Painting of tree by S. J. Little in background of title

Have you done much art? I enjoy art, but with everything on my schedule, I rarely make it a priority. Recently, however, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted enough that I could visit some relatives, we enjoyed having a paint night together.

I decided to do a landscape, since painting people is far more difficult.

We used acrylic paint. When using acrylic, the typical strategy is to start with the furthest back part of the picture. From there, each new layer can be added on top.

In my case, the furthest back thing was the sky.

I knew I planned to put a tree in the foreground. I hoped my tree would resemble an Elm. I knew the sky would be visible through the leaves and between the branches of the tree. Therefore, I wanted more than just a flat blue sky.

I took my time, trying several times until I was satisfied with the gradient from deep blue at the top of the sky, to light blue at the horizon. Then it was time for clouds. I added wispy white clouds.

That done, I moved on to the next layer – mountains. At first I made them flat, but that was too boring, so I added shadows and highlights. Much better.

Time for the grass. I spread plain green across the space. I added a little more variety to the green, then left it at that for the time being. Later I would add more details.

Stepping back, I examined my painting. The bright colours and my hard work had paid off. I was pleased with my background.

The next question: where to put the tree? I frowned. Did I even want to add the tree? The background had turned out so beautifully. Would adding a tree in the foreground harm the beauty of it? What if I did a poor job of the tree?

Despite my fears, I knew the picture would look empty and incomplete without something in the foreground.

I squeezed some brown paint onto my palate. Taking a deep breath, I added a tree trunk. Then I added branches and leaves. Finally I added texture to the grass.

Eyeing my painting, I considered adding something else to the foreground on the other side. Perhaps a road or a creek? Yet those same fears crept up again. What if I did a poor job adding it. All my work on the background would be negated.

This time I decided that my painting was complete.

As I considered the process of creating this painting, I marveled at the importance of background. Much of my time and effort had gone into forming the background with great detail. Had I neglected the background, it would have been an entirely different painting.

Indeed when watching a pro artist, it can be astounding how much detail they put into the background.

Is there a life lesson I can learn from this?

Yes, I believe there is.

Sometimes it seems as though so much of life is background stuff. Washing dishes, doing laundry, writing emails, buying groceries… the list could go on.

At times, I feel anxious to get on with the “big stuff.” I want to do things that feel important and belong in the foreground.

At moments like that, I have to stop and remind myself of the importance of the background stuff.

In Luke 16:10 (ESV) we read, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

I find it helpful to switch the words “faithful” and “dishonest” with other words to help drive home the point. Am I being diligent in the very little things? Am I being intentional and wise in how I handle those little things? Am I a good steward of what I’ve been given, no matter how small or background it feels?

In the Bible, I see lots of the “big” moments – David defeating Goliath, Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, Jesus’s time of ministry. If I pay close attention, though, I can also see snippets of the background stuff that enabled these “big” moments to be handled well.

David faithfully tended his father’s sheep, including fighting off bears and lions (1 Samuel 17:34-37).  Moses was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 ESV). “Jesus, when He began His ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23 ESV).

Each of these had years of little stuff that served as a background to the big moments of their lives which the Bible tells about.

Sometimes, I find the stuff that might seem big, is indeed a compilation of many small things that add up to a big thing. To be a pastor or Christian camp director, for example, is largely made up of doing lots and lots of little things well.Tree painting by S. J. Little

What about my life? Is all the daily background stuff going to one day culminate in an unmistakably big moment? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that God has called me to be faithful with what He has given me to do here and now, no matter how menial.

As I am faithful with the little things, He will unfold His plans for my life. Perhaps there will be a “big” moment in my life, but perhaps not. Regardless, may I seek to be faithful that one day I may say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)

Closed sign and the words: "Not Forgotten - God Has a Purpose"

Have you ever had a part of your life that seemed to sit unused and useless for a long time? Have you wondered if God has a purpose for it?

At a busy shopping centre I often drive by, there is a restaurant. For many years it was a pizza place. People came and went, enjoying the food and atmosphere. I ate there a couple of times. 

