once took four boots with the soles falling off
to a cobbler for repair. The cobbler told him it
would take eight nails to reattach each sole. The
charge would be $2.00 per nail--a total of
When the customer replied that it was
outrageous to charge so much for hammering just
thirty-two nails, the cobbler offered a different
arrangement. "Pay me one penny for the first
nail, two for the second, four for the third,
eight for the fourth, and so forth," he
said. The customer thought this sounded like an
excellent deal, so he agreed. But when he came to
pick up his boots the next day, he was mortified
to find that he owed the cobbler over $2 billion.
Never in a lifetime could he pay even a small
portion of that debt.
I've long been intrigued with the geometric
progression in mathematics. When you double a
small number, then continue doubling the results,
you soon have an astronomical figure. The total
is indescribably greater than that obtained by
arithmetic progression, where a number is merely
added to itself a number of times.
There's value in meditating on the geometric
progression, for it deepens our appreciation for
how the multiplier effect works in many areas of
life. Take God's influence in history. Time and
again Scripture shows that a small beginning, or
seemingly insignificant event, had greatly
magnified results over time.
What the Christmas Story Teaches Us
This was clearly the case with Christ's
entrance into the world. Only a handful of people
had any idea that the birth of a peasant child in
the stable of an overcrowded hotel had eternal
significance. During the next thirty years his
life had little obvious impact. He then entered a
public ministry which lasted merely three years.
At the time of his death it's estimated that his
sincere followers numbered only around 500.
In time, of course, his influence was felt
universally. No other individual has so altered
history. The lives of billions of people have
been changed and challenged by his. Your own life
very possibly has been more affected by his than
Were a modern public-relations firm to plan
Christ's entrance, the approach would be far
different. Newspapers and magazines worldwide
would announce his birth in bold headlines.
Television and radio would give up-to-date
information through satellite transmission.
Vendors would sell many trinkets to celebrate the
occasion. Massive media coverage would follow his
ministry from beginning to end.
Yet in our own day the mass-publicity approach
so often produces only an arithmetic effect. A
star is born and loved by millions for a time,
then quickly forgotten. It seems only a few years
ago that my boys were enthralled with the likes
of Hannibal Smith, Michael Knight, and Bo and
Luke Duke. Now help me remember, please, just who
were these men? . . .
While God could have used such a method to
bring Christ's influence to bear on the world, he
in fact chose a much more quiet, subtle approach.
Jesus' ministry succeeded not because of the
quantity of what he did but the quality.
Everything was done perfectly. He was born at
exactly the right time. While he ministered to a
relatively small number of individuals, they were
exactly the right ones, touched in exactly the
right way. Throughout history the Holy Spirit has
continued to apply his influence to exactly the
right people, as the circle of his impace has
grown larger and larger.
God's influence on human life should be
understood not in arithmetic but geometric terms.
Thinking Broadly about Your Life
This thought not only deepens our appreciation
of God's influence in the world, but of our own
life and the impact we can have. We grow
discouraged with ourselves and our
accomplishments so often because we judge our
effectiveness in linear, arithmetic terms. We
measure our worth by immediate results we can
see--how many people we've recently won to
Christ, how much money we've made during the past
year, how quickly we're advancing in our job, how
many important positions we hold and the number
of friends we have. God sees our lives in a much
more far-reaching way. He's concerned not nearly
as much with immediate results as with the
long-range effect of our life--including our
influence on generations after us.
If you're a parent, consider this statistic.
If you raise two children, who by age twenty-five
each marry and raise two children, who by age
twenty-five each marry and have two more
children--by the time this pattern repeats for
only ten generations, or 250 years, you'll be the
ancestor of over 1,000 offspring! It may seem
hard to appreciate the value of time spent with
your children. There are so many other things to
do with your time, so many others you can help.
Yet given your children's dependence on you and
the respect they have for you, the qualitative
impact of time spent with them far exceeds that
of most other relationships. If your influence on
them is positive, it will be felt for generations
Here Scripture makes one its most extravagant
promises. In Deuteronomy 4:9 we're instructed to
teach what we know of God to our "children
and to their children after them." Then
we're promised that God keeps "his covenant
of love to a thousand generations of those who
love him and keep his commands" (Deut 7:9).
The ripple effect of our lives upon future
generations is beyond comprehension! It's to this
end that Malachi urges us to take the marriage
covenant seriously, for the sake of producing
"godly offspring" (Mal 2:14). Time
spent building a healthy marriage comes back to
us in the effect upon our children, and upon the
The geometric principle also applies to our
witnessing for Christ. While we should be alert
to every opportunity to tell others about him, in
the long run the quality of our interaction with
people has far greater impact than the number of
people to whom we witness.
Some find they can persuade many to accept
Christ through an evangelistic method or routine.
Evangelistic methods can be of value in some
cases. Yet when we become too concerned with
goals or quotas in witnessing, the conversions
that result are often superficial, and don't hold
firm over time. We are usually most effective for
Christ spending our time building solid
relationships with a few people, with whom we
share our faith naturally. Conversions that
result from such friendships are more often
genuine, and prove to be the seed sown in rich
soil which Jesus spoke of in the parable of the
sower (Matt 13:3-9).
Taking Time to Gain Perspective
It is important for us to think geometrically
about our professional life and other roles as
well. Over time, it's the excellence of what we
do rather than the quantity of our output that
makes the greatest impact. While our job may not
allow us the luxury of emphasizing quality over
quantity, there are often golden opportunities
outside of our professional work for doing so,
where we can use our best gifts and meet critical
needs of people. And with careful long-range
planning, we can usually make improvements in our
career that help it better reflect our potential
for excellence and the benefits of the multiplier
One of the blessings of the Christmas and New
Year's season is that it inspires us to reflect
on our life and to consider changes we should
make. The holidays provide time for many of us to
do this as well. Let us take time during this
season to meditate on the Christmas story, and
how it reminds us of God's concern for quality
over quantity. And let us determine that this
same spirit will be ours as we follow
Christ--that we might enjoy the wonderful
benefits of the multiplier effect, and inspire
others to do the same.
"The kingdom of God . . . is like a
mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you
plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows
and becomes the largest of all garden plants,
with such big branches that the birds of the air
can perch in its shade" (Mark 4:30-32).