Knocking Over the Pedestal:
How ordinary people always become extraordinary in God’s mighty hands
By Esther Liu
I have to admit that I was secretly amused by my students’ horrified expressions when I said, “Jesus did go peep and poop, you know.”
It is common in human nature: When we admire someone so much, we put him or her on a pedestal and then somewhere during this process he or she is no longer human. Remember when we were in Kindergarten? We fell in love with that wonderful teacher who always smelled like fresh flowers and her hugs warmed our fearful hearts. Or, his smiles lighted up the room and his gentle voice calmed our frail nerves as we left our mommies for the first time. We thought our teachers were very extraordinary and yes, maybe even walked on water! Well, until one day we bumped into one of them at the supermarket. Like ordinary people, she shopped and did other things that you thought were so beneath her. And yes, she even went into the bathroom at the market as you found out while secretly following her. Just like ordinary people! In our young minds, we were disappointed.
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus used two examples from the Old Testament to make his point about ordinary people (Luke 4:24-28). Both of these stories horrified and infuriated the Jews. They turned from admiring him and his teaching to trying to stone him to death. The stories were about how a young Jewish slave girl urged a great Gentile general, Naaman, to see God’s prophet Elijah about healing from his leprosy and a how a Gentile widow fed Elijah despite having very little herself (2 Kings 5:1-15 and 1 Kings 17:8-16). Yes, both of the main characters were Gentiles who had received God’s favor and that was the reason for the Jews’ lethal rage.
However, I want to point out that behind these two particular stories are two very ordinary people – a Jewish slave girl serving in a Gentile kingdom and a widow without any hope for the future and at the brink of starvation. Two very ordinary people used by God for some very extraordinary reasons. Jesus told these stories at the very beginning of his public ministry to show God’s heart and salvation for the Jews as well as the Gentiles (Gal. 3:28)!
James once said, “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17-18 NIV). But we don’t really believe him, do we? After all, a prophet is an extraordinary person, called by God, gifted with extraordinary abilities and faith, and accomplishing extraordinary things! The Bible is filled with mostly unnamed ordinary women and men who were mightily used by God, such as:
• the God- fearing midwife in Egypt
• Abraham’s faithful servant who found Rebecca for Isaac
• the boy with five fish and two loaves of bread
• the Greek woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter
Despite these examples, we have a hard time believing that God actually can and does use ordinary people. To make matters worse, when these ordinary people did extraordinary things, we too often put them on a pedestal and forget that it is God who is great and extraordinary! We forget that Jesus came to be an ordinary human being like you and me (Philippians 2: 7) so that when we become the sons and daughters of God through his blood and sacrifice, we can, by His power, do extraordinary things for God. “We have this treasure in jar of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NIV).
John (name changed to protect his identity and his ministry) is an old man in his 70s with a big smile, somewhat toothless, since he is missing 4 or 5 of his upper teeth. He fits into his environment quite perfectly: old and used clothing, pant legs hanging high showing his beat-up tennis shoes, weathered face and hands. He could be any one of the old and ordinary men in China’s countryside. To the young college students he has been called to serve, he is grandpa and teacher John who guides, teaches, comforts, helps, and loves them unconditionally. To me, he is simply one of the saints of God.
John felt the call of God after he retired, so many years ago he sold everything he has and moved to China. Supporting himself with his retirement fund, he started ministering to the college students. I listened to story after story about him from the students: how he spent hundreds of dollars fixing the teeth of a girl who refused to smile due to her severely crooked teeth (how about his own missing teeth?); how abused students find unconditional love and healing in his warm acceptance; how fatherless students were welcomed into his home and heart, experiencing a father’s love through him and eventually opening their hearts to our Heavenly Father; how he would spend hours of his time discipling and building up leaders to carry on God’s work; how his unselfish acts of kindness melted the hardened hearts of some communist students.
Two churches have been established and the ministries are flourishing under John’s loving guidance. He has connected several U.S. churches with these local churches. He invites teachers and pastors to come to continue to build up these young Christians. I had the privilege of serving a couple of years alongside him simply drawn to this ordinary old man, his big heart and his semi-toothless smile. Yes, not a whole lot of people will know him, and his name will never appear among the “VIPs” in a mission conference. Yes, some of his traditional ways of doing things can drive me crazy at times. Yes, his collection of knives and stones are out of control. Yes, he is just one of the ordinary folks and a “jar of clay.” But I indeed believe that in God’s book and in God’s Kingdom, John is certainly under the category of “extraordinary” along with the Jewish slave girl, the starving widow, and many nameless servants of God!
What about you? In view of God’s mercy, may you be encouraged and inspired to offer up yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God! May your “ordinariness” becomes “extraordinary” in God’s mighty hands!