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Substance (9) – Welcome to the Ordinary

Last week I wrote about how Christ did not come to simply save us from the guilt of our sins, He also freed us from the power of sin. In following Christ we are asked to kill our sin. This does not make us right with God; salvation is a free gift. But part of the gift of salvation is victory over sin. To put it another way, while justification is a gift we receive passively, our sanctification is something we actively participate in through the power of God’s Spirit. One way to grow in sanctification is to embrace ordinary things.

Many believe that nothing is worse than being ordinary. We worship youth and Photoshop our models. We avoid long-term responsibility and celebrate leisure, luxury and obsess about celebrity. Yet real human life is ordinary. It is made up of roles, rhythms, responsibilities, and repetitions. In the end it is ordinary things done competently, faithfully, and joyfully that make up a life worth celebrating. We must embrace these things in such a way that we find in them a life worth living.

Consider the things that we pursue in place of ordinary life. Sensual pleasures don’t last, they can’t even fill a day. Because they are decreasingly satisfied by repetition they require time to recharge their intensity. For example, no one wants to eat right after they’ve eaten; no one wants their arms stroked for 2 hours. Yet the visceral pleasures are the only pleasures the flesh knows and for many people they are the only pleasures that they know. This has always been the case. The difference is we can now broadcast them on social media and get additional pleasure and recognition from how extraordinary we appear. Yet whether it is food, shopping, naps, or hobbies they diminish as we treat them like more than they’re meant to be and in the end they make our lives smaller—they make us typical and miserable.

In God’s creation the extraordinary life is found by embracing the ordinary in life with extraordinary character. And if you misunderstand God’s purposes, you will miss happiness. God has intentionally designed the world in such a way as to frustrate the world’s attempts to grasp happiness and meaning apart from Him. God wants us to receive happiness as a sheer gift from Him as we go about ordinary life with substance. He doesn’t want us to lose our lives by chasing happiness, ending up with nothing but thistles and mist in the end.

We live in a tension knowing that the universe has eternity in it and that there is deep meaning to be found in it. And yet everything is only beautiful in it’s time: our pleasures don’t last. According to Pastor Gibson, in Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote that accepting these limitations is the key to human meaning and happiness.

Solomon wrote that he was full of delight while doing work, but when he surveyed the results of his work he was filled with hatred and despair. This is like dishes. You can be perfectly happy washing them and making them clean, but what have you accomplished? Nothing lasting! This is true of everything in life: nothing lasts like we want to. The solution is not to seek other or novel things, the answer is to trust God by taking pleasure in what is wholesome and ordinary. For what God frustrates in our independence and self-will He freely gives as blessing when we trust and revere Him.

We need to accept the burden that God has put on us and let go of seeking happiness in our worldliness and idolatry. We have no access to ultimate meaning outside the Ultimate One. Yet we fear that we really do only live once and that our lives will soon be spent. We fear missing out. This leads us to frantically chase the pleasures of the world. But there is and can be no happiness in seeking things outside of God. We see this in the lives of those that attach themselves to great causes. Too often they overlook the people right front of them, for they get focused on some abstraction of humanity, rather than the concrete neighbors God has placed in their lives.

Yet the longing to be extraordinary is given by God. Why is that? God wants us to be extraordinary in character, not in the things we consume. Normal life has meaning because every role, responsibility, rhythm, and repetition is an opportunity and avenue for love. Every moment is an opportunity to either love or deny love.

When we seek good things in Christ we will find Christ, the good that we sought, and happiness; when seek happiness apart from Christ we’ll miss Christ, lose good things, and become unhappy. The secret to happiness isn’t attaining a certain extraordinary thing, but rather receiving and enjoying normal things in Christ.