byFaith | Winter 2011*
By Alan Dowd
You wouldn’t expect to find evidence of biblical truths in a five-part documentary on the moon landings. But there it is, on the Science Channel’s “Moon Machines”—a real-life example of something Paul wrote 2,000 years ago.
The Apollo program was an amazing feat of engineering, creativity and courage, conjuring up images of fearless astronauts, brilliant scientists, gigantic rockets and awe-inspiring moments. But none of that would have been possible—no giant leaps for mankind, no heart-stopping liftoffs, no picture-perfect splashdowns, no Armstrong or Apollo or Eagle—without the unheralded contributions of an army of unknowns. In fact, some 300,000 people worked directly on the Apollo program.
None of the unknowns were more anonymous than the team of seamstresses—all women—who hand-stitched the Apollo program’s parachutes. “They all seemed to understand,” recalls Charles Lowry, the chief designer of Apollo’s landing systems, “that their sewing was the last important step in returning these astronauts safely home” (Science Channel, “Moon Machines: Command Module,” 2008).
Think about it: the difference between success and failure for that multi-billion-dollar spacecraft, with its precious cargo, came down to three lowly parachutes, each with 2 million stitches sewn by women whose names are forgotten by history.
What a reminder that in any great undertaking, there are no unimportant roles or unimportant parts. As Paul put it, “There are many parts, but one body,” each with an indispensable role to play in the great undertaking our savior started.
Those who do the little, everyday things—those who do a little everyday—for the kingdom should keep this in mind, because God does. He always has cared about the little things.
Courage behind the Scenes
There’s no doubt that God remembers and treasures the big and great things His children do for the kingdom: the martyrs who die for Him, the pastors who live for Him, the missionaries who give up everything for Him. They have a special place in His heart and a special place in the kingdom. But He also remembers and treasures the little things that often go unnoticed, at least down here.
Think of Shiphrah and Puah. If their names don’t ring a bell, don’t worry. It’s easy to gloss over their place in God’s story. A tiny fragment of Exodus—just six verses—tells us that these Hebrew midwives explicitly disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders to kill all newborn Hebrew boys. Shiphrah and Puah “did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (Exodus 1).
God applauded what they did. The Exodus story tells us that “God was kind to the midwives…and gave them families of their own.” Most important of all, their courageous act of civil disobedience served God’s plan, as Moses escaped Pharaoh’s death sentence and went on to lead God’s people out of captivity.
Just as most of us know about Moses but forget about the women behind him, we know about Esther but often overlook the man behind her. His name was Mordecai.
When Mordecai found out about a plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews,” he did the only thing he could do: traded in his garments for sackcloth, began to intercede for his people and appealed to his queen and cousin, Esther. But she initially balked, explaining that “for any man or woman who approaches the inner court without being summoned, the king has but one law: that he or she be put to death.”
Mordecai answered Esther’s rationalizations with reason and passion. Reminding her that she would not escape the sword and that she had a special duty because of her special place, he finally convinced her to act with words that still pierce our hearts: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther finally did the right thing, but it was Mordecai’s words that changed Esther’s heart. God used Mordecai—the man behind Esther—to save His people.
What He Wants, Where He Wants
The New Testament has its share of examples of everyday stuff and little things making a big difference to God. Consider the story of Paul, the most consequential evangelist in history. God called him “my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings” (Acts 9).
But it all began with a faithful, prayerful man named Ananias. “The Lord called to him in a vision,” scripture tells us, and Ananias answered, “Yes, Lord.”
His mission seems so trivial, so small, compared to Paul’s: take a walk down to Straight Street, find a man from Tarsus named Saul, place your hands on him and pray for the restoration of his sight.
But Ananias’ role was anything but trivial or tiny. Paul’s king-sized, world-changing mission depended on Ananias’ seemingly insignificant act of obedience.
Again, nothing is inconsequential. No gift, no act of obedience is too small to be used by God. Being faithful, being obedient, doing the little things may seem trivial. But Ananias reminds us that what we see as trivial or tiny in the here-and-now can have cosmic, eternal consequences in the hereafter. Ananias’ life is proof that “with God there are no little people,” as Francis Schaeffer once wrote.
