Four Small Things

Read Proverbs 30:24-28 to start.

Who here has had a splinter? Not looking for a show of hands or anything, but I’m willing to bet that most of you have at one time or another. If you haven’t, then you must have thicker skin than I do, or you never come into contact with wood. The other week I had a splinter on the side of my finger, and I managed to get it out with tweezers. I recall one time earlier this year, I had a splinter for a couple of days that I could not get rid of, and when I was in the hospital visiting my father, I convinced one of the ICU nurses, well, I just asked her nicely, to remove it, and it took her a bit of effort to get rid of the thing. Splinters are unpleasant. But they are a normal thing that we experience from time to time.

Splinters are also very, very, small. If you’ve ever removed one and taken a look at it afterwards, it was likely only a few millimetres long, and not even one millimetre wide. A tiny and insignificant thing by any measure, other than the amount of discomfort it can cause.

Like many other small things, a splinter doesn’t matter until it does. One piece of Lego left out on the floor is nothing until you step on it. A random nail is no big deal, until it gets embedded in your tire. We shouldn’t only think of these small things as being problems, though. Every morning I take medication because I’m diabetic. I take something called Gliclazide, the individual pills are tiny. We’re talking smaller than a single Rice Krispy. But those pills keep my blood sugar regulated and under control so I don’t have a crazy sugar spike and cause long term damage to my internal organs. It’s important that I take them, even if they are really little. Small things can have an impact that far exceeds their size, and we ignore them at our peril.

In the passage that we read to start, there are four small things, four small creatures, to be exact, described. In each of these the writer of Proverbs saw an application and a lesson, and we’re going to look at each of those now, and about the importance of things that are small, or that may seem small, but count for more than we may realize.

First, we see at verse 25 the ants. They are a people not strong, the verse describes them, yet they prepare their meat in the summer. You might argue that ants are actually quite strong, but if I have to choose an animal to pull my wagon or plow my field, I think that ants are down near the bottom of the list. And while we know that ants are, for their size, quite strong, their size is so little that one ant does not matter much at all. But all together that’s a very different story. A colony of ants can move a lot of food over the course of a summer. Leave a piece of fruit outside in half decent weather and come back a few hours later, you’ll likely find ants on it. One ant doesn’t amount to much, but thousands of them can get stuff done.

Our lives are like a colony of ants, but made up of days rather than insects. Ultimately, the vast majority of our lives are taken up with small things. We may pay the most attention to the big ticket items, the special events, the large productions, the momentous occasions, but most days are about the little items. The little details, the mundane, the commonplace, the repetitive. That is what makes up the bulk of our activity, the majority of our time. That is what our lives, for the most part, consist of. The little things that we do day after day, year after year.

Most of our days are not particularly exciting, and one day may not be much different from the day before, or the day after, not really. We may want exciting and memorable days, but ultimately those are few and far between, at least the big ones. Speaking for myself, I’ve lived for I’ve lived for 16,789 days, yes, I checked, conveniently Google will count for you, because going through it manually with all the leap years would take a while. How many of those days do I clearly remember? Not a great number. I remember some specific events that happened only once, such as the day I got married, the days each of my children were born, the day I was in a car accident and thought I was going to die. I remember things that happened again and again, but haven’t happened in years, like riding the bus to school, or singing to my children when they were really little, because they always used to need a song when I tucked them into bed for the night. Most of those days, I do not distinctly remember. But those days, and what I did on those days, the choices that I made, that is what made me the man I am today.

A thousand small things, and then a thousand more, and a thousand more, and thus continued, that is what our lives are made of. Like ants, each one is inconsequential. But taken together, that is who we are, and what we will become.

Like the ants in the verse, do we prepare our meat in the summer? I don’t mean having barbeques, as much as I enjoy a grilled burger in the summertime. No, I mean do we live to build up something for the future, something of eternal value? Or instead have we lived for ourselves and for today, looking to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, like the rich fool of Luke chapter 12?

