Thursday, December 15, 2011


Is it possible to oversimplify simplicity? If you’re talking about the distinct idea of Christian simplicity, the answer is yes. Until I began to actually study the historical spiritual discipline, my concept of simplicity was fairly superficial – Smaller, fewer, quieter, more essential. Get rid of the luxurious, extravagant or unnecessary. That was simplicity. I envisioned a Simple Life: Time to think, time to engage in deep conversations, to linger with a friend over a cup of coffee. The ability to read my kids an extra bedtime story AND sit and talk with my wife afterwards. The freedom to go places and do things that the person with the cluttered life cannot do, because of course simplicity will bring margin. Get rid of the TV, pay off the credit cards, have one car, walk places… Of course this dream eluded me consistently.

While real simplicity might actually manifest itself in some of those ways – sometimes – I began to see that what I own or what I do, or in fact anything that is primarily external and visible, is not the essence of Christian simplicity. Reading Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline opened my eyes and helped me distill the concept into a single, pungent sentence: Simplicity is to seek one thing. It is a singular heart, a focused value system, an inward reality. Søren Kierkegaard summed it up nicely in the title of his book: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.

Like the Olympic athlete, having a single focus and a single passion informs and even determines what I will or will not give my time, energy, or resources to. The theology for this discipline comes from Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12. “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

A heart of trust that has joyfully become one with the Father’s heart and shares the Father’s priorities as a result is the heart that is Simple. And Free. Free from the bondage to possessions and status that marks Western society. Free to give to those in need and to share abundantly. Free to enjoy all of God’s good gifts without being bent towards the extremes of materialism or asceticism. Such seeking of the Kingdom is evidence of grace in the life of the seeker, and of course an ongoing pursuit, which is why the term ‘discipline’ is appropriate. May God’s people be set free with the gift of a single heart.


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