To Belittle Is To Be Little
Today in this church we honor our young people who are graduating from high school. Therefore, I want to speak a word today especially to those who are young. Of course, all of the rest of you who are young in spirit may listen in. I know that many of you live lives which belie your chronological accumulations, and so what I want to say today is intended for you as well. And what I wish to say can be captured in just six words: “To belittle is to be little.”
The words are not original with me. I heard them in a doctor’s office. I have often said—and it is true—that when you find a doctor who is a committed Christian you find a person whom God uses to accomplish great, wonderful, even miraculous things. What I have not often said—but which is just as true—is that you can tell if a doctor is a Christian the moment you walk into that doctor’s office, for there you will find a uniquely warm and caring atmosphere. I was reminded of that a couple of weeks ago when I visited the office of Dr. Michael Abufaris. He is a committed Christian who works hard to create a loving, Christian environment in his office. One of the things he does is to have his office staff each week consider a statement or a lesson or a quote. They discuss it and they try to apply it to their daily lives. The day I was there the statement they were focused on was this: “To belittle is to be little.” When I heard that I thought to myself: “Boy, that will preach!” I would like to take that statement, combine it with the story we find in Luke 10:38-41, and then make a couple of comments.
First, don’t belittle yourself with petty worries and conflicts.
Jesus was in the city of Jerusalem teaching and healing. The pressures upon Him in Jerusalem were intense. And so every night, he sought some escape from the pressures by going out to a small suburb of Jerusalem called Bethany where His dear friends, Mary and Martha and Lazarus, lived. He rested in their home each evening. One evening, Martha was very anxious that everything be perfect for His visit, so she poured herself into all of the activities you might expect such as cleaning the house and preparing the meal. Her sister Mary did none of that. When Jesus arrived she sat and visited with Him, listening carefully to everything He had to say. Finally Martha got tired of that and she snapped at Jesus: “Lord, can’t you see that I am busy with all these things and Mary isn’t doing anything? Tell her to help me.” At that moment in time, Martha was consumed with petty worries and conflicts. So Jesus said to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is important.” Being translated Jesus was saying: “Martha, Martha, to belittle is to be little. Don’t major on minor things!” That’s a word most of us need to hear as we seek to build our lives. Don’t major on minor things.
A man named Robert Moore learned this in a most interesting way. He was a seaman on board one of our submarines in the Second World War. They were cruising along the coast of Indochina looking for Japanese convoys. They spotted one and immediately fired three torpedoes at the enemy ships. The torpedoes somehow misfired, went off course, and missed the targets. However, the Japanese saw the torpedo trails and converged on the submarine seeking to destroy it. The depth of the ocean at that point was only 276 feet which isn’t much for a submarine to escape bombardment from the surface. So they went down to 150 feet, shut off the engines and dropped into total silence. The depth charges exploded just above them and drove them to the bottom. Every sailor was ordered to climb into his bunk and stay there, making no sound whatever. Everything was turned off, even the air-conditioning and the exhaust fans. It became oppressively hot in the sub, the temperature climbing to 100 degrees. But Robert Moore, in telling the story, said that he was so frightened that he shivered all over and his teeth chattered. He pulled two blankets over him even in that stifling heat and still he couldn’t quit shaking. The bombardment went on for 15 hours then suddenly it stopped. Robert Moore said later that that 15 hours seemed like 15 years. And he said: “I learned more in those 15 hours than I had learned in all of my life up to that point.” He said: “I had always given myself to worrying about little things and I had frequently found myself in petty little conflicts with other people. But there 276 feet under the South China Sea, I resolved never, never, never to worry about little things again.” You see when he came face-to-face with a matter of extreme seriousness, it made everything else seem insignificant.
Unfortunately, many people have not learned what Robert Moore learned. Many people become very upset with trivial things. Marriage counselors, for example, tell us that most discord in marital relationships begins with very small and insignificant matters. Did you hear about the couple who were married and she didn’t like the fact that he ate crackers in the bed at night and the crumbs got all over the bed? She didn’t like it one bit, but she put up with it for a while. Then one night, he brought a big jar of Smuckers jelly to bed with him. He was smearing the jelly on the crackers and it was dropping on the sheets and getting smeared all over them. That was too much for her. She snapped. She took him to divorce court. And according to those who reported the story to me, this was the first “smear Smuckers suit”! Corny, huh? But what else would you kids expect out of an old guy like me? But the point is that all too often conflicts in life begin over little things that don’t really matter in the ultimate scheme of things. That’s how the conflict between Martha and her sister, Mary, began.
Jesus calls us not to be distracted by that which is unimportant in life. That principle was beautifully illustrated by an incident involving Gary Player, the professional golfer. He was playing in a tournament in Dayton, Ohio. At the tenth tee, some man, for whatever reason, emerged from the crowd and threw a beer in Gary Player’s face. Now it was not as bad as a tennis fan bursting onto the court and stabbing a player in the back, but it was the same disregard for another person’s worth. Now Gary Player is a strong, muscular athlete. Furthermore, he held a club in his hand. Someone less mature might have responded in retaliation. But Gary Player simply looked at the man and said: “What have I ever done to you, sir?” Then he turned, teed up his ball, hit it, and went on to birdie the next three holes! He refused to major on the minors.
