September 6, 2013
Friday Five: Michael Kelley
Why a boring, quiet Christian life may just be exactly what God wants from you.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Michael Kelley.
Michael is the Director of Discipleship for Lifeway Christian Resources and blogs regularly at Forward Progress. He is the author of several books, including Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal and Holy Vocabulary.
His latest is Boring, Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Today we asked why he thinks the quiet, unspectacular life might actually be radical.
This book is somewhat countercultural--at least in the evangelical world--with its push against the sort of world-changing, "radical" message. Was that intended?
Yes and no. When I began writing the book, I did so with a few very specific people in mind. These are people who raise their families in godly ways, are faithful church members, and work in secular fields where they have chances to share the gospel regularly. But these are also people who have, in my conversations with them, regularly asked the question of whether or not they are really doing anything significant with their lives. I think that question comes from our tendency to think of the work of the Lord in terms of the big and grand when in actuality most of our commitment to and faith in Jesus is lived out in the seemingly small, everyday choices of real life.
It’s interesting that with all movements-whether it be a radical Christianity movement, the gospel-centered movement, or the worship movement- these movements tend to expose our ability as humans to take virtually anything and use it as a pedestal to stand on to justify our lives, largely in comparison to others. It’s not that any of these ideas are wrong – they’re certainly not. At the same time, anything becomes wrong when it turns into that kind of self-justification or pride.
So while I didn’t intend to counter a specific idea with the book, I do hope that at least for the few people I was thinking of when I wrote it that the book can be an encouragement to actually find significance and meaning inside a “normal” life rather than seeing it as something to escape from.
In some ways, living a Christ-centered, quiet life--even "boring" might in it's own way be radical, given our increasing post-Christian age. Is that true?
I think it so. By way of example, I think of one of the traits of a godly person emphasized in the New Testament – something like contentment. That’s a part of one’s character that doesn’t get much press in Christianity. But in a culture that’s bent on consuming everyone and everything, a person who simply says, “Enough” stands radically apart from the crowd.
Contentment certainly isn’t as flashy as some other attributes we might highlight, but it is evidence of a person who is daily becoming more and more satisfied with Jesus alone.
And yet you're not calling people to seek safety and comfort, right?
I certainly hope not. I think in many ways making the “big” decision – the one that’s clearly life-altering, very dramatic, and externally visible – is easier than making the daily decisions of being patient with your kids, serving your spouse, or volunteering in your church. We might look down on these “smaller” decisions because anyone can do that.
But if anyone can do it, why aren’t more of us doing it?
One of the illustrations I use in the book is that of writing a check. When we become a Christian, we essentially write a “blank check” over to Jesus. We give over everything – money, time, career, dreams – everything. But it seems to me that Jesus cashes that check a little at a time. It’s 10 cents here when you have to decide to get up early and read the Bible. It’s a quarter there when you choose to spend time praying with your kids. More times than not, those decisions add up and there comes a point when Jesus cashes in something that might seem bigger. But I believe that when that point comes and we’ve been faithful up to then, the bigger decision probably won’t feel that big any more. It’s just the next decision in a long line of faithfulness.
Do you think many faithful Christians feel a twinge of guilt because they are not headline-making world-changers?
I think they do, mainly because of conversations I’ve had with people very close to me. I think about the stay at home mom who spends a bulk of her day changing diapers and wrangling kids. I think of the office job guy who commutes the same route every single day. The temptation in those people is, because of what seems like drudgery, to escape. I wanted to encourage those people with the book by saying that meaning and significance isn’t found outside those ordinary arenas; it’s found inside when we begin to see the constant presence and work of God in the mundane.
How can pastors and church leaders affirm the ordinary, dignified faithfulness of the people in their congregation?
I think one of the ways we do this is helping people see the centrality of faith in all things. We tend to look at certain areas of life – especially those that become repetitive after a while – as just something to get through. If we can instead begin to help people view those common, everyday occurrences through the lens of faith, then I think we will see people’s lives begin to change.
One of the ways we do this is through the way we, as church leaders, hold up the example of the ordinary. When was the last time we embraced the testimony of someone who works at an office building and serves in the preschool ministry? When was the last time we highlighted the dad who works everyday at a less than exciting job so that his kids can have a sense of security growing up? It’s our nature to always default to the more exciting because, well, it’s exciting. But if that’s all we ever do and all we ever recognize, then it’s no wonder people think of certain aspects of life and their calling as beneath them.
The whole purpose of the book is to, by God’s grace, help us see that the whole idea of ordinary is a myth. That there is no such thing as ordinary when you follow an extraordinary God. Because of His presence and advocacy, He enters into any situation, no matter how mundane it might seem, and reshapes our understanding of it into something holy.