When God Asks for More but it Looks Like Less: my review of The Ministry of Ordinary Places

When God Asks for More but it Looks Like Less

For long years, I have ridden the bucking bronco of calling, leaning into the tension of being a fairly ambitious woman in a life that leaves little room for goals beyond laundry management and remembering to thaw something for dinner. Anyone with a Facebook account or a presence on Instagram knows that there are people out there doing huge things for Jesus that bring income sources to third-world women, put shoes on the feet of trash-picking children in hidden corners of the lands to our south, and shine the light of biblical truth into thousands of shadowed lives with the click of a well-read blog post.

Shannan Martin thought she had figured out her path toward impact when the bottom fell out of her well-ordered life-plan and the balance of her carefully curated bank account began nose-diving its way toward zero. Her writing ministry as the “Flower Patch Farmgirl” seemed incongruous alongside a new calling that God was sending through shock waves of vivid detour messages:  a new vocation in a startling urban zip code alongside people with messy lives and unimpressive resumes who would ultimately become family instead of just neighbors.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You is Martin’s anthem to God’s goodness in shrinking her world and her calling “down to a pinhole, one solitary shaft of light.” (16) She learned that although the problems that come to us in our news feed are large and insoluble, there are people just around the corner who need a glimpse of hope and maybe a ride to visit their dentist–or their parole officer.

The Ministry of Paying Attention

When my eyes are focused far ahead or high above my life here on a country hill in Maine, I’m likely to miss God’s calling in the present moment. When Shannan remembered that Jesus admonished us to “pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given,” she became serious about forging relationships with the people who stood outside her church smoking between services. She also knew she would need deeper and wider wisdom to respond in meaningful ways to the voices of her multi-racial, adopted children when they posed questions about skin color.

Even though the truth of the Gospel puts tools in our hands for managing the complexity of life on this planet, it turns out that complexity is an acquired taste. I’d much rather trumpet the goodness of God against a backdrop of success and answered prayer than to cling to the knowledge of His goodness in the context of cancer diagnoses and stories of wayward teens and heartbroken parents, and yet Jesus entered time and space to rescue us “from the things we think we want by giving a face to the heart of God.” (39) He alone is equal to this ministry.

The Ministry of Flattening Divisions

Shannan shares a story from her neighborhood about a woman whose power was about to be shut off in error, but she had no phone to make the necessary calls. With no option but to ask for help, she showed up at the Martin family door asking to use a phone, but finding friendship in the long run. Of course, things could have been very different with Shannan in the “have” seat and her neighbor firmly fixed in the “have nots,” but Shannan’s goal was to defuse this dynamic. By allowing this shy and lonely woman to be the giver at times, she models a redemptive and counter-cultural approach to helping that is sadly lacking in existing welfare systems and charitable efforts.

“Most of us want the kind of friendship that is defined by mutuality, where we’re too busy enjoying each other to watch for pecking orders or power rankings. We don’t need more colleagues or service providers. We want two-way streets paved with the truth that life is more bearable when we walk in the same direction.”

The Ministry of Sticking Around

Five  years into their urban neighborhood commitment, the Martin family makes very modest claims for impact or outcome. This rings true for me, a practitioner of mundane faithfulness that looks like showing up with a mediocre casserole for a friend who’s had surgery or opening the Bible in a corner rocking chair in someone’s cozy living room. When God calls us to “the ministry of ordinary places,” we give up the luxury of life from a safe distance in exchange for a discipleship that Eugene Peterson famously defined as “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Sticking around in faithfulness to the call of God may look like “less,” but if it is the “more” that God is calling you toward, He has made strong promises that look like abundance to carry us into and through those ordinary places:

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring. 

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.  (Isaiah 58:11, 12)

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for my own “ordinary places,”

Michele Morin

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You ,simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

55 thoughts on “When God Asks for More but it Looks Like Less”

  1. This is a topic I’m somewhat passionate about. I’m glad someone wrote the book.
    🙂 Humans have fixed definitions of “big” – grand/grande/grandiose, making the false assumption that we can’t possibly be serving God unless what we do is physical, visible and measurable. And, yet again, we overthink, overdo, and leave God out in the albeit well-meant effort.

    A few years ago I had an eye-opening moment. I was working on an astronomy lesson plan for my then third grade grandson. Preparing to print out the illustration of earth to other planets I pondered earth’s small size compared to others. In my normal habit of continuing dialogue with God, I asked, “Lord, why did you choose such a small planet?” The answer came instantly like a sudden gust – “What does size have to do with it?” Eyes opened, mouth ajar, I sucked in a breath and sheepishly replied, “Ohhhh.”

    God is not bound by our definitions of big, important, or successful, our clocks, our calendars or our obsessions with numbers either, for that matter. All we have to do is what is set before us, with a joyful heart, and let Him determine the value and use it to His purpose. That might mean simply managing a household and raising God fearing children. It might mean intercessory prayer. Nothing is too small if our hearts are big in it. That is what God sees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Whoooo. Sheepish and breathless alongside you, Meema. What a great lesson in that one question. And I love this:
      “Nothing is too small if our hearts are big in it. ”
      Your thoughts always inspire me, but this is off the charts. Praying today for big-hearted commitment to the day’s tasks.

