The Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity

I am currently facilitating a class at my home congregation that focuses on spiritual formation and learning to practice spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines, or practices, are meant to draw us closer to God and bring our lives more in alignment with the life of Jesus. In fact, true Christian spiritual formation is about being transformed more into the likeness of Christ (Colossians 2-3).

Our focus in the first couple of weeks of the class is on the discipline of simplicity.  Simplicity is defined in different ways by different people. Some would liken it to minimalism (think tiny houses and ride sharing). Some would say it is about decluttering one’s house or living space of excess possessions. Still others would say it is about clearing the calendar of too many activities.

While the things mentioned above are noble on many levels, if they do not have a real purpose other than having less and doing less, then it is not the discipline of simplicity being practiced. It is just decluttering and practicing minimalism.

Simplicity is about having a clear purpose and having clear priorities more than it is about having less and doing less. Jesus practiced simplicity of life (and was essentially homeless) throughout his ministry (Luke 9:58) because the purpose of His life and His priorities did not involve possessions, or even a full calendar. Jesus did not have time to carry a suitcase wherever He went. At the same time, He found it vital to get away by Himself to be with God (Matthew 14:23).

Practicing simplicity is about pursuing the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:25-34). Richard Foster puts it this way:

The Central Point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first and then everything necessary will come in its proper order. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Jesus’ insight at this point. Everything hinges upon maintaining the “first” things as first. Nothing should come before the kingdom of God, including the desire for a simple life-style (1).

Practicing simplicity (and any spiritual discipline) must have at its core the purpose of putting the Kingdom of God first and practicing the greatest commands to love God and love people. If it is just to be trendy, have more money in your back account, or to reclaim your time, then it is not really about God.

What are some things to consider (and do)?

  • How do you spend (or waste time)?
  • How do you spend (or waste money)?
  • Is your calendar so full that there is little time for personal or corporate worship and Bible study? Is it so full that you cannot serve people?
  • Are your closets filled with things you hardly wear because you have too much to wear?
  • Are your living spaces filled with items seldom (or ever used) that have to be dusted and insured?
  • What is your overall purpose in life?
  • What are your priorities?

Read Matthew 6:25-34 over and over. Meditate on it. Pray over it. Then think through these questions. Discuss them with your family and friends.

I urge you to fix your purpose on seeking the Kingdom of God first. Then, proceed to declutter your home and your calendar, but with the intent of blessing others and being more intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ.

Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper, 1988), 86.

Timothy (Tim) Gunnells started his blog "Desert Spiritual" while living and ministering in the desert in Arizona. He knows the world in which we live is a "dry and weary land where is no water" and souls are thirsting for God (Psalm 63:1).Tim currently lives with his family in East Tennessee. He is available for retreats, leadership development seminars, and church consulting. He enjoys hiking, singing, spending time with his family and friends, and blogging about Christian spirituality, culture, and life in general. He may be reached at