Principles for Simplicity
In yesterday’s sermon we talked about economic simplicity. Using Jesus’ parable of the so-called rich fool in Luke 12:13-34, we discussed how easily we are controlled by the “stuff” in our lives. The things we own soon own us, so if we want to reduce anxiety and worry and create more space for God and others we need to find ways to live with less. We need to constantly ask ourselves, “How much do we really need?” Truth be told, we probably don’t need nearly as much as we think!
As a way of guiding our thinking and decision making when it comes to the use of our material resources, I shared nine principles of economic simplicity. These are not hard and fast rules, but concepts that we can each adapt to our own individual circumstances. As I said yesterday, these ideas are not original to me. I took them directly from a wonderful book by Richard Foster entitled Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, which was first published back in 1978, and then revised in 1988. In chapter 6, Foster discusses the discipline of simplicity. He actually names ten principles, but in yesterday’s sermon I listed the nine that seemed most directly relevant to our discussion. In response to several requests, here is a summary of these ideas.
Purchase things based on their usefulness instead of their status.
From the clothes we wear to the cars we drive to the homes live in, our primary focus should be on whether these things are functional and help us fulfill the important purposes of life. There is nothing wrong with style and artistry, and there is certainly a place for aesthetic beauty, but if our primary goal in acquiring things is to acquire status to impress others or to feel better about ourselves, we are drifting toward idolatry.
2. Avoid spending money on things that feed an addition or an unhealthy dependence.
This could be a substance such as food or drink, or a piece of technology we can’t put down, or a form of entertainment we can’t walk away from, or a past-time that has come to consume us. When there is a “thing” in our life that we can’t live without, there is a problem and we need to walk away from it.
3. Get in the habit of giving things away.
When a thing has gone unused for months or even years we have to ask why we feel compelled to hold on to it. And this shouldn’t just apply to the useless junk in the dusty corners of our garage. Let’s give away things that still have value so we can bless other people. Getting rid of things not only declutters our closets, but it reorients us with a more open posture towards others.
4. Beware of the lure of technology.
In and of itself, technology is not a bad thing. The electronic devices that surround us can, if used properly, make us more efficient, but there is also the constant pressure to immediately want the newest and latest version of things. If my current smartphone can already process data faster than I can think, I have to ask why I feel the need to rush and buy one that can do it even faster. If I already have a big screen HDTV, I have to ask why I need a bigger one. Sooner or later things break or fail and have to be replaced, but short of that we should be careful.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
There is nothing wrong with owning property, but I can enjoy the beach or the lake or a mountain trail or a city park or a public library without needing a deed or a title to them. Sharing these natural and public resources with others makes us more aware of the neighbors God has called us to love.
6. Develop an appreciation for creation.
Pay attention to a sunset. Go for a walk in the woods. Listen to the evening crickets. When we notice creation, we become aware of the largeness of God, which in turn makes our incessant chasing after stuff look petty.
7. Be careful about accumulating debt.
There is a reasonable place for taking out a loan to purchase an affordable home or car, but the lure of credit cards and other buy-now-pay-later schemes can lock us into a downward spiral of debt and anxiety.
8. Avoid spending money on things that breed injustice or oppression.
In our modern, global economy it isn’t always easy to know where the things we buy come from, but that doesn’t excuse us from being informed consumers. From the coffee we drink to the clothes we wear to the devices we use, we should ask whether the things we spend money on are contributing the unfair or unjust treatment of other people.
9. Don’t spend on things that drag us away from the kingdom of God.
Jesus made it clear that God’s kingdom should always be our number one priority. We have a way of rationalizing things and avoiding the truth about ourselves, but a little honest discernment will reveal when God’s kingdom is being crowded out. When there isn’t time or space for time with God; when “things” or “stuff” become the focus of our thoughts; when habits and lifestyles are at odds with the principles and values of the kingdom, something needs to go.
There you have it - nine principles for striving toward economic simplicity. There are not easy, but they are straightforward and simple. Jesus said that where ever our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. In other words, our hearts go to the place where we have first decided to put our treasure. These principles can offer helpful guidance in putting our treasure in a place that pleases God. If we do, our hearts will follow.