The first five years of my walk with Christ have been pretty exciting, to say the least. My conversion in 2010 was very public and controversial, so the first couple years of navigating through its ripple effects were quite interesting. Some of it wasn’t so easy – lots of hard conversations – but some of it was incredible. I think every Christian would agree that the first year or two of walking with Jesus is simply tantalizing. Your whole world is so new and so fresh, and your spiritual life seems to stay upbeat and charged with little to no effort. God always feels like he’s right there. Good times.
Then, in 2012, I linked arms with 10 people from my church in Shreveport, Louisiana and hopped down to the Big Easy to plant a church. New Orleans – oh the things I could say about New Orleans. There is never a boring moment in this city. Its inhabitants are some of the most animated and unique people I’ve ever had the pleasure of running across. Reaching these people with the gospel was simultaneously daunting and thrilling. Evangelism in that environment was wildly different from evangelism in the Bible-belt culture of my hometown. And my church there, NOLA Baptist, wins the award for homiest place in my heart, hands down. The members of NBC loved and served me through some of the greatest highs and grimiest lows of my life. I grew to love Jesus and his people deeply and passionately during my time in New Orleans.
And then this year – 2015. My agent called me up mid January and said, “The Lord wants me to give you one word for this year: EPIC.” I rolled my eyes. The beginning of this year was a bewildering drag. I left a job (had to), couldn’t find another job, moved in with my grandma back in my hometown of Shreveport, and found myself at a total loss as to what direction to take in life. Little did I know though, “EPIC”-ness was right around the corner. Out of nowhere, the Lord provided a substantial spike in the financial support of my writing ministry that now allows me to put all of my energy into producing Christ-centered content via this blog and books. Then, a couple months after this invaluable blessing dropped into my lap, the Lord reunited me with my younger twin brothers (twins; 18) from whom I’ve been essentially estranged since 1999. We connected right off the bat. After spending about a month with them, I felt led to use the geographical liberty my new vocation affords me to move to Tennessee where they live and are going to college. I wanted to get to know them more, walk with them through their college years (hopefully helping them not to make the mistakes I did!), and be a conduit of gospel grace in their lives. It’s not every day you get a second chance to get to know your siblings after being disconnected from them for 16 years. And what greater venue for the sharing of the gospel than through brotherhood? I viewed, and still view, this reunion as coming straight from the good hand of the Lord. Thankful doesn’t begin to describe the level of gratitude I feel.
So now, here I am. Linden, Tennesse (sorry about the toes!). I’m about an hour and a half southwest of Nashville and about an hour a half east of Jackson. In other words, I am in the middle of nowhere. My little town has a grand population of 900 people. Starbucks is nowhere to be found (*gasp*). Horse & Carriage warning signs are all over the place – really. There are a good number of Amish and Mennonite folks around here. The culture that permeated my previous cities of residence is still a good 10 years from reaching the outermost corners of this place. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the set of Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls is going to come running around the corner with Mary and Carrie at any moment. Just kidding! It’s not that bad. But it is different. It’s quiet. It’s . . . well . . . a little boring.
My first three months in rural Middle Tennessee have been an uncomfortable adjustment. There have been days when I’ve seriously wondered if I’d made a mistake by coming here.
“You’re living in a place that only has 900 people, Matt. More people than that lived on your street in New Orleans. How in the world are you supposed to serve the Lord at your full potential in such a secluded area? “Country living” just isn’t for people who are serious about the gospel mission. You need to be in a busy, post-modern city to make your life of full effect. You will not be joyful unless you’re serving the Lord in a more substantial way.”
These are the thoughts that have too often been fluttering about in my brain, draining me of contentment and joy. In my mind I know that the Lord has called me here through my love for my brothers and my desire to see them love Jesus. Therefore, I know it is his sovereign, providential hand that has ushered me into a quieter, slower paced season of life. Because I bank my life on the truth of Romans 8:28-32, I know I am here for his glory, my joy, and the good of others, but I’ve struggled to really feel these truths in my heart. So recently I’ve been asking the Lord for help. The following are two truths the Lord has impressed upon me lately, and they’ve really lifted my spirits in the midst of my so-called “mundane” life here. I hope that they can be of encouragement to you as well, whether you’re a stay at home mom, worker of a non-prestigious job, retired man or woman, or just another rural-dweller, like me.
1) God is greatly glorified and pleased by what we see as “mundane” ministry. Why are we so prone to measure and weigh our works of faith against other works of faith and assume God is more pleased by one than another? I do believe God is more pleased by some works than others, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the “work” itself. I think it has to do with the faith in the work. I often wrongly think that God would much prefer me to be involved in “bigger” things – such as being part of a church plant in New Orleans or serving as a missionary in North Korea. But my error in that mode of thought is that I’m assuming God is more concerned with the outward things my hands are doing than the inward state of my heart. I’m in grievous, joy-robbing error when I measure the significance of what I do by what I’m doing, rather than why I’m doing it and for whom I’m doing it.
Charles Spurgeon says, “If done by faith, the simplest acts of life may be sublimely great.” What he means is this: the teeniest of gospel works performed truly in the name of Jesus grabs God’s full attention. Sharing the gospel with post-modern, humanistic intellectuals at Audubon Park in Uptown New Orleans is great and bold ministry. If done in faith, it’s pleasing to God! But God is equally as pleased by a mother’s faithful, daily gospel service to her children. He’s equally pleased by a car salesman’s gospel-motivated honesty and integrity in a business famous for lies and cheats. He’s equally pleased when an older brother helps his younger brother find the right books for his college courses and uses his interest in his World Religions class as an opportunity to talk about the gospel.
Christian, who, like me, feels like you’re current ministry is a bit “mundane”, we would do our joy an abundant amount of good if we’d stop measuring the significance of our lives by the works of our hands but instead by the state of our hearts. There is no deed done in faith that is insignificant or “lesser” in God’s eyes.
2) We find God in the quiet places. Our culture is busy and bustling and loud. I believe sometimes the Lord purposefully draws us away from the hustle and bustle – in a variety of ways – to recalibrate us. Throughout the gospel narratives, we see Jesus often leaving the loudness of the crowds and retreating into secluded, quiet places to commune with the Father. Communion with God fuels the Christian life, and that communion is most deeply experienced in stillness and quietness. If we find ourselves in a slower-paced season – or even in a slower placed town, as I have – we shouldn’t grumble about it or let frustration over our “boredom” take a grip of our hearts. We should incline ourselves to God and take advantage of the quietness to grow closer to him.
Earlier this week I was driving super slow down the winding country road with my radio off and windows down, totally enamored by the landscape. Louisiana’s land is flat for days. Not so in Tennessee! The hills seem like they roll on forever. As I stopped at the top of one of the highest spots in the area, I got out of my car and just gazed over the gorgeous scenery. “How good and beautiful must God be if even his fallen creation is so grand,” I thought to myself. In that moment the Spirit of God ministered to my soul in a thousand different ways through the beauty of this still and quiet, boring little place. The experience reminded me that God is here. I realized one reason he has me here is that I might pull back from the endless entertainments and distractions of this world to spend time with him. God is in this humdrum country place. Friend, God is in your humdrum place, too. Yours may look different from mine. Your mundaneness may be smack dab in the middle of New York City. Wherever you are, though, God is there. Look for him. Listen for him. Enjoy him.
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”- 1 Kings 19:11-12 NLT