Simplicity — 1

I’m reprising a series on simplicity (from January 2018).

On more than one occasion, the Apostle Paul talked about the importance of being reminded. I know that I need continual reminders of this vital work the Spirit can do in my life. (And, besides, reducing my weekend writing obligations for a few weeks will simplify my life!)

I hope these days of focusing on simplicity will remind you in a manner that will beautify and empower your journey with Jesus.

 

Monday, July 29

Read: Matthew 6:33

Consider: I’ve heard it said that if you attend church your entire life and hear hundreds of sermons, you’ll probably only remember a handful of them. Perhaps three will stand out to you for a lifetime. Well, I’ve preached hundreds of times over four decades and I can say there is some truth to that. But I don’t think of it in terms of individual sermons. Instead, I think of the great themes—the amazing truths of our faith that have impacted me. I hope people have heard me preach love, grace, acceptance and care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). I hope they have heard the good news of a new kingdom—a new way of thinking, living and loving—that has come to us in Christ.

But as I look at my preaching, there is one theme that captures people in a manner that always surprises me. I am consistently amazed at the response I get whenever I preach, teach or write about simplicity. I hear from people who say that their lives have been revolutionized by it and I hear from those who yearn for it.

Now, we’re tempted to believe that this is a modern phenomenon. We think it’s the busyness that our culture imposes on us that steals our contentment and joy, and causes us to yearn for something different. Of course, there is some truth to that. But it is wrong to believe that if we could just go back a century or so, simplicity would be a given and that we would not have to choose it—that it would not require intentionality to practice. That’s not what history teaches us.

If you look back, you will find many saints who went to the desert, looking for simplicity. You will find that people like Francis of Assisi had to live radically counter-cultural lives in order to find it. Even in his day, people thought he was crazy.

No, this is not merely a cultural issue. It is a spiritual issue. That’s why there is a longing in our hearts for simplicity. It is a God-given longing.

We’re going to spend some time in the days ahead to try to grasp and embrace the gift of simplicity. It is not a fad or a gimmick. It is a gift from God and a journey to which he has called us.  

Pray: “Lord, sometimes my mind and my heart are so cluttered that I cannot see you with my spiritual eyes or hear you with my spiritual ears. I don’t want anything to cloud the sense of your presence in my life. So, thank you for calling me to a journey of ever-increasing simplicity and the spiritual gifts that come with it.”

 

Tuesday, July 30

Read: 1 John 1:7

Consider: Simplicity is a journey. A long, slow journey. It is not a destination.

It’s not a New Year’s resolution that you will check off your list of accomplishments on December 31st. If you go on this journey, you will look back in a year and see that God is doing some wonderful things in you and through you. But you’ll never feel like you’ve arrived. Of course, that’s the nature of our walk with Jesus.

Let’s picture ourselves in a group of twelve people, walking down a dusty road with Jesus, headed to the next village he wants to visit. We’re talking and laughing. We’re thinking back on what we saw in the last village and asking Jesus questions about healing, about this new kingdom he keeps talking about, and why some people are so thrilled with his message while others are so hostile. And even though you don’t have all the answers, you’re just happy to be walking with Jesus. If you were honest, you’d say that you always try to be the closest one to him on these walks. And sometimes you’d just have to pinch yourself to see if this is real. “Imagine! I’m walking with Jesus!”

You’d listen intently, wanting to learn all you can. You wouldn’t worry that you can’t learn it all in one day. You know there are a lot more miles that you will walk with him. You’ll keep listening, keep watching and keep learning. You’ll enjoy this journey.

Simplicity is not a list of things you need to do. It is not a series of hoops you must jump through to feel good about yourself. It is a journey—a slow, long and wonderful journey.

Pray: Thank the Lord that as you walk this journey of simplicity, he doesn’t lay more burdens on you. He removes them. Make the choice right now that today you are going live in gratitude as you enjoy the journey.

 

Wednesday, July 31

Read: 1 Timothy 4:8-10

Consider: As Christians, we often talk about the disciplines of the spirit. “Spiritual disciplines” is an important term, but it is often misunderstood.

For one thing, the meaning of “discipline” has become less clear in our culture. It is often seen as a negative term. It may be used to talk about punishing wrongdoing, as when a parent disciplines a child. And even when we talk about disciplining ourselves, we usually put a bad spin on it—as in, “I have to discipline myself to do the things I hate to do.”

That’s unfortunate when it comes to our spiritual disciplines. We don’t want to view them as things we need to do—things we need to get out of the way—before we can do the things we really enjoy. We don’t want the disciplines, such as prayer, to become events in our day (maybe even items to check off the to-do list), rather than the ongoing infusion of life into our spirits.

The other misunderstanding comes because “spiritual disciplines” are often narrowed down to a few activities, such a prayer, Bible study, fasting and church attendance. But the New Testament includes so much more — worship, giving, serving, solitude, meditation and simplicity.

Yes, simplicity is a deeply spiritual activity. As we go on this journey of simplicity, we’ll discover the profoundly spiritual nature of it. And we’ll discover that, as is the case with all the spiritual disciplines, it yields amazing results in everyday life. All the while, it helps us see our purpose in Christ.

