Make The Big Picture Clear By Attending To The Little Picture


Conversion of St. Paul
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Dayton OH
Photo by Russell Smith

“Sit on a mountain – chew on a reed.  Wait on the Lord.”  That was Ed Christman’s advice.   I was a recent college graduate, still trying to sort out what I was going to do with my life.  Ed was the Chaplain at Wake Forest University.   He was a venerable figure, thin framed, stooped in the shoulders, his long white hair and bushy eyebrows framing a kindly face.  Though he looked frail, he had a voice the boomed like thunder from on Sinai and bluntness uncharacteristic to his North Carolina roots. 

At the time, I was baffled by his advice.   More navel gazing?   Hadn’t I been doing that for much of my college career?  My time for introspection was done, it was time for action.  And yet, the course of action was still unclear.  Honestly, I was a little frustrated by the lack of clarity in his advice.

I understand his words differently now.  It was not a call to inaction, but rather a call to fully invest in what I’m doing in the present – to treat the present as my vocation while I wait for the Lord to make the future path clear.   My problem was that I had my eyes fixed so firmly on the imagined splendor of the future that I had a hard time enjoying God’s subtle grace in the present.    I worried so much about the big calling on my life that I was deaf to the little calling on my hours and days. 

Now don’t get me wrong, of course we’re to look to the future; of course we’re supposed to plan and consider – but this planning is preparatory, not primary.   We shouldn’t use planning as an escape hatch from the present.  Rather it is a process of mental housecleaning so we can attend to the present.  We plan so that we can focus on our calling.   “…anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.   Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?”  (Luke 14:27-28).  Jesus uses the analogy of planning to build a tower to help us understand the life of discipleship.  It requires real commitment and planning.   But at root, it’s about picking up the cross in the moment and carrying it.

God has a vocation for each of us.   His design is that we glorify Him through the wise use of the gifts and talents he has wired within us.   That vocation is all encompassing.   If we have a lack of clarity on the big picture, then we should attend to the little picture, trusting that the big picture will become clear.  What is it to take up our cross and follow Christ in the context of our marriages?  Our relationships with our neighbors?  The person in line in front of us at the store or the bank?   What is it to take up our cross with the person serves our supper at the restaurant or the grocery clerk or the person in the pew next to us?   

Jesus put it this way:  “So do not worry, saying ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:31-33).

May our anxieties, worries and troubles drive us to the cross to seek His grace.   When we go to him in faith and trust, he pours out his grace so that we can more clearly discern his calling in the moment.  I’m praying day by that my ears may be open to hearing Christ’s call on my life in this present hour – that I might see Christ’s glories in this present place.   I’m beginning to learn more of what it is to wait on the Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria


This article originally published in the May 2012 Covenant Courier

3 thoughts on “Make The Big Picture Clear By Attending To The Little Picture

  1. Even at my age (God isn’t finished with me yet!), I find your words speaking to my heart: Treat the present as your vocation while you wait for the Lord to make the future path clear. Attend to the little picture and trust that the big picture will become clear. Seek first God’s kingdom in the ordinary moments of life; take note of Christ’s glories in the present place.

    Encouraging truth, Russell. Thank you!

  2. I like what Nancy said, “treat the present as your vocation.” I find that I miss a lot of great opportunities when I’m looking for something else.

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