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19th July 2015
The kingdom of God comes in very ordinary ways. In Matthew 13:31-33, Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed: although it's the smallest of all seeds, it grows, very slowly, into the biggest tree. Similarly, Jesus likens the kingdom of God to "a leaven that a woman took and hid in three batches of flour, until it was all leavened".
The kingdom of God is mostly very ordinary – which is brilliant news!
God loves ordinary life, but Satan hates it. We need to think more like God in this area. Look at what he created in Genesis 1-2: days, nights, land, plants, animals, sex, eating, drinking, travel, work, family. And he said that it was good. The snake said, "It's not enough! Boring! Aim higher! Eat this, and you'll be like God!"
The majority of the world follows the snake, always wanting to be anything but ordinary. We want life-changing. Dramatic. Explosive. Breakthrough. Extreme. 'Everything is Awesome!'
The problem is, the Church often looks more like the snake and the world than it looks like God. In Christian mass media, we constantly see '10 keys to X' or '7 ways to transform Y'. Everyone wants a dramatic testimony; no-one wants to say: "I grew up in a Christian family and kept going." Yet many of us can say, "I started trusting Jesus as a child, and although Satan has been trying to take me out for 25 years, through doubt, suffering, opposition and fear, God has kept me safe."
As churches, we need to be aware of how easily we're drawn to the Next Big Thing: everything from contemporary music to the way churches are run. There's nothing wrong with these, but we need to reject 'microwave Christianity': press, wait, ping! Instead, we have the ordinary woman who gets up, clears the stuff out of her eyes, makes tea, reads the Bible for 10 minutes, shares the gospel sometimes, repents of sin quickly and goes to church.
We need to embrace the ordinary for three reasons.
Firstly, it helps us to avoid being distracted by the exceptional. Exceptional moments are just that: exceptions. We are shaped by a culture that overvalues the exceptional. In the media, everything has to be new to retain interest – the election results are already out of date! The same is true of celebrity culture, where we value unusual people.
It's easy to get distracted and constantly look for quotable, marketable, soundbite experiences. Even in our Christian life, we look for conferences, high points, breakthroughs; not many prophecies say, "You're going to live an ordinary life, loving God and your neighbour, for 70 years."
Essentially, it's immature living: children are drawn to novelty, but adults can keep focused on the same thing for a long time. A lot of damage can be caused when we expect the exceptional. It can make you feel like a failure if it doesn't come. It can bring burnout. It lets people down by putting others on pedestals. Tragically, it can breed cynicism, not faith. By promising so much and not delivering, people can get weary. Rejoicing in the ordinary stops us from getting distracted.
Secondly, we need to embrace the ordinary because is helps us to honour the power of the everyday. It's hugely counter-cultural, but that's how the kingdom of God grows. It's like a seed turning into a tree; like yeast spreading through a loaf; like wheat getting taller.
Everything from evangelism to family, giving to spirituality, even church, works through faithfulness in forming everyday habits. One philosopher described showing God's love as "a long obedience in the same direction".
A lot of what happens in our lives isn't very memorable – how many memorable breaths or meals or drinks have you had? – but these are the most important parts of our lives. It was one of the greatest contributions to the Protestant Reformation: while the Roman Catholics emphasised the magical and mystical, the Reformers loved ordinary life – streetsweepers, mothers, retirees and peasants alike. Today, we need to learn that embracing the ordinary helps us to honour the power of the everyday.
Finally, we need to rejoice in the ordinary because it helps us to remember the gospel. In all the impatience of the contemporary church, there is a real risk that we forget that Jesus has already done it – it's not about us trying to do more.
Take the metaphor of fire. Christians often use this word to describe things we do: passion, zeal, evangelistic fervour, devotion to holiness. As the song says, "This girl is on fire!" But in the Bible, the fire is God's, not ours. Jeremiah 23:29 and Hebrews 12:29 make it clear that He's the fire – we're just the fuel.
Again, in John 15, Jesus says: "I'm the vine, you're just branches. Stay right there, and you'll be fruitful." The fruit depends on him – I just have to stay where I am! In other words, don't just do something, stand there. Embracing the ordinary helps us to remember the gospel – that He has done it. It is finished.
None of this is to undermine prayer, mission, social justice, worship, or loving our neighbours. Far from it! It actually strengthens all of those things by reminding us that all of life – ordinary, everyday, humdrum life – is significant.
We musn't live as if any new programme, project, diet or initiative is the Next Big Thing. As Horton puts it, "The Next Big Thing is the return of Christ!"
Posted by Andrew Wilson