The Extraordinary, Ordinary Life
A while ago someone texted me this quote from Jim Elliot, “Forgive me for being so ordinary, while claiming to know so extraordinary a God”. From our vantage point in history, as we look back on Jim Elliot’s life we might say, “What is he talking about, he wasn’t ordinary”, and we are right in thinking that. But the interesting- and thought provoking- point is that he felt ordinary.
Jim Elliot is famous in Christian circles as a modern day martyr- he and four other missionaries were killed by an unreached tribe in Ecuador in 1956. The influence that his life had on both American Christianity and eventually the very people who killed him was extraordinary- and yet he felt ordinary; why?
On the surface, he was ordinary. He grew up in an average Christian home, attended school like everyone else, and went on a mission trip as a college student. He was a devoted Christian and would witness to people but he wasn’t an extraordinary “soul winner”. Like most active Christians, he was frustrated that this personal witnessing produced little fruit. Unlike other people who are considered extraordinary, he wasn’t part of any major historical event, he wasn’t exceptionally talented, he didn’t have a position or riches and didn’t perform any great accomplishments per se. So what made him extraordinary?
The obvious answer would be, “he was a martyr”. That’s what made him famous, but his extraordinary life began long before that. He became a martyr because he was in the jungle trying to win un-reached people to Christ; but how did he get there? It was his dedicated life that took him there. While most of his external life seemed average, his heart was uncommon- he gave his life to Christ. Many people accept Christ, some dedicate themselves to Christ, but few leave it and live it dedicated to Christ. That is what made Jim Elliot extraordinary.
Most of us live outwardly ordinary lives, but the difference between ordinary useful and ordinary wasteful is what we’re dedicated to. Are we dedicated to the ordinary temporal things of life- like money, comfort, security, pleasure, education and the like- or are we dedicated to an extraordinary God? God says, “My son, give me thine heart…” (Prov. 23:26). God isn’t looking for exceptional people- not that He won’t use them, but many times their greatness gets in the way. Paul says, “For ye see your calling brethren, how not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:” (1 Cor. 1:26). God has a track record of using ordinary people.
For most of Jim Elliot’s life, there was nothing that made him stand out. But deep within him every decision, every motive and every desire was to serve and please Jesus Christ. We can’t contrive extraordinary outcomes- and God doesn’t expect us to- but we can control who we live our lives for. A life that is completely and permanently dedicated to Christ is the most extraordinary, ordinary life.