Death can be God’s classroom for learning.
When my mother passed away a decade ago, one verse lingered in my mind. It’s a little obscure passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:11: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and to work with your hands . . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders” (NIV). What was God’s lesson for me?
My parents “lived in the quiet” literally “working with their hands.” My dad was a butcher and my mom worked in the school cafeteria. They were not prominent people in the community, they did not hold prestigious positions, miracles did not follow in their wake.
As people of faith, they lived in the quiet — working hard to support their family, raising their children, serving their community and in their church. Their lives naturally won the respect of “outsiders” — the unbelieving friends, neighbors, and relatives that crossed their paths. Their winsome lives attracted believers and unbelievers as they lived in the quiet.
Most of us live lives in the quiet. We don’t have large ministries, we’re not popular preachers or teachers, and we don’t have a massive social media presence. We live in the quiet — working jobs, raising families, serving our communities and churches. Do you know what — this is right where God wants you to be!
The more I look in the Scriptures the more I conclude that life in the quiet is the norm for disciples. Here are two examples.
God is not all that impressed with publicity and public performance. For example, we don’t publicize our giving but choose to give “. . . in secret. That your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4 ESV). We don’t pray to be seen by others but we’re to “go into your inner room and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father” (Matthew 6:6 NASV). We don’t fast in ways for others to applaud but we fast in such a way “that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father” (Matthew 6:16-17 NIV). He notices and applauds life in the quiet.
These simple everyday acts can be done by any believer in any place; special gifting or public positions aren’t required. The miraculous, the dramatic, or the gathering of crowds doesn’t seem to win the Father’s attention in the same way.
Living the Spirit-filled life is another affirmation of life in the quiet. Ephesians 5:18 commands us to be “filled with the Spirit.” The Apostle then paints a context — the everyday routines and relationships of husbands and wives, parents and children (Ephesians 5:22-25; 6:1-3) — for this Spirit-filled life. Being Spirit-filled is not necessarily evidenced by the miraculous or the dramatic but happens in the privacy of my home, sitting around a dinner table, in the everyday routines of the family. The private and not the public is the test of a Spirit-filled life.
Oswald Chambers, in his classic book My Utmost for His Highest writes:
We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power, and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. . . . One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.
Disciples are people who choose to live for God in the quiet — in the everyday routines of work, neighborhoods, family, and worship. What helps us live in the quiet? Here are three simple steps.
- Living in the quiet means faithfulness in little things. Jesus taught that “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10). The little things of time, finances, and the care of possessions are arenas in which we exercise faithfulness to God’s concerns. While maintaining my car, cleaning the house, or balancing a checkbook may not measure high on the public ministry scale, they are the little acts done in the quiet that are training grounds for being entrusted with “the true riches” (Luke 16:11).
- Living in the quiet means loving my neighbor — winning the respect of the “outsider.” In fact, having “a good reputation with outsiders” — our neighbors — is so important that it’s a qualification for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:7). I picture Timothy or Paul interviewing the unbelieving neighbors of potential church leaders, asking about how the potential leader loves his or her spouse, treats their children, and serves in the neighborhood. Quietly and without fanfare or self-promotion, we choose to love our neighbors.
- Living in the quiet is the “hidden work” of disciplemaking. Years ago, The Navigators sponsored a funding campaign asking people to give to the “hidden work.” The hidden work is the work of disciplemaking. Disciplemaking is a ministry done in the quiet, often hidden from the spotlight of public performance. This hidden work happens one-to-one or one-to-two over breakfast at a restaurant, in a home with an open Bible, or through regular email correspondence.
My parents were committed to this “hidden work.” Soon after my mother died, a couple in the neighborhood knocked on my dad’s door. Dad and mom had led a small Bible study in their mobile home park for over twenty years and Jim and Flo were regular attenders. They were knocking on my dad’s door not to express their grief; their knock was for something else. “Bill (my dad’s name),” said Jim, “Flo and I would like to be saved.”
In the quiet of his mobile home, without fanfare, advertising, or a facebook posting, my dad led them in a prayer to trust Christ. Mom and Dad lived in the quiet, winning the respect of the outsider. Walking with God and living on mission in the daily routines of life is for all believers. Living in the quiet is the normal missional life.