Then one day a sign appeared on the door. The lights went off, and eventually, they took their logo down. They were closed.

For quite some time, the building sat empty, even as other stores and restaurants around them stayed busy.

Then someone bought the place. Construction vehicles started showing up. From the outside, we couldn’t see much change, but inside things were being improved.

They put up a new sign, then announced their opening.

For a while, people came, but soon the parking lot looked empty again. One day a sign appeared on the door saying it was closed.Car parked in empty parking lot

Again it sat month after month with a closed sign. The lights were off and the parking lot abandoned.

Several years went by as the building sat empty. Countless people drove past it daily on the busy main roads, but no one stopped to go in.

True, the building was in the far corner of the shopping centre but it was very visible from the main roads. Why did it sit empty for so long?

Fast forward to March this year. With the coming of COVID-19, many businesses were temporarily closed. Shopping malls sat abandoned and restaurants empty.

One place, however, began to see action.

The parking lot of that long-abandoned building began filling.

First, some work crews showed up, then tents were erected outside.

Every time I saw it, I wondered who was moving in. Were they simply using the parking lot? Had another restaurant bought the place? I watched for clues.

Before long, I saw line-ups of vehicles outside. This particular building was surrounded on all four sides by a parking lot. The line-up of cars began at the tents and wound all the way around the building. What were they doing?

Then I found out. My city had set up several COVID-19 testing drive-through sites. This was one of them.

The long-abandoned building now had a purpose. Its parking lot was beautifully suited for the task.

Now, instead of sitting forgotten and unwanted, this building was helping save lives. 

I believe God sometimes works this way in our lives.

Sometimes He gives us skills and abilities or previous experiences that seem to sit idle and unused for a season. We wonder why they exist. Could it be that God has a purpose for them?

Perhaps one day God will point to that part of my life or your life and say “Now is the time. I want to use you this way.”

The Bible gives some examples along these lines. Examples of situations when something seemed random or worthless, only to later become evidence that God has a purpose in everything He does.

It was some time after Esther was made queen that the king passed the law against the Jews. Only then did Mordecai say to her “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b CSB)

Similarly, when David finally became king after fleeing from King Saul for years, I’m sure he found his experience from serving as Saul’s armour bearer useful. (1 Samuel 16:21)

Do you sometimes wonder what purpose God has for you?

Thankfully, we can trust that He knows what He is doing. God has a purpose. We don’t need to worry if there are talents or experiences in our lives that seem forgotten and unused right now. Just like the building, at the right time, God will use them as He sees fit.

As He said to Peter “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  (John 13:7 NIV)

Road disappearing into dark night

Not long ago, I was driving through the Canadian prairies where the world seemed to stretch out forever, with only the occasional farmhouse to break the endless fields.

It was night, and the highway had no street lights to guide me. Beyond what my headlights illuminated, I had no idea where the road led as it wound through the darkness.

The road had many long straight stretches, then suddenly it would turn.

I glanced in my rearview mirror – pure blackness. There was no one in sight behind me.

Not too far in front, the taillights of a truck guided me onward. I appreciated his presence.

His lights showed me when the road ahead turned to the right or left. His continued progress reassured me that there was good paved road for me to drive on. The journey felt less lonely knowing that someone else was driving the same route.

Gradually, however, the truck increased the distance between us. Being on the flat open prairies, I could still see his lights, but he was a long way in front of me now.

From time to time, as I watched his lights so far ahead of me, I was surprised to see him turn sharply in the darkness. In such vast prairie, shouldn’t the road continue straight? But, no. When I finally reached the place where he’d turned, I found that the road did indeed turn.

I was sad when the truck finally outdistanced me so far that I could no longer see his lights. I felt more alone and the road was far more unknown.Left turn road sign

As I continued along, I quickly became grateful for the road signs warning of upcoming turns. Without those bright signs reflecting the beam of my headlights, driving at such speed would have been dangerous. I don’t know if I would’ve spotted the turns soon enough to steer safely around them. They would have come so unexpectedly that I would have continued straight off the road and into the nearest field.

