The Great Little Things

Are you impressed only by big, showy actions?

Alla Alekseenko is the Shepherdess coordinator for the Euro-Asia Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

What do you think of people who attach great importance to little things? Today, there’s hardly anyone who wants to be called a nitpicker. The term sounds more negative than positive.

But the Holy Scriptures far too often direct us to focus on minor things. It’s the ordinary, small deeds that ultimately indicate a person’s true character.

The Bible frequently speaks of faithfulness that begins with small things and leads to—and is a measure of—faithfulness in big deeds. The apostle Paul urged Christians to do everything, even consume food and drink, to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Every big deal begins with something small. True, not every little thing will necessarily result in something big. It’s challenging to immediately discern greatness in small things. But that’s why Jesus called us to look at small things through the eyes of faith and treat even the smallest commission or request as something important.

We can find several biblical stories that center around a request for a seemingly little thing, but with great implications. One example is in Genesis 24:17: “The servant hurried to meet her and said, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar’” (NIV). It was a simple and easily fulfilled request: “Please give me a little water.”

Of course, Bible readers know that the above request was preceded by a condition made by Abraham’s servant before the Lord. Rebekah, who came to the well, had no idea what would happen to her after meeting that request. She didn’t know that she would marry a wealthy and noble man and spend a fulfilled and long life with him. She didn’t know that she would give birth to twins from which two great nations would descend. She didn’t know that she would become a part of the family tree of the Lord Himself. And, of course, she didn’t suspect that thousands of years later, people would read her story in the Bible.

All this was unknown to Rebekah. Yet all this would happen to her because she responded correctly to a small request of someone who crossed her path.

Maybe reading the words of Rebekah, you’ve thought, What did she say that for? After all, just listen to what happens after the request: “‘Drink, my lord,’ she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.After she had given him a drink, she said, ‘I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink’” (Genesis 24:18, 19, NIV).

Nobody asked Rebekah to draw water for the camels, although such a condition was stipulated (by the servant toward God rather than toward her). Abraham’s servant appealed to God with a serious request. He had to find a wife for his master’s son, Isaac, a wife who would be worthy of the son of promise. She should be a noble woman with God-given qualities. But the story tells us that the servant didn’t ask for all of that. He strongly believed that if the Lord provided a bride for Isaac, that girl would match well his young master. Indeed, Rebekah turned out to be a beautiful, polite, helpful girl. She was exactly the kind of wife that Isaac desired.

Perhaps Rebekah herself dreamed of meeting someone like Abraham’s son, who would become a worthy husband. However, she had no clue that her future was shaped on that evening when a weary traveler approached her. She had no idea that her fate would depend on the things expected of her beyond a common request.

Rebekah was not prepared to meet the servant, and nobody warned her of such an event. At that fateful moment, she behaved in her usual way, the way she would on any of the preceding days. It was her natural desire to do a little more than what was asked that made it possible for her to acquire marital bliss.

Go two miles

Let’s try to walk in her shoes. When was the last time you offered to wash someone’s car after they asked you for a little water to wash their hands after repairing their car? You likely don’t remember such a time. How about that time you helped the elderly woman cross the street? That was enough, right? You didn’t have to ask her questions about what else she needed, see her safely home, buy her something in a nearby shop, and tidy her apartment.

Rebekah too didn’t have to go the extra mile— no one would have blamed her for simply providing the drink of water and leaving it at that. But many centuries before Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41, NIV), Rebekah did more than what she was asked.

Every day we encounter in our path dozens of little things we should consider. Some of them are dealt with automatically and are soon out of the away. Others seem to be of little importance and are neglected. But there are times when small things are handled as they should be, with effort and energy. God knows how many miraculous and great events pass unheeded by us for no other reason than that we allow small things to remain small.

There are at least three reasons that we must watch out for small things:

1. We don’t know when God will ask us for a drink of water. Perhaps it will be in the morning or in the afternoon, or maybe He will even awaken us at night. It may happen at any time, this year or over the years.

2. We don’t know who will turn to us with a request. Rebekah didn’t suspect that a servant was the key to Mr. Right. The widow of Zarephath also didn’t know that a person asking her for a little water was God’s servant who was able to work miracles when necessary. The Samaritan woman at the well didn’t have any idea that a Jew who asked her for water was the Messiah Himself.

3. We don’t know why we are to perform one or another deed. If Abraham’s servant hadn’t been commissioned by his master, he would more than likely never have turned to Rebekah with his request. We can’t consider their meeting a mere chance. There was more behind it—a responsible mission in which Rebekah had a role to play. The widow of Zarephath didn’t know the reason for a stranger’s request either, but we see from the following events that her interests were also taken into account. The same holds true for the Samaritan woman, who had no idea she would acquire salvation. In our world, people mainly rely on great and mighty things. A concert should be a real show, a shop should be a supermarket. Only grandiose things seem worthy of respect and approval.

But behind the clatter and chatter of great achievements is the thin voice of small things, things often discarded as below notice.

The Christian church is also at times inclined to forget the small in behalf of the great. Yet Christ tries to bring us to a stop, divert us from the vanities of this world, and remind us, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV), or “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42, NIV).

Let God help us put emphasis on the small things of life, from which mighty works of faith can gradually grow and be greatly rewarded.