Ordinary time

Ordinary time

In the Church of England, the year is structured around the main festivals, opportunities to remember and retell the big events of the Christian faith: Jesus’ birth, the visit of the magi and the start of Jesus’ ministry through his temptation in the wilderness. The events of Easter: the last supper, the road to the cross, his death and resurrection; his ascension and the anticipation of his return.

The church year is woven around these key time of great importance. But the time of year we are in now is simply known as ‘ordinary time’. A time when are not moving into or out of one of these universe-changing events. Nothing special is happening or to be remembered. It is a time of the ordinary, not the extraordinary.

Yet, that is the time we most often live in, isn’t it? Ordinary time? We believe in a God of the miraculous, a God for whom nothing is impossible, a God who can act and interact in extraordinary ways. But, more often than not, we find that God is at work not in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary; he is present on the mountain top points of life, but he is equally present in the valleys ─ not to mention the homes, workplaces, kitchen sinks of everyday, ordinary, life.

Perhaps you long for God to act in an extraordinary way in your life. Perhaps he will. But it is all too easy for us to forget that God is there in the ordinary things of life, and he is concerned for them too.

I love one of the more obscure events in the Old Testament. It occurs in the ministry of Elisha (Elijah’s successor) in 2 Kings chapter 6. The other prophets of God have persuaded Elijah that they should build a bigger tent for them all to meet in, so they gather in the material and start putting it together ─ it’s a church building project! But then the following incident happens:

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axe-head fell into the water. ‘Oh no, my lord!’ he cried out. ‘It was borrowed!’ The man of God asked, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. ‘Lift it out,’ he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it. (2 Kings 6:4─7)

In one sense, this is an extraordinary moment: God through Elisha miraculous allows this iron axe head to float.

But what it reveals to us is God’s heart for the ordinary things of life. This isn’t a mountain top battle with the prophets of Baal, such as Elijah experienced, with God answering by fire. It is God acting in the midst of a very mundane problem: a borrowed tool, a potentially fractured friendship; it’s not life or death, but it is important. God meets the need, and meets the needy in the midst of the ordinary.

Now, I’m not suggesting that God will allow you to recover every lost item ─ those books you borrowed and never returned ─ but I do want us to remember how much God works in the ordinary-ness of life.

It is easy for us to look down on the ordinary times, and ordinary ways God works in our lives. We look for, perhaps long for, the extraordinary, for God to intervene in a special and supernatural way in our lives. And sometimes he does. But God says through the prophet Zechariah, “Who dares despise the day of small things?” In looking for the big action of God, we can despise the small things God is doing in our lives, and the ordinary people and places God has put us to do that work.

How has God been good to you in the ordinary places? How has he met you in the mundane? In which ordinary places does God want to move and work in the coming days?