I feel small. No, not short. Small.
I scan the news and the campus and see people who are making an impact. They’re culture shifters, trendsetters, attention-getters. I notice them when they come into a room; we all want to meet them. My sinful inclination is to desire what those people have: a following, influence, impact.
But I’m small, and my impact, influence, and following seem insignificant.
It’s not that I yearn for the kind of fame here on earth that a politician or musician might get. I just want to be known as the guy who changed lives (thousands, preferably), who saved souls (again, thousands), or who started a revival in my country. I want to be a “big person.” I don’t want to be small and unused.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if I can do anything at all, much less change the world.
Some Small People
Vicky is a small person. At least you’d think so. She was born in the winter of 1916, in a small Illinois town. A feisty redhead, full of life, Vicky went on to graduate from Bible College and marry a pastor. She spent her whole life in churches from Mississippi to Maryland. Not one was a megachurch. Vicky never wrote any books or led a movement. She taught Sunday School, raised her children and supported her husband until he passed away at age 68. At first glance, her life was a small one.
In many ways, I’d consider Moses to have been a small person: He was born a Hebrew slave in Egypt, placed in a basket and then sent down the Nile. Miraculously, he was found by Pharoah’s daughter and adopted. When he had grown, he ended up murdering an Egyptian who was beating a fellow Hebrew. So he tucked tail and ran, to Moab.
Moses was a terrible public speaker. He’d be the guy who got behind the podium and started to shake so bad you had a nervous breakdown. He was the opposite of eloquent. You know the type — the speaker who suddenly develops that terrible frog-like voice you have to suffer through during speech class.
After fleeing justice, he found himself herding sheep for the next 40 years. A small, seemingly insignificant life.
And then one day he stumbled across something incredible. Moses was suddenly standing before a burning bush, in the presence of God. He threw his shoes off and cried out in fear, “Who am I?”
God told him to head back to Egypt to save the Hebrews from slavery.
Let’s review: He’s a murderer, he’s herding sheep and he can’t speak. Yup, sounds like the right guy for the job.
Moses sounds a lot like me — well, not entirely, but you get the point. I find myself small and unused, in a “wilderness of the small people.” I really want to have a voice, to change the culture, to “free the captives.” But instead I’m stuck working a normal job, talking to normal people and going to a normal church.
I think back to the time I had assisted each Wednesday at my church. I was the resident copy-maker, errand-runner, CD-maker, and assist-whenever-and-wherever-I-can guy. I think the proper term is “gofer.” Not a real big job.
One day I arrived at the office with multiple projects needing my attention. But my agenda had to wait — I was needed to babysit the copy machine for our music director. If I didn’t do it, choir wouldn’t happen that evening, and the music for Sunday would not be ready. So I got to work feeding the hungry varmint, which gladly starting chowing down on the paper as I worked to keep my eyes open for the next hour or two.
Talk about boring.
But at the end of the day, our music director let me know that if I hadn’t been watching that machine, there was no way he could have completed all the tasks he had for that day. And as I thought about it, I realized that I had had a bigger impact than I’d first imagined. The choir received the music I copied. They performed it well on Sunday. The Holy Spirit worked through the music and the congregation was stirred by the songs they sang.
I’ll never really know the extent of how God worked through that music, but I do know this — the time I had spent feeding the copy machine was used by God. All I did was feed a hungry copy machine — and God was honored.
If I were not to volunteer on Wednesdays, I’m pretty sure someone would take my place. But I’ve learned that God works through me even in those unglamorous circumstances. In Moses’ case, he worked through his staff — a piece of wood. In my case, he worked through a humble copy machine.
Moses told God that he would go to Pharoah, but he asked God who would believe some sheepherder. God responded by performing amazing miracles — not even through Moses directly, but through Moses’ staff, the stick of wood he carried around. Moses’ staff would turn into a snake, be used by God to turn the Nile into blood and start eight other plagues on Egypt.
It’s clear that it’s not about who we are in the public eye. It’s about who God is. He works through us, and it’s His grace alone that allows us to do anything, that brings meaning to the mundane. It was none of Moses’ work that saved the Israelites. God received all the credit. I’ve found that when I put too much credit in “big” people or “small” people, I take away from God’s fame and glory.
“‘God so used a stick of wood’ can be a banner cry for each of us,” wrote Francis Schaeffer. “Though we are limited in talent, physical energy, and psychological strength, we are not less than a stick of wood. But as the rod of Moses had to become the rod of God, so that which is me must become the me of God. Then I can become useful in God’s hands.”Schaeffer, Francis, No Little People, Crossway, 2003, pg. 25
I want to be a stick of wood. His stick of wood.
Let me step back into Vicky’s story. Today she is 92 years old, a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She has shaped hundreds, likely even thousands, of lives over the years through her simple daily service to Christ. Vicky supported her husband through victories and failures. Today she continues to tell others what God has done despite who she is. She didn’t save anyone out of Egyptian slavery, but she sure didn’t waste the time she had in the places in which she found herself. Her life is a stick of wood, made beautiful and meaningful because she’s allowed it to be used by God.
Paul tells us clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that “God chose the foolish things of world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him.”
Paul wraps up his thought by saying “let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” That’s too often just not our mentality, which usually begins with God using big people for big things. Francis Schaeffer noted that our thought pattern is often “It is wonderful to be a Christian, but I’m such a small person, so limited in talents — or energy or psychological strength or knowledge — that what I do is not really important.”ibid, pg. 21
See, what we need are new eyes. We have to realize that when we are living for God’s sake, it’s not by us; Rather, it’s God working through us. In other words, it’s not “by Tim Sweetman.” It’s “through Tim Sweetman.” That’s how God generally works on this earth.
And that takes the burden off of being “big” or feeling “small,” doesn’t it? I need to understand that it’s not my story. It’s God’s story. My job is to be set apart for His work here on earth, no matter what it might be. I need to be a willing stick in the hand of God.
Forever a Willing Stick
I’m consistently reminded through John Piper’s materials that “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” I need to be content and I need to be satisfied where God has placed me at this time. By doing so, God is most glorified in my life.
God may give me many gifts and abilities, but if I’m not set apart to God, it’s of no ultimate value. An unwilling stick is of no value in God’s hands. It’s usually because of my unwillingness to start at the bottom, my unwillingness to be content enough to stay there if that’s the Lord’s plan. The thing is, I have to be ready to be forever a “normal person.”
Then again, there really aren’t any “normal people” in God’s kingdom. each of us is playing a meaningful part, and that part begins with contentment in our circumstances and satisfaction with God’s will for our lives.
I must consistently ask myself if I’m willing to stop looking around and believing that I have to be some great public figure to make a change. I simply need to stop and take a look around to see “normal” men and women who have shaped my life in a huge way, and that delusion is quickly taken away.
There are no little people; nobody’s life is insignificant. There are just willing sticks and unwilling sticks. As for me, I want to be a willing stick in the hand of God.
Copyright 2008 Tim Sweetman. All rights reserved.