Melissa just called me from town. “At the last two stoplights, the van was rocking from side to side,” she told me with concern.
I was concerned, too. On Sunday the “service engine soon” light came on. I’ve been half-forgetting about it, half-not-wanting-to-remember it over the past few days.
Now this. What could make the van rock back and forth at idle?
I threw in my hopeful guess: “Sounds like the wind to me.” Freezing air, gusting out of Canada, is blowing things around.
From somewhere in the van I heard another voice pipe up. . . .
When Melissa rejoined our conversation a moment later, she was laughing: Ella admitted she was curiously rocking in her seat (just to see what would happen) and her action rocked our great big twelve-passenger van like a little earthquake.
Our vehicle “malfunction” kept us laughing (partly the humor of our daughter surreptitiously rocking the car, partly relief that we don’t have another bill to meet) until Melissa had to wipe her eyes to drive when the light changed.
It doesn’t take a giant action to affect a giant change, if that action is consistent and regular.
Regular, consistent actions are the stuff of life. They are our habits and our manner of living. And, in a telling way, they are who we really are.
Want to build a great wall? Try adding one brick today . . . and another tomorrow . . . and another the next day. Want to be a great salesman? Make a few simple sales calls today. And keep it up day after day. Want to be a great Christian? . . .
Ouch. I’d like to do an end-run around intermediate monotony, catch the long pass, and dance into the end zone. I’d like to forget the little things and just do the great things. I’d like to graduate from the school of hard knocks and humbling circumstances and directly enter the world of influence and big thinking.
But Big Thinking is frequently born to ordinary parents, like Toil and Struggle, or Unsought and Unknown, or even Need and Deprivation. We can’t have the child without knowing the parents. The little things of life, borne bravely, give birth to character. And over time, character grows up into Big Thinking.
Ever see a child greet his distant grandparents? After the first hugs, what does the older generation say?—“Just look at how you’ve grown!” What is the child to say? He’s looked in the mirror everyday and hasn’t seen anything dramatic. He is still the same boy that visited Grandpa and Grandma six months ago. He doesn’t see how much taller he is or how broad his shoulders are becoming.
But he is changing, and loved ones far away capture the summary of a thousand little differences in a single moment. Imperceptible daily growth is unmistakable when added together over time. And tiny daily failures compound in the same way.
Little wonder then that Jesus noted, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19-20).
Look at the list Jesus gives. Take murder, for instance. There’s a big thing with big ramifications. Even a society tolerant of dozens of other evils can’t tolerate overt killing. If murder is OK, then there is no safe place and anarchy reigns.
But the hardened murderer didn’t cut his first teeth on glittering steel; his first words weren’t shouted syllables of hate. He was born a helpless baby with innocent expressions and tender skin. You would have picked him up with pleasure. You would have held him close and felt his tiny heart beating and enjoyed his fingers encircling your thumb.
The infant forms of evil, though, were within him from the moment of his conception, just as they were within me. Unchecked by redemption, they slowly grew and matured and finally bore their ugly fruit. Innocence gave way by degrees; tender skin grew calloused and tiny features were marred, over time, by malice.
Now he is a murderer.
Significantly, Jesus’ was not teaching “Don’t murder.” The evil of murder is assumed in Jesus’ argument. Of course Jesus stood against murder and sexual immorality and theft. But what He exposes is the heart, the unseen fount of our character. Unchecked, innocuous seedlings grow into trees of wickedness.
The happy reality is that the reverse is also true. I’m not suggesting that we can just nurture our inner goodness and slowly, ever so slowly, become good people. That’s malarkey. We don’t have any goodness to nurture; we are all bad, just as bad as the murderer, only the badness hasn’t yet had its full expression.
Something from outside must be brought to bear upon hopeless hearts. That’s why redemption takes center-stage. The heart that believes on Jesus is transformed from stone to flesh and suddenly goodness that was impossible becomes reality. We no longer are chained to every wanton passion. We don’t have to do what is right in our own eyes. We are new, just as new as a tiny baby, but this time with a heart inclined to God and eyes that are opened to the invisible world.
Yes, the redeemed person starts a new life as a baby. But for the good to grow, two things must happen with consistency and regularity. The evil of the old way of living must be put to death every time it rears its ugly head. Every day. And the good of Christ in us must be nurtured and watered and fed. Every day.
I find that the more I grow in God, the more He shows me how much I need to grow, so that I may not even be conscious of the changes that are taking place in my life as I follow Christ. That’s a good thing, because it keeps me humble, on my knees in the place of grace.
Whether or not we see visible results, we must take care of the little things. Little things like praying. I’m not talking about “now I lay me down to sleep,” but genuine communication with the God of the universe who bought us with His own blood.
Things like considering others ahead of ourselves. Could mean that we have to give up our favorite chair or do the dishes or volunteer to change a bad diaper. Just little things, but they shape the person we are becoming. They have potential to grow us in the likeness of Jesus.
Little things like being honest when lying would be advantageous to a business deal or holding your tongue when you know information that could damage your rival or being still before God when there are a thousand things to do.
These are the things that shape a life.
There are no shortcuts in the kingdom of God. We aren’t going to circumvent trials and difficulties. We won’t escape rubs and irritations. We aren’t going to bypass the mundane to arrive at the extraordinary. But if we consistently, regularly welcome the little things, even the unpleasant things, we’ll grow. And one day, we’ll realize that we’re more like Jesus than we used to be.
© 2011 by Robert G. Robbins