Last Sunday night I sat around with some friends in our small group and we swapped stories of what God has been teaching us these last few weeks or particular ways we’ve seen his hand in our lives. It was beautiful. But one thing that kept coming up again and again is how our own Plan B or Plan C in something seems to have been God’s “Plan A” all along.
It put me in mind of a quote shared with me by an elderly woman in our church who sings in the choir and likes to read theology books and biblical commentaries in her free time. Every now and then we’ll talk about what she’s reading, and a while ago she brought me this clipping from a commentary on Romans 15:14-24. I keep this highlighted page (along with a small collection of others) pinned to a board by my desk.
Did Paul ever get to Spain? There is no evidence whatever that he did. But his desire to do so, and the fact that he wrote Romans as part of the preparation for such a trip, points out an extremely important lesson for us all. Perhaps God sometimes allows us to dream dreams of what he wants us to do, not necessarily so that we can fulfill all of them – that might just make us proud and self-satisfied – but so that we will take the first steps towards fulfilling them.
And perhaps those first steps (as they appear to us) are in fact the key things that God actually wants us to do. Paul may not have got to Spain. That didn’t matter; the gospel got there fairly soon anyway. What mattered then, and has mattered enormously in the whole history of the church, is that, as a part of his plan to go to Spain, he wrote Romans. We should never underestimate what God will do through things which we see as small steps to a larger end.
[I’m not certain of the source; I think it is NT Wright in his Romans for Everyone.] When I first read that, it was a flash of light to my mind. It perfectly captured how I think God so often works in our lives – “never underestimate what God will do through things which we see as small steps to a larger end.” It is one of the myriad of ways in which God seems to delight in surprising us, sometimes playfully, sometimes mischievously or infuriatingly, by doing what he intends regardless (or in spite of) what we intend. Call it part of the mustard seed miracle of the kingdom of God. We plant, God grows. While we are sleeping it off or planning some other grand project, God quietly works. Sometimes the seeds sprout in the unlikeliest of places. Sometimes the sidelined plants with minimal attention bear the most fruit.
What I think of my work isn’t nearly as important as what God is doing in it or through it or behind it. Yes, I have the confidence that I can give my all to it, that none of it is a waste, none in vain. But at the end of the day, I don’t carry the load. I can’t see far down the road or even around the next bend. All I have is light enough for the next step (and it’s no small truth that his word illumines both the path and my feet). May God give me – may God give all of us – eyes to see.
Dream big dreams. But do not forget the God of the small step.