I remember sitting in a cattle shed, thankfully cleared of the cattle, unless you count the hundreds of sweaty youth, listening to a talk from a bearded, greying, 50-year-old. The title: ‘God’s plan for your life.’ I was 15. I was a Christian. I’d recently read Chasing the Dragon and The Cross and the Switchblade (books full of amazing, miraculous testimonies). I knew God’s plan for my life. God’s plan meant excitement, risk, facing down knife-wielding lunatics in alleyways, welcoming drug addicts into my home, letting them raid the fridge and sleep on the couch. And as I sat in that cattle shed, knees crunched up under my chin, my understanding of God’s plan was confirmed. This guy told all 500 of us that God had an amazing plan for our lives: we were going to change the world, bring the ‘lost’ home, see miracles Jesus’s disciples could only dream of – really, it was going to be that BIG. The session closed with a play-through of Delirious’s song History Maker – the adrenaline was tangible; the faith, razor-sharp.
Fast track 20 years. I’m living in the home counties. Married. One son. Working. Paying the bills. Going to church. And I can’t help wondering, am I missing something? Wasn’t I supposed to be changing the world? I feel restless. Where’s the excitement? Where’s that ‘life beyond anything I could imagine’?
I thought changing the world meant, at the very least, leaving the shores of our comfortable land and heading for somewhere… well, less comfortable. Surely adventure, purpose, and a badge of honour in the shape of a bad haircut and a biography beckoned from afar. Changing the world meant offering a home to the Aids orphans in Uganda; reaching out to tribes along the Amazon; being a peacemaker in a war torn land. Does this mental rhetoric sound familiar to anyone else or is it just me?
Of those 500 teenagers sat in that cattle shed, how many went on to do those things, that we, as Christians, consider BIG, daring, brave? I’m guessing not that many. In their enthusiasm are Christian leaders in danger of over-selling the future to young people? I guess it wouldn’t take long for 16-year-olds, even 22-year-olds, to look aghast (and switch off) if we told them what their lives would probably be like by the time they’re 35 – a job you hopefully won’t hate, but might not love, married (in all probability), a couple of kids, a nice home, good church. Yes, you’ll probably still love God, but your life may not be a white-water ride of exhilaration. Of course, you may buck the trend. And God can absolutely call you to do something BIG. Something everyone else hears about and admires.
But as someone I know and respect said recently: “I don’t think God calls many people to do big things, most people are called to do small things.”
And what are those ‘small’ things? Heroic acts of forgiveness. A mother’s enduring patience with her autistic son. A grandmother’s persistent prayers for her wayward grandchild. A man, or woman, putting their family first and choosing not to pursue a tantalising career path. Writing a letter to a local supermarket asking them to stock more fair-trade goods. Writing to an MP to raise the issue of human rights abuses in the Middle East. You may never read about these people’s lives in a magazine, a book, see them in a Youtube video, or listen to them giving a talk in your church. But does this mean their lives, their acts, are any less significant, any less faith-filled, or daring than those heroes of the faith that we hear about so often? Lives that we feel we should somehow emulate, because, surely, that’s what’s meant by ‘changing the world’.
Maybe there is something more I should be doing, somewhere else I should be living. But while I wrestle with what that might be, I need to remind myself again and again that the real heroes of the faith, the activists, the world-changers, may not be the ones I see or admire the most. Maybe they’re the ones sitting quietly at the back of church, the ones who understand that small, simple, hidden things can bring life and light and change to a world in need.