Little things

Yesterday Mauricio Alvarez shared a fantastic message about living in hope, even in difficult situations. I think the non-western church has a lot to teach us about maintaining hope when times are difficult. While westerners are convinced things will rebound, our brothers and sisters from South America, Africa and Asia understand that things could very well not improve. Whether they do or not, we can still have hope.

One point Alvarez made was that we build hope by focusing on God and the character he wants to build in our lives. David’s life, for instance, shows the law of preparation. As a young shepherd, David spent a lot of time in isolation — plenty of time to practice his slingshot so that when he needed that shot, he could hit it with perfection. When he was young, he was tested by lions and bears. He learned to face his worst enemy and to overcome with inadequate weapons. His early years without pressure shaped him into the leader he would become when the pressure was on.

Years later, David mastered that ability to use circumstances as practice. He was a capable military commander and then leader over 400 outcasts in the wilderness. He showed fruitfulness at every level and demonstrated the character he would need as king. For instance, consider his incredible patience even when he had an opportunity to take the kingdom on his own terms.

Some friends in Seattle reminded me of Psalm 63 last week. David, writing in the wilderness while being pursued by King Saul, spends the first ten verses talking about his thirst for God’s presence, love, power and glory. Throughout the psalm, he speaks as a visionary, confusing present and future. He celebrates the future ruin of his enemies, then offers a very interesting statement:

But the king will rejoice in God.
All who trust in him will praise him,
while liars will be silenced.

What king? Saul? No. David’s referring to himself in future tense. He was anointed years before. He knows that he is next in line. So he lives the future even though present circumstances don’t warrant it. That hope allows him to thrive in small things, resulting in fruitfulness, faithfulness and joy.

More Willow Creek – little things

On day 2 of Willow Creek, one theme that stood out: Big change is accomplished by little things.

Dan and Chip Heath and Bill Hybels both talked about a series of little things. The Heaths recommended shrinking the change you want to see. If you can get it down to little things that are attainable, you can do it. And it’s amazing what those little things can add up to over time. They gave examples of people who changed counties, communities and countries by doing small things.

If you feel optimism versus being more and more discouraged, you’ve shrunk the change enough.

That paraphrase of what Dan said rings true for me in my experiences. Big change and big projects can sure lead to feeling overwhelmed. But when you work on the list of tasks you know you need to do today, after a year or two, you look back and you’ve accomplished something remarkable.

Hybels followed up with a reminder of the story of Naaman, where his entourage called him on his failure to obey Elisha. His paraphrase: “You’re a great man and would have done it if it was a great request. Do the little things he asked you to do.” It’s a great reminder of how God works, and our propensity for efficiency: one big thing to solve the world’s problems rather than faithfulness with smaller loads.

I see two issues. My dad used to watch my brother and me unloading groceries from the car, with a dozen bags hanging on our arms. He called it a “lazy man’s load.” “Why don’t you just take a bunch of smaller loads?” he’d ask. I still like lazy man’s loads.

I think there’s one deeper element to Hybels comments, though. I think we think of ourselves as “great men” and believe the lie that great men do great things. We want to do that great thing that gets noticed and puts us on the map. It’s the SportsCenter approach, where athletes try to throw in a few moves in a game so they get on ESPN’s highlight show that night.

But God cares more about faithfulness and fruitfulness than our pride. As Dave Gibbons reminded us yesterday, God’s metrics are different. He’s not all that concerned that our graphs always move “up and to the right.” He evaluates things differently, and he has a different definition of success.