A phrase that I – and most of you – have heard a lot these days is the “new normal”. I don’t know about you, but for those like myself who thrive on consistency and structure, the hope of at least getting back to something repeatable can be stronger than the fear of that new pattern being different from the old one. I was off work for a week recently, and the lack of a prescription for what to do was sometimes more challenging than the rigors of work (even work from home).
Despite that personal bias, it occurred to me one morning: what if God has a purpose, not only in the regular, consistent patterns, but also about the dramatic changes? After all, we rarely tell stories (or read / watch / listen to accounts) of things that are the same as they were yesterday. Even the Bible tells us about how God brought the universe into existence (which was definitely a change!), and how He has intervened dramatically in the ordinary routine of history, because of His love for humankind. That is nothing like what we might think of as a “normal”, mundane, day-to-day life.
Now, I certainly believe that God’s plan includes a lot of “regular” activities. For instance, we are called upon to fulfill our responsibilities, often doing the same thing for years on end. This lets us provide goods or services for ourselves, our loved ones, and others, even as it gives us opportunities to make disciples. Spiritual disciplines (regular habits that help us grow and become more like Jesus, like prayer and fellowship with others) provide benefits when practiced consistently.
But, what would it look like if following Jesus wasn’t just all about routine, but was rather more like an adventure, with surprise twists and turns all along the way? What if it was not safe, but rather dynamic and full of new things?
Let’s start by looking at the opposite: If someone doesn’t believe that God is in charge, and that He can be trusted to give us the right circumstances and the right direction, they tend to focus on planning and preparing. Some of this is wise, but when we put our trust in our own vision and in our own contingency plans, we start to lose sight of God’s intervention. In those cases, our plans are more likely to be turned upside down. Proper preparedness is good (we must be prepared for eternity, for instance), but we should not be like the man Jesus described in Luke 12:13-21, who was all about plans, but didn’t seem to include God in them.
After all, when our plans aren’t God’s plans, we should not expect our own to prevail:
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21 NIV
However, while others plan and prepare (without divine direction), only to be foiled by what God already knew was coming, those who trust God can pray, practice, and preach. These are present-tense actions, trusting God for the future.
We pray, not only bringing our fears and our worries to God, but also listening for His guidance. We ask God that we could become proactive parts of His plan: this great adventure of history, where there are no “extras” or “minor characters”, since everyone has an important role to fulfill.
We practice what God has called us to to, both the general principles that are common to all of God’s children, and the specific purpose that He has for us as individuals. We don’t know specifically how God will be glorified when we do something in His name (even something that we’ve done every day for years). However, we still do what He says we should do.
And, we preach the good news1. Here, the goal is not whether or not we achieve the immediate results that we want, but rather that we spread the good news about Jesus, as God directs us, and let the Holy Spirit use our words as He calls people to Himself. We might not know the outcome of telling someone else today about the hope that Jesus gives us, but we still tell them. Similarly, as we seek to disciple other believers, we might not see growth right away, but we still make disciples.
We are not called to predict or to seek what “normal” will look like (even if we desire it). Rather, we should trust God to narrate the story, and to bring purpose in both the regular and irregular times. Mercifully for people like me, God also provides times of stability, but even in those peaceful times, He is our foundation: the “normal” itself is not what we should place our trust in.
This is the exciting story that our lives will tell, whether they are consistent or seemingly random. The daily grind will provide the backdrop, the foundation, and the contrast for the more dramatic scenes in God’s great story, but the result will be amazing!
It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
1 Peter 1:12 NIV
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- I don’t mean that we should “be preachy”, in the negative connotation of that word, but I needed something that started with “p”. ↩