---by Tim Challies
Not every idea becomes a book. Not even every good idea becomes a book. Between the author and the bookstore stand agents, editors and publication committees tasked with deciding on the few books worthy of time, effort, advances and marketing dollars. I have had far more ideas rejected than accepted. Books on simplicity, the environment, evangelism, pornography and probably many more besides have received the trademark “Thanks, but no thanks.” There is one that haunts me: Ordinary: Christian Living for the Rest of Us.
Yesterday I did some maintenance in Evernote, an application I use to store ideas. I came across the files for Ordinary and my finger hovered over the “delete” button for a moment. It was tempting, but something compelled me instead to open my word processor and begin to write. I couldn’t kill the idea because it is just too near to me. It has been on my mind for three years, at least, and in the back of my mind for far longer than that.
I believe there is an intangible kind of value in living a book before writing a book. The best books are the ones that flow not out of theory but out of experience. Better still are the ones that combine proven theory with actual experience, the ones the author writes in that sweet spot, that point of overlap between the two. Theory is easy to come by; experience is hard won. Theory comes quickly—you need only read a book or two; experience comes only with the slow march of the time that challenges and so often obliterates the theory. I can almost always tell a book that is all theory and no experience. It is a book of head instead of heart, law instead of grace, impossibility instead of practicality.
Ordinary is a book I have lived. I live it every day. I live an ordinary life, pastor an ordinary church full of ordinary people, and head home each night to my ordinary little home in an oh-so-ordinary suburb. I preach very ordinary sermons—John Piper or Steve Lawson I am not and never will be—and as I sit with the people I love I am sure I give them very ordinary counsel. A friend recently confessed his initial disappointment the first time he visited my home and got a glimpse of my life. “Your house is so small and your life is so boring.” Indeed. It’s barely 1,100 square feet of house and forty hours every week sitting at a desk.
And here’s the thing. I am thrilled to live this ordinary life. Nine days out of ten I wake up in the morning overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to live a life like this. I live it without guilt and regret. I live without the desire to be extra-ordinary and without feeling the need to do radical things. But then there is that other day, that one out of ten, where I feel guilt and discontentment, where I want life to be so much more than it is, where I am convinced that I am missing out on a better life and missing out on God’s expectations for me.
Ordinary is book that was not rejected out of concern that it would be unbiblical or poorly-written. It was rejected because the people who have to take a bet on the book’s likelihood of success are convinced you would not want to read it. And to be fair, I am not sure that I would want to read it either. The message I heard from the decision-makers was this: “You can’t market a book like that. It won’t sell. Nobody wants to read a book on being ordinary.” They are probably right. Nobody wants to read a book on ordinary living because nobody aspires to be ordinary. It is not likely to sell as a book or a theme. Crazy, wild, radical, more, greater, higher, this-er, that-er, the comparatives and superlatives, these are the themes that fly off the shelves. But once we’ve been crazy and radical and wild and all the rest, why do we still feel, well, so ordinary? Why do we still feel like we’re missing out?
Though the experts stand between me and a book published, printed and distributed, they have no jurisdiction over this web site, so I plan to explore some of these themes right here. I want to explore this desire to be more than ordinary and this low-grade guilt that compels us to try to do more and be more and act more. I am convinced that we do not need to make ordinary synonymous with apathetic and radical synonymous with godly. I want to explore some of these themes because I encounter them in my own life, I see them in the pages of bestselling books, I hear them at conferences, I counsel against them in the people I pastor, and I often battle to convince my own wife that ordinary is good. It is all God asks of us. It is all God asks of her.
Ordinary is Christian living for the rest of us. It is for people like me and, in all likelihood, people like you. It is for Christians who have tried to be more than ordinary and who just have not found what they have been looking for. It is for Christians who have never tried to be more than ordinary and who are content that way. It validates our sheer normalcy and refutes our desire to be anything greater than that.
It is about being ordinarily excellent, ordinarily passionate, ordinarily godly. It is about trusting that such ordinary saints are saints indeed, fully acceptable, fully accepted, fully pleasing to the One who created and called us.
I think we may just find that this desire to be more than ordinary and to live a life so much more than ordinary exposes as much sin as sanctification. Perhaps we will find it is one thing to pursue godliness and end up with extraordinary challenges, extraordinary responsibilities or extraordinary opportunities, but another thing altogether to pursue the more-than-ordinary as a goal. We may well find that the Christians who really get it are the most unremarkable of all.