Throughout the month of December, I had been studying Christmas Carols as a basis for our Advent messages and noticed something peculiar. Two of these carols (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”) were written and scored in a matter of hours and were expected to be played only once. Despite the writers’ intentions, a confluence of events worked in such a way that enabled these carols to become part of the culture. A simple song written for a Sunday school service and a carol played because the organ was broken have both become beloved strains for the Advent season.
This has made me wonder, especially as one year concludes and another commences, whether the same sort of thing happens in ordinary lives like ours. Do our lives have an impact because of the big plans which we pursue and into which we invest significant energies? We would all say that most of our greatest works are caused by our major efforts. However, there are also times when, like the carols previously mentioned, our secondary or tangential efforts have an unforeseen and unpredicted positive impact. Our influence upon those around us is shaped by big and small acts of obedience.
As we enter a new year and put up a new calendar, perhaps we could contemplate what we are doing, in big and small ways, to impact the world. Certainly we should exert our greatest efforts in accomplishing our greatest tasks, such as activities that advance our vocations, our families, and our health. But we should also remember that some of our ‘throw-away’ interactions may be more significant, in the long run, than our primary efforts. There is no way of evaluating the impact of simple and ‘thoughtless’ acts: smiling as we pass a stranger on the sidewalk, sitting to play a card game with your child, tipping the haggard wait-staff a bit more than their service deserved or writing a poem that few will ever read.
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5
This year, I am resolving to show gentleness to all. Gentleness is an interesting biblical concept which carries with it an inference of ‘power under control’. If we wash clothes with the gentle cycle, we know that the full force of the machine is still available but the agitation is restrained. If we rock a child gently, we still have full musculature to sway to and fro but the motion is restrained. This year I am resolved to the following: speaking gently – may my words carry the full power of the truth but their expression show restraint; leading gently – may my interactions with my family (the one at home and the one at church) carry the full power of my authority but their expression show restraint; and serving gently – may my efforts in accomplishing all that God has equipped me to perform carry the full power of my strength but their expressions show restraint.
I pray that each one of us has a blessed and significant new year…through both the big and small interactions that God enables us to enjoy.