“Why do we read the catechism every week?” she asked. “What difference is it making?”
She may as well have asked about any one of the many things we do every week. Why read Scripture as part of our worship? Why preach? People don’t remember much, they say. I’ve preached many sermons, and I don’t even remember them myself. People look pretty much the same. It’s hard to measure the impact of another congregational gathering and all that we do.
I suspect this is why we look for the spectacular. “Our worship is going to be off the chain this Sunday!” tweets one pastor. “It’s been an incredible morning!” tweets another. But not every Sunday is remarkable. Sometimes they’re routine and unremarkable.
Just once I’d like a pastor to tweet: “It’s been another ordinary Sunday today!” More often than not, that’s the kind of Sunday we need.
Growth in grace takes place in all kinds of ways. God grows us through suffering. He grows us occasionally through the remarkable: one particular sermon, one meaningful event. But mostly God seems to grow us through the ordinary means of grace: another day of showing up, another small ingestion of truth, another look at Jesus, another taste of bread and sip of wine.
Mostly God seems to grow us through the ordinary means of grace: another day of showing up, another small ingestion of truth, another look at Jesus, another taste of bread and sip of wine.
“We’ve forgotten that God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace, loves us through ordinary image bearers, and sends us out into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings,” writes Michael Horton. “This is not a call to do less, but to invest in things that we often give up on when we don’t see an immediate return.”
I sometimes see a rock pierced in one place by the steady drip of water over many years. That rock gives me hope. No one drip did anything much, but the steady and regular drip proved to be stronger than stone. The same applies to our sermons, our catechesis, our fellowship, our singing, our observance of the ordinances, and more. They’re formative. Keep at them. They don’t look impressive, but a steady drip turns out to be more impressive than a noisy splash.
I’m encouraged by this as a pastor. It shapes how I pastor. It gives me patience in a community in which everything changes quickly, and results are measured in weeks. It allows me to take the long view, to patiently endure. Paul instructed Timothy to persist in his ministry (1 Timothy 4:16), a command that implies that we won’t always see the results we want right away.
But I’m also encouraged as a disciple. I used to think that I would grow in my maturity steadily. But my growth sometimes looks more like a bad game of Snakes and Ladders. “Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven,” said John Piper. “Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback.” And yet God is at work guaranteeing the final result. Don’t mistake slow for uncertain. God always finishes what he starts.
God works through ordinary people doing ordinary things. Another sermon, another encouragement, another prayer. Drip by unremarkable drip, God does his remarkable work.