The Spiritual Discipline of Living Quietly: A Biblical-Theological Exploration

This paper will seek to answer a question prompted by a particular phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “What does it mean to aspire to lead a quiet life?”

In its only other occurrences in the New Testament, the Greek word translated as aspire is associated with familiar Christian ambitions. Paul aspired to “preach the gospel” (Rom 15:20) and “to please God” (2 Cor 5:9), but a quiet life is a different kind of goal. How does one restlessly pursue repose? It seems that this exhortation extends beyond the practice of disciplines such as silence or solitude; the command calls for an entire life marked by stillness of the soul. What does such a life look like in the modern world?

A number of recent works highlight the relevance of this question. At a popular level, books such as Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary (2019), John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (2019), and Jen Pollock Michel’s In Good Time (2022) have sought to help Christians avoid the frenetic daily pace that Dallas Willard has called “the great enemy of the spiritual life in our day.” A number of scholars have taken up related topics in books such as Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (2014), David Murray’s Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (2017), and Kelly Kapic’s You’re Only Human (2022). Robert Plummer’s excellent 2009 article in the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care provided a biblical definition for the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude, while calling for a lengthier biblical theology on the subject.

Each of these works explore concomitant issues that are helpful for understanding what it means to aspire to live a quiet life. What remains is to provide a constructive account of this concept from the pages of Scripture that will provide theological grounding for this important aspect of piety.

The language of quietness appears throughout the Bible. Christians are called to pray in such a way that would enable them to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:2). God can “give peace and quiet” to his people (1 Chr 22:9)—indeed, quiet rest was recognized as a mark of God’s blessing in Israel (1 Chr 4:40; 2 Chr 20:30). The psalmist learned to calm and quiet his soul (Ps 131), whereas the fool is characterized by giving “full vent to his spirit” (Prov 29:11). In the New Testament, a “gentle and quiet spirit” is said to be “precious” in the sight of God (1 Pet 3:4). Each of these verses contribute to a biblical theology of a quiet life.

This paper will set forth a constructive, exegetical portrayal of a quiet life by (1) exploring key biblical passages on the subject; (2) considering the internal and external dynamics involved in pursuing this aspect of piety; and (3) identifying how particular characteristics of godliness—such as meekness, longsuffering, and gentleness—relate to a quiet life.