Last week when I lead the singing we did a sword drill, and I called for a verse from Ecclesiastes, chapter 12. 1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, the verse continues but I’ll pause there for a moment. Have you remembered your creator? Have you listened to what the God of the universe has said? Now, the days of my youth are past, as mentioned I’ve lived for 16,789 days. If you live for 70 years, that’s 25,000 days, and the current Canadian life expectancy of 82 years is right around 30,000. Unless I live past 90 I’m on the back half of the course. Many of the people here this evening, though, are younger than I am. Many of you are still in the days of your youth. Consider what that means, and consider what you fill your days with, what you fill your time with, because that will shape who you are, and who you become.

Consider as well that the best time to remember God, to listen to God, is right now. I’ll read the verse again in its entirety. 1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.

You may have heard the expression there’s no time like the present. This is true of many things, and it’s especially true of following God. Follow now, because you can right now, because it’s a good path to be on, the only good path to be on. We’re talking about ants, ants follow paths, they will follow the same path if it brings them to a known food source. Now is the time to establish those paths, those trends, those tendencies, those habits, those traits in your life that will bring you closer to God. Because as the verse I just read mentions, it’s going to get harder.

This also brings us back to Proverbs chapter 30, and the small creatures we see there, specifically the coney. Verse 26 says 26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks. We don’t have coneys here, frankly, we don’t have much in the way of rocks, either, but in the Middle East they have an animal called the hyrax, or the rock rabbit. It looks a bit like a guinea pig, but is not a rodent. These creatures are not particularly large, topping out around 8 or 9 lbs. Most interestingly, they live on the sides of mountains and hills, where there are crevices and small caves in which they can hide from predators. They are not overly fast, they are not strong, although they are good at climbing on rocks. That is important, because they live in an inhospitable environment, where they are preyed upon by leopards and other big cats, as well as eagles and snakes. Life for these creatures is challenging, but they are doing well in the wild. They are not endangered, and in some areas they are actually considered pests. They endure difficulty, and they do it well.

So much of this life is about enduring difficulty. The challenges that life brings only seem to increase as time goes on. When you choose to walk the narrow way, the path that leads to life eternal, rather than the wide road that leads to destruction, it only makes the challenge more acute.

I want to be clear on something. Everyone has challenges and difficulties. That goes for believers and unbelievers alike. Not everyone has the same obstacles to face, mind you, the problems you have to overcome may be quite different from what I have to deal with. But there are some basic, fundamental issues that all people must come to terms with in one way or another.

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. None of us is able to fix that, to satisfy God’s requirement of sinless perfection. None of us is worthy.

No matter what particular challenges you face, whatever hill you have to climb or burden you carry, you will fall short. We all fall short. You cannot save yourself, and try as you might, you cannot fix it through your own abilities.

Making the choice to follow God, that does not make your way easier. In fact, it puts a target on your back, because the world wants the believer to fail. The adversary, that old liar, he wants you to fail. If you consider your own flesh, failure is not an option. No, failure comes standard.

Only the fact that God saves us from our sin, saves us from the world, saves us from the devil, saves us from ourselves, that is what makes it all possible. That is what gives hope in this life, and hope in the life to come. Knowing that you are safe in the shelter of the solid rock, that One who is unchanging, the one who sent His Son to die for you, that is how we can overcome.

It’s living on the rock that keeps the hyrax safe. Out in the open, on their own and away from shelter, they are vulnerable to eagles, leopards, and pythons, all of which will gladly snatch up a hyrax for a meal. The difficult terrain where the hyrax lives may present many challenges, but that same inhospitable environment also keeps the creature safe.

It’s no different for the believer. Instead of the side of a mountain, we must cling to the Rock. Our proximity to the Saviour, to His path, to His Word, that is what equips us to survive the evils of the world. The narrow path may be challenging, but it also keeps us far safer than we would be otherwise.

Out the world, there is precious little to cling to, and most of that is as unable as water. But those who follow God, who draw near to Him, they will have a solid base upon which to build, upon which to live. This has always been the way, those who trust in God, He will save, maybe not from physical harm in this life, but from the punishment of eternal death and darkness, which is far worse.

