Just over the horizon, several miles from the nearest highway, far from any highfalutin hair salons, coffee shops or Italian bistros, you’ll find the town of four traffic lights. You know the one.
It’s the close-knit community where your grandma runs the local diner and you eat three square meals a day on the house. It’s where you met your first crush, your best friend, and were never surprised to see a tractor parked at your school. You’ve been here many times, scarcely in-person as of late, but often in your mind. You know the sights, the sounds, the smells. The nostalgia overwhelms you even now.
There’s the aroma of scrambled eggs and bacon in the mornings, the deafening cacophony of the midnight freight trains, and that little kid who once raised a pig in his backyard. It’s the same town where the local farmers don’t mind sharing their peas, beans, corn, watermelon, or cantaloupe and where the homemade apple pie is always to die for.
It’s a special place. A unique place. A small place. But, it’s yours.
I love these Nowheresville towns. There’s just something refreshing and satisfying about a tiny slice of civilization where life runs at half the speed as the rest of the world. It wasn’t until my early college years that I fully appreciated them. Sadly, they often go completely unnoticed and overlooked. That’s a shame, really, because it’s in the small towns that big things tend to happen. Big things like an explosive movement of God’s invisible Kingdom upon the hearts of His people.
This isn’t to say that renewal, restoration, and redeeming grace are absent from the chaotic cities and metropolis madhouses, but — thanks to social media — it’s easy to assume that the only thriving and successful churches left in America are the sold out Thunder Dome Sanctuaries. After all, that’s what we see every day in our newsfeeds. They’re impossible to miss. Our faces are constantly rubbed in it. Of course, the irony is that we do the rubbing ourselves. We choose what pages to “like” and what accounts to follow, but that’s an entirely separate issue for an entirely separate blog post.
Nevertheless, it’s no secret that our world is indeed urbanizing at breakneck speed. The United Nations in 2009, as well as the International Organization for Migration in 2015, estimated that roughly three million people move to cities every week. And in the midst of this mass exodus of biblical proportions, we might speculate whether anything worthwhile is being left behind in the rural communities of our land. We might callously assume there would be little for which anyone would wish to remain.
But I implore you to pause for a moment. Allow yourself to linger in the corn fields and sit on the back porches. And look closely to see the sweet, grace-filled story of smallness that God is writing in the town of four traffic lights, where the only church is less than 30 people on a good Sunday. You won’t find any stadium seating or a contemporary worship band. Their pastor hasn’t written any bestselling books. He’s too busy raising a family and running a full-time tractor parts & repair business to make ends meet.
But don’t dismiss this church so quickly. Jesus wouldn’t. After all, his Father in Heaven, the one whose hands hold the immeasurably massive universe and all uncontainable creation together (Colossians 1:17), is the same God who has a deep affection for using small, ordinary, and seemingly insignificant things to accomplish his eternal will. Jonathan found him to be a God who relishes using small numbers. In 1 Samuel 14, we see him say to his armor-bearer:
“Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by a few.”
Whether the saving would be done by many or a few would ultimately be of little consequence to God and Jonathan knew it. This is such a wondrous reminder as we all know the small churches, the dwindling congregations, and the discouraged pastors who feel they cannot accomplish anything because their attendance numbers are low. And yet the God of Small Numbers breaks through the dreary rainclouds of our pessimism and hopelessness and shouts a resounding, “No! This is not so! I am the Lord and I will work for you! Who can hinder me? Who is my equal? For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them! Take heart and walk with me one step at a time. You are more than conquerors!” (1 Samuel 14:6, Matthew 18:20, Romans 8:37; additions mine.)
Speaking of small numbers, perhaps nothing better illustrates the contagious joy our Savior has for small things and their eternal value than the boy who freely offered his lunch to Jesus (John 6:9) and fed over 5,000 people, or the poor widow who literally gave all she had by dropping her two coins into the offering box (Mark 12:42). Of the latter, Jesus would say that she gave infinitely more than anyone else because she gave out of her poverty. Her gift may have been small in the eyes of man, but it was colossal in the Kingdom of Heaven. A nameless child and a penniless widow found him to be a God who relishes in using small gifts.
Time and time again we see him taking sheer pleasure and delight in moving through small places and using small groups of his people in dynamic ways; in big ways; in ways that leave us speechless. He used a tiny shepherd boy to slay a giant and bring a Philistine army to its knees. He compared his own Kingdom to a mustard seed. And he came to earth himself as a tiny baby born in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The beautiful and encouraging truth about such a God is that he has given us all the hope we could ever need to endure in faith with our small churches, in our small towns, and to follow him on this incredible journey, uncertain though it may be.
And at the heartbeat of following the God of Small Things is a desire not to simply arrive at some grand destination or to gain something prestigious along the way, but rather to embrace the wondrous realization that our leader is worth the following and the journey is worth the taking.