A Little At A Time

I use a water pic. I’m not trying to sell you on a water pic, but I find it very useful in maintaining clean teeth, which I am seriously committed to because I don’t want to lose my teeth. A waterpik can get where a toothbrush and floss and proxy brushes and go betweens can’t go. For me it’s the final step in every good tooth cleaning.

I have had this particular water pic for probably 2 years, and use it daily, sometimes twice a day. I’ve given it some cursory cleaning, thinking nothing about it should be really dirty. But I decided the other day that it could use a really good cleaning.

So rounding up a couple of small brushes, a bowl of warm soapy water, a pipe cleaner, a few cotton swabs, a couple of sponges, and some dry cloths, I set to work.

A half hour and at least 30 corners and ledges later I added a paring knife to my list of tools, and was still at it. I would never have believed the simple device could have so many corners, grooves, and openings where water circulates. And all the while I was scrubbing at this or scraping at that, I was thinking, what a life lesson!

How things change, up or down, a little at a time. No one use made that water pic need cleaning. But being used day after day, day after day, the water deposit built up to a point where removing it was a project!

Just as it built up a little at a time, it had to come off a little at a time. Many motions were needed to get it back to pristine clean.

Isn’t it a parable of life? So many things are done a little at a time, either to clean or to contaminate. Little by little is the story of life.

It is the subject of a short poem printed in the Megiddo Message years ago. It is called Progress.

Step by step we climb the mountain,

Inch by inch the oak tree grows;

Back and forth with tireless motion

Grand old ocean ebbs and flows,

Making each year some small changes

In the coastline, on the rocks;

While they stand in pose defiant

Guarding us from breakers’ shocks.

Straw by straw a nest is builded,

Brick by brick a house is made;

Day by day with constant effort,

Scholars climb to higher grade.

Be not downcast, Christian worker

If it seems so slow you grow;

Keep right at it, every moment,

And the years will progress show.

Remember the method of Bible study that is “here a little,” and “there a little”? What is the text?

Isaiah 28:10  10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.”

Reading through the Bible is not the way to understand it. Surface reading will not succeed. We are much better advised to listen to our teachers, study by subject and compare, here a little, there a little.

Then the next step is to APPLY what we learn, again little by little. Little things? Paul speaks about the example he and his brethren set for the new brothers and sisters in the faith. They needed to be applying what they had observed right away, even before they had learned it all. He says:

Philippians 4:9  9The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do [practice], and the God of peace will be with you.

In other words, Paul says, start practicing what you have learned, or received or heard or seen in me, and God will be with you.

It is all a little at a time. We don’t play an instrument when we first sit down to it. We don’t use a new program on the computer without some method of study and practice, a little at a time.

A child starts school, but doesn’t come home reading after the first week. It is all little by little, a little at a time.

Hebrews tells us how to get rid of the sins that beset us. How do we do it? One by one we must lay them aside, a little at a time. How do we get strong to run a race?

Hebrews 12:1  1Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The process is laying them aside, one weight at a time, getting stronger as we go, because:

Job 17:9  9…the righteous will hold to his way, And he who has clean hands will be stronger and stronger.

It is the same process Peter outlined with a whole list of additions. “Add” suggests that it must go on over a period of time. The word translated “add” suggests providing nourishment, and this is a little at a time. We don’t get nourishment for the week in one meal. We need an ongoing supply.

Peter says, as worded in the New Jerusalem Bible,

2 Peter 1:5–7 (NJB) 5With this in view, do your utmost to support your faith with goodness, goodness with understanding, 6understanding with self-control, self-control with perseverance, perseverance with devotion, 7devotion with kindness to the brothers, and kindness to the brothers with love.

Think about those virtues to be added—built up—little by little:

faith, goodness, understanding,

self-control, perseverance, devotion,

kindness, love.

Add these, and keep adding little by little, and what a change in our everyday lives.

Peter said it in his first Epistle also:

1 Peter 2:1–2  1Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,

We lay them aside as the opportunity comes up. There has to be a TEST, a situation, a temptation, where we WOULD naturally go for the malice, or the deceit, or the envy, etc, where we CHOOSE to lay it aside. It is again little by little, but keeping at it all the way to the end.

And what a victory when we are able to do it!

Paul has a similar comment about a growing love, yet more and more, little by little.

Philippians 1:9–11  9And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,

This would be Paul’s prayer for his brethren.

10that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Being “filled with fruits of righteousness”? Fruit takes time to GROW, little by little.

The result of little by little here is ABOUNDING “more and more.” Paul prays that their love may abound “still more and more,” even when it is already great. Their love should abound in knowledge. What kind of knowledge might this be? Could it be in knowledge of ourselves, as we see where we lack and need to change? This is the result of APPLYING God’s law in our lives, because…

The next virtue we must abound in is “discernment.” What is discernment?

perception, not only by the senses but also by the intellect; cognition, discernment; – Thayer’s Lexicon

have capacity to understand, have insight, have sapient knowledge – DBL

Discernment is understanding, insight into the little by little perceptions,  those little choices we make all the time as we learn to choose between evil and good, or better and BEST.

Hebrews 5:14 14But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

It is the learning process, like we persist when trying to get our cleaning brush into all those little corners, cracks and crevices. That is why David prayed to the Lord,

Psalm 51:1–2  1Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.

David prayed, “Wash me thoroughly”—that means more than a quick rinse. He prays, “keep at it, Lord, until I’m really CLEAN.”

Scrub, scrub and keep on scrubbing.

Psalm 51:6–7 6Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. 7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Paul wrote the same to the Thessalonians, about the same more and more principle.

1 Thessalonians 4:1  1Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;

There is tension here as the time goes by, to keep increasing the effort. It isn’t a short, quick process but more and more. Paul says “we urge and exhort.”

Nor is it casual. This is the great WHY underneath our effort at spiritual growth that comes with our concern for being ready with the approaching Day of the Lord. How can we do it? How do we make it happen? Hebrews has the answer:

Hebrews 10:24–25  24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Our method of stirring one another up to “love and good works” may be unique today—on line—but let us make the very most of it, to keep our thoughts fixed on getting ready because:

Zephaniah 1:14 (REB) 14The great day of the Lord is near, near and coming fast; no runner is so swift as that day, no warrior so fleet.