The Worthy Desire To “Rise Above The Ordinary” as a Christian

There is a sense in which my book, “The Remarkable Replacement Army”, sets out to discover a biblical lifestyle, for the years ahead, that would be within the reach of ‘ordinary’ Christians.  In days gone-by I often used to feel that many Christian preachers and writers were aiming at turning us all into people like the Apostle Paul – ‘super-heroes’ of the Faith – which I felt was somewhat unrealistic.  So, when I began to explore what Jesus was calling us to, in the rapidly-changing situation in which I believe we are going to find ourselves, I wanted to be sure that the lifestyle I described was a possibility for any sincere believer, and not the province of ‘special’ people.  I am sure, from the Gospels, that Jesus was always motivated by that intention.  Just as there was an active role in the Norwegian Resistance for absolutely anyone who was loyal to King Haakon, so there is an active role in ‘Kingdom Life’ for every sincere follower of King Jesus.

Having said all that, I have always been moved by the Christian person who has a strong desire to rise above the ordinary – the man or woman who adopts a motto like “My Utmost for His Highest” or “Expect Great Things From God; Attempt Great Things For God”.  Jesus’ ‘Parable of the Sower’ (Matt. 13:1-8) talks about different levels of fruit-bearing.  It’s a great attitude to want to ‘bear fruit’, not merely thirty-fold, or even sixty-fold, but a hundred-fold!

With hindsight, I realise that, in “The Remarkable Replacement Army”, I haven’t actually talked about how to aim at that perfectly praiseworthy target – how to be more than just an ‘ordinary’ Christian.  In this article, I want to correct that omission.

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There is advice, from the teaching of Jesus, that can be summed up in the following way: ALWAYS DO THE ‘ORDINARY’ WHOLEHEARTEDLY, AND, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER WILL MAKE YOUR CONTRIBUTION EXTRA-ORDINARY.

You will find this teaching in two very similar (but not identical) parables that Jesus told: the ones traditionally entitled, in our bibles, “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30), and “The Parable of the Pounds” (Luke 19:11-27). (In some of the more modern translations, the Luke story is headed “The Parable of the Minas”. The ‘talent’ and the ‘mina’ were the two gold coins of the Greek Ancient World – coins that, even after the Romans took over, were still very much in use.  The ‘mina’ was not particularly valuable as gold coins go – worth about a day’s wages for an average working man – but the ‘talent’ was worth considerably more.)

Let’s look first at the “Parable of the Pounds (or Minas)” in Luke’s Gospel.  Before going on a journey, the master in the story gives ten of his servants a mina each.  When he comes back, he finds that some of the servants had done something positive with what he had committed to them, and brought about an increase, while at least one had failed completely to do anything about what had been entrusted to him.  The master was angry with the unproductive servant, but to those whose work had been productive, he said, in effect: “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, I’m going to give you a very big responsibility”  (The man who had turned the single mina into ten minas was given the governorship of ten cities, and the man who had made five minas, was put in charge of five cities!) (Luke 19:17 and 19)

In some ways, it seems a bit over the top – given the governorship of ten cities just because they made a profit of about a week’s wages on the minimum wage!  However, the master saw the servant’s potential, because of his faithfulness in something quite small.  When Jesus wants to entrust a major task to one of His followers, He will look to see who has been totally faithful in small matters.  If you look at the biographies of any of the great ‘heroes and heroines of the Faith’ throughout history, you will see that, almost without exception, they were faithful in an ‘ordinary’ setting, before they were ever catapulted into an extraordinary setting.  (Even those 1940s Resisters who achieved something spectacular, had only been given the opportunity because they had shown themselves totally reliable in the everyday, unspectacular, tasks that the Resistance lifestyle normally involved.)   If you, as a 21st Century ‘Christian Resister’, have proved yourself in the ‘ordinary’ tasks, you may find yourself getting a ‘special task’ from the Lord, and thus ‘rising above the ordinary’.

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It is true, of course, that many faithful followers of Jesus may not ever get a task that is particularly out-of-the-ordinary.  Responsive though we might have been to everything our Master has asked of us, most of us have never achieved a mention in the media – not even in the Christian media. Nevertheless, there is another way that we can ‘rise above the ordinary’.  It is highlighted in the “Parable of the Talents”.

