Small vs. Big: The Unexpected Benefits of Small Things

When you’re a writer and have to produce words daily, you occasionally suffer from brain freezes that, unfortunately, have nothing to do with ice cream. Instead, these are word brain freezes—an absolute inability to come up with the word you need. The right word is rattling around somewhere in your brain, but it’s slippery, elusive.

When this happens, I tend to resort to my old friend, the thesaurus, searching for a reminder of what exactly it is that I’m trying to say.

This happened a few weeks ago at work. I don’t remember the concept I was trying to convey, but the word I typed into the search box was “small.” As I read through the synonyms, my attention was snagged by the negativity of each word.

Paltry.

Insufficient.

Limited.

Stunted.

Trivial.

In contrast, the synonyms for “large” are generally very positive.

Grand.

Substantial.

Full.

Generous.

Comprehensive.

When I thought about it, this didn’t surprise me. Bigger is better in the American culture (we even have a game named after it). We want bigger houses, bigger TVs, bigger backyards, bigger plates of food, bigger salaries. We don’t much care for small things, and the English language reflects that.

Unfortunately, American Christianity has begun to reflect that as well. In this era of mega-churches, world changers, and nation-wide fundraisers, we have begun to forget the beauty of small things. We track success by numbers—number of sinner’s prayers prayed, number of food pantry meals handed out, number of readers on a ministry’s blog, number of dollars donated in a given year. We use words like impact, mission, and purpose with abandon and imply that none of them can be achieved by anything less than building homes for AIDS orphans in Africa or stopping world hunger.

Last summer I led a study of the book Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris for a group of pre-teen girls. The book talked about all types big hard things that teens could do, but it also had a chapter about the often overlooked small hard things—obeying their parents, putting the dishes away, doing homework without complaining, etc. In all honesty, it’s those small hard things that are the hardest, because they get no recognition, no accolades—and yet it’s those small hard things that prepare us for the bigger hard things.

God works in the small things. That truth is perfectly illustrated by the not-often-visited passage of Zechariah 4. (Interestingly, this is the first result to pop up when searching for “small” in BibleGateway.

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.

The background to this passage is found in the book of Ezra. Zerubbabel was governor over the Israelites who had returned from exile. They had just begun to rebuild God’s temple when their enemies interfered and managed to finagle an order from the king of Persia, commanding them to stop construction. The building project halted, and the spirits of the people languished as they lived in the shadow of the half-completed temple, remembering its former glory under King Solomon . . . wondering if their God had forsaken them for good this time.

Then the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, and the half-built temple was seen for what it was: a small beginning. The people’s efforts had not been wasted, and their God was still faithful, just as He had always been, even in the silent years.

We worship a big God—the same One who brought Jericho and Goliath toppling to the ground, who brought plague on Egypt, who sent famine and flood and manna and quail, who redeemed hardened hearts in Nineveh and on the road to Damascus, who wove a grand story of redemption from the very first pages of Scripture.

But we also serve a God who works through small things—five smooth stones in the hands of a shepherd boy, a stutterer’s staff, three hundred trumpeters, a wayward prophet, a manger-born king.

SmallThings

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

And because He works through the weak, I believe God loves the small things. He takes pleasure in the completed homework assignment, the extra hours of overtime with no pay, the choice to teach Sunday school one week each month, the smile and “thank you” to the cashier in the grocery store, the “just one more” bedtime story to the sleepless child, the trip to the gym instead of one more Netflix show, the encouraging note to a lonely friend.

Because it’s those little things that knock off our rough edges, smooth out our splinters, and take us closer to Him and to holiness, one small step at a time.

As I was writing this, I found this post with a really lovely and thoughtful list of small things we should not despise. Take a look!

3 Comments:

  1. I really enjoyed your recent post on the small things in life. It is easy to get so focused on the big things in life and neglect to enjoy the simple and smaller things that matter so much. Big is not always better.
    Keep writing. You are so good!

  2. Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don’t know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage. — Gandalf, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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