Just read a great article by Mark Galli on Generation Y's pursuit to "make a difference" in the world. Mark Galli is the managing editor for Christianity Today and an insightful writer. He brings up a number of great points about how a well-intended focus to make a difference can really be "ego masked as altruism".
Think of it as the dark side to the search for significance and arguably, it's not simply limited to the Gen Y populace. Truth is, the striving for significance can be life long and unrelenting.
What makes this a confusing topic is that the desire to "make a difference" isn't necessarily bad. In fact, it most circles and circumstances, it's actually something to be admired. After all, far better the desire to make a positive impact than the trivial wasting of a life. After all, isn't the cultural mandate in Genesis 1 to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it", a command to make a positive difference in this world?
Yet, when the search for significance is not rooted in an understanding of our identity in Christ, it is a harsh master. Seeking significance can easily become another means for self-justification and self-glorification - "if I feed the poor and heal the sick, my life will matter". Finding our identity in what we do leads us to make idols of our own accomplishments. This is as true for the businessman who sacrifices family for fortune as it is for the misguided missionary who finds justification in his sacrificial good works.
What guides us toward a right pursuit of significance?
I believe it starts with rooting our identity and delight in God. Delighting in our place as creatures made in His image, restored into fellowship with our Father. Whenever, I depart from regular meditation on my identity in Christ and the work of grace in my life, I begin to strive for significance in various, small, unprofitable ways. If unchecked, this striving becomes louder and more prominent in my life.
We need to remind ourselves of the privilege we have to serve the living God, yet doing so in a very particular way - that is, serving with an awareness that God "is not served by human hands as if He needed anything since he himself gives to mankind life and breath and everything". (Acts 17:24). This means realizing that "service to God"is less about doing something for God as it is receiving grace from God. When we serve, we are the beneficiaries of his grace, to do his work.
Finally, the one point Mark Galli makes is one worth remembering - that God honors and recognizes the little things in our lives - the greeting of a stranger, the kindness to a child, caring for an aging parent. In other words, making a difference "in the small" matters as much as changing the world.