Why Obedience in Small Things Means Everything

I’ve been married for just over a decade now, and I’ve learned that sometimes it’s the small gestures of love that speak to my wife the most. Things which may be trivial in my mind are quite meaningful to her. These minor “obediences” and acts of sacrifice signal to her that I’ve noticed her needs and desires. Admittedly, these small things are the easiest for me to overlook. We tend to prefer loving in the major—the big shows of affection which, for whatever reason, come to us more effortlessly than the small attentiveness.

In life, it’s easy to look past the small things as insignificant. But in the Christian life, those small things make all the difference. In the Gospels, Jesus is attentive to those who were considered “small” in society, from the sick (whether with physical ailment or sin) to the little children. God cares about the things we often overlook.

This principle is important when thinking about Christian obedience. We can’t be obedient in the greater things if we spend our lives dismissing what we think are trivial aspects of faithfulness to God. Usually, these are the kinds of things no one else notices. The Pharisees looked obedient to everyone around them, but they lacked integrity. Devotion to God on the big stage without devotion to God in the closet is often just a mirage. It’s in the daily grind that our love is tested, and it’s there that it’s cultivated as well.

Accomplishing Small Things for God

I read a story not long ago of a man in India named Jadav Payeng. He singlehandedly planted an entire forest in a desolate and uninhabited region over some 40 years. He’d wake up early in the morning each day and travel to the area to plant a tree. The small act, over time, yielded a literal world of difference. What was once a place of death blossomed into a self-sustaining ecosystem.[1] Sometimes as a Christian, I find myself looking for a great advance in my spiritual life—something like a brand new “born again” experience. It’s easy to forget that the real growth doesn’t typically happen overnight, but over a life spent getting up early and planting seeds.

C.S. Lewis has a wonderful word on this in Mere Christianity:

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.[2]

Lewis notes that the principle goes both ways. Minor obedience leads to something beautiful, but “small” compromises give place to our spiritual enemy, the devil. While others may not see them, in time they become Satan’s chief base of operations, the place from where he launches greater assaults on our faith and undermines our integrity.

Before you think about the big things you want to accomplish for God, it’s good to ask whether you’re tending to the small acts with which God is most concerned. True growth requires steady planting and watering. The small seeds of faithfulness to God, which no one sees today, grow into fruit trees that may nourish many people long after you’re gone.

So here’s an encouragement: Don’t do something great for God; do something small. Be committed to faithfully following Jesus in the little things that will prove to be significant in the end. But be warned: This may not produce the kind of Christian experience many of us have hoped for, or were even promised by church leaders. The pleasure we get from small acts of faithfulness is rooted in the hope that God will in the end accomplish what we never could. Simeon and Anna prayed for many years before they were blessed to see the Christ (see Luke 2). Like them, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).


[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/12/26/572421590/hed-take-his-own-life-before-killing-a-tree-meet-india-s-forest-man

[2] Pg. 132

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Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their four children.

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