We celebrate the quality of our Lord by which He takes little things and achieves spectacular results. “Who has despised the day of small things?” said the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 4:10). Many a preacher has waxed eloquent (or as the kid said, “waxed an elephant”) on the way God uses the least, the lost, and the last to achieve the most, the best, and the first. Think of the widow’s mite, a baby in a manger, and a dozen nobodies chosen as apostles. The rod in Moses’ hand, the witness of a servant girl to a Syrian general, a little boy’s lunch of a few loaves and fishes–all bear eloquent testimony to the power of God to achieve much with little. A word here, a gift there, a deed.
Our Lord is a powerful God. As the gospel song puts it, “Little is much if God is in it.”
But there’s another side to this story. God is a great God who likes to do big things and when it pleases Him, to do them in grand ways. He made a universe whose size we are still trying to calculate. He created the galaxies, stars, suns, planets, oceans, and the egos of several people we could name. Big things.
God likes His children to dream big and is not complimented when the people He is counting on to serve Him in this world make small plans and expect little or no results.
Here’s an interesting story from the Old Testament. In the 8th century B.C., the king of Judah–Ahaz was his name and fear was his game–was shivering in his boots as he watched the kings of Aram and Israel surround Jerusalem with their fierce armies. God sent the prophet Isaiah out to calm Ahaz’ fears. “Take care and be calm,” he said. “Have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands…”
Eugene Peterson (“The Message”) puts it like this: “Don’t panic over these two burnt-out cases…they talk big and there’s nothing to them.”
Didn’t work. Ahaz needed something more than soothing words to settle his shattered nerves. So God raised the ante. “The Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.'” (This is all in Isaiah 7.)
That’s quite a blank check the Lord handed the timid king. What would it take to stop your knees knocking and convince you that God is handling the matter, O king? Need a sign in the heavens? Just name it. Make it as big as you please.
True to character, Ahaz would not act decisively against the enemy nor would he boldly seize the offer God had made him. Fence-straddling was his spiritual gift. He said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”
We’d like to help him with his theology and remind Ahaz that it’s not “testing” the Lord if God invites you to do it.
Well, the story goes on and gets better, but I’ll stop here. The point here is that God wanted big faith, decisive action, and a bold initiative out of his leader, and got none of it.
Now, move that scene over to your church. Your leader, the pastor, looks out his window–i.e., he observes the city where he lives, reads the paper, and watches the news–and feels outnumbered, overwhelmed, and outmatched. He wrings his hands, throws up his hands, and considers hiring some new hands. What is the church to do?
If he’s like many a church leader today, he gives up. Not that he would ever use those words and admit to such. But if he turns away from the city, turns a deaf ear to the cries of the hurting, and ignores the lost multitudes to spend all his time taking care of the few members of his church, we may safely conclude that he has thrown in the towel. Reach the community for Jesus? The time isn’t right, the church isn’t ready, the resources aren’t there, the community is not listening.
Small plans, weak plans, no plans. God is not pleased.
We call William Carey the “father of modern missions” because, at least in our segment of the Christian faith, he was the first in modern times to see the need to carry the gospel to the world and to actually do it. I’ve been to his house in Moulton, England, sat in the blacksmith shop where he prayed for the countries of the world as he cobbled shoes, and stood behind the pulpit where he preached. This is holy ground.
On May 30, 1792, Carey preached a sermon to his association in Northampton which he based on Isaiah 54:2. In it, he called on his brethren to begin the process of bringing the gospel to the world. That verse says, “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs.” It’s actually part of a prophecy of Isaiah that Israel is not forsaken and better days are ahead, days of growth and advancement. “Your descendants will possess nations,” He said.
Carey was not content with only preaching a bold sermon, but put feet to his words when he moved to India to bring the gospel to those in darkness. Before his death many years later, he had translated the Bible into Sanskrit, Bengali, and a number of other languages–some of which had never previously been reduced to writing, if you can grasp that–founded colleges, agriculture societies, and of course, established churches. Had he been talking big back in Northampton? Yep. But he backed it up with a great faith and massive results.
In the section of Christianity I’m familiar with, the curse of our time is our miserly methodologies.
We pray small and ask for nothing. “You have not because you ask not,” we’re told in James 4:2. And we wonder why God does nothing.
We give small and satisfy ourselves that we have done our part. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (II Corinthians 9:6) We wonder why the harvest was so pitiful.
We love small and stingily. “But I say to you love your enemy. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28) We wonder why people in our community refuse to listen when we present the gospel message.
We forgive small and begrudgingly. “I say to you, forgive seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) We wonder why the world is unimpressed by our Christianity.
We serve small and poorly. “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14) We sit back and wait to be served, wondering why the other believers do not obey the Lord’s command.
We believe small and weakly. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) And we wonder where the modern miracles are.
John Newton of “Amazing Grace” fame knew the power of prayer and urged his brethren to enlarge the scope of their intercessions:
“Thou art coming to a King;
Large petitions with thee bring.
For His grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much.”
What would happen if the next time our church plans a budget, we were to begin not by determining the amount of money we can expect to receive in the next year, but by prayerfully figuring out what the Lord wants us to do, and then calculating the money that would require. And that would be our budget.
What would happen if the next time we plan an emphasis on prayer, we did not limit it to a certain time period, but left it open-ended like some dances make their announcements (“From 8 pm until ??”). What if we really came to pray.
What if we planned an evangelistic campaign to reach our neighborhoods and set the goal for attendance impossibly high, at a number that could be reached only by a miracle of God.
What if we start believing God is with us and make our plans accordingly.
One caution, from this veteran pastor.
If God ignites a fire of faith in your heart along the above lines, if He burdens you with this matter, the last thing you want to do (and the first you will probably think of) is to insist that your pastor and church leaders change the way they do church to this plan. That path only leads to frustration for everyone involved.
When God gives you a burden or a vision, it’s for you, not for the whole group until He says otherwise. Start with yourself, friend. Little by little, in your praying and witnessing, in your serving and loving and worshiping and giving, start taking the Lord at His word and increasing your faithfulness.
But do not talk it until you have done it and done it long enough that your life has been changed and it’s obvious you mean business. Even then, talk it only when the Lord gives you the green light and to the extent He permits.
You’ll think of other illustrations and ideas. We invite you to share them with the rest of us here.