In that story, the servants mentioned were handling much larger sums of money – but there is no mention of influential positions like governorships.  All that the master says in that account is: “You have been faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things” (Matt. 25: 21, 23.)  The central thought in the ‘Minas’ story was ‘big jobs’ for faithfulness in ‘little jobs’; but the central thought in the ‘Talents’ story is ‘many things’ for ‘a few things’.

What I think that may mean is that some people, though not given a ‘special’ or ‘noteworthy’ task, may be given many opportunities for little acts of service that will, in the long run, add up to a very large, and very special, contribution to the work of the Kingdom.  An unexpected experience came to Mavis and myself, some years ago, that may help to explain this…

Just after my mother-in-law died, my father-in-law received a great many letters, which he asked us to read out to him, because he had some cataract trouble. They were, of course, letters of sympathy, and of appreciation of my mother-in-law: a gentle, sweet lady.  But something we hadn’t expected was this:  Many of the people who wrote took the opportunity to express appreciation of my father-in-law also.  Now, he was a lovely Christian, but it has to be said that, though all his life he had attended services regularly, he never held office in his church, or did anything there that would be considered influential.  He was not known for any specific contribution to ‘Christian Work’. The letters, however, revealed another side to his life.
It became clear that, over the years, he had had a tremendous input into a wide variety of people, in a wide variety of ways.  There were some who spoke in ‘life-changing’ terms – he had “set them on the right path”.  Others told of single incidents that had nevertheless been significant for them: a warm encouragement, or a specific piece of down-to-earth advice.  Some spoke of spiritual guidance, others of practical help – many of both.  As the ‘unsolicited testimonials’ poured in, Mavis and I felt we were privileged to get a glimpse of some of the ‘treasure in Heaven’ which had been accumulated by a humble Christian man, in the course of his lifetime.  When his days were surveyed, it seemed to us that, though the Lord had never given him any kind of outstanding Christian role, He had put him in charge of ‘many things’!

The actual names of many 1940s Resisters, from all over Europe, appeared in history books and biographies after the Second World War was over.  Some were there because they had engaged in swashbuckling adventures – either in the realms of sabotage or of dramatic rescues.  Most were there, however, because they made an unseen contribution that was vital to someone’s survival or escape.  (Some ‘ordinary’ people, or families, are mentioned in several post-war escape stories!)

I believe that the promise of Jesus is this: If we are responsive to the little tasks that He gives us along the way – even if we never get a ‘big’ task that seems impressive to others – He will give us a great many little tasks that will build up into what Paul once called “an exceeding weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17 A.V.)

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Let me return to the question I raised at the beginning of this article: “How can any one of us be more than just an ‘ordinary’ Christian?”  Before I sum up what I have already said, let me give two words of warning.  Firstly: Don’t impose your help on those who don’t want it, or don’t really need it.  Sadly, some believers are actually much too helpful! There are several warnings in the Scriptures about being a ‘busybody’. (Look up 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:15.)  Go gently, and check that you are really required, or wanted.  In a needy world, there are plenty of real opportunities for blessing others, without your creating them artificially.  If you listen for His leading, the Spirit will find them for you.

The second warning is this: Don’t try to engineer yourself into a position of influence – so that you can be considered a ‘great Christian’.  Jesus said: “Many that are first will be last, and the last first”. (Matt 19:30; 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30.)  Many who seem important as Christians (not all, notice, but many) are not actually very important after all; and many who seem unimportant are actually doing a terrific job – because they are simply being responsive to whatever the Spirit gives them to do.  The advice of the Apostle James is “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10.)

Soldiers of Christ’s ‘Replacement Army! 21st Century Christian Resisters!  I return to the ‘summary of Jesus’ advice I gave at the beginning: ALWAYS DO THE ‘ORDINARY’ (e.g. THE ‘CROSS-MY-PATH CARE’) WHOLEHEARTEDLY, AND, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER WILL MAKE YOUR CONTRIBUTION EXTRA-ORDINARY.