The Big Idea: the simple things deserve the loudest praise.
“Ultimately, Mike turned a totally ordinary experience into entertainment. He didn’t mind seeming a little strange at first, and for that, he brought us to our feet in praise and appreciation. Mike did his everyday job so excellently and creatively, we couldn’t help but rise to recognize him.”
Have you ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray? Murray plays a weatherman named Phil who’s caught in some type of time loop. He relives the exact same day, every day. At first, Phil is cynical, frustrated, and even tries to escape the routine by driving off a cliff. By the end of the movie, he uses the repetition and his knowledge of the day’s events for good. He infuses new energy into the weather report he’s delivered dozens of times. He focuses on serving others, and finally, Phil finds love.
My life isn’t too different from Phil’s. Most of my time is spent doing ordinary, everyday things like eating cereal and staying home on a Saturday when plans fall through. This isn’t just my subjective experience, either.
Scientifically speaking, our lives are far less interesting than we, or our social media feeds, like to admit.
Did you know 50% percent of English communication uses just 100 words? Words like “the,” “of,” “this,” and “that” make up most of our conversations. Even that one friend who always seems to be at parties, concerts, and taking vacations is more boring than you realize. A recent study found all people pick a group 25 familiar locations – our house, office, gym, restaurant – and visit them over, and over, and over again. To put a fine point on this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the average working professional spends 21 of 24 hours each day either sleeping, eating, working, or watching TV.
So then, our lives are comprised by uninspiring routine, and I think we can all agree that uninspiring tasks are the most difficult to invest our full effort and energy into.
Consequently, it seems the people who live out the monotonous parts of their lives really, really well deserve the loudest praise. They’re living the majority of their hours with a very high degree of excellence. That’s something that deserve as much (if not more) glory than the news-worthy, singular moments of success we prefer to idolize.
I settled into seat 10C, my preferred seat of choice on my last 100 flights. I popped in headphones as I waited for the rest of the passengers to board. A lady in bright pink lipstick sat to my right and smacked her gum, while a “bro” sat across the aisle to my left and recounted his epic weekend to another “bro” over the phone.
At this point in my career, I can recite the airlines’ pre-flight speech word for word. I can even insert appropriately-timed pauses to perform demonstrations for the oxygen mask and life preserver. Knowing when the speech starts and stops tells me how much time I have with my laptop.
I turned down the volume in my headphones and tuned into the safety briefing. I began reciting the familiar words as the speaker sounded overhead. At first, I heard what I expected to hear. But then, as I started listening with my ears instead of my memory, I noticed this speech sounded very unfamiliar.
In fact, it sounded horribly wrong. “Ladies and gentle... just right turn attention here! I mean, to front of the cabin for a seatcard back pocket and 'monstration!”
I cringed. I stared at my feet to give our flight attendant some privacy. I felt bad for the guy. Clearly, he was new, and trying his best. He was probably pretty nervous to be giving the big speech during his first weeks on the job. It’s awkward to screw up any type of public speaking, but butchering a pre-scripted, repetitious speech in front of 186 passengers is another type of embarrassing.
I stole a quick glance at the passengers next me. Everyone else had the same idea. They were inspecting their shoes, fixing their seatbelt, doing anything to avoid looking at the front of the plane. Then, we all heard something surprising – beatboxing.
The flight attendant bust into a lyrically-sound, audibly-pleasing rendition of the FAA-mandated script. He flew through the briefing with crisp and confident rhymes. He wove clever puns into the standard safety information, and he cruised right past the script to finish with, "Mike's on the beat, so buckle yo seat, we 'bout to get it in the air, but don't get it twisted, this flight is rare."
The attendant, apparently named Mike, dropped his mic, threw his hands into the air, and leaned his head back. He let out a victorious, "Ahh," and the plane went nuts. Clapping, whistling, cheering. Everyone gave it up for Mike. He’d just turned a mundane part of our week into something amusing. He converted a group of annoyed passengers into a captive audience. Even the bro to my left was using his phone to record the moment.
Mike gifted laughter to parents of small children dreading their flight. He offered relief to business travelers pushing through their everyday grind. He inspired his attendants to smile and serve with joy.
Ultimately, Mike turned a totally ordinary experience into entertainment. He didn’t mind seeming a little strange at first, and for that, he brought us to our feet in praise and appreciation. Mike did his everyday job so excellently and creatively, we couldn’t help but rise to recognize him.
Jesus spent nearly 30 years living out the everyday routines we’re all familiar with. The Gospels pretty much skip from his birth to the start of his ministry, so I suppose his in-between years weren’t too different from ours. If each of the four Gospel authors felt they could gloss over a few decades, in all likelihood, Jesus’ weeks consisted of normal stuff like studying scripture, helping his father in the shop, and maybe cracking a few jokes by a campfire.
That’s an odd thought, isn’t it? Jesus joking around and just being, well, human? Savior-of-the-world comes to earth, kills time, and laughs with family and friends. That’s hard to wrap my mind around, but it’s reality. God becoming fully human is among the most distinctive tenants of the Gospel; no other God has claimed to live like we do (let alone bled, hungered, or thirsted like we do).
That’s why I think The Message’s translation of John 1:14 gets it right when it says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus didn’t just observe our lives from afar, looking down from the clouds. His life wasn’t just a highlight reel of miracles and shaping history, either. He worked, walked, and waved hello to his neighbors, like we do.
The apostle Paul knew that in both these dull moments and the divine instances alike, Jesus’ life was always focused on doing his Father’s will. He had this is mind when he wrote the Corinthian church to say, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
This would have been a very strange thing to say to Paul’s contemporaries, you see. Paul lived in an era of religious role models only wanted to appear, not actually be, good. They paraded their charitable giving in the streets. They stood front and center in the synagogue to pray. They invested their best if others watched. They seemed holy, but really, they had no concern for the condition of their hearts. Only their reputations.
Jesus, by contrast, was only concerned with God’s reputation – God’s glory. It’s how he lived every moment of every week, and Paul holds this as the standard in his letter. God’s glory is the goal of living, without any room for negotiation. Paul chooses the most basic tasks of life (eating and drinking) to leave us no say in the matter. Simply put, there’s never a time to not live for God’s glory.
This is a very difficult thing, and that’s probably understating it.
Jesus-like excellence is exhausting. It goes against everything I desire. I’d rather serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company than clean airline seats and repeat the same safety speech over and over again. However, according to Paul, these roles hold equal dignity if we use every moment on the job to make much of God’s name. In this sense, Paul says excellence isn’t measured by status or success. It’s not about being the best, only my best, to increase God’s glory.
Ultimately, simple things done with excellence will cause God to one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” (Matthew 25:23)
So we may see groundhog-day routines as tiresome, and good reason to take shortcuts, but humble moments give us an opportunity to do our job well. And when we do, we might not hear a plane full of people clapping, but our Heavenly Father who sits on a throne far higher than any airplane will be cheering us on.
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