Sunday, January 08, 2012

Spiritual Disciplines: Simplicity (1 of 2)

I think this is the only discipline less popular than fasting. (And maybe when I make sweeping comments like that, I'm saying more about myself than about my culture.)

It's funny. It seems like every time I hear a sermon preached on a particular subject, the speaker says, "The Bible talks about this subject more than any other." I've definitely heard that said about money. Money seems to be a popular subject to talk about if you have a particular soapbox about it, or if you're a Dave Ramsey fan. Otherwise, not so much. It drives me crazy that every time story of the "Rich Young Ruler" is discussed (you know, in Mt. 19 where Jesus tells that guy who was keeping all the "rules" that he should sell everything he has and give to the poor), people are always quick to point out that the purpose of this story was for Jesus to say that nothing should come between us and God. That riches were only this particular man's hang up, and it really only applies to us in a generic way, but not a specific way. I'm not comfortable with this explanation - particularly in a society that is very stuck on the accumulation of "things".

Luke records Jesus saying, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15)

And in Luke 12:33-34, He says, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Jumping back to the blessings and woes, Jesus says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God...woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort." (Luke 6:20 and 24)

Finally, in Luke 6:30, He says: "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back."

Apparently, Jesus didn't want us overly focused on material things. This is not a subject that's easy to tackle.

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that "this Discipline directly challenges our vested interests in an affluent life-style".

But it's not simply about getting rid of everything and living an ascetic lifestyle. That may be missing the point.

I came across an interesting document at the website of a church in California (Indian Christian Assembly).

One of the things that the article suggested was that, "The discipline of simplicity is the conscious act of not being tied to the things of this world."

The article also listed a couple quotes about the discipline:

“Living simply means adopting a lifestyle that avoids unnecessary accumulation of material items. It helps us seek outward detachment from the things of this world in order to focus our lives on the leadings of the Spirit. Living simply entails clearing our lives and our houses of spiritual and material clutter so as to create more space for faithful living.” – Catherine Whitmire (Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity)
“Simplicity does not mean getting rid of all your possessions, but rather integrating them into your life’s purpose”- Mary Gregory (quoted in the same book)
I don't think it's just about the stuff you have, or how expensive it is. This runs much, much deeper than what we have, what we own, and what we buy. It's more about what we want. It's about embracing a culture where we are defined by what we drive, what we wear, what we buy, and what we do for a living. This is hard, because it's much deeper than the things we surround ourselves with. It's not just about the stuff - it's about a way of life and a way of thinking.

Foster brings this back to not worrying about things in this life, like Jesus talked about in Luke 12. He talks about how simplicity is freedom from anxiety:

"Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity. However, if what we have we believe we have gotten, and if what we have we believe we must hold onto, and if what we have i not available to others, then we will live in anxiety. Such persons will never know simplicity regardless of the outward contortions they may put themselves through in order to live 'the simple life'."
It's called a discipline for a reason. It's not easy. But if this is something we truly practiced, I think we would be amazed at the blessings we would have.

Since this is so stinking long, I'll have to finish my discussion of simplicity later, where I'll talk about 10 things that Foster suggests we can do to simplify our lives.


  1. I need those 10 suggestions on how to make it happen in my life for sure!

  2. I sort of wanted to talk about Dave Ramsey a little more. :)

  3. Julie Greenhaw - I just posted the suggestions. I don't know that they help me, though! Let me know what you think.

  4. Julie Young - You might have to find another blog for that! :)