An Irrelevant Planet?
I suggest we start out with our perceived place in the Universe in the world of cosmology. If we watch the history and science channels and other media about the Universe and the natural world, there is the erosion of credit given to a Creator God. The rise of pseudo history is also of particular concern.
Our earth revolves around a common sized star called a brown dwarf. Our galaxy the Milky Way does not appear spectacular as far as galaxies go. The late cosmologist, Carl Sagan described our home on earth in the cosmos as this:
Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Brilliant scientific minds such as those of Carl Sagan and others are challenged by the claims of God who created the entire universe, and is at the same time passionately concerned for what occurs here. From a cosmology point of view, we exist on a non-special planet moving around a non-special star in a non-special galaxy. How would a sparrow be of any significance to a God who created all of this?
Even so we ought to realize that throughout the universe, the most significant parts of things are rarely the biggest. If we look at our own planet from outer space, we see almost no evidence of our own work. If we traveled to the “biggest” parts of our planet, we would find ourselves at the ocean, deserts, mountains, forests or icecaps. But those would be fairly boring, dangerous places to live. It is in the cities, villages, buildings and houses where we will find intelligence, music, art, history, sports, science, shelter, food, love and the other significant things of life. And even then, the characteristics of the people who make those things are not governed by the great mass of each person involved, but by microscopic DNA, and a consciousness in the human mind that we cannot even find. Consider then how God’s mindfulness of mankind on this insignificant planet** is a testimony to His glory and a witness to His unfathomable capacity. Our lowly place in the cosmos is yet another wonder in His ability to be intimate with all of creation. If we take a moment to think about it, it begins to make sense.
Blessings from God, and a Little Bit of Perspective
When God blesses His creation, it is not in vain. His word will not return to Him empty:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10, 11).
The word of God plants the seed of repentance in the heart of the sinner, and there is expectation of blessing for both the Giver and the receiver. His servants have a role to play here, where there is a casual word, an act of kindness, an occasion for hospitality and a tiny act of faith, God may choose to bless the occasion if done in His name. Little acts of faith are events done on an insignificant planet, but these little things in His name matter, and they matter a lot.
The question to ask here is what small blessing of God, what small act, or a word from His mouth is too small that He would not have the expectation for it to prosper? Can the least be forgotten by God? Can a cup of cold water go unnoticed? God’s investments are a serious matter, and let us remind ourselves also God is very particular about His word, and how it is handled.
There are great claims over God, be it His actual name, and what He is doing, or what church He is backing, and all seem to be associated with the claimant’s authority of a special revelation or calling. However, I caution against this, as God reveals Himself only to a limited extent, and even this limited extent is fulfilling.
The limited perspective of God and what He is doing inspired the preacher of Ecclesiastes to write the following:
He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11b).
I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him (Ecclesiastes 3:14)
** The reader is referred to The Privileged Planet, and the position of the Earth in the Universe is actually special. Go to www.privilegedplanet.com for more information.
Solomon recognized that even though we have a limited perspective, the expectation of God is still there. Whatever revelation we receive gives cause for us to fear. A higher view of God and greater awareness of whom He is should compel us to consider what more we might be overlooking. And if the creation reveals His glory, then we consider carefully how He is also fully capable of knowing what is in the hearts of us all, including every secret thing. There is cause to fear before we boast. Never develop a vain idea about your relationship to God or your calling. Just be grateful and be careful of your contentions with other brethren if you feel a special revelation.
Little Bits of Faith
We commonly ask God for things which are seemingly straightforward. We may even know these requests to be self- evident to be according to His will. Even then we may be perplexed by the answer. The answer challenges our thinking. Such was the case when the disciples asked the Lord to increase their faith.
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to the mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:5, 6).
The answer challenged the apostles and now us. Perhaps they were intimidated by being a small group in an otherwise hostile land while considering whatever their visions of success were at the time.
A mustard seed, is a little thing, but is also tough. A mulberry tree is a deep rooted tree. Mustard seeds grow under the most unfavorable circumstances. It has been known to crack concrete because of its persistence. The Lord has us thinking differently about our littleness. Though we may have a little faith, use the faith we have. Do not try to hide behind or within those who boast of great resources, or have other large claims.
As a note, humble beginnings such as what Christ is advocating here, often lead to achievements that cause the believer to consider themselves more than they ought to. Large organizations (church or otherwise) often boast of their humble, disadvantaged beginnings. It is a common theme where humble beginnings end in schisms and splits, dissolve or physically and spiritually go bankrupt. That is why the Lord immediately cautioned them to recognize that we are best to consider ourselves as servants, unprofitable, and accomplishing only what was expected.
