Ordinary Saints

“Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much.”

Luke 16:10 (Common English Bible)

There are people who live daily in the grip of a vast inferiority complex. Always ready to do some great thing, contribute on a grand scale, and produce extraordinary changes or innovations they fail to value the small and ordinary. With an insufficient view of less imposing matters of life they settle into a pattern of mediocrity. Worse, failure to appreciate the importance of common occasions and tasks their lives tumble into defeat and despair. Their take on a life well lived is in variance to the view of God, “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much.” God does not despise the common, ordinary, and small. On one particular occasion, Jesus celebrates the power of faith that is as small as a mustard seed.

Generally, the failure to value the common and small is located in the ignorance of the real significance of events, which we think we understand. Recently, a pastor received a note from someone in a former church who wrote of how their life was turned by some single word of compassion and hope given at a time of desperation and fear. The pastor struggled to remember the occasion, an incident that seemed so small and trivial as to scarcely warrant the pastor’s notice. On the other hand, many of us can recount high and stirring occasions, in which, at the time, appeared to have occupied a large stage in the unfolding drama of the day only now leaving no trace of importance in their memory.

One personal experience suggests that there may be more value and honor and reward in attending to the daily small and ordinary occasions than one great event. When my daughter, Rachael, was very young she spoke of a friend from school. Seated at the family dinner table, Rachael shared that Cathy’s father was taking her to Hawaii that summer for vacation. My wife and I glanced at one another, bracing for our daughter’s certain disappointment when we had to share that we simply could not afford a vacation as nice. But Rachael continued, “But I have a family that loves me and that is all I need.” That should have been enough for me but I probed deeper. “Doesn’t Cathy’s parents love her?” I asked. “Maybe. But Cathy’s dad works long hours. She never sees her dad. You help me everyday with my homework and read to me at bedtime. I prefer that.”

Jesus is asking that we reappraise the value of living honorably in the ordinary and small things of life. Not all of us will occupy a leading role in a Broadway play, serve on a prestigious board, or appear on the cover of a magazine for some extraordinary achievement. As a young disciple, Jesus tells us that we all begin “first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain.” (Mark 4:28) It is the very nature of growth that we have a humble beginning. The character of a disciple is developed by attention to the small things as growth occurs. The disciple that accepts – and loves – the duties of the common, daily walk with Christ shines brightly not because they purpose to shine, but because they are filled with the light of Christ. It is then that what may appear small and ordinary grows dignified and sacred in our sight.



Holy Moments

“So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.”

Hebrews 12:1, 2 (Common English Bible)

Emerson wrote, “Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.”[i] Moments that are holy, moments filled with richness, and depth, and mystery are rare for many of us. Yet, they do come, however fleeting they may be. They strike us as a welcomed breeze that brushes our face on an otherwise hot and still day. At one moment, it is felt, and appreciated. The next, it is gone. The difficulty that often challenges any of us is that we live largely in the ordinary. The exceptional holy moment is dismissed for practical matters of meeting the present struggle of simply getting through the day.

The author of Hebrews urges a redirection of our natural impulse to be carried by whatever distracts us from completing the race that Christ has set before us – the race to know God and live richly that life God desires for us. Here in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews we are reminded of, “a great cloud of witness surrounding us.” That is our encouragement when the race becomes difficult. If we are honest, all races become difficult. Any athlete will acknowledge the multiple forces that pull against a resolve to train – to remain with any athletic endeavor that, in one moment, inspires our best effort. When that resolve becomes weak, nothing holds our eyes on the goal quite as well as family and friends who cheer us forward.

I am a runner. The boldness to declare that comes from multiple books and magazines on running. When I look in the mirror, I see considerably more trunk fat than others who run. I see in others lean bodies covering vast distances. I still have weight to lose and I only run two miles, five mornings a week. Yet, the literature I read each evening declares that I am a runner. A runner is not determined by a measure of fitness or the speed of the run or the distance that is covered. A runner is simply someone who runs regularly. So, I am a runner. But I am a distracted runner. Each morning I walk out the door I am creatively engaged with reasons not to run. That is why I subscribe to Runner’s World magazine and read books on running. They are my “great cloud of witnesses” that keeps me in the race.

Hebrews encourages that we remain in the race that has been laid out in front of us – the race to know and live for God. And Hebrews urges that we reorganize our life, to throw off any “extra baggage” and “sin that trips us up” that hinders our run. Like an athlete, Hebrews ask that we get rid of all the extra weight of anything that creatively engages us not to spend time regularly with God – time alone in a quiet moment reading God’s word and listening. We begin by remembering – remembering a grandmother, or a father, or someone we deeply admire who ran the Christian race before us. They will be our cloud of witnesses that pushes us forward. Emerson said: “When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.”[ii]

[i] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays & Lectures (New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1983), 385

[ii] Emerson, 309


Flawed Prayers

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.”

Matthew 6:5 (Common English Bible)

“In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.”

