The Tipping Point was Malcolm Gladwell’s debut book in 2000 and the first of five bestsellers. It probed the forces behind societal change and proposed to explain “how little things can make a big difference” (the book’s sub-title). For example, Gladwell popularized the broken-window theory. This theory says that when a window in a building is broken, if it is not repaired in a timely manner, soon there will be more broken windows because the message left by the unrepaired window is that no one is paying attention or cares. However, if the window is repaired, the opposite message is conveyed. Thus, a small thing like a broken window can be a tipping point.
Gladwell went on to apply this to other things like graffiti, toll-jumping on the subway and other misdemeanors. It wasn’t all theoretical either, New York City experienced a marked decrease in crime in the 1990’s following this principle in a law enforcement strategy known as CompStat. The system was featured in the CBS police procedural series, The District. It ran from 2000-2004 and starred Craig T. Nelson and was loosely based on the work of former NYC police commissioner Jack Maple.
Like everything, the broken window theory has its share of critics and even Gladwell has backed off of it to a degree. That’s all as it should be because good healthy debate surrounding the identity of any potential tipping point underscores just how important the concept of a tipping point is. In Gladwell’s words it is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” It is what is responsible for changing something from good to bad or bad to good.
It’s not difficult to make application of this in our spiritual lives. After Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7). God was telling Cain that how he dealt with his sacrifice being rejected would be a tipping point in his life. Cain didn’t heed God’s words and tipped in the direction of evil and the rest is a sad history.
We all have tipping points whether we recognize them by that name or not. It’s that food you really shouldn’t eat and when you do, it becomes the gateway to eating more unhealthy things. It’s the gossip you share, the lie you tell, the bad thought you think, that lead to more of the same. But it works the other way as well. It’s the help you give, the prayer you pray or the compassion you show that also lead to more of the same.
An important tipping point is when we grow to the degree that while we still might very much desire to do something not good, we start to see God is such a way that His glory begins to transcend our desires. It is Paul on the road to Damascus. He had a vision of Jesus that had the potential to completely change his life if he allowed it to and he was not disobedient to that vision (Acts 26:19). Isaiah shares his vision in Isaiah 6 and if you read the entire chapter you will see how it would empower him for the difficult job he was given to do. In much the same way, John shares a vision of God with the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 4-5) and it enables them to triumph “by the blood of the lamb, by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11).
As we begin to see and experience the glory of God, it becomes difficult not to love what He loves. As we see Him more clearly, the cross with more deeply, things that were formerly “got to” become “get to.” We are emboldened and empowered to live at a higher level. This is the work of God taking place in our lives—transforming us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:12-13). Let’s allow God to grow a greater vision in our lives.