Simplicity — 2

Monday, August 5

Read: Psalm 37:3-4

Consider: Last week we began a journey to recover the art of simple living. We began by looking, in a general way, at what simplicity is and what it does for us. If you were walking with us, I hope you were captured by the necessity and beauty of Christian simplicity. It is a value and a discipline given to us by Jesus and passed along by the New Testament writers and the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1).

Having looked at simplicity of expectation (last Friday and Saturday), I want us to consider simplicity of desire. Like our expectations, many times our desires go unexamined. We often allow our preferences to morph into desires without asking ourselves if they should. If our desires are unexamined, they will go unchallenged. And like expectations, if we don’t make conscious choices, we’ll allow others to tell us what we should desire.

I once had a friend who was a garbage collector—by vocation and by avocation. Every day he worked for the city, loading a truck with trash. And he loved his job. He loved looking for hidden treasures—discarded items that may be valuable to someone else. But he told me that he felt guilty. He felt guilty because he loved his job and everyone else thought he should hate it. His joy was stolen because he was allowing others to tell him what he should desire.

Of course, the irony is evident. Unhappy people were telling a happy man that he would be happier if he lived like they did.

Has this happened to you? Have you listened to a dysfunctional culture that tells you what you should desire? There’s a simple remedy for this. Under the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit, ask yourself and ask the Lord what you should desire. And then, begin to change your desires.

Yes, change them. It can be done. It is a journey, but it is possible. Advertisers believe they can alter your desires and, over time, radically change them. And they are probably right. If they can, then certainly you can, especially as you allow the Lord to implant his desires in you.

Pray: “Lord, search my heart. I open myself to your guidance. Clarify my desires to me and help me see the value or the absurdity of the things I desire the most. I want to desire what you desire for me.”

 

Tuesday, August 6

Read: Mark 4:15-20

Consider: Yesterday we considered how easy it is to embrace the wrong desires. But when we speak about simplicity, we can’t narrow our concern to destructive desires alone. We must also contend with the multiplicity of desires we are tempted to embrace and pursue.

Most of us were raised and taught to avoid the pollutants of life—those desires and addictions that can destroy us. (Some are more obvious than others.) But we weren’t taught the danger of too many good desires. Our culture—and perhaps our families—said, “Go for it. You can have it all!” We were infected with the plague that used to be called, FOMO—the Fear of Missing Out. And the people who experienced the most—the ones who were busiest at business and at pleasure—were held up as those who really knew how to live life to the fullest. That became the picture of success.

But according to Jesus, that way of living will choke the life out of us.

“Others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18-19)

While we tried to avoid poisonous desires, we ingested the toxins that come with too many desires.

So, we return to the concept of simplicity as clearing the clutter. Part of the task of de-cluttering our souls, is to choose which desires we will pursue, and which ones will be rejected. And when we choose and actively work to ignore certain desires, we’ll discover very soon that they lose their power over us.

Pray: “Lord, sometimes I’ve fallen for the lie that more is always better. And in that clutter, some desires have competed with others. I don’t want to be ‘double-minded’ (James 4:8). I want simplicity and purity of intent to open me to an increased awareness of your presence in my life.”

 

Wednesday, August 7

Read: Mark 4:15-20

Consider: This week we’ve looked at two aspects of simplifying our desires. On Monday we saw the importance of rejecting false, socially imposed desires that can be so very destructive. And yesterday we considered Jesus’ warning against too many desires. We saw that de-cluttering our souls means restricting the number of desires we choose to embrace and pursue. But there is a third aspect we must consider when it comes to simplifying. It has to do with the intensity with which we pursue our desires—emotionally and in practice.

In Jesus’ parable about the farmer and his seed, we find three “thorns” that can choke our spiritual lives…

“the worries of this life”

“the deceitfulness of wealth”

“the desires for other things” (Mark 4:18-19)

Now, these may have been three distinct things Jesus was describing, or he may simply have been restating one thing in three different ways. I think we can apply it either way.

We see here a big emphasis on security. Most of our “worries of this life” tend to revolve around issues of health, finances, safety and security. That would also be true when it comes to “the deceitfulness of wealth.” One of the ways money tricks us is that it disguises itself as security.

Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be and feel secure. I certainly want financial security for my family and myself. That is a legitimate desire. But how intense is this desire? Is it the “other thing” that drains so much of my emotional energy that it chokes out my spiritual vitality?

For me, and I’m guessing for most of us, this aspect of simplicity is difficult. I feel like I have some control when it comes to rejecting destructive desires and reducing the number of desires I will pursue. But sometimes it is so hard to limit the emotional energy I will put into legitimate desires—such as the desire for security.

Yet, I know that God has more for me than simply longing for, working for and pouring my energy into some unattainable illusion. I need to re-orient my thinking, my expectations and my desires. That involves some serious unlearning.

So, as we’ve been reminding ourselves, we must see simplicity as a journey. A long, slow and joyous journey. The thing that makes it enjoyable for me, is the belief that it is a walk with Jesus and that he’s thrilled that I’ve joined him on the journey. He will teach me—and is teaching me—to trust him.

