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)

Christmas Dinner behind title "The Full Feast"

Do I have a full-feast relationship with Jesus?

With Christmas day quickly approaching, many of us have food on our minds. Whether it is the new dessert you want to try, the classic Christmas turkey, or whatever your Christmas food entails, it seems appropriate for this post to talk about food, and the reminder our Christmas dinner can be to pause for a moment and think.

Generally speaking, a large feast has several courses or dishes. These include the appetizer, the main dish, side dishes such as salad, and dessert.

First, we start with the appetizer. It is typically small but tasty. It takes the edge off our hunger, yet if we ended the meal there, most of us would still be hungry.

Then follows the main course and side dishes. The main course is where the sustenance of the meal is. It quenches our appetite, gives us good nutrients, and strengthens us for whatever tasks lay ahead.

Side dishes can take many forms, but for now, I’ll mention only a side dish salad. While this isn’t the case for me, stereotypically there are many people who eat salads begrudgingly. The only reason they eat it is because they know it is good for their health. However, if they could reasonably do so, they’d skip salads all together.

Finally, all the dishes are cleared away, and then comes the part so many of us eagerly await: dessert! Dessert is sweet and delightful. It is sugary and designed to bring a smile to our faces. The reward of dessert, however, is short-lived. Why? Because dessert gives primarily short term energy – a sugary high that soon fades. Indeed, too much dessert adds unwanted weight that makes the rest of life less pleasant. Still, in reasonable proportions, dessert is a delightful and good addition to the meal.

Okay, sure, but what does that have to do with Jesus?Turkey dinner on a plate

I’m glad you asked.

I’ve found myself thinking recently about how people can have a side dish relationship with Jesus.

Let me explain. Remember what I said about salad side dishes? In a similar way to how some people approach salad side dishes, some people approach God. They go to church and pray begrudgingly as something they have to do, not something they want to do. They acknowledge that Jesus is important, but He holds merely a side dish position in their life.

I thought to myself, I want to have a main dish relationship with Jesus. The main dish is the core of the meal. Likewise, I want my relationship with Jesus to be at the core of my life. That relationship with Jesus is what sustains me and gives me endurance when the going gets hard. Just as how a meal without a main dish would be lacking, likewise, my life without Jesus would have a hole in it.

Yet as I thought about it some more, something didn’t add up. What about the appetizer and dessert? Are they separate from my walk with Jesus?

What in my life do I treat as the appetizer? What is that thing that I run to first? What takes that edge off my hunger… or hurt, or fear, or anxiety? Do I run to Jesus first? Unfortunately, the answer is not always yes.

And what of dessert? What do I do when I just want to have fun? Is Jesus a part of that? Or is that type of fun something He would disapprove of? Is it simply an “okay” thing to do, or is it the best?

Having thought about these questions, I realized that I don’t want to only have a main dish relationship with Jesus. No, I want Jesus to be not only at the core of who I am, but a key part of everything I am and everything I do. 

“For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” Rom. 11:36 NASB

What does that look like practically? There is no one answer. In every season of my life having a full-feast relationship with Jesus might look different. It probably will.

Sometimes it will be serving at church. Sometimes it may mean taking cookies to a hurting neighbour. Sometimes, or perhaps often, it includes washing the dishes and making the meals along with all the other small tasks that make up a day.

Regardless, my relationship with God is to shape every aspect of my life.

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Col. 3:17 NASB

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people…” Col. 3:23 NASB

Whatever exactly it looks like, I am confident that having a full-feast relationship with Jesus is what will bring me the most joy and peace (Ps. 16:11, Ph. 4:6-7). Jesus is the reason that we sing about “joy to the world” and “peace on earth.” His coming made that possible.

Therefore, as I help prepare a Christmas feast, I want to keep seeking to grow toward that full-feast sort of relationship with Jesus. He is worth it.

