The first four disciplines which Foster covers in his book he groups together and calls the "Inward" disciplines. The fifth discipline, simplicity, is the first of four qualities that Foster groups under the "Outward" disciplines.
I don't consider myself someone who is surrounded by simplicity, either in my lifestyle, my desires, my possessions, or my schedule. So I was quite surprised that this chapter -- and not the one on, say, prayer -- has hit me the hardest and made me think most intently about my Christian walk.
I don't have a lot of time to write this review, so I will boil this chapter down to what I see as its basics.
Foster begins by saying (no surprise here) that as much as our society might laud simplicity, it shows very little evidence of possessing it:
"Contemporary culture lacks both the inward reality and the outward life-style of simplicity. We must live in the modern world, and we are affected by its fractured and fragmented state. We are trapped in a maze of competing attachments. One moment we make decisions on the basis of sound reason and the next moment out of fear of what others will think of us. We have no unity or focus around which our lives are oriented."There are two main points I took from this chapter.
1. Just "doing without" or living a stripped-down lifestyle is not what it takes to achieve Biblical simplicity. Here's what Foster says is the key:
"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 way...Nothing must come before the kingdom of God, including the desire for a simple life-style. Simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom."So, simplicity is not an end in itself, but a byproduct of an attitude and a belief system. Foster then elaborates:
"Focus upon the kingdom produces the inward reality, and without the inward reality we will degenerate into legalistic trivia. Nothing else can be central. The desire to get out of the rat race cannot be central, the redistribution of the world's wealth cannot be central, the concern for ecology cannot be central. Seeking first God's kingdom and the righteousness, both personal and social, of that kingdom is the only thing that can be central in the Spiritual Discipline of simplicity."2. When we seek first the kingdom of God, then we can truly reap one of the benefits of simplicity: freedom from anxiety.
"The inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions. Neither the greedy nor the miserly know this liberty. It has nothing to do with abundance of possessions or their lack. It is an inward spirit of trust. The sheer fact that a person is living without things is no guarantee that he or she is living in simplicity."Foster says the key to this aspect of simplicity is to realize and accept that everything we have -- a little or a lot -- was not received because of our prowess or our intelligence or because we deserve it, but because God has given us a gift:
"If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity."Seeking first the kingdom, and agreeing that all we have is a gift from God. Those are the two keys Foster says will help us achieve true simplicity.
Here's what other bloggers had to say about simplicity:
DB on DB
The Village Muse