Wow! Did I really just type Week 9? That means next week is our last week! Thanks to everyone who has taken this journey through the spiritual disciplines with me. This process has been a great reminder to me that the disciplines, when well-practiced, do not burden us but simply and practically enable a living and enlivening relationship with our God. They add energy rather than deplete it. And they really do work: they allow God to change our desires, our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions from the inside out.

Definition and Context

Simplicity is one of those disciplines that is often perceived as burdensome – our society has become so complex that the number of practices required to live simply can seem overwhelming. Yet the opposite is true: true simplicity releases us from burden because all it requires is singlemindedness – focusing upon God’s kingdom first and foremost. Like many other disciplines we’ve discussed, simplicity is rooted in trust: trusting God is good, trusting God is in control of the universe for a good purpose, and trusting God will meet our true needs.

The Perspective: Inward Simplicity

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states simply the root cause of much of our worry and doublemindedness: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money]” (Matthew 6:24). So much of the complexity of our lives comes from our serving multiple masters: we try to serve God, but also feel that we have to serve our boss, our spouse, our children, our children’s school, our church’s needs, and our own ideals. And they all compete. Simplicity requires us to declare once and for all whom we serve. Do we serve God, or money, or prestige, or other people’s admiration? We can practically only choose one – or we’ll be so torn apart by contradictory demands that we will functionally choose none. Our heart will be anxious and disgruntled and eventually be capable of serving no one.

Jesus continues, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. …Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-34, excerpted).

Inward simplicity is simply seeking first the kingdom of God and its righteousness – in all spheres of your life. To live simply through our actions, we must have this singleminded focus upon seeking the kingdom, and not be tossed and torn by competing and sometimes contradictory goals and desires. This inward simplicity enables us to free ourselves from the demands that make our lives complex.

The Practice: Outward Simplicity

So once we fully understand the first step of inward simplicity, what might a life of outward simplicity? I really can’t improve upon Richard Foster’s list of beginning steps in the life of outward simplicity (see his book, Freedom of Simplicity, originally published over 25 years ago), so I’ll paraphrase them here:

1. Join the revolt against consumerism and planned obsolescence. As we recognize that most ads are designed to make us artificially dissatisfied with what we have, we can teach our children about the value of a well-made thing that lasts – and the wisdom to know the difference between what we really need and what advertisers tell us we need. (The computer industry is making this a difficult lesson to teach these days, as sometimes a machine that works perfectly well is no longer compatible with anything else.) 

2. When you decide you’ve found an item you need to purchase, see if God will not bring it to you without your having to buy it. This ends all impulse buying, buying us assets that are far more valuable: time (to consider whether we really need this thing or not), and increased trust in God (giving God a chance to prove in concrete, particular ways that we really are of more value than sparrows). If you try this experiment, be prepared: God delights in giving us not only what we need, but what delights us (think of your children’s birthday presents).

3. Stress quality of life over quantity of life. Evaluate life in terms of being rather than having.

4. Make recreation healthy, happy, and gadget-free.

5. Learn to eat sensibly and sensitively.

6. Know the difference between significant travel and self-indulgent travel.

7. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Recognize that simplicity is not cheapness, but resonates more with durability, useability, and beauty. Some things should be chosen to last a lifetime and thus should be chosen with great care. Honor artisans. Become one.

Remember that these mini-pictures of outward simplicity are simply ideas to help you identify what parts of your life may have become complex and out-of-control – they are not new commandments. True simplicity is born from the fruit of inward simplicity: having a single focus upon seeking first the kingdom of God.

Exercise

Our exercise this week will help us take the first steps of simplicity where we need it the most. Where in your life do you feel most overwhelmed? How might you be able to become singlemindedly seeking first the kingdom of God in that area? And what actions do you imagine resulting from that singlemindedness? Just pick one area to start, and commit to living simply in this area for one week. Do you feel your eating habits are out of control? Educate yourself on simplicity in food choices, and how to feed yourself healthfully and with sensitivity towards the entire planet’s needs – as simply as possible. Do you feel your speech is out of control? Simplify your speech based upon the lessons you learned with the discipline of silence: let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Listen carefully to others, and speak with a desire to serve and communicate, rather than a desire to dominate or demand. Stick it out to the end of the week, and see if you might have developed another habit to add to your own personal rule of life.

Next week we’ll wrap everything up with the discipline of hospitality, as well as our final exercise of recording our own personal rule of life that has emerged from our ten weeks together. Let us know how the week goes by posting comments and questions, or emailing me directly at info@amandarooker.com.

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