In an age where we can easily compare our families, ministries, finances, callings, friendships, vacations, and physical beauty to others as we scroll through social media, it is easy to walk away feeling insignificant. The voice of defeat speaks failure over us when we compare our “feed” to someone else’s. It’s refreshing to know that Jesus doesn’t measure success the way the world does. It is a joy to welcome one of my dearest friends to the Redeemed Girl Blog today. Susannah Baker is a gifted writer, but most importantly she’s a woman who loves Jesus and longs to live for His glory. Susannah shares a powerful message from God’s word with us about true success that we all desperately need to hear. –Marian Jordan Ellis
Each year, as the calendar year draws to a close, my husband, Jason, and I take the better part of a day to sit down, just the two of us, and plan for the upcoming year.
As we think about our year, and form our goals, we talk about everything from our marriage to our each of our four kids, to our work and ministry and relationship with the Lord, to our finances and giving, to our travel, vacation plans, and books we want to read or relationships we want to foster. By the end of the day, it feels as though no stone is left unturned in the path of the upcoming year.
And it’s a great feeling; it’s a clean feeling. Like the foundation for the house of the new year has been swept clean and made ready for a good, solid structure to go on top.
But to get to a good beginning of the new year, we first have to deal with and put to rest the old year. We talk through what went well, what goals we completed from last year, what goals were forgotten or left by the wayside, and what goals we absolutely tanked.
And talking through the old year always ends up with me in tears as an emotional basket case, while Jason has to use a spatula from the kitchen to scrape me off of the floor.
And that’s because I have to look back at all the things I wanted to do in the year that is now behind me and see what I actually did. I have to look carefully at the person I wanted to become and see who I actually became. I have to look at the relationships I wanted to foster, and the books or Bible studies I wanted to write, and face what kind of friend or mom or wife I actually was and see what books or studies I actually wrote (or didn’t write).
And I’ve gotta be honest here – it’s never a pretty picture. I’ve never gotten to the end of a year and thought, “Man, I aced that one! What an incredible year that was!” I usually say or think, “Wow, look at all that I didn’t accomplish; look at the character qualities I am still wrestling with; what a disappointment I am.”
Now part of this is just personality – it’s how I’m wired. I’m wired to see the lack rather than the abundance. What has been left undone rather than what is done. And it’s a place I’ve been working on, asking God to help me adjust my expectations and my vision.
Thankfully, my husband isn’t wired the same way I am and helps me put on my positive, the glass is half full glasses, rather than my negative, the glass is always empty lenses. And by the time he is finished with the spatula, scraping me off of the floor, I usually feel better.
But as I thought about it this year, I realized what usually devastates me is the smallness of my story. I always start the year with plans for such greatness. Great parenting. Great consistency in my walk with God. Great progress in walking out of old patterns of rejection, selfish ambition, self-pity, basically, anything that begins with the word “self.” Great blogging. Great writing. Great books.
And what I usually end up with is mediocre at best, outright fail at worst. And it’s so. Darn. Frustrating. I’m just so darn small. And frail. And incapable of keeping up with even the best of my intentions.
So when I look back over my year and look ahead to the rest of 2018, here is what I’m good at – being small. Small steps. Small progress. Small, daily victories. Small writing projects. Small steps of progress in parenting, marriage, character traits, blogging, loving people, and the list goes on and on.
So this year, as the annual spatula scraping his wife off of the floor began, my husband reminded me it’s not my smallness that’s the problem. The problem is the scale I’ve adopted to measure my life. It’s a scale that the world uses to measure success, therefore it’s the scale I most naturally move towards to measure my success as well. And it’s a scale that measures in largeness. In bigness. In platform and size and ministry. And doing things well in the small, in the everyday, in the unseen, behind the scenes, isn’t even recognized as a number on the scale.
