Have you ever heard of the “Butterfly Effect”? No, not the movie, the theory born out of the field of General Physics. The Butterfly Effect is commonly defined in the following ways: (Physics / General Physics) 1] the idea, used in chaos theory, that a very small difference in the initial state of a physical system can make a significant difference to the state at some later time 2] the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, e.g., the introduction of a small, seemingly insignificant alteration within an eco system or microcosm can cause large changes over time. It is illustrated with the concept that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings over Brazil can eventually unleash a typhoon halfway around the world. From this concept the theory gets its name.
The notion is simple. It takes into account the myriad of small factors present in any complex environment which are profoundly affected by any other small factor. Small factors reacting to other small factors are changed in a domino like effect. Those many small elements, in turn, affect other larger elements, which, in turn, affect still larger elements, and so on ad infinitum. For example, the introduction into an eco system of one small bacterium can over time lead to the extinction of a whole species or the destruction of the entire eco system. The effect can seem to be random and can result in enormous changes in many differing ways. Thus, a seemingly insignificant event can eventually alter the course of history or change the cosmos.
“Change one thing and you change everything.”
Everything in our world (defined by any scale you choose to use) is integrally related to everything else in our world. Nothing stands in isolation.
This is not only true in the physical, chemical, biological (tangible) realms, but also in the moral, emotional, psychological, and spiritual realms. Everything is affected in some way by everything else. We cannot possibly know all the small and large things that are affected by small actions or decisions. There are simply too many to identify, let alone calculate. Our minds are not capable of processing that much information.
The scripture tells us that our God knows all things. That is, he knows those things which are and those things which are not. The Architect of the universe knows all the possibilities and in his wisdom changes little things to bring about enormous consequences. For example: The great society of the Nabateans was brought down to nothing simply by the Lord’s opening another trade route. Cyrus’ rise to power and influence upon Jerusalem was engineered by the Lord years before his birth. This kind of cascading effect, once introduced, is almost unstoppable.
If it is true that in time even the smallest of factors can cause major alterations, then what are the possible effects of one believer’s obedience to the Lord on any given day? If the Lord were to prompt one believer in Central Pennsylvania to speak a word of grace to another person, what would be the consequences in Brussels two generations later? How would we measure the results of one seemingly insignificant person’s prayers on the everlasting life of another family in three generations on the other side of the world?
Do you remember that Brazilian butterfly flapping its wings? Did you make the mental connection between that insect and the typhoon you heard about on the news last night?
Victor Hugo wrote one of the most beautiful fictional stories (first published in 1862) about redemption. In that work, Les Misrables, a cleric forgives Jean Valjean for stealing some silver, gives that silver to him and in so doing, sets in motion a cascading chain of events which affects the lives of many people for all time. One small act of grace, by one unnamed cleric changes countless lives in a myriad of ways. That cleric could not have known the consequences of his actions that night. But, does it matter that he could not know? The aftermath of his choices was God’s domain.
Saints, God is engineering the building of his kingdom. He knows all the possibilities and the potential aftermaths of all those possibilities. So, if one day the Lord “says” to you, “Pray for (name, circumstance, people).” will we do it? Or, will we say within ourselves, “This is of little matter.” or “what difference will my prayer make?” or “I am nobody so my prayer doesn’t affect anything.” Remember that Brazilian butterfly?
Who am I that I should go and share my insignificant witness with anyone? Why should I go to the new neighbors and welcome them into the neighborhood – let alone invite them to church? What possible difference can my visiting someone in prison make? Why should I volunteer a couple of hours of my time – what is the point? Why should I send a card with a little money in it to someone who I know is financially strapped? What difference can my measly gift make?
Oh, saints, your kind word can change the world. Your forgiving and accepting heart can transform another’s life and their friends’ lives, and their progeny forever. Your sharing the good news with someone today at the Lord’s prompting may take the gun out of someone’s mouth in San Antonio twenty years from today. You won’t know, you can’t know – but does that make any difference?
Listen to his promptings. Say not, “I am but a child.” (Jer 1:7) Don’t disdain the Lord’s choice of messengers – you. Don’t underestimate the value of your little gift. (Remember the “widows mite”?) Never sell short the worthiness of your witness, your love, your acceptance, your encouragement. There’s real gold in these earthen vessels, and the Lord knows how to invest it. Trust him, and, as the Nike commercial says, “Just do it.”