Does simplicity require discipline? Yes. But perhaps we need a new paradigm. Perhaps we should see it not so much as disciplining ourselves in the conventional manner, but as discipling ourselves—or better yet, allowing Christ to form us as his disciples.

Pray: “Lord, help me to understand the importance of simplicity. Just as prayer is a vehicle for you to form me, help me to understand that you use many avenues to conform me to your image. Expand my horizon. Help me to see the many ways you want to breathe life into me.”

 

Thursday, August 1

Read: Matthew 6:21

Consider: We’ve been talking about simplicity. A lot of people are talking about it.

There are so many wonderful web sites and blogs on simplicity and minimalism that I cannot keep up with them. That’s good, but it can have a downside. Because minimalism is popular, some people have concluded that simplicity is a fad that will pass by before too long. While that may happen on a pop culture level, we need to understand that Christian simplicity is something so much deeper. It was taught and practiced by Jesus, by his disciples and by Jesus-followers for the past two millennia.

To most people, modern simplicity (usually called “minimalism”) is a matter of de-cluttering. People clean out their garages, remove the clutter from their homes, get their finances in order, learn to practice healthy eating, etc. Of course, those things are very important. But if that’s all there is, then we’ve totally missed the point.

Simplicity is an inside-out job. We can clean out our garages and still have cluttered minds. We can single-purpose our professions and still have a duplicitous spirit (serving more than one master). Simplicity is, first and foremost, a work of the Holy Spirit. That is why it revolutionizes our lives, rather than merely rearranging them.

On Monday, I mentioned my passion to proclaim love, grace, acceptance and care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). I said that I hoped people could hear from me the good news of a new kingdom—a new way of thinking, living and loving. I’ve come to realize that simplicity empowers this.

Simplicity empowers our love, our grace-giving and our acceptance of others. Simplicity makes it possible to see the richness of the new kingdom that Jesus brought and to discern the emptiness of the kingdoms of this world. Simplicity humbles us, giving us the ability to see ourselves and to see Jesus in the “least of these.” It helps us—through the power of the Holy Spirit—to live like Jesus.

Pray: “Lord, today I ask you to help me on this journey of ‘de-cluttering’ my soul. There are so many things I desire—so many masters—vying for my attention. I choose to seek you today. And when my mind and heart are seduced by imposters, I will focus again on the One who has already given me everything. Thank you!”

 

Friday, August 2

Read: Philippians 1:20-21

Consider: We’ve spent this week thinking about simplicity in general terms. I’ve tried to make the point that simplicity is first and foremost a spiritual issue—an inside-out work that God does in our lives. Living the Christian value of simplicity is a vital, life-changing, thrilling journey.

So, what is it that needs to change inside of us? What clutter can be removed that will change the way we think, and will open us up to new levels of intimacy with God? Of course, this will be different for each one of us. We will all struggle with different forms of duplicity. But let’s start with simplicity of expectation.

One good description of stress is that stress is found in the gap between expectation and reality. We all carry certain expectations of what life should be. Too often those expectations are unexamined. And if we don’t prayerfully think through, examine, and choose our expectations, we’ll simply adopt the expectations of the people around us, or those of the broader culture. And could there be a source of more unrealistic expectations than our media saturated culture? Is the “good life” presented in our world anywhere close to the life to which God calls us?

So, many people—including Christians—walk through life feeling troubled, stressed, cheated, and even angry because their daily life is not living up to their undefined, unexamined and unrealistic expectations.

Now, we don’t take lightly the fact that sometimes life is cruel. We all go through excruciating times of loss, suffering and pain. So, what do we expect?

There are so many narratives out there that deliver the message that we can bypass the ugly stuff, that pain can be indefinitely postponed. We know that is absurd. And yet, it works on our expectations. What do we expect from God? What can we expect?

In my ministry I spend significant amount of time each week with terminally ill people and their families. It’s important that I do not give them false hope or simply repeat some pat answers. But there is a promise from God that I find myself repeating every day, and thanking God for in every prayer that I pray with them — “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Pray: Ask God to help you examine your expectations. Ask him to help you see the amazing and beautiful things you can and should expect from him. It will probably be a short, simple list. And you will find it liberating.

 

Saturday, August 3

Read: 1 Peter 4:12-16

Consider: Yesterday we looked at simplicity of expectation. What is the difference between simplifying our expectations and lowering our expectations?

None of us would ever tell someone to lower their expectations of life in Christ. We believe God loves us. We believe he wants his story to be our story. We can’t imagine real life apart from him. So, shouldn’t we have high expectations—even higher than we can comprehend?

Yes.

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10, quoting Isaiah 64:4)

And yet, Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). In other words, expect some really bad stuff.

Just as Jesus was incarnated to live in the mess of this world, he filled us with his Spirit—incarnating himself in us. We, too, are called to be the face of Christ to our world. It’s a beautiful world in which some ugly things happen. As we live the life of Christ, we can count on pain, suffering and loss. We should not be surprised. But we can also believe—and expect to be sustained by—the One who said…

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus placed before us simple and unbelievably high expectations.

In the weeks ahead, we’re going to look at other avenues of spiritual simplicity, such as simplicity of desire and simplicity of joy.

Pray: As you pray, ask the Lord to help you leave the expectations of a perfect or easy life, so you can embrace the beautiful expectations of life in Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to implant these expectations and desires deep within you.