In Discovering the Extraordinary in the Ordinary, part 1, we examined the importance of the ordinary, mundane experiences that shape the life of the leader as found in Reggie McNeal’s, A Work of Heart: Understanding how God shapes spiritual leaders. Continuing in chapter 10, “Commonplace: Discovering that the ordinary is extraordinary,” McNeal points out an intriguing insight from C. S. Lewis, “God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain.”
On Sunday, instead of playing golf as I had planned, I decided to be more productive and change the brake pads on my car. I had attempted to remove the rear caliper two times earlier, but the bolt stripped and I did not have the tools to remove it. Now, equipped with the proper tools, I gave it another try. Success! The bolts came out, and I could fix things and still go golfing…
As always happens, something was bound to go wrong. As I went to remove the caliper, it was stuck on the rotor! I tried everything that I could to remove it. I pried, pulled, hammered, bashed, clamped, twisted, and whatever else I could do. After breaking into a profuse sweat three hours after I had begun, I became angry with my car! At that point, I decided I needed help, so I prayed.
To make a long story short, prayer worked. I was able to fix the car and get on my way, though I didn’t get to play golf. But after this experience, I realized that I like to thank God in the extraordinary, but not in the ordinary. “Thanks, God, you helped me fix the car after hours of struggling on my own.”
But what about those times of pleasure? I heard God shouting to me that he could help in my pain, but why don’t I hear Him in the whispering? How can we become more in tune to hear His whispers?
My wife and I treat our dog, Isabella, as our own daughter and we have raised her to be mostly obedient. But I find striking similarities with my relationship to my dog as with God’s relationship to me. I take Isabella out to relieve herself without a leash. I let her roam for a few minutes until I decide that she is finished. I say, “Bella, come.” Sometimes, she turns, looks at me, and continues on sniffing the grass. I repeat myself, “come.” Now, she slowly begins walking to me as she continues to sniff. But I see another dog walking down the sidewalk. So as to not cause a raucous, this time I sternly shout “come!”. With this, she stops sniffing and comes running to me. She hears my shouts, but is not as in tune with my whispers.
As McNeal points out, the spiritual leader is developed in the ordinary experiences. As such, could it be that we can only learn to hear God’s whisper while he whispers? If we want to hear him whisper, we need to practice listening to his whispers. We need to see God’s working in the ordinary.
When I receive a large gift, a new job, or complete a large project, I thank God profusely for what he has done. But what about the “ordinary” gifts. What if God were to bill us for the air we breathe. What if we had to pay a meter for the sun to rise only for it to go down when our money expires. When we think of the indebtedness we would have towards God in this manner, we begin to hear God whispering. I have every reason to be just as thankful to God in the ordinary as I do in the extraordinary, and until I see the ordinary as extraordinary, I will not hear God’s whispers.
McNeal reflected over the twenty-four hours prior to writing his chapter and recounts all of the ways he saw God in the ordinary, “A son squealed with delight when his dad jumped in the hotel pool to play with him (heaven means that pain passes, but laughter is eternal). Two lovers hugged as they walked together on a scenic path, lost to everything but each other of the moment (God is love). A group of friends enjoyed dinner together in a restaurant celebrating the birth of a new baby (relationships lie at the center of the universe). A tiny bird snatched a morsel of food left behind as garbage on the parking lot (his eye is on the sparrow). Dinner was good (I thanked God for making turkeys). ‘I miss you, Dad,’ my daughter said over the phone (one day we will not have to leave to go home). From my mountain view, I could see the lights of the city come up as the sun went down (there is a city whose builder and maker is God). A friend gave me a new insight (I am not finished yet). Cathy and I firmed up details for some private time together soon (the greatest of these is love).”
What are some ways you have heard God’s whisper in the ordinary?