Simplicity as a spiritual discipline

Published 4:09 pm Thursday, March 28, 2019


Religion Columnist

Over this last month I have been writing about the spiritual disciplines of faith. A spiritual discipline is anything we do regularly that draws us closer to God. The spiritual discipline of simplicity may be the most difficult for Americans, who live in the land of plenty, to understand and practice. You may not think of simplicity as a spiritual discipline at all. But as you think about all the stuff you have accumulated, and stacked neatly and not-so-neatly in every storage corner you can find, perhaps you should take very seriously the importance of practicing simplicity as a spiritual discipline.

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Do you remember a time in your life when you had fewer things, and life seemed simpler? I remember my college days as simpler days. My roommate and I bought a repossessed sofa for $50. We showed simplistic discipline by passing up the other two matching pieces of furniture, though the reason was not spiritual at all. We didn’t have the money, nor was there space in our dorm room. We used bricks and boards for shelves and a foot locker for a coffee table.

But I must confess: Our lives of simplicity were not chosen, but forced on us. We were not living to have a better understanding of our faith in Jesus, but were dreaming of future days of employment when success would surely bring us all the toys of life.

I think we could consider the 10th commandment the simplicity commandment. “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). Coveting is a very persuasive sin.

Nowhere is the need to live more simply more necessary than in the lives of our children. Go into any child’s playroom, and you will likely see a small version of the Walmart toy department. Therefore, every parent is amazed when their child exclaims, “I am bored. There is nothing to do!” Do you remember days when sticks could become a make-believe gun, baton, secret transmitter, or other imaginary device and we would be entertained for hours?

I don’t think we can keep our children from being bored by buying them every toy their heart desires. I believe that teaching them they can’t have everything they want will be one of the greatest gifts we can teach them as they grow older. I recommend giving your child chores when they are bored. They may still get bored, but they won’t tell you about it. If we really want them to remember what the greatest gift they will ever have is, then we will point them to faith in Jesus Christ, rather than the new toy that pacifies their momentary desires.

In his book, “Celebration of Discipline,” Richard Foster offers these controlling principles of simplicity:

1) Buy for usefulness.

2) Reject that which causes addiction or dependency.

3) Give things away.

4) Don’t become enthralled by gadgets.

5) Enjoy things without owning them.

6) Enjoy creation, which you can’t own.

7) Don’t buy things on credit.

8) Reject anything that keeps you from putting God’s kingdom first.

This last principle is taken directly from Matthew 6:31-33. The words are very wise counsel for anyone living in our very complex world. Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Is there a closet door that you don’t open because you are afraid of the avalanche that will fall down upon you? Have you rented a storage facility, or placed a Pod in your yard because you have run out of room for all those indispensable treasures? Have you told everyone that you do not live to keep up with what others have bought, but your actions don’t correspond with your words? What changes can you make to have a simpler life, both materially and in time management? Have you ever prayed to God asking him to show you how you can live a simpler life?

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, visit