Of Yeast, Mites, and Mustard Seeds

God is interested in the little things. We praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.

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God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse.  He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive. God hears our prayers– not just our big urgent prayers, but our whispered secret prayers; our quick cries for help; our relieved sighs of gratitude; our shameful confessions.

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God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything.  One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars.  But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate (Matthew 5:21-22);  adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.

But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin.  In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us.  God is searching  eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.

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Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God.  Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes.  Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.

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Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments.  I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend.  I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it.  I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.

Praying Around Town

I live in a small town. Every week, I take a mental (and sometimes also a walking) tour of my town as I pray for it. I pray for the businesses, the public services, the churches, schools, families, and more. Sometimes, I try to picture my town street by street…the pharmacy, the pizza place, the real estate agent, the City Hall, the little ice cream shop, the Library, the beauty salon, the Post Office, the bakery, the corner gas station…

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It’s a routine, and it’s a exercise, but it’s also a great reminder of several things:

  • Prayer is about every aspect of life–even the things I take for granted, like the corner store or the insurance agent down the street, or the fire station. I can (and should) thank God for the blessings He has given me. I should also lift up my neighbors and friends in prayer. I may not always know specific needs, but as I recall places, sometimes I recall needs as well.
  • Prayer is about more than just me. It is easy to get caught up in my own triumphs or worries and lose sight of how God is working in others’ lives around town.
  • God is all about community–Jesus came to announce that “The Kingdom of God is among (or within) you” (Luke 17:21; Matthew 3:2, etc.) We are not to live our lives isolated from others. And this is certainly true of prayer. We are to think of others, and to love our neighbors “as ourselves” (Matthew 7:12; Mark 12:31, others), and that includes praying for them. We don’t have to pray grandiose prayers or pointed prayers, but pray for their health, well-being (including, but not limited to their spiritual well-being), and relationships.
  • Praying for the town and its various residents reminds me to reach out and treat them with respect. It’s much easier to pray for someone you talk to and get to know– and it’s easier to reach out and get to know people around you if you are praying for them already! We don’t pray in a vacuum or a hermit’s cell– prayer should spur us to action and interaction!
  • Praying around town actually helps me get to know the town better–As I think about the various places around town, I remember shops or neighborhoods I normally walk or drive past, but don’t really notice, or services I don’t normally use. Our small town has an airport, a canoe rental, a hospital, two museums, a book store, several restaurants, a couple of car dealerships, several barbers and salons, a pastry shop, a purse store, a candy shop, a yarn store, dentists, chiropractors, eye doctors, auto repair shops, flower shops, thrift stores, several churches, a funeral home, parks, hardware stores, a laundromat, a rent-to-own store, a flooring shop, a shop that sells art and suits (that’s actually its name– Art and Suits), gas stations/convenience stores, at least three grocers, and many other businesses, including our own shop that sells radios and antiques! The more I know, the more I can help others get to know about our town– and the better I can pray for those in it.
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I pray for my community (specifically) once every week. It’s part of what I call “Prayer Points”– every day of the week has a special focus. One day is for the Community; one day is for Global Issues (war, hunger, climate issues, disease, poverty, etc.); one day is just for issues relating to The Church (persecuted Christians, Evangelism and Missions, etc.. Why do I do this? For me, it helps me focus on needs that are ongoing– needs I might otherwise forget or de-emphasize in the hustle and bustle and “noise” of newsfeeds, “urgent” requests, and general self-indulgence. It doesn’t make me a better person. But I hope it makes me a better “pray-er.”

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Three Words

Essential

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about people who are “essential.” In times of crisis, certain skills and services are necessary to preserve or protect life. In times of war, soldiers, medics, makers of tanks and arms, helmets, planes, boots, and armor become essential. In times of famine, farmers, and anyone with reserves of food or water become essential. In times like these, doctors, nurses, EMTs, and those who make or distribute medicines, PPE (personal protective equipment), ventilators, etc., are essential.

