the beginning of the miracle of new life, and it will thrive and grow and flourish and become great and strong, a whole new “tree,” a whole new life, and maybe a whole new world!
Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to change someone’s life. It reminds me of something that happened while my family and I were visiting the Montreal World’s Fair in 1967. One day I took my mother, who at eighty years of age was still an enthusiastic Christian, to tour the Soviet exhibit. As we entered the pavilion, the director, a tall, clean-cut, good-looking young Russian, came forward and offered a wheelchair to my mother. Then, for some reason, he volunteered to escort her around the pavilion and explain it to her.
For the next two hours, they became quite interested in each other and engrossed in deep conversation as he pointed out to her the various new inventions on display. But as I found out later, they talked about a lot more than just mechanical gadgets. At the end of our visit, he bade us a fond farewell, saying, “Please come again!” He was quite hospitable and seemed to have become very close to my mother in that time that they talked together.
A few weeks later we received a letter from him in which he said, “You have changed my life! I have received Christ as you suggested. You have changed my whole way of thinking, my way of believing; you have changed me! But I have a wife and three children and I am living in a communist society where it is against the law to practice Christianity, so now what do I do?”
My mother’s advice to that young man in the letter she wrote back to him was, in essence, “Change the world! Change the world you’re living in! Start now! Tell others what God has done for you, what His love and His truth have done for you personally, and you can start changing your part of the world—even a communist world!”
If you’re faithful to plant seeds of God’s love, like the old shepherd that the government rewarded for his efforts, God is going to reward you one of these days when you finally come to your reward. He’s going to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
You can change the world! Start today! Change your own life, change your family, change your home, change your neighbors, change your town, change your country. Change the world!