We Christians seem to have a love/hate relationship with “ordinary.” We look at the world around us, and want to do something significant, something grand and amazing.
To do something “big and great for God.”
But there are dishes to do. Bills to pay. Bums to wipe.
When our bookshelves and our RSS feeds repeat the refrain, “be radical for Jesus,” I’ll be honest… it’s easy to get kind of insecure.
Am I doing enough? Are there bigger things God has for me than fishing crayons out of my kids’ noses?
Michael Kelley has a great word of encouragement for all of us who’ve ever asked the “enough” question in his new book, Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life:
You might be missing the point.
“What if we are looking so hard for these grandiose experiences of significance that we are missing the opportunities for significance right in front of us,” he writes. “What if there is no such thing as ordinary when you follow an extraordinary God?” (8)
Boring is all about reorienting us to to this important (but often neglected) reality. Michael Kelley wants to help us stop searching for significance outside our current circumstances, but recognize the inherent significance of everyday life. On this point, he doesn’t mince words:
[T]here is no such thing as ordinary when you are following an extraordinary God. “Ordinary” is a myth. The only reason we think of something as ordinary is because we fail to look for and then grasp the massive depth of the work and presence of God in our lives. (19)
There’s something to this, isn’t there? If God is present and active in our lives, as Scripture says He is, how can anything really be ordinary… even the ordinary acts of going to work, washing dishes, or cleaning up after our kids?
We all love the stories of big crazy “God moments,” but are those the most formative events in our faith? Think about the mission trip experience: you go to another part of the world, you’re immersed in serving others, you maybe even see God do something pretty miraculous… “I’ll never be the same,” you declare, “forever I am changed.” (Or so the song goes.)
And then you get home.
For a while, you make good on your vow, but after a while your zeal fades. The routine reasserts itself. And before too long you find yourself asking, “Why does God seem so far away?”
The problem, is not with the routines of life, but with our understanding of them. The Christian’s faith isn’t perfected through mountaintop experiences, but through the profoundly “average” activities of daily life.
These common, everyday choices are the guts of discipleship. Following Christ is not just about selling everything you have for the sake of the poor (though it might indeed be that at some point); it also involves managing your time; appropriately handling your throwaway thoughts; glorifying God through your eating and drinking; seeing the small things of life as things that either move you toward or away from Christlikeness. Disciples understand the true significance of these choices. (66-67)
Do you see how this understanding relieves a real tension many of us feel? If all we’re chasing is spiritual experiences, looking for the spiritual high, we’ll wind up sitting on our thumbs waiting for a feeling (or, as we like to say, for God to “call” us to something), and missing out on all the opportunities to be obedient to Christ in exceptionally ordinary ways. Just as bad, we’ll be less characterized by “by the strength and fortitude of deep roots”—instead, we’ll be “more like yo-yos, constantly moving up and down the string of life’s circumstances driven by those same feelings we long for.” (71)
Kelley reminds us again and again that we don’t have to sell all we have and give it to the poor to be radical Christians (as if there were such a thing). In some ways, that’s too small a view.
Giving away everything you have? That’s easy (sort of). Obeying Jesus in everyday life? That’s hard.
A regular life isn’t just a series of physical times and moment strung together; it’s a progression of being formed into the image of Jesus. A casual conversation isn’t just a series of words between friends; it’s an interaction between beings made in the image of God. A marriage isn’t just a contract between two people; it’s a walking, talking illustration of the reality of the gospel. Parenting isn’t just teaching kids to be good citizens; it’s seeing our children as arrows of light shot into darkness. And finances aren’t just a few bucks here and there; they are the window into what we love and what we believe. (182)
Imagine what it would be like for the world to see Christians consistently loving and serving their spouses, shepherding their children, managing their worldly possessions with a godly-shrewdness, and engaging with friends in a more than superficial way?
Demonstrating the life-altering power of the gospel in the day-to-day… Call me crazy, but that seems pretty radical, doesn’t it?
For years, a number of authors keep saying they want to write about why it’s okay to be “ordinary.”
I’m glad one finally did.
Boring is a much-needed book, one that is sure to be a relief for many weary Christians who are exhausted by the unrealistic expectations of the radical, even as it calls us to a greater demonstration of faith: being obedient right where we are.
Title: Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life
Author: Michael Kelley
Publisher: B&H Books (2013)
Buy it at: Amazon