I believe the spiritual discipline of simplicity fits best where God is currently at work in my life. After researching simplicity a bit I realized that I, unknowingly, already practiced it in an unspiritual and undisciplined manner. For instance, one commonly accepted controlling principle of simplicity is buying things for their usefulness rather than their status. Just so happens that prior to my conversion I was in bondage to status symbols such as designer labels, zip codes, area codes, a particular commercial airline if you could not hitch a ride on a private jet, and the like. My post conversion knowledge that I have been created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of the Son has conveyed enough status to where I have mostly outgrown the need for status symbols. For all that, I am partial to some products, designers, and manufacturers that, in my opinion, produce higher quality goods that sometimes cost more than others. In these cases, I save up and invest the time to shop the items out in attempts to not to pay retail prices. In most cases, however, I find myself gladly settling for functional and practical. Seriously, God provides for me an awesome ways considering that I have been on a student/missionary budget for the past seven and half years
There are also other controlling principles of simplicity that I unknowingly observe, albeit, not within a spiritual discipline frame of mind. Another instance would be exercising discernment in taking out credit or taking advantage of “buy now, pay later” schemes. By God’s grace I have not been given over to credit debt for the last fifteen years. For that matter, I do not have any debt outside of student loans. Up until my academic career, I paid for everything with cash. My motto is, “If I cannot afford it and God is not making provision for it, then I should not have it.” It is best to mention that I have been a single guy for many years with simple needs for just as many. I have made an effort to live “lite” in order to stay flexible and mobile. For years, I openly hoped God would send me out on the foreign mission field, hopping from one Kingdom cause to the next. Nowadays, I think more about marriage, building a home, raising some children, and advancing the Kingdom of God here in the United States of America.
Subsequent to this experiment in “drawing nearer” to God in practical ways, given my understanding of spiritual formation, God confirmed my undertaking of simplicity. Sweet. I believe there is more to gain than lose in regards to this particular discipline. First and foremost, I am thoroughly convinced that there is a shade of spiritual freedom in simplicity that is, otherwise, beyond me. I currently suffer from a double-minded instability of hungering for things of God while savoring too many morsels of contemporary culture. A contemporary culture morsel here (gluttony), another morsel there (individualism), two morsels now (apathy), four morsels for then (selfishness), and next thing I know I am starving spiritually. Ugh.
Another is that practicing simplicity, in and of itself, will cultivate a Godly lifestyle. I aspire to a lifestyle that honors God while reflecting more of His image than my own. Indeed, I aim to live a life that bears the marks of simplicity: simple speech (Eccl 5:3), void of lust for and position, empty of selfishness and conceit (Phil 2:3), and not given over to showy extravagance (Mt 6:19-21). Prayerfully, this will impact the communities I am a part of in spiritual ways as well. Ideally, one day I will artfully minister a distinct brand of spiritual liberty that only simplicity, lived out in graceful style, could occasion. Furthermore, my church family could be potentially empowered by my the sincere humility of at all. Ideally. These are my long-term expectations and, as I have come to learn the hard way, I cannot communicate the ideal without the expense of the process. With that said, to the best of my knowledge simplicity will supernaturally produce the lifestyle I fancy.
Other than that, I believe that God is working in my life through this discipline by revealing blind spots, flaws, and spheres that I have neglected. As a case in point, prayerful study and meditation of God’s Word and fasting, in one-way or another, are essential sub-disciplines of simplicity. Honestly, with simplicity trimming my spirit and earnestness focusing my prayers, studies, and meditations, I have begun to hear from God in ways that I had not before. One significant revelation is that I have an addiction to Netflix that I was not aware of. I had not considered how watching a couple of twenty five minute or forty two minute show episodes had become an addiction over the past year. I call this an addiction because watching television episodes on Netflix has become an undisciplined compulsion.
Controlling principle number two of ten is to reject anything that produces an addiction in me. I may as well add coffee and running while I am confessing addictions God has brought to my attention. Fortunately for me, my conviction is that moderation and some attempt at self-control in these areas is what God wants from me. This is as far as I have gotten with spiritualizing the controlling principles of simplicity. God revealed my addictions to me day one of this exercise. Bam! Just like that, and frankly, getting a grip on these unhealthy compulsions is a lot of effort. Consequently, I do not plan to attempt the other nine controlling principles until I gain enough spiritual fortitude to watch Doctor Who twice a week rather than once a day.
Moving on, I am glad to report that God has seemed present throughout the entire experiment. Most of my discipline so far has been praying, studying,meditating with a spiritual formation specific focus, running four miles rather than six, not lifting weights, and watching two sitcom episodes a week. I believe that God is going to bless this spiritual endeavor in ways that I cannot even imagine. I say this because He is not only revealing my blind spots but also gently guiding me into a new season of spiritual life. Aside from the addiction revelations, God has spoken clearly to me through two other study tracks that I currently follow, one being The Spirit Filled Follower of Jesus and Devotional Classics: A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal. The other being regular devotion times when I exam Scriptures through the lens of prayer, The Life Application Bible Commentary, and the Word Biblical Commentary. These in depth examinations of the Scripture are laying bare applications and masterful communication styles that I could not otherwise be aware of with my untrained eyes. Geez. This is my impression anyhow. I could be wrong. It would not be the first time I have been wrong about something. Nonetheless, I believe God is leading me along into some new spiritual terrain.
With that said, if I am truly committed to having Christ as Lord, God as Father, and the Holy Spirit as my helper then I cannot refuse there leading in any of this and not suffer spiritual unrest in the end. Besides, one of the things I love most about being born again is plumbing and experiencing the spiritual sweetness of God’s breadths and depths. I would not ever have any peace of mind or spirit if I were not submitted to the sanctification process. I am positive that spiritual atrophy sets in more than one way. Conversely, I know one way to keep it from setting in is regular stretching, exercising, and disciplining of the spirit.
My standing prayer request in this matter is that God would continue to transform my inner desires, conforming them to His will and desire for my life. Thanks for the support.
Here is a brief summary of Richard Foster lists of “ten controlling principles” for the outward expression of simplicity:
1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than for their status. For example, consider your clothes. Most of us have no need for more clothes. Stop buying to keep up with the latest fashions. Buy only when new clothes are needed and buy practically.
2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Learn to distinguish between a real psychological need and an addiction.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away. If you are becoming attached to some possessions, consider giving it to someone who needs it. De-accumulate. Get rid of that mass of stuff that clutters your home and life. Bless someone who needs it.
4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Our culture puts so much emphasis on owning things. “If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we control it, we feel it will gives us more pleasure” (Foster, 93). This idea is an illusion. Borrow and share with others. Remember that we don’t really own anything, we only manage it for God.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation. “Simplicity means to discover once again that ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ (Ps 24:1) (Foster, 93).”
7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all “by now, pay later” schemes. The Bible views charging interest as an unbrotherly exploitation of another’s misfortune and a denial of community. These schemes are a trap that only deepen our bondage. Avoid them like the plague.
8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech. Avoid speaking flattery and half-truths. If you promise to do something, do it. Refuse to be apart of jargon and abstract speculations. They tend to confuse rather than inform and illuminate. Simply put, let your yes’s be yes’s and your no’s be no’s.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others. This is one of the most difficult and sensitive issues for us to face, but face it we must. Take a deeper look at the stuff you purchase. Who or what are you really supporting?
10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first God’s Kingdom. It is easy to lose focus even if we pursue good things. We must be diligent and deliberate about seeking God. As Brother Jim Bliffen has said, “It is wrong to do good when something better should be done.” We must always keep our priorities in the right place and our focus on the right thing: God