A Spirituality of ‘Boring’: Finding the Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life

In contrast to my last post, which encouraged a spirituality of adventure, now I want us to consider finding the extraordinary God in the ordinariness of everyday life.

It’s not hard to find preachers who will tell you that God wants to give you an amazing life. Of course, the discerning theologians among you will know that the truth of this all depends on your definition of ‘amazing.’ boringAuthor Michael Kelly argues in his book Boring: Finding an extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life (2013) that while it’s good to chase your dreams, and have a spirituality of adventure [see my last blog post], we also need to be careful that we don’t start finding our significance with God only in what is big, showy and exciting. Kelly’s point is that we should resist thinking that being ‘extraordinary’ (in the popular sense) is what matters to God:

What if the whole idea of “ordinary” is a myth? And what if a life of great importance isn’t found by escaping the details but embracing them? What if God actually doesn’t want you to escape from the ordinary, but to find significance and meaning inside of it?

Kelly wants us to learn to find the beauty of God and his gospel in the ordinary. Learning to do this is important for any Christian who wants to experience spiritual nourishment. Sure, you can walk the Camino trail in Spain, spend time with the Taize community in France, or go to the Hillsong conference in Sydney, but what if you could experience transcendence while cleaning your bedroom?

In Colossians 3:23 Paul tells us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” He wants the Church to be a people who do not have their hearts and minds focused on earthly things, but on things above.

This requires a kind of mindfulness. Merri Creek Anglican member Ed Cavanough recently gave a great talk about being heavenly mindful. He urged us (along with the Apostle Paul) to embrace our new lives as people who have been “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1) by setting our hearts and minds on “things above” (Colossians 3:2).

I loved this idea of Christianising mindfulness, so we are not just being mindful in the earthly here-and-now, but so we become mindful of God in the here-and-now.

Mindfulness has become an important practice for helping some people overcome depression and anxiety. When they struggle to move on from the difficulties they have experienced in the past, depression can set in. Mindfulness can certainly help people move their focus away from the past and onto the present.

Mindfulness is not necessarily Biblical — it is, in fact, Buddhist in origin — yet Ed did not reject mindfulness as a concept but used it to build a bridge to Paul’s idea of a ‘Godward posture’ or, as the writer of the Hebrews says, to: “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

In the last couple of blog posts I have written about the problem of being religious but not spiritual (RBNS). Heavenly mindfulness is another great way of becoming spiritually nourished for people who only experience dry religion.

How, then, can we become heavenly mindful? What are some discipleship practices that can help us find God and the beauty of the gospel in the ordinary?

  • Say grace before your meals
  • Pray in the car on your way to work
  • Put a cross up in your kitchen to remind you of Jesus when you are doing the dishes
  • Read your Bible and pray each day
  • Make a point of asking your Christian friends about how their faith is going (not just about their work and family)
  • Pray for the little things as well as the big things (“God, please help me to find my keys”)
  • Practice the spiritual disciplines which help you focus on God, such as meditation, silence and fasting
  • Choose a posture of gratitude to God, which could include, each day, making yourself name ten things for which you are thankful
  • Put a Bible on your desk at work as a prompt to involve God in your decisions and interactions with colleagues (you may even want to read it!)
  • Set reminders on your phone to pray (there is a good app calledCommon Prayer for Androids and iPhones that can send reminders).

The list I have given is not meant to be prescriptive: hopefully you will think of your own approach. The point is to build systems that bring God into your everyday life.

Tim Keller, ‘Center Church,’ “Ch. 3, The Gospel Affects Everything.” Reflection

Summary

We have seen that the gospel is not everything, meaning it must be distinguished as an announcement of news, distinct from its results and implications, and that the gospel is not a simple thing, meaning it cannot be packaged in a single standard form.  My third contention, that the gospel affects virtually everything, builds on these two statements. (p.46)

In this chapter Keller shows how the gospel is not supposed to be a conceptual end in itself, but rather, as Leslie Newbigin writes, it functions like “a set of lenses, not something we look at, but for us to look through.”    Keller continues, “…the gospel creates an entire way of life and affects literally everything about us.  It is a power that creates new life in us (Colossians 1:5-6; 1 Peter 1:23-25).

The Richness of the Gospel

Keller presents a gospel summary from scholar Simon Gathercole which is based on Paul and the Gospel writers.

