“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an of ering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him” Romans 12:1 (The Message).
The landscape of modern evangelicalism is riddled with curious ideas of faith. One of the most prevalent is the idea of “extraordinary” faith.
If you’ve grown up in the church you know what I’m referring to. Christian faith has been adorned with adjectives like “radical”, “passionate”, “visionary”, and “relentless”. At conferences and in Christian literature, we are bombarded with the idea that the only way to be truly Christian is to live extraordinarily, to do something big for God. We elevate those with impressive testimonies as the poster children of our faith. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, until we achieve a similar level of impact, we feel like B-team Christians.
We pine for more of God and for bigger experiences, but we live as though the ordinary, everyday routine of life is God’s greatest accident. As Julie Canlis says in her book, A Theology of the Ordinary, “True religion is often associated with the extreme, the emotional moment, the passionate choice, the mountaintop experience.”
However, Jesus offers a different understanding of what it means to be Christian. What the Church needs is the permission to be ordinary.
The Burden of Being Extraordinary
For many of us, faith that pleases the Lord is outside the boundaries of everyday life. To be ordinary is often seen as being faithless. Unless you can do something impressive with your life, your faith is generic.
Extraordinary faith is certainly attractive at first. However, the more energy we expend trying to impress God, the faster we burnout.
In the first century, the Gnostics believed that the physical world wasn’t as impressive as the spiritual world. They believed that to be close to the heart of the Divine was to transcend the everyday, mundane parts of life in pursuit of something more attractive. This led to relentless quests for secret wisdom and an elitist understanding of faith that few people could attain. A vision of faith that requires us to transcend the mundane, ordinary parts of life ignores where the majority of people live.
Stay-at-home parents, janitors, nurses and construction workers can be overcome with the burden that their faith is second-rate because their impact is often unseen and laborious. Burnout in the Christian faith is often brought on by the burden of needing to be more than God expects us to be.
The Freedom of Being Ordinary
The incarnation of Jesus is profoundly ordinary. He was born in a barn, raised in a town with a bad reputation and didn’t begin his public ministry until he was in his 30s. He certainly didn’t fit the mold of the motivated young church-planter.
He submitted Himself to the ordinary parts of everyday living and to the Father’s fingerprint in all of it. In the incarnation, Christ’s ordinaryness gives meaning to ours. As He redeems the mundane parts of life, He brings deeper meaning to what we are often told is meaningless.
There is freedom in this kind of faith. It’s the kind of faith that frees us from the slavery of needing to be impressive, alleviates the dissatisfaction of not having radical experiences and empowers us to see the ordinary as the place where Jesus meets with us.
The Hope That Ordinary Faith Brings to a Tired World
Many Christians are tired.
The relentless burden of needing to have an impact matched with workaholism, consumerism and general boredom with life can wear anyone out. We are tired of feeling like we aren’t good enough and tired of building our lives around the need to be better.
The Church in the first century didn’t impact Rome by inspiring them to live extraordinary, impressive lives. It impacted them by offering a vision of faith that saw all of life as an opportunity to commune with God.
In a world that is tired of trying to be extraordinary and overwhelmed by the constant desire for something new, the opportunity to glorify God with our ordinary lives is good news. It’s hope for a tired world. Jesus meets us in the ordinary parts of life, when we’re tired and overwhelmed. He doesn’t repair us by giving us “fresh revelations” or “radical visions” of what our life could be, but by teaching us to see the mundane as holy ground, as a table He is content to dine with us at.
He invites us to see our schedules, our laundry, our dirty dishes and our fussy kids as a sacrament—a chance to truly experience Him. This is what it means to be Christian: to offer our ordinary, everyday life as a pleasing offering to God.
“We are not building a kingdom, we are receiving one.” Michael Horton