Back in the spring, I had a friend who is running her own creative company. She knew I was starting a creative company myself, and also that I was just feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty and responsibility that comes with entrepreneurship. She herself was struggling to make ends meet from this company at the time, and so was working a full-time job in retail on top of bootstrapping her company. Nevertheless, as someone with more experience, she gave me some practical advice on how I could structure my schedule and my contracts.
But in addition to practical advice, she also gave me a verse from Scripture that stuck out to her:
“[M]ake it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you….” 1 Thessalonians 4:11
I am conflicted by this verse. As someone who is driven to her core by the idea of significance, it baffles me. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life?” As with any paradox in the Scriptures, I have been drawn to whatever is at the bottom of it. As I’m just now in a season where I’m trying to turn from excess, the Holy Spirit has been bringing it back to mind so much it’s annoying.
I figure He’s annoying me for a reason, and that I should probably finally address this verse. So that’s what I’m going to do. 🙂
Before we dive in, I want to give the premise of this verse. In this passage, the apostle Paul is talking to a group of people who had just turned from idolatry, sold many of their possessions, and were trying to figure out how to depend on God in it all. Paul also addressed both people who worked very hard, and people who refused to work, as well as people who minded their own business and gossipers who minded everyone else’s.
Here is Matthew Henry’s Commentary on this verse:
Satan is very busy to disquiet us; and we have that in our own hearts that disposes us to be disquiet; therefore let us study to be quiet. It follows, Do your own business.When we go beyond this, we expose ourselves to a great deal of inquietude. Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in other men’s matters, generally have but little quiet in their own minds and cause great disturbances among their neighbours; at least they seldom mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling, to work with their own hands; and yet this was what the apostle commanded them, and what is required of us also. Christianity does not discharge us from the work and duty of our particular callings, but teaches us to be diligent therein.
Henry contrasts the idea of quietness with that of “disquiet” — that is, anxiety or worry. Yet, it is of note that he does not contrast quietness with diligent, difficult work. This is validating for me, in the sense that entrepreneurship is, indeed, difficult work.
An an entrepreneur, my work is indeed difficult, and takes up a larger proportion of my life and focus than many other jobs would require. However, I don’t think I’m an outlier in this sense. Every working person devotes a considerable amount of time to their job, career, or vocation.
However, what confuses and frustrates me is that I often receive advice that seems to be a warning against of the destructive nature of honest, hard work. Whether this is intended or not, I walk away from this advice either feeling guilty for working too diligently, or not diligently enough.
6 Dimensions of a quiet life.
From my wrestlings with this verse, I have identified 6 different dimensions of a quiet life. Practicing these dimensions well is impossible, of course, apart from the grace of God, the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and wills, and the sacrifice of Jesus which gave us free access to the two aforementioned blessings.
1. Renunciation of the culture of busyness.
Quietness isn’t necessarily about removing ourselves entirely from the noise of the world. Indeed, we are called to engage our world (John 17:13, 15, 17). However, we are to be set apart from the world. Part of this is to set aside not only time, but focus and attention, toward God, rather than toward the work of our hands. Jesus often went off on his own, away from people, not just to enjoy being in nature, but moreso to enjoy the presence of God and bring His (Jesus’) emotions and thoughts to His Father to be processed.
As an introvert, I tend to long for “quietness” as in being away from people. However, often my time by myself is not restful or focused on God, but rather focused on my worries and obligations. This is idolatry! I admit that, when I sense God calling me to come to Him and gain focus and direction for my life, I allow my own worries to be stronger than God’s presence in my life.
2. Simplicity of purpose.
It seems there has to be an element of simplicity in a quiet life. Even if our obligations are complex, we must leave room in our minds to remember why we’re doing what we’re doing — mainly, for the purpose of experiencing and overflowing with love (1 Thess 3:12). If this is not our purposes, then something has become more important in our lives than the Great Commandment — to love God and man — and thus, we are deeming our purposes more important than those of a being who is in charge of our existence. Does this strike a certain respect in you? If not, you have ascribed greater power and authority to man than to God. If the one who has decided to keep you alive (and who died for you, at that!) tells you the greatest thing is love, then you’d best do everything with love.
