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Finding God In The Ordinary

 

  It was spectacular!  

 

My wife and I stood on the balcony of the unit we had rented for the Australia Day weekend and watched the fire works display in the local park. For at least 10 minutes we were treated to the sights and sounds of this event that celebrated the landing of the First Fleet way back in 1788.   The local organizers were to be congratulated for the effort that had obviously been expended to provide such a colourful and noisy demonstration of pride and gratitude for our country.  

 

From where we stood outside our 6th floor unit we had an excellent view of proceedings. In one direction we could see across the lake and in another direction we could see right up the coastline past the lighthouse and from there out to sea. At one point I noticed that the cars using the bridge had slowed almost to a stop because the drivers and their passengers did not want to miss this celebratory event. Yes, it was quite a spectacle. But in the midst of all the noise and colour of this spectacle, I became aware of another light that was not part of this demonstration.  

 

The lighthouse.  

 

In fact I had noticed this light each night we had been in our holiday unit but had not paid much attention to it. No, that's not quite true. I had found myself timing how often it flashed. Every 12 seconds. Perhaps it was the ultimate expression of predictability. I found myself comparing the two demonstrations. One was very spectacular. The other was very predictable. One was a magnificent collage of colour. The other was just a white light. One was noisy and demanding. The other was noiseless but persistent.  

 

Life's important lessons are often expressed in simple comparisons. Spiritual lessons are also to be seen in life's simple activities. The natural world often reflects the supernatural.   I slowly became aware that such a lesson was right there in front of me. A comparison was forming in my mind.

 

There's no doubt the fireworks display was spectacular. It seemed to thunder the message, "Look at me!". So many colours. So much noise. I couldn't tell what would happen next. Would it be a missile launched high into the sky to explode in all the colours of the rainbow? Would it be an eruption at ground level like a mini volcano?   Meanwhile the lighthouse kept doing what it did every night. Every 12 seconds it would flash its white light without sound of any kind. Just like it had done for decades. And would probably do for decades to come. The previous night there were no fireworks. The next night there would be no fireworks. Just the predictable white light every 12 seconds.  

 

It's probably good for us to enjoy the spectacular display from time to time. However, it won't change or effect our lives in any lasting way. But, in the case of the lighthouse, there have been ships and mariners that have needed that solo white light so that they could take their bearings and navigate safely to their destination.   Who knows but that over the decades since that lighthouse was built there have been sailors who owe their very lives to the activity of that beacon.  

 

I then found myself thinking about another spectacular display. Elijah, thinking he was alone in his opposition to the worship of the Baal god, challenged the prophets of this false god to a contest that proved to be spectacular. "The god who answers by fire, he is God."The account in 1 Kings 18 graphically describes the awesome display of God's power – God's fireworks, if you like. It was spectacular, to say the least.   But in the very next chapter Elijah was confronted with another demonstration that included a dramatic earthquake, shattering wind….and fire. But this time God was not in the fire. No, He was in the "still, small voice" or "the gentle whisper" as another translation has it.  

 

I don't think we have to choose between the spectacular and the predictable. For my part, I want to experience both. I think the lesson for me is simply this, "Don't discount or dismiss the importance of the seemingly unimportant and predictable in your Christian journey". I think this principle has particular application to Pastors and leaders. Much of what they do can seem predictable and ordinary. Sometimes we can be surprised by the presence of God in just such a setting.  

 

We live in an age when multi-media technology overloads our sensory faculties. It seems like only the spectacular is worthy of our attention. The current generations are bombarded with laser lights and head-banging noise.   I've been in some church services that are like that. I guess that's OK so long as we don't make the mistake of thinking that God can only be found in the noise and flashing lights of earthquake, wind and fire.  

 

Yet another scene jumped to mind as I reflected on this contrast between the spectacular and the ordinary. This scene involved Elijah's successor, Elisha, and his encounter with the Field Marshall of a foreign power, the Arameans. You may be familiar with the story of Naaman and how he heard of the power of the prophet to heal leprosy, the very disease that afflicted this great warrior. (2 Kings 5)   Naaman arrived at the dwelling of Elisha loaded down with hopes, gifts and quite a few expectations as to how this was all going to happen. It was to be a lesson in humility that Naaman neither expected or welcomed.

 

In the first place, Elisha did not even do Naaman the courtesy of welcoming him in person. Elisha sent his servant to greet this high ranking soldier. Humility 101!! Then he was told via the servant to go and wash in the Jordan 7 times and he would be healed. Humility 201!!   It's at this point in the story that we get an insight into Naaman's expectations. He had expected something much grander than what actually transpired. He expected the spectacular. He thought the prophet would emerge and wave his hands and call on the name of his God – something much more suited to the importance of the occasion and the players involved. Something quite mind-blowing. Something involving pomp and ceremony. Something spectacular!!   His expectations went unmet. Instead he was directed to do something ordinary. Something that the locals did every day perhaps?    

 

So Naaman was angry. Fortunately for him, his own officers urged him to do the simple act of bathing 7 times in the Jordan rather than go home angry and unhealed. Their logic prevailed. Naaman abandoned his expectation of the spectacular and found the power of God in the ordinary. Humility 301!!  

 

Yet another contrast came to mind as I pondered these 2 Old Testament scenarios. This time I found myself in the New Testament. The first chapter of 1 Corinthians, in fact.   The Apostle Paul is here drawing a comparison between those whom God has actually called to be His people as against those we might have expected Him to call. According to the common thinking of the day, God would be expected to choose those who were spectacularly successful (the wise, the powerful and the wealthy) rather than the plain vanilla, ordinary people (the foolish, the powerless and the despised).

 

Unexpectedly, God is attracted to weakness, to the ordinary, to the 'underdog'.   In his subsequent letter to the Corinthian Church (2 Cor.12), Paul shares something of his own experience and his desire to find God's power in healing or, at least, the removal of that much-debated "thorn in the flesh" – whatever it was. It was in that season of pleading and begging that Paul made an unexpected discovery. God's power works best through our weakness. Who would have thought it?! God is attracted to weakness, not strength.  

 

Finding God in the ordinary. The everyday events, circumstances and situations. A baby in a manger. A wedding where they had run out of wine. A funeral of a widow's only son. A group of fishermen who had come back empty-handed. A prostitute who longed for forgiveness. A man executed as he is nailed to a cross; the ultimate expression of weakness.  

 

This coming week, how does it look to you? Are you expecting an ordinary week? If so, stay alert. That is just the setting where God hangs out.  

 

But let me go back to where this started. The lighthouse.   I've thought often about that lighthouse since that Australia Day weekend. I wonder if there were any sailors out at sea that night who witnessed the spectacle of the fireworks. If there were, I'm sure none would have been foolish enough to use that display for navigation purposes.  

 

The lighthouse is still there providing a navigation point for those on a journey. I want my Church to be a place where people can find God in both the fire (when God chooses to manifest Himself in that way) and in the still small voice or gentle whisper.   But, even before that, I recognize my own need, as their Pastor, to look for God in the ordinary and predictable patterns and responsibilities of everyday pastoral ministry.

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