Simplicity–living in such a way that there is a “joyful unconcern for possessions” and status.

Simple Gifts, a Shaker Hymn

‘Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
      'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
      And when we find ourselves in the place just right
      'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
      When true simplicity is gained
      To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed
      To turn, turn will be our delight
      'Till by turning, turning we come round right.
      'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
      'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
      And when we find ourselves in the place just right
      'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.

–GK Chesterton

To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power.

–George MacDonald

Matthew 6: 25—Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Hebrews 13:5—Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,” Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

The Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity is about Freedom. It is about being released from the bondage of possession, obsessive want and the gnawing need for status into the fresh, clear air of contentment and healthy self-identity. When Jesus spoke to the multitudes he told them they shouldn’t worry about food, drink, clothes because God knows they need those things and he would provide. Instead they should be seeking the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matthew 25-33) In other words, he wanted them to remember who they were: the beloved children of a faithful and exceedingly loving Father. Living in that reality, making the Kingdom life their first priority, everything else would fall into place. Ah, Freedom! Simplicity! Putting first what should be first and letting the other stuff go.

Two thousand years ago people were complicating their lives with the same concerns we let drive us today. We worry about what we are going to wear and how we look. We obsess about food and drink. We cling to our possessions and find ourselves wanting more, bigger, better, faster, newer and different. Simplicity allows us to let go of that —- and open our hands so that we can learn to receive everything as gift, so we can freely share what we have with others, so that we are free from the anxiety to accumulate and maintain not only possessions, but also the image that we work so hard to manage.

This Spiritual Practice invites us to unashamedly be who we’ve been created to be, to leave behind the compulsive personal PR work we spend so much of our time and energy on. It gives us permission to stop defending ourselves, to act our age, to stop trying to be something we are not, to stop trying to look better than we really are. Simplicity invites us to be honest, transparent and raw. Sounds scary at first, doesn’t it? But if we stop to think about what that means we realize that living simply means that we live authentically as who we really are, beloved children of God, who claim that identity only out of God’s great mercy and unbelievable grace. That means we can quit the exhausting work of pretending and defending and image managing. So instead of scary, all of a sudden it sounds like relief and FREEDOM!


The practice of Simplicity can very easily turn into destructive legalism if we do not keep our focus always on the kingdom of God. We must desire to seek God and his kingdom more than the pursuit of simplicity or any of the practices that characterize it.

Richard Foster identifies three inner attitudes of simplicity. We need to:

1. Receive all that we have as a gift from God.

2. Know that it is God’s business, not ours, to protect what we have.

3. Make our goods available to others.

Richard Foster summarized 10 principles of outward simplicity:

  1. Buy things for their usefulness, not their status.
  2. Reject things that are addictive to you. If the thought of not having something sends you into a panic, that thing probably has a destructive hold on you. Get rid of it.
  3. Give things away regularly. Become openhanded with all your possessions remembering that all is a gift.
  4. Refuse to be fooled into believing that newer, better gadgets and appliances are necessary.
  5. Enjoy things without owning them. Borrow, rent, visit, enjoy.
  6. Develop a deep appreciation for creation. Spend time in nature.
  7. Stay as debt-free as you can.
  8. Use simple speech. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. Don’t try to impress or manipulate with your words.
  9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
  10. Turn from anything that gets in the way of seeking first the Kingdom of God. Even good things can take the place of God. God must be kept at the center and there is only one center.

A few ways to get started:

1. Memorize Matthew 6:25-33. Meditate on it throughout the week.

2. Look over the inner and outer lists above. Which one or two points seem to be most pertinent to your situation? How might you apply these principles to your life?

3. Give something away.

4. Monitor your attitudes and behavior regarding material possessions as you encounter them in your daily activities this week. Write down your observations in your journal.[1]

Scripture references for Simplicity:

  • Matthew 6: 25-33
  • Matthew 13: 44-46
  • Psalm 62
  • Psalm 78
  • Luke 10:38-42
  • Acts 2:44-45
  • Philippians 4:11-13


  1. Foster, Richard, Celebration of Discipline, chapter 6. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.
  2. _____. Freedom of Simplicity. San Francisco: Harper&Row, 1981.
  3. Longacre, Doris Janzen, Living More With Less. PA.: Herald Press, 1980.
  4. Alternatives for Simple Living–Catalog of resources

PO Box 340

Sergeant Bluff, IA 51054

[1] Foster, Richard & Kathryn A Yanni, Celebrating the Disciplines: a journal workbook to Accompany Celebration of Discipline.San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.

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