The Discipline of Simplicity
In A Life of Simplicity, by Carol R. Thiessen, Marshall Shelley, Amy Jackson, and Richard A. Kauffman, the authors make the following insights:
Magazines, commercials, books, and Pinterest boards have tons of advice for leading a simple life. Magazine headlines scream at us: “Tips for Doing It All!” “10 Organizing Secrets!” “3 Must-Have Cleaners!” “5 Easy Weeknight Meals!” They promise the secrets to a simple, organized, contented life. But it doesn’t take long to realize that all their tips and tricks just leave us with more to do, buy, and long for. It does anything but make us content. But maybe the simple life doesn’t have anything to do with stuff. Perhaps God’s Word holds the only secret to the simple life that we need.
Those of us who have many possessions or few can all be possessed by what we have—or don’t have. While Christians should live simply, the focus should not be on getting rid of what we have, but rather upon cultivating the disposition of “a life of joyful unconcern for possessions” (Richard J. Foster). Such a disposition will lead to actions and behaviors of simple living.
Here are a few Scripture passages to consider this week as you practice the spiritual discipline of simplicity:
In pursuing God’s kingdom and His righteousness first (Matthew 6:33), Richard Foster suggests ten controlling principles for the outward expression of simplicity. They should never be viewed as laws but as only one attempt to flesh out the meaning of simplicity for today.
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First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
Cars should be bought for their utility, not their prestige. Consider riding a bicycle. When you are considering an apartment, a condominium, or a house, thought should be given to livability rather than how much it will impress others …. Consider your clothes. Most people buy clothes because they want to keep up with the fashions. Hang the fashions! Buy what you need. If it is practical in your situation, learn the joy of making clothes. John Wesley writes, “As for apparel, I buy the most lasting and, in general, the plainest I can. I buy no furniture but what is necessary and cheap.”
Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
Learn to distinguish between a real psychological need, like cheerful surroundings, and an addiction. If you have become addicted to television, by all means sell your set or give it away. Any of the media that you find you cannot do without, get rid of: radios, stereos, magazines, videos, newspapers, books. If money has a grip on your heart, give some away and feel the inner release. Simplicity is freedom, not slavery. Refuse to be a slave to anything but God. Remember, an addiction, by its very nature, is something that is beyond your control. Resolves of the will alone are useless in defeating a true addiction. You cannot just decide to be free of it. But you can decide to open this comer of your life to the forgiving grace and healing power of God. You can decide to allow loving friends who know the ways of prayer to stand with you.
Third, develop a habit of giving things away.
If you find that you are becoming attached to some possession, consider giving it to someone who needs it. I still remember the Christmas I decided that rather than buyGet close to the Earth. Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds. ing or even making an item, I would give away something that meant a lot to me. My motive was selfish: I wanted to know the liberation that comes from even this simple act of voluntary poverty. The gift was a ten-speed bike. As I went to the person’s home to deliver the present, I remember singing with. new meaning the worship chorus, “Freely, freely you have received; freely, freely give.” When my son Nathan was six years old he heard of a classmate who needed a lunch pail and asked me if he could give him his own lunch pail. Hallelujah!
Fourth, refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modem gadgetry.
Timesaving devices almost never save time. Most gadgets are built to break down and wear out and so complicate our lives rather than enhance them. This problem is a plague in the toy industry. Often children find more joy in playing with old pots and pans than with the latest space set. Look for toys that are educational and durable. Make some yourself Usually gadgets are an unnecessary drain on the energy resources of the world. The United States has less than six percent of the world’s population, but consumes about thirty-three percent of the world’s energy. Environmental responsibility alone should keep us from buying the majority of the gadgets produced today.
Fifth, learn to enjoy things without owning them.
Owning things is an obsession in our culture. If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure. The idea is an illusion. Many things in life can be enjoyed without possessing or controlling them. Share things. Enjoy the beach without feeling you have to buy a piece of it. Enjoy public parks and libraries.
Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
Get close to the earth. Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the texture of grass and leaves. Smell the flowers. Marvel in the rich colors everywhere. Simplicity means to discover once again that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’ (Ps.24:1).
Seventh, look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
They are a trap and only deepen your bondage. Both Old and New Testaments condemn usury for good reasons. (“Usury” in the Bible is not used in the modem sense of exorbitant interest; it referred to any kind of interest at all.) Charging interest was viewed as an unbrotherly exploitation of another’s misfortune, hence a denial of community. Jesus denounced usury as a sign of the old life and admonished his disciples to “lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). These words of Scripture should not be elevated into some kind of universal law obligatory upon all cultures at all times. But neither should they be thought of as totally irrelevant to modern society. Certainly prudence, as well as simplicity, demands that we use extreme caution before incurring debt.
Eighth, obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt. 5:37). If you consent to do a task, do it. Avoid flattery and half-truths. Make honesty and integrity the distinguishing characteristics of your speech. Reject jargon and abstract speculation whose purpose is to obscure and impress rather than to illuminate and inform. Plain speech is difficult because we so seldom live out of the divine Center. But if our speech comes out of obedience to the divine Center, we will find no reason to turn our “yes” into “no” and our “no” into “yes.” We will be living in simplicity of speech because our words will have only one Source. Soren Kierkegaard writes: “If thou art absolutely obedient to God, then there is no ambiguity in thee and thou art mere simplicity before God. One thing there is which all Satan’s cunning and all the snares of temptation cannot take by surprise, and that is simplicity.”
Ninth, reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
Perhaps no person has more fully embodied this principle than the eighteenth-century Quaker tailor John Woolman. His famous Journal is redundant with tender references to his desire to live so as not to oppress others. “Here I was led into a close and laborious inquiry whether I kept clear from all things which tended to stir up or were connected with wars; my heart was deeply concerned that in [the] future I might in all things keep steadily to the pure truth, and live and walk in the plainness and simplicity of a sincere follower of Christ. And here luxury and covetousness, with the numerous oppressions and other evils attending them, appeared very afflicting to me…” This is one of the most difficult and sensitive issues for us to face, but face it we must. Do we sip our coffee and eat our bananas at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants? In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others? Should we buy products that are made by forcing people into dull assembly-line jobs? Do we enjoy hierarchical relationships in the company or factory that keep others under us? Do we oppress our children or spouse because we feel certain tasks are beneath us? Often our oppression is tinged with racism, sexism, and nationalism. The color of the skin still affects one’s position in the company. The sex of a job applicant still affects the salary. The national origin of a person still affects the way he or she is perceived. May God give us prophets today who, like John Woolman, will call us “from the desire of wealth” so that we may be able to “break the yoke of oppression.”
Tenth, shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.
It is so easy to lose focus in the pursuit of legitimate, even good things. Job, position, status, family, friends, security-these and many more can all too quickly become the center of attention. George Fox warns,” there is the danger and the temptation to you, of drawing your minds into your business, and clogging them with it; so that ye can hardly do anything to the service of God and your minds will go into the things, and not over the things. And then, if the Lord God cross you, and stop you by sea and land, and take (your) goods and customs from you, that your minds should not be cumbered, then that mind that is cumbered, will fret, being out of the power of God.”