The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

(Sharing with Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

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41 thoughts on “The Ministry of the Mundane

  1. Barbara, thank you for this beautiful reminder! Thank you for listening to the Holy Spirit as He convicted you about this, and for sharing it with those of us who needed to hear it today! 😊

    • I am so glad it encouraged you! It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking these everyday tasks are not as important as “ministry,” when we can minister through them as well as more “spiritual” work.”

  2. What a blessed reminder this is – thank you for sharing! I can be tempted to resent the mundane moments of my own life, especially the repeated demands of life with young children (“How many times must I refill your water cup only to have you slop half of it on your front?” and “how many times must I change your shirt only to have you play in the mud?”) Yet Jesus spoke of a reward for the person who gives another a drink of water in Christ’s name (Mark 9:41). Occasionally, God may grant me opportunity to do extraordinary things for him – but the ordinary is exactly where I am (and most of us are) to live the bulk of my life, and it’s therefore where the bulk of my ministry will be.

    • Thank you, Rebekah. So much of life with young children is taken up with those seemingly never-ending everyday tasks. yet how we do them has such influence with our little ones. I have thought of that verse in regard to my m-i-l, as well.

  3. Bravo, my friend…and Amen! This is an area where I always have room for improvement, but my life verse has been Colossians 3:23. I’d always served my family with love, but once I met Jesus I not only served them with love but also with JOY! I always rejoice and encourage young wives and mothers in doing the same and helping them to see that it is just exactly as you have stated here, my friend…a ministry that the Lord has given us as wives and mothers and now even as grandmothers. Thank you for sharing this, Barbara. If you were here or I was there I’d give you a hug! 🙂 Since neither of those options are possible at this time I guess this will have to do. xx

  4. This article put me in mind of a Buddhist proverb I ran across once: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

    Which I take to mean, no matter how spiritually enlightened you get, you’ll always have chores to do. You don’t get to transcend the mundane reality of the world by spiritual discipline. All that enlightenment can change is your attitude towards the work.

    I am not a Buddhist, but it’s a useful proverb that I am happy to borrow from their tradition. 🙂

    • I have often thought that even if I could hire someone to do some of these things, I don’t think I would. Besides the ministering-to-others aspect, I think it does us good to do some of this everyday puttering. It keeps us grounded. And with some of these tasks, it provides a time to think while hands are busy.

  5. The mundane, the daily, the chores, the puttering, the caring for oneself and one’s home.

    Blogging, too.

    I really do love it. And find peace and order and joy in the accomplishment of it all.

  6. Wonderfully written. I have encounter mundane for sure but it is just for me usually. Makes if feel even more mundane. Have a blessed day.

  7. It makes such a difference when we remember that every task, no matter how mundane it may seem, is working for God. And it’s amazing how he can teach us so much through the little everyday things!

  8. Hi Barbara, what an informative, encouraging post. I will carry the image of Jesus with a towel throughout my trips to the laundry station. Seeking His presence in the ordinary reveals His powerful grace. Have a blessed night, Julie

  9. Thank you for another thoughtful post. I have always been encouraged by Edith Shaffer’s book called Hidden Art as she advises us to find creativity in our everyday tasks to help nourish our souls. I have recently read another encouraging book on this topic called Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson. I am in the process of rereading it and jotting down memorable phrases. I think many people could find greater contentment in life by wholeheartedly doing the tasks the Lord gives them in each stage of life.

    • I’ve read Edith’s book a couple of times and really enjoyed it. I have not heard of the other one: I will have to look it up. I think women have been taught for so long that what truly matters in life is what we do “out there,” away from home, that we’ve forgotten, even as Christians the ministry we have here.

  10. I agree and I disagree ;). I detest going to the store–I work full time, but my hours make it more convenient for me to go rather than my husband. So, I don’t see it as part of my job description–but I agree that I could certainly adjust my attitude when I do it!

  11. Lots to think about in this post. I kept coming back to these words, “get to” and “have to” as I was reading. I am learning to say I “get to” do the laundry, go grocery shopping, clean the house or whatever the mundane task is rather than beginning with “have to”. It makes a difference in my perspective.

  12. This was so helpful; thank you Barbara! This school year, my two daughters at home each need vehicles. So, I am literally stuck at home most days. I make it work, but it has grounded me quite a bit and made me think about what I’m doing and how I can still lead a God-pleasing life within these 4 walls. I actually did read Proverbs 31 the other day and it struck me how “everyday” most of the activities listed there were.

  13. Beautiful post, Barbara! I think we all struggle with the mundane tasks. But you’re right that they are just as important if not more than important sometimes. They reflect who we are at our core.

    This paragraph says so much to me:
    “The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.”

    Thanks for the encouragement to stay pleasant in those everyday duties. They count.

  14. Thank you for this, Barbara! I spend waaaaay too much time over thinking the daily tasks instead of just being grateful that I have the strength and time to carry them out. We are privileged to serve our families, and one sure test of our true orientation to that is how we respond when our family treats us like a servant!

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