The moment we forget this, our priorities get out of line, and life gets complex — as do our motives. Once we are motivated by something other than love, we are no longer single-minded — simple and focused in our vision — but double-minded (James 4:8). We will not be productive, but will spin our wheels on things that really don’t matter. And we will miss out on significance through depth that blurred focus simply cannot provide.
When I think of rest, I think of either nature, or just this ideal state of never being stressed. Ultimately, I think of just a general lack of complexity of tasks. However, I don’t think perception is entirely true.
I think it’s possible to be involved in a complexity of different activities, but still to have rest. Again, it goes back to attitude. Am I involved in things because I want to impress people? Be able to live with myself? Be proud of myself? Or am I involved in things because I’m genuinely invested in the people and causes? If I’m spread too thin, I can’t be invested, and I can’t love. And I’m working overtime with no eternal pay.
The church in Thessalonica gave away their possessions because they realized material things, people, and other Pagan gods were taking God’s place in their lives. They went from one form of material dependence (being controlled by their things) to potentially another (being dependent on people for their lack of things).
A quiet life is neither marked by
5. Diligent work.
The idea of quietness seems to be in direct opposition to the American culture — one driven by living big, living loud, and drowning in busyness. At first glance, it seems this verse is all about abandoning this culture. In some respects, this is what this verse is about — but not abandoning the culture altogether, but rather, being set apart from the culture of busyness.
In reading the rest of 1 Thessalonians, I find Paul not only permits hard work, but exemplifies it (1 Thess 2:9) and commands it. the apostles’ working day and night so they wouldn’t be a burden to anyone.
Not because we should not work hard, but because we should neither strive to please people (1 Thess 2:6) nor depend on people (1 Thess 4:11), but rather to please God and depend on God.
God is a God of paradoxes.
To work with all our hearts, but also to abide in a place of rest.
To be quiet, but also to take His message to the ends of the earth. He asks us to be completely dependent (on Him), but also not to depend on anyone (that is, on this earth).
To work amid a culture of busyness and gossip,— day in and day out — and yet not to fall into busyness and disquiet, slander, and greed.
To rest and enjoy life, but also to be ever sober-minded and alert at all times.
Anyone who attempts these things in their own strength will either end up feeling like a fool, or believing God to be a fool for commanding the impossible.
It is impossible to live a quiet life apart from God. Yet, as Jesus says, Matthew 19:26, “With man, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”
God is not unfair to command the impossible to people to whom He has given the ability to do the impossible.
This ability does not come from an optimistic or humanistic belief in the power of man. It comes from the fact that the infinite power of an infinite God, through Christ, can dwell in finite man, making Him capable of holiness (Colossians 1:27).
Apart from God, we cannot even wish to be holy; it is God who plants in us a desire to comply with His will (Phil 2:13). Apart from God, we can strive for quietness, and indeed, we will long for it like a thirsting man lost at sea. Yet our thirst will never be satiated until we drink of the Holy Spirit.
In order to experience true quietness, we must surrender. We must admit that we’d rather live a life of busyness, blame, imbalance, striving, and control than to let God have His way in our lives.
If you’re never surrendered your life to God, you can do so by expressing to Him (out loud, in your mind, or on paper) that you can’t quench your thirst for quietness in your own strength, and ask for Him to impart His supernatural strength and Spirit on you, so you can live as you were designed.
If you have surrendered your life to God before, but are struggling to find quietness (like me), you can surrender with me tonight. You can ask for God’s strength to come on you, an for His Spirit to direct you in a way you could never direct your own life, no matter how many nice-sounding quotes you memorize or well-intended ambitions you have.
Lord, it is your wish for me to live a life of quietness of spirit. I ask that you would be the center of my work. I ask that you would provide for me in everything, and that you would even provide for me the trust I need to believe that you will provide! I ask that I would depend not on my own efforts, or the efforts of others, to sustain me, but rather depend on You. That way, I can work as You call me to work, but will not overwork out of greed, or underwork out of laziness or discouragement. Provide for me abundantly so I don’t have to depend on others, but instead Your love can abound to them through the abundance I freely give to others. My I have plenty of my time, focus, love, and diligence in just the right amounts to the exact people You have called me to affect. I know it is only through a life of quietness and surrender that my life will speak your message loudly. Amen.