In the grand scheme of life, does it matter whether I take the elevator or the stairs? Does it really matter whether I take the time to read a book to my grandson? Does it matter whether I tell someone I’m thinking about them and praying for them?
I would say, “Yes, it does!” By all means it does! Not because those things are so great or tremendous in and of themselves, but they form a pattern for life.
John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, put it this way: “Little things make big things happen.”
I read an article the other day in which the author, a Navy SEAL, reflecting on the many lessons he learned while serving in that capacity, said that at the top of the list for him was “make your bed.” That may seem crazy to many of us, but to this retired admiral, it made perfect sense. For him, doing the little things like making your bed set you up for later successes. His reasoning goes something like this: One small accomplishment early in the day can lead to multiple accomplishments throughout the day.
It is true that most of the things we do on a daily basis are small things. Something as little as looking in your car’s rear-view mirror or side mirror can prevent a collision on the highway. And looking both ways before you cross the street can save your life. As someone has said, “The things that count cannot be counted.”
I was reminded of that truth this past weekend. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, the day we recall the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem. At the beginning of this story, as it is told in Mark 11, Jesus instructs two of the disciples to go ahead into the city and do some preparatory work. They are to line up the donkey which Jesus would use as he rode into Jerusalem.
Obviously, this was not a very glamorous job. Going into a stinky stable and leading a dirty animal out was not their idea of a privileged position of service. It did not strike anyone as a great responsibility. They did not expect to get a whole lot of acclaim for it. And yet, it is there, at the very beginning of this story for a reason.
I cannot help but think that, to Jesus, although this was a little thing, it was an important thing. The Lord had need of it. The donkey was Jesus’ means of transportation into the teeming crowd.
Someone has suggested that the two disciples who Jesus asked to do this lowly task were James and John. We will never know for sure because the Gospel writer does not reveal the names, but it would be ironic if the two brothers who had just previously asked to sit at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus — places of high authority and prominence — were asked by Jesus to be on “donkey detail.”
Was Jesus trying to say that “donkey detail” was important, too? It certainly would seem so. Even the small and seemingly insignificant things in life count for something.
Was Jesus trying to humiliate these two disciples? I think not, because, when you think of it, most of the things we do in life don’t get much notoriety. And yet they send a message. The message is plain and simple: The little things matter. Things don’t have to be “great” in the eyes of the world to really be great.
Think of Jesus, who later in the week took a towel in his hands, got on his knees and washed the disciples’ feet. A small thing? Actually, things like that are impressive, especially when one so deserving of honor takes the humble position of a servant. Those things are not forgotten. What a great example to follow!
But Jesus also has some wise words on this whole subject. He said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be also be trusted with much.” (Luke 16:10) Of course, the opposite is also true: If you can’t trust someone with little things, you will never be able to trust them with bigger and more responsible things.
It should be clear by now that one’s character is not formed by the big events of your life. Who you are is ultimately determined by the little decisions you make each day.
But here’s a warning — the little things can be easy to miss. After all, they are little. And we human beings tend to be distracted by the “big and beautiful.” It takes intentionality to look for the little things. But it’s worth it — because the little things in life really do matter.
— The Rev. John Koedyker is the pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church in Grand Haven.