Learning to live simply

Learning to live simply

Hustle and bustle of Christmas

As Sandy reviews her Christmas to-do list, she feels the stress building. Christmas is rapidly approaching and she still has many gifts to buy. Sandy also has big plans for baking and decorating, but she has yet to choose the perfect recipes or shop for new ribbon and ornaments. Then there’s the school choir concert, the church Christmas play, four parties and a promise to spend one evening visiting a holiday lights display.

As she pulls out of her driveway to head to the shopping center, she waves at her neighbor, Jan, who recently lost her husband, Ray. Sandy recalls how much Ray loved Christmas. Sandy wonders if Jan has someone to help her decorate, which leads to thoughts of where Jan will spend Christmas.

If only Sandy didn’t have so much to do, maybe she could invite Jan over for coffee and a visit. But she has to stay focused. Everyone is counting on her to make this the best Christmas ever.

Learning to live simply: Minimizing demands, expectations aides abundant living

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

The Alabama Baptist

In her books and speaking engagements, author Brenda Poinsett regularly encourages people to choose simple hospitality over fancy dinner parties and elaborate decorating. But even she was a little surprised by an encounter she had several years ago at a conference with two women who were having a contest to see which one could have the most decorated trees in her home.

“They wanted to know why they were missing Christ in their Christmas,” Poinsett recalled.

The competing desires to do Christmas “big” and to keep Jesus at the center of the holiday are common in American households, Poinsett believes.

“We want to rush in and cover all the bases, make every holiday more spectacular than last year. Holiness gets lost in that. We end up with an empty feeling when it’s all over instead of being spiritually enriched,” said Poinsett, who shares her own struggle and the lessons she learned about simplifying the holidays in her book “Can Martha Have a Mary Christmas? Untangling Expectations and Truly Experiencing Jesus.”

The desire to do more doesn’t just hit during the holidays, however. Year round, we see social media posts showing off a friend’s latest Pinterest project. Monthly issues of glossy magazines feature well-appointed rooms and platters of goodies always at the ready.

God’s blessings

As a result, “abundance” of material possessions and creative talent seems to be a gift given to everyone but us. Our focus begins to turn inward, to what we don’t have rather than celebrating the blessings God has given us.

One way to avoid those negative feelings is to open your heart and open your door, Poinsett says. That means keeping life simple enough so that you can invite people to your home with welcome instead of worry.

“For Christians, home is a mission base to invite friends and strangers in to share stories and share the gospel,” Poinsett said. “People want to connect and they love coming to your home.”

In contemporary life, however, many obstacles stand in the way of Christian hospitality. Much of our time is committed to work, and the rest of our time often is consumed with community and church activities. These activities drain our resources and energy, leaving us exhausted and stressed, says Anne Lawton, a licensed professional counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.

For families with children, this is an especially challenging part of life because parents have a hard time saying “no” to children’s activities. Lawton encourages parents to look at the positive sides of occasionally saying “no.”

“Although setting limits may be hard, doing so frees us up to say ‘yes’ to other things like taking meals to a neighbor, helping an elderly couple with chores, devoting more quality time together as a family or praying more intentionally for others,” Lawton said. “When we do not allow our calendar to be overscheduled, we are free to hear and see the needs around us. We have time to be fully present in the moment and fully present with people.”

The result? A Kingdom mindset where the focus is on sharing Christ in word and deed, Lawton said.

Ideal model

Jesus Himself provides the ideal model of a simple life, writes Joshua Becker, author of “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own.” And in His teaching, Jesus frequently warned of the trap of placing our hope in material possessions and physical comfort rather than our spiritual life. As demonstrated in Jesus’ encounter with the rich young official, materialism is a trap that has the power “to distract us from what could bring us real happiness and meaning” in life, Becker writes.

Becker attributes the American tendency toward accumulation of things to three universal motivations: the desires for security, acceptance and contentment. These desires are not bad, he says, but it is wrong to believe that material things will satisfy those needs.

