Don’t dismiss small beginnings

My DiSC profile says that I am a high “D” in personality type. That means I am supposed to be direct, decisive and driven. I think living in Asia for most of my adult life has probably softened some of the edges, and 27 years of married life has helped as well. But I admit that I prioritize results (the word “results” shows up 52 times on my DiSC profile!).

I also admit that I am often tempted to discouragement when I look at my own ministry and that of my SEND colleagues around the world.  In most of the places where we work, our ministries are pretty small, and decisive results are not nearly always evident. In many places, we are just beginning, sowing seeds in hard places, building relationships, meeting with small groups of believers.    I love to hear and read about mass movements of people to Christ, but we have seen very few of those (yet) in the places where SEND is working. Instead we read about ones and twos coming to Christ.

What does our Lord have to say to us?   Shortly after telling the parable of the Sower, Jesus makes this enigmatic comment:

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Mark 4:24–25 (NIV)

Jesus is cautioning those who are listening to his message.  He recognizes that it would be easy to dismiss this poor preacher from Galilee as someone who makes big claims but has very little to show for all his efforts. Yes, uneducated masses are coming to listen, and the Rabbi has done a few amazing miracles, but where is this kingdom of God that he keeps talking about?  Jesus has no army, no money and no support from the religious authorities. But Jesus tells his listeners to not dismiss the smallness, powerlessness and commonness of Jesus’ ministry. Yes, it looks pretty small right now, like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32). But make no mistake, this is God at work. If they deem it as insignificant, Jesus warns them that they will not be given any more understanding. Their negative evaluation will prevent them from grasping the deeper significance of the kingdom of God, and they will miss out on the blessings of the kingdom.

The vast majority of those who followed Jesus about Galilee in his days of popularity never became a part of what God did through the church in the book of Acts. They lost their chance to become a part of a God-sized movement that was going to change the world.

Here is a sobering principle. I must be careful to not dismiss small beginnings (Zech 4:10). How I evaluate what is happening in the lives and ministries of my fellow co-workers when the work is just beginning has significant consequences on my ability to appreciate what God is doing. God seems to delight in using very ordinary missionaries working in partnership with very ordinary local believers to start small, seemingly insignificant little groups of believers all over the place. At least, that seems to be His standard operating procedure. If I only support and value the spectacular, the superstars, the powerful and dynamic, I will be oblivious to most of what God does in this world.  If I only can appreciate a ministry or church when it is fully developed, and sending out missionaries, I will miss out on the blessing of watching in amazement as God works through the weak and ordinary.

But if I diligently look for the seed of God’s work in the lives of the common believers, I will be blessed with recognizing the beauty and magnificence of the kingdom of God as displayed through the powerlessness of ordinary people.   I need to train my mind and heart to see (by faith) the potential of the kingdom of God in seemingly very unlikely people, ministries and places.

Lord, give me the grace to appreciate your work in its infancy. Help me not to dismiss small beginnings.
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