Simplicity: Freedom From the Tyranny of Want
Love them or hate them, Apple has been a leader in the computing world for decades. Their contribution to their industry (and perhaps the universe!) has been fueled by the commitment of their founder, Steve Jobs, to making something simple.
Prior to the 1980’s, computers were extremely complicated machines to operate. Only die-hard nerds loved them. In order to perform the most basic and simple tasks that we now take for granted today, like searching for a file and opening one, a computer’s operating system required you type in a specific series of commands, line by line, on a black or green screen.
Along came Steve Jobs, who was making computers that he wanted to sell everybody in the world. The problem was that the only people who generally bought computers back in those days were electronic enthusiasts, scientists, and government officials. The average Joe found computers too intimidating to use, and the mere idea of turning one on could be a very daunting challenge.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~ Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs knew that in order to be successful, he would have to simplify the computing experience and make it very user friendly. Instead of people having to buy individual computer components and assemble them, Steve jobs bundled them all together, and sold it with an operating system that departed from issuing typed commands. Instead, a computer could now be run by using a mouse to simply “point and click” your way around. Thus, the Apple “Macintosh” was born.
Like computer systems from before the 1980’s, life can be pretty complicated. We feel a bit overwhelmed, and deep down inside I believe we all yearn for something a little less complicated. We want something more point and click. Deep down inside, we all want a Macintosh. We all want simplicity.
Stuck In Our Old Ways
Sadly, for many of us, simplicity is a foreign concept. Lacking any explicit command in the Bible that says, “Be thou simple,” we quickly adopt the culture that our minds were baptized into from the moment of our birth, and unfortunately, our redemption experience via the new birth seems to do have done very little to change any of that. As Americans, we live very busy, bloated, disconnected, and complicated lives. To be a Christian in America is to simply continue in the typical American way of life, minus some really big sins, and seasoned with some church attendance.
Though we are Christians, we still find ourselves to still be an army of consumers, constantly worried that we are missing out on the latest and greatest thing. We are flashy. We have an obsession with novelty, and if somebody tells us something is new or better, we’ll be among the first to stand in line all night in order to get it. Never having enough, we always want more and more and more. We operate with a scarcity mentality, making us cutthroat and competitive, and always trying to be the first and best in all that we do.
In our society, it is no longer acceptable just to dream. Instead, we have to dream big, live big, and do big things. Our French fries have to be big. Our cars have to be big. Our homes have to be big. Our churches and ministries have to be big. Heck, even our God has to be big!
In contrast to all of this, I believe the Lord is calling us to reverse our course, and to live the simple life.
What Simplicity Looks Like
So what is simplicity? First, simplicity is a spiritual discipline. Many often overlook it, because when we typically think of spiritual disciplines we think of individual actions that we incorporate into our routine. We think of things like reading our Bible and praying as spiritual disciplines. Simplicity— not so much.
Simplicity is a mindset and spirit that we embrace. It is not merely an action that you can perform, though some have tried. Throughout the ages, monks have done extreme things, like sell all their worldly possessions and give them to them to the poor, and take vows of poverty. You could do such too. But, as history teaches us, such radical actions can leave one entirely unchanged.
We practice simplicity by adjusting the disposition of our hearts and minds towards the Lord. When we lay down our lives and surrender them to the Lord, day by day with every new step that we take, we become transformed in the washing and renewing of our minds. This requires no extreme monastic gestures; rather, it is the commitment to a new way of life, where we learn to instinctively think in new ways. Nobody can tell you, “Do this and that” and you will practice simplicity. It is something you must weave into the very fabric of your life.
Simplicity is more like a dance. There is good dancing, and there is bad dancing. What exactly constitutes good dancing is hard to say. We know it when we see it. Likewise, we know when we see bad dancing. It’s hard to describe, but easy to recognize.
I like to think of simplicity as nothing more than living out Psalm 23 in my daily life. In recognition that the Lord is my Shepherd, I am freed from the tyranny of want. Jesus Christ alone is more than I will ever need, and by possessing Him, I truly have all things. I see that He is always leading me beside still waters. Though the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, I see that the grass underneath my feet is plenty green. In simplicity, I see a bounty is always set before me. My cup runneth over.
In simplicity, I do my best every day out of a spirit of thanksgiving for what the Lord has provided me with, not so that I can have a competitive advantage over somebody else at work, and get promoted. While “promotion is of the Lord,” I also recognize that faithfully showing up to the same job day after day for decades at a time, so that I can provide for my family, is also from the Lord.
In simplicity, I discover that I am more than a consumer. I don’t need something simply because it is the latest in fashion, or because somebody said something is new, bigger, and better. I don’t need a new car every couple of years. I don’t need the latest iPhone upgrade. I don’t need the latest and greatest of anything.
In simplicity, I am gifted with patience and freedom. I can wait for things, and I don’t have to become a slave to a bank by taking on unnecessary and excessive levels of debt. Such things only further complicate my life, rob me of joy, and give me something I never wanted: worry. Instead, I see that I have more than enough in the way of food, clothing, and shelter. I don’t need to provide a “better quality of life” for my family. God has already done that.
In simplicity, I am empowered to be a giver. And by that, I don’t mean so that I can increase the size of what I put in the offering plate. Rather, it is in simplicity that I have the ability to look past the offering plate, and open my eyes to all the people around me, and think of ways that I might now be able to bless them.
In simplicity, I find place in my life for community. The less I fill up my life with stuff, the more I make room to fill it up with other people that I love, and invite them to become partakers of the Lord’s table with me.
In simplicity, I transform my life into one of everlasting Sabbath rest and worship. Because the Lord is my portion, I am freed from the tyranny of work, and having to do everything within my power to provide for me and my family a better life, for the Lord has already provided me with all things in Him.
I invite you to incorporate simplicity as a spiritual discipline into your way of life. You will likely find it challenging at first, and you may be discouraged with your progress. But keep in mind; this is a discipline that is meant to be progressively incorporated into your way of life. It doesn’t happen overnight. You will have regular set-backs, and will slowly recognize contradictions existing in your own life. That’s ok. Such is merely an invitation by God to go deeper with Him in your walk. Eventually, I believe you will see that the more you embrace simplicity, the more simplicity will embrace you.
Jimmy Humphrey is a friend and colleague of mine. I highly recommend that you check out his blog over at http://kingjimmyunauthorized.blogspot.com/.