I’m not a big reader of Good Housekeeping. My wife, Sam, once modelled clothes for one of their photoshoots. It always goes down well at parties to say I’m married to a model. But apart from that connection, Good Housekeeping is not normally a significant read for me. It’s a bit girly and mumsy. Nevertheless this month’s edition caught my eye yesterday as it lay on the coffee table in the sitting room. It was the blurb on the cover that stood out:
SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE
* 28 Days to a feel Terrific
* Spend Less, Live More
* Ultimate Declutter Plan
This sounded like some of the things I’ve been blogging and speaking about recently, so I flicked through the magazine. And yes, some of it will be helpful, sensible and of real help to people. But if I’m honest I knew straight away we weren’t quite on the same page (so to speak) with that line ’28 Days to Feel Terrific’. Those words were a massive give-away. Because they showed me their aim was to help people feel better. Feel better about themselves. In the end, it’s about self-help. It’s actually selfish. But that is not the point of simplicity for the follower of Jesus! For a believer, simplicity is all about living better for the sake of being a more effective disciple. It’s not, in the end, for you. It’s for God and others. It’s for the kingdom of God. It’s not about being selfish, but self-less.
Jesus teaches about simplicity in Matthew 6:25-34. In some bibles the publisher has added a title (not there in the original) which reads ‘Do not Worry’ because Jesus talks there about how disciples do not have to be overly-concerned with clothes or food or money. If they have a simple focus on God and his kingdom and living right, then God will look after the other things. It’s Jesus showing that priorities are really important in life – telling you to take your eyes off yourself and your own immediate needs. It’s about having the kind of focus my Mum discovered (see yesterday’s blog) of prioritising God and people. This is not self-help. It’s quite the opposite.
For the disciple of Jesus, simplicity is about getting your life in order so you can be most effective here on planet earth. It’s not so you feel better about yourself. It’s so you think about yourself less. It’s so you become more Christ-like.
For some this sounds like a terrible life. It sounds like a life of asceticism and being a door-mat and putting yourself down all the time. No! That’s not what being a disciple means. Jesus is not asking you to have an unfulfilled, discontented life. But he is asking you to have a bigger, grander vision for your life – a vision greater than your own personal happiness. Because that kind of selfish vision is far too small and doesn’t work. Selfish people end up sad, lonely and lost. No, God has something much bigger and better for you. Jesus sums it up brilliantly when he says: ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it’ (Matthew 16:25). This is the great irony! Disciples of Jesus who live simply discover real contentedness – something that’s worth it’s weight in gold. But it can only be experienced by actually doing it. By simply following Jesus.
All this reminds me that our culture is very good at taking something good, something biblical, something God-inspired and then giving it a subtle twist. That’s why we need to take care. There’s a lot in our culture that is good, but don’t be seduced by the self-help agenda. It doesn’t work. Instead keep it simple by ‘seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33) and then God will help look after the rest. That’s the way to fulfilment. And more importantly, that’s the way to positively transform the world around us.