A Theology of Ordinary Life

So much of life feels ordinary. Paying bills. Going to school. Replying to emails. Buying toothpaste. But what if every single day we are missing many opportunities to glorify God in the ordinary?

I believe we are often guilty of a sacred/secular split in our lives. We say, “this stuff is spiritual, but this stuff is ordinary.” A more biblical view is to see all of life (even the ordinary) as gifts from God to be enjoyed, stewarded well and used to glorify God.

The Apostle Paul challenges us: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31). All of life is packed into the word “whatever.” We are called to sleep, eat, drink, work, laugh, relax, play to the glory of God.

I read a short booklet this past week by Tim Chester. It may just be the single most profoundly challenging book I have read in a long time. It is entitled: The Everyday Gospel, A Theology of Washing the Dishes. I have never realised how much the Bible has to teach about something as ordinary as cleaning the kitchen sink – but it is a picture pointing to all of life! It is about making a link between Sunday and Monday! We can easily get caught up in the outward, upfront, visible, seemingly super-spiritual endeavours of the Christian faith and yet neglect the ordinary.

Martin Luther once asked whether it was possible to change nappies to the glory of God: “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores.” Before we turn up our nose at the ordinary, Luther breathes gospel air into our lives by saying: “What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels.”

Perhaps that is why God’s Word calls church leaders to evaluate the ordinary in their lives: to be hospitable, not to abuse alcohol, to manage their families well, to have a good reputation with outsiders, etc. As someone once said to me: “Justin, you are only as spiritual as the rest of you!”

I believe the church of today is underestimating the power of the ordinary. The ordinary seems so boring compared to the great big projects of Christian endeavour. As Michael Horton writes, “‘Ordinary’ has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today … I am convinced that we have drifted from the true focus of God’s activity in this world. It is not to be found in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary, the everyday.”” (Ordinary, Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World)

The ordinary is where you spend the majority of your time. Think how much time you spend eating, sleeping (a third of your life), working & relaxing and yet how many sermons have you heard on these subjects? So few books have been written! Surely if the majority of your life will be spent asleep, or at the table, or at work or at play then we should ensure we have a robust theology of the ordinary!

The chances are that it’s one of these areas that holds the greatest potential to either help or hinder your Christian walk and witness. The ordinary is where you sin the most. We sleep, eat, drink, work and relax either too little or too much. The truth is a straight line down the middle. Most Christians shipwreck their faith or blemish their witness because something went wrong in the ordinary.

Thomas Brooks the old Puritan preacher once said in the 1600s: “Little sins often slide into our soul, and breed, and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, that they come to be so strong, as to trample the soul… a little hole in the ship sinks it; a small breach in a sea-bank carries away all before it; a little stab at the heart kills a man; and a little sin, without a great deal of mercy, will damn a man.” (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices)

May God enable us His people to redeem the ordinary as Jesus did. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He slept among us. He cried among us. He got tired among us. He ate and drank among us. He enjoyed life among us. He expressed the full range of human emotions. He infused the common and ordinary with new meaning. He touched the unclean-leprosy-ridden “things” of this world and made them clean. And then He died and rose again among us to redeem us.

I have a renewed desire to be faithful in the little things. I am challenged by Jesus’ words: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10). Perhaps it is being faithful in the ordinary things of life that will really be the next big thing – and radically change the world!

By Justin Tamlin (Pastor of Worship & Arts)