When the Call Seems Small
By Rev. Tony Cooke
A friend recently shared an important truth… that we need to know how to handle it when the call seems small. Perhaps you’ve had workers in your church doing what you know is valuable work, but they are unsettled, thinking they’re supposed to be doing something they consider more important. Pastors can also feel frustration because their church or budget isn’t as large as they’d like.
Our society exalts the “biggest” and the “best,” but I’ve noticed that some never enjoy where they are or what they have in life because they’re always mindful that someone has more than they do. Perhaps because of envy, insecurity, or short-sightedness, they don’t see the value and significance of what is right before them.
I recently read about an individual who got a new bicycle when he was in fifth grade. He was thrilled about his new bike and was thoroughly enjoying it, until he rode down the street and found out that his neighbor had gotten a fancier bike. He lost his joy when he became envious of his friend’s nicer bike.
Envy truly is a scourge! It causes us to focus on what we don’t have to the point that we miss seeing and taking pleasure in what we do have. Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.” If our vision is always on the grandiose, we may miss an excellent opportunity because it is wrapped in what we consider to be a small package!
THE UNIVERSE OR A PEANUT?
George Washington Carver (1864-1943) started his life as a slave, but became a chemist, horticulturist, and educator. He discovered three hundred uses for peanuts and hundreds more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes. Carver said, “When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is for me alone.’ So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’ Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’ And he told me.”
No one who knows history would dispute that George Washington Carver made a BIG contribution to society, but he had to start out by valuing something SMALL.
RECOGNIZING THE VALUE OF SMALL THINGS
People often fall prey to feelings of inferiority and intimidation. I’ve noticed three lies that the enemy tends to bring against believers to keep them in a state of spiritual paralysis and inactivity. Those three lies are:
* You have little value you are worthless.
* You have little faith you are faithless.
* You have little ability you are useless.
The truth is that we are all valuable and precious to God! Also, Jesus said that if we had faith as a mustard seed, we could move mountains. Finally, even if we believe that our gifts or abilities are small compared to others, we must realize that God can use what we yield to Him in great ways…
* Moses only had a rod, but God used it to bring the greatest empire of the world to its knees and to deliver the children of Israel.
* Rahab only had a scarlet thread, but with it, she brought deliverance to her entire family.
* Samson only had the jawbone of a donkey, but God used it to help him defeat one thousand men.
* The widow woman only had some oil, but God used it to bring a great miracle of provision.
* The little boy only had a few loaves and fishes, but Jesus used them to feed a multitude.
* Dorcas only had a needle and thread, but she blessed many by using what she had.
Things that we consider small can be important! You may have heard the old rhyme:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Most Christians have never heard the name of Edward Kimball. He wasn’t a famous evangelist or a powerful pastor, but was a Sunday School teacher in the mid-1800s at a Congregational Church in Boston, Massachusetts. One day Mr. Kimball dropped in to see a young shoe salesman who had visited his class. As a result of this visit the young man came to trust in Jesus Christ. Mr. Kimball expressed that he was quite nervous about visiting the young man and that his visit was “weak.” But he said, “It seemed that the young man was just ready for the light that then broke upon him.” Incidentally, the young man who accepted the Lord during Mr. Kimball’s visit was named Dwight L. Moody, who later led over a million people to the Lord.
Even if the person Edward Kimball led to the Lord had not eventually become a great evangelist, his work would still have been important to God! Never underestimate the value of your work, your kindness, your encouragement, your giving, or your prayers. Jesus said that if we even give a cup of water to someone who belongs to him, we would not lose our reward (Matthew 9:41).
WHAT WOULD JESUS SAY TO A SMALL CHURCH?
In a very critical hour in church history (Revelation 1-3), Jesus was mindful of pastors and local churches, including what appears to have been a small congregation in Philadelphia. Jesus spoke to the angel (the pastor) of this church and said, “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8).
Vincent’s Word Studies says the phrase (you have a little strength) could be rendered, “thou art poor in numbers and worldly resources.” This was a church that was few in numbers and limited in resources, and yet Jesus communicated very positively concerning their amazing potential.
