THREE ON THURSDAY
Today’s topic is Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Here are links to three articles on this topic:
Embracing the Quiet Life by Chris Thomas
“The vast majority of Christians in the West have bought into the lie that ‘busy is best,’ and ‘loud and proud’ has become our slogan. We have forgotten how to be quiet. We have long abandoned the notion of developing stillness as a way of life. These joint disciplines have somehow slipped from grace and tumbled into the dark closet of the past. . . . Stillness terrifies us. Quietness terrifies us. The silence is deafening.”
Quiet and Deep Christianity by Andrew Roycroft
“In a world that rages with noise, which seeks to drown out alternate voices and market competitors by shining brighter and shouting louder, it can be tempting for the church to tune up to such a pitch. We can imagine that our worship services should maintain the same volume as the soundtrack by which people live every other day of the week. . . . The tragedy is that quite the opposite is likely to be true.”
The Joy of an Unaccomplished Life by Chad Bird
“Make it your ambition not to be ambitious, the apostle says, tongue in cheek. Stand out by wearing the camouflage of humility. Dream big about living small. In other words, make it your ambition not to let personal glory bedazzle your bio, guide your relationships, declare your importance, or lead you in discerning where God is to be found. Make it your ambition not to drink that cultural Kool-Aid. To lead a quiet life doesn’t mean we lower our expectations; it means we lower our eyes. We look beside us. We look around us. Rather than gaping upward at the next trophy we’ll win, the next raise we’ll earn, we look beside us at the people whom God has placed in our lives for us to serve.”
DARING TO LEAD A QUIET LIFE IN A LOUD AND RESTLESS WORLD
Dallas Willard once told John Ortberg to “ruthlessly eliminate the hurry” from his life.*
It’s sound advice. We know it’s wise to slow down and enjoy the journey, but I would add that we must ruthlessly eliminate the noise from our lives as well.
While the frenetic pace of modern life does indeed threaten to suffocate our souls, it’s equally true that we live in a society where noise has become a socially accepted constant. Whether it’s the TV or radio in the background or the persistent pinging on our phones, a cacophony of clatter permeates the air we breathe.
It’s not just the literal noise either. It’s the noise that fills online spaces, with human souls clamoring for a larger piece of the attention pie. Some might call it the noise of platform building or personal branding. But whatever we call it, most people agree that our world has become a louder place — like someone somewhere has deliberately turned up the digital volume to piercing decibel levels.
It happened so incrementally we may not have noticed it at the time, or if we did, we shrugged it off as no big deal. Except somewhere along the way, I began to notice the way noise affects my soul. When I’m surrounded by noise, it’s as if my soul has a slow leak and I can feel my energy ebbing away.
I’ve grown tired of the noise. I suspect most of us have.
But it’s become so ubiquitous we hardly know how to escape it. Everywhere we go it seems we are bombarded with noise. And it’s not just the noise that shouts, “Here I am! Look at me!” It’s the more subtle but persistent noise that says, “You should be doing more, saying more, posting more, and sharing more.” In other words, it’s the noise that insists we should be noisier than we already are.
In response to all the noise, I sometimes dream of escaping to a little cabin on a lake in Minnesota. A cabin without Internet access. Where there’s only earth and sky, water and trees. Where the air is clear and you can actually hear the rustling of leaves.
I long for a place where quiet lives.
But I don’t live in an Internet-free cabin close to the Canadian border. I live 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles. So, I have to be intentional about creating spaces of quiet — not only in my physical environment, but in my heart as well. Because it’s really the heart that drives us.
In one of Paul’s letters, he says:
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, NIV)
When Paul instructs believers to “lead a quiet life,” he is referring to more than a life of literal silence. He is speaking of a life free from the constant hustle that so often accompanies ambition and self-promotion. Such advice was not only counter-cultural in Paul’s day, it’s still counter-cultural today. Nobody pairs “ambition” with “a quiet life.” And nobody advocates “minding your business” in a social media world where everything is everybody’s business. And yet, that is exactly what Paul is saying.
Make it your ambition, he says, to lead a quiet life.
Given the noise that has become so prevalent in our cultural climate, Paul’s instructions to believers, both then and now, has never been more needed. And it begs the question:
What does a quiet life look like, sound like, and feel like?
First, a quiet life begins with a quiet heart — a heart that is settled on who we are in Christ.
When our hearts are firmly fixed in our identity as belonging to Christ, then we can rest knowing that God sees us and knows every detail about us. And that is enough. Because he is enough.
When I embrace a quiet life, I embrace God as the true source of everything I need. I turn to him before I turn to social media or even friends.
A few months ago I was in a car accident with my daughter. No one was hurt, but my car was mangled pretty good. I had to take a picture of the severe damage for the insurance claim. And for a millisecond, I thought about posting that picture to Instagram. The picture looked scary, like there’s no way someone sitting just inside that car door would be okay.
The picture would have surely evoked lots of attention online. Which is why I didn’t post it. I didn’t even mention it. Because I don’t want to use the “dramatic moments” in my life to draw attention to myself.
A quiet life doesn’t need to feed on drama. That’s not to say hard things won’t happen; I just don’t want to define myself by those hard things.
I sent the picture of my mashed-up car to my insurance agent, filled out the necessary paperwork, and drove a rental car for a solid month while my car was getting repaired. And I moved on.
There have been other serious moments, too. Serious in a most serious sort of way. But the more I embrace a quiet life, the more I am drawn to the One who is most able to care for me.
While a quiet life certainly involves periodic moments of stillness and actual silence, more often than not, it involves a quietness of heart, knowing that God is in control. I needn’t worry or fear because I know he holds every circumstance in his very capable hands.
In the end, it boils down to this…
A quiet life is a life of quiet trust.
I trust him. I want more of him. And something tells me if I quiet my heart and seek more of him than the world’s attention, I’ll find what I’m really looking for. I think we all will.
When you think of “a quiet life,” what comes to mind?
*Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.