When I was pastoring I would regularly receive Christian junk mail inviting me to this conference or that event where God was going to do something “awesome”, “extraordinary” or “new”. This conference or event would be a gamechanger that would see my church and I enter a new phase in which mindblowing things would happen. I longed to receive a flyer that declared God was going to work in very ordinary ways, that this event was not going to be a gamechanger, and that this year God would do lots of very ordinary things but nothing extraordinary.
It seems to me that most of the time what God does is work in pretty ordinary ways. My character is rarely grown by attending an awesome conference where breakthroughs happen at a rapid pace, but is grown slowly and incrementally as I am stretched, challenged and changed by the realities painful, mundane and joyful of life.Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:10-14
Similarly, while the initial outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost ushered in a burst of rapid growth for the church in which thousands of people came to faith, this did not become the norm. The New Testament letters suggest witness could be challenging and resistance to the gospel strong.
Underlying the preoccupation with things being extraordinary is the assumption that there is something wrong with the ordinary, but the ordinary is what we inhabit. It is by definition the world of the everyday, the stuff that usually happens day in and day out. The stuff we face each morning when we get out of bed – the joy of the sun shining on our face; the challenge to love generously in the midst of that difficult relationship in our home, workplace or church; the problem that doesn’t go away; a beer with friends. That’s where I need to meet God. It’s in this ordinary world that I want to thank God for ordinary pleasures and unexpected surprises and ask God’s strength to face the challenges of ordinary life.
Or what of the urge to discover the “supernatural”? What’s wrong with the “natural”? God didn’t create me to be a superhuman, but a human. God didn’t create me to live a supernatural life, but a very natural one. So I want to become the best human being I can be, where my glory is not found by abandoning my humanity to let supernatural power flow in and through me, but by using the capacities God has given me to be a loving presence in my world.
God does do amazing things, but these are mostly ordinary things – the rising of the sun; the gift of hope in the midst of suffering; the incremental changes that see us becoming more like Jesus; the gradual realisation of who Jesus is that leads a person to become his follower.
Yes God does do extraordinary, massive, sudden, game changing things, but these are by definition out of the ordinary. The ordinary is the world I live in day-by-day and it’s here more than anywhere I need my God to do very ordinary things.