Two sentences from Richard Powers’s masterful novel The Overstory have echoed in my thoughts of late: “Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.”

We live in a season of spectacular crashes. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to COVID-19. Economies have fallen into shambles. Businesses have shuddered and collapsed. Churches and nonprofits are closing their doors. We do not yet know what might be the long-term consequences for the global body of Christ, for the poor and vulnerable, or for social order and human flourishing.

Of course, “spectacular crashes” capture our attention. They are startling and harrowing and fascinating all at once. But if we focus on what is dying, we may miss the slow and subtle rise of what is coming to life.

We may miss small groups and churches drawing closer in a time of need. Ministries finding new ways to serve and encourage. Communities remembering how to care for one another. Children recognizing that life is sacred and meant to be lived with purpose. Families rediscovering the joy of being present to one another. Countless men and women no longer too distracted or busy or proud to ask where life comes from and what its purpose might be.

It reminds me of the biblical episode in which many Israelites returned from exile and began to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Those who recalled its former splendor lamented how the new temple seemed, at first, so meager. God tells the prophet Zechariah that his people should not “despise the day of small things” (Zech. 4:10).

The beginnings of the second temple were so humble that men and women wept in despair. How could they celebrate such a small thing amid so ...

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