I was sent to the grocery store for one thing. Sweet and condensed milk. (I'm not completely sure what it is, but I know it's in a can.) I walked through the automatic door and saw bananas. I accidentally grabbed organic bananas, so I went back to exchange them for "real" bananas.
Then I saw blueberries on sale. Then Frosted Mini-Wheats. "Do I get the brand name or off brand?" And then I realized we needed salsa. There are 33 kinds of salsa! Decision overload! Then I noticed cute little bottles of Tito’s vodka for $1.89. "Whoa! That woman just put 50 little bottles of Tito’s in her cart. Why not just get one big bottle?" Then I paused, "I came here for one thing. What was it?"
There’s so much in the store, you forget the one thing you came for. Life is like this too. There is so much in our lives, we forget the one thing. In a world of "too much," we need the ancient Christian discipline of simplicity.
A biblical foundation for the discipline of simplicity is found in Matthew 6:25-33. Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
“First” is a designation of priority. Like going to the grocery store. You’re here for one thing, and everything else is secondary. “First” is an issue of priority. "First" puts things in their proper order.
If we seek first the Kingdom of God, it doesn’t mean that other things don’t matter. It just means they are #2 or #3 or #22 or #40. Simplicity is the discipline of putting things in their place so that #40 doesn’t become #1.
In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster defined the Christian discipline of simplicity as “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” The inward reality is that God has claimed you for his Kingdom. By the King's grace, you are new, forgiven, and free. So how is this reflected in an outward lifestyle? When someone looks at your outward life, what do they know about your inward reality?
Twenty-first century Americans are in desperate need of simplicity. Think about houses that are 100 years old. Have you ever noticed how small the closets are? New houses come standard with walk in closets, walk in pantries, basement storage rooms, and full sized garages. What does this tell us? Our fore-bearers did just fine with a lot less.
In my city, I have noticed a boom in the construction of self-storage units. I did some research. There are now 2.3 billion square feet of self storage rental space in our country. It’s a $38 billion a year industry that is growing rapidly. Why? We have more stuff than ever before.
So what do we do? How do we live the ancient discipline of simplicity? I recommend Foster's book for a survey of simplicity, among other spiritual disciplines. Below you'll find some principles and questions that Foster lists in his book. Our lives are a complexity of possessions and gadgets, schedules and commitments, distractions and deterrents. In this climate, can we live with simple focus?
I went to the store for sweet and condensed milk. I went for one thing, but I got distracted by many things. Jesus Christ came to our world for one thing: "For us men and our salvation." Nothing deterred him. NOT Satan’s temptation. Not wealth accumulation. Not family obligations. He came to seek you (Luke 19:10). So seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
Excerpts on simplicity from Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline.
Principles for the outward expression of simplicity:
Simplicity of self:
Do I give the impression of being someone I’m not?
Do I try to impress people with my degrees, titles, honors, or accomplishments?
Am I over-committed? Are there some things I must say "no" to?
Simplicity of things:
Am I living contentedly within my income?
Am I a compulsive buyer?
Do I try to impress people with my things, clothes, or gadgets?
Do I buy only what I can afford?
Simplicity of relationships:
Do I make conversations only about me? Am I interested in the lives of others?
Do I make excuses for my behaviors?
Do I aim for excellence in my work regardless of what other people may say or think?
Name one thing which you could do this week to simplify your life and give greater focus to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”
Daily Scripture Readings:
Sunday: Simplicity as singleness of heart. Matt. 6:19-24
Monday: Simplicity as trust. Matt. 6:25-34
Tuesday: Simplicity as obedience. Genesis 15
Wednesday: The generosity of simplicity. Lev. 25:8-12
Thursday: Simplicity in speech. Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12
Friday: Simplicity and justice. Amos 5:11-15,24; Luke 4:16-21
Saturday: The freedom from covetousness. Luke 12:13-34