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,”
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