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Plodding: An Ordinary Article for Ordinary People

October 25, 2022 | Dr. Jim Keena

I once told mom, “I feel like I’m a jack-of-all-trades and the master of none.” My words were a thinly veiled way of saying, “I’m ordinary.” Because in my mind, compared to my elementary school classmates, I didn’t measure up. Keith was smart. Jamie was pretty. Lee was musical. Danny was fast, and I was ordinary. But I quietly yearned to be extraordinary because who wants to be ordinary?

Michael Horton, in his book Ordinary, captures this sentiment well:

“Ordinary” has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, “My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary”? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, has ordinary friends, and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count. We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference…. We have to live up to our Facebook profile.

It’s been over fifty years since that brief conversation with mom. Since then, I’ve recognized that being ordinary can be extraordinary. Here are three reasons why.

God Uses Ordinary People

The first reason is ordinary Christians are ordinarily God’s means for his extraordinary work. In Acts chapter 4, the ruling religious elite was disturbed that God was blessing the ministry of the Apostles Peter and John. Threatened by their success, they ordered them arrested and placed on trial. After hearing their testimony, Luke writes, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

God used two “unschooled, ordinary men” to astonish their antagonistic rulers. Because, even to their adversaries, it was apparent God used these ordinary men to bring great glory to God. And they reluctantly agreed the disciples were emboldened through knowing Jesus.

Later, Paul reaffirmed that God uses ordinary people. Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase, writes:

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? (1 Cor. 1:26-28, The Message).

Just because we’re ordinary doesn’t mean we’re secondary. God deliberately chooses “nobodies” to embody the gospel to the “somebodies.” All Christians are common “jars of clay” with the “treasure” of the gospel hidden inside. Why? Paul writes, “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

God Uses the Ordinary Means of Grace

Secondly, God ordinarily uses the ordinary means of grace to do his extraordinary work. Michel Horton writes, “The tendency of the evangelical movement has always been to prioritize extraordinary methods and demands over the ordinary means that Christ instituted for sustainable mission.” Without diminishing the miraculous, God typically uses the common spiritual practices of corporate worship, personal prayer, and scripture study for believers to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

The early church daily practiced the ordinary means of grace. They faithfully practiced the spiritual disciplines of obeying “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer” (Acts 2:42). As a result, God extraordinarily “added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

Ordinary Isn’t Mediocre

Thirdly, the call to being ordinary isn’t a call to mediocrity. It doesn’t mean living a purposeless life devoid of lofty aspirations and significant accomplishments. Christians should still be ambitious to do extraordinary things for God. Oswald Sanders wrote, “Ambition which centers on the glory of God and welfare of the church is a mighty force for good,” Ordinary Christians should have extraordinary ambitions and make radical decisions to pursue God’s will.

One example is William Carey. He had a God-sanctioned ambition to take the gospel to the nations. In a sermon on May 31, 1792, he said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God!” Following his message, extraordinary things happened, the Baptist Mission Society was formed, the modern missionary movement was born, and Carey became a pioneering missionary to India. What was the secret to his success? Later in life, he wrote:

If one should think it worth his while to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.

Some have created a false dichotomy between being a radical Christian and an ordinary Christian. According to Jesus, ordinary Christianity, at its essence, is simply loving God and loving people (cf. Matt. 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-28). Therefore, the ordinary plodding of daily loving God and loving others is radical! Radical Christianity and ordinary Christianity are two peas in the same pod.

After thirty years of vocational ministry, I realize I’m a “jack-of-all-trades” pastor. I’m neither a brilliant academician, an incredibly gifted leader, or a mesmerizing preacher. But the Lord has used my ordinary gifts to bring the extraordinary gospel to others. I’m grateful to have been a pastor. I’ve preached thousands of sermons and baptized hundreds of believers. I’ve served God in sixteen countries on five continents. And I’m humbled to see the churches where I pastored the longest thriving today. And now, I’ve transitioned from the pulpit to the classroom, where I’m training the next generation of pastors and Christian leaders. How did all this come about? In retrospect, my ambition has been to bring extraordinary glory to God through my ordinary desire to love God and people.

I can plod, and you can plod too!

Dr. Jim Keena

Professor of Pastoral Theology and Church Relations

Dr. Jim Keena was senior pastor of the Evangelical Free Church of Bozeman from 2008 through early 2020, when he joined the faculty […]

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