The importance of the small things
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.
So says Gandalf, the wizard, in the film version of ‘The Hobbit’. He is responding to Galadriel, the Elven-leader, who asks why Gandalf has brought Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit, along with the dwarves in their quest to the Lonely Mountain. His reply is full of perception.
Watching ‘The Hobbit’ films again whilst on holiday over the summer, that exchange leapt out at me. It reminded me of how we can easily disregard small things, and how ‘large’ things are often only accomplished because the ‘small’ things are properly in place. This should be an encouragement to you and me in the simple task of faithfulness in the ‘small’ lives we have been called to live, knowing that in the hand of a providential God, greater significance may come of them. We should rest in the fact that any greater significance is not our primary concern. Our primary concern is faithfulness to the Lord, and a care to His Word, in the small sphere of our ordinary lives.
I was struck, as we read in the Book of Acts (chapter 16), by the account of how the Gospel first came to Europe. We are told that as Paul sought, on this second missionary journey, to take the Gospel around the area we now know as Eastern Turkey, his plans were constantly thwarted. Luke, with typical economy of detail, does not tell us precisely what it was that was making the missionary work so frustrating, except to make clear that it was not enmity to the Gospel that was behind the blocking of their plans, but it was the Holy Spirit Himself. There was a divine reason as to why Paul was unable to work in Phrygia and Galatia, and that reason appears to be the need for the Gospel to go, at that time, into Europe.
Of course, in those days there was no such thing as ‘Europe’, and for Paul this would simply have been a boat trip from one part of the Roman Empire to another. But, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that in terms of the worldwide spread of the Gospel, the planting of a Church in what was to become Europe was of enormous significance. That significance lies not only in it being the event to which we can trace our own spiritual ancestry as European Christians, but it was from Europe that the Gospel would, centuries later, be taken around the world. Europe would become the first Christian continent, insofar as the Gospel took very deep root in the culture of those lands. And until recent generations, Europe was the heartland of missionary endeavour. Missionaries in generations past took the gospel to the rest of the world – to Africa, to North America and South America and so on. That small step taken by Paul, recounted in Acts 16, in obedience to the call of God, proved to be vastly important. At the time it was just another trip, but it was made in obedient response to the call of God, amidst much frustration and setback.
The simple point is that we must realise that it is in the small acts of faithfulness and obedience to Christ that a Gospel work can be built. Our task is those small acts of daily faithfulness and obedience.
In an excellent book entitled, ‘A wind in the house of Islam: How God is drawing Muslims around the world to faith in Christ’, I came across the remarkable story in the life of a woman called Faith Slate, who served for two years as a ‘journeyman’ missionary in West Africa. One particular event is recalled from 1967. During the school year, Faith would teach the children of missionaries but then, over the summer months, would trek into the villages with an older missionary, Maddie Granger. The two women would spend their days preaching the Gospel in the villages, but on weekday mornings they would also hold basic literacy classes and also run a rudimentary clinic where people would come with their various ailments. On one occasion, there was a very rare contact with someone from the northern Muslim people:
“‘I can clearly picture in the line a strikingly beautiful woman with a sick baby on her back. She was the first nomadic Muslim from the north that I had ever seen up close. Maddie told Faith that the woman had walked 25 miles for their medical help. Maddie gave the very weak baby something, perhaps some vitamins, and then handed the infant to Faith.”
Maddie instructed a nervous and fearful Faith to pray for the child and try to give him some milk. After praying for the child, Faith was able successfully to give the baby boy some much-needed milk. Returning the precious bundle, his mother then smiled her distinctive and beautiful smile, and set off on the 25 miles she needed to walk to return to her village.
Now turn the clock forward to 1980, and Faith Cook is now married as Faith Wells, working in West Africa. She takes up the story:
‘We were in the village … visiting some of the Muslim-background believers when we saw a group of young Muslim teenagers from the nomadic Muslim people in the north. We told these young men about the school we had started. The boys took us to meet their families. Immediately, I recognised the beautiful smile of the woman I had met in the village clinic thirteen years earlier. Her son, that little baby I had held and prayed over, was now standing before me, a tall and handsome boy of 13.
Two years later this teenage boy and his older brother were among the first seventeen Muslims from that nomadic people-group that my husband baptized in 1982. Eventually, his mother, a beautiful woman named Bosha, also became a believer. In fact 80 people from her village accepted Jesus Christ.
The young man went on to Bible College and became a pastor.
Among the nomadic group that Faith contacted in 1967, previously untouched with the Gospel, there are now estimated to be at least 10,000 Christian believers.
Who could ever have realised in 1967 that the brief contact with that one woman, needing help for her dangerously sick baby, would be the beginnings of a remarkable movement, involving thousands coming to Christ from a Moslem group. A contact that began with the provision of basic health care and a very public prayer for a sick infant, under God, was the foundation of a significant Gospel work.
Let’s just be who we are called to be, doing what we are called to do, where we are called to serve Christ. Leave the rest to Him.