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Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. 

Zechariah 4:10a

Hi, Mom. This is Sam, our introvert ten year-old announced. You told me to call at two o’clock. It’s two o’clock.

It may seem a small thing, Sam’s call. But it’s big, because Sam isn’t much for talking on the phone. Besides that aversion, he was digging deep in Minecraft when the appointed check-in time came. In days past, he forgot. He lacked self-control. This time, Sam called. It was big small step.

Sorry for whining, Mom, our eight year-old reluctant writer confessed. I just don’t want to write it all again, but I will. 

That after self-cues to take three big breaths. And so Mr. Emotion took a small step toward perseverance. Instead of the usual moan-and-groan act we see when he’s asked to redo, Gabe took correction. Without a whine or tear, he rewrote the note. A small thing, and big. 


Small things are there for the seeing, if we look. Resisting an ice cream urge at nine at night is small. And big. Refraining from, I told you so, when you did tell him so is small. And big. 

Saying I’m sorry and Thank you and I forgive you are all small statements. But they have potential to cause huge growth, both in the speaker and the listener. The lips of the righteous nourish many.  

Eyes To See Small Things


It was 520 B.C. The Jewish exiles had come home to Jerusalem. Decades after their temple had been destroyed, the rebuild restarted. The foundation was laid. But the sight of the stacked stones struck onlookers as small and scant, at least compared to the former glory of Solomon’s temple. 

So friends of Israel wept while her foes jeered. Many doubted the project would ever be finished. It was a day of small things. 

Enter the prophet Zechariah and the angel who spoke God’s word. To the Prince Zerubbabel and the mournful or scornful around him, Zechariah (4:6, 9-10) offered big encouragement: 

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts…The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands shall complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel

Just you wait, Zechariah assures. It’ll get done. Zerubbabel will soon drop the plumb line down those straight temple walls. And when he does, you will rejoice. This little foundation, this groundbreaking, isn’t the sum total of the work God is doing. It’s the mustard-seed-small start of something big. 

The temple of the LORD will be rebuilt, because the Spirit of Almighty God is at work. 

Learning Zerubbabel’s Lesson


In some ways we’ve learned Zerubbabel’s lesson. We celebrate small beginnings of big buildings. We dig with silver shovels and cut ribbons and mark the new house starts with smily photo ops. 

We mark physical growth in all sorts of festive ways, too. Staggered lines and dates on the doorframe, walking, talking milestones in baby books, very big birthday bashes for very little people. We do these things-we celebrate and commemorate- because we know that big things start small. 


But what about the spiritual starts? Do we celebrate days of spiritual small things? Do we rejoice when the son shows growth in self-control? When he shuts off the iPad without being told and reins in complaint all on his own? Or the day the daughter uses words to build up and not bully her little brother? 

How about the day your friend chooses gratitude over grumbling, or timeliness over tardiness? Or when- after a quick fit of anger- a spouse turns and asks forgiveness? Do you rejoice? Do you praise the small actions borne of godly wisdom and fear of the Lord? A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30), and A man shall be commended for his wisdom (Proverbs 12:8). 

So maybe we should celebrate Spirit-led small things more.  Because, writes C.S. Lewis, 

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature into a hellish creature. 

Sow an action, reap a habit. Nail is driven out by nail; habit is overcome by habit. Sow to the flesh, reap corruption, sow to the Spirit-the mighty working Spirit that builds God’s temples-reap eternal life (Galatians 6:8)Little seeds grow into big weeds or fruitful trees. 

So, who will despise the day of small things?

Worth Doing Badly

It’s not ours to judge how great the growth. We don’t even know the starting point. But it is ours to see-and celebrate- progress in the faith (1 Timothy 4:15, Philippians 1:25). It’s not the size of the thing we see that really matters. The world knows, Every journey begins with a single step. 

More and more I mouth this motto-as I scratch out a short note rather than a long letter or stop in for a 20-minute visit rather than stay for the day- A little bit is better than none at all.

When we say, I don’t have enough- we despise the day of small things. Not enough time to listen, enough money to make a dent, enough wisdom to teach, enough wit to put in a word for Christ, we despise the day of small things. If you find yourself here, take heart.

Because, Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. 
 G. K. Chesterton didn’t intend the line to be an excuse for laziness or low effort (though possibly for poor results). Instead, to a culture plagued both by not gonna bother if it can’t be perfect, and drive for good results with minimal effort-or someone else’s effort- Chesterton says, in effect: Be an amateur. 

Do the thing for love and not for money. Do it imperfectly, but do it still. If the things is worth doing, do it, even it’s not perfect. Don’t wait for weekend at a waterpark, head to the beach for an hour. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Heed the Spirit and do the small thing.


Or do you despise the day of small things? The day when sons wash windows and multiply streaks and husband humbly bears wrong-size, wrong-color peace offering? Do you begrudge the hour because it’s not a day? 

Seek More Grace

Maybe you do see and celebrate the small things around you. But, what about in you? Do you despise the day of small things by not seeking more small things from yourself? I worked harder then them all, wrote Paul to the Corinthians, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me. 