But small with the Lord is what it’s all about, for life consists of everyday small steps of consistent obedience to Him. Small, everyday steps of staying faithful to reading His Word and allowing His Spirit to change our hearts. Small, everyday steps of faithfully administering God’s grace in the lives of those around you in a day in and day out basis. Small, everyday steps of loving the Lord out God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
For what good is it, Jesus said, if you take big, grand steps, and gain the whole world, but lose your soul? (Luke 9:25, my paraphrase here)
And what I’ve noticed over the years is that I usually find my soul in the small. In the small moments of stopping to receive God grace’s and presence in me, near me, with me, by the kitchen sink, in the morning stillness and quiet of scripture reading and prayer when no one else is near but the Lord, in soaking in the beauty of a summer sky or a blazing winter fire, in stopping to actually listen to what my child is saying and enjoying her presence instead of absent-mindedly nodding assent, in choosing to extend forgiveness and grace in a raw moment when hurt and injustice and anger swirls around in my head and heart.
And here’s the thing: in these moments of the transformative small, in the small steps of choosing to walk in tandem with the God of the Universe next to me, these are the truly great moments when I take the biggest strides and no one usually sees, applauds, recognizes, or notices, except the Lord Himself.
They are the quiet moments, or, as I like to call them, “the night shift moments of the soul.”
Several months ago when I was having a tough time with the own smallness of my story, I read Psalm 134, which says, “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.”
In his book The Songs of Jesus, Tim Keller says this about those “who minister by night” in the temple in Psalm 134: “Perhaps those who worked the ‘night shift’ got little public attention or acknowledgement. Yet by being able to pray and praise him in his presence, they had ‘the one things needful’ (Luke 10:42, King James Version). Though they were laboring in relative obscurity, God blessed them, as he does all who are faithful to their calling. So the greatest things is to live in his presence, always singing thankfully in our hearts to him (Ephesians 5:19-20) but remembering we can only do so ‘from Zion,’ the place of blood sacrifice for sins” (December 7, The Songs of Jesus, Timothy Keller; emphasis mine).
What’s beautiful about Psalm 134 is that it draws our attention to those who are doing the duty of praising the Lord in the night shift of the temple. Of those who sang in the darkness while everyone else was asleep. Of those whose audience was an audience of only One. And those are the ones who receive a blessing from the Lord “from Zion,” the mount on which the temple was built.
A year ago, my husband and I stood on the outskirts of Jerusalem overlooking Zion, which is still the temple mount today. With an outstretched arm, our tour guide, Hannah, swept the horizon of Jerusalem and Mount Zion and asked us, “Why? Why do you think God chose this place, Zion, to manifest His presence and magnify His Name to the ends of the earth?”
None of us had any answers. Because as we looked around at Jerusalem, there was nothing special about the landscape. No mighty water source like a roaring river or series of waterfalls. No glorious mountains or lush vegetation. There wasn’t anything at all except a big city on the edges of a dry, barren desert with a small, trickling stream that serves as the only year round water source for the entire area.
When Hannah saw our blank stares and heard our silence, she said, “Exactly. There is nothing grand, glorious, or beautiful here. Nothing. God chose Zion precisely because it had nothing to offer Him, just like you and just like me. And through Zion, He could manifest His grace to the world.”
Can I tell you something? The pressure is off you and me this year. We do not have to take grand and glorious steps to be significant to or blessed by our God. What makes us great is not what we will or will not achieve or how many people will be watching or listening. What makes us great is the nearness of our God. What makes us glorious is the fact that He has blessed us from Zion, transforming the dry, barren, ugly edges of our lives through the grace, beauty, and sufficient blood sacrifice of Jesus, who “did not consider equality with God as a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant…and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:6-11).
And it is when we draw near to this Name, and take steps to worship in His presence, no matter our audience or significance, that we become great in the Kingdom of God.
Maybe you missed the chance to make a new beginning at the start of the new year, or maybe your grand, new beginning ended up in small steps that seem to be taking you nowhere.
God has blessed you from Zion. From a place that has nothing to offer Him except Himself.
And God blesses the night shift. Those who labor in relative obscurity, with their hearts fixed on singing only to an audience of One.
So keep singing. Keep stepping. Keep drawing near to the only God who cannot help but bless us because of Jesus, the One who gave His life for us on Zion. He stoops down to water our edges, listen to our songs, and make us great through His grace every. Single. Time.
And don’t make my mistake this year and despise the small things, for in the small things is where we begin to make true change, seen by the God who blesses us from the place of His goodness and grace.…and I’m going to try to do the same thing this year too.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”