What is the simple life? Is it a reality TV show starring the ever-popular Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie? No, opposed to what these ladies might think, I doubt they’ve ever actually lived the simple life. The simple life is a way of living that doesn’t require things in order to find contentment. My pastor’s sermon yesterday was titled “Simplicity,” and he attempted to describe what living simply is from a Biblical perspective. I’d like to outline the 4 steps he proposed to follow to get into a frame of mind where we can live a more simple life.
1) Clarity – understanding that our lives are more complex than they need to be.
In Matthew 8:18-20 it says “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ ” This passage shows that Jesus lived extremely simply. He had no home – no place to rest his head. His ministry took him all over that area, constantly moving from town to town preaching, teaching, performing miracles, and serving the people he came across. As followers of Christ, our goal should be to be like Christ as much as possible, but I don’t know a single person who lives as simply as Christ did. The truth is that in today’s time living as simply as Christ is nearly impossible. Some people over time have taken to ascetic lifestyles in an attempt to live more simply, whether for spiritual gain or for other reasons. I would argue that an ascetic lifestyle (like a monk in a monastery) is taking the desire to live simply to the extreme. I don’t believe we are called to live in that manner, but at the same time, our lives today don’t resemble the simplicity of Christ’s life in the least bit.
2) Intentionality – understanding that we must live intentionally in the areas of time and money
The two areas we all can admit that we feel deficient in is time and money. Whenever we open up time in our busy schedules, others are quickly able to fill it up again. And every channel on television has advertisements from people who think they can spend your money better than you can. If we want to simplify our lives, we are going to have to devote ourselves to live intently when it comes to our time and money. For time, this means that we must focus what little time we do have on the 3 things that God finds the most important: becoming like Christ, relationships, and service. This means spending time reading and memorizing scripture, and spending time in prayer and meditation. This means spending time with others, both other believers as well as nonbelievers, developing relationships with them. And this means spending time serving others, in church and in your daily life. And for money, this means managing the resources God has given you well. We must plan for the near future, as well as the distant future, and we must target the wasteful spending by making a budget and sticking to it. For some this may mean less shopping, and for others it may mean less eating out. We all have areas that we spend more than we must – identifying those areas and changing our habits are great steps to living more simply
3) Detachment – understanding that stuff can choke out your spiritual life, and detaching yourself from things
In Luke 8:5-8, Jesus told the following parable:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
He went on to explain the meaning of the parable in verses 11-15:
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (emphasis added)
One thing Jesus points out in this story is that people’s spiritual lives can suffer when they let “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” get in the way. So, in order to simplify our lives (and therefore improve our spiritual lives), we may need to detach ourselves from some of the things that are getting in the way. The way to do this varies for everyone, but something my pastor recommended (and my wife and I are trying to do) is to identify areas where you struggle to let go of things, and to challenge yourself to getting rid of 5 things a day for 30 days.
4) Reattachment – remembering to make decisions based on the context of God’s Kingdom
After you have simplified your life by seeing clearly how complex your life truly is, by trying to live more intentionally with your time and money, and by detaching yourself from stuff, in order to keep life simple, you have to learn a powerful little secret. What secret is this? Paul speaks of it in Philippians 4:11-12 – “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” How can we be as content as Paul says he is here? It’s hard – trust me, I know! One thing that will help is to make decisions based on the context of God’s Kingdom. In other words, for many of your decisions, ask yourself how God’s Kingdom will be impacted by it. My pastor was quick to say that choosing what color shirt to wear isn’t exactly one of those decisions, but instead of buying a new shirt, ask yourself how it affects the Kingdom of God? Do you already have plenty of shirts like this? No doubt there will be some areas that are tougher than others – I have been wanting to buy a new truck for a long while now, but truthfully I can’t justify adding a monthly payment to our budget when my current vehicle works great. Some day, my current truck may break down, and I may need a new vehicle, but when that time comes, I’ll have to ask myself if a new truck is necessary based on the context of God’s Kingdom and based on the context of my current resources.
So, in the end, living simply is as much a spiritual activity as it is anything else. By simplifying our lives, we not only free up our time and other resource, but we improve our receptivity to God’s message to us. I’ll let you know how the detachment challenge is going later on…