We humans are so easily fooled. We look for the big, the grand, the impressive, and the overwhelming in all things. We want to be wowed! Meanwhile the Lord is working with the small, the humble, and the tiny things of this world to bring about His great and glorious designs for our salvation. Small things is where the action is.
Let’s begin with looking at our obsession with all things big. After that we will look at the importance of the small and simple things and how these things can produce great results.
Why do we want big?
Humans are fascinated by everything that is big. We often are jealous because someone has a bigger body part than we do. We envy those with bigger bank accounts, houses, more land, more power, more prestige. In short, bigger almost always seems better, and more of something is almost always more desirable than less. We never seem to have enough of anything, be it time, resources, influence, fame, or anything else. Things that are small, insignificant, or seemingly unimportant get swept aside and forgotten, with the assumption that they are not important. I find it interesting that even in the scriptures there are numerous instances where the prophets were careful to point out that such and such an individual was a ‘large and mighty man.’ It is almost as if someone normal or small couldn’t possibly be influential or dangerous.
Even miracles need to be big and showy. When the wicked demand a miracle to have the words of the prophet proven to them, they never ask for anything small. It is always something big. It is as though a miracle really doesn’t count unless it is a show stopper. But what is greater in the eyes of God, to make the sun stand still in the sky for three hours or to raise the dead? The one is seen by all, but the other may only be seen by the person who performed the miracle, and that person’s family. Who are we to decide what is great and what is not?
When the Savior healed the sick and made the lame to walk or the blind to see, he was only repairing small parts of one body at a time, yet to those who experienced these miracles they were great indeed. Notice that Christ could have mass-healed all of Palestine at once, but instead worked with each individual, one at a time. Those who didn’t believe in Jesus, even with all his miracles, chose to believe these were just parlor tricks, or worse yet, works of the devil. We need to remember that belief is a choice. Nothing can force a person to believe a truth they choose not to accept. How true or important that truth may be makes no difference, since belief is a choice.
When does God use the big?
If you look at the patterns in the scriptures, the Lord tends to use big events to convince His children when He is still relatively new to them. For example, after more than 400 years in captivity and estrangement from the ways of God and His gospel, God sent Moses to perform very big miracles to convince the Israelites that the Lord had great power. During the whole 40 years in the wilderness He continued to demonstrate His power to them in significant ways. After they conquered the Promised Land, most of the miracles were generally more personal – definitely smaller than what had been done when the whole nation of Israel was being converted.
This same pattern happened during the Restoration in the latter days. The Lord performed great and very public miracles for the Saints during the early years of the Church. As the members became more settled in their faith the miracles became smaller and more personal. That doesn’t mean that significant miracles that were seen by many didn’t, and still don’t happen. But why does the Lord always need to produce a mic drop or dramatic demonstration when a whisper or personal demonstration will suffice?
How does the Lord use little things?
The principle of small things and time
If you look at the world around you, and think about what you are staring at, you will see that small things and time are paired up everywhere. Plants grow from just a seed into mighty trees through “simple” cell division plus enough time. Water cuts through mountains one drop, trickle, or flood at a time to create breathtaking gorges and scenic vistas, when given enough time. The Lord uses these small and simple processes to sculpt and decorate entire planets.
What creates the magnificent beauty of a forest covered in a thick layer of hoar frost, but something as simple as water particles in the air meeting really cold air that causes the water to freeze into ice upon contact with the branches of the trees and bushes? What causes the beauty of a rainbow, but simple beams of white light passing through drops of water in the air? Even something as simple as the passage of time alone causes the things built by both nature and man to breakdown and need to be replaced. This small process of deterioration recycles everything on the planet. Nothing is immune from the processes of time and corrosion.
This same principle also works in human nature. Who is loved more than a mother? Are mothers so precious to us because they cause the sun to stand still in the sky for hours at a stretch? No, of course not. The power of a mother’s love is the consistent application of dedicated and selflessly given acts of love. Every mother is different, but if you ask anyone who loves their mother, the description of that person’s devotion to their mother will be based on the same kinds of things. She believes in me when no one else does. She loves me unconditionally. She serves her family tirelessly. She is always there to catch me when I fall or fail. It is all the little things she does consistently for years that creates such a fierce devotion to her.
These same principles of the small things in action are what make great leaders so beloved. Our best bosses are those who give us room to think and act for ourselves. They guide instead of dictate, support instead of suppress. These are small differences that make big differences in eventual outcomes. Again, it is something small paired with time.
