When we talk about doing big things for God, it is usually more about us than it is about God. Growing up, I remember sermons leading to an invitation time to have people surrender. Surrendering for salvation was always at the top of the invitation hierarchy, but second to that was surrendering to be a pastor or missionary, right above surrendering to be rededicated. The unstated subtext was those who really wanted to serve God needed to be in full-time occupational ministry. I heard repeated youth presentations from someone who claimed they wanted to be a lawyer, CEO, professional athlete, or a music star, and then through some dramatic force of God, they gave it all up so they could be a pastor. Even when I was young, I never understood the point of these stories, as they just seemed like a cry for admiration based on how much they supposedly gave up. The idea was that if they didn’t give up something big, their testimony wasn’t that big either. Their focus, plans, dreams, and testimony were all a story about them, not a story about God.
To put the best construction on this, they may have felt it was inspirational. However, the subtle message communicated was that if it isn’t big, then it doesn’t matter. Where does that leave the vast majority of Christians who will never speak to crowds of thousands, who won’t have mega-churches or mega-book deals, or who won’t start major evangelistic movements within the culture? Today the idea that we need to do big things for God has been buzzwordified: being a world changer, having audacious faith, praying God-sized prayers, and so on. Rather than inspirational, it’s demotivational. Most Christians simply go to work, provide for their families, pray around the dinner table, read their Bible, worship in their local church, and try to be good community members. If all that matters is the earth-shaking movement makers, then why do any of it at all?
Some have tried to cloak their insecurities and bolster their sense of significance under the guise of desiring to serve God in big ways. As a young pastor frequenting the big conferences as an attendee, I would see the big names on the stage. In my pride and insecurity, I would think, “That should be me.” Now I would have never said that out loud and break the faux-humility I was convincing others and myself I had. No, it comes out in so many ways I see today, platform-building, personal branding, and follower gathering. When you don’t know who you are, or more importantly, who you are in Christ, you latch on to how the big pastors, big podcasts, and big theologians do it and try to emulate them. It’s the sense that it’s okay for there the be “normal Christians,” but that’s not enough for me. In reality, the lie that promises significance delivers a commercialization of self. Using God to elevate ourselves isn’t serving God; it’s just serving ourselves.
Doing “big” things for God distracts us from the small things. What God holds as significant vastly differs from what we think is significant. We think big funds matter; Jesus thinks a widow’s last two coins matter more (Mark 12:41-44). We think the big, tall, handsome king matters; God thinks the small, youngest-of-eight shepherd boy matters more (1 Samuel 16:1-13). We think the royal palace and seat of political power matters; God thinks being born in a stable and raised in uncelebrated Nazareth matters more (Matthew 2). Being obsessed with the big means we can miss how God is moving in the world or working in our life.
When we can see the importance of the small, we can see God as God. He is the one that makes whatever he wants to happen, happen. God never wastes your good works. He doesn’t disdain them because you think they are small. What you may think is insignificant may be deeply profound to those around you and God. Martin Luther talked about a theology of glory versus a theology of the cross. The glory Luther had in focus isn’t God’s glory but a theology that had at its heart our glory rather than God’s. It is a theology of pride. Instead, the way of the Christian is the theology of the cross, a theology that loses its life, its sense of self-worth, and its confidence to find true life, self-worth, and confidence in Jesus.
Big in this world may never come, but it doesn’t mean your significance won’t. God starts small. The Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into the largest tree of the garden (Mark 4:30-32). That doesn’t mean we do the small, thinking God owes us the big; it means we have to reorient our thinking to how God’s Kingdom works rather than how our kingdoms work. In our world, big produces big; The big budget, big power, big might, and big influence mean big importance. The principle of God’s Kingdom is that we start small. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). If you are motivated by pride and a theology of your own glory in what you have now, what makes you think you are going to be any better when your influence grows? But the point isn’t to put in your time of a hard-knock life of obscurity now so you can get the real payoff of doing big things. The point is faithfulness to what is in front of you. This life isn’t all there is, and what you may be faithful over “in much” may not be in this world.
There is freedom in the small. The big is beyond our control. What matters is the small right in front of me (being a good employee, a loving spouse, a patient father, and a caring churchman). If the big was there, and those other things weren’t, I would have less significance, not more. The small matters to God, so the small should matter to us. Paul tells us, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). To our egos that may sound blandly mundane; to God, it is of profound, eternal significance. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t doing something big. Enjoy the liberty of serving God in the small. Don’t let the allure of the large rob you of what you are doing for God.
Loving your family by folding laundry is serving God. Being kind to coworkers when work is stressful is serving God. Telling a person about Jesus, regardless of the outcome, is serving God. Praying for your neighbors is serving God. Working as unto the Lord in your vocation is serving God. Generosity in your money to minister to others is serving God. Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit is serving God. Giving a grieving person a hug and sitting with them is serving God. Encouraging someone for the good they are doing is serving God. Honoring your parents by washing the dishes is serving God. Stacking chairs for the next church event is serving God. Using your gifting for others around you is serving God. Jesus says that even giving someone a cup of cold water in his name will not lose their reward (Matthew 10:42). Be bolder than wanting to do the big things. Christian, go do small things for God.