If you’re wondering whether your life counts if it consists of so many ordinary things every day, you are in good company. After all, God works through ordinary means every day in so many ways that we often don’t even notice his involvement and our complete dependence on him in each and every moment.
Typically, we identify an “act of God” with the big stuff. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and parting seas. Or perhaps a better way of putting it: we identify the big stuff with what can be measured and obvious as a direct, miraculous intervention by God. Millions of people around the world will turn out for a prosperity evangelist’s promise of signs and wonders. But how many of us think that God’s greatest signs and wonders are being done every week through the ordinary means of preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper?
Even in creation, God works through ordinary means. Sure, there is the initial fiat-command, “‘Let there be light!’ And there was light.” But then there are the other verses in the creation story where God said, “‘Let the earth bring forth…!’ And the earth brought forth….’” There’s nothing to suggest that this was anything other than a normal and natural process. But does that make it any less the result of God’s sovereign word?
In every work of the Trinity, the Father speaks in the Son and by his Spirit, who is at work within creation to bring about the intended effect of that word. But God uses means, often many layers of means. This is actually for our good. Since no one can see God’s face and live, we need God to wear various masks as he condescends to love and care for us. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We don’t expect it to fall from heaven. Rather, we know that God will give it to us through farmers and bakers and warehouse employees and truck drivers and shop clerks and so on.
Of course, the eternal Son’s incarnation was extraordinary. Like, “‘Let there be light!’” was a direct miracle. So too were his signs and wonders culminating in his own resurrection. And yet, his gestation and birth were a normal nine-month process as he assumed our humanity. Even our divine Savior “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52). Imagine Jesus learning Mary’s favorite Psalms and asking Joseph questions in the shop about God and life while they were making chairs. Daily, ordinary, seemingly little stuff that turns out to be big after all. Even his crucifixion was just another Roman execution, as far as what the onlookers witnessed. And yet, through it, God was reconciling the world to himself.
Then think of the way the Father unites us to his Son by his Spirit today. “So Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). A normal process: a fellow sinner is sent by God to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to me in Christ’s name and I believe and am thereby saved (vv 14-15). Baptism seems less dynamic than, say, raising someone from the dead or giving sight to the blind. And yet, we are “baptized for the remission of sins” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). What can the regular administration of the Lord’s Supper accomplish, with the most ordinary daily bread and wine as the elements? Nothing by them alone, but through the Lord’s Supper God promises to deliver Christ with all of his benefits (1 Cor 10:15-17).
We keep looking for God in all the obvious places. Obvious, at least, to the natural eye. But God chooses to be present in saving blessings where he has promised, in the everyday means that are available to everyone and not just to the spiritual “storm trackers.” We don’t climb up into heaven or descend into the depths to find God. Christ is present where he has promised: that’s the argument Paul makes in Romans 10.
If our God is so keen to work in and through the ordinary, maybe we should rethink the way we confine him to the theatrical spectacles, whether the pageantry of the Mass or the carefully staged healing crusade.
What’s true in our salvation is also true in providence. The birth of a baby doesn’t have to be elevated to the status of a miracle to be a stupendous example of the wonder of God’s ordinary way of working in our lives and in the world. We can’t rule out miracles, but we also can’t expect them. By definition, they aren’t ordinary. Miracles surprise us. But have we lost our joy in God’s providential care, working through normal processes and layers of mediation that he himself has created?
Once we recover a greater sense of God’s ordinary vocation as the site of his faithfulness, we will begin to appreciate our own calling to love and serve others in his name in everyday ways that make a real difference in people’s lives.