I like inspirational movies. One of my favorites is The Natural (Tristar Pictures, 1984), starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. A famous line in the movie comes when Redford’s character, Roy Hobbs, shares his dream and motivation in life. After expressing regret that he could have been the best in baseball, he explains why that was so important to him:
And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked, and they would’ve said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was …
While that’s a memorable line, for me, it’s also a sad one. With that goal, just think of how much of Roy Hobbs’ life was spent not realizing his goal? Probably better than 99.9%. Are there people like that in real life? Yes, there are.
On several occasions over the past years, I have encountered young people who have expressed a desire to do something that’s phenomenal; to do something really important in the eyes of others; to save the world. Finding purpose and significance is part of who we are, but I think this sentiment may represent an unhealthy cultural trend.
What Makes a Life Extraordinary?
The word extraordinary means “unusual, unremarkable, and out-of-the-ordinary.” It refers to something that is noteworthy and acknowledged by others.
Here’s a question: Could you live an incredible life when no one else recognizes it as such? If you adhere to a secular, relativistic worldview, the answer would be “no.” But that creates another dilemma. I think most behavioral counselors would agree that living for the recognition and approval of others is a recipe for unhappiness. Instead, they would urge you to live with a sense of purpose and to pursue goals. But which ones? There’s the rub. You’ll be told each person needs to decide for him or herself, and given how deeply we are influenced by our experiences and culture, we’re brought back to where we started.
It seems to me, that if we want to know something about living an extraordinary life, we should look to the most extraordinary person who ever lived: Jesus Christ, who was both man and God. We can read the Gospels to learn more about Jesus, but concerning this particular topic, we can also get a snapshot view by reading the Sermon on the Mount (see the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7).
I decided to look at these passages and see if I could draw a comparison between what Jesus had to say about living an outstanding life and what the cultural mainstream might say. You can find these below.
Life is centered on you and the people you care about.
ALTERNATIVE: Love God first; love others as yourself. (Matt. 22:37-39)
Find happiness by pursuing power, wealth, possessions, pleasure, and recognition by others.
ALTERNATIVE: Happiness is found through attitudes and actions that reflect humility, meekness, compassion, purity, mercy, seeking to do what’s right, and giving oneself for Christ. (Matt. 5:3-12)
Make a name for yourself. Leave a legacy. Make an impression on people and stand out.
ALTERNATIVE: Work for heavenly treasures that last and not for earthly ones that quickly fade and are lost. (Matt. 6:19-21)
Compare yourself to others.
ALTERNATIVE: Don’t do something to be recognized. Stop comparing yourself to others. (Matt. 6:1; 7:1-3)
Live to meet your own needs.
ALTERNATIVE: Seek God’s kingdom first and don’t worry about your material life. Practice holy indifference. (Matt. 6:25-34)
Success comes through how we influence others.
ALTERNATIVE: If you want to make a difference, begin by changing yourself. (Matt. 7:3-5)
Define your own truth.
ALTERNATIVE: Find truth in Jesus. (Matt. 6:22-23)
Avoid trials and suffering.
ALTERNATIVE: One doesn’t seek out difficulties in life, but he need not fear them. (Matt 5:4; 6:25-34; 7:24-27)
ALTERNATIVE: You’ll really know people, not by their appearance, but by their actions. (Matt. 7:15-23)
Try to be nice to others, but it’s OK to strike out at people whom you don’t like or give you trouble.
ALTERNATIVE: Love others with radical, sacrificial love. Don’t retaliate when you’re mistreated. Pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:38-47)
Be who you want to be.
ALTERNATIVE: Be like Jesus. (Matt.5:48)
Making a Choice
Looking over this list, it seems to me there is a fundamental, irreconcilable difference between what an extraordinary life means for someone living under the mainstream view and for a disciple of Christ. Under the widely-accepted view, an extraordinary life means accomplishing something outstanding in the eyes of others. If you are fortunate enough to have this experience, you might be able to claim an occasional success while the other 99+% of your life is ordinary, boring, or even miserable. And if you’re disabled, elderly, or have a physical defect, you’re probably out of luck.
Christ, on the other hand, doesn’t ask us to accomplish the extraordinary, but rather to live life in an extraordinary way. Here, the percentages flip so that >99% can be extra-ordinary. And this doesn’t favor those who are highly gifted, either. In fact, in the kingdom of God, those who are humble and poor in spirit—the least among us—are the greatest.
Some people who see Jesus, not as the Son of God, but just another great teacher, will think they can pick and choose what they want to do, much like walking up to a restaurant buffet. But one doesn’t live a 10% or 30% life following Christ. He didn’t leave us that option.
We will have opportunities to accomplish uncommon things in this world, but it’s how we live the ordinary days of our lives that will best prepare us for those moments when we called to do the out-of-the-ordinary.