See God at work every day
In our popular culture (through media and advertising), we are regularly exhorted to pursue the next big thing, and buy into the hype that we can (and should) change the world. If the Christian publishing industry is any indication, then the church has bought into this line of thinking as well. Words like “Radical. Epic. Revolutionary. Transformative. Life-Changing. Ultimate. Extreme.” have become increasingly commonplace.
The problem is that for most of us, it is simply unrealistic that we will ever “change the world.” (Isn’t that God’s job anyway?) Further, if we buy into the rhetoric, the expectations can become crushing to our souls.
Listen to the experience of Tish Harrison Warren. Raised in an evangelical culture, she began to buy into the “change the world” mentality.
“I was nearly 22 years old and had just returned to my college town from a part of Africa that had missed the last three centuries. As I walked to church in my weathered, worn-in Chacos, I bumped into our new associate pastor and introduced myself. He smiled warmly and said, ‘Oh, you. I’ve heard about you. You’re the radical who wants to give your life away for Jesus.’ It was meant as a compliment and I took it as one, but it also felt like a lot of pressure because, in a new way, I was tortuously uncertain about what being a radical and living for Jesus was supposed to mean for me. Here I was, back in America, needing a job and health insurance, toying with dating this law student intellectual (who wasn’t all that radical), and unsure about how to be faithful to Jesus in an ordinary life. I’m not sure I even knew if that was possible.”
After spending time in various “radical” Christian communities, Warren began to wonder if ordinary life was even possible.
“Now, I’m a 30-something with two kids living a more or less ordinary life. And what I’m slowly realizing is that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a 2-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village. What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.”
So, if aspiring to change the world is not the goal, then what is? I love the phrase of one Christian sociologist, when he said that we are to have a “faithful presence” in our world today. It is not as dramatic as “radical, epic and revolutionary,” but it is more biblical.
We are to be faithful to God in what he requires. He has revealed these requirements to us in the pages of scripture. In addition, we are to have a presence in this world that is oriented toward loving and serving others.
The biblical pattern is that God loves and gives his gifts to ordinary people, and sends us out into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings. This is how God normally operates. We see this in Jeremiah 29:4-7: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
• Settle in … build houses (v. 5)
• Grow gardens … put down roots (v. 5)
• Have families … this is how the generations will continue (v. 6)
• Be civically minded for God’s glory…your welfare is tied up with the welfare of the community (v. 7)
None of the above is particularly “radical” or “revolutionary,” but it is how God was sent to work through his people for the good of others, it was how he carried out his purposes in the world.
This means that wherever God has placed you (and it may not even be where you want to be), however he has gifted you (it may not even be the talents and abilities that you want), you are to love God and serve your neighbor. It’s all very ordinary. In doing this we fulfill the Great Commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)
As Tish Harrison Warren continues, “My life is really rich in dirty dishes (and diapers) these days and really short in revolutions. I go to a church full of older people who live pretty normal, middle-class lives in nice, middle-class houses. But I have really come to appreciate this community, to see their lifetimes of sturdy faithfulness to Jesus, their commitment to prayer, and the tangible, beautiful generosity that they show those around them in unnoticed, unimpressive, unmarketable, unrevolutionary ways. And each week, we average sinners and boring saints gather around ordinary bread and wine and Christ himself is there with us.”
“I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my 2-year-old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough.”
“In our wedding ceremony, my pastor warned my husband that every so often, I would bound into the room, anxiety etched on my face, certain we’d settled for mediocrity because we weren’t ‘giving our lives away’ living in outer Mongolia. We laughed. All my radical friends laughed. And he was right. We’ve had that conversation many, many times. But I’m starting to learn that, whether in Mongolia or Tennessee, the kind of ‘giving my life away’ that counts starts with how I get up on a gray Tuesday morning. It never sells books. It won’t be remembered. But it’s what makes a life. And who knows? Maybe, at the end of days, a hurried prayer for an enemy, a passing kindness to a neighbor, or budget planning on a boring Thursday will be the revolution stories of God making all things new.”
If you want to see what God is doing in the world, don’t think that it is only to be found in the extraordinary, but look for it in the ordinary — the everyday. That is where you will see God at work. And don’t just be a passive observer, but join in wholeheartedly.
“Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)