Sitting your kids down for a talk, preparing a lesson, writing a sermon or standing up in front of a crowd is child’s play compared to practicing what you preach. Parents, teachers, pastors: Am I right? Most of our struggles in living out what we believe, even as “mature” Christians, stem not from a lack of understanding of the truth but from a lack of conviction about it.
Several years ago, I spoke to the women at my church about being single-minded Christians, about inviting simplicity into our lives. A week later, I caught myself playing tug-of-war solitaire as I tried to figure out how to approach a couple of situations in my life. I felt torn between choices that all seemed good and I couldn’t decide which path to follow. I heard myself praying, “God, I don’t even know what I want!”
A moment later, Matthew 6:33 came to mind:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The lights went on in my mind as I recognized that I was ailing from the type of double-mindedness I had been teaching others about. I felt anxious because I was, as the old proverb goes. . .
I felt stuck. I thought I had to be control of every aspect of my life. In fact, there was only one simple thing I needed to focus on: God and His will for me.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have the free will to make choices but, if we feel trapped in a dilemma, it’s probably because we’re trusting our own wisdom rather than His. James 1:5-8 invites us to ask God for wisdom, which He grants readily and generously. That passage also warns us, however, to ask without doubting. . .without being double-minded. We see the same warning about double-mindedness in James 4:8.
Richard J. Foster, a Christian theologian and author in the Quaker tradition, uses the term duplicity: “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.”
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus makes the message even clearer, pointing out that we cannot serve two masters. We can’t say we worship God and then make idols of our wealth, our relationships, our careers or our accomplishments. We can’t say we’re committed to Christ and then put all our energy into selfish, self-pleasing pursuits. We can’t say we trust God with our future and then do things to manipulate it. We can’t say we love God above all else and then allow distractions into our lives that take our attention and time away from Him.
Many of us believe we can escape the stress of information overload, busy schedules and unhealthy habits if we revolutionize our lifestyles into simpler ones. However, this is almost impossible to achieve on our own because we live in a broken world; as Foster says, we are “trapped in a maze of competing attachments. One moment we make decisions on the basis of sound reason and the next moment out of fear of what others will think of us.” When people lack a divine Centre, their need for security drives them into an insane attachment to things.
“We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic…because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” (Foster)
There are practical ways we can achieve simplicity in our lives, but asceticism is not the answer, nor is it biblical, though there is clear and strong teaching against greed and materialism. What is the correct, biblical balance? Asceticism is “severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” Simplicity, in contrast, places possessions in proper perspective and rejoices in the gracious provision from the hand of God. (See Philippians 4:12, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Peter 5:2.)
Remember: It may be possible to have it all, but not all at the same time (and, besides, where would you put it all, or when would you have time to enjoy it all?) You’re better off pursuing the best that God has for you than chasing after things that offer no real value.
- Who or what in your life distracts you from your relationship with God?
- What are some concerns that occupy your mind and heart on a regular basis?
- In what areas of your life do you worry about what others think? (e.g. your appearance, your social status, your material possessions, your job, etc.)
- How would your life change if you cared only about what God thinks of you and your choices?
- If you were single-mindedly focused on God’s will for you, what changes do you think He would ask you to start making in your life?