The Discipline of Simplicity


I was prepared for this chapter to be 17 pages of exploration about what it looks like to live “the simple life of Christ.” But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was completely wrong in my expectations.

For starters, Foster is hesitant to teach cold and fast facts about what simplicity is. He sees that when we do that we tend to become legalistic about what we teach, and stray off the path of what Scripture really does teach. But he does give some guidelines for what the life of Simplicity looks like. He shares that an inward reality of simplicity will force a change in our outer life. It is impossible to have one without the other. In fact, he even goes on to state that it is entirely possible for someone to live the “simple life” outwardly, yet be nowhere the discipline of simplicity inwardly. Often people who lack wealth are anxious about not having security in life, and anxiety is the enemy of simplicity.

I really appreciated Foster’s list of 10 guidelines for how to engage the discipline of simplicity. Lately I have been wrestling with the conviction to strip away the clutter in our lives (clutter being the physical possessions that we truly do not need). So seeing this among the ten was really encouraging for me. But what was a little surprising was seeing that as a part of the outward life change from the inner reality of simplicity would be my speech. I like to talk. I often find myself over-explaining things. Sometimes it is a point of pride, that I am sharing some information that I know. Other times I am merely hoping to convey a point to someone else. I teach that prayer need not be flowery and lengthy. But after seeing this example I can quickly point to times in my life recently where I came nowhere close to the discipline of simplicity in my spoken words. I should let my “yes” be “yes.” I should utilize simpler speech.

I also should continue to look at where my goods are coming from. If I am partaking of goods or services that have enslaved others, then I am not living the life of simplicity. This was another surprising (but not shocking) point Foster makes toward the end of the chapter. I also realized within this chapter that I do struggle with a desire to possess things so that I can exhibit control over something within my life. This is not a helpful attitude to have when attempting to live in simplicity.

But I think the one thing above all else that I was not expecting to read (but should have known going in) is that at the root of simplicity is seeking first the Kingdom of God. Period. Anything else that is first is idolatry, and will not allow me to live in simplicity. After we have sought God’s will first, then and only then should we enjoy what He has given to us. For even in simplicity, we are able to enjoy those things that God has blessed us with. To simply get rid of all physical possessions would be Asceticism, and would be a knee-jerk reaction in the wrong direction. God allows us to enjoy the creations. We simply need to remember that the creation is not to the be most important thing in our lives.

Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear. (page 79)