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  2. I needed this today! I have been so intent on what my calling is for 2019 that I have been missing opportunities to be a blessing here and now.
    I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t consider my baking skills and love of giving to be important to God. Many times I have been the one to provide comfort food. Or sometimes necessary food to families.
    But. Because this comes easy to me I keep looking for a different calling.
    Maybe it’s my own grandiosity getting in my way.
    Definitely something to think about

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful interaction with this content. So often the very thing that God calls us to is right there in front of us, and He has equipped us with all the skills we need, but we miss it in all our searching for “relevance” or “calling” or a platform.
      Blessings to you as you feed hearts and souls AND hungry bellies.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jesus certainly showed us by example that he ‘noticed’ people who were lowly and got his hands and feet dirty serving his Father here on earth. It is easy to give up before we start thinking small acts are too insignificant. But your post this morning is a good reminder that grandiosity is not required to do something that is grand.

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  4. Good morning, Michele! That ministry of paying attention has been tugging at my heartstrings in recent months. I’ve been too distracted by the pull of my phone and other hugely nonessential time wasters.

    It’s amazing what we can see when we’re not mesmerized by a tiny screen …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This book captures my attention thanks to your review. And you, my friend, reach out and touch so many of us from your “ordinary places” and are ever enriching our lives with your reviews, insights, and pondering! Hugs and Merry Christmas! Pam

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  6. Although God calls some people into “big” ministries which requires them to battle through fear and faith (thinking of Moses), I think most of our callings are the more everyday variety. I’ve been telling myself for years that interruptions are allowed by God and a ministry for Him (after realizing that the woman with the issue of blood interrupted Jesus on His way to heal Jairus’ daughter), but I still don’t react as if they are. Sometimes it’s too easy to brush off little calls for our time and attention, when they make up most of our ministry and testimony.

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    1. Thanks for introducing the tyranny of interruptions into this conversation, Barbara. I forget that the pesky little things that get in the way of my “appointed list” are often the actual point and should not be an object for resentment. What a great challenge!

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  7. The book sounds wonderful. Another addition to my list. But, Michele, your words have an impact on many and the truth that you write is powerful. And I am sure your casseroles are much better than mediocre! 🙂

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  8. Michele, when I saw your title here today, my heart lept because I’ve wanted to learn more about this book! I think I need to read it. I’ve been thinking a lot as we delve into outreach among Muslims in Austin, many of whom are refugees. We made a choice NOT to live among them (so my daughter would feel safe, long story) but we’re praying to be Christ incarnate among them.

    I praise God for your ordinary places too, friend. Like this blog. Thank you for your ministry here. I have benefited greatly.

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    1. Wow, what an amazing opportunity you have to be on assignment there in Austin. God is using your experience from foreign ministry as you live the Christian life before them.
      And thank you for your kind encouragement! Blessings to you!

      Like

  9. This looks like an amazing book, and what a good reminder to us that God often works in the “ordinary”— makes me pause and wonder: is anything “ordinary” to God?

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  10. This is a great reminder to keep our eyes open to those around us, and that even our ordinary, imperfect acts of friendship and kindness are important and can have more impact than we sometimes see.

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  11. Wow! Just the title of this post is convicting to me, Michele. Thank you. This book sounds fantastic and this line is going to stick with me- “we give up the luxury of life from a safe distance.” Now that’s a sacrifice I for one forget is as an option ripe for choosing. Thank you.

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    1. The title is based on a phrase from the book that stopped me in my tracks, too, Bethany.
      And that “safe distance” you mentioned is always a temptation for me.
      As I’ve said elsewhere in the comments here, this book has been a huge challenge for me. I’m glad the review resonates for you, too!

      Like

  12. Michele, more and more I’m realizing that life’s simply too short not to pay attention to what’s right in front of us. And that God’s plans for us might not look all that grand compared to our view of other people’s lives, but we only see the surface and He knows the big picture. This sounds like a wonderful book … I’m joining you in being thankful for my own ordinary places. 🙂

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    1. We would never choose the path of watching our parents age, but oh . . . what insights we gain from the process, and I think I’m getting some of your distilled wisdom here today, Lois. Thanks for sharing it.

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  13. I’ve just begun this a week or so ago. At first I wasn’t thrilled, but the deeper in I get, the more I love it! We all have different “ordinary places.” I’m grateful for mine too. 🙂 Have a Merry Christmas, Michele!

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  14. What you describe as “mediocre casserole for a friend who’s had surgery or opening the Bible in a corner rocking chair in someone’s cozy living room”, can actually be life changing, Michele! Never look down on your own contributions, however small they may seem to you. At any of the difficult times in my life (when my parents were growing old, and eventually dying in particular), it was these seemingly small, inconsequential acts of service that transformed my experience and reminded me of “God with us”. It really is the little things we do that can make all the difference. This sounds like a wonderful book, and I will add it to my reading list!

    Like

    1. You will love Shannan’s voice, April! She speaks with such candor of her own learning process. It’s good to know that there have been little offerings that have been a big encouragement in your life.

      Like

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