Even when days are darkest, there are those who stand for God, who stand up and stand out in a contradictory and confrontational world. In 1 Kings chapter 19, we see Elijah, who had demonstrated in the chapter before that his God was the true God, and that Baal was nothing but a false idol, we see him flee into the wilderness because Queen Jezebel wanted his head. This was in the midst of a dark time for Israel, the rulers were decadent and corrupt, the people had almost entirely turned to the worship of idols, and Elijah felt isolated and alone. God asks Elijah why he has fled, and we can read his reply at verse 14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

Like I said, this was a dark time. Elijah had stood up to the evil of his nation, and he felt that he had gotten nowhere for his efforts. He had endured great hardship, he had lived in hiding for three years, the grand show of demonstrating the power of God had not brought about the revival he expected. He was all alone and had accomplished nothing. It was all for naught.

But it wasn’t. God replied, and we see at verse 18 that things were not so dire as Elijah had imagined. 18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. Seven thousand. In a population of maybe 3 million. That’s a small remnant, but it’s not nothing. That’s seven thousand who had endured in a nation that had turned away from God. Seven thousand who clung to the rock even when things because challenging. Because truth did not change, God did not change, even when it was unpopular and inconvenient to follow Him.

For Elijah and the seven thousand faithful, it must have often felt that they were on the verge of being overwhelmed. It must have felt at times like a farmer looking at his fields when a horde of locusts have moved in. Yes, we’re going back to Proverbs 30, and our four small things. The first two, the ant and the coney, or the hyrax, I’ve had mostly positive things to say about those creatures and the attributes we see portrayed in their description. Finding something good to say about locusts, though, that is not the direction this is going. Anyone who has had a plague of locusts ravage their crops has nothing good to say about those insects.

We don’t have much in the way of locusts in North America, there haven’t been issues with them here since the 1930s. We mostly have conventional grasshoppers. Some people refer to cicadas as locusts but they are entirely different insects, and cicadas do not eat everything in their path. On every other continent, though, apart from Antarctica, of course, locusts have been a serious issue at times. Normally they aren’t much to worry about, but when there is lots of rain for a prolonged period in regions that are normally dry, sometimes locusts will start to reproduce much faster and in greater numbers than usual, leading to a plague of them. A plague of locusts can consist of 100 million insects per square kilometre, and that many of them can eat as much in one day as 35,000 people. That’s a very small swarm, by the way. A big swarm might have upwards of 50 billion locusts. Let that sink in for a minute. There was a locust surge in eastern Africa and south western Asia last year, because, you know, 2020 didn’t have anything else going on. Locusts can be a huge problem.

One individual locust, though, is small and insignificant. An adult locust might be two to three inches long and weighs only a couple of grams. You can ignore it, or if it bothers you, well, one swat with a rolled up newspaper or you just step on it, and it’s dead and gone. Not much trouble. You can go about your business know that it’s no threat to your garden.

That’s not the case when there are billions of them. That’s not a problem you can dismiss or ignore, it is an overwhelming issue that will consume and destroy. When there are innumerable pests devouring your crops and leaving nothing but desolation behind them, how do you cope with that?

This sermon isn’t a biology lesson. But we can learn from the locust, and take warning from them, because what we are faced with in the world is not so different from a plague of these devouring insects.

The world is filled with sinful people. We all know this already, it’s not a surprise. And sinful people are not a good influence, they are not likely to direct you to a closer walk with God, they will almost certainly do the opposite. Again, this should not be a surprise. I spoke a sermon a few months ago about being unequally yoked, and that absolutely is relevant here, but influence goes well beyond that. Spending any amount of time among the evil influences of this world will degrade the believer. Being immersed in the world, well, the damage intensifies.

The world is filled with sinful people. The thing is, any one person is probably not all that bad. One casual contact with a single poor influence probably won’t have a large effect. But when it’s dozens, hundreds, thousands? When your world, when your life, is saturated with people who do not point you to God, who instead steer you in a hundred different directions that are not heavenward, well, what result do you expect?

We’re not even talking about people who would actively lead you astray or work to intentionally pull you down, although yes, there are some of those. And it’s not only actual people in our lives who influence us. It can be many things, things that are made by people, yes, but things. The things we read, the things we watch, the things we listen to, the things we eat and drink, the experiences we enjoy. Some of these are a clearly evil and should be strenuously avoided. Many are of little or no moral consequence. But allowing any of these things to be an influence, then it may start to matter.

