I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to serve God in ordinary ways. To some degree, this thinking has been prompted by Michael Horton’s new book “Ordinary: sustainable faith in a radical, restless world.” This blog post is not really a review of the book, more some ideas that have arisen from reading it.
(But is the book worth reading? I am a little conflicted as to whether to heartily recommend it or not. It has some wonderful things in there, some great ideas, and it stimulated my thinking which I thank God for. But like so many of Horton’s things, in my humble opinion, I found it a little too long and a little more complicated than it needed to be. I have always found his writing style a little difficult to get through and this is no exception. But his basic premise and approach are excellent and well worth considering.)
One of the key verses that Horton refers to is that one in 1 Thessalonians 4:
“But we urge you, brothers, to do this [love one another] more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no-one.” (1 Thess 4:10b-12, ESV)
It is a great verse, and not a popular modern concept. What should believers aspire to? A quiet productive life serving others and doing what God has called you to.
This does contradict what many Christian books and conferences encourage us to do. Do great things for God! Be radical! Don’t be content with mediocrity but be exceptional! Become a pastor or missionary or perhaps your life is not worth quite as much as it could be!
All of us want our 15 minutes of fame, and want people to speak highly of us. We want to be special in some way, a standout in our field of study, a good employee who gets promoted to manager, a pastor who is well known internationally. But in reality most of us will be ordinary employees who faithfully do our job, husbands who day by day love our wives, children who respect our parents, and ordinary pastors relatively unknown outside our local churches, and the Bible encourages all of these things. It is a great thing to be content and faithful in the little things that matter so much.
I have been to many conferences in my Christian life by God’s grace. And those times do include a heightened sense of being part of something bigger than you and your church. They are inspiring and special. But then you return to your own church family and the sameness of it, the same house that needs cleaning, the same family that needs love and attention. And the temptation is to chase that conference feeling all the time instead of knuckling down and being the godly person you should be in ordinary ways.
Similarly, evangelism on a mission trip is easier than talking to a work colleague about Jesus. On the mission trip, the people you are speaking to will probably never see you again and do not have history with you. In the workplace, your colleague knows what you are like, your ordinary witness from the past years is in their mind, and they can observe you and follow you up. Yet which form of evangelism so often proves more useful? The long-term, ordinary one.
Staying in a church family for a long time is also so helpful and useful for your faith and the faith of other people. It is easier to move to something more interesting, different, every few years chasing new experiences. But being with people who know you, who you need to bear with in love as they bear with you, over a long time period can change you and them for the better. Working through ordinary problems and conflicts is good for your faith.
As Luther often emphasized in his teaching, there is great honour in bringing glory to God through your ordinary work. Being faithful as an employee, a mother, a student, a friend, all matter to God.
Let’s aspire to be ordinary Christians, in the best sense of the word.