I was asked this question after giving a talk at a youth group and, I have to admit, it completely stumped me. I wanted to launch into rhetoric about how wonderful and exciting the Christian life is. I wanted to… but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The Christian life is wonderful. The trouble is that it doesn’t always feel very wonderful or exciting. Sometimes it is hard and still other times it feels downright mundane.
Ecclesiastes agrees. The first chapter suggests that everything is a mere breath (translated as “meaningless” or “vanity”) because of the endlessly insignificant repetition of day in, day out activities. Verses 3-11 of ch 1 say the following…
What do people gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains for ever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
‘Look! This is something new’?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
Again and again it seems to be saying, “Look, things just happen over and over. They go round and round and round in this endless spiral, and it seems so boring, so mundane, so repetitive and so pointless.”
But perhaps you would have me believe you’ve never felt like that in your Christian life? That you’ve never felt that things were dull and repetitive? That you’ve never struggled to see the point behind what you were doing or what your life was wrapped up in? That that experience is only true of non-Christians?
Maybe its just me who has always hated routine, always hated tedious, mundane tasks? Yet I find that these are the things you have to keep on doing. You wash the dishes but they get dirty again. Each day my wife and I sweep the floor under our table. Then we feed our children, and have to sweep the floor under the table again.
It’s like that with the trivial things. But it’s the same with more significant things, isn’t it? We wake up, we get dressed, we brush our teeth, have breakfast, go to work, come back from work, eat dinner, brush our teeth, go to bed, wake up – and do it all over again. Even as Christians we say to ourselves, “What is this all about? How tedious this is!”
So how does this shape our understanding of the Christian life?
Firstly it helps us to adjust our expectations of the Christian experience. In their brutally honest song Expectations, Caedmon’s Call highlight the importance of honesty about the Christian life.
“That boy had the highest of expectations
And he heard that Jesus would fill him up
Maybe something got lost in the language
If this was full, then why bother?
This was not the way it looked on the billboard
Smiling family beaming down on the interstate.
And you know that we all try to blame someone
When our dreams won’t rise up from their sleep
And the reaching of the steeple felt like one more
Expensive ad for something cheap
This was not the way it looked on the billboard
Smiling family beaming down on the interstate.”
We need to remind ourselves that Christians, like all people, are caught up in the effects of the fall. That means we are subject to the same tedium, disappointments and frustrations as everyone else. Armed with this knowledge, we will see that these experiences of life do not indicate that Christianity is not true or that we are not real Christians.
Another difference this should make is to shape the way we think of faithfulness. Let me quote from Michael Horton’s book, Ordinary: a sustainable faith in a radical, restless world. He says:
“Contentment is the virtue that contrasts with restlessness, ambition and avarice. It means realizing once again that we are not our own. As pastors or parishioners, parents or children, employers or employees, it is the Lord’s to give and to take away. He is building his church. It is his ministry that is saving and building up the body, and even our common callings in the world are not really our own, but they are God’s work of supplying others including ourselves with what the whole society needs. There is a lot of work to be done, but it is his work that he is doing through us in daily and mostly ordinary ways.”
Can you see that – how the Gospel impacts a life of endlessly repetitious and temporary things? We are not our own. We were bought with a price. And we live our lives as worthy of the gospel through the ordinary things that he works through us to accomplish his purposes.