So often many of us are guilty of becoming preoccupied with the notion that we have to do great things for God. I know I am guilty as charged. There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with this sort of thing, unless it becomes an obsession. When we become obsessed with the notion of doing great things, it has at least one highly deleterious impact on our lives: we either ignore or completely miss the myriad small things God may be attempting to have us do.
In practical terms, by focusing so much of our attention and energy of those big, earth shattering projects we are convinced God has in store for us, we may completely overlook all those seemingly mundane tasks that we figure are not worth our time or, for those of us who have a paucity of humility, beneath our exalted station. I am exaggerating here, but I think my point is clear. It is often in those seemingly small events that the will of God may be lurking. Further, the fact of the matter is this: scripture tells us that unless we are faithful in the small things, God isn’t going to give us bigger things to accomplish.
For those who may have forgotten this valuable lesson from the Master, I suggest you review the Parable of the Talents. In the meantime, it might also be highly beneficial to listen to these words from James Allen:
Not only great happiness but great power arises from doing little things unselfishly, wisely, and perfectly, for life in its totality is made up of little things. Wisdom inheres in the common details of everyday existence, and when the parts are made perfect the whole will be without blemish…..
One of the fundamental laws that God has placed in the universe is the principle that states that the small is the exact replica of the great. An example of this is the similarity between an atom and a solar system. Just as the electrons orbit the nucleus of an atom, the planets orbit the sun. And in an example that is both personal and biblical, we humans are made in the image of our creator. It boggles the mind, truly. These divine principles can be of great use to us if we comprehend them and the mechanisms involved in their practical application.
For our current purposes, however, let’s keep things as simple as possible. To do that, we return to the words of James Allen as he reminds us of the importance of giving attention to the small things in life:
Neglect of the small is confusion of the great. The snowflake is as perfect as the star; the dew drop is as symmetrical as the planet; the microbe is not less mathematically proportioned than the man. By laying stone upon stone, plumbing and fitting each with perfect adjustment, the temple at last stands forth in all its architectural beauty. The small precedes the great. The small is not merely the apologetic attendant of the great, it is its master and informing genius.
Our attention to matters small is intimately tied up with two issues: the discipline of responsibility and becoming the optimal version of who we are. Let’s briefly explore these two in turn.
Increasingly, it seems that our culture is placing less and less emphasis on the significance of meeting our responsibilities. Discipline is not a popular word in post-modern culture. Instead, we are encouraged to “follow our bliss” and “do our own thing.” The world pays lip service to the importance of discipline and self-control in daily living, but the over-arching message is in actuality much different. Often, instead of encouraging individuals to delay gratification, defer rewards, and develop character, our culture tells us, “If it feels good, do it.” No one ever manifested divine potential by adhering to this advice.
Scripture repeatedly stresses the importance of discipline, self-control, and personal morality. Without personal discipline, we squander our energies, waste precious time, and lose direction and focus.
Instead of putting forth the effort required to meet the obligations placed before us, either by God or our life situation, many conversely seek ways to avoid that expenditure of effort. As a result, there are many decent people who settle for mediocrity or even less in terms of their personal accomplishment. For all too many, phrases like “the pursuit of excellence” seem like a foreign language.
For the follower of Jesus, this kind of approach to life is not acceptable. We are encouraged by Paul, for example, to do everything as if we were doing it for the Lord. Further, it is a life characterized and motivated by a pursuit of excellence to which we are called by the Master. Anything less does not glorify God and certainly brings no glory and honor to ourselves. We must ever keep in mind that God calls us to be the optimal version of ourselves and our steadfast avoidance of personal responsibility and hard work makes this impossible.
It is precisely that consistent practice of paying attention to the small duties of our daily round that makes a life of excellence possible. Moreover, no one ever slouched his or her way to greatness. Again, let’s listen to the wisdom on James Allen:
The great man has become such by the scrupulous and unselfish attention which he has given to small duties. He has become wise and powerful by sacrificing ambition and pride in the doing of those necessary things which evoke no applause and promise no reward. He never sought greatness; he sought faithfulness, unselfishness, integrity, truth; and in finding these in the common round of small tasks and duties he unconsciously ascended to the level of greatness.
If you genuinely are committed to becoming the optimal version of who you are, you are in for a grand adventure. This adventure unfolds as you discern, identify, and meet the challenges that face you moment to moment each day. And it is there, in the context of the divine moment, that you find God’s work and God’s will.
