Rarely do I find a book so wonderful and easy to read that I fly through it fifty pages at a time. And yet, right from the outset its clear that in Ordinary Saints: Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life Devenish would encourage me to take it slow; to look under every rock, touch every leaf, smell every flower. In so doing, I learn in the pages of his book not only how I should live as a Christ-follower, but I see clearer how I am called to live Jesus’ kingdom vision for my family, for my work life, and for the way in which I am called to have an influence on the world around me.
With the movement of time and the development of language, one could easily find themselves picking up Ordinary Saints with a range of preconceived ideas and prejudices and so Devenish begins with a most helpful and illuminating definition of terms: what are saints? Returning to the biblical language, he defines saints as
all people who have been made righteous
through their faith in Christ
and who subsequently adjust their mode of living
to reflect Christ’s life in the world.
Over against the more commonly used disciple Devenish clarifies “whereas the word disciple highlights the obedience that the disciple offers to Jesus, the word saint highlights the kind of life that the Christian disciple lives before the watching world”. Before even leaving the introduction it became clear that Ordinary Saints is a highly practical, challenging, and encouraging word designed for all of God’s people.
Laying a foundation for what characterises the ordinary saint, Devenish discusses the qualities he believes should be present in their every day lives. These are: (1) love for humanity, (2) overflowing joy, (3) generosity of spirit, (4) willingness to suffer, (5) deep humility, (6) essential goodness, (7) profound wisdom, (8) holiness of life, (9) the practice of prayer, (10) an eternal perspective, (11) readiness to resist evil, and (12) forgiving one’s enemies. I found this chapter simultaneously encouraging and convicting, knowing that as Devenish drilled down into each one of these characteristics, I still have a way to go.
Chapter seven (titled “Holy Wounds”) expands on the model for the saints’ lives. Included in this chapter is a concept he has coined called “voluntary vulnerability”, which he defines as when a person who is whole, healthy, happy, and right with God through faith in Christ, nevertheless chooses to give up their “right” to ensure their own needs are met. Instead, they relinquish any claims to their own comfort and well-being, in order to act in the best interest of others, not themselves.
This pattern is richly demonstrated throughout the book with many stories and examples of ordinary saints living out what Devenish describes. These stories serve to inspire and delight; it is true that saints have currency today because their lives are revelatory; saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel. In considering everything that ordinary saints have to contribute to the life of the Christian today, Devenish writes
History as a narrative rehearsal of past events is punctuated by the life stories of men and women who have performed their character and faith in the past, in such a way that they shape and influence the present (not to mention the future). History would not exist as we know it today without those cultural, religious, and political heroes who have left their “notch” on the stick of time. To that extent, the present moment springs forth from the heroic imaginings of yesterday’s people, who lived their lives not accidentally but intentionally towards making their tomorrow (our present) a better time and place.
None of the qualities that Devenish expounds in the life of the ordinary saint come naturally to any of us. And yet, this is precisely the life that those who have been saved by grace are called out of the world to live. Ordinary Saints is both a call to intentional transformation and an encouraging reminder of that great ‘cloud of witnesses’ that has gone before us, laying down their lives for the spread of the gospel in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless.
Ordinary saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved – completely and unconditionally.
Read it, then go and do likewise.