Henry had a derelict father who distracted himself with fishing and hunting. Lazy and irresponsible, he sent young Henry off to boarding school, left him to be taken in by the headmaster, and came to sign his letters ‘Uncle’ instead of ‘Father’. And yet for Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847), who would grow up to become a good pastor and celebrated poet, the gospel of Christ redeemed what it means to have a Father, labour under his warm smile, call on him as ‘Abba’, and long to see him face-to-face.
Such steadying gladness inspired Lyte to write ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken’, a poem so Godward and soul-stirring it was put to music for corporate singing. And despite his troubled beginnings, when Lyte himself came to die, his final recorded words were ‘Peace! Joy!’
Joys in every call
In one of the hymn’s most memorable lines, Lyte commends to fellow Christians ‘joy to find in every station’.
Soul, then know thy full salvation,
Rise o’er sin and fear and care,
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father’s smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?
In other words, God is big enough for even our smallest tasks. He is holy enough to sanctify even our most menial moments. He is great enough to give significance even to the little things of our lives, and in them, to give us precious and peculiar joys. In Christ, by his Spirit, there is indeed ‘joy to find in every station’ — not just in the bright, shining, public flashes of our various vocations, but in the smallest, most menial, seemingly insignificant moments.
What ‘little things’ are pockets of untapped joys in your stations?
The little things matter. And our failures in them show how we are underestimating the bigness of our God. Regardless of how small the matter, the God of Psalm 139 sees, knows, and cares. ‘Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?’ (v. 7).
The little habits
J.C. Ryle (1816–1900), the evangelical Anglican bishop, published a series of children’s sermons called Stories for Boys and Girls in which he writes: ‘Oh, my dear children, who can tell the power of the littles? The power of littles is very wonderful! No one knows what can be done by a little, and a little, and a little.’ Ryle continues: ‘Oh, the importance of little habits! Habits of reading, habits of prayer, habits at meals, little habits through the day — all are little things. But they make up the character, and are of utmost importance.’
Every particular calling in life, in every specific season, presents us with unique opportunities for faithfulness in the little things, with their attendant joys. Have you considered your callings and what distinctive opportunities they present? Whether at work, at home, or with the church, whether as father or mother, whether as husband or wife, whether as friend or neighbour, God wants us to know the pleasure of pleasing him — not just in the big, public moments we tend to emphasise but even (and especially) in the secret and seemingly insignificant habits that ‘make up the character’ and ‘are of utmost importance’.
What ‘little things’ are pockets of untapped joys in your stations?
In the workplace
I grew up a dentist’s son, and I often heard high praise from my father’s patients about his work. More than one took to calling him ‘the ouch-less dentist’. Others effused about how enjoyable he made the otherwise miserable trip to the office. On multiple occasions, I heard from patients how they could see for themselves in the mirror the quality of my father’s fillings — little things — compared to previous dentists who had ‘just slapped them in’.
Many of us give half our waking lives to our workplace, and even the most glamorous public occupations are filled with little things. So it should be no surprise that when the apostle Paul specifically addresses our labour, he emphasises the often unseen aspects of our work. ‘Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men’ (Col. 3:23), ‘rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man’ (Eph. 6:7). Twice he accents ‘sincerity of heart’ and speaks of serving ‘not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers’ (Eph. 6:5-6; Col. 3:22).
The little things add up over time, like how we treat our employer’s property and resources, how diligently we work when off-site or out of sight, whether we abound with words of encouragement to employees and co-workers, and whether we are willing to pause our own productivity to listen. Will we give an extra few minutes to clean up a common space or honour others’ time by being on time (or even early) or by not calling unnecessary meetings or letting them drag on past the point of diminishing returns?
Such faithfulness in the small things often begins when we are students. University life teems with tiny, seemingly insignificant moments in which we either train ourselves for a career of diligent, energetic labour or learn to default to laziness and cutting corners. On campus, Christians can honour God by practising academic honesty and studying, as Paul charged Timothy, like a worker who has no need to be ashamed (2 Tim. 2:15).
In Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3, Paul not only commends industry in our labours but promises reward. He wants us to remember the blessing and to look forward to it (Acts 20:35). Work hard, he says, ‘knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward’ (Col. 3:24). Indeed, we ought to work hard ‘knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord’ (Eph. 6:8).
In the home
The home in particular presses us with the importance of the unseen and unglamorous. For most of us, the home is more private than the workplace. So our home lives, all the more, can be sequences of one little thing after another.
For those who work outside the home, being at home can be a surprising temptation to laziness. If we go out ‘to work’, we might assume we come home only to rest. Rest, no doubt, in sleep and in sabbath, often happens at home, but the home is not at all solely for rest. And that is especially true when young children are around.
Here the unseen moments often matter most. For husbands and wives, it can be the smallest of considerations when the other person is not around. How readily do we tackle household chores to save them from piling up on our spouse? How eagerly do we roll up our sleeves to do dishes or belly up to the toilet to give it a real Christian cleaning?
When I am tired, am I willing to expend myself to address a mess my wife won’t even know is there unless I leave it? And how willing am I to invest the extra energy it takes after a long day to think up and speak affirming words rather than just expressing frustrations?
The little things of home life also include our neighbours: saying hi, slowing down long enough to listen, keeping an eye out for their homes, offering to lend a hand, and helping with contagious joy.
In the church
Consider how the elder qualifications are, by and large, little things. As Don Carson has observed, it is remarkable how unremarkable, in one sense, the requirements for office in the church are (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). These are little things that add up. What we need from our pastors, as from all the church, is not world-class intellect and learning but the kind of faithfulness in the little things that is the very heart of Christian maturity and thus serves as an example for the flock (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3).
In church life, the little things do go a long way — for instance, coming a few minutes early to the worship service and lingering a few minutes at the end to greet and engage with others. When you’re sliding in late and bolting at the benediction, some of the most important human interactions of the whole week will not happen, for you and for others. And every local church needs volunteers to make various ministries possible — volunteers who show up as promised and faithfully play their uncelebrated part in the nursery or the children’s classes, or as an usher, greeter, or parking attendant, not to mention praying regularly for the church and her leaders and looking for ways to tangibly care for families in hard seasons.
Enter into joy
My father, the ouch-less dentist, is now nearing seventy and fast approaching the end of his working life. Decades of faithfulness in the little things are coming to fruition as many arise and call him blessed. As an adoring son, I pray it will be many more years before his days of home life and church life are done. But when they are, for him and for the rest of us (just a vapour’s breath in his wake), how surpassingly sweet it will be to hear our Lord’s commendation for faithfulness in the little things: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’ (Matt. 25:21).
For now, we have often-overlooked joys hidden in the little things of every station. Let’s find them while we can. Very soon will come our final-station joys that never will cease to ripen, deepen, and expand.
David Mathis is executive editor for desiringGod.org, a pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota, and author of ‘Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines’.