We had one day. In the midst of managing a tired team of people through yet another Covid surge and the depressing winter weather of continual clouds and rain, we packed our camper and ran away to the Oregon Coast to spend one heavenly day where the forecast called for sun and 65 degrees in January! The thunderous sound of waves, the summery smell of salt water and the infinite blue horizon saturated my senses. The ocean has a way of simultaneously quieting my mind and stimulating my soul. The sensory overload felt like a weighted blanket and I reflexively relaxed as I felt the heavy presence and goodness of God.
After finishing the last chapter of an excellent and timely book, “The Divine Commodity” by Skye Jethani, I slowly ambled through the sand contemplating what i had just read, the fact I turn fifty in a few short weeks and what I want to accomplish with the rest of my life. (I may force my body to take a day off, but my brain refuses.) I struggled with the fact I inhabit a world that is all about “Big”; power, influence, money, popularity. It’s assumed that any talent, gift or ability should be magnified (and commodified) as much as possible. Sadly, much of the church is held captive by these same standards. If you can lead then you should be aiming to lead as many people as possible; if you can preach or teach then of course the larger the crowd the better; if you can sing then why not produce an album; if you can write then better start on that best seller. It’s unspoken that true talent should be magnified, and a gift that is poured out locally and not multiplied is a gift that is wasted.
We are a world of influencers and leaders all scrambling to gather followers so we can prove we’re doing something important with our lives. After almost fifty years of dizziness on this “bigger is better” merry-go-round, I’ve begun to question the assumption. Am I just questioning because I’m disappointed in myself? Have I failed to muster the discipline and courage to be all I could be? Have I foolishly spurned opportunities and therefore missed a chance to make a big difference with my one, short life? Have I disappointed God? I cried these questions out only to have them swallowed in the noise of crashing waves.
As I reached the end of walkable beach I passed some craggy cliffs. Surprised to hear the faint flow of water a few feet away from the roaring ocean, I stopped in my tracks, consumed with curiosity. Turning towards the sound, I saw a small spring of water trickling down the sharp, towering rocks. The realization that a few gallons of water somehow managed to steal my attention from the Pacific Ocean made me pause. That small voice (it has never been audible, but it bubbles out of my heart- not my mind) asked me, “if you were stranded on this beach, which of these water sources would keep you alive?” “The small, trickling stream” I whispered back. This powerful, amazing, massive ocean holding one hundred and eighty seven quintillion gallons of water would only hasten my death by dehydration.
God is the ultimate “BIG”! His kingdom is beyond our imagination. His power, goodness and lovingkindness we will never fully comprehend. He is a million times more than one hundred and eighty seven quintillion universes, yet over and over he shows preference for small. Throughout history, when He was going about something big, He chose small means. Moses, David, Gideon, Mary, Israel, the widow’s oil, the boy’s lunch, manna, a lamb, a pearl, a prodigal, his arrival as a baby, twelve confused dudes.
A small stream
In the same manner, it appears God wired our lives and spirituality to subsist on tiny conduits of power. While it is possible to amass large quantities of attendees or followers, emotion and enthusiasm, money and power and fame (these often end up blowing a fuse and catching on fire) the truest and best gifts in life come in small packages. Intimacy, obedience, hospitality, contemplation, authenticity, faithfulness, prayer, solitude- these are the trickling streams that sustain us while we walk beside the deafening roar and temptation of bigness.
My burning bush
Bigness in and of itself isn’t bad, but it is often deceptive, regularly destructive and frequently a thief. We have all witnessed many who grew talents, businesses and ministries so large they were swallowed by them. The very thing we give our lives to nurturing and building can grow up and go rouge, sucking the life out us. For those who find themselves stewarding Big, it is vital to have the character and discipline to not be fooled by it’s shine, but to continually stay on their knees and drink from the small life giving streams. I no longer envy these people. Theirs is a heavy responsibility.
Thankfully, the vast majority of us are blessed with smallness. For most of us, our influence will end within a couple of miles from where it began- in our home, school, church, place of work, neighborhood. Only so many chairs will fit at my table, only so many people I can live alongside and be available to and love well, only so many trees and plants I can maintain ( I wish it wasn’t so!) only so many patients I can care for, only so much knowledge my average mind can contain, only so opportunities I can take. This used to frustrate me, as I was convinced if I could somehow increase my capacity I would live a fuller, more important, more impactful life.
In his kindness, God revealing a glimpse of himself
Consider how Jesus chose to live his life- focusing his few years on earth to loving God and leading the small tribe of people who chose to walk with him into God’s kingdom. He did not write books, travel the world preaching or create a brand. He didn’t even start a 501(c)(3). He lived a small (geographically and number of people encountered), faithful life and trusted his Father to do with it what He wanted. I am encouraged to do the same, and leave the impact/influence/importance in the hands of my Father who loves me as I am-small, ordinary and always excited to spend a day at the beach.