Editor’s Note: Recently, our Study Together groups worked through Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline.” So many helpful conversations ensued that we thought we’d create a blog series on the topic and post articles the first week of each month. Enjoy!
The definition of living the “simple life” has changed over time.
According to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, 1828 edition, it meant, “a manner of living in which a person does not own many things or use many modern machines and usually lives in the countryside.”
Google tells me that I can start to live more simply by not spending money on things I don’t really need, avoiding debt (if at all possible), having a garage sale to get rid of old junk I don’t use, and buying a bike instead of a car to save money on insurance, gas, repairs, a car loan, and maintenance.
But I need my car. Hmmmmm. So what is ‘Simplicity’ … really?
When Bill and I started our life together as husband and wife in the early 80’s, we fully embraced the idea of a simple lifestyle. We were setting up our home and trying to figure out how we were going to live. And in a season of economic expansion marked by societal extravagance, we were going to “do it right” and live with less in order to have more time and money to invest in the Kingdom of God.
While I know we embraced God-honoring goals, I look back now and chuckle at what that meant for us in day-to-day life. Our attempt at living a “simple life” involved a long list of do’s and don’ts. We had a no-no list, and “extravagant” foods like pickles, olives, mushrooms, and expensive cuts of meat were on it! Everything we bought for our home was second hand. I hung our clothes to dry and repurposed everything. We even bought replacement parts for our car from the local junkyard. We lived in the inner city and did “real ministry” (whatever that is!). And in my heart, I harshly judged everyone who didn’t do the same. Oh, I wouldn’t have said that at the time, but I did.
So, what is simplicity? Is it a list of behaviors and practices to embrace? Or is it something deeper?
In our recent Study Together winter session, we looked at the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, called us to an inward reality, to live out of the heart in a way that keeps us from living to satisfy our desires and allowing them to over-run us. He called us to live first to serve our heavenly Creator and Savior.
In Matthew 6:25-34, verse 33 becomes the focal point for biblical simplicity: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
I find that I am to receive and rejoice in God’s kind provision with gratefulness and see it as good and to be enjoyed, but not set my heart on material things. Rather, I am called to be content with what I am given. This kind of simplicity sets me free to receive the provision of God as a gift and freely share it with others.
Simplicity is meant to be a life-liberating discipline, not a legalistic list of behaviors to emulate. It is not a decision to do without, so much as a decision to receive what I have as a gift from God, no matter how much or how little, and use it for His glory.
We don’t often talk about this discipline, but perhaps it is worth the conversation. Paul had that conversation with Timothy, and his words can speak to us, as well:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Simplicity, then, is found in a life that is satisfied in God and in his provision. So, eat as many olives and pickles as you’d like, as long as you’re content with the olive and pickles God gives you!