Last weekend, I shared a portion of my testimony at my church’s worship night. When asked if I’d be willing to participate, I felt some initial hesitation. Surely there were more intriguing life stories to tell — you know, testimonies that would keep the audience’s attention! My conversion story, on the other hand, isn’t all that exciting.
My day-to-day life is also rather commonplace. I work, pay my bills, clean my house, do errands and laundry, and check in on my friends and family…and social media, of course. Add in a few obligations and activities, and that’s about it.
It sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? But wouldn’t you agree that most adults live ordinary lives? Why do we tend to doubt, downplay or despise the average story?
The “Do Big Things” myth
“Ordinary” wasn’t pitched to us in our high school guidance counselors’ offices or in college information packets. Do you remember feeling and believing that you could do absolutely anything you set your mind to do? Oh, the places we’d go! Opportunities abounded. We just needed to find ourselves and figure out our purpose. Then we’d “make it” and be happy.
It wasn’t enough to graduate from college, accept an entry-level job, live simply and gradually work one’s way into additional responsibilities. We desired the same lifestyles as our parents by age 30, and we definitely wanted to achieve a measure of success before pursuing marriage and parenting. Marriage became the capstone of experiences, not the cornerstone from which to build one’s life.
A spiritualized version was promoted to young singles, albeit subtly, in churches and college ministry groups. We were encouraged to “do big things for God” — to live radical lives committed to our cause du jour. Instead of worldly success, this narrative was tied to higher level holiness. Some of us idolized missionaries, pastors or Christian influencers with best-selling books or popular podcasts. These individuals were top-shelf Christians with important callings and vocations.
Don’t get me wrong. In addition to my personal leaders, I listen, read and glean from business gurus, Christian biographies and online sermons. We need these influential voices in both the secular and sacred spheres. God places men and women in corporations, pulpits and mission fields.
The point is that few Christians are called to serve in “big” ways. The vast majority of us aren’t career or religious superstars. We’re meant to live ordinary lives of work, family and service in the church and neighborhood. This is a good thing!
Above all, I’m convinced that God wants us to be faithful Christians no matter where we live or what we do to earn a living. After salvation, the “will of God” for our lives is often linked in the Bible to ordinary practices such as seeking God, abiding in Him, gratitude, good works and a commitment to the slow and steady process of sanctification.
We’re also encouraged to work heartily, utilize our gifts and talents to serve others, and be a witness to the world of Christ’s love and mercy. Men and women who “suit up and show up” each morning and make themselves available to others as they go about their ordinary days are valuable members of God’s kingdom and a blessing to those in their path.
The people who stand out the most to me nowadays are those who serve, inspire and guide a handful of people well (their family, small group and/or staff, for instance) over the course of their lifetime. They’re more akin to the tortoise than the hare. If additional influence comes, and it often does with good character, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary to live a meaningful life in the eyes of God and man.
Character simply matters more than high levels of influence. Instead of doing “big things for God,” we ought to allow God to do big things inside of us.
Take a load off
Accepting that our lives are ordinary doesn’t mean that we’re apathetic or lacking career drive or Christian zeal. It just means that we’re not chasing after the wind or hustling for influence. We’re more concerned with contentment.
In “Just Do Something,” author Kevin DeYoung clarifies this important distinction:
I’m not arguing for complacency in or bitter resignation to your present circumstances. I am arguing for what the apostle Paul advocated: godliness with contentment. The two together form “great gain,” he declared (1 Timothy 6:6). Complacency and contentment are often confused, but there is a difference between the two. Contentment is saying, “God has me here for a reason, and if He never does anything different, I’ll still serve and praise Him.” Complacency is saying, “Things will never change, so why bother trying?”
As one formerly drawn to the dynamic in both the work world and in the church, I’m learning to relax into the grace of God and where He has me today. I’m learning to be content in my very average story, and to be comfortable in sharing it…even though it’s fairly uneventful. I don’t need to worry about success or impressing others. I can rest in knowing that God forgave my past, has a purpose for me today, and knows my future. That’s a testimony worth sharing.
The same is true for you. It’s OK to be ordinary! Don’t mistake average for unimportant or unnecessary. When we faithfully live out the stories God is crafting for each one of us, average becomes awesome. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. I promise.
Have you felt pressure to succeed or “do big things” for God? Have you found your “sweet spot” of godliness with contentment? How will you live an ordinary life extraordinarily well?