When I was a child, I used to love to get phone calls from my grandmother. We lived far away from her, so those rare phone calls were precious to us. We loved hearing advice, encouragement and many suggestions—from how to get along with siblings to how to cook our favorite meal. Our Nana’s influence in our lives was significant. But while those phone calls were precious to us, nothing was more life-altering than a long visit from Nana. When Nana came to stay with us, everything changed in our household. Playtime and storytime were fascinating with Nana in our home. Meal times were more consistent, and the menu was vastly improved. Our bedtime was later than was normal because Nana told longer (and better) bedtime stories. Whenever Nana stepped into our home, life as a whole was vastly improved. 

Whenever Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, it’s important to note that He often used small things to describe how the Kingdom of God was making a difference in the world. Jesus used stories about grains of salt, tiny seeds and dust-like yeast to talk about the power of the Kingdom He came to set up. I believe He did this to show the power of small things to make a big difference in the world. One such story He told was about the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Have you ever stopped to wonder why Jesus used a shrub-like tree to symbolize the Kingdom of God rather than the mighty cedar or the strong sycamore tree, both of which can measure trunk diameters from 5-8 feet and stretch up into heights of more than 100 feet? Instead, Jesus asked us to consider a smaller plant that is fast-growing and spreads more like a weed, persistently invading as much ground as it can. 

It is not the institutional aspect of our church that will make a difference in a people’s lives.

In the book To Alter Your World, the authors discuss the potential impact Christians can have on society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They point out that, in order to make a difference in any system, we need to enter it fully. In fact, “We cannot help but alter any system we genuinely enter.” The trick is to remember that it takes people, forming authentic relationships with people all around us, to effect change in the world. It is not the institutional aspect of our church that will make a difference in a people’s lives, it is mine and your personal influence that will shape a life for Jesus. It takes great intentionality to enter into our work, our school and our neighborhood seeking to form relationships with the persistence of a mustard seed. 

A. W. Milne was a Protestant missionary who was intentional about being a mustard seed. More than a hundred years ago, he set sail for the South Pacific knowing well that the headhunters who lived there had martyred every missionary who had entered their village. For 45 years, he moved in to live among the tribe with a compelling love for them. By the time he died, he had vastly improved their lives so much so that the tribe buried him right in the middle of their village and inscribed his tomb with the following epitaph:

When he can there was no light.

When he left there was no darkness.

Blessings to you as you seek to follow Christ’s example to intentionally and relationally enter into people’s lives to bless and to serve them until there is no more darkness by the power of Jesus’s name.