Sitting under a huge old pine tree next to the bay in a rare few minutes of quiet time to myself, I cried as I read the first chapter of Michael Horton’s book ‘Ordinary’. I felt that God was calling me to repent (again) from an idolatry that has niggled at me – namely a narcissistic obsession with my own significance. In early life I started to develop an expectation that my life would not (should not?) be ordinary. Even through the mundane reality of years of staying at home with young children, living in the same suburb I grew up in, and doing nothing outwardly impressive or exciting, that mentality has stubbornly clung on, leading to times of despair, resentment, angst & frustration.
But clearly I’m not the only one struggling with this!! And apparently loads of people are now starting to feel disillusioned & burnt out by a culture of individualistic striving for significance. Michael Horton’s argument is that a culture of ‘impatience and disdain for the ordinary’ has well and truly permeated the evangelical church, and is weakening our ability to grow as a Christian community and shape mature disciples across generations. In this book, he is calling us to stop trying to be Christian ‘superstars’ and refocus on what it means to live the Christian life as ordinary people within ordinary churches, reliant on God’s ordinary means of grace for maturing in Christian character. In other words, to learn what it means to be content in the situation in which God has placed us.
Contentedness. We all want to grow in that area – to get rid of selfish ambition, greed and envy. But what is the difference between contentedness and complacency? Couldn’t this be construed as just an invitation to remain firmly within our comfort zone? I found chapter two (“Ordinary isn’t mediocre”) very helpful in elucidating the concept of excellence: that we can embrace the ordinary and still be working towards the goal of glorifying God and loving our neighbour. I liked his description of the fruit of the Spirit as the picture of what true excellence would look like. And it is true that the people who are right under our noses need our help and love just as much as anyone.
But where would worldwide mission be if everyone was content just to stay where they found themselves? We had a global missions prayer day on Sunday at church, and sang “We go to all the world, with kingdom hope unfurled…” I felt a bit conflicted about whether the attraction I feel to mission is legitimate, or simply a need to feel like I’m ‘doing something big for God’, as well as to fulfil my travel dreams in a non-self-indulgent way. I feel the pressure of a culture which says that you’re not really a proper well-rounded person unless you’ve experienced life in another country. So when I’m thinking about mission, am I really just attracted to the idea of becoming a more interesting person, having a more exciting ‘life-narrative’? Horton acknowledges that there will be some for whom mission is a genuine calling. But how do we distinguish a genuine calling?
About this month's contributor, Kristen Butchatsky