Seedlings and the title: Thinning My Garden

One of my favourite parts of gardening is seeing the first sprouts pushing their heads through the ground. The newness and anticipation of a coming harvest is exciting. How big will the beets grow this year? How many zucchinis will come? Will we be able to harvest the tomatoes before the first frost?

(A quick disclaimer before I continue. I am not an experienced gardener, so please do not take this post as gardening advice.)

I love seeing those little seedlings grow bigger each day. Seedlings sprouting

Soon, however, comes a stage I don’t like so much: thinning the garden.

Often gardeners plant more seeds than they will let grow to full maturity. Because of this, the seeds are too close to each other.

As the seeds grow, they become crowded and begin to fight for sunlight and water. If not thinned, none of the seeds will grow strong and healthy. They will remain half-shrunk and weirdly shaped as they strain for more light.

So, the morning comes when I slip into my gardening sandals and head out for a closer look.

First, I pull the weeds. I mercilessly yank them from the ground. They don’t belong. They won’t bring value or a harvest. I don’t want them. They only serve to get in the way of the plants I want to grow.

New sprouts in a garden

Then I look at the radish row. They’re often quicker to grow than the others. The plants are far too close. I know I have to thin them if I want large healthy radishes.

I crouch down and take a deep breath.

I pull a radish seedling. Looking at it, I feel bad to have had to pull a perfectly healthy and good plant that could have grown excellent food. Still, if I didn’t pull that seedling out, the others wouldn’t grow well.

Looking again at the row, I pull another seedling and then another. Pretty soon I have a pile of radish seedlings. Thankfully I can eat these sprouts for lunch. Yet something inside of me remains sad that they will never reach their fullest potential.

When at last I sit back and look at the radish row, I smile. These remaining plants will now be able to grow strong and healthy. It was painful pulling the sprouts, but the reward will be worth it. No half-grown radishes for me.

On to the next row of plants I go, and then the next. Pretty soon the garden is looking far more empty, yet I remind myself that it now holds more chance of reaching its fullest potential. The harvest will be bigger and better because of the thinning I did today.

What about in my life? Do I need to do some thinning there?

Radishes

Having grown up attending church, I have long known the parable of the sower. The part about the seed that fell among the weeds seems fitting to consider now.

“Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit. … these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:7, 18-19 CSB)

Okay, got it. In order to be fruitful for God, I must get rid of the weeds in my life. Weeds are bad things, right? Don’t covet wealth, don’t worry, don’t pursue other bad worldly things. If I get caught up in those, my life won’t reach its fullest God-given potential.

Take out the weeds in my life, and I’m good to go, right? My experience in the garden says there might be more to do.

Maybe there are other things I need to thin out of my life in order to thrive in what I keep.

Jesus, after having a powerful night of ministry did just that, as recorded in Mark 1:35-38 (CSB).

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place; and there He was praying. Simon and his companions searched for Him, and when they found Him they said, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’  And He said to them, ‘Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come.'”

I can so easily read those verses and think, “Everyone was looking for Him. He could have stayed and taught them so much more and done more miracles. They were ready to listen.”

Jesus, however, knew the task His Father had placed before Him. If He was to fulfill His mission on earth, He had to move on.

Sometimes I get caught up in all the good things I have opportunities to do. When a door is open, that means I should go in, right?

I must remind myself that this is not always the case. As with my garden, if I am involved in too many good things, none of them will thrive. They will be half-nourished and straining for light.

Instead, I need to prioritize my life intentionally. Sometimes prioritizing includes pulling out good healthy things so that the rest can thrive.

What do I need to thin out of my life so that what remains can grow? I’ll have to follow Jesus’ example and pray about that.

In the meantime, here are some valuable quotes to ponder.

“Good is not always God’s will, but God’s will is always good.” – Watchman Nee

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” – D. L. Moody

Bible and mug by lake

Am I filling myself with the things of God or is something else taking that space?

I am a preschool teacher. As a preschool teacher, there are many tricks of the trade which help my day go smoother with happier, healthier children. 

