“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We all heard some variation of that question as children. Some of us continue to hear it as adults. The question is born in curiosity, and the specific answer is often heard as an indication of ambition. My answers morphed over the years, starting with a cowboy, then a truck driver, followed by a soldier, and I entered college set on becoming a doctor. However, I cannot recall one time that someone suggested or I consciously considered pursuing “a quiet life.”
Yet that is exactly what Paul told the believers in Thessalonica. First, he urged them to love one another and all of God’s family even more (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Then the apostle gave them a general admonishment that would cover whatever specific plow they put their hand to. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (v. 11). Now what did Paul mean by that exactly? He clarified: “You should mind your own business and work with your hands” so outsiders respect you and you’re not a burden on anyone (vv. 11–12). We don’t want to discourage children from pursuing their giftedness or passions but maybe we could encourage them that whatever they choose to do, they do with a quiet spirit.
Considering the world we live in, the words ambitious and quiet couldn’t seem further apart. But the Scriptures are always relevant, so perhaps we should consider what it might look like to begin living quieter.
As a young writer I was often unsure of myself when I was in writing workshops. I would look around and see rooms filled with giants, if you will—people with formal training or years of experience. I had neither. But what I did have was an ear formed by the language and tone and cadences of the King James Version of the Bible. It was very much my armor, so to speak, what I was used to, and allowing it to inform my writing style and voice has become a joy to me, and I hope to others.
We don’t get the impression that David the young shepherd was unsure of himself when it came to wearing Saul’s armor to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:38–39). He simply couldn’t move around in it. David had the awareness to realize one man’s armor can be another man’s prison – “I cannot go in these” (v. 39). So David trusted what he knew. God had prepared him for that moment with just what was needed (vv. 34-35). The sling and stones were what David was used to, his armor, and God used them to bring joy to the ranks of Israel that unforgettable day.
Have you ever felt unsure of yourself, thinking If I just had what someone else has, then my life would be different? Consider the gifts or experiences God has given specifically to you. Trust your God-given armor.
Her name was Saralyn, and I sorta had a crush on her back in our public school days. She had the most wonderful laugh. I’m not sure whether she knew about my crush, but I suspect she did. After graduation I lost track of her, as they say. Our lives went in different directions as lives often do.
I keep up with my graduating class in some online forums, and I was intensely sad when I heard that Saralyn died. I found myself wondering about the direction her life had taken over the years. This is happening more and more the older I grow, this experience of losing friends and family. But many of us tend to avoid talking about that.
While we still sorrow, the hope the apostle Paul heralds is that death doesn’t have the final say (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). There is something that follows, another word: resurrection. Paul grounds that hope in the reality of the resurrection of Christ (v. 12), and says “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v. 14). If our hope as believers is limited to this world only, that’s just a pity (v. 19).
We will one day see those again who have “fallen asleep in Christ” (v. 18)—grandparents and parents, friends and neighbors, or even old schoolyard crushes.
Death doesn’t get the last word. Resurrection does.
For a man who lives by a code, so to speak, it felt like a major failure. What’d I do? Well, I fell asleep. Our kids have a curfew to meet when they’re out for the evening. They’re good kids, but my practice is to wait up until I hear their hands turn the front doorknob. I want to know they’re home safe. I don’t have to do this: I choose to. But one night I awoke to my daughter saying through a smile, “Dad, I’m safe. You should go to bed.” Despite our best intentions, sometimes fathers fall asleep at their posts. It was very humbling, and also very human.
But that never happens with God. Psalm 121 is a reassuring song about our God as guardian and protector of His children. The psalmist declares that the Lord who watches over us “will not slumber” (v. 3). And for emphasis, he repeats that truth in verse 4: he “will neither slumber nor sleep.” Can you even imagine? The Lord never falls asleep at His post. He is always keeping watch over us—the sons and daughters and aunts and uncles and mothers, and even fathers. It’s not so much that God has to do this, but rather that, out of His great love, God chooses to. That promise is definitely something to sing about.
What does it mean to be real? That’s the very big question answered in the small children’s book—The Velveteen Rabbit. It is the story of toys in a nursery, and the journey of a velveteen rabbit to becoming real by allowing himself to be loved by a child. One of the other toys is the old and wise Skin Horse. He “had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by and by break . . . and pass away.” They looked and sounded impressive, but their boasting eventually amounted to nothing when it came to love.
