Less Is More

simplicity

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, 1 Kings 11:1-13, James 3:13-4:12, Mark 15:12-21


Is it human nature to be dissatisfied with what we have? Chronic dissatisfaction may seem like a modern ailment, but James had words of advice about it almost two thousand years ago:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

Our inability to be content with what we have is about more than a lack of personal growth: it can tear at the fabric of our community.

King Solomon was revered for his wisdom and he still struggled with dissatisfaction. Despite warnings from The Lord, his desire for hundreds of wives and concubines of foreign lands eventually led him to follow foreign gods. As a result, God tore all but one tribe from the rule of Solomon’s son.

Consumer culture puts us at odds with each other. It defines contentment as having what everyone else has, and success as having what others don’t. For people that may be things; for churches that may be members; for both it may be status.

In parables about pearls of great price and hidden treasures, by asking rich young men to give up all they had, and by commending the widow who gave when she had almost nothing, Jesus taught us over and over that we find true satisfaction in serving The Lord. So why are we able to say money doesn’t buy happiness, but so reluctant to actually downsize before we’re forced to?

Maybe because downsizing is associated with failure and diminished capacity. We move into smaller homes when we can’t maintain the big one we bought with the maximum loan we could secure. Congregations launch capital campaigns when we believe God calls us to grow, but never seem to think God might call us into a season of simplicity and lean but effective mission to build the community up.

When we learn to view contentment with what we have as a preferable choice rather than a consolation prize (or a resignation to failure), opportunities open up. Resources once dedicated to acquisition or mere maintenance are freed up for the work of the Kingdom – work more concerned with what we give than what we get. We may even learn the more we give away, the more space we make for God’s peace.


Comfort: Your true worth is not determined by bank balances or possessions. 

Challenge: For one month, see if you can give away one possession a day (not something you were going to throw away anyway).

Prayer: God of mercy and love, teach me to desire only your heart and will. Amen. 

Discussion: What’s the difference between contentment and laziness?

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Worry: about that hour you’ll never get back…

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 148, Nahum 2:13-3:7, Revelation 13:1-10, Luke 12:13-31


Worry-mongering is a profitable business strategy – more profitable even than fear. Where fear is a reaction to something real and bad, worry anticipates something that might be bad. If the bad thing goes away, or turns out not to be so bad after all, fear ends. Worry is sustainable, a cash cow that never runs short of milk, and always ready for exploitation by media and marketers. Plant a seed of worry about national security or the inevitability of aging, and reap a harvest in sales of body scanners or anti-wrinkle serums.

Jesus asked his disciples: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Ironically, not only does the stress of worry not add to our life, it decreases the quality, health, and length of that life. Jesus taught not to worry about food or clothing; if God provided for birds and the lilies of the field, how could he not do that and more for His children? Instead, he said, we should “strive for the kingdom” and everything else will fall into place.

We’d like to believe that, but modern life saps our confidence in those ideas.

Or not. Two thousand years ago Jesus was reminding people: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” … and back then there was far less for the average person to possess. Could it be that life is not more stressful, but that we’ve always needed to hear the same message? We have access to more products than we could need in ten lifetimes, so as the forces of consumerism grow ever more sophisticated, they market less to our needs and more to a generalized sense of anxiety that demands to be fed but is never satisfied.

In many traditions, including the Christian one, enlightenment involves simplification and detachment. The biggest thing we have to give up, and what the world tries hardest to sell us, is the fear that God alone is not enough. It’s also the only thing, because once we’re rid of it the rest really does fall into place.

Comfort: You are not your stuff.

Challenge: Get rid of unnecessary stuff.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, I will trust in you alone. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been relieved to let go of something you held onto for a long time?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!