Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. Both are necessary. 

The inward reality of simplicity is beautifully encapsulated in Matthew chapter 6, especially Jesus’s concluding words that we are to seek first the kingdom of God” and the righteousness of this kingdom, and all that is needed for life will be added to us.1 This laser-beam focus on a with-God life” in God’s kingdom is the inward reality of simplicity. As Jesus reminds us, when our eye is single, our whole body will be full of light. 

Three key attitudes of heart help to summarize this internal focus. If what we have we can receive as a gift from God; and if what we have we know is to be cared for by God; and if what we have can be available to others when it is clearly right and good, then we are living in the inward reality of simplicity. But if what we have we feel that we alone have gotten; and if what we have we believe is up to us to hold on to; and if what we have we cannot make available to others when it is clearly right and good, then we are living in duplicity. 

To experience the liberating interior spirit of simplicity will affect how we live, sometimes quite dramatically. However, we quickly learn that the outward lifestyle of simplicity will be as varied as individuals and the multifaceted circumstances that make up their lives. We must never allow simplicity to deteriorate into another set of soul-killing legalisms. 

Nevertheless, it is possible to think in terms of certain controlling principles that can guide our decisions in the outward lifestyle of simplicity. For example, we can think in terms of buying things for their usefulness rather than their status. Or we can learn to reject anything that is producing an addiction in us. Or we can learn to enjoy many things without needing to own them. And we can develop many other similar principles. When our internal focus is clear, the Spirit of God will most certainly guide our outward decisions. 

Always remember that simplicity is both a discipline and a grace. It is a discipline because we are called to do something. Simplicity does not just fall on our heads. We are to take up a consciously chosen course of action that involves both group and individual life. It is also a grace: a grace because the life that comes from our efforts is given to us by God. We know this by experience, for the results are always far in excess of the effort we put in. The life which simplicity brings is a supernatural gift to be graciously received. 

In the midst of the Nazi terror, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, To be simple is to fix one’s eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted, and turned upside-down.”2 Such a focus will set us free from double-mindedness and enable us to cut through the Gordian knots of life.

Foster, Nathan. The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. Baker Publishing Group.

For each chapter in Nathan’s book, Richard Foster writes an introductory essay — like this one from the chapter on simplicity.

[1] See Matthew 6:33

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 70.

Text First Published October 2014