I’m not saying that the cashier at the grocery store or the bowl or cornflakes you ate for breakfast are bad influences. It’s the things and people that you choose and focus on that are far more influential. Anything or anyone who does not encourage or enable your walk with God, does not challenge you to serve Him in some way, or does not add so much as a glimmer of light and truth to your days, that is an influence in the wrong direction. If your life is filled with such to the point that there is no room for good, then you have a problem. This world is full of such influences. If you allow them to have a prominent place in your life, then like a million locusts they will devour your attention, consume your time, and reduce your Christian witness to a pale shred of what it could be otherwise. Or worse, it could keep you from following and trusting Christ altogether.

On that sober note, we do have one final small creature in Proverbs 30 to consider. That is the spider of verse 28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.

You may have strong feelings about spiders, lots of people do, and between all the legs and the eyes and the webbing, yeah, it’s understandable why spiders creep people out. Some people think that spiders lurk around waiting to bite people, which is not true. That bite mark you woke up with the other night? Probably a flea or a mosquito. Spider bites are actually quite rare, well, unless you happen to be a fly caught in a web, then spider bites are inevitable. Spiders are not out to get you, and they serve a useful purpose in getting rid of a lot of insects that do spread disease and discomfort, such as flies and and mosquitoes.

That being said, I’m going to use spiders as a negative example here. Because the thing about spiders is that you can’t really get rid of them. They are persistent, and they are ubiquitous. There are spiders everywhere.

Famous arachnologist Norman Platnick once said that you are typically within a few yards of a spider most of the time. And that’s largely true, especially when you are indoors or out in nature. Not so much if you are standing in the middle of an empty parking lot or swimming in the ocean, mind you, but that’s not likely where you spend most of your time. There are spiders in our lawns, in the nooks and crannies of our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and yes, our church buildings. You can’t get rid of them, because there are always more.

That’s really not so different from the presence of sin in this world, and in our own hearts, for that matter. As much as we might want to be perfect, to do no wrong, and to be our best selves, we will inevitably fail. Sin persists, and it lingers where we do not expect it. Even when we clean up one problem area of our lives, eventually another will appear. We are not capable of dealing with sin, not in our own strength.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do anything about it. We need to clean out the cobwebs of our lives, and get the spiders out the corners of our hearts, especially when we realize that they are there, and the problems that they cause. Even a small sin is still sin, and when ignored, may well grow. And it’s not like there is a tolerable, acceptable amount of sin. We need to confess our sin and ask God to deal with it, or it will pull us down.

In James chapter 2, we read at verse 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. God’s standard is perfection, and we are not perfect. It’s not up to you and me to become perfect, either. It is up to us to turn from sin, to repent and to forsake sin. It is up to us to trust that Christ’s death and resurrection has paid the price for sin, because that’s not a price any of us can pay. And it’s up to us to continue following, continue trusting, and to continually recognize and turn from sin. Because in this life sin is going to stick around. It’s never far away.

There’s a story I heard a particular preacher share, and I may have shared it from this platform in the past, I don’t specifically recall if I have or not. This preacher was at a fairly large conference where he was one of several speakers. One of those speakers, well, he had some ideas about sin, and victory over it. This other man said in a sermon that he had gone a couple of years without committing a single sin, which would be a most impressive achievement. And also something that might require confirmation. There’s something I say at work fairly often, it’s actually from an old Russian proverb, Ronald Reagan used to use it when dealing with the Soviets. Trust, but verify. And so, at breakfast the next day, the man who told the original story decided to verify this claim. To do so, he poured a pitcher of juice unto the supposedly sinless speaker’s head. Guess what? He got angry. He said things that were not kind or polite. He reacted in a way that was not holy and sinless. He may have believed that he had reached some sort of sinless perfection, but that wasn’t entirely true. Sin was only as far away as the breakfast table.

The spider in the corner of the king’s palace reminds us that we are not going to be perfect in this life. We need to be vigilant, not careless, about sin. As Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

We’ve looked at four small creatures this evening, and I trust that we can learn something from each of them. Remember, it’s often the small things that matter most. It’s a cliché, but if you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. Choose carefully what paths you will follow and what steps you will take, what small things you will allow to occupy your days and your thoughts. Those small things will shape and mould your life. Choose them wisely.