Have we stopped to consider that the widow’s mite that she put in the treasury can accomplish more than the gifts of the rich (Luke 21:1-4)? We know that it has, as it is recorded for us for all time as an example. Notably, those who were around Him at the time the widow made her offering, were admiring the temple, the ornate stones, and donations. This did not impress Him apparently, but rather spoke of their destruction (Luke 21:5, 6).
“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).
Even a small act of kindness, not even in the name of the Lord, but of a disciple, will not be overlooked. Yes, these things matter, and they matter plenty. When Christ spoke of separating the sheep and the goats, He seemed to already have a foreknowledge of how the righteous would answer Him:
“Then the righteous will answer Him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
… Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).
The righteous forgot and did not recognize what they did to serve Him. We forget the little things, and we forget the least of His. The Lord evidently does not forget.
Fear and Value
It is astounding that the Creator of the Universe, seen and unseen, who sustains it by His power does not overlook the life of a sparrow:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will? (Matthew 10:28, 29).
In the context regarding the value of a sparrow, it is in regard to fear. Fear and value go together here. Our great value to God should give us cause to fear, which is to consider the fact how mindful He is of us if even a little sparrow does not escape His attention. Our value has an expectation (v. 31- 33).
A Little Bit of Leftovers
The account of feeding the 5000 is given in all four gospel accounts. We will need information from three of them to appreciate the significance of the occasion.
I had always felt that the twelve full baskets of leftovers were a testimony of the abundance the miracle had produced. In reality it was very little, and this very little was of concern to Jesus Christ.
Matthew and Luke report that they were in a relatively deserted place, and because the day began to wear away they suggested to Jesus to send the people away to find their own food (Luke 9:12; Matt 14:15). Instead, the Lord blessed the few loaves of bread and fish that were available and thanked God for them.
Already late in the day before this began, by the time all were fed we know it was even later. Nevertheless, Jesus required His disciples to “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” (John 6:12).
There are ideas that the 12 baskets represent the twelve tribes of Israel in some fashion. However, for the purpose of this discussion, twelve full baskets of left overs is very little compared to the 5000 men, besides women and children. There were likely ten to fifteen thousand mouths to feed. Even though it was late, and little left over, the blessing of God was not to be wasted. It is likely they got help by the people who would chip in, and I would guess there was murmuring as nobody likes to go to work with full stomachs, but we can see that it takes work to ensure nothing was to be lost. Jesus concerned Himself with what God had blessed, however little left over there might be.
Jesus comments on the event later in the Chapter. We include His words here:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:26,27).
When asked what they shall do to do the works of God, Jesus answered them:
“This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He sent” (v 29).
We know we cannot earn our salvation, but what is implied here is that it takes work to believe, and it takes work to get others to believe, and work to keep them believing, and every little bit of these efforts count. The labor counts because His word will not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:10, 11), and that the one out of a 100 sheep matters. Any labor that is done is valuable as there are few laborers.
Can we be trusted with the least? If so, we need to make sure we recognize what little things have been put in our care. If we get hung up over what we think is big, then we will miss what is least.
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10)
We can be distracted by big things. Larger donors get the attention; the larger congregations get the attention. The Lord warns in a few verses later, we cannot favor both; it is one or the other.
A Small Church
In the article, To the Angel of The Scattered Churches, (SVM Winter, 2010), we covered Jesus Christ’s encouraging words to His little flock. We include that portion of the article here.
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32)
Do not fear little flock. I am not sure of a way to truly quantify what our Lord means by little, but this is not the purpose of His message here. Perhaps He means a few, one or two dozen or a few hundred in a congregation, and thousands in a collective group of organized churches? Perhaps He means little in influence?
What is of primary interest to Him is that we do not fear, and why we should not fear in light of being either small in number, small in influence, or both. In the mind of Jesus our fears that are born out of being little in strength by virtue of our size and influence is countered by realizing the desire the Father Himself has in giving us the Kingdom. Jesus understood what our fears would be born out of, which is our own measure of what makes us acceptable and blessed.
Countering our fear of being small is that the Father Himself is large and of ultimate influence. This is why we are not to fear, for despite disappointments in organizational churches and opposing forces within and without, God will not allow Himself to be diverted in purpose and wants us to feel the same way.
Therefore, let us not underestimate the attention that the Lord puts on the little things. The Kingdom is progressing unnoticeably to the untrained eye at first, but will become big and everlasting (Luke 13:18-21, Luke 17:20, 21).
We are given the opportunity to have trained eyes on the little things that matter. Don’t worry about the next great thing to happen or to support, do your little bit now to be a part of it.