According to A.W Tozer, "Simplicity is found in Christ, but rarely found among us… In its stead are programmes, camps, meetings and sporadic activities which clutter our lives and attention but never fulfil the longing of the heart… Because of our shallow inner knowledge of the Kingdom of God, we only ever glimpse God imperfectly and the peace of God scarcely at all."
I want to live a simpler life, as one does on a beach camping holiday, where the house and bed are traded in for a tent and mattress on the ground. The lack of TV, chores and traffic give way to nature and its space to relax, swim and read a book. Simplicity is having fewer keys and dangly things on your key chain; simplicity eliminates the non-essentials.
Living simply with a joyful unconcern for possessions is an ideal, but one that's incompatible alongside the quest to live a modern western life in 2012, balancing a career and the dream of owning your own home.
I'm not suggesting we must be like Christopher from the book and movie, 'Into the Wild', by selling everything and retreating into the wilderness to escape from any possibility of slavery to money, stresses and the pollution of modern society. I think simplicity is having the first things first, in both the physical and spiritual. To love and do 'One Thing' well, as opposed to having yourself spread thin over a multitude of different ideas and vocations.
Wanting to possess
Western living, in a quest for security, breeds extreme attachment to gaining more things and being up to date with trends. Possessions are the fruit of the rat race.
In our society to covet is replaced with ambition, hoarding is prudence and greed becomes industry.
In the book Spiritual Disciplines, by Richard Foster, he says, "It's interesting that the modern hero of our age is the poor boy who becomes rich, rather than the Franciscan or Buddhist stories of the rich young ruler who voluntarily becomes poor." He says, "Simplicity directly challenges our vested interest in possessions."
We all know money can't buy happiness, and wealth doesn't mean less anxiety. A share market crash, earthquake or disease can quickly rip away peoples livelihoods when their foundation for life is found in possessions.
Acknowledging that all our possessions are God's is the start of living in simplicity.
Jesus talked about economics and the dangers of loving money more than any other topic, other than the Kingdom of God. He was adamant, that during his era, there was to be a high level of caution in order to avoid the spiritual dangers of wealth. How much more we should be weary of his warnings in our cultural time of affluence?
Possession is not all bad
Foster says, "Simplicity is the only thing that can re-orient our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us." I like the idea of quality products, to buy a locally made genuine leather belt over a pack of 5 cheap plastic knockoffs at half the price.
And sharing is imperative. I loved how my old neighbour would lend out his boat. Martin Luther describes owning goods as 'stolen goods' if not shared. Coincidentally generosity rarely goes unnoticed and unrewarded.
In terms of having things and enjoying them it's a tough balance as a Christian. Christian living often focuses on being sacrificial with a fear of being too selfish if we indulge in worldly pleasures.
Jesus shocked people equally in both his capacity to thoroughly enjoy his life and in his capacity to renounce it and give it up. He loved the sinner but hated the sin.
Jesus enjoyed the women pouring perfume on his feet in front of his astounded counterparts who were quick to judge, yet his holy standard of perfection is never in question. God led Israel out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey as a place of blessing to be enjoyed. I think to deny that God wants us to take pleasure in his creation can lead down a slippery road of legalism to asceticism.
Theologians have debated these truths that Jesus held in tension, and at either end of the spectrum we can become undone. Hedonism can lead to complacency and a dulling of any sense of urgency. While the legalistic, rule based striving to be righteous is completely at odds with simplicity; it will lead to pride and then condemnation of yourself once you fail to live up to the standards required.
Jesus advocates simplicity, and he puts a marker in the ground for us to try and emulate.
The pearl of the Gospel
Francois Fenelon describes Simplicity as the pearl of the Gospel. "O how amiable this simplicity is, who will give it to me. I leave all for this." The commandments are simplified to first love God, and then love others. If we simply start at Jesus, then the things of this world will be given as we need them.
To paraphrase Matthew 6 "…Do not be anxious about what tomorrow may bring…Is not life more than food and clothing…Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given unto you." Like the merchant in Jesus' parable we must sell everything in search of that precious pearl.
What is the Kingdom here on earth?
Is the Kingdom to care for widows and orphans? Do we live sustainably only buying organic or fair-trade goods? Do we speak the truth in honesty and integrity? Do we give all our money to the poor like the rich young ruler? Do we try to live a life maximising our talents to succeed in a career? Do we start community initiatives, through acts of generosity to create fellowship with the lost and broken? Do we become an internationally known writer/preacher proclaiming God's love in relevant fresh and ingenious ways? Do we give ourselves to the mission field?
In all the above… NO.
Firstly and simply, seek the Kingdom of God, put the Kingdom first, then all the above may come in its right time, in its right place, with God the author of your mission. Or maybe he'll prompt you to do one thing well.
Idolatry will sneak in when the 'thing' becomes our goal. The inward focus must direct our outward gains. To seek His Kingdom in all things is simplicity, and what should define a Christian from the postmodern do-gooders.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Broadcasting Group in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html