Troublesome Topic: Roadblocks to Simplicity

1. Stuff

One of the reasons our lives lack simplicity is our stuff. We work extra hours to pay for the stuff we purchased with money we did not yet have, and we work even more to provide the electricity and high speed internet our stuff needs. The people of this world that have the least stuff to take care of have more time to connect with others. We think we are rich because we have lots of stuff; yet because we have so little time for others, we are quite possibly the poorest culture in the world.

The more stuff we have the more things we have to worry about. People in other countries who struggle to acquire the bare necessities are usually much happier than those in wealthier nations that have more stuff than they can use (I say this from personal observation over 19 years spent living in Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico). They have “learned to be content in whatever situation I find myself ” (Phil 4:!1). If wealth is measured by joy, America may be the poorest country of the world.

We have often abandoned the pursuit of closeness with God and have pursued our self-centered desires. We have forsaken God’s vision of how we can find fulfillment, in exchange for our own vision of happiness (short-lived happiness).

2. Toys

(Toys are part of “stuff” but they deserve their own specific category.) Having times of pleasure is not in itself a sin, but it can quickly become a roadblock to simplicity and a roadblock to our spiritual development. Many of our toys end up costing much time and money to maintain. That too is not wrong unless it is keeping you from giving beyond the tithe in offerings for special needs or other ministries.

Even good things, like hobbies, tie up your time and energy which could be used better in something else. The best-case scenario is a hobby that makes you a better person, keeps you from squandering many hours in front of the TV or the computer, and enables you to bless other people. The worst-case scenario is a hobby, toy or past-time that is becoming an obsession for you. In that case it has become more than just a roadblock to simplicity, it has become a hindrance to your walk with God.

I am amazed at how much people will pay for cable TV or satellite TV. For many it is not an optional thing, it is a must. This is a reflection of how much we have followed the culture around us and allowed the culture to dictate what is important. American culture is not only in love with entertainment, it is enslaved to entertainment. People often structure their time around their favorite shows, or the big games. We can’t seem to structure our time around connecting with God, but we often structure our time so that nothing interrupts our favorite “reality show” or the ball game. How many people do you know that have that kind of commitment to prayer meeting? The degree to which we live enslaved to our TV sets, the internet, video games or any such thing is the degree to which our spiritual growth will languish and stagnate. These are not the only negative influences that fight against spiritual growth, but there is a direct connection. These things take chunks of our time; getting closer to God requires chunks of time. We only have so much time available in a day. We must choose how to use our time, and those choices reflect our priorities.

But let’s suppose for a moment that your toys or hobbies have not created any more problem than a roadblock to simplicity. At that point you have to evaluate which is more important, living a simple life, or having toys. A simple lifestyle is no longer a high priority for many Americans, but it does seem to be a priority to God, so we should give it more consideration than we do.

Does simplicity help us live more like Christ? Yes. Can we have pleasure with fewer toys? Yes. Can we experience pleasure and delight with no toys at all? People all over the world do it every day. Should every believer feel obliged to give up all toys? No. So you will have to decide what God wants of you. But, if you have been struggling in your walk with God, if you have been frustrated by a lack of spiritual growth, I challenge you to give this issue some prayerful consideration. Mt 6:22 says: “the eye is the lamp of the body.” That means that if you focus your attention on something, that will shape your inner being as well as your outer life. How much of your attention do your toys get? If they get lots of your attention they probably control more of you than you realize. On the other hand, if you don’t use them much, why keep them?

3. Schedules

We think we can do everything we want to do, we have been told that the world can be ours, whatever we want we should go for, etc. But in the process we have left behind the very best. Even with all our labor-saving devices we have the least time of any culture on the planet. The problem is that we think we can do everything. We take on way too much, and in the process the “Big Stuff” usually gets pushed to the side.

We need to evaluate our schedules and decide what should be cut out. If we want to enjoy more time connecting with God, something obviously has to be cut out. We cannot just cram one more thing into our busy schedule. If we choose to give up some sleep in order to enjoy more time with God that is fine, as long as we are not fooling ourselves into thinking it will work when deep down inside we know it won’t.

4. Lack of Trust

For people with a good education, bank accounts and several credit cards, it is too easy to trust those things. We only trust God when we have to, and that is uncomfortable, so we would rather avoid that most of the time. Hence our faith is very weak.

MT 6:33 says, “But seek the kingdom of God first, along with His righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”

 Running after “all these things” does not satisfy—we only crave more. Rather, we should put priority on seeking His kingdom and His righteousness and trust that the other stuff will be added on as an extra blessing; and if it never comes we will not miss it because we are focused on Him, not on stuff.      

A simple lifestyle sounds austere, hard, unpleasant. A life of trust sounds challenging and insecure. Yet if our security is in stuff, we have placed our security in something that will pass away. With a constant striving after material things will come clutter, frustration, and enslavement to maintaining and protecting those things. Simplicity and trust will bring freedom, joy, peace and fulfillment.

Putting the Big Stuff in First Brings Simplicity

If our priority is truly to get closer to God and glorify Him, then we need to be sure to put the big stuff in first. That will cause us to see the material things in their proper perspective. After our understanding has been changed we will need to follow through with whatever action is needed to simplify life. But it starts with putting the big stuff in first. We cannot seek simplicity for the sake of simplicity; we must seek closeness with God and simplicity will be a natural by-product.

(The next section in this topical study is called Selflessness Produces Healing. You can go to the first lesson of that section by clicking on this link: Do Not Do as You Please on the Sabbath.)