When I first started walking closely with the Lord in college, I confess had a highly romanticized view of the missionary life. I thought it entailed living in exotic foreign lands, trekking boldly through nearly impassible jungles, sleeping in grass-roofed huts, and possibly even giving my life so that some forgotten tribal group would finally hear the gospel and surrender themselves to Jesus. I also thought that only the exceptionally committed Christians would make good missionaries, and that “normal” Christians would never make the grade because God only wanted and used the best and the brightest.
It took me awhile to shake off this somewhat “Hollywoodized” version of the truth. I suspect it was not completely corrected until after 2006 when our family finally ventured off to follow God and live in Singapore. It was here I learned a more accurate vision of what missionary life really involves. No matter where God calls you to serve, whether the dense jungles of central South America, the concrete jungle of a city like Singapore, or somewhere in between, true missionary life is saturated with the mundane and unexciting realities of everyday living. And the vast majority of missionaries are incredibly average people, even in their walks with God.
Sure, in serving God, we have had some amazing stories to tell and some remarkable opportunities and experiences to share, but these are not the point at all. This kind of pursuit of sensationalism and grand personal experiences is not why we came and continue to serve long-term. It is, rather, the daily service of God in all the little ways that really keeps us from giving up and going “home” (wherever that may be), for it is in the normal tasks of life that we find His strength and grace to carry on as well as the reassurance that we are right where He wants us to be. But it isn’t easy. I often feel weak and discouraged and unworthy of the life He has called me to live. I fall ridiculously short of the kind of Christ-likeness God wants me to exhibit.
Every time I try to be a truly godly man and trust God to transform my frustratingly murky character, I stumble and fall again and again and am reminded just how incredibly normal, unexceptional, and broken I really am. In short, it turns out I am just like everybody else. But that is the remarkable aspect of God’s plan. He most often advances His kingdom through the stumblings and bumblings of ordinary, faithful, and anonymous people, the virtual unknowns to accomplish so much for His kingdom on earth. He has the uncanny ability to exceptionally use the exceptionally unexceptional.
In fact, it is precisely here that the vast majority of impact comes in our world today. It is not so much through the high-profile people who visibly shake the world for Jesus Christ, as important as these people are in God’s plan. Rather, God exceptionally impacts His world through unexceptional people who work and live out their lives behind the scenes in quiet, faithful service to Him. These are people who will never be on the “Who’s who?” list—although they’re sure to make the much more common “Who’s that?” list.
In reflecting on the greatness of God (and the smallness of me), Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 4:7 come quickly to mind: “But we have this treasure [of the gospel] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” So too, do his reflections in 1 Corinthians 1:26 when he notes that, “not many of [us] were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” when God called us to follow Him. His calling is not based on our worthiness. It is based on His grace and His goodness to use the foolish and the weak, the lowly and despised of this world—people just like you and like me. And why is that? Because He is the God of the unexceptional as much the exceptional, the ordinary as much as the extraordinary and He alone deserves all glory, honor, and praise.