For the past few weeks at Hope Church, we’ve been talking about the need for Christians to develop spiritual habits in our lives in order to grow mature in our faith (read pt.1, pt. 2, pt. 3, and pt. 4). We have to “feed ourselves,” to use an image from the bible, and grow past an elementary understanding of our faith. These practices, habits, and disciplines put us in a place to allow God to transform us from the inside out. In a world where our lives are filled with clutter, noise pollution; the temptation to shase after money, possessions, security, status- we need a disciplines or a habit to combat the tendencies we have to accumulate and clutter our lives.
In a world of excess, we need to develop and practice the discipline of simplicity.
Simplicity, according to author Richard Foster, is “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” It is something that begins in our hearts and in our spirit and result in a lifestyle.
We can say that simplicity is centering our hearts on the things of God, who is our Divine Center (again an idea from Foster). When our hearts are centered on God- our lifestyle begins to reflect this inner reality. When we practice simplicity, possessions, status, security, or wealth are not are masters. God is our center. We no longer worry about tomorrow, or security, or about our appearance or our reputation before others because our desire is to simply center our lives upon God and God’s work through Jesus Christ.
So How Do We Cultivate the Habit of Simplicity?
There is a lot to be said for simplifying our lives. About a year ago I watched a story on the Today show about a guy doing the 100 item challenge. The challenge is to get rid of everything you own until you only own 100 things. 10 pair of socks? That’s 10 items. Two couches and a chair in your living room? That’s three items. Needless to say, most of us own 100 items without getting out of our bedroom. But simplicity is more than just getting rid of things or living sparsely. For simplicity to be a spiritual habit or discipline- it has to connect us to the reality of God in our lives and in our world. Jesus tells us how to practice the discipline of simplicity in Matthew 6:33.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
In chapter six, Jesus tells disciples not to run around chasing after money, wealth, or clothes. He even tells them not to worry about necessities. Their lives should come down to one thing. One thing that should be first. Jesus tells them to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. This is the priority. Seek first the kingdom of God- and the rest of our lives will take care of themselves.
So what does it mean to seek the Kingdom of God? What is the kingdom of God?
From a theological side- the Kingdom of God is the reign of God here on earth. The Kingdom of God is most evident in the incarnation, life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus and his ministry of healing, caring for the poor, justice, redemption, and salvation. The kingdom of God is about the Hope that will redeem creation through Jesus.
Now, we see evidence that this Kingdom is present- most fully in the life of Jesus. But we see much more evidence that God’s reign on earth is still coming. We see sin, brokenness, hurting people, war, natural disasters, broken relationships, child abuse, spousal abuse, and the list goes on and on. This is not God’s will, and the witness of the scriptures is that God is at work now redeeming and restoring people’s lives, relationships and even restoring creation.
Seeking the kingdom means that we’ve sought after God and have experienced salvation and redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Seeking the kingdom means that we are new creations by the grace of God. Seeking the Kingdom means that each day we are seeking to live a more Christ-like life.
Because we are seeking a more Christ-like life—
- When we serve the poor, we are seeking the kingdom
- When we feed the hungry, the kingdom is present
- When we provide sight for those who cannot see- the kingdom is here
- When we forgive our neighbor, our spouse, our enemy- we are seeking the kingdom
- When we seek to restore relationships- we are seeking the kingdom
- When we seek peace- we are seeking the kingdom
- When we share the Good News about Jesus Christ- we are seeking the kingdom
Simplicity, then, reorients our lives around our Divine Center- who is God- to the point where our possessions (or pursuit of things) does not keep us from experiencing the fullness of God in our life.
Simplicity is a habit of laying down our worries and concerns, laying down the things that keep you awake at night, at the feet of Jesus in order to focus on what is at the heart of God.
Simplicity is when the thing that we hold onto the tightest are not possessions or earthly treasures, but when we hold on tightest to Jesus.
Simplicity isn’t always about what we give up, but what we hold onto.
There is a story about John Wesley- the founder of the Methodist movement that goes like this.
One day, John Wesley went into town to purchase some pictures for his house. After hanging the images around his house, he heard a knock at the door. It was bitterly cold outside, and the wind was blowing. There stood a young woman and her obviously undernourished baby in arm, both poorly clothed. They were going from door-to-door begging for food and money to provide them with warming clothing.
Wesley put his hand in his pocket and pulled out what little change was left over from his day of shopping. He handed it over and sent the woman on her way. When he closed the door behind him and turned around, the pictures on his walls faced him as judges, the money he had spent on those very frames could have helped the young mother.
Upon seeing the frames, Wesley fell to his knees and made a pledge to God: he promised that if God would provide for his basic needs, then he would give everything beyond that to those in poverty. Wesley determined that to live a sufficiently austere lifestyle, he would need twenty-eight British pounds a year. During the next year, Wesley earned 30 pounds and gave 2 pounds to the poor. The second year he earned nearly 60 pounds, the third year almost 100. By the end of John Wesley’s life he was earning over fourteen hundred British pounds a year- living off of twenty-eight and giving the rest to help meet the needs of people who were poor. (I’m no Wesley Scholar, but read this story in Christoper Heuertz’s (@ChrisHeuertz) excellent book, Simple Spirituality)
Simplicity- seeking the kingdom- is not always about what we give- but about what we keep and how it can become a barrier from being Kingdom minded or a catalyst for being Kingdom minded.
Are there things in your life (Clutter, noise, addiction, etc.) that prevents you from practicing simplicity that is focused on the Kingdom of God? How do our possessions prevent (or assist?) you in identifying with the poor and the oppressed?