Monday, July 31, 2006

Delighting in the Ordinary

There's a delightful post by Amy on the Humble Musings blog that dovetails nicely with my discussion last week on seeing God in the monotony of daily life. She touches on our innate desire to feel special by quoting Elisabeth Elliot.

“Most of us would like to do something special in life, something to distinguish us. We suppose that we desire it for God’s sake, but more likely we are discontent with ordinary life and crave special privileges." Elizabeth Elliot

If you're like many Christians, this is ground well tread. Most of us have had daydreams of grandeur, fostering hopes of someday accomplishing something significant for God's kingdom. In our private moments, our hearts are inspired by men like William Carey who once said, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." We want to live lives of significance, of importance - we want our lives to count. This is not altogether surprising since it is God himself who created us in his image. Nor is the desire for significance, innately bad.

Yet, as Elizabeth Elliot has noted, our hearts can harbor a discontentment with what seems for most of us, an ordinary life. No dramatic service for God in a faraway place. No multitudes coming to Christ at the sound of our preaching. Not even occasional affirmations of your wise counsel or recognition of your rare gifts. If we're honest, at times we're tempted to be disappointed that we're ordinary instead of spectacular.

The trouble with this kind of thinking is that it's inherently dangerous to our souls and insulting to God. In its more benign form, we will end up dismissing evidences of God's gracious work in and around us. Worse still, we may be feeding a sinful craving for significance, rooted in a kind of self-idolatry.

What we need is encouragement toward a different view. Here are points of encouragement on how to look upon our ordinary lives from God's perspective.

Cultivate Faithfulness Fueled by Hope.

Read again the parable of talents in Matthew 25:14-30. It reminds us that God's evaluation will rest on how faithfully we've invested the resources he's dispensed to us. We may not accomplish the spectacular in this life but we can take joy in knowing that hope-filled faithfulness, fueled by the anticipation of hearing his commendation, will be the basis of God's measure. What a joyful day it will be to know that every mundane task performed for his glory will receive recognition from him. He doesn't miss a thing.

Live a Life Marked by Receiving

Much of our ill-founded motivation to serve God in the spectacular is actually not of God. Our desire to do something special may stem from a heart intent on earning on merit rather than receiving by grace. The emphasis of the Christian experience is primarily about receiving from God and then secondarily about serving him. It's the heart of the gospel - "...the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28. Accomplishing the extraordinary in a manner that seeks to earn or impress by merit is not the kind of service that honors God. Acts 17:24-25 reminds us that "The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything"

Remember Onesimus

Much of our reading of the New Testament begins with our identification with Paul. There is indeed a right and proper way to identify with Paul and to be spurred on by him. However, we ought not identify with Paul in a manner that looks upon all of his life as normative for every believer. We need to remember that the early church was filled with believers that were faithfully living quiet lives to the glory of God. I like to remind myself that God who is not impressed with the measure of our gifts or achievements (since he gives us both) had a plan for Paul whom he commissioned to write much of the New Testament as well as Onesimus, who was a simple Christian slave, noted by Paul as his "faithful and beloved brother" in Col 4:9. We do not know how Onesimus may have served God's plan by being a faithful brother to Paul but we can be assured that his unspectacular life was no less directed by God's sovereign purpose.

Granted, most of us prefer to think of ourselves closer to Paul than Onesimus but that only reveals that we're probably thinking about this the wrong way.

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