In That Which Is Least
by J. R. Miller, 1912
One of the secrets of a full and rich life, is in being always watchful of the little things. We could accomplish marvels in the quarter-hours we are wasting. We hear of men who have learned a foreign language at their dressing-bureaus; or have read volumes in the minutes they have had to wait in reception rooms of friends they were calling upon. Notable achievements in the way of study and research have been made by men with only minutes of leisure, little interstices of time between their absorbing occupation in great tasks. There have been men with feeble health, who could work only in little quarter hours, who have achieved amazing results in a short lifetime, or men with poor eyes, who could read only a few minutes at a time—but who have amassed great stores of knowledge and attained distinction, even eminence, in years of masterful diligence.
The way we use the fragments of our time, what we do with the moments, determine largely what we will make ourselves in the end. Hurry is a dreadful waste of time. A great surgeon said to his assistants when he was beginning a serious operation, "Do not be in a hurry, gentlemen; we have no time to lose." We never can do our work with celerity, and we never can do it well, if we hurry. We must have full possession of all our powers if we would do our best. "He who believes," wrote the great prophet, "shall not be in haste."
Most people employ but a fragment of the capacity of their life, and then allow great measures of capacity to lie undeveloped, and in the end to atrophy. A volume could be filled with a description of a human hand, its wonderful structure, and the things it can be trained to do. Yet how many hands ever reach the limit of their possible achievements? Think of the powers folded up in a human brain and of the little of all these powers most of us ever bring out in life. Now and then a man starts in ignorance and poverty and reaches a greatness in ability and in achievement which amazes the world. Doubtless thousands and thousands who never attain anything beyond mediocrity have just as great natural capacity—but the splendid powers of their life are allowed to run to waste. They are lacking in energy and do only a little of what they might do.
In Christian life and character, the same is true. Jesus came to give his disciples not life merely—but abundant life. We know what he did with his first disciples, what wonderful men he made of them and what they did with their lives. Is there any reason to think that these men were capable of greater things, than the men whom the Master is calling in these days? They were not beings of a different order from the mass of men; the difference was in the way they used their gifts. Not a particle of power in them was allowed to waste.
There is capacity enough in every little company of Christian people, to transform the community in which they live, into a garden of the Lord. It is to such consecration that we are called. We are letting our powers and abilities run to waste, instead of training them and using them to bless the world. We are not making the most of ourselves.
There is a great waste of power also, in our failure to appreciate our opportunities. "If I only had the gifts that this man has I would do the large and beautiful things that he does. But I never have the chance of doing such things. Nothing ever comes to my hand, but opportunities for little commonplace things." Now, the truth is—that nothing is commonplace. The giving of a cup of cold water is one of the smallest kindnesses any one can show to another—yet Jesus said that God takes notice of this act amid all the events of the whole world, any busy day, and rewards it. It may not be cabled half way around the world and announced with great headlines in the newspapers—but it is noticed in heaven.
We do not begin to understand what great waste we are allowing, when we fail to put the true value on little opportunities of serving others. Somehow we get the feeling that any cross-bearing worth while, must be a costly sacrifice, something that puts nails through our hands, something that hurts until we bleed. If we had an opportunity to do something heroic, we say we would do it. But when it is only a chance to be kind to a neighbor, to call at his house when he is in trouble, to sit up with him at night when he is sick, or to do something for a child—we never think for a moment that such little things are the Christlike deeds, which God wants us to do, and so we pass them by, and there is a great blank in our lives where holy service ought to be.
When the great miracle of the loaves had been wrought, Jesus sent his disciples to gather up the broken pieces, "that nothing be lost." The Master is continually giving us the same command. Every hour's talk we have with a friend, leaves fragments that we ought to gather up and keep to feed our heart's hunger or the hunger of others' hearts, as we go on. When we hear good words spoken, or read a good book, we should gather up the fragments of knowledge, the suggestions of helpful thoughts, the broken pieces, and fix them in our hearts for use in our lives. We allow large volumes of the good things we hear or read, to turn to waste continually, because we are poor listeners or do not try to keep what we hear. We let the broken pieces be lost and thereby are great losers. If only we would gather up and keep all the good things that come to us through conversations and through reading, we would soon have great treasures of knowledge and wisdom.