The Discipline of Simplicity

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matt 6:33

Simplicity is to focus on the few things that are most important, and to place less emphasis on the many other competing things that are unimportant.

Simplicity is an inward focus that also results in a different outward way of living.  Both the inward and outward are important. If we claim inward simplicity but live complicated lives, we fool ourselves.  If we live outwardly simple lives without the inward reality, we become legalistic.  Inward simplicity is liberating.  Life becomes less anxious and less complicated.  It is freeing to let go of things and to be willing to share what we have with others.  It is nice to not have the need to show off.

Our culture is materialistic.  It encourages us to value ourselves based on what others think.  We are made to feel ashamed if we don’t have the latest TV, phone, car, or clothes.  Dave Ramsey rightfully observes that: “We buy things we don’t want with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”  A life focused on acquiring things is deadly to the Christian walk.  Jesus says you cant serve both God and money.  He says that blessed are the poor, and that where your treasure is is where your heart will also be.  The problem is that it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom first if we spend all of our time seeking more material things.

At the same time, God intends for us to have adequate material possessions, and he intends for us to have joy in life.  Extreme asceticism (forced poverty and denying all pleasure) is itself the wrong focus.  It is not simplicity.  Simplicity is to put possessions in their proper perspective.  It is to be content with what we have, to thank God for those things, and to be willing to share them with others.

Since simplicity is so visible, it is vulnerable to legalism and corruption.  “It is easy to mistake our particular expression of the teaching for the teaching itself.”  Simplicity is not comparing what we do to what others do.  Rather, it’s making Jesus our focus.  Seek God and his kingdom FIRST.  Then everything else will fall into its proper perspective.

Simplicity frees us from anxiety.  God has given us what we have, it’s his job to care for it, and he wants us to share with others.  What makes us anxious is believing that we have earned all we have, that we must hold onto it, and that it is for us, not others.

Foster gives ten examples of outward simplicity.  These are not “rules” (which lead to legalism), but general principles we can apply.  The outward is  accompanied with the inward.

1) Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.  Utility and durability are important.  Prestige is not.
2) Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.  An addiction is a compulsion you can’t control.  Refuse to be a slave to anything but God.
3) Develop a habit of giving things away.  De-accumulate.  Consider giving away something that you’re especially attached to.
4) Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.  Advertisers tell us that we need the latest and greatest.  What we already have usually works just fine.
5) Learn to enjoy things without owning them.  Go to the park or the library.  Enjoy the beach without feeling like you need beach property.
6) Develop a deeper appreciation for creation.   Go for a walk.  Listen to the birds.  Smell the flowers.
7) Be skeptical of buy now pay later plans.  Use extreme caution before going into debt.
8) Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain and honest speech.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.   Avoid flattery and speculative matters.
9) Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.  This could mean not buying something made by slaves.  It could also mean doing something menial that you expect someone else to do.
10) Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.  It’s easy to become distracted, even by good things.  Don’t let it happen.


[This blog post is part 5 in a series about the Christian disciplines, based on Richard Foster’s book  Celebration of Discipline. All quotes in this post (other than the Bible references) are from the book.  The series introduction is here.]


Filed under Discipline, Simplicity

4 responses to “The Discipline of Simplicity

  1. ScotA

    I am curious what makes you say “At the same time, God intends for us to have adequate material possessions, and he intends for us to have joy in life.”.
    I know people who claim that God has blessed them with another Mercedes this year. I guess the definition of “adequate”. “Adequate” means enough food/water/today to live until tomorrow. Isn’t that how sparrows live? I kinda think he wants to have our joy in Him and the trick is to see kids/friends/ etc. as gifts from Him, less something to collect and delight in.
    Let me know? And just to keep it real, I LOVE the VW car I drive.
    Attachments……… that’s the danger: family, reputation, political thought, cars….
    Pax tecum

    • Hi Scot, Absolutely, God provides for our basic provision, just like he does the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Our joy comes from learning to trust in him – to see how he provides. And as you say – by understanding that everything he gives us is a gift that is meant to be shared. It’s a hard thing for us materialistic Westerners to live by. We’re too much attached to our things like the rich young ruler.

  2. Dear Kevin Jackson,
    I’m a missionary, working with a Germany NGO called Active Direct Help. Our main projects are in Congo. My wife and I are living presently in Prague. Please see our work on this website:
    I like your article very much and would like to use some points of your list from Richard Foster in a book I’m writing, called “Change the World with love”. How can I obtain permission to do so?
    Thank you for your reply,

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