In 1871, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon on Zechariah 4:10, titled Encouragement for the Depressed. In it, he pushes us who do see and do rejoice in small things to do so yet more. Don’t settle. Don’t despise the day of small things by standing still, satisfied. Seek more grace. 

On the one hand, do not despond because you have the day of small things..but prove your value of the little by earnestly seeking after more grace. Do not despise the grace that God has given you, but bless God for it: and do this in the presence of his people. If you hold your tongue about your grace, and never let anyone know, surely it must be because you do not think it is worth saying anything about. Tell your brethren, tell your sisters, and they of the Lord’s household, that the Lord hath done gracious things for you; and then it will be seen that you do not despise his grace.

So I say-to the praise of His glorious grace-last week I was on time to the ladies’ group and went to bed without my Bear Tracks and didn’t say Told you so, when I did

Small things, all. But I rejoice. And want more grace.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you 
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 
Philippians 1:6
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Magnify

And Mary said,
My soul does
magnify 
the Lord, 
and my spirit 
rejoices in God my Savior. 
 Luke 1:46-47

I’m not Roman Catholic.

But, still.

Only 27 percent?  What about the Round yon virgin,” or the Herald Angels’, “offspring of a virgin’s womb”? Or, modern fav-everyone from Mary J. Blige to Clay Aiken to Kenny Rogers have all glommed on to croon-Mary Did You Know?  Yup, only 27 percent.

Shockingly low. Of nearly 400 Christmas hymns, a mere quarter even mention Mary. That places her slightly behind the angels and shepherds; both in 28 percent of the carols analyzed. 
Why so few mentions of Mary? Michael Linton at First Things says the answer is simple.

Our carols are primarily 19th and 20th century Protestant inventions, not a time that’s known for its deep Roman Catholic/Protestant cooperation and mutual affection.  Mary can’t be excised from the Christmas story completely, but in the carols she’s mentioned as little as possible, for fear of turning her into an object of cultic devotion-something most Protestants have accused Roman Catholics of doing for a fairly long time. 

The Protestant doth protest too much, methinks. Poor Mary. We threw her out with the holy water. To our loss.

Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum, anyone? 


Mary did know. Not all. But she did know how to magnify her Lord. And that’s where she’s a model for us all; women and men, Catholics and Protestant. 

How do we magnify God?

Simple answer (again). Psalm 69:30 says, Magnify Him with thanksgiving. 

Mary knew how to praise and thank her God. She started with herself: that God was mindful of her humble estate. That he uniquely blessed her. But Mary’s thanks reached wide, past the great things God had done for her. She thanked him for his mercy for those who fear him and showing strength with his arm, for bringing down the mighty and exalted and for filling the hungry with good things. For remembering his covenant to her people, Israel.

Is there any of us who has not received some special favor from the Lord? What, after all, do we have that we have not received? When your own heart is lifted up, urges Spurgeon then lift up the name of the Lord. Exalt him when he exalts you

Sitting down quietly in our chamber, can we not each one say that the Lord has favored him or her with some special token of divine love? I think there is something about each believer’s case which renders it special…There are some bright lines about your case, brother, which will be seen nowhere else, and some peculiar manifestations about your happiness, my sister, of which no one else can tell. 

I might not be straining words if I were to say to many a sister in Christ here, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” And I might say the same to many a brother here: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among men. The Lord hath done great things for thee, and let thy spirit be glad.”  

All well and good, you say. But we can’t literally ourselves to Mary’s blessed state; chosen by God to carry and bear his Beloved Son sets her apart. Sure. Mary was a unique case. She was specially favored. Granted. The mystery of Word become flesh in Mary’s womb is great. Yes.

And yet.

You and me, here and now, are part of an even greater mystery. 

What is this mysterious, magnificent duty that God’s granted usYou will do greater things than these, Jesus told his disciples. In a sermon titled, “The Key Note of a Choice Sonnet,” C.H. Spurgeon describes the mystery:

…For, behold, the Holy Ghost dwells in each believer. He lives within us as within a temple, and reigns within us as in a palace. If we be partakers of the Holy Ghost, what more can we desire by way of favor from God, and what greater honor can be bestowed upon us? 

It was by [Mary] that the Word became incarnate, but so also is it by us, for we can make God’s Word stand out visibly in our lives. It is ours to turn into actual, palpable existence among the sons of men the glorious Spirit of grace and truth which we find in the Word of God.    

It’s ours to make our great God look bigger. Not bigger than He is. That’s impossible-even the highest heavens cannot contain him. Instead, it for us to make our big God begin to look as big as he really is. Telescopes make big stars look even bigger, brighter. They magnify. 

Man’s chief end: To glorify God and enjoy him forever. To magnify is to glorify.

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is created for my glory, whom I formed and made…The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:6-7,20-21

John Piper condenses the Christian’s whole duty to this: “To feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is…To be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God.”

We who are highly favored-it’s ours to make God’s goodness palpably visible to our world.  Magnify him with thanks. Bring him into focus with praise.

O’er all the Babel sounds, sing God’s praises louder.

Magnify like Mary.

I will praise the Lord with a song; 

I will magnify him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 69:30