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Do Not Despise These Small Beginnings

Xandra Carroll

Zechariah was a prophet. His name means “God remembers,” and he was sent to a discouraged people to tell them just that: God remembers. At that time, a remnant of God’s people was living in Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon. After a grueling season of trying to rebuild the city and temple, they hadn’t gotten far. They were few in number and demoralized. Zechariah was shown a hopeful vision of how God would restore His repentant people and their city, Jerusalem.[1] There’s an interesting passage in Zechariah 4:10. As the angel of the Lord is showing Zechariah this picture of Israel’s future, he says, “Do not despise these small beginnings” (NIV).

Oftentimes, small beginnings are the best way to go. Consider how someone starts a fire. It’s a common misconception that a person starts a fire with logs. You build a fire with logs, but you don’t start a fire with logs. Kindling, small bits of grass, and twigs are the best starters. The smaller the stuff, the easier it will light. Only then can you build, and even then, only slowly, so as not to snuff the fire out. If you throw a log on too soon, you’ll put the fire out. Anyone who has built a fire knows it takes patience, time, and small beginnings.

James 3:5 remarks, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” A spark is small, transient, barely noticeable. But the potential power of a spark is astounding. The New Testament word for power is dunamis. Dunamis is where we get our word “dynamite” from. It’s a particular type of power, an inherent power that resides in something by virtue of what it is. Basically, it’s an explosion that starts with a spark! When speaking to His disciples in the moments leading up to His ascension, Jesus said, “But you will receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Think of what incredible power came out of these humble disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their ministry started with small beginnings, and God used them to change the course of human history.

The fiery blaze starts with a spark. The thundering river begins as a trickle. The mighty forest starts with a tiny seed. As the poet David Everett famously wrote: “Large streams from little fountains flow. Tall oaks from little acorns grow.”[2]

Or, as the angel said to Zechariah: “Do not despise these small beginnings.”

I’ve been reading George Müller’s autobiography. In the introduction to that volume, Müller explains how he got his humble ministry off the ground in Bristol: “No Christian, though the poorest and humblest, ever need despair of doing a noble work for God. He need never wait until he can obtain the cooperation of the multitude or the wealthy. Let him undertake what he believes to be his duty, on ever so small a scale, and look directly to God for aid and direction. If it be a seed which God has planted, it will take root, grow, and bear fruit, having seed within itself. It is better to trust in God than to put confidence in man; it is better to trust in God than to put confidence in princes.”[3] Müller was only one man, and a poor, humble foreigner at that. Yet through faithful prayers and trust in God, by the end of his life he had provided care for 10,024 orphans and provided education for more than 120,000 children.

Deeply impactful works of the Lord often begin small. Sometimes, like a spark, it starts as something barely existing. Julian of Norwich, a Christian woman living in medieval England, wrote similar musings in her work Revelations of Divine Love. Julian explains a vision she received during prayer: “In this [God] shewed [me] a little thing, the quantity of a hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and thought: ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus: ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: ‘It lasteth and ever shall [last], for that God loveth it.’ And so all thing hath the Being by the love of God. In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it: the second that God loveth it: the third, that God keepeth it.”[4]

The works God performs in us and through us often start small. But we do not have to despise these small beginnings. We are little, but let us take heart. God remembers us, God keeps us, God loves us.

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[1] Kenneth Boa, Sid Buzzell, Bill Perkins, Handbook to Leadership: Leadership in the Image of God (Atlanta: Trinity House Publishers, 2007) DCCLXVIII.

[2] David Everett, Lines Spoken by a Boy of Seven Years (Caleb Bingham’s Columbian Orator 1810).

[3] George G. Müller, Fred Bergin, Arthur T. Pierson, Autobiography of George Müller, compiled by G. Fred. Bergin. (1905) XIV.

[4] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2016), IX.