Greg Liston encourages us to slow down, embrace our limitations and rethink what it means to #liveyourbestlife.

I want to live the best life I can. I want to experience everything I can, do everything I can, achieve everything I can. I think we all want that. Surely our devotion to God requires nothing less than us living extraordinary lives, filled with radical adventure, being as passionate and excited and fervent as we possibly can be. That is what it means to be a Christian, right?

The challenge is that an extraordinary life is extraordinarily hectic. People of all ages proudly declare, “I am just so busy.” But, with so much to fit in, the only way to catch up is to speed up. And when you speed up you miss things. Constantly rushing means you miss nearly everything. The psalmist was right in saying “in vain they rush about…” (Psalm 39:6 NIV). Turns out that those of us who burn the candle at both ends aren’t nearly as bright as we think we are. A busy life is a barren one.

So what if we didn’t “carry the burden of being an extraordinary Christian”?1 What if we accepted our limitations and ordinariness? What if we deliberately slowed down to catch up—with God, with each other, with ourselves? Perhaps we need to redefine what we mean by living our best life? 

Is ordinary enough?

Graduation speeches often repeat familiar themes: set goals, work hard, get up when you fall. However the most memorable graduation speech I ever heard said almost exactly the opposite. Entitled ‘On the other hand’, this speaker argued that such common graduation advice wasn’t wrong, but it needed to be complemented with equally important messages. We should also be flexible, enjoy now and accept failure.2

Sermons and books, particularly those for young people, repeatedly declare that God has created us for something extraordinary. Following Jesus is about living a radical lifestyle, so dream big, attempt great things and make an impact. They are full of words like relentless, fervent, passion and sold out. These days, normal doesn’t seem enough for God. Can you imagine a youth camp brochure with “ordinary” emblazoned across the front?

Such lofty aspirations aren’t entirely wrong, but they aren’t entirely right either. Perhaps all this superlative language has fooled us into thinking, quite mistakenly, that God expects something more from us than our normal, everyday life. But the clear message of the New Testament is that God is incredibly interested in your ordinary life: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going‑to‑work, and walking‑around life—and place it before God as an offering (Romans 12:1-2 MSG). 

Paul also writes “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV). Clearly, there is an ‘on the other hand’ message that needs to be heard: there is nothing wrong with being extraordinary, but God also thinks being a normal, everyday human is special and unique. That is why he became one. 

Life at walking speed

God may think ordinary is enough, but our culture certainly doesn’t. The Oxford Dictionary recently added two words to its mammoth English repository. FOMO (fear of missing out, 2015) and YOLO (you only live once, 2016). Both these additions speak to our underlying cultural angst. We aim to experience as much as we can, wherever and whatever that means. But what if life isn’t measured in experiences? 

Simplifying is always dangerous, but most would agree that love is core to Christianity. And love is not made up of moments, but lifetimes. Love, by its very nature, is not something that can be hurried. The Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama explained this in a masterful book called Three Mile an Hour God. His simple (and dangerous!) point was that God works and love grows at walking speed. He wrote, “Love has its speed… It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed… It goes… at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.”3

Of course, living at three miles an hour is scary. More than just the culturally stoked fear that slowing down risks missing out, living slowly means knowing others—and them knowing you—more than is entirely comfortable. Having said that, seeing exactly what is wrong, and right, with the people closest to you and choosing to walk beside them anyway, recognising they are doing the same with you, is as close to a working definition of love as I can think of. 

FOMO and YOLO ignore the fact that this life is not all there is. Our life extends not just beyond death but beyond us. This cultural anxiety is simply our latest attempt to break free of our creaturely limitations. But it is our limitations that make us human, a part of God’s creation. Our human limitations make relationships non‑optional. They are the very reason we can call God our Father. 

Transformation takes time

Our human limitations don’t always seem like a blessing. Particularly when we are trying to keep up with all the heavy demands our modern day, schedule-packed, technology‑toting world puts on us. But Jesus understands a demand-filled life. He may not have had an email account or a cellphone plan but he knew what it was like to have everyone wanting a piece of him. Just before the feeding of the 5000, for example, the Bible talks about Jesus and the disciples being so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 6:30). 

What set Jesus apart was not his context but his priorities. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” he said in response (Mark 6:31 NIV), and a little later that day he went up into the hills to pray alone (Mark 6:46). For Jesus, life at walking speed was not inevitable; it was a choice. 

It is a choice for us as well. Obviously we cannot go back to a time before cars and computers, but we can choose how best to use the gifts we have been given. It is not always easy, though. Choosing to slow down might affect our career options or our salary. It could annoy or disappoint those we work with. But the benefits far outweigh the risks. 

There is an important lesson here for those seeking to nurture leaders. The current trend towards seeing leadership development as the quick and efficient acquiring of ‘a very particular set of skills’ is short-sighted. Leadership is fundamentally about character, and character grows slowly. Leaders need to be nurtured, and you cannot nurture someone quickly. Leadership that is rich in character and integrity cannot be ‘picked up’ on the side while you are primarily doing something else. 

We could imagine a situation where God snapped his fingers and we were all instantaneously transformed into the image of Jesus. But God, in his wisdom, chooses a different approach. Our transformation process happens slowly, little by little. The more we learn to look to Christ, the more the Spirit makes us like him. Perhaps, if the Spirit chooses to work in us slowly, it would be wise for us to choose that speed of life as well. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16 NIV).

Ordinary is extraordinary

We normally hear words like limited, ordinary or slow as synonyms for substandard. But God doesn’t see it like that. God the Father created us as intrinsically and intentionally limited human beings. And with these limitations, and perhaps because of them, he proclaimed us very good. God the Son chose to become an ordinary human being in Jesus. Rather than shunning or surpassing our ordinariness, he embraced and accepted it. And God the Spirit deliberately transforms us slowly. He chooses the slow road, where community and character grow in and among us incrementally as we increasingly look to Christ. 

Living an extraordinary life is a burden God has never placed on us. What God asks is that we live our lives—our limited, ordinary and slow lives—in him. After all, the extraordinary event has already happened. God has become human. The limitless has become limited. The extraordinary has become ordinary. Eternity has entered time. We are not called to repeat the incarnation, but to participate in it and to live our lives in the light of it. This is precisely what it means to be a Christian. And that is our best life and our highest calling.

Story: Greg Liston

Greg lectures in systematic theology at Laidlaw College and previously pastored at Hillsborough Baptist Church and Mt Albert Baptist Church. He has one beautiful wife, two incredible children, two hefty Ph.D.s, attends Mt Albert Baptist and cooks awesome roast potatoes. He encourages people who want to explore this topic more to
see the website and free video at livegodspeed.org/home.

References:

  1. Julie Canlis, A Theology of the Ordinary (Wenatchee: Godspeed Press, 2017), 50.
  2. Susan Lane, “On the other hand”, (Speech, Lynfield College Festival Awards, 2017).
  3. Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God (London: SCM Press, 1979), 7.

Scripture: Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.