“Once upon a time, there was an ordinary man,” begins Michael Kelley in his book Boring. “Every day, his alarm clock went off.” And then he did things like go to the gym (or not), go to work, answer emails, eat dinner, watch TV, and go to bed.
He was ordinary.
Ordinary isn’t cool. It’s hard to get excited about an ordinary life or an ordinary church. We crave extraordinary lives and ministries, and hate the mundane. Contrast, as Zack Eswine advises, these statements:
“I aspire to serve as a common, ordinary, mundane, normal, routine, average, usual, and humdrum pastor for an unexceptional, commonplace, everyday, run-of-the-mill congregation. As a preacher I am unremarkable and middling.”
“I aspire to serve as an Olympian, uncommon, surpassing, extraordinary, special pastor for a marvelous, remarkable, singular, exceedingly great congregation. As a preacher I am stellar and unforgettable.”
Most of us prefer the second. We want to be extraordinary.
“The truth is that we will all spend 90 percent of our time here on earth just doing life,” according to Kelley. “Just being ordinary.” We want extraordinary; we can’t escape ordinary.
Since we’re going to spend most of our life here, perhaps we should learn to find beauty in the boring and ordinary.
Looking for More
Our search for the extraordinary is a form of ingratitude. It’s the opposite of contentment. It’s a failure to be thankful for this place, these people, and this reality.
We are made to hope. Godly ambition is a good thing. It’s not wrong for us to dream about the future and to seek greatness. The problem is that our definition of greatness is often wrong.
According to Eswine, we usually define greatness in terms of how large, famous, and fast we can accomplish it. But God calls us to small, mostly overlooked things over a long period of time.
“Desire greatness, dear pastor!” writes Eswine. “But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us. At minimum we must begin to take a stand on this one important fact: obscurity and greatness are not opposites.”
We want more, when what we have is enough. If we aren’t content with what we have, we won’t be content with more. Perhaps it’s okay to look for more: not more success, fame, or excitement, but more contentment, faithfulness, and depth.
Beauty in the Ordinary
We’ve had so many sunny days where I live that they’re starting to become ordinary. As we come to the last half of August, the days are getting shorter, and the mornings cooler. I’m reminded to stop taking summer days for granted. Winter will soon be here, and the warm days will be over.
I’m also reminded not to take the other ordinary things in my life for granted. My marriage? It’s measured in ordinary days, but those days have added up to one of the greatest gifts I’ve received. My kids? They grew up on ordinary days that passed without me noticing. My church? Most Sundays are ordinary, but our ordinary gatherings are full of grace and beauty that I’ll miss if I’m not careful.
There’s beauty in the boring and the ordinary. Too often we miss that beauty until it’s gone.
Do It Again
“Sometimes, chasing your dreams can be ‘easier’ than just being who we are, where God has placed you, with the gifts he has given to you,” writes Michael Horton in Ordinary.
He’s right. This means that the hardest, most heroic action we can take is to pursue contentment and faithfulness with what God’s already given us. When we do this, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
Then, do it again. As Michael Kelley writes:
There is a great need for people willing to stand in the midst of the boring, convinced that there is no such thing as ordinary when you follow an ordinary God.
Rise and stand. Then tomorrow, do it again.