Many of those tricks involve snack time. Using a straw for yogurt drinks cuts down on the number of catastrophic spills. Cutting grapes eliminates a choking hazard. Sending only healthy snack options results in the child choosing to eat a healthy snack rather than choosing a sugary, unhealthy option.A juice box

One classic snack item, which has its own host of tricks, is the juice box. Many of those tricks involve how to open or hold it without spilling. Not spilling a juice box is indeed a skill for preschoolers to learn!

Beyond that, a useful trick for getting some preschoolers to eat more of their snack is to not give them a juice box at all. Let me explain.

Over my years of teaching preschool, I have seen three significantly different patterns of behaviour in children who have juice boxes with their snack. 

First, many children will only drink one or two sips from the juice box before setting it aside. This leaves the vast majority of the juice wasted.

Second, some children are able to coordinate drinking their juice with eating their snack. They will drink most of the juice and eat a good portion of their snack before snack time is over.

Finally, I’ve seen a number of children who, upon seeing the juice box in their snack, get excited. They drink and drink and drink until every last drop of the juice is gone. Then, having drunk the whole juice box, they look at the rest of their snack, perhaps apple slices or bread and cheese, but aren’t the least bit interested because they already feel full.

These children drink so much juice, often artificially flavoured with added sugar and colour, that they are not eating the sturdy healthy food they need to grow strong. From these children, we can learn a lesson.

The other day, I was reading in Isaiah 2 the explanation of why God rejected His people at that time:

    “They are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers …

    Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures;

    their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots.

    Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands,

    to what their own fingers have made.” Isaiah 2:6b-8 ESV

After reading these verses, I paused. I asked, “What am I full of?”

Am I filled with the things of God, or something else?

This question brought to mind another verse:

    “[God is] always on their lips but far from their hearts.” Jeremiah 12:2b NIV

Instead of “heart,” some other translations say “mind” or “conscience.”

Regardless of how much I talk about Jesus and know all the right answers, what is taking up the space inside me? Is Jesus in my thoughts? When my mind wanders, does it wander to the things of God?

Far more often than I’d like, my thoughts wander some other direction.

Is it bad to think about other things? Certainly not! There are many good things in life that require much thought. The problem comes when those other things are filling me, leaving no room for thoughts of Jesus, just like my preschoolers who drink so much juice that they aren’t the least bit interested in solid healthy food.Two babies drinking milk from bottles

In 1 Peter 2:2(NIV), Peter urges:

    “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…”

Other translations say “desire the pure milk of the Word.”

Am I desiring the things of God? Am I seeking to be filled with Him?

While there aren’t any shortcuts to being filled with the things of God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, with other Christians, and in worship are critical.

So for today, I’ll make it my goal to drink just a little less juice and a little more of that pure spiritual milk.

Am I following God, rather than trying to lead Him? My cat isn't good at following me! - S. J. Little

How well am I following Jesus?

Meet My Cat  

I have a cat named Midnight. He is quite the character and has become very social.

My cat looking to the left. - S. J. LittleWhen he was younger, we had his brother as well. Midnight would always let his brother do the talking. I remember watching my siblings try to coax even the tiniest mew out of him with little success. In the years since his brother passed away, however, Midnight has found his voice. Now he often shares his opinions loudly, though at times he merely squeaks.

It’s funny how cats have their own personalities. If you’re a cat lover, you may understand. Midnight’s favourite human food to beg for is the milk left after cereal. His brother, however, was far more interested in ice cream. When Midnight begs for a bowl, he’ll sit a distance away with his back towards the person. As they reach halfway through their meal, he might move a little closer and peek at the person. Only once the spoon is scraping the bottom of the bowl, will he sit at the person’s feet peering up at them. His brother was the opposite. He would boldly sit by the person, staring at them as they ate. With his old age, Midnight is beginning to pick up some of his brother’s boldness.

My cat rings a bell when he wants more canned food. That way it doesn't dry out when he isn't hungry - S. J. Little
Midnight ringing the bell for food.


