What’s wrong with au naturel? What happened to being ‘alright’? Not stunning, not minging, not ‘a bit of alright’ – just, alright. ‘Normal’ – like on Gogglebox, instead of ‘Normal’ like on Made in Chelsea.
Why have I got to be an Olympic champion? Or an academic? A master-chef or a perfect parent? Why have I got to have The Best Marriage? The cleanest house? The best broadband package?
At school they said ‘Aim high! Be the best you can be. You can do anything you set your mind to’.
This would be nice if it were true. But it’s cobblers and it’s a terrible slavery too. Aiming higher does not ‘set me free’. It makes me unhappy and discontented with what I’ve got. Striving all the time is tiring – especially when I haven’t got a hope of reaching my destination. Plus, who am I doing it for? The teacher who said I’d never make it? The parent I always wanted to impress? The perfect version of me? That person is always a gym membership or a boyfriend or a PhD out of reach.
Worst of all, this kind of “shoot for the stars” mentality can get taught in the church too. I’m meant to live “my best life now”, following 14.5 steps to (spiritual) success. Even if it’s subtle, we can all feel pressure to live up to certain ideals; to attain Premier League Christianity.
But let’s do an experiment. How do you think Paul should finish this verse:
Make it your ambition to…
… lead prominent ministries in the church?
… be a model Christian?
… get serious about spirituality?
Paul actually says this:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thes 4:11-12)
He’s just been talking about God’s will for our lives (1 Thes 4:3). What is God’s will? Simple: our sanctification. And Paul’s not starting a “holier-than-thou”competition. He’s just telling us not to take advantage of each other sexually (v4-8) and to serve each other in love (v9-10). That’s what sanctification looks like and that’s God’s will: Don’t mess people around, love each other, lead a quiet life.
Which means, I reckon, that muddling along is fine. In fact it’s a life’s work! Whether that’s feeding your kids turkey twizzlers, giving up on the book you swore you’d finish or simply staying in bed on ‘Doctor’s orders’ – ordinary is the order of the day. Being cool is all well and good, but once you make it, you have to maintain it – which sounds exhausting. The Bible simply says “Don’t mess people around, love each other, lead a quiet life.” Liberating, isn’t it?
We spend our lives ogling the stunning beauty, the breath-taking artiste, the tortured genius but have you ever noticed how happy those people are? Not very. Jesus calls us to something better than ‘our best life now’. He calls us to here and now, to be the person we already are, to love the folks we’re already lumped with. It’s ordinary. And it’s amazing. Let’s embrace it.