Spiritual Transformation – The Discipline of Simplicity

Yard sales require a lot of sweat, patience, and yes, sacrifice. My family just joined another family in a yard sale to unload several items that I wasn’t even aware I owned. Those that I forgot that I owned – those brought a tear to the eye as someone walked away with them for a quarter each. Yet, as I look back, what a release! It was as if a weight had been lifted. Thankfully, this yard sale occurred when it did – May was my month to work on simplicity.

Jesus calls us to live simply. He doesn’t ask that we be paupers, but He does require simplicity. As he sent out his disciples, Mark records in Chapter 6 verse 7 that He “began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” Now, that is some cool stuff! Authority, power…but not wealth. The next two verses spell it out. “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” Only the bare necessities of life, and then, not even all that! Pretty radical, Jesus.

You see, Jesus wanted there to be nothing to hold them back. The twelve were paired and sent with no means of providing for themselves. No reason to say, “Not now, I need to go back and…” We are so tied down by our possessions. It’s like a ball and chain, or maybe even an anchor that allows us only enough room above the water for quick, labored breathing. This is not the life Jesus wants for us. Richard Foster brings this exhortation: “Simplicity is freedom, not slavery. Refuse to be a slave to anything but God.”

We would do well to consider two things about this discipline. First, simplicity is for our benefit. We can experience true freedom and release from the bondage of our possessions, but it requires a great sacrifice on our part. “The majority of Christians have never seriously wrestled with the problem of simplicity, conveniently ignoring Jesus’ many words on the subject. The reason is simple: this Discipline directly challenges our vested interests in an affluent life-style” (Foster, 85). We are like the rich man who asked Jesus what he needed to inherit eternal life. Jesus said, “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and your will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). Perhaps, like that rich man, many of us also “walk away sorrowful” because of our great wealth.

The second consideration is this – practicing simplicity is a witness to the world. I dare not add anything to the powerful message of “Golden Mouth.” John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) was a powerful preacher who delivered these penetrating words:

We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose on earth is to lay up treasures in heaven. But our actions often belie our words. Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses, and buy fields. It is small wonder, then, that many pagans refuse to believe what we say. ‘If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven,’ they ask, ‘why are they building mansions on earth? If they put their words into practice, they would give their riches and live in simple huts.’ So these pagans conclude that we do not sincerely believe in the religion we profess; and as a result they refuse to take this religion seriously. You may say that the words of Christ on these matters are too hard for you to follow; and that while your spirit is willing, your flesh is weak. My answer is that the judgment of pagans about you is more accurate than your judgment about yourself. When the pagans accuse us of hypocrisy, many of us should plead guilty. (from On Living Simply)

Perhaps we need to take the Discipline of Simplicity more seriously. What is our lifestyle speaking to the world about our view of God? What are our possessions destroying in our spiritual walk with Christ? We can’t serve God and money; we must make a choice. Which choice will you make? Will you walk away in sorrow, or will you put in the sweat, patience and sacrifice needed to have a great big yard sale? The freedom you desire is found on the path of simplicity.

Suggested Reading:

Foster, R. The Celebration of Discipline

Sittser, G. Water from a Deep Well

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