The Lord uses this principle of pairing small things and time to change each of us. We change our thoughts, and that changes our actions. We change our actions and it changes our habits. We change our habits and it changes our character, which in turn changes the outcome of our lives. Obeying a commandment, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem at the time, has long-term effects on our faith, abilities, our performances in the future, and our ability to believe and exercise devotion and be consistent in our attitudes down the road. There really isn’t much that we do or think that doesn’t shape our future when consistently practiced. That is the key.
An aberration – for example, a thought that comes out of nowhere, but is not entertained or followed through on, cannot damage us in the long run. It is only when we adopt those thoughts that point us away from Christ and towards Satan and his influences, that little thoughts become life-shaping patterns that harm us. Someone recently used the example that it is not when we pick up that one slice of cheese to eat that we get fat. It is when we do it over and over again, discounting that each time we do it it is having an effect on us, that we get fat. We are ignoring the small and simple things.
Most of what happens to us in our lives grow out of the small and simple things. Our relationships are based on that which we consistently do. When we act “out of character” we are generally forgiven for that one-time aberration of behavior. Our reputation is based on our consistent acts and attitudes. Not the individual ones, but how all those little acts and attitudes combine to form our character and define us as a person. If we want to change ourselves, it will have to be by tackling all the little things that make us who we have become to this point. As long as we fail to recognize that we are made up of all the small decisions and acts of our lives, we won’t ever be able to make the changes we want to make.
Making a difference
To make a difference in our life, we must first recognize that we have to pay attention to the details, the little things. There has never been a scriptural master who hasn’t spent years steeped in the scriptures. There has never been a master painter who hasn’t spent years of endless toil painting and refining the craft. No orator is great who has never spoken in front of someone else. Everything requires practice, repetition, and time.
This principle of practice and time together works for talents, for success in the workplace, for changes in character, for spirituality, for everything. In Doctrine and Covenants 123:16 the Lord points out that it is the little things in life that determine the big things in life.
16 You know, brethren, that a very large ship is very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.
The Book of Mormon backs up this principle in more than one place. In 1 Nephi 16:29 we are told that the ball or compass given to Lehi operated on a simple principle, yet produced great works.
29 And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by means the Lord can bring about great things.
Repentance is the process by which we gain forgiveness of our sins, a change of heart, and become justified before God, holy and pure before Him. But repentance is not done by one night of prayer, one day of fasting, nor even by one month of fasting and prayer. The repentance needed to turn us into holy and pure people before God requires continual course corrections, constant repentance, and persistent practice to learn how to be better people. Wisdom is not achieved overnight, but through trial and error.
Here is a science example of this principle of correction. If our Sun and the solar system of Alpha Centauri were both stationary, and we wanted to go from here to there, we would have to travel 4.25 light years. If the calculations of our path between here and there are even one one hundredth of a degree off, when we “arrive” we will find that we missed our target by 4 billion miles. Even being off by something as small as one one hundredth of a degree, given enough time and distance can throw us farther off from our final destination than the distance between the sun and the farthest planet from the sun in our solar system.
Be grateful for the small things
We have all been commanded to repent and become perfect, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, to forgive others, to love them as we love ourselves, and a multitude of other things. All of these things seem so big at times that it can become quite overwhelming when viewed as a whole. But think about how the Lord achieves most of what takes place in the universe. Think small.
When God creates a supernova and blows up a whole planet, it is through small processes, that over time build in power until the planet is beyond repair and explodes. When we adopt a bad habit, it is not the natural course of nature that over time that habit goes away. Most moral habits are enlarged and become bigger over time. Their power in our lives increase with the continuance of that habit. The same is true of good habits. This is currently what is happening with the world and the members of Christ’s kingdom on earth. The world is pursuing bad habits they adopted a long time ago, and they are gaining in power and influence in their lives the longer they practice them.
This same principle of change we see in the world with their bad habits applies to us with good habits. The longer we continue to study the scriptures and seek answers to prayers, the stronger our faith becomes, and the more we seek the Spirit for direction. It is these small, but entrenched behaviors that change us the most. Yes, the Lord does indeed periodically demonstrate big things in our lives that help to secure our faith. But to those who have already chosen to not believe the little things, rarely will they believe the big things.
Our Father in Heaven and our Savior don’t expect us to change ourselves overnight. They don’t expect us to suddenly become knowledgeable and faithful as a prophet over the course of a month or a year. There is a reason the prophets keep telling us to adopt practices and habits with promises that these changes will positively change our lives. Small change plus time works greater life-changing miracles than any instant river of blood or burning hail from the sky that Moses gave to the Pharaoh of Egypt. The secret is being aware that we are in control of the small things in our life. And it is these small things that will determine, in the end, where we end up for eternity. As the Lord told Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 64:33
33 Wherefore, be not in , for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of proceedeth that which is great.
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