The inward disciplines are practiced in order to keep our spiritual state balanced. They create the proper internal environment that allows the Holy Spirit to work within us to transform our identity and bring us into a right relationship with God. We are able to put the spirit in the lead, bringing our physical and mental selves into submission to the spirit. As this is maintained (as once it is achieved, it can be lost) in our life, it should result in changes to the way we live. In order to channel this new inward change to properly impact our outward lives, there are certain Outward Disciplines.
As with anything, in order for there to be an outward change, there must first be an inner change. As Richard Foster puts it in Celebration of Discipline, “..an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.” (p. 79). He also makes an astoundingly impactful point. Without the inward reality, changes to the outward lifestyle will fall into legalism. This was the downfall of the Israelite people, where there obedience to the Law became the focus, instead of the inward reality of loving God and loving our neighbor being their true heart’s desire. As we set our inward reality rightly to God, it will result in the outward change in lifestyle. This is where the Apostle Paul tells us “If we live by the spirit, let us also walk by the spirit.” (Galatians 5:25). If we have Faith in God, this is the internal, inward reality that we have set in our hearts, then we should walk in that faith, meaning the outward life-style change that such faith brings about. This is where we harmonize Paul with James where James states “So also faith, by itself without works, is dead.” (James 2:17).
This brings us to the first Outward Discipline that aids us in our conduct of the rest, and that is simplicity. Simplicity is the Outward Christian Discipline that applies the ability to be content with what we have, and to not desire poverty or wealth, but only the Kingdom of God.
What is Simplicity as a Discipline?
To best explain simplicity, let me start with what it is not. Our post-modern world is filled with the desire for wealth, affluence, and fame. While there is nothing immoral about the Capitalist system, it is what drives the application of it the system that makes its real experience immoral. The compulsion to have nice things only to desire nicer things is the immoral application of the economic system we have. Instead of purchasing things for their utility and lasting benefit, we instead make purchases out of appearance, desire, and what other people would think of us either way. This has resulted in a truly psychotic behavior of the American population. Psychotic because it has detached itself from reality. We do not simply by the things we need, but we buy those things we think we need because inwardly, we have placed the lens of covetousness and prestige over simple need. We have detached ourselves from reality.
Thus simplicity is the practice of acquiring only that which we need. This comes from setting inwardly three principles with one objective. The objective is to FIRST seek the kingdom of God. The desire for affluence, wealth, and material possessions should not be what compels us in our use of the money we earn in serving our fellow man. We must first desire, long for, and seek the kingdom of God. This means that the desire for a simple life-style must not be first, it is the Kingdom of God that must be first. It is not the selling of our possessions to be in poverty, it is the Kingdom of God we must seek First. The only inward reality that we set is the desire to seek the Kingdom of God above all things. This develops in us the inward lack of concern for possessions, and sets in us an inward reality of Trust in God. For the reality is, we can store up all the wealth in the world, only to have a tornado come through and wipe it all out. God is what we are to be dependent upon alone, not possessions, because in the end, it is His world that He set us in, not our own.
The three principles, or attitudes, which aid us in setting the kingdom of God first are how our minds should be “preset” to view reality. The first is that we receive all that we have as a gift from God. This attitude allows us to stay in tune with the reality that we have all that we have by the pure power and grace of God in His creation. The gifts He gives us, even in the pay we receive for our labor, ultimately comes from Him, and is a gift to us that we should treat as such.
The next attitude is to know that it is God’s business, and not ours, to care for what we have. God is the ultimate provider of these things and He is the ultimate caregiver of these gifts. We can trust Him to care for our possessions, which He gave to us. This does not mean that we don’t lock our doors at night or take care to protect what He has given us. But it does mean that we must not be so wrapped up in concern for these material things that our whole world becomes insuring that we never lose these things. The reality is that we die, and those things are no longer ours anyways. It is not about abandoning our responsibilities to care for our property, it is about knowing that God will take care of us regardless of us having that property or not.
The final attitude is to have our goods available to others. When there is a need in the community, our goods should be available to meet that need. Just as God blesses us with what we need as His gift to us in our time of need, so too is that good available to those in our community when they come in need. When we view what we have as a gift from God, and we accept that He will care for it, then when a need in the community is identified, and we can provide for it, then we know that God’s gift is being provided through us for someone else.
All of these together, guided by that ultimate objective of seeking God’s Kingdom First, is what sets us up inwardly to live the outward discipline of simplicity.
Where is Simplicity in the Bible?
The best passage that can be referenced regarding simplicity (thought there are many versus, I suggest Mr. Foster’s book to learn more about them) is Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-33:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
By setting the inward reality of seeking the first the Kingdom of God, and the three attitudes, we will find ourselves obeying Jesus, no longer anxious about those things He speaks of in the first few versus. Many have attempted to use this first to suggest an “ascetic” lifestyle. In other worlds, a reckless abandon of all possessions and a poverty stricken life-style. This is simply not so. The Lord tells us to “not be anxious,” about these things. This means that we should not be wrapped up in the desire for what we should eat (special fad diets or high end food) or what we should wear (keeping up with style and fashion). We should be concerned with seeking First the Kingdom of God. If we do not set this up as an inward reality, then we fall into that legalism which is itself idolatry, in dedicating one’s life to some form of abject poverty as though it were a law that must be followed in order to obtain salvation. What is meant here is for us to set in our heart a longing for the Kingdom of God, living our life in simplicity, letting the Lord meet our personal needs while allowing Him to use us to meet the needs of others without worry or concern about our possessions that He ultimate gives to us as His gift.