Young people, mark this down. It’s not the lions that get you in life—it’s the ants! It’s the insignificant things, the non-essential things, the unimportant things. Please don’t belittle yourself with little worries and petty conflicts. That’s why Jesus said: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is important.” Don’t major on the minors. To belittle is to be little.
Then, don’t belittle yourself with unworthy goals and dreams.
Go back with me to that little home in the village of Bethany. You may wonder why it is that this seemingly insignificant little story is reported in Scripture. You know, Jesus’ ministry lasted about three years. If you take all of the accounts recorded for us in the four Gospels and place them in chronological order you discover we are told of only about 180 days of the 1000 days of His ministry. So much is left out. Yet here the Holy Spirit has inserted into the sacred text this little story about an ordinary household incident. Why, when there must have been so many dramatic and powerful incidents which could have been included, why put in this one? Because the Bible always focuses on the practical—the Bible always addresses the issues we face in everyday life. And the message of this little story hits us right where we live everyday. Jesus said to Martha: “Only one thing is important.” Then He made it clear that devotion to Him is that one thing. In other words, wherever Jesus is, that’s where the most important things happen in life. In this story Mary is commended because she put Jesus first in her everyday life.
A young woman lost her father to death. Later she came to see me. She said, among other things, that what saddened her the most was not the fact that her father had died, but the fact that her father had never lived. I said: “What do you mean?” She replied: “He lived only for himself. He never gave himself to anything bigger than himself.” How sad.
Joseph Fort Newton was a great preacher of a generation or two ago. In his autobiography, he said that there are only four things that you can do with your life. You can run away from it—that is, you can try to avoid making any significant commitments in your life. Or you can run along with it—that is, you can follow the crowd and do whatever the crowd wants to do. Or you can run it alone—that is, you can do the things you want to do only for yourself. Or you can run it with Jesus Christ—that is, you can give yourself to something bigger than yourself. That last option, according to Newton, is the only one which leads to victory in life.
You see, when you live a life that is no bigger than your own hatband, when your commitments are focused only on your own attitudes and concerns, when you spend your days in a gray twilight which never knows either victory or defeat, when you belittle yourself by giving yourself to little goals then you are living life on a level lower than it is meant to be lived. Life is to be given over to something great and grand and soul-stretching. Young people, mark this down. It is great purpose which makes great people.
You know, this is a great time to be alive. I know a lot of young people don’t believe that today. They look at unemployment—but I want to tell you that it is not as bad as it was during the Great Depression. They look at AIDS—AIDS is terrible, but it is nothing compared with the influenza and diphtheria and black plague and smallpox that swept across the world in times past destroying countless numbers of lives. They look at the drug culture—but you know the sale of drugs today is not as open and widespread as it was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That’s one of the reasons the Prohibition Amendment was passed. They used to go into any saloon in the land and say “Give me a beer and a coke”–and the coke was not Coca-Cola, but cocaine. This isn’t the worst drug threat we’ve ever known. Then there’s terrorism—but today’s terrorism, young people, is nothing like what Nazism was. We have recently witnessed terrible racial disturbances in the land, yet what goes on today is not nearly so bad as the days when there were Jim Crow laws and lynchings were common. To be sure, this is not the best of times, but it is not the worst of times either—and it is a good time to be alive. And in a time like this, I am pleading with you: “Don’t belittle yourself by pursuing puny goals in life.”
Out on the slopes of Long’s Peak in Colorado, a huge tree recently fell. The experts tell us that the tree was 400 years old. That means it was a seedling when Christopher Columbus landed in the new world. It was half-grown when Plymouth Rock felt the feet of the Pilgrims. They studied that tree and determined that over all those years it had been struck by lightning no less than 14 times. And no one knows how many storms and avalanches it survived. It stood for four centuries, but now it was fallen. Do you know why? Because some beetles, some little insects you could crush between your thumb and forefinger, ate their way into the center of that tree and destroyed its core. What lightning and avalanches and centuries could not do those little beetles did—and the great tree fell. Just so, it’s the little unworthy goals that often destroy us in life.
So many people go through life looking for the nice little things in life—a nice little family, a nice little job, a nice little income, a nice little pension, a nice little house, a nice little car, some nice little investments, a nice little health plan, a nice little club, a nice little church, a nice little minister. Do you know what the end of that story is? It’s a nice little mound with a nice little stone and a nice little name and a couple of nice little dates carved upon it out in the middle of a nice little cemetery. O my beloved, especially you young people whom I so dearly love, if that is all you go after in life, then you will have pampered yourself into mediocrity when you could have invested yourself into immortality.
Jesus said: “Only one thing is needful. Only one thing is truly important.” That one thing is Jesus Christ. I call you today to give yourself to something and someone bigger than you are. I call you today to give yourself to true greatness in life. I call you today to give yourself to Jesus Christ. You see, only one thing is truly important in life!