1. The Son of God emptied himself and came into the world in Jesus Christ, becoming a servant.

2. He died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice

3. He rose from the grave as the first-fruits of a whole renewed world.

This summary is then expanded on with a neat three part idea:

The incarnation and the “Upside-down” aspect of the Gospel:

    • Jesus was the King who became a servant
    • His kingdom had an upside-down economy (the first shall be last etc…)
    • This pattern imitates Christ’s salvation (Phil 2:1-11)
    • He “won” by losing everything
    • The gospel creates a new kind of servant community
    • This challenges worldly notions of class, racial, and economic superiority

The atonement and the “Inside-out” aspect of the Gospel

    •  The outward signs of covenant matter less than the inward transformation that occurs
    • God’s kingdom “is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)
    • Not obey God so that he will love and accept me…
    • But know that God loves me so that I want to obey.
    • “Religion is outside in, but the gospel is inside out”

The resurrection and the “Forward-back” aspect of the Gospel

    • “Jesus is resurrected but we are not.  He has inaugurated the kingdom of God, but it is not fully present.”
    • The coming of the Messiah stage 1:
      • “he saved us from the penalty of sin and gave us the presence of the Holy Spirit, the down payment of the age to come (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14)”
    • The coming of the Messiah stage 2:
      • “He will come to complete what he began at the first coming, saving us from the dominion and very presence of sin and evil.  He will bring a new creation, a material world cleansed of all brokenness.”
    • “Christians now live in light of the future reality”
    • Evangelism should be telling the gospel and preparing for the judgment
    • Justice is motivated by the view that God will ultimately end all suffering
    • This understanding should prevent Christians from “dominion theology” which is the triumphalist delusion that the Church should (and can) take over society.  It should also prevent Christians from hiding away in a religious cave.

Keller then applies all this to suggest the ministry and values threads that should be evident in a church that takes this seriously. The inside-out atonement views of the church should lead it to want to do evangelism and church planting (making it look evangelical charismatic); the upside-down incarnation views should lead it to put emphasis on community, small groups, financial giving, sharing of resources, living with the poor (making it look anabaptist); and the forward-back resurrection views should lead it to want to get involved in the city, the neighbourhood, workplace ministry, and cultural engagement (leading it to look like a mainline church).   The message of the Center Church hypothesis is that churches should aim to embrace all of these qualities.

Keller then finishes the chapter by showing how “the gospel is not the ABC but the A-Z of the Christian life.”  He reminds us of the common errors made with the gospel (discussed in an earlier chapter) that it is not legalistic nor is it antinomian (law avoiding).  The gospel involves simultaneously realising  your utter sinfulness and your utter acceptance before God because of Jesus.

The gospel addresses everything.  Keller gives a series of test examples:

  • Discouragement and depression, Love and relationships, Sexuality, Family, Self-control, Race and culture, Witness, Human authority, Guilt and self-image, Joy and humour, Attitudes toward class.

The question is, “how do I get our church to embrace this kind of thinking?”  Keller’s answer, “There must first be a life-changing recovery of the gospel – a renewal in the life of the church and in the hearts of individuals.  We call this gospel renewal.”

The challenge for churches

Whether it’s an established church or a church plant, it is difficult to embrace and live out the whole vision that Keller is suggesting.  It requires highly gifted leadership and a commitment to disciple first, and implement programs later.  The danger is that churches will try and be a “Center Church” by starting a justice or evangelism program, or run a workplace ministry conference etc…  Programming a correction has always been a popular but not very effective strategy for mainline churches.  What I want to do when I plant the church in Northcote, is have a very well planned and executed discipleship strategy for the church, with the goal of seeing people find joy in Jesus, love for the church, and ultimately gospel renewal.     I guess this discipleship strategy will involve some programming, but the idea is that this will go to the source of the problem which is the need for renewal in the hearts of the people.  To mix pastoral ministry metaphors: for the people who have “dry toast” faith (joyless), they need to have the concrete smashed by gospel renewal.

Diskypleship and International Shark Mentoring

“Diskypleship”  as you might have guessed, is where discipling occurs over Skype.  Perhaps you have a mentor who lives a distance away, so you meet up online.  It works quite well.  What matters is finding the right person.  It can even work with audio only.  

I have been coached in missional leadership where my coach was in the UK and it was great.  I have also done international shark mentoring.  This is where you search out people whose advice you really want, but you only ask for one targeted and quick  “shark” meeting of 30min to an hour.  I’ve found most people respond well to this request.    Here’s my tips for the meeting:

  1. Aim high with who you target. Don’t think they won’t want to talk to you – they usually do.
  2. Know exactly what questions you want to ask
  3. Make yourself available even if it’s really inconvenient (at a crazy late hour).
  4. Ask for a referral and introduction to someone else who might have something more to offer

Last year I had a series of meetings with ministers in the US, none of whom I’d met before.  I got their details from friends that had connections, sent them an email showing that I wasn’t a total random, and they responded with interest.  This is a form of planned networking, and very beneficial.  Even if you’re an introvert, give it a go!