Finding God in the Ordinary
by Susan Johnstone
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Often the simple and common things in life are the most profound. Ordinary people discover extraordinary truths by accepting that God can be found in the commonplace activities of routine life.
Christians are mere humans with a tendency to be tempted by the senses. We are beguiled by charismatic speakers; dazzled by exciting visual presentations on DVD and are captivated by evocative music. We experience high moments of spiritual revival when we attend retreat weekends, intensive evangelistic programs and listen to ‘big camp’ visiting preachers.
“God is great! I’m filled with the Spirit! I am a light on the hilltop!” are some of the thoughts that go through our minds. Then as we continue with our regular lives, the religious fervour wears off and it is hard to maintain the sense that God is near. Despite the seemingly life-changing event we just experienced, the world is still full of irritations, frustrations, and mere routine. When we wash the dishes, stand in line at the supermarket or fill the car with petrol, we hardly have the same sense of transcendence.
The problem lies in our misconception that nearness to God is obtained through a uniquely ‘spiritual’ activity such as an all-night prayer vigil or listening to a preacher. We mistakenly think that if we are not actively involved in church ministry, our secular life – ordinary life - takes us away from pursuing God.
Yet the Bible tells us that God is everywhere. He is evident in His creation (Romans 1:20) and lives within the church body – “He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him!” (Acts 17:27, 28, The Message)
The very character of God indicates He wants to be near us. His omnipresence shows He is not a detached Being who created the world and walked away to leave us to our own devices. Jesus’ promise after His resurrection reassures us that He has not left us. “Surely I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:20, NIV) He is present and active in our lives. He is interested in us and wants us to know Him. “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” (James 4:8, NIV)
Therefore it is not God’s seeming reluctance to fill us with His presence that makes our lives dreary and mundane. It is our blindness toward God that hinders us. Before we beat ourselves up, and yearn for the good ol’ days before the advent of our hectic achievement-driven lifestyle, we need to know that this is not only a modern problem.
Historically, monks cloistered themselves away to live simply and reduce distractions to their contemplation of God. However, ex-monk and religious reformer of the 1500’s, Martin Luther, proposed that the broader community – not just monks – could adhere to the monastic ideal that God is to be held present in every moment of life:
The idea that the service to God should have only to do with a church altar, singing, reading, sacrifice, and the like is without doubt the worst trick of the devil. How could the devil have led us more effectively astray than by the narrow conception that service to God only takes place in the church and by works done therein…The whole world could abound with services to the Lord, not only in churches… but also in the home, kitchen, workshop, field. *
Here Martin Luther advises that it is possible to seek God, and to please God in service to Him through our mundane life, not despite it.
The ramifications of this theology are exciting. The majority of people not involved in defined church ministry may still experience revelations of God through commonplace activities. We can look for gifts of goodness in our lives. The Bible says “every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven.” (James 1:17, The Message)
Driving to work can provide moments of wonder if we marvel at the technology that built motor vehicles. We see glimpse of grace as we appreciate safety after battling through the chaos of freeway traffic. The attitudes of work colleagues can lift our spirits when we realise their consideration for others. Having friends and family who understand our thoughts draws us close to the love God places in all of us. Growing plants and keeping animals remind us of the sustaining power and protection God gives to creation. Seeing detailed structures in nature such as spider-webs, the wings of a butterfly, and the vibrancy of colours in flowers, all remind us that the God who made such precise wonders is also aware of the details of our lives.
Even seemingly inconsequential aspects of life can be a prompt to recognise God’s love. Melbourne cartoonist and writer Michael Leunig has produced volumes of quirky insight into the world, with some very perceptive pieces on grace-filled living. He records the unseen blessings of catching a cold; he praises the mystery of hair; he promotes the unsung aromatherapies of ‘essence of fish and chips’ and ‘essence of wet dog’. **
In one parable Leunig describes a man who leads a humdrum existence - perhaps a ‘near-death experience’ would change his life. As he walks the streets observing depressing aspects of modern society, a truck overturns beside him, spilling its load of flowers on top of the man. Peering up through mounds of brilliant yellow daffodils, their scent and softness filling his senses, the man realises that he has had his own ‘near-life experience’! Instead of having a close encounter with death, he is confronted by the intensity of life, and is transformed by its beauty. ^
Paulette Anne Ducharme witnesses God’s presence in her life by simple acts of kindness: “You cross the street to say hello to someone who has been ill – God is there! Someone is being discussed without being present and you come to their defense – God is there! You let go of an ancient personal wound – God is there! You see God in the face of a child or a friend – God is there!” ^^
With such revelations in our own lives we can be sure that God is near, He is loving, and we can delight in closeness to Him every day.
* As quoted in Howard Chang, An Extraordinary Life, http://www.ccic.org/mv/parchment/parchment-vol4-no03.htm
** Leunig, The Prayer Tree, (Collins Dove, 1991) and Short Notes from the Long History of Happiness (Penguin, 1996)
^ Leunig, Short Notes from the Long History of Happiness (Penguin, 1996)
^^ as quoted in Christophers News Notes #397, http://www.christophers.org/ordinary.html
(This article previously published in Record, May 26, 2007)
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Blessed indeed as I read in this article many of the same things being said in the book I just had to have and read. The work of Barna and Viola as they penned "Pagan Christianity" and it's sequel "Reimagining Church" go hand in hand with what has been said here. Hearing Him in just so many others is delightful; truly, we are His body, or as Barna and Viola state, "the church is Jesus Christ, but expressed in different form." Seeing Him expressed in you, in me, in an overturned truckload of flowers is amazing. Now, writer to writer? This was well written and I noticed a hint of jealousy within me for not being able to write as well...LOL...please, keep writing!