Most of us want to both fit in and stand out. We want to be included in the group, yet we would like to rise above the ordinary and make a unique contribution.
Well, times are changing. Those contradictory desires are passé. Cling to them at the expense of your reputation. Though we still want to be part of a larger group, ordinary is the new cool.
God Delights in Using Average People…
Some people have smarts, money, status, and just plain pizzazz; other people don’t. God calls and uses those who don’t, though he occasionally makes exceptions. The people who ate with Jesus were the marginalized, the misfits, the ones who had to work for everything they ever got and still couldn’t make it, the unattractive, and the ones who didn’t seem to be worth much, at least in the minds of the cultural elites. You wouldn’t think that such a group would be at the very center of a world-shaking movement that will last forever. Even ordinary people would stock their inner circle with the best and brightest if we were to rule the world. But God is different. He delights in using average people to advance his kingdom.
Fishermen rather than Pharisees.
Shepherds rather than rich men.
And women! In New Testament times, the status of women was on par with children and slaves, who could contribute nothing of value to the empire.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor 1:26–29)
…But We Still Want Status
So what do you boast in? What would you like to be able to boast in?
Me personally? Ugh. A sermon that keeps most people awake, decent evaluations from students, physical abilities with which I can beat my sons-in-law at some sports or physical games. The list could go on.
My own story can easily be told as “One person’s futile quest to avoid the ordinary.” I wasn’t better looking than others, so I searched for above-average-ness in other areas. Swimming was one. It served fairly well in high school and college. Then I discovered there were people who were just plain faster than me, and more effort on my part wouldn’t change that. So I quit swimming in my junior year of college. That decision, I thought, wasn’t ordinary. Not too many people quit while they are having some success. The reason I gave people for quitting: “There are more important things in life” (said in a slightly condescending way). The real reason I quit: I knew there was fast competition and I didn’t want accept that I was an average swimmer.
So I threw my hat in with academics. The resulting sense of being special lasted about two months. Smarter people, I discovered, were everywhere. With my “above-average better-than-you list” depleted, I was feeling weak and useless, which is apparently a fine setting for being converted, which is what happened.
But it has taken a while to enjoy being weak and not too important.
Aim for the Ordinary
Here are ways to aim for ordinary. Most of them come from the apostle Paul.
- Remember that everything you have has been given to you. You didn’t earn your life, breath, or talents.
- Allow emerging aches, pains, and physical disabilities to remind you that you are, indeed, wasting away.
- Enjoy being needy before God and others. You certainly cannot survive without God’s moment-to-moment care. And you cannot survive without the other members of the body of Christ.
- Approach the Lord with fear and reverence.
- Identify yourself as the Lord’s slave, and delight in that.
- Remember, when you aim to find anything in which to boast, or (as we say more often) anything in which to find your identity, you cannot also boast in Jesus. You can only do one or the other.
Ordinary is Not Mediocre
This, of course, is not an ode to mediocrity. Mediocrity arises out of indifference, and the kingdom of heaven has no room for indifference. And this is not an excuse for laziness. Indolence is a kind of self-indulgence, and that, too, has no place in the kingdom. Instead, I am using ordinary and average as ways to say that status is ascribed to us by the Lord, not achieved. This leads to a lifestyle that doesn’t seek the praise of other people.
Life works like this. Everyone is ordinary. Yes, I know that we are made in God’s image, but that gives us no reason to take pride in ourselves. Those who have come to terms with their ordinariness are on a path of uniqueness and strength. They have learned to think less often about themselves. Get to know them and you have a sense that you are with greatness. Those who insist on personal reputation are brutish and small. Get to know them and you extend pity.
I too often straddle both groups.