Christian heroes are remembered for their dramatic stands—like Martin Luther, who defied the Holy Roman emperor, popes, yea, all of Christendom. Others are known for their legendary lifestyles—like Francis of Assisi, who literally took Jesus’ command to wear but one cloak and no sandals. Such people are inspiring to watch, but really, they don’t make much impact on my day-to-day life. In my world, there’s no Holy Roman Emperor to defy, and cloak and bare feet don’t cut it as business attire in the Chicago area.

Except for the last hour of his long life, Thomas Cranmer made no heroic stands and lived no radical lifestyle. He just tried to work out his faith in one bewildering setting after another. One day Henry VIII, his first boss, would push in a Protestant direction, the next, in a Catholic. In this tumultuous setting, Cranmer had to determine how best to forward the gospel without losing his livelihood, life, or soul.

The tension was too great sometimes, and sometimes he compromised himself—there’s just no other way to put it. Once, for instance, he persecuted married priests because Henry ordered it, all the while secretly hiding his own wife in Germany. And at the end of his life, he really blew it: several times he forsook in writing his Protestant faith.

But most of his life, he successfully muddled through the compromises with his faith intact. He managed to survive the perilous fortunes of sixteenth-century politics and push ever so gently, slowly, and patiently for a gospel reformation of England. As a result, he was eventually able to produce, among other things, a prayer book that has nurtured the lives of millions of Christians for over 400 years—the Book of Common Prayer. And, of course, when it really counted, he stood for what he believed, recanting his recantations and suffering death at the stake.

Cranmer is a hero all right, but I find it comforting to see that he was a rather ordinary one. He’s a hero for a person like me, who tries to live out the gospel in confusing circumstances, who tries desperately not to lose livelihood, life, or soul in obeying the gospel—and who often feels his obedience to Christ is mere plodding. Cranmer shows me that this paltry offering may be enough for God to use mightily.