Following Jesus is wonderful, but it’s also really hard. But “hard” does not always mean exciting and dramatic. Sometimes we think of the hardships of following Jesus in romantic terms. In our efforts to be realistic about the cost of following Christ we can sometimes tend to glamorize and romanticize Christianity. We can speak of, or at least think of Christianity as the great adventure in which suffering is part of the excitement. We speak of radical Christianity, and we urge Christians to be “world changers” and “Earth shakers” and tons of other clichés. And of course there’s some truth to those ideas, but at the heart of Christianity is a lot of mundane, plodding obedience. It’s not super glamorous, not super exciting, not super adventurous, but it is part of the gospel call. Following Jesus is hard because it is often mundane.
A few years ago I found myself having to talk about this reality of Christianity a lot. The church we came from was full of young college students who wanted to change the world – they all wanted to be the next Bono. They had amazing passion and great expectations, but they were often disappointed as they looked for that next spiritual high and found frustration. Many of my readers will, no doubt, know Christians like this too. They are always on the quest for the next spiritual high. The live for the mountain top experiences where God is powerfully moving in the earthquake and the thunder. If the music and the sermon are just right on Sunday morning they will claim, “The Spirit was really present today.” As if he’s not present on other days. But again, Christianity isn’t always exciting, and we need to remind ourselves that God often calls us to faithful plodding obedience.
To help capture this reality for ourselves we could look to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:31. This familiar passage says:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
It’s not insignificant that Paul chooses eating and drinking as his examples. These are two incredibly mundane things, aren’t they? Eating and drinking. They are commonplace. Everyone does them. Often we do them without really thinking.
In the context of the passage Paul is addressing the concerns of some of the Corinthians who thought it wrong to eat food that had been previously sacrificed to pagan gods. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10 that it is a matter of conscience. There is only one God and he has made all food good – so you can eat whatever you want. But, he says, if your conscience makes you feel guilty for doing it then you should not eat; and if those with whom you eat think it is wrong then you should not eat. So, his overall point is to eat in a manner that honors and glorifies the Lord and cares for your brothers and sisters.
I love that Paul spends so much time talking about eating food. It’s not very exciting or dramatic. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” It seems like he could just as easily have said, whether you brush your teeth or change dirty diapers, do it to the glory of God. These are not super significant activities in the grand scheme of things. Don’t misunderstand me, eating is important to our bodies, and it’s especially important to those who are destitute – to the food insecure and the homeless – but in the big picture it’s not particularly earth-shaking to eat a meal.
Paul does talk about those who’ve seen the dramatic, and participated in the excitement of God’s unfolding drama. In verses 1-5 he talks about all that the Israelites coming out of Egypt experienced and witnessed. It was dramatic and impressive, it was life altering and earth-shaking. Yet, look at verse 5 – this is a significant passage:
“Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
For all the drama that had participated in they found themselves subject to God’s displeasure. In verses 6-13 he outlines the kind of sinful behavior they displayed:
They desired evil
They were idolaters
They indulged in sexual immorality
They put Christ to the test
And notice what Paul says about these temptations, they are common to man. They are common to us too! These very things, attitudes and actions, for which these Israelites received the displeasure of God are common to us too. We are thankful that Christ gives us a way of escape, as the verse says, but notice what this means for Paul’s view of Christianity: it means that following Christ will involve consistent and often mundane refusals to indulge in sin.
Do you want to be a follower of Christ, then it’s not so much about walking through the sea on dry ground. More often than not it’s choosing to say no to the temptation to grumble. It means saying no to the commonplace temptations of life in a broken world. It is often mundane. In an article titled, “The Glory of Plodding,” from 2010 Kevin DeYoung urged young Christians to be more critical of their vision of rockstar Christianity. He wrote:
It’s sexy among young people — my generation — to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul. What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.
Rockstar Christianity is really tempting. I know it is. It tempts me often. There’s a lot more excitement and glory and attention, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of faithfulness to Christ. We love the stories of missionary martyrs, of hopeful prophets who stood against the odds and witnessed great things of God. But the large majority of people in the Old and New Testaments didn’t see the Red Sea part. They didn’t witness tongues of fire descending on them from above. The vast majority of the New Testament church never even witnessed the resurrected Christ! For them following Jesus meant a lot of mundane, consistent obedience. It wasn’t always exciting and dramatic. It was often very hard and frustrating.
Are you prepared for a mundane, sometimes boring, often frustrating obedience? Is Jesus worthy of plodding? If you are only willing to follow Christ into the excitement and drama then the truth is you love a version of Christianity, but not really the Christ of Scripture. Following Jesus is hard because it’s often mundane. But a sometimes boring Christian life is worth it, because Jesus himself is never boring!
“But a sometimes boring Christian life is worth it, because Jesus himself is never boring!”
Oxymoron? Christian life= Jesus; Jesus= never boring; Christian life=never boring?
I really enjoyed your article; its insightful and accurate. I am often tempted by “Rockstar Christianity;” I tend to think “big vision” and then want to lead the charge. I think part of the reason I enjoy the “big vision” is because it’s much more fun than showing up on time for work or not losing my patience with traffic. God has taught me (and is still teaching me, of course) that we need to have “big vision” in the mundanities of our lives. To take a more missiological perspective, I’ve thought of how I would approach my job, my family, my parenting, my interactions with my neighbors, and so forth if I were a missionary who has traveled overseas to serve in those roles. It’s one thing to just “go to work,” but it’s an entirely different thing to go to work as God’s missionary to that workplace. This perspective has helped me assign some excitement and intentionality to the mundane. It’s been a remarkably humbling experience and reveals my inability to do anything for the glory of God apart from His empowerment through the Holy Spirit. I agree with you that we need plodding consistency. A life of such disicipleship is much more challenging than running from spiritual high to spiritual high. Thank you for your blog and for your encouragement this morning.