“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
What do you think when you hear the word “ordinary”? Does ordinary mean plain, ho-hum, run-of-the-mill, boring, same-old-same-old? Well, let me ask… When you read the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) or the story of the early Church in the book of Acts, what do you think the “ordinary” life of the Christian is like? What is it about these “ordinary men” who were with Jesus—everyday followers—that left rulers, elders, and teachers of the law “astonished”?
Lately, I’m noticing that word “ordinary” a lot, in connection with daily disciplines and spiritual practice. How do we view an ordinary day, and how does Christ call us to make the most of every opportunity? Are we cultivating a way of life—a way of paying attention, being aware, and noticing God’s Holy Spirit presence in the middle of the seemingly mundane?
Recently, I picked up a book called Living Christ: Embodying Jesus’ Life in Worship Through the Christian Year by Wesleyan author Daniel L. Rife. In this book, Rife applies an understanding of the Christian calendar to our everyday, seasonal rhythms of Christian living. Rife connects our sense of time with the life of Christ and the life of His Church, outlining ways Christians have traditionally observed our “ordinary” year together.
This might already sound boring to you. Perhaps you’re generally familiar with some dates of the Christian calendar, as many are—aware of terms like Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, maybe without always understanding exactly what these seasons or their associated customs represent. Personally, I’ve learned a lot since God called me toward ministry back in 2012, but most recently, Rife’s book has introduced me to a fresh look at the period in our Church year called “Ordinary Time.”
This is the time after Pentecost (a day which commemorates the Holy Spirit’s outpouring of power on the early believers), continuing till the first Sunday of Advent, which we’re approaching in a few weeks. Although it tends to get lumped as “the rest of the year” outside major holidays, Ordinary Time doesn’t equate to boring time. As Rife writes,
“Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary… [Professor] Constance Cherry explains it like this: ‘Ordinary refers to the ongoing work of the church to spread the message of Jesus Christ—his teaching, healing, restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, etc.—the ordinary work and ministry expected of Christ’s followers.’ Ordinary Time reminds and exhorts us to live out of Christ’s basic, fundamental, ordinary expectations of us.
How do we celebrate a season of commitment? There’s something about this time of commemoration, in daily practice with one another, which seems particularly precious in conjunction with the long COVID-19 season we’re experiencing. Even as we’ve undergone stressors of health risks, social distancing, and many economic uncertainties ahead, we’ve also had an unequaled opportunity to remember our connection to our community and to the universal Church—both around the world and throughout Christian history.
Another book that’s come my way this fall is called The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. There’s that word “ordinary” again... In this book, author Rosaria Butterfield describes the critical, here-and-now urgency of opening our doors to the people around us, engaging in the hard and holy work of welcoming actual humans into our actual lives. She writes,
“Who else but Bible-believing Christians can make redemptive sense of tragedy? Who can see hope in the promises of God when the real, lived circumstances look dire? ... And where else but a Christian home should neighbors go in times of unprecedented crisis? Where else is it safe to be vulnerable, scared, lost, hopeless?”
If we see ourselves as ones positioned by God Himself in a world where so many are experiencing such a time of unprecedented crisis—how, then, shall we live? That’s where the “ordinary” life of the everyday Christian lights up like a radiant beacon for an astonished world to see. Having given His people the power of His Holy Spirit to break out of our captivity to sin, Jesus extends the invitation—no, He has issued the commands—to “Love one another” (John 13:34) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Jesus spells out for us in no uncertain terms that freedom from sin means commitment to the wellbeing of others. Butterfield continues,
“[H]e did not leave us there, little isolated agents of grace, running our own ‘random acts of kindness’ campaign. No, he gave us his bride, the church—his church—to which we who believe are called to make a covenant of membership, to become a family, to be both set apart from and missionally placed in the world, to take care in a daily way of our brothers and sisters in Christ... to draw others... into our homes, families, and churches…
God has positioned His people in ordinary places as agents of His extraordinary power and grace. Together, we are the body of Christ—His healing, merciful presence among hurting humankind. Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, each and every one of us is uniquely gifted and equipped to welcome the stranger and love our neighbors as ourselves. These are “good works” prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Maybe you feel impatient with this, thinking there must be something “more” or “better” for you out there. But in God's economy, it’s the small things, over time, that add up to the big thing in the end: a life conformed to Christ, for His glory, for the sake of others.
That makes the small things into big things. Every single day—with all of its tasks, errands, and interruptions—presents a dazzling array of invitations to live and move and have our being in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, the simple act of going about our day becomes a training ground for spiritual exercise, seeing the world the way God sees it.
After all, this is the God of all Creation—Maker of heaven and of earth (Genesis 1:1)—the God Who sees every sparrow (Matthew 10:29), Who numbers every hair on your head (Luke 12:7), Who points to the flowers of the field (Matthew 6:28) and the ants going about their labor (Proverbs 6:6) to teach us about our way of life as His people. What is it about these ordinary things that we have so much to learn from?
It’s a question I hope we’ll keep asking ourselves. As our current season of Ordinary Time turns toward the season of Advent to come, in the month ahead, I pray God opens our hearts and our minds to the convergence between the two—the life of the Church welcoming in the life of Christ. I pray we aspire to be ordinary people ever more attuned to the extraordinary work of God, Who keeps us encountering grace, growing in grace, and giving grace all year round. May our whole understanding of what is "ordinary" be radically reoriented the more we seek God’s will for us each day, as committed members of the body of Christ.