Eventually, as I drove along, I glanced in the rearview mirror again. This time I spotted headlights! No longer was I the only one driving that way. Now it was my turn to be the one venturing into the empty darkness to show the vehicle behind me where the road led. 

What can I learn from these observations, I wondered. Is there a life lesson for me here?

Yes, I believe there is.

More often than not, as I go about my life, I do not know where or when the road is going to turn. I can see no further ahead than the few meters my headlights show me.

Thankfully, in such times, God provides guidance. He has said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8 NKJV)

One of the ways He guides, is by planting road signs along the way. Those road signs reflect especially brightly when I have my headlights on, or rather, when I am being intentional to stay in the Bible and prayer. 

Sometimes those signs are black and white in clarity, screaming, “turn now or you’ll end up a wreck!”

At other times, those signs are harder to understand. “What is the best way to love God in this situation?”

Thankfully, there are many times when God brings someone into my life who has gone ahead. Someone who is further along on the path I am currently driving and whose example, or taillights, helps me know when and where to turn. 

Paul understood that God brings people into my life to help guide me. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

Having said that, I must be careful who’s example I follow. It is possible that someone may ignore the signs and veer off the road, continuing straight through the fields. Or perhaps they might turn left when I need to take a right to get to my desired destination.

Ultimately, it is Jesus’ example I must be led by. As Hebrews says, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Heb. 12:1b-2a NIV) 

Through all life’s twists and turns, He guides me. He will never leave me.

Praise the Lord that He has gone before me, and that He sends people and warning signs to help guide me along the way!

Disgruntled boy - Not wanting to trust the Lord - S. J. Little

 

Have you ever seen a child having a temper tantrum? As a preschool teacher, I’ve seen countless. Thankfully, the children in my class typically learn quickly that a tantrum won’t get them what they want. Have I learned that having a tantrum against God doesn’t help?

Child crying. Tantrum or meltdown

Did you know? While they may look the same, there’s a difference between tantrums and meltdowns? A meltdown is when a child is overwhelmed or over-exhausted to the point of breaking down in tears and frustration. A tantrum, on the other hand, is a controllable action. It is a decision (though potentially subconscious) to behave a certain way in hopes of getting something. 

Not too long ago, little Tommy, a 2 year old, had a tantrum. 

He had just arrived in class, and wanted something he wasn’t allowed to have. Upon being informed that he couldn’t have it, he started crying and declared even louder that he wanted it. Pretty soon he was lying on the floor screaming.

I tried to talk him out of it (without giving him the forbidden object), but he wouldn’t quiet. I tried distracting him with exciting toys, but he cried harder.

Therefore, I moved to another part of the room, though still watching him out of the corner of my eye. I gave him space to scream it out while I went about my morning with the other children.

Finally, after a considerable length of his crying on the floor, I noticed his tantrum beginning to lessen. As his crying decreased, I came alongside him. I gave him a toy and reminded him that we’d soon be cleaning up for our next activity.

It took him a few more minutes with a teacher by his side, but soon he got to his feet and joined the other children with the toys.

He yawned a few times and, indeed, appeared rather sleepy. That tantrum had taken a lot of energy. He was mellow, though happy now and engaged with the activities.

His tantrum left him tired and didn’t get him the thing he wanted.

Not long after that day, I happened to be reading Proverbs chapter three in my morning devotional time.

Prov. 3:5-6 is a beautiful passage that I’ve been encouraged and challenged by many times in the past. In fact, in my post “My Cat is Bad at Following” I use these verses. In case you need a refresher, Prov. 3:5-6 NKJV says:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

I continued reading. At verse 8, the image of Tommy on the floor crying, then being so tired after, came to mind.

Prov. 3:8 NIV says:

“This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

Because of a health issue I deal with, anything saying it will give health catches my attention. I want to know more.

What is the “this” that will increase my health? I had to look back to find it.

