Do Not Despise the Day of Small Things
Christians worship a big God with a big mission that will one day reach this whole big world. Yet for all of his bigness, our God has a remarkable love for the small. He sets his eye upon small people in small places during small moments (Psalm 33:18; Matthew 6:4). The Son of God, who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” even became small to save us (Philippians 2:6–8).
Yet some of us, for one reason or another, embrace the bigness of God and his mission without likewise embracing his love for the small. And then, finding ourselves unable to escape the small, we can begin to chafe and mutter. We are big dreamers hemmed in, behind and before, by a small job, small church, small town, small life.
We may need to hear again the word of the prophet Zechariah, spoken to a people captivated with the big: do not despise the day of small things.
Big God, Small Day
When the returned exiles of Israel began rebuilding the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the young rejoiced; the old wept (Ezra 3:10–13). Compared to Solomon’s temple, which the gray-haired among the people still remembered, the new sanctuary seemed a mere stump. Their dreams of the kingdom, restored to its former glory, suddenly died in a day of small things.
To which Zechariah responded,
Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!” . . . Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. (Zechariah 4:7, 10)
“For all of his bigness, our God has a remarkable love for the small.”
While the elders of Israel wept over this day of small things, the God of Israel did not. Despite his big plans for his people, he is not afraid of the small. Nor is the small any sure sign of his displeasure, as we so often are tempted to think: If God were really in this, things would be bigger by now! No: God had rescued them, God was with them, and God’s plans would prosper — even through a day of small things.
To be sure, God’s mission in the world does not culminate in a day of small things, and we would be wrong to rest content in such a day. But we also would be wrong to despise it. Instead, consider a lesson from Zechariah and Scripture’s other prophets: if we are genuinely faithful in the day of small things, our small obedience will become big — but not usually right away, and not often in the ways we expect.
Not Right Away
“Whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice,” Zechariah says, because one day the small will no longer be small. “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.” Whatever metaphorical mountain the prophet had in view, the message is clear: one day, this remnant people and their tiny temple would rise above all opposition (Isaiah 2:2; 40:4). But not right away.
Zechariah’s prophecy found its partial fulfillment when Zerubbabel placed the capstone on the rebuilt temple (Zechariah 4:7). But as Zechariah’s fellow prophet Haggai put it, total fulfillment would need to wait “a little while” (Haggai 2:6) — which is typical prophet talk for a few centuries, maybe more. And so, the day of small things remained with Israel for over four hundred years, until finally every mountain was laid low (Isaiah 40:4; Luke 3:5), and the true temple arrived in the person of Jesus Christ (John 2:18–22).
The big God is apparently patient enough to endure centuries of small days. His kingdom, which will one day cover the earth, does not begin big. It grows from one old man and his barren wife (Isaiah 51:2). It grows from “the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). It grows from a mustard seed and a bit of leaven (Matthew 13:31–33). It grows from an embryo in the womb of a virgin (Isaiah 9:6–7). It grows from twelve uneducated men (Acts 1:8).
What will it mean for us to worship a God who works like this? It will mean praying for the big, longing for the big, and working for the big — all while faithfully and contentedly devoting ourselves to the small. Pray for revival, and then prepare breakfast for the kids. Dream of the knowledge of God’s glory flooding the earth (Habakkuk 2:14), and then bring a taste of that glory to the neighbor next door. Preach a grand vision to dozens or hundreds on Sunday, and then sit and listen to the wounded one on Monday.
The day of big things is coming. Until then, do not neglect the day of small things.
Not How We Expect
The big things are not usually ours right now. Nor, however, are they often what we expect. If we allow Scripture to reshape our ideas of size, we will learn to see the day of big things not only off in the future, but in some sense here right now, in the midst of all that seems so small.
“We will see just how small were all the world’s big things, and just how big was the day of small things.”
Over the course of their three years with Jesus, the disciples needed their ideas of big and small redefined time and again. As with most of us, they had allowed the world to define these terms for them without even knowing it. For them, the big things included important people, large crowds, and a coveted status (Matthew 19:13–15; Mark 1:35–39; 10:35–37). But for Jesus, the great things of the world were like so many mountains of feathers: impressive now (if you don’t look too closely), but ready to be blown away in the judgment.
What, then, is big in the eyes of our Lord? A partial list would include praying, giving, and fasting in secret (Matthew 6:1–18); humbling yourself among the last and the least (Matthew 23:11–12); spending time with children (Matthew 19:13–15); visiting forgotten people in forgotten places (Matthew 25:36); giving a cup of water to one of Jesus’s little ones (Matthew 10:42); remaining faithful with however many talents you have (Matthew 25:14–30). What is small among men is big in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).
The day is coming when this world’s carnival of mirrors will give way to clear sight and just judgment. Then “many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30). Then we will see just how small were all the world’s big things, and just how big was the day of small things.
Faithful with the Day
As long as we expect big to come now and on the world’s terms — whether in our churches, in our cities, or in our own souls — we will be tempted to forsake the seemingly weak instruments of faith and faithfulness. Instead of planting, watering, and waiting for God to give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5–7), we may try to pump the soil with chemical fertilizer. A pastor may work more on building a brand than on preaching the gospel. Any of us may forsake the small obedience in front of us for tasks that seem more interesting.
To which Zechariah responds again: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). An arm of flesh can never produce the day of big things, at least if we allow God to define big for us. Big things come only from the Spirit as he works through his small but faithful people.
As long as we are in the day of small things, then, our job is to bear the Spirit’s fruit of faithfulness as we wait for God to bring the big things (Galatians 5:22–23). And our job is to see, by faith, all the big things right in front of us.