The Unique Joy of Ordinary Faithfulness
My home of Nashville, Tennessee, has long been called “The Athens of the South.” Amid honky-tonk bands and hot chicken stands, we have a scale replica of the Parthenon. It’s a remarkable sight.
And just like the Athens of Paul’s day, a city that flocked to everything new (Acts 17:21), the Athens of the South has become a land of innovation. This cosmopolitan southern city, long appreciated for its rich history, is now home to countless construction cranes building new condominium complexes and hotel towers. We live in an age that prizes novelty and “newness” above all else, especially in the world of technology. Just recently, thousands of people from across the world tuned into a tech company’s business meeting to learn about the new features available on the latest smartphone.
Of course, innovation isn’t bad in itself — it has given us life-saving medical procedures and plenty of other good gifts. Innovation just makes a bad god. The fleeting amusements of novelty can never replace the solid joys of ordinary faithfulness.
Ecclesiastes is often derided as a depressing book of the Bible because of the author’s regular reminder that “all is vanity” (e.g., Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14; 2:1). But Ecclesiastes is only depressing for those who hope to find lasting fulfillment in that which will not last.
The author of Ecclesiastes had everything anyone of his time could want in terms of earthly pleasures. He had houses and vineyards (Ecclesiastes 2:4); he had gardens, fruit trees, and a fancy irrigation system (Ecclesiastes 2:5–6); he had servants and livestock (Ecclesiastes 2:7); he had piles of treasures, choirs of singers, and collections of concubines (Ecclesiastes 2:8). And yet, despite having everything a man could ever want under the sun, “all was vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
Pursuing novel pleasures in hopes of filling your empty heart is like feasting on Mountain Dew and SweeTarts in hopes of quieting your growling stomach. Painful feelings of emptiness follow in the wake of transient sweetness.
The desire to experience the extraordinary is a God-given yearning. We cannot be faulted for our constant search of something extraordinary to give us purpose and to fulfill our deepest longings. The problem is, in our sin, we look for that purpose and fulfillment in things that amount to spiritual SweeTarts. We end up empty and unfulfilled, and often angry with the God we ignored.
The temptation to find fulfillment in the temporary is strong in our age of extraordinary novelty. But novelty is the seductive perfume of discontentment, wooing us to find fulfillment in fleeting fancies instead of the one who is eternal.
So how are we supposed to avoid the appeal of the extraordinary and innovative in a world that is increasingly defined by trinkets and technologies? True fulfillment is found in an ordinary life of serving an extraordinary God, not an extravagant life of novel distractions.
In a culture that celebrates newness and excitement as inalienable rights, we are tempted to believe that living an ordinary life of faithfulness to an ancient God is a stale alternative. But an ordinary life of faithfulness to an extraordinary God is anything but stale. God cares deeply for us, his people, and lives devoted to making much of him are full of joy. David tells us, “Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, ‘Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant!’” (Psalm 35:27).
When we obsess over the latest smartphone technologies or the never-ending cycle of new, breaking news, we lose sight of the righteousness of our God, devoting our hearts and minds to flashes of brilliance that will disappear as soon as we reach out to grasp them. But when we delight in the ancient righteousness of our God, we shout for joy, and we feel the delight he has in our welfare.
The Master’s Joy
It is easy to feel ashamed for living a “boring” life of faithfulness to an ancient God, a life defined by a quiet pursuit of holiness and humility. But we shouldn’t feel discouraged by our ordinary lives of faithfulness, for the fruit of our ordinary faithfulness in this temporary life is everlasting joy.
In Jesus’s parable of the talents, the master says to his servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). May God make us content living ordinary lives of faithfulness instead of reaching for novelties and clutching the wind. No novelty can rival the joy our Master has stored up for us.