Our story begins in a garden. There, we had perfect communion with God, and we lived life so simply that we didn't even need clothes. Though I don't fully know what Eden was like, I feel like I can sometimes nearly hear the birds that might have been singing, feel the cool breeze that floated through as God walked with Adam and Eve, and see the beauty and abundance of the plants that bore fruit and nourished the first humans.
Contrast that with today's world after the fall. We experience the chaos of wars, materialism, and packed schedules. Even as I write this, I am surrounded by laundry that needs to be folded, there are constant dings with notifications on my phone, and toys seem to cover every part of my house. I am overwhelmed by my packed schedule, and my computer has so many tabs open that there is a clear delay between when I type and when the letters appear on the screen. As I look around my apartment, I long for something different. I long to return to the simplicity of the garden.
The desire for simplicity is indeed part of us, and it is also something that, as Christians, God calls us to. We can see this call to simplicity when Jesus instructs us to not worry about our lives, what we will eat or drink or wear (Matthew 6:25-29). In fact, Jesus simplifies our lives to one thing: to seek first the kingdom of God. Nothing more is needed. When we prioritize that, everything else falls into place.
Yet, when I think about my view of simplicity, it often looks nothing like what God desires for us. I often think of simplicity as white table clothes, shaker pegs to hang a beautiful wooden broom, and furniture without stains. I also want a perfectly organized schedule where my day runs smoothly, and I never have to deal with messy emotions. But I know, when I study God's Word, that is not the type of simplicity God calls me to.
So that said, how do we practice simplicity without it becoming legalistic or confuse it with minimalism? Though I am still on this journey, God has given me a few ways to implement the spiritual discipline of simplicity in my life. And now, dear reader, I share them with you.
- Seek first the kingdom of God
In Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus tells us not to worry about our life, food, or clothes, knowing that God will provide these things for us. He then explains, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you" (Matthew 6:33). In this way, Jesus makes it clear that the command to not worry about clothes and food doesn't mean that we lie down naked in the street and wait for God to clothe and feed us. Rather, it means that in all we do, we first seek Him and His righteousness.
This means that when we work, we seek God first. When we shop for clothes, we seek God first. When we buy our car, we seek God first. We run every single thing through the lens of seeking God first.
So what does this mean on a practical level? I often check to make sure that I seek His kingdom first by looking to see who I am trying to glorify. Am I trying to glorify myself or God? So if you are tempted to buy or do something because you think it will make you look cool or help you gain approval from your peers, pause and ask God to help you make purchases and do things that glorify Him and not yourself.
- Understand that simplicity is an inward condition that we outwardly express
The danger of practicing simplicity is that we will become legalistic. Simplicity isn't about minimalism or only allowing your children to have wooden toys. Instead, simplicity is a condition of the heart that we express in contentment. This is why it is important to focus on spending time in God's Word and prayer rather than focus on simplifying your life. This goes a little hand-in-hand with "seeking first the Kingdom of God," but it bears repeating–we can only truly practice simplicity through the power of Jesus Christ; anything else can become legalistic.
- Develop a habit of generosity
God is generous. He freely gives air to breathe, soil to cultivate food, water to nourish all living things, trees to sit under, and the capacity to enjoy it all. The Bible is also clear that nothing we have is ours. Our money, possessions, and loved ones all belong to God.
However, we often have a hard time being abundantly generous. God knows this about us. It is one of the reasons that God gave the Israelites the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. Every fifty years, the Israelites freed slaves and prisoners, forgave debts, and returned land to the original owners. By practicing this, God reminded the Israelites that nothing was truly theirs to possess.
Therefore, one of the things that may help cultivate the discipline of simplicity is to regularly give things away. Give away money and possessions big and small. Don't hoard for later, when someone else could benefit from your things now. I acknowledge that this is a radical act of trust, especially if you have experienced or are experiencing poverty. However, if you feel that God is asking you to give away something, act in wisdom and obedience. Trust God to provide for you when your time of need comes.
- Don't buy until you truly need
Don't buy clothes until you wear them out. Don't buy a new car just because you are tired of whiffing the unidentifiable smell in the back seat. Don't go out to eat when you have a fridge full of food. Instead, care for what God has given you. Fix things, care for them, understanding that you are only a steward of your possessions.
When the time does come to purchase something new, take your time. Pray for God's wisdom as you purchase. Alternatively, you may find that you don't need the things you once thought were essential. I once went on a shopping fast that was supposed to last for one year. During this shopping fast, I did not buy any clothes, shoes, or accessories for myself. At the end of one year, though, I realized that I still had much more than I needed. So my fast continued until I truly needed new clothes, which wasn't for another six months when my jeans finally fell apart.
Today, I go clothes shopping maybe one or two times a year. (This is not including shopping for my incredibly fast-growing boys!) I am much more thoughtful about my purchases, and I am much more content with the things I do own, remembering that I am only a steward of what God has given me.
That said, I often do have to check my heart on this to ensure that I am not falling into legalism, and I recommend you do the same. Living a life of simplicity does not make you or me holy–the sanctifying work of Jesus Christ does. This always brings me back to the first item on the list, make sure that you are seeking first the kingdom of God in all you do.
In the end, the practice of simplicity on earth will be a discipline. Even though we long for a simple life, we will constantly need to pull back and depend on God to cultivate simplicity in our hearts. However, one day, all will be made right again when Jesus comes back to restore all that was lost. We will once again live in the simplicity of our God's presence, where all striving and worrying cease. Until that day, let us keep our eyes fixed on the only One who can truly provide all we need and more.
Click here if you would like to learn more about spiritual disciplines through the Growing in Grace study.