Life and other catastrophes · Social justice · Spiritual growth and healing · The way we are

What’s your ‘starfish story’?

Do you know the story about the starfish?

Just in case you haven’t, here it is (author unknown):

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed the figure was that of a young man, gathering the starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out:

“Good morning! May I ask what it is you’re doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied:

“Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said: “I must ask then – why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“Well, the sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented:

“But young man – don’t you realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish on every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean, past the breaking waves. He said:

“It made a difference for that one.”

This story poignantly reflects a common rationale when it comes to helping others.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who becomes overwhelmed with the injustice in the world. Like many, I think I can’t possibly make a difference. But every person counts, and we have to start somewhere.

“There is no greater tragedy than doing nothing for fear of doing too little,” as the saying goes.

The Bible has a lot to say about helping others – especially the poor:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

I especially love that last verse. So that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

We don’t give just because it’s a good thing to do. We don’t give just because God tells us to. We give because we see that life is not so much about this life, but life after we die. The best legacy we can leave on earth is one that involved telling people about the love of Jesus, and showing them his love in our actions. That’s the kind of legacy that will last. And the best possible future we can hope for is our future in heaven, when we will finally understand God’s purposes for this world. There, we will celebrate what God did through us. Not because of our own innate ‘goodness’, but because of the Holy Spirit working in us to carry out his will. He is our only real and lasting hope, and the only hope for our friends and family. This hope is one that will last into eternity.

What’s your ‘starfish story’? Remember – every person matters.

(In case you want to prayerfully consider supporting something new, my family aids the work of The Indian Christian Mission Centre (ICMC) in Salem, South India. It exists to serve impoverished communities with food, education, and teaching about Jesus. Visit their website to find out more.)

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My son (in red) visited ICMC, India last year, and loved the experience.
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21 thoughts on “What’s your ‘starfish story’?

  1. This is a phenomenally good post–thank you, thank you! I was not familiar with the starfish story–wow, it impacted me, helped me see what I do in a better light. It’s not “nothing”, it’s something that adds to God’s bigger picture. Thank you for that. God bless you and your family abundantly.

    1. Thank you Caddo, I’m so glad it impacted you too! I think we often believe the lie that our ‘little’ is not enough. But every person, donation, prayer… it matters, and God can use it – multiply it even – as we obey Him in our giving to others. God bless you and yours too!

      1. That’s one of my fave things about God–that He’s big on multiplying good stuff!! I’m hoping He does that with my exercise efforts–multiplies the results!

  2. Thanks so much Ali, for encouraging us to do what we can . . .and let God multiply it. I do pause sometimes when I know a need is great and what I can give is small. You’ve helped me to give anyway! God bless you!

    1. Thanks Debbie, yes so true! He can take our little and multiply it for His purposes. Yes, let us not grow tired of doing good, however small our deed, or prayer, or donation. Each ‘starfish’ we throw back counts. Have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are going well.

  3. This is wonderful. I’ve found myself not doing something because I feel it won’t make a difference… but that’s just a lazy cop-out. Even a little assistance makes some difference.

    1. Thanks Janna. I think we all fall into that sometimes. We get overwhelmed by the size of the need, so we withdraw, get distracted, forget… Yeah. When we ask God to put a need on our heart, he will show us I believe, even it’s ‘just one starfish’. God can use and multiply our ‘little’ for his glory.

  4. Thanks for this. Recently I’ve been challenged by 1 John – loving in action and truth. Not that we don’t try to do this in our village ministry by visiting people, listening to them, telling them bible stories and praying for them… but I guess there’s an unspoken expectation (or hope) that we will do more to help materially. One particular lady has an enormous debt and a bad r’ship with her husband. I really wanted to do more for her rather than just use words of encouragement or giving her the money which creates other unwanted issues. We’ve decided to take her to the women’s resource centre to see how they can help her. Hopefully that’s a step in the right direction and displaying love in action appropriate to the context.

    Btw, Reuben was telling some visitors yesterday… ‘I went to the Wiggles concert in Australia with my friend Tommy!’ =) Hope you’re all doing ok.

    Love,
    Ange

    1. It must be so challenging to know how/when to help in the financial sense. It really must be a case-by-case thing – and it sounds like you showed wisdom in forwarding her to the resource centre. I guess we have to keep trusting that God will give us guidance with each person, and use us whether through prayer or something else that’s practical.

      Haha, that’s so great he has that memory! Tommy still looks at his fridge photo and remembers the good times 🙂

      Doing OK. Going through ongoing issues with Jonathan – we’re praying and praying some more for him, and what the next step should be in terms of helping with his mental health.

      How is Gabriel? Hope you guys are doing well and getting good rest/sleep as well.

      Let me know how I can pray specifically xx

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