I've been playing around with a theological idea for the last couple of years. The idea goes like this: God using our small efforts, small obedience, or small attempts as "seed" or "priming" so that God will do much greater things.
So, for example, when I decide to be more obedient and hold my tongue more consistently, that small effort at self-control allows God to do a greater work in my life and become better at self-control. Or when I obey God by giving him back a small portion of my income, he might turn that obedience into greater blessing. Or when I decide to start reading and taking the Bible seriously, he starts showing me transforming insights about him and my world. The point is that God takes our little effort and leverages it to disproportionate blessing or effect.
The Bible seems to have a "Theology of leverage." Here are a few examples that I've come up with:
- Genesis 12: God talks to Abraham and tells him that he will make his not-yet-born son into a great nation. Later, Abraham is confused and discouraged - no children have come. God says there would be a son who would produce uncountable descendants (Gen. 15). One child into a nation from Abraham's wife Sarah (Gen 17). Yet Abraham (finally) believed that small truth so to even deny his inheritance to an "illegitmate" child, Ishmael. Of course, a great nation arose from Isaac and then Jacob.
- Exodus 12: God tells Moses that the last plague is going to happen - firstborns are going to die. But if the Israelites would do a simple thing: sacrifice an innocent lamb and splatter the blood on the doorways, then the plague will pass-over them. The death of an innocent animal will prevent the death of humans.
- Exodus 14: Moses and the children of Israel have escaped and have been trapped with the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them. God says for the people to go forward and Moses to do this little thing: lift his staff. Then God parted the sea by a wind storm that blew all night. The people stepped forward and God delivered a nation.
- Joshua 3: as the children of Israel are about to enter the promised land. They come to the Jordon filled to the banks during flood stage. This is an effective barrier. God tells them to do a simple and easy thing: carry the Ark of the Covenant and *not until the sandals of the guys carrying the Ark got wet* did the waters stop, pile up in a heap, and cause flooding upriver. God did a great miracle by stopping the Jordon, but only after a small act of faith - stepping into the river.
- 1Kings 17: the prophet Elijah goes to a poor old woman asking for some food. She doesn't have enough flour or oil to bake a decent loaf of bread. What she has she was going to make to provide a last meal for herself and starving son. Elijah asks her to make bread for him first. Simple: Just make some bread. She did and the weirdest thing happened: Elijah stays at the house for many days and the food never ran out.
- Psalms 16:4 provides a negative example. Here David states that idolatry, the denial of the true God, will lead to multiplied sorrows. What seems like, to many people, a small "error" of theology creates multiplied problems in life.
- Mark 6:35 begins the story of a mob of hungry people listening to Jesus (a good thing), but they are in a remote place, there are no restaurants around, and the people are getting hungry (bad thing). Jesus tells the disciples to do something about this situation. They are clueless about what to do. So they give Jesus what they have: five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Not much and completely inadequate. Jesus somehow takes that and feeds thousands.
- Romans 8:26 tells us that in the spiritual realm, this principle also works. Paul tells us that we are incompetent dorks when we pray. We don't know how to pray and we don't pray the way we should. But we are told to pray anyway - just try our little best - and the Spirit seems to "translate" our feeble prayers into deep groaning prayer. We pray in weakness and the Spirit takes that and converts it to Heaven-shattering intercession.
- 2Corinthians 9:10 - Paul, in the middle of a section on giving and possessions, makes a slight detour and tells us that God will multiply our gifts given into greater personal righteousness. Here it seems that Paul is affirming that how we handle money and possessions (would seem to be a minor thing in the grand scheme of life) has an unexpected spiritual effect (listen to my sermon on 1Timothy 6 here)
Now, please, do not misunderstand me. This is not at all to suggest that we can manipulate God to do miracles if we go through some minor actions. That is magic and God is Very Opposed to magic (mostly because the magician is trying to be Boss 1Sam.15:23). Rather, this is God encouraging us to do the right things - to "take the next best step." He has a whole agenda of good works for us to get busy with (Eph.2:10) and wants us to walk trusting him (2Cor.5:7; Heb.11:1-2).