COLUMN: Modest means but big power

Published 9:00 am Monday, June 10, 2024

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One day at our house, I came in the door and noticed a trail of cat toys leading down the hallway toward the bedrooms. You’d need to know that one of our cats, humorously named Catniss, is our native hunter. Her rather sturdily-built brother rarely shows any interest in the vast variety of toys they have scattered about. 

You know, little stuffed toys that resemble mice. Others of them look like fish. But Catniss, the sleek little female? She’s constantly stalking these small toys and moving them about the house after she catches them. 

That day, the trail of fairly evenly spaced toys were in a perfectly straight line, starting in the entry foyer and leading right down the middle of the hallway. Probably a good six or eight of them. 

Then, outside one bedroom door, sure enough the straight trail arched toward the entry. It was like she was getting our attention out in the foyer but then wanted us to go down the hall and through that door. 

Now being that she’s the smartest animal we’ve ever had as a pet, I’ll be honest with you. I was a little afraid to step in. I didn’t know what she had waiting for me inside there. 

Of course, I left it all in place for Elizabeth to see later. We have laughed and laughed about that day. Sometimes, Catniss will gather all her fish toys in one place. Other times, it’ll be all the mice that she gathers.

Other times she’ll organize them by color, which really freaks us out. We don’t know what she’s actually intending to do. But we suspect she does. The creativity and purpose built into nature is fascinating. 

Not the least of nature’s fascination comes from small animals who can perform amazing feats. I’m not always sure what some animals’ purpose is, but they can be fun to watch. 

For the curious, it is not the ant but rather the beetle that is the strongest creature in nature pound-for-pound. Depending on the type, a beetle can lift between 850 to 1100 times its body weight. Just to understand, I read that if the average human could lift only 850 times their body weight– that would be the equivalent of lifting 65 tons. When you put it that way, it sounds a little more impressive. 

Sometimes, modest means can bring big power. That’s exactly the way God operates within the kingdom of heaven. It’s possible that the apostle Paul could have been forgiven if occasionally he boasted about the accomplishments he and his fellow missionaries had achieved, as he writes in 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12. 

When you step back and look at all these missionaries did across Europe and the Middle East, isn’t it a remarkable contribution they made? But here in 2 Corinthians, Paul was having none of that. He made it clear that only God’s power could account for all that had happened up to that point.

He says that this treasure, referring to the good news about Jesus, is carried now in clay jars. That’s you and me. It is God’s power that he and his fellow missionaries talk about. 

I wonder if you’ve ever taken a similar mental, emotional, or spiritual journey to the one we hear Paul take in our scripture today? This is the voice of one who has been humbled by life and has emerged on the other side with a clear understanding of who he is. 

Earthenware vessels were not the very best. They were not spectacular on their own. One would not have transported one’s most valued treasures normally in these fragile jars.

So while you and I have grown accustomed to hearing these very words in 2 Corinthians, they would have piqued the attention of Paul’s first-century audience because they wouldn’t have made much sense.

Paul wanted to be sure that his listeners heard him saying that the amazing and powerful things that they did were of God’s power and not their own. They themselves were simply the unlikely, humble, and fragile containers into which God had chosen to pour unequaled treasure.

If we look at the Bible as one story, then don’t we notice that an ongoing theme is this notion of small-to-large? Jesus constantly told stories that illustrated how God could take something as small as a mustard seed, just to name one, and make it far larger. So it is with us.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.