In December of 2010 I gave a talk to the men of Sycamore Creek Church on the spiritual practice of simplicity. Below are some of the thoughts I presented in the talk. This material is largely based on Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, and I recommend reading his chapter on simplicity for more information on this spiritual discipline.
Sometimes the cacophony of choices around us is almost overwhelming. Many of us have tremendous freedom in what we do and at times that freedom becomes daunting. How do we make choices? What things do we choose to pursue? In the practice of simplicity, we are reminded of what we are truly pursuing in life.
Like other spiritual disciplines, simplicity must come from the heart. It has to start internally before it becomes external. There’s a tension there. If you start in on the external first, you’ll find it extremely frustrating and dissatisfying and it becomes another form of legalism. Without a heart for simplicity, the freedom that this discipline offers is lost.
Jesus talks about inner simplicity in Matthew 6:25-34. In verse 33 he summarizes by saying “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. That’s where we start. That’s the internal piece that is vital to this discipline. The practice begins by seeking God first above all else. Simplicity essentially starts with worship.
On the one hand, there is affluence, the love of money. On the other is simplicity, which in and of itself can become an idol. The essential corrective to avoid either of these extremes is to seek first the kingdom of God. That’s our place to stand.
How does this practice of inner simplicity begin to play out on a practical level? Richard Foster writes that “Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess the freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity.” It takes work and practice to make those inner realities true.
In working on the inward reality of simplicity, there are also some things Foster suggests we can do to outwardly express simplicity. I find this list helpful, and I hope you do too:
1. Buy things for usefulness, not status.
2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away.
4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
7. Look with healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.