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Seeking God in the Ordinary

09 Sep Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Seeking God in the Ordinary
Seeking God in the Ordinary
 

“There are no ordinary moments.” – Dan Millman

I don’t recall the first time I heard the phrase “there are no ordinary moments,” but I do remember my reaction. I nodded my head with the vague comprehension of someone who didn’t want to look like they didn’t get it. Something about every moment being extraordinary… It’s a saying with the kind of profound ring to it that makes you want to hang it up like a motivational poster in your office.

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But when you stop and think about it for a moment, reality starts to disagree with the sentiment. There are ordinary moments, boring moments, and mundane moments. There are moments spent folding towels, raking leaves, or vacuuming. There are little, necessary, common moments that make up much of our lives and many of us are just not okay with that.

I’ve had my own fair share of struggling with the ordinary. I’ve felt the itch to go on an adventure, do something spectacular, infuse a day with wonder… and then I found myself stuck in traffic on the way to work. Ordinary moments seem inescapable.

Looking for God in the Highlights

Spiritually speaking, we can be extraordinary moment junkies. I think we have a tendency to look for the mountaintop moments in our spiritual lives. Those highlight reel moments when God showed up and moved in a powerful way. Those are the easiest moments to remember and savor. Those are the moments we want to capture and hang on to forever.

I think of Moses encountering God on Mount Sinai, Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel. It seems easier to perceive God in those highlight moments. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration wanted to setup camp and hangout a little longer. Who can blame him for dragging his feet to leave that moment?

It feels easier to see God in the extraordinary moments.

Extraordinary moments just seem more meaningful.

And as a result, we acquire a distaste for the ordinary. It tastes dry and bland in our mouths. Ordinary moments are like stale white bread. They’re uncomfortable to chew and harder to swallow.

Consolation and Desolation

But if we go back a bit into the history of the church, we find brothers and sisters who worked hard to finding God in the ordinary moments. They lived with a deep conviction that God was active and present in every moment of every day regardless of how normal it seemed. They captured this concept in two key words: Consolation and Desolation.

Their conviction was that God was as present and at work in the ordinary moments as He was in the extraordinary ones. He was as active in our moments of dryness and despair as He is in our moments of triumph and joy.

For them, the hard work of spiritual disciplines was intended to help us develop the eyes to see God and the ears to hear God in each of these moments. And when we’re able to perceive God in the ordinary moments, we respond with a softened heart and faithful obedience.

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I often use the image of these two trees with my students to illustrate the ideas of consolation and desolation. On the left is a dry barren tree that has been withered and gnarled by time. On the right, a similar tree, only this one is bright and cheery, blossoming with energy and life.

On the left, desolation. On the right, consolation.

Desolation

  • What pulls me away from God? (People, Conversations, Activities, etc.)
  • What drains my soul?
  • “When did God’s presence seem farthest away from me today?”
  • Can tend to cause us to turn in on ourselves or isolate ourselves from others.

Consolation

  • What draws me closer to God? (People, Conversations, Activities, etc.)
  • What is life-giving?
  • “When did I sense God’s presence the most today?”
  • Can tend to direct our focus outside and beyond ourselves. It can encourage us to share freely with others out of our abundance.

God is just as present and active in our desolation as he is in our consolation. We just need to take the time to see Him there.

Looking for God in the Soup

There’s a beautiful little book from the 1600’s entitled Practicing the Presence of God written by a man known only as Brother Lawrence. In his book, Brother Lawrence expressed a humble and sincere desire to truly pray without ceasing, to be continually engaged with God at every moment of every day.

Lacking the education to be considered for the clergy, Brother Lawrence spent his life as a layman (think fulltime volunteer) in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. There his chief responsibilities consisted of making the daily soup and cleaning the floor. Later in his life, he was given the task of repairing sandals.

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I don’t know about you, but the thought of stirring a pot, scrubbing a floor, and fixing a broken strap day after day, year after year, doesn’t sound exactly appealing. And yet as he captures in his book, Brother Lawrence saw each as an opportunity to be fully present with God… in the boring, ordinary, mundane moments. God was as present and active in those moments as He would be on any mountaintop.

A few thoughts from a fellow follower named Lawrence:

“Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”

“Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone.”

May we all learn to seek God in the ordinary today. May we meet Him there and respond with humble gratitude and faithful obedience.

Aaron Brown
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Aaron Brown is an Assistant Professor of Student Ministry at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. He attended Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Before coming to LBC, he was the Sr. High Director at Living Word Community Church in Red Lion, PA. Aaron serves as the Project's editor and web guy.