The Quiet Life
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I do things. Why I write, why I homeschool, why I discipline my children, why I serve my husband. The self is a sly thing that can creep up at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected ways. So much of what I do, I do because I love to create, I love to discover beauty in the most unexpected places. However, how much of what I do is also the result of a hidden vanity? The heart is a deceptive thing, who can know it?
I recently finished reading, Roots and Sky, by Christie Purifoy. The last chapter of the book I read on my front porch. Tim and I like to begin our mornings there listening to the birdsong, watching the woodpecker, praying and reading Scripture.
It is solace to me. I love the quiet. I love the sound of the trees swaying in the breeze. I would live in this quiet 24 hours if I could.
So as I stumbled upon these words in her last chapter, I breathed deep:
“I have witnessed the glory of a quiet life. I am beginning to understand what it might mean to be ambitious for quietness rather than accomplishment ... I am sure it is the thing most worthy of all my ambition.”
Contrary to contemporary thought, glory is not found in political power, literary fame, a name written in lights, but rather glory is found in the quiet.
The glory of the quiet life.
Make Your Ambition
In I Thessalonians 4:11 Paul makes this entreaty to the believers: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”
Our ambition should be to lead lives of quietness. I don’t often view quietness as an ambition. Teaching my children how to learn, securing financial peace, daily exercise are all ambitions of mine. But how often do I add to this list, a quiet life?
Ambition comes from the Latin and has the idea to go on both sides to accomplish one’s aims. It means to go at it with all one’s being. One of the Latin words translated for ambition is actually “gloria.” It is a glorious ambition to lead a quiet life.
There is glory in the quiet as I sit upon my front porch and listen to the woodpecker peck his beat. There is wonder found in listening to His still, small voice speak truth. There is a grace found when I mind my own business and don’t get caught up in the digital world around me that screams so much noise.
The Greek translation of this passage has the idea of “study to be quiet.” It takes time to learn how to be quiet. It does not come natural in this hyper-driven world we live in. “We should be ambitious and industrious how to be calm and quiet in our minds, in patience to possess our own souls, and to be quiet towards others.” (Matthew Henry)
Christ is our golden example of a life lived in quiet. He often escaped to a quiet place to be alone with his Father. He didn’t make it His goal to gather thousands and thousands of followers. I’m pretty sure His Instagram account wouldn’t have reached the tens of thousands. Does that mean He wasn’t ambitious? Does it show He didn’t live a great life? Quite the contrary.
While living in Oxford one of my pastors from St. Aldate's said something that stuck with me, “Christ never did any of the things we associate with ‘greatness’: he never wrote a book, or travelled more than 200 miles from home.” He had no goal to secure a political position to set His kingdom up on earth. His only desire was to make His Father’s Name great.
Make Your Name Great
I find in David a wonderful example of a man who knew how to live the quiet life. When David set out to kill Goliath, his words to the Philistine were: “Today the Lord will conquer you.” (I Sam. 17:46) He did not proclaim his own skill, David did not set out to make his own name great. He set out to make the name of his God great.
“You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies--the God of the armies of Israel.” (17:45)
I cannot help but think that David was able to do so because of all the years he lived the quiet life of tending sheep, sitting beside the still waters.
It’s way too easy in our culture to try to make a name for ourselves. We worship the celebrity culture, even the Christian one. Psalms 111:9b proclaims “What a holy, awe-inspiring name He has!”
The Hebrews would not even speak the covenant-keeping name of God out loud: Yahweh. Whenever they would come upon it while orally reading the Word of God, they would be silent. Their silence was an indication that the Great Name had been spoken.
Unfortunately, later in David’s life we see a dissatisfaction with the quiet life creep in. The result was that it lead him to a desire for recognition. In 2 Samuel 7:1 we find this: “After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
It was a time of rest for David. A time of quiet, and in that quiet he became discontent. Maybe he longed to hear the old songs of his victories sung again.
Nathan the prophet responded to David, “This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” (v. 5) The Lord was not asking for a house to dwell in. And, He definitely was not asking David to build it.
How often a desire for recognition, to make our name great, can distract us from our true calling. Eugene Peterson says, “David’s building plans for God would interfere with God’s building plans for David.”
David wanted to get busy building. God wanted David to rest and live the quiet life.
But what is so beautiful about this passage is that God uses His covenant-keeping Name, LORD, the name that is so beautiful it cannot be spoken aloud by His people, to confirm to David that He has made a covenant with David He would not break despite David’s discontent. Even though David’s ambition was not the Lord’s plan for David, Yahweh would show mercy.
In verses 8-13 the Lord says to David, “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone...Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth...I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood...and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
David was ambitious for a building but instead was promised an inheritance.
The Lord knew David’s heart. The quiet life lived in the pasture, tending flock, forged in David a man after God’s own heart. We may not know our own hearts, but the Lord does. Proverbs 15:11 says,“Even Death and Destruction hold no secrets from the Lord. How much more does He know the human heart!”
David had years of studying to be quiet. He embraced the quiet life, and even when He became restless, the Lord graciously bestowed favor on David by providing him with an inheritance that would last forever.
Christi Purifoy says:
“Nearly all of us must work to stay there [the quiet place]. All the energies of the flesh, all the vanity of a world that has rejected heaven, seem bent on making noise. Bent on leading us away from the quiet life that sings so beautifully of the world that is to come.”
There is a song, a melody that beckons me to leave the maddening crowd, the ambition of fame, and in it’s place a Name is lifted up, so lyrical that it cannot be voiced aloud: the LORD. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Gloria is found in the ambition of the quiet life.