Providence in the Ordinary

I’m not usually one for posting public, personal memoirs, but thought it half appropriate to reflect on recent concrete examples of God’s providence. In the last couple weeks, I found myself discontent with my seemingly very “ordinary” current situation: working a lot of nights at Chick-fil-A, not seeing my wife as much as I’d like to, getting adjusted to a new area, struggling to make new friends because of a lack of time and proximity, and immersing ourselves to a small body of believers at a recent church plant. It would just be so much easier and better if our lives would “arrive” already, right? Library school and internship complete, new jobs secured, family started, booming spiritual growth, and bustling social life. In a way, I was becoming bored with my current situation, looking ahead to the future. In my warped thinking, I felt like boredom is not a burden I should be bearing.

I’m not talking about a flashy life. There are some who are called to live extraordinary lives, but that isn’t the norm. Most of us live ordinary lives at regular jobs, including ordinary plodding pastors or stay at home moms (arguably the most challenging full-time job there is). I wasn’t growing discontent because of the longing for a sexy, enviable lifestyle. But, in God’s providence evidenced in several circumstances, I was convicted of my discontent, driven to gratitude for where God has placed us right now, and motivated to use what He has given us even more in our current life situation. Through these situations, I learned to embrace the “ordinary” while not settling for less (an important distinction to make); give thanks in and for the ordinary because I don’t even deserve half that much; and give God the glory He deserves in the ordinary, for everything I do should be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31 wrenched out of context).

God, in His providence (some might say a mere coincidence) coalesced these separate circumstances into one big lesson in contentment (not necessarily chronologically ordered).

  1. I read Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, in which the protagonist lives out an ambiguous existential crisis, which he dubs his “search.” He struggles between a life of significance (doing medical research) and the simple life (a simple financial broker but cognizant of the deep realities of life and living with them). To quote him, “Once I thought of going into law or medicine or even pure science. I even dreamed of doing something great. But there is much to be said for giving up such grand ambitions and living the most ordinary life imaginable, a life without the old longings; selling stocks and bonds and mutual funds; quitting work at five o’clock like everyone else; having a girl and perhaps one day settling down and raising a flock of Marcias and Sandras and Lindas of my own.”
  2. Reflecting on this book led to a long talk with Elizabeth about aspirations, the future, our gifts, our goals, our current situations, and how we can be used as God’s instruments where we are right now. Thank you, Lord, for such an amazing wife.
  3. Our church sponsored a Calvin conference, with one of the talks focusing on the concept of vocation, or calling. Especially helpful was the fact that a vocation isn’t just a future career, but it also includes working to His glory wherever He has placed me currently.
  4. Elizabeth and I listened to a helpful White Horse Inn broadcast on boredom and entertainment, which spoke to the dangers of viewing the Christian life as “what I can get out of it” – especially from an boredom/stimulation perspective. Because of our culture’s emphasis on entertainment and constant (over-) stimulation, it’s easy to feel like we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing when our lives aren’t exciting or exactly how we want them to be. From a worship point of view, God has chosen to minister to us through “ordinary” means – Word and sacrament. So, too, in the context of life in general, when we lose the concept of laboring in our vocations in favor of more stimulating thoughts or methods, we lose out on what God has ordained from His word.
  5. We also reflected on Psalm 34 (and sung in corporate worship), a complex song with many themes, a prominent one is praising Him in every circumstance (it’s an especially meaningful Psalm of Scott and Becca). Some key verses are 1-3 and 8-10: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

I know these aren’t really profound new truths that I happened across, nor are they very well-developed here, but they are an example of God using ordinary means to teach His children and drive them to His word and to prayer. To quote a different Percy novel, “Poor as I am, I feel like God’s spoiled child. I am Robinson Crusoe set down on the best possible island with a library, a laboratory, a lusty Presbyterian wife, a cozy tree house, an idea, and all the time in the world.” Embracing the ordinary, cultivating my garden, not dreaming of Utopia but content where God has placed me, where I can ordinarily think and work to His extraordinary glory.

10 thoughts on “Providence in the Ordinary

  1. Thanks for this post Joel! I, too, struggle with leading an "ordinary" life. I really liked that episode of the White Horse Inn that you referenced. You're the coolest brother-in-law 🙂

  2. I think with our culture of over-stimulation, we not only become discontent with the ordinary, but we often fail to be stimulated by things that are actually wonderful! Like being in a new place, having an internship, thinking about starting a family, having so much to look forward to. As I read your post, I realized that we are on the cusp of so much; perhaps it's because we're attuned to expect immediate gratification that we have a hard time savoring the anticipation of what may be near at hand, or even a wonderful longing.I have more thoughts but this is turning into a post in its own right. Becca: Here's to lusty Reformed wives (can't say Presbyterian anymore, that would rule me out). Hehe….

  3. For the record:lusty: adj. (lustier, lustiest); healthy and strong; full of vigor: the other farms had lusty young sons to work the land | lusty singingOrigin: Middle English, from lust (in the early sense [vigor])I love that "in the early sense" qualifier.

  4. You've always been good with your word choices Joel, and I wouldnt want you any other way. Only thing I'd disagree with here is when you said that these arent profound new truths. Seeing the beauty in our ordinary lives is very profound. What insight is deeper than seeing Christ in our lives right where we are? As for "new", and I'm not sure such a thing exists, but these truths are quite different from the general views of society and in that way can be seen as new, especially new is that feeling of joy and peace we receive when we let go of our longings for a more exciting life.Dont sell yourself short here, you've happened upon something very important. Glad you posted.

  5. Alex, I would love to reunite with you and spend a weekend talking with you somehow. Your comments give me the strong impression that you are not the same person I grew up with, nor the one who left New Jersey.

  6. Well Scott, I've heard that it takes 7 years for every cell in your body to die and be replaced. So its 2009 and I left in 2002… guess that makes me a completely different person :)Since I'm on the opposite side of the country and spending a weekend together talking is not an option, you could always email me (stillcantdance at gmail dot com) or we can continue discussions around random blog posts. Also, Caitlyn and I will be in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for a week around Christmas. Joel- I really want to see you and Liz! Maybe we could all hang out together?

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