Who wants to be considered “ordinary”? For many of us, the need to be special, to be noticed, is a great human need – anything except “ordinary.” I would like to suggest that for us to disciple the ordinary, we must first embrace our “ordinariness.” I want to share some of my own story in order to illustrate why many of us struggle with this issue. I was born on a farm, the second of fifteen children. Farm life is certainly an ordinary life in many ways: humble, hardworking and in tune with nature. However, being one of fifteen children does not allow one to receive a great deal of individual time and attention as a child. I very much wanted my parents’ affirmation, but, for the most part, I received messages that conveyed my inadequacy. Our behavior was managed by shame and control. At the same time, we were told that we had to be perfect and to make the family look perfect. Our family had to be better and look better than other families. Dad was very much in control, and mom had little identity of her own apart from him. Opinions that differed Dad’s were not allowed. We were not allowed to think for ourselves.
With this profile, I needed to get some type of recognition. So, at age 13, I left to go to the seminary to study to be a priest – a profession that every Catholic family recognizes as special. In the seminary I was driven to succeed. I became editor of the seminary newsletter, student counselor, captain of the championship intramural basketball team and football team and was voted “model seminarian” two years in a row – anything but ordinary. I even had the seminary Spiritual Director tell me that I was “too good.” He would feel more comfortable with me if I would swear once in a while. But I had to be good to make my family proud. Being average or ordinary was not good enough. After I left the seminary, a milestone in my life came when I discovered that the pedestal I was on was a very lonely place. I decided to come down and join the human race – people who are ordinary, frail, mistake-making, even sinful, but who were loved just as they were.
One reason that I share this part of my story is that as a Seventh-day Adventist, I find that we too are a people with very high standards and who believe that our doctrines are what make us “special” – the remnant people, chosen by God. I wonder sometimes, when I see the high degree of brokenness among us, whether many of us are drawn to Adventism because of our insecurities. Somehow, being an Adventist will make us anything but ordinary.
I am impressed that Paul, born and trained as a Pharisee, who called himself the “Pharisee of Pharisees” became so comfortable being the Apostle to the ordinary – the Gentiles. From persecutor to pursuer for Christ. Paul’s transformation began when he was blinded and knocked off his horse. It is ironic that God chose to blind Paul physically because he was blind spiritually. He knocked him off his “high horse” in order to humble the proud Pharisee. Then he had a personal encounter with Jesus who explained Paul’s problem to him and then told him of the mission he had for him – working for those considered less than ordinary, the Gentiles who were so despised by the Jews. God saw in Paul an honest heart, a person who was sincere in his desire to please God – even when persecuting Christians. This zeal for God was transformed into a zeal for the salvation of ordinary Gentile people. God’s process with Paul can be instructive for us as well. How many of us are blinded by self-righteousness and need to be blinded that we might really see? How many of us who think that we are better than and superior to other Christians need to be knocked off our horse by observing how purely and selflessly other Christians and non-Christians love their fellow man and God. We too need a personal experience with Jesus.
The essence of discipleship is empowering others to connect with God, to love God and to experience his love for us. This includes but goes so far beyond prayer, bible study and study of the Sabbath School Lesson. We are meant to not only study God’s word, but to experience Jesus in his word as a living person with the power to transform by his love. Jesus through the Holy Spirit is a living person who infuses every part of our being and experience. We need to sit with him long enough to see his work in our lives. Having been discipled by God, we become ready to disciple other ordinary people.
Consider Jesus, the King of Heaven, who humbled himself by leaving heaven in order to disciple ordinary human beings – all of us. He was born in a stable, laid in a manger, and lived in relative seclusion as a carpenter’s son for 30 years. When he began his public ministry, he was baptized by another human, John the Baptist. He allowed himself to be tempted by the devil as all human are. He loved being with ordinary people: the prostitutes, tax collectors, the sick, Samaritans, the lepers and the demon possessed. He loved them and shared with them the good news of salvation that was in him as the Savior. He saw them all both Jews and Gentiles alike as people with human longings and needs that could be best filled through him. He spoke to these ordinary people, not with abstract theological concepts, but through stories that used metaphors from their ordinary life: fields, trees, vines and houses. Even though Jesus was the King of the universe, he became ordinary to touch the lives of the ordinary.
Jesus chose ordinary people for his disciples, fishermen and tax collectors. The least ordinary of them all is the one who betrayed him. These ordinary men were disciple by Jesus to become fishers of men. However, they had an experience with Jesus, three years of experiencing his compassion, love and teaching, but they still didn’t understand in nature of his kingdom. I fear that we too have a lot of unlearning to do before we will be prepared to disciple other ordinary people. We too must be freed from our judgmentalism and prejudice. We need to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn how to love selflessly. The home where Jesus felt most comfortable in his adult life was a very ordinary home, the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Mary loved to sit at his feet. Mary had to learn to do so. Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, the one whom Jesus loved. We can have the same relationship with Jesus as these ordinary men and women had.
I want to finish the story I began with. After I chose to come down off the pedestal and join the human race, God has taken me on a marvelous journey. He has given me and my wife, Beverly, opportunities to touch and disciple many of his children. At the same time we have continued our own journey to wholeness in the refiner’s crucible. I have learned to appreciate God’s refining in my life. Paul tells us, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God and he will exalt you in due time.” Jesus chose to humble himself and God has exalted his name above every name. In my own life to a much lesser degree, one that I am truly not worthy of, God has placed this once farm boy as a Professor in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. There I disciple future pastors, very ordinary men and women who have been called by God to work for him. Many of them are broken and need to experience Jesus’ healing power in their own lives. I have the honor of discipling them in this journey as I have experienced it with Jesus so far in my life. Investing in their lives is one of my greatest joys.
As an ordinary person, open yourself to God where you are. He will bring other ordinary people to you. We have as much to learn from them as we do to teach them. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate discipler. He can teach us more in a minute about his methods of discipleship than men can teach us in a year. He will give words to say in every situation. Trust him with your “ordinariness.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5800