The other day, I went to the grocery store where my wife works to pick her up at the end of her shift. When I arrived, I found the customary complement of vehicles filling the parking lot, but there were also several hundred people standing out in front of the store. Three fire engines were on site. I searched for, and found my wife in the large crowd. We chatted and waited, and like everyone else, wondered when the store would reopen.
As I went to prayer that evening, I heard this:
As I enter into prayer today,
I slow down. I slow right down,
and notice where I am.
I notice what is around me,
and I notice who is around me, the people here,
what they look like, what they are doing,
the expressions on their faces.
In all of this, God… is… present,
right here… right now.
God’s presence sanctifies this ordinary place,
and these ordinary people,
Initially, in response to “I notice what is around me,” I tried to imagine a scene at my place of work where people might gather, and then it occurred to me that I did not need to use my imagination. I recalled the incident at the grocery story. It was then that I realized how poorly I see the world around me. Collectively, the crowd at the grocery store was just an extension of me: all we wanted was for the interruption in our schedules to cease so that we could get back to our business as quickly as possible. In my case, my goal was to gather up my wife and go home.
The crowd at the grocery store made me think1 immediately about how Jesus saw crowds of ordinary people:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
To me, the group of people in front of the grocery store was just that: a bunch of random people. Even more, I saw myself as one of them. We were a group of people interested in one thing: how soon can we get on with our lives? At the very same time that I was standing in the parking lot, Jesus was there, as well, feeling and observing something quite different: he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
I had failed to perceive that the ground on which the crowd was gathered was holy ground. It was holy ground because God was present but, disappointingly, I had failed to notice His presence, as well. In fact, I rarely, if ever, see life around me this way because I am so wrapped up in myself, my own needs, and my own goals. Bluntly, I am focused on building my own kingdom.
Arguably, Jesus impacted his world so profoundly, in part, because he saw the world around him from the Father’s point of view, something that I do not do. Furthermore, he owned the Father’s values and abided by the Father’s standards. That Jesus’ norms for his life led to his crucifixion testifies that his point of view differed dramatically from those around him. The Scriptures cast the choice we must make in life in terms of black and white. There is no menu of choices from which I select one approach to life. Rather, the Scriptures drive me to choose between two titanic forces: following Jesus and his norms or following the Evil One and his norms.
This choice is neither trivial nor easily made. It is a choice that is made, not just daily, but momently. It is a conscious choice. It is a choice made in the context of prayer and fasting. I must ask God for the courage to see clearly the face of good and the face of evil. I must ask Him to teach me to understand the way the mind of Christ works. I must ask God for the courage to buy into Jesus’ value system, one that has no regard whatsoever for the things of this world, but one that is focused entirely on building God’s kingdom, even when I am on ordinary ground in an ordinary place on an ordinary day.
1 While not the focus of this post, I must point out that this is an instance of God using the ordinary circumstances of my life to mold and make me, something He has been doing my whole life, much of the time without me even knowing it. I suppose that, since I see this rather routinely now, I should consider that I have made some spiritual progress, even if precious little.