“We need to recognize what’s inside us that’s driving our purchasing decisions, because only then can we rob materialism of its power,” he writes.

Nurturing relationships

For example instead of seeking security in “lots of stuff,” Becker suggests nurturing loving relationships with other people. Instead of seeking acceptance by having the “same stuff” as everyone else, he suggests reconsidering one’s personal definition of success. And instead of seeking contentment by “adding to your stuff,” Becker suggests “appreciating what you have and giving away what you don’t need.”

Simplifying in order to live abundantly seems a contradiction, but it is at the heart of the Christian life, according to a March 2015 blog post by Ed Stetzer at ChristianityToday.com.

“Abundant life is not about what we have. It’s not about what we get. It’s not about what we claim,” writes Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Illinois. “Ultimately, abundant life is about what we receive as a gift from the Lord and to live knowing we are stewards of the blessings of God.”

By Jan Johnson

Excerpt from “Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace”

People marvel that the apostle Paul could be content while chained in a prison cell for years. This former Pharisee probably lived in filth and darkness, ridicule and loneliness. At best his movements were restricted under house arrest by the Romans.

But it’s just as bewildering that Paul was content in times of plenty. When he stayed with rich folks such as Philemon or Lydia, he didn’t envy them or think, “Jesus was poor. Don’t they know that?” When he moved on from their homes to less opulent situations he didn’t think, “I sure do miss all that great food and the beautiful home.” He was truly content with whatever he had.

Contrary to what we usually think, having plenty does not make us content. Instead, a taste of plenty makes us want a little more than what we’ve got. When offered an increase in salary, who among us would say, “No thanks. I’m content with what I have. I don’t need a thing.”

Self-indulgence grows when we give in to excess, often by spending money or eating certain foods. We repeatedly give in until that activity becomes a settled behavior and we’re unable to resist gratifying even the smallest whim. Giving in to small, seemingly benign, culturally acceptable temptations leads to enslavement. People of faith are not exempt; those in whom the Word of God has been sown may find that the “care of this word … and deceitfulness of riches” choke out the life of God in them (Matt. 13:22).

For example, I’ve always wondered how King David could commit adultery with Bathsheba and murder her husband when he lived such a faithful life overall; he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). But while reading his whole story again recently, I saw that this evil didn’t come out of nowhere. For David’s entire adult life he practiced polygamy in violation of God’s law, marrying six wives and keeping numerous concubines (2 Sam. 5:13; 1 Chron. 3:1). Every time he took a wife or concubine, he gave into the enslavement of that inner voice: “I must have her.” Committing adultery (and having to cover it up) was the next logical step.

Self-indulgence is self-destructive. It destroys integrity one good intention at a time and eats away at the capacity to think about loving God and others. Self-indulgence invites us to be not only in the world as Jesus was, but also of the world with characters and habits that look just like everybody else’s (John 1:10; 9:5; 17:11; 1 John 2:15–16).

Disciplines of simplicity invite us to “lay aside every weight” that hinders us (Heb. 12:1). Sometimes those weights aren’t bad things. This was evident in Paul’s life. Before he burst forth that intentional, determined declaration, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10), he first explained he had laid aside the helpful weights of his rich heritage — the fact that he was circumcised on the eighth day, a Hebrew of Hebrews and so on (Phil. 3:4–6). Formerly these blessings were a “profit” but he came to consider them a “loss.” Once he had cast them aside, he was ready for the treasure of knowing God.

If we choose to journey with God carrying unnecessary weights, God will let us do it. God does not force us to lay unnecessary burdens down. But transformation into Christlikeness is much more difficult when we’re encumbered by multiplicity of words, cluttered schedules, decathlon vacations or the cellphone surgically attached to our ear.

Practice restraints

Disciplines of simplicity are powerful because they move us away from self-indulgence just for today: don’t buy this one thing; don’t sign up for one more activity; don’t mention this last accomplishment to anyone. Even when we practice these restraints only temporarily, they still train us not to grab what we want now.

