by Michael Kelley
Thomas Kelly once said that God “never guides us into an intolerable of panting feverishness.”
In other words, life with God and through Jesus is not meant to be complex. There is a blessed kind of simplicity for the Christian who is convinced of the providential love of God in Christ. You find glimpses of this kind of simplicity expressed in Scriptures like Psalm 27:4:
I have asked one thing from the Lord;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord
and seeking him in his temple.
Or from the Lord Jesus in Matthew 6:33-34:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Don’t you long for that? In an age of seemingly endless complexity, to live simply in mind and heart. To not wake up with a thousand different things running through your mind. To be able to sleep soundly knowing that your heavenly Father never does. To know that God is for you in Christ, and because He is, you do not make it your business to, as Kelly said, pant feverishly through life.
The pursuit of simplicity starts, and ends, with the gospel. Unless we truly know there is nothing left to prove before God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, then we will spend our lives in an endless pursuit of self-justification. Unless we know that God has fully loved us in Jesus, then we will spend our lives endlessly seeking to create our own opportunities for safety and advancement. Unless we know that God is reigning over the affairs of the universe, no matter what our senses might tell us, then we will wring our hands in anxiety and worry.
Simplicity comes as an extension of our faith. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also pursue it. So how do we do that? In an increasingly complex world, how do we intentionally seek after simplicity of mind, heart, and action? Let me offer three practical ways to pursue simplicity in daily life:
1. Practice the discipline of saying “no.”
One of the main reasons we feel a sense of complexity is because we are simply involved in too many things. But before we start chopping commitments and obligations, we would do well to ask ourselves how and why we got into a situation of overcommitment in the first place. Why do we have trouble saying no?
I suspect that most of us have trouble declining certain opportunities because we actually enjoy being overcommitted. It’s a boost to our ego. A reminder of how important and in demand we are. But if we are convinced that we are accepted in Christ, then we should feel great freedom in saying no. But this is a discipline we need to develop. I’d suggest that to aid us, we ought to have a set of questions in our minds that helps us evaluate opportunities in terms of our calling, our families, and our current commitments. Asking these questions before saying “yes” will help us begin to say “no.”
2. Do the next right thing.
This is a phrase that is often said in the congregation where I serve as an elder. It has many implications, but for our purposes in this post, one of them is that you do the next right thing – one thing at a time. Another way to say is is that you commit to the next right thing knowing that there will be another next right thing after it. But you don’t have to worry about that one yet.
This relates to simplicity because we often feel complexity because we are not truly present in a given task or conversation or project at a given time. Rather, we are trying to multi-task – to talk while we are texting, to check email while we are working on something else. Simplicity is achieved in part when we are able to devote ourselves to one thing at a time.
3. Saturate your day with Scripture.
This principle can really be applied to almost any issue, can’t it? But specifically when it comes to simplicity, saturating your day with Scripture helps you constantly refocus your attention on the greater purpose. If you open your Bible right now, you’re not going to find a mystical message written to you that tells you exactly what to do next in your life. But you will find general principles about the will of God that can be applied specifically to situations.
The fact, though, that these are general principles teaches us how to think. It teaches us to make daily decisions in light of the eternal truth. And in so doing, it also simplifies all the myriad of decisions we have to make on a daily basis.
Of course, even in doing these things to pursue simplicity, there will be the temptation toward anxiety and fear. We will worry about the stuff we are saying no to, the things are aren’t directly influencing, and the decisions we are making in real time. But even as we do, the Word of God has another Word for us:
The Lord guards the simple-hearted;
I was helpless, and he saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you (Psalm 116:6-7).