Pursuing God through the small things

Small Things
.v1ctor., Flickr

We live in a day of extremes, and sometimes it seems our culture’s highest virtue is going overboard. Everything is super-sized, quad-shot, high-energy, maximum-strength, full-throttle.

I wonder and worry about how much of that infects our faith. If being radical for Jesus means being totally committed to the kingdom, that’s great. But if we’re obsessing on doing something big for Jesus, as if that’s the only thing that counts, then we’re missing something. The truth is that holiness and kingdom service are found in the small occurrences of normal days.

“It is a great misconception to think . . . for the sake of heaven . . . that one must undertake great, reverberating tasks,” said Theophan the Recluse, a nineteenth century Russian bishop.

“Not at all,” he continued. “It is necessary only to do everything according to the commandments of God. Just what exactly? Nothing in particular — only those things which present themselves to everyone in the circumstances of life, those things which are required by the everyday happenings we encounter. This is how God is. God arranges the fate of each man, and the whole course of one’s life is also the work of His most gracious foreknowledge, as is, therefore, every minute and every encounter.”

The theologian, philosopher, and doctor Albert Schweitzer said something similar:

Always keep your eyes open for the little task, because it is the little task that is important to Jesus Christ. . . . The great flowing rivers represent only a small part of all the water that is necessary to nourish and sustain the earth. Beside the flowing river there is the water in the earth — the subterranean water — and there are the little streams. . . . Without these other waters — the silent hidden subterranean waters and the trickling streams — the great river could no longer flow. Thus it is with the little tasks to be fulfilled by us all.

Schweitzer of course did great things as well as little, a point that adds credence to the observation. Don’t neglect the little things. And don’t be discouraged if the little things are all you seem to accomplish. The kingdom is built of little things. What’s more, God has ordained them. The small tasks are exactly those good works that God has providentially prepared for us to do, and faithfulness is all he asks.

God is surely calling some people to big, hairy, audacious things. But he is also looking for trickling brooks and subterranean streams, without which the great flowing rivers shrink and dry.

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  • This is so true. My great-grandmother once testified in church that she had never done anything great, but God had called her to raise her children in the Lord, and she had tried her hardest to do so. I now am part of a huge family of Christians thanks to her.

    • Thanks for that example. I think childrearing is the most important task any Christian family undertakes. Our kids’ faith isn’t an accident; it’s cultivated. And that happens in a hundred moments every day.

  • Hutch

    The people I know, that truly understand and live this in their lives, just seem less stressed.

    • I suppose that’s because you can rest in the knowledge that God is really directing things, as opposed to feeling anxiety that you’re not doing enough.

  • Derek

    Good word. My good friend reminded me to remember that while bathing my youngest two, my hands were actually God’s hands. I honestly struggle with baths, getting frustrated too easily. Last night, my hands did not present an accurate picture of His. Thank you for helping to burn this more brightly in my conscience.

    • I think it’s important to remember that the only way to love others is imperfectly. We’re going to blow it. The good news is that God is gracious and forgives and the Spirit empowers us to grow and improve. Just showing up and doing the hard things is important.

      • Derek

        Agree. It was a good reminder. One I will try to place in front of the activity next time.

  • Joel, great post, thank you. I love the Albert A quotes and think that the Church can use more of an emphasis on the small things- like transforming the workplace, consecrating our family lives and making a difference in our communities. Those “small things” are just enough and could make a real difference in the world.

  • I think that we also need to remember that the little things are the path to the big things; that most people aren’t faced with doing “big things” without first having to go through thousands of small things to get on the right path. We see people who have done big things and call them heroes and think that what they have done is impossible, when they are, in fact, people like us who have struggled along as well, but made the firm commitment to following Christ in all situations, great and small.