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Being “essential” may sound wonderful, but it comes with a heavy price. Doctors and nurses are stretched and stressed, working ridiculously long shifts and scrambling to find ways to arrest the progress of COVID-19 among their patients who test positive. Meanwhile, their neighbors are complaining about being told to stay home and do nothing because their skills, their businesses, and their contributions are considered “non-essential.” Grocers and the cashiers, restaurant owners, farmers, and truckers are risking their lives to keep people supplied with food, only to have people complain about prices and temporary shortages. And any one of their customers could be spreading the virus– not just to them, but to their other customers. Police officers, already putting their lives on the line, are now asked to interact with those who may be carrying and spreading this virus, as well as dealing with an angry and frustrated population chafing under orders to stay home and stay inactive. And those who are “essential” are also vulnerable– tired and frightened and inadequate to meet every need–they are not infallible or indefatigable.

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There are really only a few things in life that are actually essential–breathing (which is one of the reasons COVID-19 is so scary, because it attacks the lungs), water, food, and basic shelter (protection from excessive heat or cold). And, while many around the world are facing more extreme shortages than others, most of the chafing and complaining has less to do with not having the essentials than with being (or not being) labeled “essential” with very little notice or guidance, and asked to bear the brunt of a crisis they cannot predict or control.

Redundant (non-essential)

For every person who is feeling the pressure of being “essential” in a time like this, there are others who have been labeled “non-essential”– redundant, expendable, “in the way.” “Stay home!” “Stay away!” “Don’t!” Don’t shake hands, or hug, or visit friends or loved ones (unless you can do so via phone or internet). Don’t touch– don’t touch door knobs or counters or surfaces– don’t even touch your own face!

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The intent of these messages is a positive one–“help stop the spread of this virus”–but the message often gets lost in the tone of fear and panic that accompanies it. “If you don’t (go away, stay away, stop touching, stop asking questions, stop being in the way…) other people, especially ‘essential’ people, will get sick and die.” “If you could just go away, disappear, be quiet, etc., until this crisis dies down…” Feeding your family, keeping your business open, earning a living, using or developing your skills, offering your services or products– none of that is “essential” right now. You have nothing to offer in a time of crisis– you are expendable. Perhaps not forever, but just now– just for a few more days, weeks, months?…

Jesus offers us a shocking view of what is/who is “essential” or “redundant.” In his encounter with the “rich young ruler,” (see https://pursuingprayer.blog/2020/02/07/a-miss-is-as-good-as-a-mile/) Jesus listens as the young man seeks to justify himself. He has done everything he deems “essential” to inherit eternal life. But Jesus challenges him with one “essential”–sell what he has in order to serve the poor and “redundant.”

Jesus had frequent encounters with lepers– the most “redundant” and expendable people of his day. They were contagious, “unclean,” unwanted. And Jesus also encountered those with great power and prestige–priests and rulers, centurions and tax collectors. Many of them were also considered “unclean,” and unwanted! Those for whom Jesus had the sternest warnings were those who refused to accept, respect, or help those they preferred to judge.

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Whosoever-

Jesus, the only One who actually has the right to judge, didn’t come to further the division of people into categories and labels. While he didn’t turn a blind eye to sinful activities, neither did he point fingers. And while he celebrated faith and service when he found it, he didn’t flatter or fawn over those whose service was more “essential” than others’. Instead, Jesus invited “whosoever” to believe in him (John 3:16), to follow him, and to become part of the Kingdom of God. (Revelation 22:17). Someday, He will judge us, and we will be separated. But the one “essential” will be whether or not we have chosen to depend on Him and trust Him for the wisdom and strength to do His will in service to “whosoever” we encounter.

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There is no one so “essential” that God is required to accept her/him into the Kingdom. This may be a strange notion to some of us, who have fallen into thinking that we earn our salvation through good works or memorizing doctrinal statements. But NO person is essential in Heaven. And that’s not bad news or meant to condemn–it is simply a reminder that God’s standard is level and fair. We don’t have to strive and stress; we don’t have to have all the right answers, or do all the “right” things– in fact, we can’t.

And there is no one so “redundant” that God cannot accept him/her into the Kingdom. Again, this may be a strange notion, that we cannot “out-sin” God’s salvation. We can’t mess up, wash out, face-plant, or fail such that God cannot redeem, rescue, or revive us. God will never tell us to “stay away,” “wait,” “don’t get too close.” Instead he says, over and over again, “Come!”

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Whosoever is struggling with exhaustion, or impossible expectations, panic, fear, sickness, anger, depression, loneliness, hunger, rejection, injustice, confusion, or emptiness– let them come!

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