Recently a small act of service quite literally stopped me in my tracks. I was taking a walk while listening to a new favorite podcast on believing in your message and showing up with confidence in your work. This is a huge struggle for me. When I saw this little act of kindness it made me think, “why am I doing what I’m doing?” Or more specifically, “why am I NOT doing what I’m not doing?” Let me explain…
One of my favorite things to do is go for an afternoon walk and catch up on some podcasts. I live in an area of little niche neighborhoods. One nearby neighborhood of 20 homes is the perfect two-mile loop for a walk. When the Covid lockdown started, my husband and I noticed that one family in this neighborhood had placed a big chalkboard in their yard with an encouraging message. We thought that was really sweet! Every time it rained, the family cleaned off the board and shared a new message.
Summers being what they are in North Carolina, I don’t go for many walks when it’s 95 degrees and 90% humidity. 😏 Therefore, I hadn’t been in this neighborhood in a couple of months. Since September has brought cooler weather, I recently got my walk on over there. To my surprise, the encouraging chalkboard sign was still in business!
When I saw the sign, I stood there for several minutes thinking. First, it impressed me that this sign had survived a hot and particularly rainy North Carolina summer! Second, it impressed me that this family had maintained this kind, encouraging practice. But then, I drilled down into what impressed me most. It wasn’t just that this family had persisted in maintaining their chalkboard of encouragement all these months. It was that they persisted in a small act of service which at most directly benefits only a handful of people.
How Do We Calculate the Value of What We Do?
I think for most of us, the thought that our work, our ministry, or our calling will at best have only a small impact discourages us. Maybe it even stops us cold (looking at myself here!). We might be able to maintain a practice for a short while. But at some point, we start to do the math. We calculate our “Return on Investment” (ROI) of time, talent, and resources. We wonder if we could be (or should be) making a bigger impact elsewhere while expending the same amount of effort. Or maybe we begin to think nothing we do matters so we should just pitch it in.
The constant cultural noise around us insists that bigger is better, more is better, and we must never be content with “a little”. Not to mention our obsession with being seen on Social Media as doing absolutely everything “like a boss” while collecting as many “friends,” likes, and comments as possible. If 5,000 people on Facebook didn’t see it, like it, comment on it, and share it, did it even happen? Was it worth happening? Pretty soon all the ways we serve or minister that impact only a small number of people start to look like great big wastes of time. We think to ourselves, “I really should be making a bigger splash in a bigger pond!”
That little chalkboard made me think about why I blog.
Y’all blogging is hard! It’s expensive. There are constant technological changes and challenges. Algorithms change, platforms change, tools change. And it’s a slow and long haul to gain an audience. You can spend 20 hours working on an article, creating the graphics, promoting it on social media, and discover that in nine month’s time, exactly 5 people have read it. You don’t have to get too creative to imagine how discouraging that is…
From a business point of view, that’s not a good ROI. Practically speaking, not many people are “driving by and reading my chalkboard,” so why keep it up?
Cold, hard logic might tell me that either my work doesn’t matter, or my message doesn’t matter, or I don’t matter. But what does my faith tell me? Is the ROI on a good deed, a small act of service, or a ministry that serves only a few “worth it”?
Counting the Cost of Small Acts of Service
The world will tell you small acts of service don’t matter. The world says if you’re not doing big things and impacting big numbers of people, then you don’t matter, your good works don’t matter, and you should just not bother. Now, let me tell you why the world tells you that. Because the evil one wants to shut you up and shut you down.
It would be very easy for me to look at my blog analytics and say “it isn’t worth it”. Technologically speaking, blogging is hard. Emotionally and intellectually speaking, writing is even harder! Am I willing to keep putting something encouraging, and hopefully helpful or inspiring, on “my chalkboard”, even if only a handful of people drive by?
Are Small Acts of Service “Worth It”?
Jesus told a story about a man with 100 sheep, and one of them went missing (Matt 18:10-14). The man didn’t look at his situation and decide that the best use of his time was serving the 99. He knew that every single sheep was valuable and precious. It was well worth his time (there would be a good ROI) if he went and spent whatever time and effort it took to find that one sheep. That small act of service to a lost sheep was worth it.