Boasting starts out strong, but in the end always fades away. Jeremiah lists three areas where this is evident: “wisdom . . . strength . . . riches” (Jeremiah 9:23). The wise old prophet had been around long enough to know a thing or two, and he countered such boasting with the Lord’s truth: “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord” (v. 24).
Let us, the children, boast in God, our good Father. In the unfolding story of His great love, it is the wonderful way you and I grow to become more and more real.
Pastor and spiritual writer Eugene Peterson had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Swiss physician and highly respected pastoral counselor Paul Tournier. Peterson had read the doctor’s works, and admired his approach to healing. The lecture left a deep impression on Peterson. As he listened, he had the feeling that Tournier lived what he spoke and spoke what he lived. Peterson chose this word to describe his experience: “Congruence. It is the best word I can come up with.”
Congruence – it’s what some refer to as “practicing what you preach” or “walking your talk.” John stresses that if any of us “claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister,” then we’re “still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). In essence, our lives and our words simply don’t match up. John goes further to say such people “do not know where they are going” (v. 11). The word he chose to describe how incongruence leaves us? Blind.
Living closely aligned to God by allowing the light of His Word to illuminate our paths keeps us from living blind. The result is a godly vision giving clarity and focus to our days—our words and actions match up. When others observe this congruence, the impression our lives leave is not necessarily that of someone who knows everywhere they’re going, but someone who clearly knows who they are following.
“Don’t ever miss the chance to show your babies the moon!” she said. Before our mid-week prayer service began, a group of us talked about the previous night’s Harvest Moon. The full moon was especially striking, as it seemed to sit on the horizon. Mrs. Webb was the elder voice in our conversation, a gray-haired lover of God’s grand creation. She knew my wife and I had two children in our house at the time, and she wanted to help me train up them in a way worth going. Don’t ever miss the chance to show your babies the moon!
Mrs. Webb would’ve made a good psalmist. Her brand of attentiveness is reflected in David’s description of the heavenly bodies that “have no speech . . . yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:3–4). Neither the psalmist nor Mrs. Webb had any intention of worshiping the moon or the stars, but rather the creative hands behind them. The heavens and skies reveal nothing less than the glory of God (v. 1).
We too can encourage those around us—from babies and teenagers to spouses and neighbors—to stop, look, and listen for declarations and proclamations of God’s glory are all around us. Drawing attention to the work of His hands in turn leads to worshiping the awesome God behind the whole show. Don’t ever miss the chance.
I grew up in a church full of traditions. One came into play when a beloved family member or friend died. Often a church pew or possibly a painting in a hallway showed up not longer after with a brass plate affixed: “In Memory of . . .” The deceased’s name would be etched there, a shining reminder of a life passed on. I always appreciated those memorials. And I still do. Yet at the same time they’ve always given me pause because they are static, an inanimate object, in a very literal sense something “not alive.” Is there a way to add an element of “life” to the memorial?
Following the death of his beloved friend Jonathan, David wanted to remember him and to keep a promise to him (1 Samuel 20:12–17). But rather than simply seek something static, David searched and found something very much alive—a son of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:3). David’s decision here is dramatic. He chose to extend kindness (v. 1) to Mephibosheth (v. 6) in the specific forms of restored property, “all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul,” and the ongoing provision of food and drink, “you will always eat at my table” (v. 7). As we continue to remember those who have died with plaques and paintings, we could also recall David’s example and extend kindness to those still living.
Who has died but you don’t want to forget? Consider David’s beautiful example of a living memorial of kindness. Who might that someone still living be, and what might a specific kindness to them look like?
Does the sun rise in the east? Is the sky blue? Is the ocean salty? Is the atomic weight of Cobalt 58.9? Okay, that last one you might only know if you’re a science geek or tend to dabble in trivia, but the other questions have an obvious answer: “Yes.” In fact, questions like those are usually mixed with a hint of sarcasm.
If we’re not careful our modern, sometimes jaded ears can hear a bit of sarcasm in Jesus’s question to an invalid: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). The obvious answer would seem to be, “Are you kidding me?! I’ve been wanting help for thirty-eight years now.” But there’s no sarcasm present, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Jesus’s voice is always filled with compassion, and His questions are always posed for our good.
Jesus knew the man wanted to get well. He also knew it had probably been a long time since anyone had even made an offer to care. Before the divine miracle, Jesus’s intent was to restore in him a hope that had grown cold. He did this by asking a rather obvious question, and then giving ways to respond: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (v. 8). We’re like the invalid, each of us with places in our lives where hope has withered. He sees us and compassionately invites us to believe in hope again, to believe in Him.