Romans 8:26 (Common English Bible)

The Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, creates a vivid image of inadequacy that unsettles the heart of a lonely individual in the short story, White Nights: A Sentimental Love Story From The Memoirs Of A Dreamer.[i]  The protagonist moves from day to day in a stale and unprofitable life that lacks any meaningful connection to another. All that changes one night on a bridge when his life intersects that of a woman crying. A gentle expression of concern plunges into an experience of such previously unknown intimacy of conversation that he asks of the woman if he might return the next night, “I can’t help coming here tomorrow. I am a dreamer. I know so little of real life that I just can’t help reliving such moments as these in my dreams, for such moments are something I have very rarely experienced.”[ii] Jesus points to someone praying and dares to insist, “Don’t pray like that!” and Paul writes that no one really knows how to pray. From the mouth of Jesus and the writing of Paul, we learn that our prayers can be inadequate.

The prayers we utter may be flawed, but prayer remains mandated by God. Prayer makes us conscious of the presence of God and reminds us that sin and death are still at work in our lives. Prayer directs our steps and enlightens us, and changes us. Prayer expands our vision beyond ourselves – makes us something bigger than we are. The paradox is that the very thing Paul tells us we don’t know how to do is the very thing we must do. God intends it. What are we to do? Paul helps us here. Moving beyond the shattering recognition that our prayers are flawed, Paul declares that we are not left alone in our stumbling. Moving us toward Dostoyevsky’s bridge, our prayers intersect with the very Spirit of God. It is an encounter of intimacy that is found in attention to the Scriptures. As our hearts are steeped in the story of God, we are led to see the world through the eyes of God. Minds and hearts are transformed by this new intimacy, which makes us co-creators of God’s Kingdom. The Spirit takes up residency within us and makes our prayers for us.

It is the ultimate paradox – where we are the weakest, God’s power is the strongest. Unable to pray, as God would have us pray, the Holy Spirit, who knows no weaknesses, searches our hearts and makes the prayers that are most urgent on our behalf. Finally, it is an act of grace. Where we are inadequate, God completes the work of prayer – and it is work because changes in attitudes and behaviors are a direct outcome of prayer. It is dangerous work because it risks conversion from seeking God’s blessings for our own small projects and wants and needs to becoming caught up in God’s hopes and dreams for the world. The Spirit’s prayer on our behalf results in an interruption of our lives and attaches us to God’s redemptive work in the world. As we look back on the shape and character, and sense of urgency that many of our prayers of yesterday had, we realize how flawed our prayers really were. They were about us, not God. They were about our individual pursuits, not about a life in a relationship with God.  

What remains for us is to take the time regularly to read Scripture and immerse ourselves in the great story of God in the pages of the Old and New Testament. Then we reflect deeply upon what we hear in the reading and ask God what we are to do. It is not time that we find. We never find time to pray in the crush of daily life. We must take the time. Just as surely as we take the time to place a call to a loved one in the midst of an overscheduled day, block out an evening for a child’s game, or linger in bed a few additional minutes to watch a beautiful sunrise out our bedroom window, we take the time to be with God in the pages of the Bible. This intentional time of reading the Bible and prayer doesn’t further deplete our energy – it restores it! Without “God time” each day, the energy for life runs down. Yet, the marvelous discovery that waits to be experienced is that we no longer pray for God’s divine help in our lives. Day upon day of prayer will demonstrate that divine help has always been present.


[i] Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, London: Folio Society, 2021, 3-48.

[ii] Dostoyevsky, 11.


Knowing God’s Will

“Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.”

Romans 12:2 (Common English Bible)

Recently, my friend Tom Tewell shared with me a basic and helpful approach to seeking God’s will—an approach he had learned years earlier from Lloyd J. Ogilvie. The place to begin is a careful reading of the Bible and prayer. Seeking God’s will in a particular circumstance, or more generally for one’s life, must always begin with some grasp of who God is. What can we know of God and how God has worked through human history from God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures? God’s desire for today will not contradict God’s character as disclosed in the Bible. If God is opposed to adultery in the Bible, for instance, God remains opposed to adultery. Simply, we will never discern that God may be calling us to violate our marriage vows.

The second movement to discerning God’s will is by consulting with a few trusted people who have demonstrated, in some way, that they listen carefully for God’s direction. These will be people who have been widely noticed by others as “paying attention to God” as they live each day. Share with them what you think God may be calling you to do. Then invite them to place what you think you hear alongside what they know of God and God’s activity. Is there consistency? Does what you believe God is saying match up with the God your friends have come to know from years of following Christ? Some Christian leaders refer to this practice as “discernment in community.” Bring what you hear to a faithful community so they can say if it makes sense to them from what they know of God.

Finally, pay attention to the opportunities that present themselves—and those that don’t. What some may simply call “circumstances” may be powerful indicators of what God is up to in your life. If you believe God is calling you to missionary work overseas and no doors seem to be opening for that to happen, it is well to rethink if God’s will has been properly discerned. On the other hand, if you sense God is calling you to partner with Habitat for Humanity for building homes for the poor, and you have particular skills for building homes, and have discretionary time available in your routine rhythm of life and then hear of a specific need from that organization that you can meet, and feel a burden for those who can’t afford a home—well, you see where I am going.

Many ask why finding God’s will has to be such a struggle. My own take on that is that God planned it that way. It is in the struggle that we go deeper and deeper in a relationship with God. Think of it this way. A meaningful relationship with a spouse is built by paying close attention to their likes and dislikes over a long period of time. We listen carefully when they speak. We watch what makes them happy and what discourages them. We take notice of their idiosyncrasies. This takes effort, naturally. But it is the effort—over time—that results in a deep and satisfying relationship with another. God wants no less from us.