Similarly, when Jesus came to the pool of Bethesda one day, the Apostle John noted that “a great multitude” of hurting, needy people were there (John 5:3). Surprisingly then, Jesus didn’t jump up on a platform and begin to address and serve them all. Instead, He quietly sought out one man. One single man. Jesus dignified that man by seeing him as an individual with great worth. He asked him some questions and graciously healed that man. To that man, the ROI on Jesus’ time spent ministering to him was huge. I’ll bet Jesus thought so, too!
Jesus Frequently Chose to do Small Acts of Service – Because They Have GREAT VALUE!
I don’t know why Jesus didn’t heal everyone at the pool that day. That isn’t the point. The gospels contain numerous examples where Jesus healed, taught, and ministered to many groups and even multitudes of people. However, the Gospels reveal many more incidents where Jesus ministered to just one person, one family, or one small group.
Jesus didn’t have the attitude that if He couldn’t have a great big platform, if He wasn’t impacting hundreds or thousands or millions, it wasn’t worth it. To Him, bigger wasn’t necessarily better. It was overwhelmingly “worth it” to Him to serve and to sacrifice everything He had for just one person.
In fact, there are several instances when Jesus had the opportunity to serve “the many” and He chose instead to serve just one. We’ve already looked at the man at the Pool of Bethesda. Another time, Jesus could have preached first to an entire town full of people in Samaria. Instead, He spoke to just one woman at a well (John 4:1-42). Similarly, on one trip He could have preached through the Greek cities of the Decapolis. However, He chose to heal just one demon-possessed man – and him out in the middle of nowhere! (Mark 5:1-20) The wonderful thing is, those two people went and shared their testimony which served and helped many others. So Jesus’ small act of service to one person multiplied exponentially. Worth it.
One of my favorite Bible teachers is Chip Ingram. Chip frequently, with great thanksgiving and gratitude, shares about a man who mentored him in college. The Bricklayer, as Chip always refers to him, was a simple family man who faithfully discipled Chip. He demonstrated for Chip how to be a godly man, a godly husband, and a godly servant. Was all that effort on just one person worth it? I don’t know how many young men the Bricklayer discipled over the years. But through what he helped develop in Chip, that man has indirectly impacted millions of people around the world. That is some serious ROI!!!
What Will You Choose to Do?
Now, lest you think that the only small acts of service or kindness that are worth doing are the ones with a guaranteed exponential rate of return, let me point something out. The Gospels are full of incidents where Jesus healed, blessed, comforted, taught, forgave, and even raised individuals from the dead. For the vast majority of these people, that is all we know. We don’t know what the person did next, how their life changed, or what they did with that blessing. And that’s okay.
We won’t always know the impact our service or our ministry will have. Sometimes it may even look like it’s having NO impact, or a negative one. Remember our demon-possessed friend above? The townsfolk were not too amused with how that deliverance went down, and they told Jesus in no uncertain terms to get lost!
Some Questions for Self-Reflection
As you and I consider how we will use the gifts, talents and resources we are each blessed with, whether we minister to a great many over a long season or to a single stranger in passing, we should reflect on a few things. I’m certainly asking these questions of myself!
- Are you willing to search all day to help one lost sheep find their way home?
- Will you take the time to go to the middle of nowhere to help one oppressed person break free?
- Can you forgo “going viral” in town to help one lonely woman by a well?
- Are you willing to be small to be great?
- Will you be the spark that ignites a blaze, or are you only interested if you get to be the blaze itself?
- Are you willing to serve in obscurity so that other people can find something of great value?
If you have felt discouraged in your service or your ministry lately, follow my neighbor’s example. Follow Jesus’ example! Let’s you and I keep showing up and serving in small ways. Believe that what you do, how only you can do it, for the few or the many, MATTERS! Because it absolutely, profoundly, eternally does. Then let’s trust God with the results.
PS: The podcast I mentioned above is Blogging Breakthroughs with Faith Mariah. If you are a blogger, writer, entrepreneur or just struggle to be your authentic, awesome self in the world, Faith has a very encouraging message!
You know what would be a much-appreciated small act of kindness? Baking someone these delicious Pumpkin Spice Muffins! 😁 🎃