“Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.”
What do you think is the most common response to the question, “How have you been?” If you guessed, “Busy,” you’re right. We fill our lives with meetings, objects, deadlines, people, and plans. We seek money, status, and recognition. It leaves us exhausted—so exhausted that when people ask us how we are, we mutter the tried-but-true response, “Busy,” or the more evasive, “Fine.” In the last few years, people have begun to fight this trend, ushering in new ways to simplify life: tiny houses, capsule wardrobes, minimalist design, thirty-hour workweeks. We are longing for simpler lives.
As Christ-followers, though, we have a much more ancient and rooted calling to simplicity. It’s a Christian calling to find one’s identity in God, not things, and to be satisfied in Him alone. Simplicity as a spiritual discipline is a choice to live in the life-affirming freedom brought by the Holy Spirit.
Freedom? Yes, indeed. If you look in a thesaurus, the antonyms of the word simplicity include complexity, complication, and difficulty. But the life of following Christ is a calling to be free—free from sin, from entanglement in worldly things, from difficulty brought on by busyness and materialism. It’s a calling to be free to enjoy Jesus in all His goodness. Early in Paul’s ministry, he eagerly reminded the Galatian believers that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). He followed his encouragement with an exhortation: “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (v. 1). The choice to return to slavery is within the power of each believer. Yet the Holy Spirit’s desire for each of us is that we live free, resisting slavery to the things from which we have already been rescued.
The discipline of simplicity is a choice to live in freedom, unhindered by worldly distractions and possessions. It’s like coming upon an enticing banner ad online and joyfully choosing not to spend your money on another thing. Simplicity is not a call to reject the physical world outright but to see it for what it is. In his book Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster explains this tension well: “simplicity . . . [affirms] both the goodness and the limitation of material things. The material world is good, but it is a limited good—limited in the sense that we cannot make a life out of it.”
Later on in his ministry, the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it . . . Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:6–11).
If you are longing for a simpler life, one that is not full of material things and busy schedules, Paul’s advice to Timothy should bring great comfort. Yes, some have “wandered from the faith” to pursue a life full of possessions. Yet those who are indwelled by the Spirit have the choice to “flee” from these things, instead pursuing a life of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” Do you want to enjoy Jesus even more? Step into the grace of simplicity. Declutter your life, both physically and spiritually. Ask God to give your heart the desire, above all else, for godliness with contentment.