Big results from small changes

The difference between a skilled artist and a simple tradesman is found in the fine details!  With a little bit of time and energy, almost anyone can learn a trade. But there is a huge gap between learning a trade and becoming an expert in that field. The difference usually resides in the details. It’s the small stuff that makes a huge difference.

Very few Western cultures still have tradesmen and women. The guys and gals that mastered a profession and handed the skills off from one generation to a next were considered smiths.  Blacksmiths, aarowsmiths, fendersmiths, and bladesmiths mastered their trades through years of hard work and focused attention on the details of their profession. Even though the days of smith work is long gone, the importance of mastering the details still remains.

The small things are important

Few people read the footnotes in a book anymore. Even fewer read the footnotes in a grammar.  My Greek professor in seminary, Thomas Schreiner, often said, “Always read the footnotes.”   This was his way of reminding the students in his class that the difference between someone who masters the Greek language and someone who merely understands how the Greek language works is found in the footnotes of a Greek grammar.

Prof. Schreiner wasn’t looking to create students who had a basic understanding of the Greek language, he was more interested in creating students who mastered the Greek language. That’s why he reminded us to always read the footnotes… Even the footnotes in a Greek grammar!

The small things are very important! This is a biblical concept. This is just how life works.  Jesus once said that if you want to be trusted with the big things, you must be trustworthy with the small things in Luke 16:10.

The small things add up

Why are the little things so important? It seems like Jesus would want us to give all of our time and attention to the big things. After all, big changes make big results. So why give so much energy to the small things?  Perhaps, Jesus wants his followers to focus on the little things, because he knows that a bunch of small things can become more important than a few very big things.

I don’t think Jesus is trying to give the impression that the big things are unimportant. Of course you have to do big things well, but one of the principles of the Christian life is focusing not only on the big things, but also giving appropriate attention to the small points of the law.  Here’s a quick example of this-did you know that a person’s purity is really important to God? Joseph demonstrates this principal in Matthew 1:19. He’s engaged to be married to a woman whom he loves named Mary. Joseph is an upright man. Joseph has tried to keep himself pure for Mary. Joseph expected Mary to keep herself pure for him. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided to break off the engagement.  The Bible commends Joseph for his character. Perhaps it was because Joseph was faithful in these little things that God could trust Joseph with big responsibilities, like becoming the stepfather to Jesus.

Jesus tells a story in Matthew chapter 25 about a boss who is looking to promote one of his employees.  Rather than hire some hotshot from the outside, this employer is looking for someone who is already inside the organization. He’s looking for someone he can promote to higher levels of responsibility. And the thing that causes certain employees to stand out, is their faithfulness in the little things.  The boss says in Matthew 25:21, “Because you’ve been responsible for the little things well, I’m going to give you much bigger responsibilities.”  When you consistently show that you are trustworthy with small responsibilities, you’re demonstrating that you can be trusted with bigger responsibilities.

Mastering the small problems can help make the big challenges easier

Ask any elite level athlete about their focus on the small things. I think you’ll find that they give a lot of time and attention to some very little points of training.  In fact, many of these athletes will tell you the thing that makes them “elite” is that they mastered the small points as well as the large points of training.

A guy who’s never run a 5K before in his life when he gets off of the couch and starts training is going to see huge increases in performance. At some point those increases start to become much smaller. When you reach the elite level as an athlete, making minor gains takes great time and effort. But the difference those minor gains make separate you from your peers. In other words, the results are worth the effort.

Learning how to overcome small challenges helps you become ready to handle the challenges. Sometimes, the only way to handle really big problems, is by breaking them down into smaller parts. Focus on the smaller parts one after another, and soon the big problem starts to get solved. It’s the principle of using skills that you developed handling the small problems to make you successful in handling the bigger problems.

Here’s what I’d like you to think about next time you’re being asked to handle some small, seemingly insignificant issue. Take it really seriously. Give it everything you got! Give your best to the small things, and you just might be asked to handle bigger responsibilities.

Further reading