God of the Small and the Ordinary!

            We just went through graduation season.  My own son - my firstborn - has just graduated from high school and is starting college in a couple weeks.  How time has flown!  

            During this time, we hear about all kinds of inspiring graduation messages, maybe we even remember the one from our own graduation.  But even if we don't, we can find these kinds of messages on all sorts of Christian blogs out there: "Dream Big!  God is the God of great things!  He wants to do huge, amazing things with your life.  Follow Him as He leads You into an exciting future full of wonderful opportunities.  Go out and do great things for Him!"

            I don't know, but all of these rub me the wrong way a little.  

            I mean, I used to be one of these people - the "aim high, dream big, God is going to use you mightily and in exciting ways" people.  But as I have gotten older and found that most of my time is spent at home raising children, I see it differently now.  

            In constantly pushing the message that "God is the God of big, exciting things," we forget that He is also the God of the small things, the ordinary jobs.  We set people up to feel like they are failing if life isn't exciting and flashy.  

            But the truth is that we don't have to go out and find big things to do to bring God glory; He brings us a million little ways to bring Him glory in the mundane, unglamorous, monotonous things every day.  

            This is where the living happens.  

            We don't have to venture out into the great, wide open to find some sort of exciting mission; we already have a mission, right where we are.  We don't have to go somewhere else to become a missionary for Him.  We are a missionary for Him, at this moment, in the role and position He has placed us.  

            In the small things.  

            In the ordinary things.

            It might be our plan to "reach high and do amazing things."  But God won't call most of us to do big, exciting, glamorous jobs.  (If He does then go with it.  Follow Him.)  He will call most of us to be ordinary, to do the unflashy jobs, to reach the "common people," to live Truth, to simply love those around us.  

            And there is no shame in that!  There is no shame in being a missionary in the place God has placed you, in the role He gave you.  If you are being faithful to Him - no matter how big or little the role - He is proud of you.  You will be rewarded.

            There is no shame in that!            

(The following is based on a post I wrote awhile ago on a different blog.)

            I wish that the message of letting God interrupt our plans was given during more graduation speeches.  I think it’s so important for people to hear, especially as they set out into the great wide open, with all their grand plans about how they are going to use their education.  And since I will probably never be asked to give a graduation speech, I’m going to share the message that I wish I had heard at my graduation. 

            Pretend right now that you are in the audience in your cap and gown.  And you are graduating from the School of Life, where we train you to go out into the “real world” to do great things for God.  And I step up to the microphone, take a deep breath, and deliver the speech that I want to send you off with:

            “My Dear Graduates, I know that many of you have great plans about how you are going to serve God and use your degrees.  You’ve gotten a great education, and you’re ready to go out and conquer the world for Christ.  But as you go about your plans, store this message in your heart:  Be willing to let God interrupt your great plans of what you’re going to do for Him with what He wants you to do.

            You plan on getting a job in a certain line of work, but maybe God will call you to a different position.  Will you follow?  Maybe you find yourself working with people you don’t care for, but God says, “I put you here.  Glorify Me!”  Maybe you will be called to care for an aging parent or a child with special needs.  Maybe your life will detour greatly because of a chronic illness or accident.  Maybe you’ve planned on marriage and children, but God will call you to be single or childless.  Or maybe, as many of you will be called to, you’ll find your great plans for your career and life interrupted simply by having children.  

            Let God interrupt!  Let God interrupt your plans with what He wants you to do.  And for many of you, that will be nothing more glamorous than just raising children or going to the same boring job every day.

            Where you end up may not be what you planned on.  Those great things you wanted to do may be replaced by small, tedious, daily tasks.  But be willing to follow God in obedience, doing your best wherever He plants you . . . working for Him and for His glory!  

            You may feel like you’re wasting your education or your time or your opportunities, but remember that God doesn’t waste anything.  If you will present all that you have to Him and if your main goal is to glorify Him, He will use you for His great purposes.  Through your faithfulness and obedience in the small things.  Wherever He plants you.  

            Let God interrupt!”

            I wish that I had heard this message when I was graduating with my master’s degree.  I had planned on working and using my degree and paying down loans.  And then, I got pregnant four months after getting married.  I remember half-joking with my husband that he could stay home and raise the children while I went to work.  Because, after all, I had worked so long to get my degree.  Not to stay home and raise kids. 

            But I had to learn to follow where God leads.  To grow where I was planted.  And although it took about two months to get used to the idea of staying home with my children - two months to not feel like I was missing out on something or like I was supposed to be somewhere else - I eventually got to the point where I realized that staying home is exactly where I wanted to be.  That raising my children is exactly what I wanted to do.  That my family, my neighborhood, was my mission field.  And that I was honored to have the blessed opportunity to help my sons grow into godly men.  

            Now, to be honest, this doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with negative feelings from time to time, with the dissatisfaction that comes with life’s detours.  In fact, not too long before writing this, I realized that I was becoming very bitter because I was feeling unappreciated at home.  I felt like I was working my hardest, but it was not getting acknowledged.  There was no thanks and no sense of getting anything accomplished.  No vacation.  No over-time pay.  No days off.  Only a whole bunch of things that I couldn’t get done while I was doing the things that I could do.  And then, I would get to wake up the next day and do it all over again.  

