Big and Little

I did something highly unusual in the past week:  I started working through my ‘mending’ box!  Anyone who knows me will be quite shocked, as indeed I am (I must admit, I have tended to save up mending for my dear mum’s visits).  It was a very surprising experience.  I found articles of clothing that I’d forgotten we owned (which was exciting) – and couldn’t believe that with literally a few minutes of stitching, they could return to our wardrobes!  Some things took a little longer, a couple had to go to the rag bag.  But by the end of the second episode of Star Wars (I was trying to ‘value-add’ to a family movie-fest by mending on the side), I’d nearly worked my way through everything: much of which had been in the box for up to five years!  Something which I’d put off, thinking it was such a ‘big job’, was actually minimal.  And just a little bit of stitching had managed to bring about a ‘big’ result.

I wonder how many other things I confuse in this way.  Housework seems like such a daunting prospect sometimes; but throw an hour or a few at it, and things are usually improved.  Bringing up kids is an endless series of ‘little’ incidents and interactions – but in reality, it is my life’s work (at least for 25 years or so).  So many of the ‘little’ areas, such as my way of reacting to problems, the way I speak to them, and all the myriad little occurrences that require consistency and wisdom will – for better or worse – add up to major, lifelong repercussions in their characters (terrifying thought).  Conversely, some minor things that I tend to make a big fuss over would probably be better left alone.

I often wonder if our perceptions about big and little might be somewhat warped.  I feel like God has been hammering away at this area for a while now, questioning me about the judgments I automatically make – about what is ‘big’ and what is ‘little’: what is worthwhile, and what is a waste; what is important and what is insignificant.  Funnily enough, this little area has massive implications in the way we approach life and ministry!

Our culture generally tells us that Big is Best: big house, big car, big muscles, big bank account, big impact … think BIG!  (And then, think bigger!!)  The church culture has often caught on to this approach too – ‘mega-churches’, ‘international ministries’, big crowds, measurable success, tangible results, strategic thinking…  There can be an unconscious pressure to pursue ‘big’ dreams and to measure yourself or your ministry’s worth by these standards.

Meanwhile, God seems to have very different priorities.  While he obviously delights in the ‘big’ – mountains, blue whales, dinosaurs, galaxies – He seems to equally exult in the small – blue wrens, cacti, micro-organisms, human brain cells…  Pick a flower for example, and you notice that not only does it have exquisite veins running through each petal, but the centre is composed of rows of tiny little florets that are perfect in their detail.  Just about everything in His creation is like that – you look at it and realise that beyond the apparent simplicity there are staggeringly minute complexities.

In His story too, he seems to enjoy turning our perceptions of big and little on their heads.  Take Gideon’s army, for example.  He ventures out with 32,000 – by the time God has finished there are just 300 warriors left who, in the strength of God, overcome the armies of Midian (Judges 6-8).  He uses a young guy, David, to fell a ferocious and bullying giant.  He feeds a multitude with a small basket of bread and fish.  He confers great honour on a small widow giving the two smallest coins.  He speaks, not through the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the “still, small voice”.

A verse that came to me lately is from Zechariah: “Who dares despise the day of small things?” (4:10).  What a challenge to our habitual preference for big – for large scale success, for measurable results, for high impact! Why do we constantly ignore the fact that God seems to actually prefer to use the small, the hidden, the weak, and the insignificant to achieve his great purposes.

Why do you think this would be His way?

In the same chapter God clarifies that these things He was about to do would come about “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (v6).  Perhaps all our “big thinking” can be a path to spiritual blindness.  We crave might and power, we crave results and affirmation, we crave control and guarantees of success.  But God says these are not the way He will achieve His purposes.  Unlike us, God will not despise a ‘humble and contrite heart’; He lifts up the humble and His strength is made perfect in weakness.

Father please deliver me from the arrogance of my own false judgments – about what is valuable, who is worth investing in, and what is glorifying to you.  Deliver me from the blindness of the kind of ‘big thinking’ that puts the focus on results and achievements and returns.  Tune my ear to your still, small voice that I might follow your leading in my day, and see people and situations with your perspective and with your values.  Let me enjoy noticing every good gift from you, and letting my spirit be expanded by the intricacies and wonders of your creation.  In all of this, grow my understanding, my dependence and my vision – that I will trust not in might or power, but in your Spirit; that you might use my small acts of responsiveness as part of your great purposes in this world.

I.C.U.

Sometimes the best we can do is consciously rest ourselves in the grace & love of God. Life gets so tightly bound up – complications, communications, responsibilities, losses, uncertainties… The adrenalin rises, there are tingles in the stomach, there are questions too big for answers… and the only choice you have is which way to look.

Today as I was praying for a friend, I sort of spoke my way into the picture of a high-dependency ward, and it made us both laugh at the thought of hooking ourselves up to all the leads and monitors, and placing ourselves in the intensive care of God! But some days that’s exactly what I need (maybe every day!) – to acknowledge very openly that I will not make it through on my own, that I need to be so vitally connected with my Father that to let go or break free will set off alarms and warning lights! I need the ‘drip’ connected, flowing His truth, His life, His peace, His enabling deep into my veins. I need the soul rest that comes from stopping, from turning my attention fully to His nature, His word of truth. Is it too much information to imagine a tube draining out the sin, the self-reliance, the emptiness that comes free, when we’re finally receiving from the Spirit the clarity we’ve needed?

We are all pretty messy, and our lives and interactions do wound and drain us. People we love face pain, disappointment, and distress – and we share their burdens. Worse still, there’s the heartbreak of watching lives slowly fall apart, especially young lives that you’ve loved and cared for, like an agonizingly slow train wreck.

Sometimes we just need to come face to face with the naked truth – that this world is not our home, that we are frail and broken, that our human efforts can also be pretty frail and broken, and that really, the only place to rest our souls is in the recognition that only Jesus does embody all that we love and long for. And thank goodness for that – that there IS an intensive care ward; that we are not just falling down onto some god-forsaken back street beside the open sewer of humanity’s lostness, with nothing but despair & helplessness for company!! Those beautiful ideals we cherish, those hopes that get dashed and disillusioned along the way, those precious notions of justice, compassion, goodness and truth that we strive (and sometimes fail) to live and share – they do all have a source AND a fulfilment, in Jesus. Not only does He give our longings a place to rest, but He picks us up and calls us into His Kingdom life.  He invites us to – in some miraculous way – actually embody what He is doing to bring restoration and healing to His precious ones, to be His instruments of mercy in the broken world.