“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
“Whatever you do” and “do everything” clearly covers a lot of ground. As a practical matter though, what did Paul have in mind here? Was he serious? For the average Christian, whoever that may be, what is the “whatever and everything” of life?
In religious matters, surely one of the most common mistakes is to limit “whatever and everything” to the realm of “highly spiritual events” in which everything that happens every day must be by the hand of Almighty God. I once heard a minister say quite seriously that God told him that morning what kind of cereal to eat.
In an effort to duplicate that kind of devotion some Christians try to see God’s hand in finding a good parking place, for example. We might want “whatever and everything” to be suffused with deep spiritual meaning and messages. A professor once told that a minister he knew spoke as if he could not walk down the hall of his church without having six highly significant spiritual encounters. That sounds laudable, but when I heard that I thought “I usually hear about a clogged toilet when I walk down the hall of my church.” My life seems so ordinary by comparison.
We want “whatever and everything” to be awesome (the most overused word in the contemporary Christian vocabulary) and miraculous, and in our rush to apprehend the awesome and miraculous we may even be guilty of trying to manufacture them. Thus, I want my sermon to be a tour de force, my column to be insightful and inspiring, my devotional to be so deep as to cause all heaven to pause in wonder. Why? Because “whatever and everything” is a call to supernatural excellence!
This approach to living the Christian life fits perfectly the post-modern mindset. Post-modernism as a cultural description is slippery, but it appears to me to be a mood. People today want feelings and emotions. Form and substance are secondary to experience. Thus, a post-modern believer may want “whatever and everything” to be highly charged. The effect this shift has had on churches and Christians is profound and beyond the scope of a single GraceWave, but suffice it to say that in spite of all the recent (last 30 years or so) efforts to “make the church relevant” we have fewer Christians and arguably a dumbed-down discipleship that results from wanting “whatever and everything” to be awesome.
Try to live the Christian life this way and at some point you will soon feel defeated and frustrated. Rather than “whatever and everything” being numinous and divine, you probably will find Monday morning to be rather ordinary. Too many Christians are then beset by a despair of inadequacy.
Further complicating the problem is the highly lauded testimonies of the spiritual giants of today who seem to have everything going their way. They attribute their pleasant circumstances to God’s blessing (which is good) and strongly hint that God’s blessings are the result of their energetic and successful faith (which is highly dangerous). I say “dangerous” because the moment we make that claim we shift from grace to works, essentially claiming that what we have is the result of what we have done.
This works-oriented thinking is doomed from its very inception, for it leaves us incapable of dealing with suffering or hardship. I have spoken to many Christians who, in the face of struggle, feel vaguely responsible even when the challenge is clearly beyond their control. Remember when it was discovered that Mother Teresa suffered from depression? Many Christians responded with denial or shock or both. The idea was that this genuine saint of the church should have been immune to such common handicaps. Saints are never immune. They become saints not through a life of uninterrupted bliss, but through persevering in the difficult times and rejoicing in the manifold expressions of God’s presence and grace.
We simply cannot live every day on the Mount of Transfiguration. Thankfully, we do have times of exquisite closeness to God, and can live in the afterglow of them. God has a habit of showing us great things, and then asking us to faithfully guard the memory of those events without expecting a daily duplication. Thus Israel remembered God’s deliverance from Egypt while they walked in the wilderness for forty years. They waited 700 years for a messianic prophecy to be fulfilled. The goal was to live each day with simple faith.
And that is what we can do. Frankly, I don’t think we have any ordinary days. If we have a solid theology of grace combined with a hopeful understanding of Providence, then is there truly an ordinary moment? I tend to think we are closer to returning to the Garden than we suspect. A little basic awareness, and we begin to see the evidence of heaven everywhere. That truly is awesome whether I’m completely healthy or wealthy (though honestly I would welcome both!).
While weeding his garden one day, St. Francis was asked, “what would you do today if you knew the Lord was returning tomorrow?” Francis replied, “I would finish weeding my garden.” He apparently saw glory in the ordinary but did not rely on a feeling or emotion to validate his genuinely spiritual outlook on life.
That is the kind of day-to-day faith we need, one that is both left-brained AND right-brained. We do “whatever and everything” faithfully and gratefully, without complaint or a nagging suspicion that our “whatever and everything” is insufficiently spiritual. We live each moment under God’s careful watch and His tender care, not under heaven’s merciless evaluation. In every task we have God as our companion, and we do each task well. In this way, we will live the ordinary life extraordinarily well.
The truth is, we spend a great deal of our time living, what the world would call, ordinary lives, but believing that as God powerfully demonstrated His faithfulness in the past, He will quietly demonstrate His faithfulness today, tomorrow, and every day. So go to work. Take care of your family. Enjoy your recreation, your meals, your sleep. And give thanks to God in the ordinary “whatever and everything.”
Dr. Terry Ellis
February 19, 2017