My thesis in this book is that we must turn from the frantic search for “something more” to “something more sustainable.” We need to stop adding something more of ourselves to the gospel. We need to be content with the gospel as God’s power for salvation. We also need to be content with his ordinary means of grace that, over time, yield a harvest of plenty for everyone to enjoy.
Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World was written by Michael Horton, and seems to be an indirect response to David Platt’s concept of Radical. Horton’s thought is that there have been too many movements of the church attempting to do big, defying, radical things, when the Bible calls us to live out our faith in ordinary, sustainable ways. He writes on page 91: “It is no small irony that Paul encourage an aspiration – even ambition – to mind our own business and fulfill our ordinary callings.” Our goal as Christians shouldn’t be to be bigger and better than our neighbor, the church down the road, and especially not bigger and better than the Gospel God has already given us.
I began this book back in October and finished this past weekend. While full of truth, much of it is hard to swallow. I caught glimpses of myself in many of his statements. How often in my life do I become discontent with how slow things seem? I can look back over the course of my life and see so much frustration with ordinary seasons, when I was in spiritual “valleys” but wanting to live from mountaintop to mountaintop. Our Christian life is not – or at least should not be – living from one “high,” one “next big thing,” to the next. That is not a sustainable way to live.
This book spoke to me right where I am. So many of the thoughts in this book have been on my mind over the past few months. Someone commented to me a bit ago, “You’ve changed. You used to be kind of wild, always going and doing things, but you’re really settling down.” They didn’t mean it in a negative way, and I didn’t take it as such. I was grateful! God has been working in my heart, reminding me that I can settle down where I am: in the house He gave us, with the dog He gave us, at the church He brought us to, with the jobs He has blessed us with. Horton writes that contentment is the antidote to the next-big-thing mentality. While I certainly am not an expert at this yet, I am learning, and did learn so much from this book.
Horton addresses at the beginning of the book that ordinary does not mean mediocre. When I started to read it, Joshua wasn’t too sure about the concept. “I don’t want us to live boring lives,” he said with nose wrinkled. But Horton isn’t saying that we should live boring lives. The thought behind Ordinary is that we shouldn’t be reaching for the next thing, the next trip, the next revival, the next big ministry start-up. Instead, he reminds us that the everyday, ordinary things are actually what we are all called to do. “What did you do for the kingdom today?” he asks on page 208. “Our tendency might be to hesitate at that point, trying desperately to recall something worth reporting. Yet every day, in all sorts of ways we’re not even aware of, the kingdom is growing and our neighbors are being served.”
Horton tackles many heavy concepts. He calls out both the individual Christian and the universal church for the next-big-thing mentality. Horton is NOT encouraging us to be nothing but pew-warmers who watch life go by; but he is encouraging us to realize the blessings we have been given and the ministry we have each been called to: the ministry of loving those around us and serving the local church faithfully. Focusing on bigger, better, and newer distracts from the goals and purposes God laid out for His church in scripture.
Is it not remarkable enough that Jesus Christ himself is speaking to us whenever his Word is preached every week? Is it not a miracle enough that a lush garden is blooming in the desert of this present evil age? Is it not enough of a wonder that the Spirit is still raising those who are spiritually dead to life through this preached Gospel? . . . Doesn’t the longing for revival tend to create the impression that between revivals you have lulls where the Spirit is not active at least in the same power or degree of power through these means Christ appointed?
Michael Horton challenged the way I see generation segregation in churches, church “movements,” mission trips, how we as the church reach young people, and day-to-day faithfulness. The second half of the book tackles how we can shift our mindset from next-thing to present-thing. One of my favorite chapters also had the best title: “Stop Dreaming and Love Your Neighbor.” Stop wishing things were different and live where you are.