Idleness, Patience, and the God Who Sees Each Step


“We urge you, brethren, admonish the idle […] be patient with everyone”
1 Thessalonians 5:14 NASB

I understand, firsthand, that grief can stall a person—it can take a physical toll that might, especially at first, preclude the amount of activity in life that used to take no thought. Though this may seem disconcerting and endless, in my experience, it is an aspect of grief that time does change with time.

But even further, perhaps you have been sitting, for a while now, with a sense that little is worth doing anymore in this life. I have had these thoughts. But the apostle Paul has practical encouragement. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11, he instructs the believers: “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). God assigns significance to seemingly little tasks of “a quiet life” by making them a means of directly pleasing Him.

Instructions about idleness are placed within the context of a discussion on grief. Before teaching on idleness, Paul writes these comforting words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Thinking about heaven has been essential in order for me to know what to pursue in this life versus what is less important for me to see fill my time. I know that the gospel lasts, the Word lasts, God lasts, and purity and truth and holiness and love last. And my brothers and sisters in Christ—including future brothers and sisters—will be coming to glory forever where we will live together with Christ.

But at one point in my grief, I also twisted the comfort of my future hope described in the passage above into a reason to care little about my daily tasks in this world. Instead of seeing my future hope as a reason and an incentive to engage in my day-to-day tasks, with the joy He had given me, I saw my hope as a reason to diminish the significance of what only seemed monotonous.

But the God in whom I have hope planned the precise moment my daughter would join Him in eternity is also the God who planned that I have not yet joined Him there. I am still to be here—pursuing what He has told me this life looks like when it is lived in a godly way. And that includes simply honoring him with my days.

There is further spiritual reason to not be idle. The days are evil; believers are not children of the darkness, but are surrounded by darkness. So, Paul gives instructions to be alert and sober. Grief tempts me to sleep, but I am to be awake as a child of light and day.

“For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.”
1 Thessalonians 5:5-6

These verses above help me understand that if practical idleness becomes a habit and is given allowance in my life, spiritual idleness might not be too far behind.

If spiritual idleness comes, sins can creep in. I see at least three kinds of sin that Paul warns against in his letter: (1) sexual immorality, (2) drunkenness, and (3) retributive intent toward others:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

“For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.”
1 Thessalonians 5:7

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
1 Thessalonians 5:15

Idleness might seem like a less-significant sin to strive to overcome, at first glance. But it is significant because my good God has given me a day-to-day way to live in the light of my hope. And I can appreciate the wisdom implicit in these verses about being alert: compromise that slides discretely into my life could slowly give way to more compromises.

Right after urging the idle to be admonished, Paul teaches that believers are to be patient with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Not an excuse to be slow to obey, I think he is remembering, on his readers’ behalf, that all live unique circumstances with unique reactions and responses to pain. What is simple obedience for one might be a massive display of devotion to the Lord for another. I think the sense of what he is saying is this: urge others to recognize that even in light of eternity, their daily lives’ activities still matter to the Lord (and that He can be honored and pleased through each diligent step!), and recognize that the next step for someone grieving might not be the one you envision and might not be the one you once took in your grief.

Over four years after my daughter’s home-going, I am still discovering new ways to come out of this fog of living behind an eternal hope. But, along with resting well and being wise with my energies, I am seeking to take Paul’s unencumbering principle and pick up quiet, simple, employ-my-hands tasks—one step at a time. It has become an unexpected joy to serve God in these ways that are, perhaps, imperceivable to others. They are seen by Him.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 5:23

This post was originally published at Hope Mommies.

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