As many of our friends and family know, there is a painting in our church prayer room that is very special to Janan and I. It comes from our friends Bob and Nancy Stouffer and has these words from Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” The reason this is so inspirational to us is the significance behind these words. Shortly before moving to Toronto, Bob and Nancy took us to the Brooklyn Tabernacle in Brooklyn, New York. The theme for that evening? You guessed it…Not despising the day of small beginnings!
These past three years, Janan and I have remembered that message numerous times. We have remembered them when attendance at church has not been what we would have liked, when people have disappointed, and when challenges arise. But in those times, Janan and I often look or think of that painting on the wall and say to ourselves, “Lord, help us to rejoice in these days.”
Over the years, God has used this message in amazing ways to remind us of his faithfulness. A year ago we were having lunch with the author of the song Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary. His name was John Moore and he has since gone to be with Jesus. At the close of our conversation, after sharing all of the ways God had miraculously worked through his ministry in Glasgow, Scotland he said this same phrase to both of us, “Do not despise the day of small things.”
For Christmas last year, Janan happened to place our manger scene directly underneath this painting. One day she happened to remark to me, “Ezra, what could have been a smaller beginning than the one Jesus had when he came to earth?” I had to agree. Here Christ was, God in the flesh, and yet he was born into the most humble of places to the most humble of people. A beginning could not get any smaller.
When you look back in history on the great times when God moved among his people, they always started with humble beginnings. For Joseph, they started while spending years in prison for a crime he did not commit. For Moses, they started with 40 years of exile in the wilderness. For David, his small beginnings included spending years being chased like a dog in the wildernesses by an evil King Saul. And for Zerubbabel (the intended recipient of God’s words to Zechariah in this verse), it meant waiting for over twenty years, in the midst of tremendous opposition, as he helped God’s chosen people rebuild the walls of Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonian empire.
Small beginnings are not always exciting. They do not capture the news headlines. But they are tools God uses to grow us up into the men and women he wants us to be. Perhaps this Christmas season you are going through a “Small Beginnings Period” in your life. You are humbled because your children you raised to serve God want little to do with him. Perhaps the business you felt God wanted you to start is struggling and you wonder what the future holds. You pray for a breakthrough…and yet all you hear is silence. Like that humble manger scene, it might seem that the position you are in is rather humbling.
This brings us to the question: How did Jesus handle his small beginnings? Because even after his unflattering birth, Jesus would live a life that was filled with seeming insignificance. Ultimately, he would lay down his life in the most shameful manner possible. Yet in Hebrews 12:2 it says that for the joy that was set before Jesus, he endured the cross and despised the shame. In Christ’s case, shame would rob him of everything that he had: his reputation, his friends, and his dignity. Yet even in that moment of greatest pain, he was able to look into that shame and in the words of John Piper it was if he said,
“Listen to me, Shame, do you see that joy in front of me? Compared to that, you are less than nothing. You are not worth comparing to that! I despise you. You think you have power. Compared to the joy before me, you have none. Joy. Joy. Joy. That is my power! Not you, Shame. You are worthless. You are powerless.”
This past summer Janan and I were taking a couple weeks to recharge in Alaska. After speaking for a week at a youth camp, we attended Janan’s home church, North Pole Missionary Chapel. As God would have it, the pastor that Sunday, Randy Huff, started his message with this exact same phrase, “Do not despise the day of small things.”
One of the most helpful and profound statements he made went something like this, “We tend to only praise God for small beginnings if they turn into something big. But small is wonderful in and of itself.” Since this summer, I have remembered this statement often.
This Christmas season, do not allow the humility of where you might be to rob you of the joy that God wants you to have. Despise the shame that the enemy wants to bring upon your life but do not despise the day God of small things. It might just be that in your day of humble beginnings God might be doing and preparing to do his greatest work!