Kristin Lindholm, associate professor of communication, Trinity International University
Have you ever read a section of Scripture and discovered a new gem you hadn’t seen before? That happened to me recently. Zechariah 4:10 has opened a new window for me on faith and work.
My husband and I co-lead a small group Bible study for our church, and this past summer one of our group members suggested that we study the Minor Prophets. Our group agreed that they didn’t know much about these prophets, so we began a series of stuTdies. We’ve spent valuable time in Joel, Amos, Jonah, and Zechariah, and I have grown to love the latter in particular.
In the beginning of the book, Zechariah describes a series of visions. He is shown a vision, asked if he understands it, and — fortunately for us as readers — indicates he does not. He is then given an explanation of what he has seen. This passage comes after the first group of Jews has returned to Jerusalem out of Babylonian captivity. The first temple had been destroyed; the second one was in the process of being built, but work had stopped. Two important leaders during this time were Joshua, the high priest and spiritual leader, and Zerubbabel, the civil leader. This particular vision of Zechariah is directed to Zerubbabel.
Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, “What are these, my lord?” So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”
Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth.” (Zechariah 4:1-10)
The opening question of verse 10 is a gem that has challenged and encouraged me lately: “For who has despised the day of small things?”
I know I have. Some days I come home from work and my husband asks, “How was your day?” I respond, “I got nothing done!” Well, of course I didn’t sit in my office staring at the walls. I answered emails, I wrote a job description, I met with a student, I planned a class, I taught a class, I went to a meeting. Lots of small things. In my mind, those things weren’t big enough, so “I got nothing done.” I despised the day of small things.
Our jobs are often made up of small things. We answer email; we sit in our office for the sixth time with a student who is struggling, doubting that the conversation will make a difference; we plan; we grade; we write; we go to meetings. Small things.
Our parenting is made up of small things: diapers, diapers, and more diapers. Homework, homework, and more homework. Lessons, play dates, laundry, dishes—oh, and we need to talk about God in there somewhere. Small things.
Just as the people Zerubbabel led were called to the daily, small tasks associated with building a temple, so we are called to many small tasks that lead to God’s purposes in our lives. Like the people Zerubbabel led, however, sometimes we want to let those small tasks slide. We despise the day of small things. We don’t want to answer emails in a timely fashion, or appropriately. We complain about the students who come to our classes late and unprepared, then later in the day we go to meetings late and unprepared. We don’t want to take the time to grade well.
I remember attending a service where people made public confessions. One young man stood up with tears in his eyes. He confessed that during his first year of teaching, he took a pile of papers at the end of the semester and threw them away. He then assigned good grades to all of the students. Like most teachers, I could empathize with his impulse. Aren’t there times when we, as teachers, would rather throw those papers away than go through the difficult work of grading them well?
As a student at the undergraduate, graduate, and seminary levels, I remember getting papers back weeks after I turned them in with nothing but a score—no comments, no affirmation, no suggestions for improvement. Now, as a professor, I understand how that happens, but at the time it was frustrating to me. I thought, “What’s the point? Is this education?” Small things.
So why should we put in the effort to grade each paper well? Answer each email appropriately? Be fully present with each student in our interactions with them? Show up on time and prepared, day after day?
Jesus echoes the importance of our attention to and faithfulness in small things. In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the unrighteous steward and then concludes with these words in verses 10-12: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”
Let us be faithful, day in and day out, in the small things.
This article is adapted from a devotional message delivered at the Trinity faculty retreat, Feb. 6-8, 2014.