God in the Ordinary
Updated: Apr 30
During the past fifty-four years since I cme to faith, there have been some incredible highs and some pretty awful lows when the very fabric of my faith has been tested to the limit. Nevertheless, most of the journey has been very ordinary as it often is and probably should be, because faith takes place in the ordinariness of everyday life.
There isn’t one way of coming to faith or model of conversion. And the imposition of a particular model can be very damaging to individuals and the life of a Christian community. A few years ago, I was teaching a group of Salvation Army Youth Leaders from across Australa about models of conversion and dealing with what I call the ‘Gradual Incline Model,’ which is fairly common with people brought up in a Christian family. When several of them began to cry because all their lives they had been taught that they needed a dramatic Pauline style conversion. For the first time in their lives someone had legitimized their experience of a continual growth and trust in Jesus Christ without and dramatic conversion experience.
The stories of people coming to faith and the journey of faith fascinate me. May be it’s because I haven’t quite grown up and I still love stories. Nonetheless, that’s a badge I am happy to wear because it’s a sad thing when we can longer be drawn in and be fascinated by stories of life and faith.
Yet I must admit that I am tired of the hype and the celebrity that often surrounds the telling of conversion stories in somr of our churches today. Too often it’s the dramatic and at times the weird and wonderful that gets celebrated rather than the ordinary and the everyday. Not that anyone’s story is ordinary. Too often we end up putting people on pedestals from which it is so easy to fall.
One of the things I have really appreciated over this past 25 years is hearing the most extraordinary ordinary stories of faith from students and members of faith communities with whom I have been connected, often from very ordinary, yet extraordinary people. Sometimes it has been how they came to faith. At other times it has been about their overall life’s journey. On other occasions, it's concerned what God has been doing in their life in the past week. But it has been just wonderful how those stories have been used by God to draw God’s people closer together in the variety of contexts in which they have been told. And in the process, creating safe and open communities where people can be real and honest about who they are, what God is doing in their lives and about all the garbage they are dealing with. It's been exciting to see people laugh together, cry together and pray together as God has turned up in some extraordinary ways.
The Lord of The Rings is one of my favourite books, which I have read some 19 or 20 times. But the characters who really catch my attention are not the great ones, Gandalf, Aragon, Elron, etc. But the Hobbit’s, who in the story are so ordinary, and yet they do such extraordinary things and when they return home from their great adventure they are treated so matter-of-factly. There is something beautiful about that which is wonderfully real and incredibly down to earth.
One of the things that really annoyed me when I was working in West Papua was that when we went back to Scotland to our home church on furlough there were always some people who just wanted to put us on a pedestal. They thought we were some wonderful spiritual superheroes for doing mission work. I always quite deliberately set them straight in the nicest possible way and made a point of kicking over the pedestal. The reality was that once people really got to know me they soon realized that there was no pedestal to kick over. Why do we want to put people on pedestals? Why don’t we celebrate the ordinary? God works in the ordinary and not just the spectacular. Often it is the small things that change the course of our lives.
The conversion of C.S Lewis is fascinating. First, he was converted from Atheism to Theism, and later he was converted from Theism to Christianity. In coming to faith in Christ, he spent a lot of time reading Chesterton and conversing with Tolkien and other great minds. However, his conversion took place in a very ordinary way. He was traveling from home to Whipsaned Zoo for a picnic, not thinking about anything noteworthy along the way. Of this journey he says that when he set off he did not believe in Christ and when he arrived he did.
Now what can be more ordinary than that?