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By Brian Keepers
A couple months ago a local Christian organization and multiple churches in my community hosted a revival. It was a three day event at the DeVos Field House on Hope College’s campus. Featuring national speakers and musicians, it was a call to “wake up” to the reality of God. Yard signs peppered neighborhood and church lawns and posters were plastered everywhere.
I confess that I experienced a good bit of apprehension about all of this. It took me back to my church history classes and the great American revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries. The differences between Charles Hodge, who believed that revival was not something you can “plan” but is something God does by God’s sovereign action, and Charles Finney, who was convinced that you could take certain measures (apply the right formula) to ensure a revival anytime, anywhere. I have always leaned more towards Hodge on this one.
And yet, the Spirit of God blows where the Spirit chooses. As Jesus said, “Anyone who is not against me is for me” (Mark 9:40). Plus, there were several Latino churches in our community (from Pentecostal backgrounds) involved in helping plan it and I wanted to have the humility to learn from these brothers and sisters.
So even with some theological reservations, I decided I would participate in at least one of the nights. “God is doing some really exciting things,” another area pastor explained to me after the first night. “You don’t want to miss being a part of this kingdom revolution.”
But Friday night came, and at the last minute I decided to stay home. Not because of theological angst or some clear sense of the Spirit. Simply because I was too exhausted. I didn’t have it in me, after a long week, to be a part of “the kingdom revolution.” I just needed a quiet night at home with my wife and kids.
I reflected back on all the ordinary happenings of my week: worship on Sunday that was pretty typical as we gathered around Word and sacrament, staff meeting on Tuesday, calling on a long-time member of our church who is in hospice care, pre-marriage counseling with a couple just graduating from college, helping fill bags with food for under-resourced children in our school district, and a handful of other routines and activities. Nothing too exciting or earth-shattering. Pretty ordinary. But it got me thinking: is this ordinary stuff not part of the kingdom revolution too?
In his book Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), Michael Horton makes precisely this point: “Ordinary has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, ‘My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary?’ Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, and has ordinary friends and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference” (pp.13-14). Horton goes on to caution those of us who have an itch for always having to do something “big” for God: “Changing the world can be a way of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy him and to enrich the lives of others” (pp.15-16).
Horton then cites this provocative blog post by Tish Harrison Warren, who was among the “young and the restless” in college and set out to “live a radical life for Jesus.” But when she returned to the States after a stint in Africa, Tish was unsure how to be faithful to Jesus in an ordinary life. Her blog is worth reading in full (http://thewell.intervarsity.org/blog/courage-ordinary), but let me just offer some snippets here:
Now, I’m a thirty-something with two kids living a more or less ordinary life. And what I’m slowly realizing is that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village. What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on the average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.
Tish goes on to reflect on how in college, “We were told again and again that we’d be world changers….We were challenged to impact and serve the world in radical ways, but we never learned how to be an average person living an average life in a beautiful way.” Then here’s my favorite part of her post:
A prominent New Monasticism community house had a sign on the wall that famously read: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” My life is really rich in dirty dishes (and diapers) these days and really short in revolutions…But I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past….I’m starting to learn that, whether in Mongolia or Tennessee, the kind of “giving my life away” that counts starts with how I get up on a gray Tuesday morning. It never sells books. It won’t be remembered. But it’s what makes a life. And who knows? Maybe, at the end of days, a hurried prayer for an enemy, a passing kindness to a neighbor, or budget planning on a boring Thursday will be the revolution stories of God making all things new.
I think Tish is on to something here. Praise God for the more dramatic moments of the Spirit, where the kingdom revolution bursts open with thrills and excitement. But Praise God also for the quotidian moments, for Ordinary Time, which seems to make up most of our days. Perhaps this, too, is a way of sharing in the quiet revolution of the kingdom: being an average person living an ordinary life “in Christ” in a beautiful way.
Brian Keepers is the Minister of Preaching and Congregational Leadership at Fellowship Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
Yep. Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God. The quotidian mysteries.
Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly . . . it can all be pretty daunting, without anything happening at all. As somebody on leave (sabbatical) from the Kingdom revolution this summer, I thank you for your service on the front lines.
This resonates on several levels, and I appreciate it. I’ve been trying to live into this for some time now. As one of those who has always had “an itch for doing something ‘big’ for God,” I learned in my years of chaplaincy that the ordinary is where wondrous things do happen. Seeing the grit of the elderly who did their best to make the day more pleasant for the workers around them, watching them comfort one another, receiving their thanks for listening to their stories helped quiet the achievement gremlins in me. Now as I look back on parish ministry, I do think it is those quiet moments and mundane tasks that moved me and other people forward in the life God has for us. The spectacular moments were a delight, but they were only splashes of color on an already beautiful, ordinary background. Thank you.
Wonderful, Brian. Thank you. I could have happily welcomed Tish’s words in my 30’s.
Absolutely yes to this! I’m appreciating your posts, Brian.