The Wuest translation renders this verse, “Consider this. I have given [you] as a permanent possession a door which has been permanently opened, which no one is able to close; because you have but a small amount of power, and you safeguarded my word by carefully observing it, and you did not deny my Name.”
COULD JESUS REALLY BE PLEASED WITH A SMALLER CHURCH?
Was Jesus disappointed with this pastor and this church? Was he discouraged about their apparent lack of accomplishments? Was he upset that they hadn’t grown more? On the contrary, Jesus was pleased with and positive toward this local congregation. He valued it, was hopeful toward it, and saw its great potential. The Philadelphian congregation was probably the smallest of the churches that received these letters, but it was one of only two that received no form of correction from Jesus. Even the great mega-church of its day (Ephesus) did not receive the unqualified commendation that Philadelphia received.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for every church reaching as many people for Jesus as possible, but I also realize that Satan seems to specialize in perching on the shoulders of pastors and reminding them that their church isn’t as big as Joel Osteen’s or T.D. Jakes’ and intimidating them with feelings that their work for God is somehow insignificant. If you were pastoring a church of 15,000 people, the devil could (and probably would) tell you that compared to Dr. Cho, your church was still small, and that compared to Reinhard Bonnke, you’re still not reaching many people.
WHAT HAD THE CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA DONE?
Jesus commended them for three very basic aspects of the faith. He said:
* You have kept my word.
* You have not denied my name.
* You have kept my command to persevere.
Doesn’t it seem likely that Jesus would also be pleased with pastors and churches who are doing those same things today? If you don’t have as large of attendance as you would desire, or as many resources as you’d like, here are some things to keep in mind (whether you have 10 in your congregation or 10,000):
* Remember that God the Father said He was “well pleased” with Jesus before He had preached a single sermon, worked a single miracle, or had any followers.
* He doesn’t want you living under condemnation or a sense of failure. Rather, He wants you looking for and walking through the open doors (opportunities) that He has placed in front of you.
* Capitalize on the strengths that you do have, even if you feel like all you have is a “little strength.”
* Aim for fruitfulness and impact, and don’t get caught in the comparison trap or the numbers game.
* Don’t allow yourself to get so frustrated with what you don’t have that you fail to tap into the creativity of God and the inspired ideas that would enable you to see greater fruitfulness.
* Dream, don’t despair!
I think all faith people are advocates of dreaming, thinking, and expecting big, and that’s great as long as we don’t neglect the seemingly small things upon which God places great value. We need to be sure that the big things we desire are truly God’s big dreams for our lives, and not merely extensions of human ego or insecurity. We must not fall into the trap that one person described: “Some ministers love crowds but hate people.” Remember also that Saul’s greatest days of serving God were when he was “small in his own eyes” (1 Samuel 15:17).
Perhaps David had found relief from envy-based agitation when he wrote Psalm 131:1-3. The Message Version renders these verses: “GOD, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain. I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans. I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content. Wait, Israel, for GOD. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!”
Helen Keller said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief aim to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
Even if it seems small, what are the tasks and opportunities that God has placed before us? Surely he doesn’t want us always envying the greener grass on the other side of the fence, but he wants us fertilizing and watering our own yard! He wants us to bloom where we’ve been planted. Below is a collection of quotes that remind us the importance of focusing on the opportunities that are before us.
“A possibility is a hint from God.”
– Sören Kierkegaard
“No great man ever complains of want of opportunity.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“There is no security on this earth. Only opportunity.”
– Douglas Macarthur
“The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are.”
– John Burrows
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
– Thomas Edison
“To young men who are looking for an opportunity and who complain there is no opening for them, permit me to say this: Go where the poor and the under-priviliged are. They will be glad to hear you. When you have learned to bless them, others will be calling for your services. Don’t wait for opportunity to come walking up to you. Go to meet it. My wife and I resolved that we would not allow an opportunity to build up the church, pass us by, and if we did not find opportunities ready-made, we would make them.”
– Gordon Lindsay