mustard seed faith

With the arrival of the New Year, I’ve been thinking about core practices, central attitudes, and the tao of baby steps. In honor of that, I’m bringing you a series on foundational practices called First Things. Happy New Year.


I’ve never heard a sermon on baby steps. Jesus doesn’t mention the phrase; neither does Paul. I searched Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” for “baby steps”. No dice. In fact, if I’m realistic, the genre most associated with baby steps is more self-help than faith.

Can I be honest? That has been giving me pause. I’d hope Jesus is influencing my life more than pop culture. I’m fine with learning from contemporary, secular sources, but Jesus should probably be my lodestone.

I didn’t start taking baby steps in my faith on purpose. I was more interested in transforming how I thought about creativity and parenting. But taking baby steps transformed my faith most dramatically. By far.

This surprised me.

So it makes me wonder, again: are baby steps Biblical? Is there something spiritual in taking little steps forward? Because if taking baby steps spins my faith around 360 degrees, I suspect the answer is yes.

And once I started looking, I realized even if you don’t find the words “baby steps” next to each other in the book of Luke, the idea of small things being used for great purpose is central to the way of Jesus.

So I’m pleased to bring you six themes in the Bible that lead me to a little yes.

  • A tiny amount is incredibly important. The mustard seed blooms into a giant garden plant, the yeast works its subversive power throughout the dough. The widow’s mite is an offering beyond that of princes.
  • The weak are made strong. Blessed are the meek. Become like a little child, a slave, a piece of clay. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. And Jesus is born a helpless baby in a backwater town.
  • God encourages a small offering instead of a grand gesture. The manna falls each day and cannot be stored up. We ask for our daily bread. We offer the merest drink of water to someone thirsty to do the work of God.
  • We are to be instead of do. Jesus speaks of an easy yoke. We are told to abide in him, like a branch grafted into a vine. We are filled with the Holy Spirit–who gives us the words we need, and even prays when we’re incapable.
  • We matter, however humble we are. The one lost coin is found, the one lost sheep is sought after. The father flings open the door for his wayward son and prepares a fatted calf.
  • Our resources aren’t enough, yet God invites us to offer them anyway. Jesus feeds the multitude with the lunch scraps of a little boy. He anoints bumbling, egocentric disciples to feed his sheep. God uses stuttering Moses, diminutive, sinful David, and Deborah, the improbable warrior to lead his people.

I think what’s powerful about baby steps is that they remind us to be humble. Each baby step forces me to be honest with myself about how feeble my own efforts are. They help me be realistic about how hard it is to persevere, be brave, and be intentional.

But most importantly, thinking about my life as a series of baby steps makes me remember that the Person doing the real work isn’t me. Over and over, the merest intention is transformed into something astonishingly beyond me. Being obedient to a call in the smallest of ways is enough to marshall the infinite resources of God.

Living my life one little yes at a time opens my eyes to the Lord’s amazing, munificent grace.

This New Year, I’m encouraged to know that I serve a God who works through real, broken, and weak people. He does the unthinkable: he invites us to join him, no matter where we are. He is ready to take whatever poor offering we bring, and use it to his glory.

Want to say a little yes to joyful faith today? Check out my e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-perfectionist faith in five easy verbs. It’s free for subscribers. 

Image credit: sandover

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  • Ilja DeYoung

    So true. Big steps somehow seem easier. Probably because I take those in areas where I am confident. But the baby steps of trust, of letting go, of faith scream out to me how much I need the grace of God, His power and His leading to even take that one small baby step.

    • Heather

      I love this insight, Ilja–that we try big steps because we’re depending to much on our self-confidence. I was just thinking today that the parts of my life that are giving me most joy are areas where I’m kinda in over my head. The ONLY thing I can do is go slowly and pray a lot, because I’m so out of my depth.