At verse five, which I quoted above, a new paragraph starts. Verses five and six talk about trusting God rather than my own understanding. Verse seven is straightforward. It says, “Don’t be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.”

Trusting the Lord and not being wise in my own eyes sounds like the opposite of a tantrum. Tommy wasn’t trusting that I knew best. He wanted what he thought was best and wouldn’t listen to my reasoning.Girl feeling unhappy - Not wanting to trust the Lord - S. J. Little

Sometimes I’m like Tommy.

Sometimes God says no, but I still want that thing. Sometimes God says move, but I want to stay. Sometimes God says wait, but I want it now.

In the past few years, I’ve gone through seasons of having a form of tantrum against God. Times when I am frustrated because He hasn’t taken away my health issues. Times when I remind God of all the serving opportunities I’d be thrilled to be involved in, but have had to turn down because my health isn’t good enough. Wouldn’t it be better if God took away my health issues so I could serve more?

Yet whenever I get into that mindset, I am not trusting God. It steals my contentment. I find myself frustrated and joy-less.

After seeing how clearly Tommy was exhausted after his tantrum, and after reading Prov. 3:8, I realize that these seasons of tantrum in my life only burn me out, rather than convincing God to change His mind.

While it doesn’t take away my health issues, being content to trust the Lord’s understanding rather than my own does make a noticeable improvement for my physical health, and even more so for the health of my soul.

Oh, that I would learn to always trust the Lord rather than tantrum against Him.

*Note: details of this allegory have been altered to preserve confidentiality
River with ice melting along the banks. God is working to melt the ice in me. S. J. Little

Autumn, my favourite season of the year. The leaves turn colours, the air is crisp, and the first snow coats the ground.

I was recently blessed to be able to spend a few days in the Rocky Mountain foothills. I enjoyed the opportunity for quiet morning walks and time to reflect and press deeper into my relationship with Jesus.

Although it had snowed a couple of days before I arrived, the temperatures during my stay reached above freezing.

As I strolled through the forest on my second morning, I followed my footsteps from the previous day to a rocky beach along a nearby river where I’d sat the day before.

I looked up at a sound, not quite sure what it was. River with melting iceAfter watching and listening for a time, I concluded that the sound came from the ice on the river as it melted. Indeed, the ice lining the edges of the river was far smaller on this second day than it had been the day before. No longer was the ice threatening to span across the river.

As I ran my gaze over the melting ice, my mind wandered back to the things I’d been pondering and praying about at this beach the morning before. They were painful thoughts rather than pleasant. Thoughts of some challenges I’ve been facing in my life recently. Thoughts which, at times, inspire tears.

Looking at the river, I recalled a common allegory. It pictures me, a Christian, as a channel through which God’s love can flow. The love doesn’t come from me. Rather, God is working through me.

Sometimes, however, things in my life hinder the flow of God’s work through me. In the same way, the ice on this river hampered its flow. Indeed, the ice had constricted the river to a mere half of its typical width. Yet now, as the ice continued to melt, the river flowed more freely and fully.Cracked ice on a river - S. J. Little

Using this allegory, God reminded me of a different perspective on the challenges I’ve been facing. God is using them for good. 

In my life, I have areas, just like the ice, constraining the flow of God’s work through me. In order to melt that ice inside of me, God is allowing these challenges. They hurt and throb, perhaps like fingers thawing after a snowball fight. Yet, somehow, the end result will be good, as I lean into God during this time of challenge.

These challenges are melting those troublesome areas of ice within me, that I may more fully be available for God to work through me.

Is this an easy thing to remember? No, but what a burden it lifts when I do remember.

Indeed, I write this post as a reminder to myself to keep my eyes on the end result, rather than the current challenges which threaten to overwhelm me.

Romans 6:3-5 is a good reminder for me along these lines.

“We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts…” Rom. 6:3b-5a CSB

In reflecting on these things, I have found A. W. Tozer’s words to be true.

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.” – A. W. Tozer

Oh, that I would remember that God is working in me when challenges come.