Likewise, the miracle of the fishes and loaves shows us that little things can have a huge impact. Our focus is naturally drawn to the end of the story, to Christ’s miracle feast. But take a look at the beginning of the story, in John 6.
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish,” Andrew reports. “But how far will they go among so many?”
Knowing what we know about the disciples, it’s safe to assume that Andrew didn’t commandeer some helpless kid’s lunch box. In other words, when Jesus asked for ideas on how to feed the multitudes, that nameless boy stepped out in faith. And Jesus used his tiny gift to work an all-you-can-eat miracle.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit inspired John to preserve this part of the story to underscore that, whether big or small, whether famous or anonymous, we all can play a part—and none of us are forgotten by the Father.
Speaking of tiny gifts with a big meaning, no story in the Bible underscores how much God treasures the little things more than the one of a widow and her humble offering.
Mark tells us that Jesus stopped to watch the crowd put their money into the temple treasury. As Jesus looked on from a distance, “Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.”
Jesus then gathered His disciples together to point out what really matters to Him. “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others,” he said, His face beaming with the pride of a father. “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Listen to the way The Message captures Jesus’ words: “All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” And God noticed. His taking notice of her and her tiny gift surprises us as much as it surprised the disciples. But it shouldn’t. That is God’s way. God is in the details, and He cares about the details, no matter how tiny they appear from our side of eternity.
The widow “gave her all.” To the temple treasury, to the other worshippers, to the rest of the world, it may have been just a mite, a fraction of a penny, a rounding error. But to the God of creation, it was everything. And He stopped everything to take notice. He even immortalized her in His autobiography.
“Being what He wants me to be, where He wants me,” as Schaeffer put it, is to be “the creature glorified.”
The widow, simply yet amazingly, was all that God wanted her to be. That’s why she’s still reaping rewards in heaven—and still teaching us lessons in faith.
His Glory, Our Choice
The widow in this story is an archetype of all who are overlooked by the world. But what the world overlooks, God exalts. When we do the right things for the right reasons, He does the same for us as He did for the widow. It’s only when we start to think of the little things as a big deal that we become small in God’s eyes.
This isn’t to say that works can save us, that we should rest on our spiritual laurels or that we should even keep a record of our acts of obedience. Nor should we think God needs us to carry out His plan. One of Mordecai’s oft-overlooked words of wisdom reminds Esther—and us—that the God of creation can reach His goals with or without our help: Even “if you remain silent,” he told Esther, “relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.” In other words, we need God—not the other way around. But when we help out by doing our small part, it brings God joy and brings His kingdom closer.
Wherever and whenever people “give their all,” they are playing a part in God’s great undertaking.
When a young couple waits until they’re married, they play a part. When an old couple keeps their promise to God and each other, they do too.
When parents nurture little ones into godly leaders and thoughtful citizens, they play a part.
When a boss treats her employees as God treats His children, she plays a part. When employees give their very best, as if they are working for the Lord, they play a part.
When volunteers show up, pitch in and help out, even when they don’t want to—perhaps especially when they don’t want to—they play a part.
When a neighbor protects a battered woman, when a family protects an unwed mom, when a nation protects an unborn child, they play a part.
When people defend the defenseless—whether on a playground or a battleground—they play a part.
When Sunday school teachers share the Good News, even when it seems the kids are more interested in Elmer’s glue than John’s Gospel, they play a part. When faithful tithers give in the good months and the lean months, they play a part. When prayer warriors answer the stirrings of the Spirit, they play a part.
They may not know how important they are to Christ’s great undertaking. But one day, they will. One day, you will. And it will sound something like this: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. I saw what you did in secret; I saw the sacrifice you made; and now I’m going to tell all of heaven about it” (Matthew 6 and 25).
Until then, keep doing what you were made to do—parenting, building, leading, guiding, repairing, teaching, coaching, singing, dancing, speaking, listening, protecting, encouraging, laughing, loving, inspiring, praying, cooking, cleaning, giving, even sewing and stitching—for His glory.
*Watch Dowd's interview about this piece.