Erwin Raphael McManus, pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles, makes the cogent point that the reality of God’s will can only be found in the present moment; “divine moments” he calls them. I could not agree more with what he says and experience, both my own and those of countless clients over the years, bears this out time and time again. The past is already a done deal and the future, at the very best, is but a fleeing fantasy. Reality is happening right now, under our noses, and it is happening nowhere else. Once you get that, and I mean really get it, you are well on your way to a most rewarding life, regardless of external circumstance.
As a brief sidebar, I also want to mention that a big part of finding our place in God’s scheme of things involves becoming the optimal version of ourselves and the context in which we accomplish that is also in the divine moment. McManus also speaks to this issue:
Earth’s unlimited resource is the gifts, talent, passions, imagination, and ingenuity of its citizens. You would think that we know this by now, but we often seem to miss the gift right in front of us. The world needs you to find the hero within you. The real battle is not between good and evil but between less and more. Most of us don’t choose the worst life; we just don’t choose the best. We can’t afford for you to sleep through your dreams…..The world needs you at your best. This planet is made better or worse by the people we choose to become. If you live a diminished life, it’s not only you who loses, but the world loses, and humanity loses. There is a story to be written by your life, and thought it may never inspire a graphic novel, it is a heroic tale nonetheless. Though you may not recognize it, there is a greatness within you.
I love these words by McManus. They reverberate through the inner fiber of my being, ringing loudly with both truth and relevance. I know that many times I forget that there is a God-planted greatness within me and within others. Fortunately, God has found ways to keep me focused enough to have at least one eye on the potential he placed within me.
Developing the ability to discern where and how God is moving requires more than merely taking time out for rest and relaxation. It takes a more radical and comprehensive reorientation of our approach to life in general and focus in particular. If you are to become more sensitive to what God is doing and where he is doing it, you need to become intimately acquainted with a practice that we in this fast-paced, multi-tasking world are not good at. In order to discover the movements of God in the context of the “divine moment,” you have to become more mindful.
Mindfulness is not stressed so much in our culture and it is stressed even less in our churches. This is unfortunate because no matter how much the post-modern world sings the virtues of multi-tasking this and multi-tasking that, the ability to fully focus on one thing at one time, to the exclusion of any distraction, is a highly useful skill. Our corporate world, in spite of its alleged genius, has yet to discover that mindful people are far more productive than multi-taskers. Their efficiency alone makes them more of an asset.
Even more relevant from a spiritual perspective, if we are going to find God’s will we are going to have to seek the epicenter of his activity. As we have seen, that sublime activity is going to be found in its purest, most pristine and discernable form in the present moment – the divine moment. It will be found here and nowhere else. As we have also seen, in order to discover this epicenter and God’s will, we may, indeed, have to reorient our perspective on several key issues. With certainty, we have to become more mindful.
Mindfulness, discipline, and character are essential ingredients in the establishment of a life of excellence and equanimity. By paying attention to the small things, we are often called upon to crucify our lower desires in favor of loftier themes. It is precisely by doing this, saying no to ourselves, that personal power comes about. And it is by denying “self,” with its clamorous cacophony of heckling demands, that we are walking the path of Christ – the path of the cross. By following the way of the Master, we are better able to master ourselves. Let’s visit James Allen a final time:
The man who sets his whole mind on the doing of each task as it is presented, who puts into it energy and intelligence, shutting out all else from his mind, and striving to do that one thing, no matter how small, completely and perfectly, detaching himself from all reward in his task – that man will every day be acquiring greater command over his mind, and will, by ever-ascending degrees, become at last a man of power…There is no way to strength and wisdom but by acting strongly and wisely in the present moment, and each present moment reveals its own task. The great man, the wise man, does small things greatly regarding nothing as “trivial” that is necessary. The weak man, the foolish man, does small things carelessly, and meanly, hankering the while after, some greater work for which, in his neglect and inability in small matters, he is ceaselessly advertising his incapacity. The man who least governs himself is always more ambitious to govern others…
I don’t know about you, friend, but when I first read those last two sentences I was strongly convicted – so strongly convicted that the Holy Spirit held my feet to the fire, so to speak, for several days. In the end, I made a strong commitment to devote myself to mindfulness in small things and spend less time hankering after great things. In doing so, I discovered two important lessons. First, I became a more efficient and responsible person and second, I became more tranquil and less reactive. Granted, I am still far from perfect in these areas, but I am much improved over where I once stood in these matters.
And herein is the key: we are to be mindful of the small things, presented to us in the divine moment. It is here, and only here, that we will find the epicenter of God’s activity in general and his will for us in particular. If we are faithful in the small things, then we can be trusted with greater responsibilities.
© L. D. Turner 2009/ All Rights Reserved