So How do I Live This Out?
There is no need to reinvent the wheel with this subject, So I will simply mention what Richard Foster lists out in His book, Celebration of Discipline. He provides for us what it “looks like” to live a life of simplicity. It provides an excellent understanding of how we should practically apply what we must first set inwardly, that reality that needs to be in our hearts of first seeking the Kingdom of God. Remember, an inward reality is not a reality without an outward expression that results from it truly being set in our hearts.
First, buy things for their usefulness. Don’t waste your money on buying things just because they are the “cool new thing,” to have. Do not by clothes so you can have more clothes or so you can “keep up with fashion.” Stop trying to impress people with what you have or what you wear. Instead, set the example for people with who you really are, show them with how you live your life that you seek first the Kingdom of God.
Second, reject anything that produces an addiction in you. Do not buy things just because you think you need them. Do not allow there to be a need in your heart to “keep up with the Jones’.” Don’t buy things because you think your life will be over if you don’t. There is so much of this that is just rampant among our youth. They have to have the new Playstation or the latest version of Call of Duty. They get addicted not only to the playing of games, but they get addicted to being “in” with the cool guys. Do not allow addiction to drive your purchases, and of course this applies to clinical addictions, such as alcohol and tobacco and the like. Also things such as an addiction to television, binge watching TV series on Netflix. Get rid of those things that compel you to do things that are of no benefit to you.
Third, develop a habit of giving things away. You know, all that stuff you have in the garage that you just simply never use? Find people who are in need of those things and provide it to them. Give away those things that you are addicted to, give away those things you no longer need. Give away those things you think you need! Now this obviously does not mean giving away the car you need to get to work every day. This is about building a healthy habit (not an over-zealous attempt to prove yourself simple) of giving to those who are in need that which the Lord has given you as a gift. Seeking first to spread the Kingdom of God.
Fourth, don’t allow yourself to become compelled by the ‘new’ and the ‘top-of-the-line.” Don’t let the advertisers persuade you into buying something because they’ve added a new feature or changed the way it looks. You don’t need a new cell phone every six months. You don’t need the latest model of new car. Instead, focus on making use of things until they are no longer useful. Wear your clothes until they are no longer wearable, drive your car until the cost of maintenance is more than getting a new vehicle. You do not need what is new, you need what is practical and of lasting use.
Fifth, learn how to enjoy things without owning them. We have been pushed into believing that we must own all those things that are good. This means we must also be willing to share what we have. We must be able to enjoy things without feeling the need that we too must own them, and in order for each of us to do that, we must also be willing to allow others to enjoy that which we do have when they are not able to have it as well.
Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the world we live in. Learn to enjoy this creation that the Lord has made just for us. Spend more time outdoors, going on walks, viewing the sunrise and sunset. Come to appreciate that which is made freely available to all, and the material things made by man’s hands will become of less concern. Accept what God has given to all as a gift, and seek first the Kingdom of God, and all other things will be nothing of importance to your heart.
Seventh, do not allow yourself to be sunken into debt. These “buy now, pay later,“ schemes are nothing more than an effort for others to gain money. Usury in the Bible pertains to all forms of interest. In our modern world, much is driven by debt, and because so much is driven by debt, our system teeters on the brink of implosion. This does not mean that we avoid it when it is necessary (such as a medical emergency or insurance as required by law), but it does mean we do avoid it when it is not necessary.
Eighth, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matt. 5:37). Keep your speech simple. Do not allow yourself to develop clever language or use language that goes beyond what is simply a yes, and simply a no. Do not deal in half-truths, and don’t let yourself be drawn by simple speculation. Deal with what is true, what is fact, and work only within the realm of what is known. If we are absolutely dependent on God, then our speech will have only one source. How wonderful it is to know that the old adage “Keep It Simple,” comes from God. (minus the usual derogatory addition we are familiar with.)
Ninth, reject anything that is oppressive of others. Do not allow yourself to take part in things that show clear signs of placing others into positions of oppression. Don’t support movements that would take from others in order to benefit a select few. Don’t allow yourself to be persuaded into an advantageous position that results in others losing theirs. Avoid programs that require the work of others to benefit those who do not work. Instead, seek those opportunities that through your work benefit many more, where your purchase results in greater prosperity for all and not less for some. Seek always those things that result in plenty from few and that reduces complexity to the benefit of others. So much of this is needed today, especially as we look at the heated political climate of our day.
Tenth, turn away from anything that would distract you from seeking first the Kingdom of God. There is much in this world that can distract us from that eternal pursuit for only a short period of pleasure. Do not let the experience of short term pleasure compel you lose your focus on the eternal promise of the Kingdom of God.
Simplicity is the default position for all humanity. It is God’s set state of our existence. It allows us to enjoy the simple pleasures of life that are the gift from God that aid us in building true peace and joy in our hearts. Our modern world has been filled with so much that we can be distracted from the Kingdom of God that the Lord offers to each of us. While there is so much out there that is good, and was made by honest, God fearing men and women to simplify our lives for our betterment, we don’t need all of it! We must seek FIRST the Kingdom of God always, with the attitudes of all being a gift from God, cared for by Him through us, and made available to all of God’s people through His gifting it to each of us for a time. We are ultimately dependent upon Him regardless of that which we have. Property is protected by God in His commandments for how we are to live, but property is never to be set before Him. Place yourself in the discipline of simplicity, and when combined with the other disciplines, the Kingdom of God will dwell in your heart.