Ordinary

ordinaryOrdinary
Sustainable Faith in a Restless World
by Michael Horton

At a dinner party recently, I was asked by the man on my right, ‘What do you do?’ I breathed in and answered with as much conviction as I could muster, ‘I’m a housewife and mother.’  ‘Oh good for you’ he replied, which was generous, I thought!   Turning to my left, I just couldn’t quite believe I’d be so lucky a second time and so waffled on about looking for a job as obviously being at home was a mind-numbingly tedious, insignificant and pointless existence which anyone with at least an iota of intelligence, (which I was eager to claim) would eagerly want to escape.

What is at the heart of this inability to answer honestly?  Fear? pride?   I was afraid that each of my companions that evening would make a judgement about me based on what I do and I wanted to be thought well of.  I wanted to be thought interesting and very definitely didn’t want to be thought ‘boring’.  Aren’t many of us guilty of the same?  I just can’t admit that I haven’t done anything of particular note, my achievements count for very little and are largely unknown, and the impact of my life extends only to very few people, mainly my husband and children and church and hey, let’s face it, I’d have liked to have been a little less ordinary.

‘Ordinary’ – a dirty word?  Not an adjective you want to be used to describe your daughter or your looks or your cooking or your holiday.  Here is a book, however, that has brought the extraordinary back into ordinary as Mark Galli, Editor of Christianity Today has put it.  In essence Michael Horton shouts from the rooftops of this 211 page book – ‘Ordinary isn’t mediocre!’  but not only this, it is God’s very means of working in this world to bring a people to Himself.

Starting his book with a six chapter outline of the ‘radical and restless’ world in which we live, he pierces the heart of western culture’s lust for the new, the sensational, the life-changing and gently invites the evangelical world to recognise its own desire for ‘The Next Big Thing’.  We run after novelties  out of a right desire for excellence but Horton reminds us that ‘Excellence is [only] a virtue when it has God’s glory and our neighbour’s good in view’.  Unfortunately we turn this virtue into a vice by using our service as a ‘stage for my performance’ rather than for the good of others.  The illusion of self-justification has crept in.

It can become a terrible drug.  Rather than placing our trust in God, we learn to trust in our own piety and devotion.  Our tireless service is driven more by a desire for self-justification and self-acclaim than by being secure in Christ enough to tend now to the actual needs of others.

The alternative presented to us in the second half of the book is to be ‘ordinary and content’.  We are to resolutely re-place our trust, our justification, our significance  in Christ alone which will free us to serve others in ‘ordinary and unheralded ways’.  Rather like George Elliott’s Dorothea Brooke whose example Horton cites and who cropped up in a previous post, we are free to live ‘faithfully a hidden life’ serving others because they need it not in order to curry favour with God or enhance our reputation as ‘keen’ and ‘really going for it’.

Michael Horton is an incredibly honest writer confessing that he has himself fallen into the trap of making others the ‘supporting cast’ in his own ‘life movie’ rather than serving them out of love for Christ and for their good.   Having read this book, those who have fallen into the mirky bogs of egocentricity will find themselves liberated to pursue unashamed ‘a patient commitment to daily routines, routines that to the outside observer seem dull, trivial, worthless.’  With renewed confidence in God’s chosen means of grace, namely weekly church gatherings, preaching, prayer, baptism and The Lord’s Supper, we can allow Him to quieten our hearts and avoid the exhaustion and burnout that is worryingly prevalent in some churches.

I’ll still have to work on my dinner party answers but in the meantime, since reading this book, I am a little less perturbed by the ordinariness of my existence and have a renewed respect for other non-celebrities out there who cheerfully and without ego follow their callings under God whether noticed or not by those around them.

 

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness

The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness
by Tim Chester
Available from 10 of Those

I only realised that I’d already read this book nearly ten years ago when I recognised its former book cover in preparing to write this review.  It turns out that I was so busy at the time that I didn’t really take it on board let alone even realise I was reading it!   I’m sure that many can relate to the experience of reading whilst thinking about something completely different.

It is this epidemic of western business that Tim Chester seeks to address in this most recent edition of the 2006 book published by IVP.

I love IVP.  Here’s part of their mission statement:

Inter-Varsity Press publishes Christian books that are true to the Bible and that communicate the gospel, develop discipleship and strengthen the church for its mission in the world.

Tim Chester does just that in a book that is saturated with biblical meditation, borne out of clear gospel convictions and designed to encourage Christians to examine before God their use of time in the light of His overarching purposes for the world.

Twelve chapters of 171 pages are made accessible to the busy reader by the repeated use of bullet points, numbered lists of provocative questions, frequent emboldened section headings, italicised bible quotations and tweet-able soundbites making it a book you can read in snatched moments without losing the thread of the author’s argument.

Tim Chester starts by citing the problem of the busy Christian.  What’s so wrong with being busy?  Isn’t busy a good thing?  Well, yes, until it begins to affect health, relationships and spiritual life.  Our behaviour is driven by our beliefs but do we ever slow down enough to examine either?

There’s a historically informative first chapter which talks us through a comparison of working patterns in pre and post-industrial life.  We are then given a breakdown of attitudes to work and leisure beginning with the ancient Greeks and Romans through the transforming attitudes of the Reformation to today’s culture which ‘has made busyness a virtue’.

Whilst acknowledging that the Bible commends hard work, it also commands rest, both for the glory of God.  It’s at this point that Tim Chester starts to chisel away at our hearts and the real motives for our busyness.  The glory of God?  Or the glory of me.  He suggests six deceptions to which we are prey and then offers the protection of six liberating Biblical answers.  The first of these deceptions, ‘I’m busy because I need to prove myself’ highlights how our sense of identity and value gets confused with the work that we do.  Chester quotes Lynne Baab in her book Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest:

We don’t want to rest because we want to be indispensable.  We don’t want to stop being productive because our identities are rooted in activity and accomplishment.’

The truth is that we are justified by grace.  We need to stop trying to meet the expectations of others and stop falling into the trap of thinking we have to appease our Father with our own efforts.  In Chester’s words, ‘we don’t have to be up and about trying to make atonement.’

The reader is encouraged to ‘stop [his] frenetic activity and wait for the Lord’.  As a person who is currently not rushed off my feet, I find it salutary to observe my own inclination to fill my time as quickly as possible to justify my own existence before others and acting ‘as if God’s love will fail if [I am] not busy proving [myself] worthy.’   For any who suffer from a similar tendency, I heartily recommend this book.