Pray: “Lord, I know that simplicity yields trust and trust yields simplicity. They are dependent on one another. But really, all is dependent on you. Thank you for inviting me on this journey. With joy I give myself to you. Please change me, teach me, and grow me as we walk together.”

 

Thursday, August 8

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:27–13:3

Consider: Some desires need to be rejected, because they are poisonous (see Monday). Some desires need to be left by the side of the road, because if you carry too many of them, they’ll weigh you down and eventually bury you (see Tuesday). Some desires need to be put in perspective because, even though they may be good, they are not worthy of monopolizing your time, energy and emotional investment (see Wednesday). And some desires need to be embraced with your whole heart.

This simplicity of desire is one of the solutions that the Apostle Paul presented to the struggling, corrupt, divided Corinthian church. He taught them to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (12:31).

That one sentence is sandwiched between two amazing thoughts. Prior to it, Paul discussed the various gifts and ministries in the church. There was great division in Corinth surrounding these. People said that some gifts—and therefore, those who had those gifts—were more important than others. This skewed their desires. They were trying to prove themselves. They were jealous of one another. Some felt superior to others. It was a real mess.

So, Paul tried to explain the gifts of the Spirit. But really, he knew their problem was not primarily a lack of understanding. It was much deeper. They needed new desires. They had been poisoned by toxic desires, and their legitimate desires had been contaminated. It was time to simplify, so that Christ could be seen, rather than their pettiness.

Paul’s words are powerful — “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”

Perhaps we can begin to desire “the most excellent way” by repeatedly reading the words that follow—the great love poem of 1 Corinthians 13. We need to get into our minds and into our souls the truth that “the greatest of these is love” (13:13).

Pray: “Lord, I must confess that love is not always my greatest desire. It’s there, but sometimes it’s down the list. Teach me how to love like Jesus and teach me to love loving. Thank you for your patience with me.”

 

Friday, August 9

Read: Matthew 6:19-21

Consider: Simplicity happens on the inside and on the outside. I always say that simplicity is an inside-out job. That’s why we begin by talking about things like simplicity of expectation and simplicity of desire. But I can’t wait till I have it perfected on the inside before I practice it and live it each day on the outside—in the flesh.

I love what Jesus had to say about desire in his Sermon on the Mount. It captivates me because it is an inside-out and an outside-in approach. He said…

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6:21)

What do you treasure? I’m not only asking what you treasure with your heart. What do you treasure by investing in it with your time, your money, your emotions and your energy? What do you treasure?

You probably treasure several things—your spouse, your kids, your house, your hobbies, your books, your vacation time, your ministry, your work. You and I have been given so much that it can be difficult to keep things in proper perspective. And therein lies the brilliance of Jesus’ words.

If I choose to treasure my wife with my time, my energy, my prayers and my money, she’ll also get my heart. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That’s outside in. And when she has my heart, the natural result will be that I’ll joyfully treasure her with my actions. That’s inside-out.

So, my actions influence my desires as my desires influence my actions. That means I have some choice in the matter, even as I ask God to conform my desires to what he wants them to be.

Simple. Not always easy. But simple.

Pray: “Lord, help me to discern where you want my heart. Then give me the strength and grace to treasure that in daily life. Please continue to change me and form me with the desires that honor you. Thank you for this beautiful journey.”

 

Saturday, August 10

Read: Philippians 3:7-14

Consider: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” That phrase has been part of my preaching, and an approach to life I have pursued for many years. It comes from the great theologian and philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. And, for me, it sums up what we’ve been talking about this week—simplicity of desire.

Now, of course, you and I have more than one desire. We desire food, clothing, shelter, security, pleasure and so much more. Good things. But our brother, Søren, is confronting us with one of the most important questions we could ever be asked — What is your one thing? What is the thing that takes precedence over everything and everyone else?

As Christians, the first response that probably jumps from our lips is, “God—God is my one thing.” He is. (Even when we don’t realize it.) And he wants us to know our One Thing at a deeper and more expansive level every day of our lives.

On Thursday, we heard the Apostle Paul tell us that love is the most excellent way—love is our one thing. I’m trying to learn that love and God are my one thing.

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

God is love. Love is God. Living in love is living in God. Living in God is living in love. It’s our one thing.

Kierkegaard is right when he tells us that having one thing—one ultimate desire—purifies us. That’s what simplicity of desire is and what it does. And that’s the path we’ve taken. On our long, slow, joyous journey, Christ is doing an amazing, purifying, liberating work in our lives.

In the weeks ahead, we’re going to look at other aspects of Christian simplicity, such as simplicity of joy, simplicity of contentment, and living simply so others can simply live.

Pray:“Lord, I join with Paul in saying, ‘But one thing I do’ (Philippians 3:13). Of course, I need your guidance as to how to live in you and live in love today. I trust you to guide me and I thank you for that guidance.”