Simple Isn’t Easy

Simple Isn’t Easy

by Mark A. Taylor

 

Resting on our mantel decorated with candles, plants, and pottery, the small plaque offers a challenge that appeals to many: Simplify.

The fact that it never sits alone but always with a conglomeration of other stuff is ironic, but we add it to the display anyway. It fits our living room’s color scheme, and who can argue with its message? It’s a popular theme these days, even more so now in the time of Covid-19.

Online columnists are encouraging us to celebrate all we’re giving up by embracing anew the virtue of simplicity. We’re supposed to feel good about no restaurants to visit or nowhere to go on a Saturday night. Vacations have been cancelled. Purchases have been put off. Now we have time to reconnect with those closest to us—enjoy Netflix nights, play games, take long walks. Have fun! Build relationships!

But more than a month into this, many are getting weary. One work-at-home dad in our church told me he’s become the involuntary IT specialist for his family members all struggling to use the same internet connection at once. My three-year-old grandson lives with his two parents, confined in their New York City apartment except for occasional excursions to a largely deserted Central Park. At the end of such a visit last week, he complained, “But I don’t want to work at home anymore!”

New Normal?
So now the blog posters and internet experts have turned to “What’s next?” “When will the economy restart?” “How long will we be wearing masks in public?” “Will life ever be normal again?”

And while all of us are more than ready to get out again, some are predicting a “new normal” in our future. Many are guessing what that will look like, but now’s the time to realize we need not wait for others to tell us. Maybe, after setting aside much we thought is necessary, this moment can offer new meaning for “Simplify.”

This is not the place and I’m not the one to instruct about which possessions or pastimes we ought to give up. Instead, I want to share some of what haunts me after I conducted a series of interviews for a freelance writing project on the theme of outreach. These church builders have convinced me that the challenge to simplify should not turn my gaze toward myself but toward the people around me who don’t have God in their lives. If pointing lost people to the love of Jesus became my primary concern, maybe my preoccupation with my own satisfaction and entertainment would wane.

New Focus
Ben Cachiaras, lead pastor with the multisite Mountain Christian Church in Maryland, said we need a new definition of Christian maturity. “It’s not about piling on more Bible studies but becoming more like Jesus. And Jesus was all about reaching the lost.”

David Dummitt, founder and lead pastor with 2/42 Community Church in Michigan, one of the fastest-growing congregations in the country, said, “Outreach is not a program. It’s a posture.” Everything that congregation pursues is about reaching the lost and equipping its members to be disciple-makers themselves.

Arron Chambers, lead pastor with Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado, works at building relationships with the possibility that some of them will lead to discussions about spiritual things. “I let Jesus show up when he wants to,” he says. Sometimes it’s years before the opportunity comes.

Steve Bond, lead pastor with Summit Christian Church, Sparks, Nevada, agrees. “You must be intentional,” he said. “The pull of the flesh is strong.” All of us can come up with reasons for avoiding our neighbors, ignoring the needs of a co-worker, or turning our back on a difficult acquaintance.

So much of the simplicity advice in our culture is really just a tidier version of selfishness. (Witness, for example, headlines on simplicity guru Marie Kondo’s website: “Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle.” “Finding Joy Within.”) But Christians have a different model. It’s hard to imagine anyone who lived a simpler lifestyle than our Lord when he walked on earth. He had no need to sort out his closet or search for joy. He found his meaning in God and in others and in his mission to love them. “I have come to seek and to save the lost,” he said (Luke 19:10). What could be simpler?

Several weeks ago I read an online devotion that underscores my thinking about this challenge. I love these words from the piece’s closing prayer:

“Lord, there is a simplicity that comes from following you that removes the false importance for so many things in life. In this season of refocusing, please show me the things that clutter my life. . . . Help me to know you and to love others in a way that honors you. Work in me to cast aside the detritus of life.”

So here’s a first step for our future “new normal.” Let’s daily develop an eye for people who need to experience the love of the One who came to offer abundant life (John 10:10). It won’t be easy. But it can be simple.

 

Mark A. Taylor retired in 2016 after serving as an editor and publisher at Standard Publishing for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Evelyn, have been members at Christ’s Church since 1983.

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