We all love inspirational stories of leadership breakthroughs. But where do those breakthroughs originate? In his new book, Dream Big, Think Small, Jeff Manion (GLS 2010) explores the under-valued virtue of long-term faithfulness. Here’s an excerpt:
A while back, my wife, Chris and I visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, just outside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. There, on December 17, 1903, the two brothers made history. The Wright brothers are celebrated as being the first human beings to achieve controlled flight.
But explore David McCullough’s book The Wright Brothers, and you realize the agonizingly slow business of getting that plane off the ground. It took years of tinkering, designing, experimenting, failing, adjusting and trying again. Their work was so tedious that the residents of Dayton, Ohio—where many of their experimental flights occurred—were largely blind to the fact that history was being made just outside their town. If you had journeyed into the countryside to observe the phenomenon, you might have witnessed nothing more than two men tinkering with various airplane parts for weeks on end. There was nothing much to see. Airborne moments were rare.
Years later, Orville and Wilber’s own nephew reflected, “History was happening in those moments, there in their shop and in their home, but I didn’t realize it at the time because it seemed so commonplace.”
There it is. The invention that has, perhaps more than any other, shaped the last hundred years of human history. And the term to describe the achievement? Commonplace. It is human nature to celebrate the astounding breakthrough rather than the repetitive, tedious work that leads to the breakthrough.
I once heard Pastor Craig Groeschel address a generation of young leaders. He observed, “You’ll likely overestimate what you can do in the short run, but underestimate what you can do in a lifetime of faithfulness.”
Most of us are not attempting to unlock the mysteries of flight. We lead families, companies, churches and schools. We serve as nurses, coaches, sales reps, parents and youth pastors. It is common to grow weary, bored or even disillusioned as we pour ourselves into the people around us. But when big dreams are finally realized, it is through the steady devotion of bringing ourselves, again and again, day after day, year after year to the little stuff. Success in the large things requires deep, abiding commitment to the small things.
I reflect on the gracious marriage built on the routine habit of swiftly apologizing when a minor wound has been inflicted. Or the exceptional hotel where every interaction with an employee ends with, “Is there any other way I can serve you?” I marvel when a lower-middle-class family builds a solid financial life through saving a bit of money from every single paycheck—for years. And I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when I discover this same family lives with radical generosity, giving away money from every single paycheck.
These are small things, really—saying “I’m sorry,” offering to serve, disciplined saving and giving. But over time, these small things accumulate to produce great marriages, great companies and great lives.
I’ve written these words to encourage you to remain diligent in the small things.
Your work matters. Your life matters. I encourage you to build an extraordinary life—a day at a time.
Big dreams must be anchored in small, life-giving habits.
This is why I challenge you to dream big, but think small.Taken from Dream Big, Think Small by Jeff Manion. The book offers a six-week reading plan and exercises to help readers build the practices of long-term faithfulness. Copyright 2017 by Jeff Manion. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
Jeff Manion (GLS 2010) is the senior pastor of multi-campus Ada Bible Church (adabible.org) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he has served for over thirty years. He is the author of The Land Between, Satisfied and his most recent book, Dream Big, Think Small. His great joy is digging deeply into Scripture and passionately teaching the story of the Bible in a clear and relevant way. Jeff enjoys running, cycling and hiking. He and his wife, Chris, have three adult children and are proud grandparents. You can find him on Facebook here.