We have a saying in America: “Go Big Or Go Home!”
We like big stores, big stadiums, big stadium events and big churches.
You’ve probably read the same stats that I have:
- Only 10% of American professing Christians have a genuinely Christian world view and are living lives that in any way resemble Christian discipleship. Most Americans today don’t like us very much; they view us as a strange and intolerant little minority group. Long gone are the days when it was politically expedient to be “born again” or a church member.
- 92% of American Protestant churches have fewer than 250 people in attendance at their weekend worship service(s).
- 70% of churches have fewer than 100 worshippers present on Sundays.
- The “mean” (most common) congregation now has 55 to 65 people present on Sunday mornings.
- The twin plagues of the COVID lockdown combined with the ensuing political turmoil took about 1/3 of our Sunday worshippers out of the picture.
The reality is that in mid-2023, most evangelical churches have found themselves considerably smaller than they were at the beginning of 2020.
Clearly, as above, this is a new day of small things.
Some of you have guessed that I’m referring to the poignant story of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in the days of Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah. Here’s the story in a nutshell, with a few key verses.
In 536 BC, a remnant of 50,000 Jewish people returned from 70 years of exile in Babylon, to begin rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.
Ezra 3 tells us that as the work began, some of the people who had seen the temple of Solomon’s day wept aloud, probably because the “new” temple was going to be so much smaller and less magnificent than its predecessor. After many trials and discouragements, the rebuilding project was allowed to grind to a halt.
But God used the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage and admonish the people to return to their small, misunderstood, and despised project. Haggai famously said:
“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it seem to you like nothing? But now ‘be strong…all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’” From Haggai 2:3-5
God goes on to reaffirm and describe the glory that will one day fill Jerusalem and the temple itself in the days of the coming Kingdom: All nations will come! The glory of the future temple will be greater than that of the “old” temple!
Zechariah completes our picture by telling the Jews of the 6th century BC that God will do all this “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). In this great chapter, God declares unequivocally that the hands of Zerubbabel (the governor) who laid the foundation of the new temple would also complete it. After strengthening the people with this great promise, God asked a profoundly convicting question:
“Who despises the day of small things?”
Our tentative happy ending is that after a 15-year hiatus, the people returned to the work and completed the rebuilding project in 516 BC. The ultimate happy ending is yet to come. We will see it when people from all nations (see especially Zechariah 8) will come and worship the one true God at Jerusalem.
But we need to return to that question. Who “despises the day of small things?” Well, probably, all of us at one time or another. Here are a few brief comments about our new day of small things:
(1) We despise small things, small efforts, small endeavors and projects, in part, because of our human pride. There. I said it. Big projects make us feel big. Little projects make us feel little. Naaman the Syrian military commander thought it too small a thing for him to wash himself in the Jordan river. When a servant persuaded him to humble himself and take the plunge, a very big God healed him instantly (II Kings 5).
(2) We despise the small things which God gives us to work on because of our short-sightedness. We don’t see the infinite power of God’s Spirit which is available to turn our small efforts into big, big results. We don’t see the millions from every tribe and nation streaming into the Jerusalem of Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Like Samuel, we don’t see that Jesse’s youngest son David (I Samuel 16:7) is actually God’s choice to be the new King, who will found a new dynasty, and become the “sweet psalmist of Israel.”
(3) We despise the small projects to which God has assigned us because we forget how pleasing these efforts are to God. God loves our work on “small things,” done for His glory. Our small efforts are but the beginning of what God Himself will complete by His might and His Spirit. Our pride makes us want to go home if we can’t go big, but when we do the small thing by faith, God Himself shows up and performs His wonders. Our meager efforts are a work of faith and love that pleases the Father, who loves to see our faith in action.
So do the work that will not necessarily ever be big. Lead the small child to Jesus. Disciple the brand-new believer, one-on-one (he might be the next Billy Graham). Love and lead the small church in the small town. Teach the small group of children on Sunday morning. Share a small message of encouragement with a discouraged friend. Lead the small group in your small living room. Get back to work at making disciples of Jesus by means of your “smaller-than-it-used-to-be” church. Let your hands be strong (in God’s strength). Always give your best, however small the crowd, the building, the child or the town.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
(1) Let’s talk about our own struggles with working hard at small things. How have you been guilty of this?
(2) How have you benefited from the efforts put into you by others who did not despise your own “smallness” or seeming lack of potential?
(3) Do you have a story to share of God blessing and completing your own small efforts?
(4) How might our church enthusiastically embrace “small things” ministries