You slip into the back seat of a church as the worship is winding down from a frenzy. People begin to take their seats as a speaker starts his talk on 'Radical Discipleship'. For the next thirty minutes, his voice carries you on a journey from the story of two young men who sold themselves into slavery to evangelize the enslaved (The Moravian Slaves) to the local old widow who gave up everything to live in China.
And while you can certainly appreciate and admire the resolve in the lives of such extraordinary people, you can't help but think that your life somehow comes up short in light of such masterpieces. At the end, the preacher gives one last plea for you to find the extraordinary plan that God has made just for you to fulfill.
You walk out, one part encouraged by the bravery it would take to live such lives, but two parts disheartened by the ordinary life you seem to lead.
Living as an ordinary Christian in a radicalised culture can be a discouraging experience. While the movement started to counter certain immobilising effects of western culture on activism such as "self-advancement, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency" (David Platt), it can't help but create its own immobilising effects on the church. In a Christianity Today article Matthew Lee Anderson observes:
... the radicals' repeated portrait of faith under-emphasizes the less spectacular, frequently boring, and overwhelmingly anonymous elements that make up much of the Christian life.
My bet is you are not out saving the world through digging wells and curing AIDS. And while that wonderful calling is for some, there is an equally wonderful calling to an ordinary Christian life that can be realised in many ways. Amidst the hubbub of radical living there are three things you can do to live your ordinary Christian life well.
1) Silence and solitude
Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy) observed that the most essential facet of spiritual growth occurs with "an extensive use of solitude and silence" because it creates the most appropriate matrix for listening and responding to God. As so frequently trumpeted from soap boxes and blog posts, the 21st century has created a realm of much noise and distraction.
This means the context of silence is not something that is simply stumbled upon. It must be created. Even Jesus found it necessary to intentionally create space, and he lived in the 1st century (Luke chapter 5, verse 16). If you find the resolve to put down the tablet and turn off Sam Smith for a short period every other day you may begin to see the results of creating this space for the spirit to grow.
Service is the output valve on the Christian life. Come on, we all know how 'me focused' things can become. While silence and solitude bring about the growth of the spirit, service is what sets the spirit free to live like Christ. If you find yourself going to church on Sundays, listening to nice sermons and reading good Christian books, but still wondering why you aren't being fully transformed by the Gospel, perhaps it's because you aren't living in the new life which the fruit of the Spirit offers.
When the disciples were fighting over the greatest position in the Kingdom of God Jesus simply said "Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark chapter 9, verse 35). Doesn't sound so much like a spectacular calling. Not even a radical calling. Living an ordinary Christian life well means cultivating a heart of service in the many different spheres you find yourself in. It could mean making coffee for your room-mate in the morning or serving food to the less fortunate.
One may sound more radical than the other but both can cultivate the heart of service which Jesus calls for. And that type of heart is what creates greatness for the kingdom of heaven.
Finally, we can tangibly love others. Reading through the epistle of 1 John is a good way of becoming acquainted with the importance of love. As followers of Jesus we are called out of darkness and into the life of love for others (1 John chapter 3, verses 14-15). In fact, it is this very expression of love that demonstrates whether grace and faith have done their work in our lives (1 John chapter 3, verses 18-24).
So make it a resolve to live a life that loves – on the small and big scale. Consider this: you have been born and bred in a system of self-interest, by nature you have been formed to be caught up in your small world, loving may not be easy, but it is the path of true life in Jesus.
Your life may not be radical in the world's eyes. You may not be drawing the attention of preachers who need anecdotes or turning the world upside down with extravagant self-sacrifice. Yet, just like the widow who was disregarded for being ordinary (Luke chapter 21, verses 1-4) Jesus still stops to take note of what the world deems unremarkable.
Start small. Be intentional. Be ordinary.
Dan Peterson is from Chicago, Illinois USA, currently living in St. Leonards, Tasmania. He enjoys discovering old books, new places, and good coffees. His dream is to summit a mountain on every continent.
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html