When a Little Goes a Long Way

This Christmas, do you believe that God can use your gift—no matter the size—in miraculous ways?

God loves our insufficiency.

More specifically, he is deeply gladdened when we lay our woeful insufficiencies at his feet.

Missionaries know this all too well.

As the editor of Message Magazine, I have the privilege of writing the testimonies of our onboarding missionaries. Their journeys to the mission field often include a period of doubting. Their exact wording varies—“I’m not good enough,” “I feel unworthy,” or “I’m just not ready”—but the underlying theme of insufficiency remains the common denominator.

Surprisingly, they’re correct—in two ways. First, as sinners, none of us are worthy to act as the Lord’s hands and feet in sharing the redeeming message of the gospel. But through faith in Jesus Christ, we are enlisted as his ambassadors.

Missionaries, and all believers, are right in a second sense as well. Individually, our lives of service aren’t enough to accomplish the Great Commission.

Despite the magnitude of such an undertaking, Christians go to the mission field, send laborers, give abundantly, and pursue various ministry roles. Why? Because we serve a sovereign God who is in the business of using our dismal efforts and finite lives for his glory.

Zooming out from missions in particular, Christians must acknowledge our total dependence on God in every aspect of our lives. What we lack, he is able to make up for: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Let’s examine three individuals in Scripture worth emulating, for they surrendered what they had to the Lord—which was usually very little—and left the results up to him.

The Widow and Her Two Coins

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).

This well-known passage drops us into a scene of Jesus and his disciples observing an offertory. Religious men are flaunting their wealth, heaping pounds of serious cash onto the offering plate in a blatant display of egotism.

Then, a poor widow shuffles down the aisle. She proffers up a pair of copper coins, carefully dropping her gift into the temple treasury.

Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them that he regards the widow’s meager sum as greater than the religious elites’ donations because she sacrificed out of discomfort and poverty. He uses this incident to illustrate that the quality of one’s generosity matters more than the quantity. God is more concerned with the posture of the giver’s heart than the amount that is given.

The Prostitute Who Interrupted Dinner

In ancient times, prostitutes were considered the dregs of society for two reasons: (1) Their occupation was viewed as shameful, and (2) prostitutes were unmarried, meaning they lacked social and legal standing.

Naturally, a prostitute would have had little in common with Jesus. Yet a passage in Luke illustrates how a harlot understood what Jesus represented better than an educated Pharisee named Simon.

Simon has invited Jesus into his home to recline, dine, and chat theology. While they are eating and conversing, a prostitute enters the room, which presumably was accessible by the public, and begins washing Jesus’ feet. The scene appalls Simon. He is baffled that Jesus would allow such a miserable wretch to touch him. After Jesus responds with a parable, he continues:

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7: 44-48).

Due to his high opinion of himself, Simon had thought it unnecessary to show the basic customs of hospitality to a person of lower social standing like Jesus. However, compared to Simon, the woman had nothing to offer Jesus: no food, no home to invite him into, no money to give him, no religious clout to back Jesus’ ministry with. All she could do was throw herself at her Savior’s feet, anoint them with oil, and weep.

Yet Jesus viewed her actions as more genuine and sacrificial than anything Simon had done. The Pharisee’s pride blinded him to the depths of his own sinfulness, causing him to think that since he had erred less, he had less reason to seek forgiveness.

The woman’s act of repentance, although seemingly small and insignificant, resulted in so much more than she could have ever imagined—the forgiveness and praise of the Messiah.

The Boy and His Lunch

A massive crowd has followed Jesus, eager to listen to his now famous preaching. The location of the gathering is remote and distant from any of the nearby villages and towns. As the day drags on, Jesus tasks his disciples with greatest logistical nightmare the men had probably ever encountered: feeding 5,000 men, plus their wives and children.

Understandably, the disciples protest, declaring that even half a year’s wages would barely afford to give each person a single bite of bread, let alone an entire meal. They suggest that Jesus send the crowd away to buy food for themselves.

Amidst the arguing, Andrew voices that he has found a boy who carries a lunch of five barley loaves and two fish. “But how far will they go among so many?” he reasons.

Unfazed, Jesus tells the disciples to have everyone to sit down. Then he goes around distributing bread and fish from a basket with a seemingly never-depleting food source. Each person ate until they were full.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten (John 6:12-13).

Could Jesus have produced sustenance from thin air? Yes. But instead, God chooses a boy and his lunch to perform one of the best-known miracles in Jesus’ lifetime. And as small as role the boy played, he ended up making all of the difference.

Like the disciples, we are quick to depend on our own understanding instead of trusting in God’s provision. Too often in our strivings, we leave little room for God to move and do his bidding. Sometimes, the best course of action is to assume a childlike faith, give God our “small lunch,” and trust that he is capable to multiply our insufficient contributions.

Christians, don’t be deceived into thinking your one gift won’t affect the grand scheme of things. The Bible emphasizes that our Lord notices, cares, and blesses even the smallest acts of generosity and humility.

If you are fortunate enough, perhaps like the boy you’ll see the full impact of your gift unfold before your eyes. But oftentimes in giving, like the widow, you won’t discover the fruit of your faithfulness this side of eternity.

So, what little can you give this Christmas? Whatever the amount, know that God is sovereign to do immeasurably more with it.

As you plan to give this Christmas, consider a gift to the Global Gospel Fund, which allows ABWE to serve 1,000 missionaries with vital ministry resources, leadership, planning, care, and counseling, through a team of more than 70 experts—who also know them by name, and are praying for them.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 21, 2020.