Midnight is also a very smart cat. He’s learned to open doors. At one point, we had to devise a lock for the cat food closet so he and his brother wouldn’t break in. We’ve trained him to ring a bell when he wants canned food, and I’ve taught him to find some place other than my keyboard to lay down when he wants to cuddle but I’m busy on my computer. Yes, he is a smart cat… most of the time.

He’s Not Good at Following

The one thing he has never seemed to learn is how to follow well.

It has happened often that, when I head down the hallway, he gets excited and wants to come along. I start down the hallway at a decent clip, and he hurries just ahead of me, as though trying to lead me. As I turn to enter a room, I trip over him, because there he is, right where I was planning to step.

It gets worse. Sometimes he will zig zag directly in front of my feet! Not only that, but, looking from above, his coat appears entirely black – not a helpful thing in a dark hallway at night.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve accidentally kicked him because he dodged directly into my path. That’s not including the times I’ve managed to avoid him by stumbling and almost falling myself.

What a silly cat. He’s so eager to go with me, and even lead me, but doesn’t know where I’m going. How can he lead when he doesn’t know the direction? He could have saved himself many a bump if only he’d learned to follow.

Following God

Following – that’s what God calls us to do. We are to follow Him.

As you read through the Gospels you’ll quickly see that Jesus often called people to follow Him. Most times there is no record of Jesus telling them where He would lead them, or what their life would look like, but the call to follow is there.

How to Not Follow God Well – Like My Cat

Did you know there are examples of people in the Bible who tried to get ahead of God when it felt as though He was taking too long? 

Abraham and his son Ishmael are a blatant example of this. God had promised that Abraham would have countless descendants, but many years passed without Abraham having a single child. Abraham and his wife Sarah were old. They decided that rather than waiting for God any longer, they would help Him out by taking matters into their own hands. Abraham took Sarah’s maid as his wife and had Ishmael by her. That was not following God’s plan, and later their actions led to trouble in their family. You can read the story for yourself in Genesis, especially chapters 16-17, 21. My black and white cat sitting on an orange chair. How well are you doing at following God? - S. J. Little

Another way to not follow God is to run in the opposite direction as Jonah did. That never turns out well in the end! (Jonah 1)

Am I trying to get out ahead of God, or running in the opposite direction, instead of following Him?

Thoughts About Following God

So much could be said about following God, but this is just one blog post. There’s no way I can fit it all in! I’ll try to stay brief. 

Throughout the entire Bible, we see God leading people. Sometimes His leading made sense to those following, but there are also many times when it made no sense at all! Take Jericho for example, or Naaman. (Joshua 6; 2 Kings 5)

Sometimes following God means waiting, such as in Acts 1:4, when they waited for Pentecost. However, waiting doesn’t mean sitting idly. In Acts 1:14-26, they spent the time praying and they chose a man to replace Judas. They were doing what needed to be done, while seeking and waiting for God. I’ve long loved Psalm 37:34: “Wait for the Lord and keep His way…” Yes, we must wait for God, and that time of waiting often includes going about our daily lives in a way that is honouring to God.

Are You Following God?

My cat trying to help me study the Bible. - S. J. Little
Midnight trying to help me study the Bible.

I wish I had some concrete formula for discerning whether or not I am following God well. If I had such a formula I would gladly share it with you, but I don’t.

Following God can look very different in different people’s lives. Even in one person’s life, following God may appear very different in each season.

What I can say is keep seeking after Jesus. Read the Bible often, spend time in prayer, and be in fellowship with others who know Jesus deeply. Then He will guide you, and if you’re not following Him, He will reveal that to you and help you change course. Sometimes His leading will be loud and unmissable, but other times it may be a quiet door opening that, after prayer and consideration, seems good to step through.

Final Thought

Let me leave you with a likely familiar verse from the Bible.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not rely on your own understanding;

in all your ways know Him,

and He will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Are you following God today?