In the midst of our discomfort during these little experiments, something beautiful happens within us: the enormous river barge of our life that’s flowing toward self-indulgence is turned around and begins to move upstream toward self-giving Christlikeness.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Taken from “Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace” by Jan Johnson. Copyright 2011 by Jan Johnson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA. www.ivpress.com.

By Anne Lawton, MA, LPC 

Pathways Professional Counseling

What does it mean to practice simplicity in our lives? In our current culture, is it even possible? With 24/7 media access, live streaming and the ability to stay connected, how do we practice simplicity in order to live abundantly?

I recently had the privilege of traveling to Mexico to assist local pastors with health fairs and in the construction of a church building. While there, we were able to worship with believers in Spanish. I do not speak Spanish, yet I have rarely experienced such rich worship in the Spirit as we gathered in the simplest church building I have ever visited. There was no electricity or instruments; there were dirt floors and cinder block walls. Talk about simplicity. In these simple surroundings, the goodness of the Lord was present. When our focus is Christ, not materialism or busyness, our hearts can find contentment.

The people of the church in Cabo, Mexico, have few possessions, yet great, great joy. Their life is full of abundance in Christ. I see in them simplicity and abundance all at the same time. In the United States, we have many earthly comforts that sometimes distract us from remembering the Lord is simply enough.

In Philippians 4:11–13, Paul reminds us of the importance of contentment: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

To live simply requires a heart that is grateful rather than discontented. It goes against our flesh to be grateful and content with what we already have in our lives, both physically and relationally. Simplicity is a counter-cultural discipline that has to be practiced and learned. However, when we practice the discipline of simplicity, we often free our time, resources and energy to focus on Kingdom priorities, which include being available to love others as Christ loves us.

Practicing simplicity

How might we practice the discipline of simplicity? Noted author Ann Voskamp says, “Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.” As we cultivate our relationship with the Lord through time spent in His Word and talking to Him through prayer, our focus becomes clear. We desire to prioritize Christ in our thoughts, conversations and relationships.

We might be able to encourage friends as we fellowship and spend time with one another. We also might prioritize spending time with nonbelievers in our everyday life in an effort to point them to the love of Christ. Regardless, it is about our time being intentional and our focus being on bringing glory to Christ in all we do.

As believers we know His presence is far more precious than anything we can purchase; yet we are inundated with messages of the dominant culture that run contrary to this biblical truth. It is evident by turning on the television and watching commercials that materialism is an idol in our society. The drive for bigger and better things is all around us.

While there is certainly a time and place for buying what is needed and sometimes what is wanted, there also is importance in asking God for His wisdom and His patience when making purchases.

Being mindful and purposeful with our spending also is an important discipline to practice. As a believer plans for wise spending and adheres to a budget, there may be money remaining that can be used to bless others.

In being a good steward of our financial resources, we have the opportunity to help meet others’ needs around us, further bringing glory to God.

Importance of rest

In our fast-paced, technology-driven culture that does not value rest, it is challenging to live a simple life. But even our heavenly Father rested from creation and included Sabbath in the Ten Commandments.

What does it mean to spend this 1 day out of 7 in worship and in rest? Perhaps we begin by setting aside running errands when possible and putting our cellphones down to fellowship with others and with the Lord. Our children may not remember all of the talks or lectures, but they will remember the way we spend our time and notice when we make the Lord a priority in our days and weeks.

So what does it mean to live simply to live abundantly? As a therapist, I know the value of having margin in your life in order to be fully present. For us to have that margin, we must examine and remove these things, idols and schedules that are overcrowding our lives.

Pray and ask the Lord to help you find a place of contentment and rest in Him so that you can practice simplicity in your own life. Let us not forget the message from the Church in Mexico who do not have much in way of “things,” but who live abundant lives, full of the richness of Christ.