            Is this all there is to life?  Am I going to slave away in my little kitchen until I dry up into a lifeless heap, breaking my arms to pat my own back?  Because no one else will?

            And I was ruminating on these thoughts one day as I did the dishes.  I was going over them again and again, getting more and more angry at the unfairness of life, at the lowly role that I had to live with.  I just wanted a “thank you”!  And I wanted to be cut a little slack for things I couldn’t get around to doing.  

            Was that too much to ask for?  With all I do around here? 

            (Now to be fair, I’m sure that my husband has his own way of showing appreciation and love.  And I do know that there is a lot about me that he does overlook and put up with.  But as is typical among two different people, we don’t always hear the way that someone else tells us that they love and appreciate us.  Oh, if only we all spoke the same “love language.”)

            Well, as I angrily scrubbed dirty plates, I began to work my way through these thoughts and feelings.  I realized that I couldn’t keep feeling the way that I was and still enjoy my life or marriage.  And I knew that I couldn’t change my husband or demand to be appreciated more.  How satisfying would “forced appreciation” be? 

            Now, at this point, I believe a lot of people go wrong by thinking something like this (or by being advised this by others):  “Well, I can’t change my spouse.  But I can’t keep living like this.  So maybe divorce is the only option?”  

            Well, for me, divorce was not an option.  It never was!  But neither was feeling that way for the rest of my life.  But I knew that if something didn’t change, somewhere down the line I might be tempted to think that divorce sounded pretty good.   

            So I had a choice to make.  To keep feeling bitter and angry would be choosing to walk down that path to potential divorce.  And I didn’t want that.  So I had to get off that path now.  

            But how?  

            And I asked God this.  “How, Lord?  How can I stay in this and yet enjoy my life and my marriage?  And if things never change, could I be okay with that?”

            I think all of us who yearn for more or better in our lives or marriages feel like it will all be okay “if only . . . !”  

            "If only he would change!"

            "If only I had a more exciting job!"

            "If only people started to notice all the effort I put in!"

            "If only we had a better house, more money, more friends!"

            "If only!  If only!  If only!"

            But I knew that I couldn’t let my feelings and the success of my marriage depend on “if only . . .”  Because what if “if only” never happened?  What if things never changed?  

            I had to learn to accept that possibility and to be okay with the way things were (and to flourish with it), if I was going to avoid that bitter path that couldn’t end with anything good.

            But how could I do that?  How could I be okay with it?  When I've already done all I can to "make things better" and it doesn't seem to be working?  How could I love my home life – the life and the role that I poured every bit of myself into - when I was feeling so taken for granted and unappreciated?  

            As I prayed about it and let God speak to my heart, He revealed the key to a proper perspective.  The key to changing my attitude.  And this is it:

            “Change your employer!  You should not be working for your husband or for your own satisfaction.  You should be working for Me.  But as long as you continue to work for approval and appreciation from him, you will be unsatisfied.  Because you are letting your sense of worth and fulfillment rest on someone else - on another imperfect human being - when it should be resting on Me.  Another human being will always let you down at some time, so you are setting yourself up for disappointment if you let your feelings rest on what they do or don’t do.  Do your best in the role I gave you . . . because I am watching.  Work for Me.  I see all that you are doing, and it matters to Me.  And your rewards will be in heaven, as long as you do your best for My glory.”

            I tell ya, that message got to me.  And once I switched employers - once I realized Who I should be working for and where my rewards should be - I was able to relax.  I was able to work harder at those daily tasks because I knew that Someone was watching and appreciated it.  And I was able to love my husband in a way that I couldn’t when I was letting my sense of satisfaction rest on what he did or didn’t do for me or say to me.

            It wasn’t about working my hardest and doing my best because I wanted to hear “thank you” or because I needed to be appreciated or because I needed anything from anybody else.  It was about working my hardest and doing my best because God is watching, and because what I do and how I do it matters to Him.  

            (And interestingly enough, this knowledge freed me up to love my husband in a way that didn’t hinge on whether or not I felt appreciated.  I was free to love him for who he is, and not for what he did for me or my idea of who he should be.  And I was free to see the ways that he did show his appreciation, instead of only noticing how he wasn’t meeting my definition of “showing appreciation.”)

            [For me, all of this also relates to writing on a blog that hardly anyone reads.  It easy to get discouraged and to want to give up when your words seem to float off unheard, into nothingness, for 6 years - until I remember that I'm not really writing for others.  I'm writing for Him.  An audience of One!  

            If I am faithful to do my best and to be true to His Truth, it brings Him glory.  It doesn't ultimately matter whether other people see or care.  Because He sees and cares.  And the angels see and care - the godly ones and the fallen ones.  My words, my faithfulness, my obedience will cause one of those groups - godly angels or fallen angels - to praise their leader.  

            I don't have to know how or if He will use my words; I just have to be faithful to write them, to speak truth.  He gets to decide how to use them.  And maybe it won't be till someday long after I am gone.  

