I put the pen down, took a deep breath, and felt my stomach churn. My wife and I had just bought a house—a joyful occasion for sure, but I couldn’t get the question out of my mind: Are we selling out? By planting roots in the U.S., had we somehow compromised?
Just a few years earlier, we were living overseas, sharing Jesus, and making disciples cross-culturally. We were doing work I deemed valuable for the kingdom. Since childhood, I’d wanted to live on the front lines of God’s mission to the world’s least-reached people. Now, after two years back in the States, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that we’d settled for ease.
I’d equated gospel faithfulness with doing extraordinary work for God. Initially, that meant planting my life in South Asia. But now that a new stage in life and ministry had come, faithfulness began to look different than I’d imagined.
We’ve lived in the States for 15 years now, and my struggle has continued. I still find it tempting to chase after big audacious goals and struggle to believe that God isn’t always asking me to do more or run to what’s radical. But by his grace, God has grown a new desire in me. Alongside my ambition, I also now long to be faithful and content in life’s more mundane rhythms. I long to experience God and his abiding presence, not first in the drive of life but in hidden moments of quietness. I’ve learned that God wants me to embrace a faithful and ordinary Christian life, the kind that’s described in 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12.
Paul’s Path to Ordinary Faithfulness
Paul’s words call us back to the beauty of the ordinary. In this passage, he gives us three clear commands.
1. Live a quiet life.
Paul was a cross-cultural missionary. Why would he call the church to live quietly? Are we not called to make noise for Jesus, to change the world? Yes, but Paul knew that the most lasting influence often comes through unseen, unknown, and uncelebrated lives lived in the shadows.
Think about your life. Who are the people who left a lasting mark on you? My guess is they weren’t superstars, celebrity pastors, or people with global influence. In my life, the most influential people were the teachers, coaches, pastors, and family members whose roots went down deep. They led lives of quiet faithfulness, regularly slowing down long enough to be present with those around them.
Paul’s command to live quietly isn’t an invitation to coast. It’s not permission to veg out in life. He’s calling us to live intentionally whatever our circumstances.
2. Mind your own business.
I still find it tempting to chase after big audacious goals and struggle to believe that God isn’t always asking me to do more or run to what’s radical.
Paul encourages church members to keep their noses out of things that don’t concern them. What a prophetic word for our cultural moment. In a world where social media connects us to every breaking story, in a culture that celebrates and rewards polarized rhetoric, we need this reminder. Christians mustn’t be tempted to think significance is found in making a big splash or keeping up with whatever is in the news. Instead, we should keep our heads down and be about our Father’s work.
3. Work with your hands.
Finally, Paul addresses the topic of work directly. The Thessalonian church eagerly anticipated Christ’s return, and rightfully so. But some in the church had stopped working. They were using the Lord’s imminent return as an excuse to be lazy. They mooched off other Christians’ generosity.
Paul called these believers to work hard so they too could play a meaningful role in the church’s life. He tells them to “be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:12). He isn’t saying that Christians shouldn’t ever need help or generosity from one another. The sort of independent self-sufficiency we value in American culture shouldn’t be read into this text. The encouragement here is simply to work hard so we can actively participate in the church’s life and mission.
Hard but Significant
Ordinary faithfulness can be difficult. Tish Harrison Warren wrote about her struggle to embrace an ordinary life after returning from mission work in Africa:
What I am slowly realizing is that, for me, being in a house all day long with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder that being in a war-torn African village. . . . And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day—an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year-old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor[,] . . . the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even if I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that is enough.
If you’re a mom and your day is filled with diapers and screaming children, if your best ministry is speaking to the heart of your teenage son, know that your faithful parenting pleases the Lord. If your job is a slog and your days are simply wake, shower, work, eat, sleep, and repeat, know your faithful labor pleases the Lord. If you’re on the back-end of life wondering what lasting influence you’ve left, don’t look to the deals you’ve closed or the wealth you’ve amassed. Look instead to the small but significant things—the family that surrounds you, the church that needs you, the spiritual life built over years of ordinary cultivation. Know that your labor is pleasing to the Lord. Your quiet and faithful life is meaningful.
Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica remind us there’s dignity and beauty in what we do whether we work in finance or farming, medicine or ministry, loading packages or parenting. Our mundane lives and daily work matter to God. In fact, when we’re faithful in the ordinary, God gives our lives extraordinary significance.