(If you’d like to learn about church membership as a next step of commitment, you can sign up for our Nov. 8th Membership Class here or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Have you ever met a smartypants adolescent whose answer to everything you say is “I know”—when obviously, they don’t? The attitude comes with rolled eyes, big sighs, and pure disdain for all other points of view... especially a grown-up’s! As DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince once observed, “There's no need to argue / Parents just don't understand.” Oh, really?
In fact, the “know-it-all” phase is such a mark of early development, it’s produced a cliché of parenting experience. As wisdom tells us, kids spend years constantly asking, “Why?” and expecting parents to have the answers... til suddenly, one day, kids are teenagers, and everything their parents say is “stupid” and “embarrassing.” But don’t worry, parents—when your kids are about 26, you’ll start to know a thing or two again. ;)
What’s with the know-it-all-ness? Well, as children grow into different stages of life, they gain new information and skills, which brings a sense of esteem and self-identity. When demonstrating what they’ve learned, kids experience feelings of value. (And parents experience prayers for patience every time a kid insists, “I can do it MYSELF!”)
So showing off how much one knows is a normal part of development. But it can get pretty annoying when kids think they know everything—or when they refuse correction. It’s even more annoying when kids carry that attitude into later life. (Any adults you know coming to mind right now?)
Immaturity of this kind is easy to spot. Kids aren’t the only ones to assume they’ve seen everything under the sun—and the consequences of immature reactions become more serious over time. As Proverbs 16:18 observes, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (NIV)
How often do husbands, wives, friends, family members, or you yourself express some version of the following?
I know what I’m doing.
I know where I’m going.
I know what’ll happen.
I know what I want.
I know better than you.
How often do we say these things while we’re making errors in judgment? Somehow, being told, “You need to grow up!” doesn’t seem to make us more mature.
So what does it mean to “grow up” in faith? Jesus extends an invitation for us to trust beyond what we think we know—to come, follow, and find all He has in store. In other words, Jesus calls us to obey first, understand later.
Our “Grown-Up Faith” series began with an invitation to a “bigger” life. This invitation is drawn from John 10, where Jesus speaks of life “to the full.”
Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10)
These are verses many Christians have heard before. We might read right past what Jesus is saying without a second thought. But then someone asks, “Why?” Suddenly, we wonder… do we have the answers? Perhaps we’re facing hard questions of our own and can’t get past what’s right in front of us.
To see the bigger picture Jesus is describing, it usually takes more than a verse or two. Would you ever pull one sentence out of a novel and assume you know what the book is about? Good study habits keep us asking questions of each passage. What do we think we know? How much don’t we know yet? What else should we consider?
I mean, what does a Bible passage about sheep have to do with the idea of immature, know-it-all kids? What do either of the analogies mean for you and your faith as a Christian?
These are great questions to ask, as we consider the “big picture” of God’s Word—and how seemingly unrelated ideas can help us connect the dots.
Reading John 10, we hear Jesus speaking of Himself as the “gate for the sheep” (v. 7) and the “good shepherd” (v. 11). What’s He getting at? Those who come to God through Him are His sheep, we’re told—those He has saved. Jesus is the way in and the One devoted to their wellbeing. As the good shepherd, He cares for His sheep, and through Him, they “find pasture” (v. 9).
There’s a thought. What does pasture look like? Wide open spaces, rolling hills, acres of greenery... imagine leaving a sheep pen and finding yourself in that place! In the next sentence, Jesus is talking about providing “life… to the full.” Read those verses again.
I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:9-10)
What do sheep know about life? Well, in this picture, they know Jesus. With Jesus as their Good Shepherd, His sheep have a life they wouldn’t experience without Him. Through Christ, the sheep find pasture—lush places where they can be fed and enjoy. Without Jesus caring for them and guiding them into good places, the sheep wouldn’t know there was pasture, much less where to find it.
Imagine yourself as one of those sheep Jesus is describing. How many of us think we’ll come up with our own way to get where we’re going?
The thing is, sheep don’t know what’s best for them. Left to their own devices, sheep are actually quite destructive creatures. They just react to what’s happening around them. Often, we humans live the same way. We don’t know what we don’t know. We often can’t see beyond what’s right in front of us.
But Jesus shepherds us into more—into the unknown, and the unknowable. He knows where to find pasture. He knows where we will experience life that is fuller and bigger than we’d ever dream on our own.
Hebrews 6:1 says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…” We can’t fathom what maturity will mean for us, as long as we are yet immature. Actually, a pretty immature assumption is to think we’re mature enough already!
Have we submitted our mind, heart, and will to the care and leading of Jesus Christ, letting Him guide us into better places? Or are we wandering according to our own impulses, wondering why we keep ending up in the same spots?
Christian maturity is what we’re referring to this fall as “Grown-Up Faith.” We don’t grow up overnight. Maturation is a process. It takes time. Day after day, step by step, we accept Jesus’ invitation to a place we know not where… following Him into new meaning we can’t comprehend, experiencing a life bigger than we could imagine.
To grow up, the mind requires biblical knowledge, the heart requires spiritual intimacy, and the will requires holy obedience, as we come to see the bigger picture God has revealed to us. Sometimes, the simplest way to learn is in James 1:22—“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
So when Jesus says, “Come, follow Me,” do we roll our eyes and say, “I know”—or do we get up and actually go?