Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Small Things

by Sarah Portell

I recently had the joy of giving birth to our first baby, so naturally every thought in my mind these days revolves around her.  Is she hungry? Is she gaining enough weight? Does she have gas or need to burp? Why won’t she settle?  However, in the first days when everything was so new, I often looked down at her while I was nursing and marveled at how small she was.  Even after 6 weeks, which now seem like an eternity of sleepless nights and a flash of memories, she still seems so small.  Yet, I know that she is growing, and I get unreasonably excited every time she eats a good meal and follows it up with a pee and a poop.

Looking at her small, helpless body reminds me of thoughts I had before she was born about our language training center.  It started so small.  It still is small. We get excited when there are milestones reached like more students coming to register or getting an award.  Our center may be unknown, in an insignificant town, in a remote corner of the world, but what starts out influential and significant from the get-go?  Impact doesn’t happen in an instant in teaching, in growing a business, or in developing a new idea.  It starts small and grows from there.

The Master Teacher knew this well. He started as a helpless baby born to poverty-stricken parents in an occupied land.  He started teaching to a group of seemingly insignificant people: fishermen, farmers, tax collectors, prostitutes. He knew that even the work of the Father in the world starts out small. He spoke to his disciples saying, ““The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”[1]

Earlier in history, when Solomon’s magnificent temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the people of Israel returned from exile to rebuild it, they were discouraged because it paled in comparison to the former temple.  The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.”[2]

So it is with teaching and learning.  No one starts with calculus when they begin learning mathematics.  No English teacher starts with Shakespeare when teaching beginners.  As teachers we invest in students step by step, like a seed growing year by year, or a newborn gaining ounce by ounce.  As language learners, or initiators of new ideas, or children, we all start at a place that appears insignificant, but who knows where it may lead? “Do not despise.” When we see the fruit of our work, and in our own estimation it seems lacking, “do not despise.” That means appreciate, celebrate, and even savor the smallness, knowing that with time, diligence, and grace, it may grow to be something bigger than you expected. We follow a Leader who said this to his people:  “Look at the nations and watch– and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”[3]


[1]Matthew 13:31-32, New International Version

[2]Zechariah 4:10, New Living Translation

[3]Habakkuk 1:5, New International Version

Further reading

  • Matthew 13
  • Zechariah 4

What’s your perspective?

  • What is something in your life which has grown beyond what you expected?
  • What is something that looks so small and insignificant that you are tempted to get discouraged
  • How do the Scripture verses mentioned inform your faith about the character of the One we serve?

Post Author

4f09e-smallthingssarahportellSarah Portell is currently in Canada on maternity leave but usually lives in Western Mongolia about as far from any ocean as possible in the world.  She and her husband own a language training center called “NovaLingua” which they started in 2011.  NovaLingua offers English classes to local adults and children, and Kazakh and Mongolian classes for foreigners.  Sarah has it on her heart to “rejoice to see the work begin.”


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This entry was posted on August 13, 2014 by in purpose, Sarah Portell, teaching as small things.

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