The Freedom of Simplicity
October 20, 2015
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness
and all these things shall be added unto you” Mt. 6:33
We live in a complex society and it is not easy to simplify but it is possible. In comparison to many of the places I visit overseas, we live like kings. When I examine my own lifestyle I could easily feel hypocritical when writing about simplicity. I have a nice home, two cars, closets full of clothes, gadgets to play with, etc. I think I live a very simple lifestyle. I also feel that I am rich and blessed by God, not because of anything I do or don’t do, but because He loves me.
“God made man simple; man’s complex problems are of his own devising.” (Eccles. 7:30 JB)
Richard Foster wrote, “The Christian discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. If you possess the inward reality of simplicity it will have a profound effect on how you live. Likewise, to attempt to arrange an outward life-style of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism.”
In my life and ministry I am disciplined in spending a significant amount of time with God in quietness, solitude, and what I call “Wasting time with God.” I have discovered that for me this is the key to simplicity. As you deepen your relationship with God by spending more time hanging out with Him you become less enamored with the things of this world.
You also begin to look for ways to simplify your life. You begin to understand your immense value to Him and realize that you don’t need impress Him. You start to love yourself and be at peace with who you are.
We live in a world which is fractured and fragmented. We make a lot of our decisions out of fear of what others will think of us. Because we do not have God truly at the center of our lives we have this attachment to things and a lust for affluence.
“We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.” (R. Foster)
We feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they wear out. We always want the latest fashion. I have enough shirts in my closet I could go ten years without buying another shirt. How many of you actually bought a new car because the old one was worn out?
Until we come face to face with how unbalanced we have become we’ll not be able to deal with this lust for more, nor will we even desire simplicity. I remember well growing up in Bakersfield. I didn’t leave here until I was 20 years old. Life seemed pretty simple and uncomplicated. When we called a store for some help we actually talked to a real person.
We didn’t have Desktops, Laptops, E-Mail, Twitter, Facebook, PDF’s, VHS’s, VCR’s, DVD’s, CD’s, iPod’s, and the mighty cell phone. Many years ago when computers first came out I remember how excited I was by this device that would obviously save me much time. A friend of mine, a former scientist said, “that computer will not save you time, it will create work for you.” I thought he was crazy, but now I look back and realize that that is exactly what computers do, they create work!
Now don’t get me wrong, these are good things. But, we have allowed them to become necessities which control us instead of us controlling them. We have bought into what the marketing media tells us we must have! They create a product and tell us that if we don’t have this product we are out of touch. Since nobody wants to be out of touch we go out and buy the product.
DO NOT WORRY – Mat. 6:25-33
As I was casting about for how to address this topic I read some material from Richard Foster on simplicity. I ended up in Matthew 6:25-33 and realized that here was the key to simplicity. This chapter begins by talking about giving to the needy, then prayer and fasting, storing up treasures and then at verse 25 he says: “Do not worry about your life….if you seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first everything else comes that you will need.”
If you focus on the kingdom of God first, you are moving into a place of intimacy with God that will bring you to a place of trust and peace that in itself moves you into a lifestyle of simplicity. You come to the point of accepting that God will provide!
Suggested Attitudes That Foster Simplicity
Expect God to supply: I have been in full-time ministry for about 38 years. When I was in seminary I was commuting to Fresno 2 days a week. Money was tight and I remember one night saying to Jane, “I don’t think I’m going to have enough money for gas to get back and forth this month.” We prayed and the next morning I opened the door to walk out to my car and there was an envelope on my porch. I opened it and it contained a $100 bill that was exact amount I needed for gas for the month! We had not told anyone about this need. We learned later that one of the college kids we had in our group felt prompted by God to do this. He did not know we needed it but simply obeyed.
Enjoy Things without owning them: We have three children who are now grown. In my position as an associate I didn’t make a lot of money. Over the years we have been given clothes, toys and places to go for vacations. One year we were having an auction at the church to raise money for the school and one of the items being auctioned off was a trip to Disneyland including all meals, a fancy hotel and passes to all the rides for three days. After it was over Jane and I were walking to the car with our kids and the man who bought the Disneyland package walked over and said, “I want you to have this to take your family to Disneyland.” We were blown away!
Freely Give What you Can: We have been able to give away three different cars. At one time we were driving an old Ford station wagon that was on its last round. One afternoon a man pulled up in our driveway with a beautiful used Oldsmobile and said, “Here are the keys to this car, it’s yours!”
After a few years we wore that one out I went looking for a good used car hoping to trade in my old worn out car. We went to a local car dealer and he asked me, “what do you think you can afford.” I told him and he called in one of his appraisers and told him to have a look at our old car and see what it was worth. Then he said to me, “Go look at the new cars and tell me what color you want.” I said, “I can’t afford that and he replied, “That’s okay, I’m going to give it to you.” So I went home with a new car and $1500 in cash for my old car! When I pulled up in the driveway my wife thought I had committed financial suicide.
Be Willing To Take Risks: When I first began Wholeness Ministries we didn’t have much. I was on staff of a large church with a decent salary, and a good benefit package. In obedience to God I took a leap of faith, resigned my position and stepped out not knowing where the money was coming from to pay the bills and put food on the table. At this time Jane and I had three small children. God has been providing now for 21 years!
When my first book was being translated in Hungarian they contacted me from Eastern Europe and said, “We need another $1,000 to get this done and we need it within 24 hours.” I was frustrated and replied, “If I’m going to be able to send you $1,000 God will have to literally drop it in my hands in the next 24 hours.” I don’t even remember praying about this. The next morning I received a call from a man who was in emotional distress and he asked if he could come and talk to me. He came, we talked and prayed and he started out the door. Then he stopped and said, “I almost forgot what God told me to do.” He pulled out his wallet and laid ten $100 bills in my hand and walked out the door. I was stunned. I just stood there and laughed at God’s sense of humor. He had laid $1,000 in my hands in less than 24 hours.
In this passage from Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that freedom from anxiety is one of the inward evidences of seeking first the kingdom of God. There is this joyful unconcern for possessions. I’ve know people who are greedy and people who are miserly and they don’t have this kind of joy. It has nothing to do with your abundance of possessions or their lack. It is an inward spirit of trust. Just because someone is living without things doesn’t mean they are living in simplicity. You can be developing an outward life-style of simplicity and be filled with anxiety. Conversely, wealth does not bring freedom from anxiety.
Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes:
1. If what we have we receive as a gift.
2. If what we have is cared for by God.
3. If what we have is available to others.
(1) We are dependent on God for the simplest elements of life: air, water, sun. We cannot manufacture these for ourselves but we are totally dependent upon them. Life itself is a gift. If we think that what we own is exclusively the result of our own personal efforts all it takes is a drought, a job loss or an accident to help us realize how dependent we are for everything.
(2) It is God’s business to care for what we have. Ultimately, only God can protect what we possess. It is common sense to take precautions, but if we believe that precaution itself protects us and our stuff we will be riddled with anxiety.
(3) When we cling to our possessions rather than sharing them it’s because we are anxious about tomorrow. If we truly believe that God is who Jesus says he is, then we do not need to be afraid. We can freely share because we know that he will care for us.
If we seek His kingdom first above everything else, “all these things” will be provided. You can live a simple lifestyle. Try it, you might like it!