            We don't have to worry about the results of our obedience; we just have to worry about being obedient!  The results belong to Him.]  

            I wondered if I should share such a personal story as this.  After all, I don’t like sharing such personal marriage things.  (Honey, you know I love you!  We’re in this thing called ‘life’ together.)  But I also don’t want to present some false, polished front.  And I really believe that the message that I got from God is not meant just for me.

            So many people out there need to hear that same message: people who struggle with their marriages, with their self-esteem, with their role in life, with their parents, or with jobs and bosses they don’t like.  Marriages are falling apart left and right.  And they don’t need to be.  We need to learn ways to cope with the way things are - in our homes, in our jobs, in our lives.  (I am not saying this to people who are being abused, though.  If you are in that kind of marriage, you need to get help.  It needs to change.)

And so this is what I want to share with you:  

            If you're discouraged about the way things are, try switching your employer and where you store your rewards.  (Which is really what we should all be doing anyway.  It’s just that sometimes it takes a trial to figure that out.)  

            You are not working for anyone else.  Ultimately, you work for an audience of One.  And He sees what you do.  It matters to Him.  The little things matter to Him.  The tiny jobs no one else cares about.  The heart attitudes.  The things you set your mind on.  The small moments of obedience.  The private moments when you know you're being faithful to Him but no one else does.        

            In life, you are not just serving your family; you are serving God by caring for your family.  You are not just working for your boss; you are doing the job that God gave you, for His glory.  You are not just a family member or friend or employee; you are a representative to others of God’s love and grace and mercy.   

            You have a mission field, wherever God plants you.  You are a missionary!  Are you living like one?  You are here to work for Him, to glorify Him, and to spread His Truth and Love.  And the only rewards that really matter are the ones that will be waiting for you in heaven.

            [Now, I do want to point out something.  I believe that the sense of peace and contentment that I felt and the unconditional love that I felt for my husband and my place in life was released in me by the Holy Spirit because I set my heart on doing the right thing.  I knew that if I continued on the path of negative thinking that I was on, I might encounter the dim possibility of a divorce somewhere off in the distant future.  And so I firmly decided in my heart that “Divorce is NOT an option.”  And this was a crucial turning point.

            I believe that at some point in all of our decisions and struggles, we have the choice to flirt with the possibility of sin or a less-than-godly choice, maybe to embrace bitterness, unforgiveness, or discouragement, maybe to go our own way because God's way is unappealing or because He's taking too long. 

            And if we allow ourselves to flirt with that or tinker with it or covet it in our hearts, the Holy Spirit is blocked from fully working in and through us.  And we will not feel the complete joy, peace, freedom, and love that come from Him . . . because we have allowed an ungodly idea or inappropriate fantasy or rebellion/resistance or bitterness about what God is doing/not doing to take root in our hearts and minds.    

            And these kinds of heart attitudes shut the door to Him.  

            But if we will set our hearts and minds on doing the right thing and on following where He leads - even if our feelings are not there yet - our hearts are more fully open to the Holy Spirit and His work.  And our feelings will eventually get in line with our minds, with obedience, as we see God working in our lives.  

            Feelings follow our thoughts ... which follow our beliefs ... which follow our wills, what we decide to set our minds on.  If we set our minds/wills on obedience and trusting God then we will choose to honor and obey Him, which will help us be faithful in following where He leads even when we don't understand or like it, which will eventually end up with us learning to trust Him and His love more because we will experience His faithfulness and goodness.  And then we will want to obey Him and honor Him more, bringing Him glory in all we do.  

            But if we don't set our minds on obedience, we will never get to the point of fully trusting His goodness and faithfulness.  And we will always be fearful and out of the center of God's Will for us.

            If you know that your spiritual life and your relationship with God is not what it should be, ask yourself when it got off track.  Think back and try to remember if there was a time when you disobeyed or rebelled or let a wrong attitude into your heart.  Ask God if this ever happened.  And if it did, then make it right.  Ask forgiveness for it and ask Him to help you get back on track, to figure out the first step to making things right again.  He will answer these prayers, if you really want Him to.  Just keep your eyes open for His answers and His leading.  It might hurt a little, but it will lead you back into His Will for you.]  

            I may not be serving God as the counselor I had planned to be, but I am working hard at being the best mother and wife and friend that I can be.  At honoring Him by being faithful in the day-to-day things, the things that no one else notices but Him.

           Because it brings Him glory when I do!  

           And that’s what really matters.

            If we aren't willing to let God interrupt, to follow where He leads, to be His missionary in the position He has placed us right now, then we will miss out greatly on the rewards of being faithful.

            He might call some of us to big, exciting, glamorous opportunities in the future!

            But He calls all of us to bring Him glory right now by faithfully doing the small, common jobs in each unglamorous, typical day!

            Are you willing to let Him interrupt your grand plans with the small things He wants you to do well right now?  Can you really expect Him to bring you bigger, better, more public responsibilities if you are not even being faithful with the small, overlooked, private ones right now?

            Don't plan to bring Him glory in the future; do it right now, wherever He has planted you!  

            You are a missionary for Him!  Today!

            So live like it!

            You have a mission!  Right now!  

            Fulfill it!

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