What would you do if God called you to give your car away today to a person who desperately needs it? We think of obtaining a car as a long process—you go test drive it, you negotiate the price, you sign over papers and wait for the registration to come in…But what if God told you to hand over the keys today?
This week’s blog is on simplicity. To me, simplicity is one of the least simple subjects there is. Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline classifies it as an outward spiritual discipline, but he says it “is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.” Giving away your car would be an outward act, but it would have to come from some inward state of being that made you willing. Foster says that, “Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others.”
Let’s be honest for a minute. The United States is a wealthy country. Most of us have cars and houses and food to eat; most of us even eat from restaurants multiple times a week. We have electronics and air conditioners, and we can travel by jetliner wherever and whenever we want to for a few hundred bucks (ok, maybe a European vacation is a little more, but you get my point). In fact, Forbes said in 2013 that “The poor in the US are richer than around 70% of all the people extant. The poor in the US are about as poor, perhaps a bit richer, than the poor in other rich countries. It is true that there is more inequality in the US: but this isn’t because the poor are poorer. It’s because the rich are richer.” It’s because the rich are richer.
Let’s be honest: Americans often more resemble the rich men in the Bible who go away in sorrow rather than selling their houses, and less the wanderer disciples who follow Jesus. Most of us in our affluent society, myself included, would prefer not to think about when Jesus tells the man, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). The NKJV Study Bible says of this parable, told again in Luke 18:22-25, that, “A wealthy person is easily tempted to depend on earthly riches rather than God…Jesus used this figure of speech to emphasize the difficulty of turning from wealth to find salvation.”
It’s hard to depend on God when we are as self-sufficient as we are. The problem with the rich young ruler wasn’t the fact that he had money—it was the fact that he worshipped money over God, and chose to keep his possessions rather than follow Jesus. The good news is a few verses later, Luke 18:27—“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” It is possible for someone with all the money in the world to choose to pursue Jesus instead of riches.
With all that being said, just as simplicity is not living with all the wealth you can possible attain, simplicity is also not asceticism; it is not “rigorous self-denial; extreme abstinence; austerity” (Dictionary.com). Rather, Foster says, “Simplicity is the only thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.” It’s the concept of dying to yourself to be made alive again. Simplicity is neither the love nor the hatred of things and possessions, but rather, “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.” You see, whether loving or hating something, you have made yourself a slave to it. And Jesus wants us to be free. Jesus died to make us free.
This is not a blog to tell you to sell your Mercedes and buy Dad’s 1998 Camry with 510,000 miles (before it crosses the Mexican border). This is not a blog to tell you that you can’t buy a house bigger than three bedrooms. This is not a blog to tell you to drop out of college because you don’t need a high-paying job anyway. This is a blog to show you that you can’t serve two gods. This is a blog to show you that you can’t serve God and riches (Matthew 6:24).
King David had very much; many of Jesus’ disciples had very little. I believe God can be served with very little, like the parable of the woman who had (yet gave) a few pennies, which was proportionately more than the people who gave much but also had much (Mark 12:41-44). I also believe God can be served with very much—a man like Bill Gates, if he were a follower of Christ, would have an astounding impact on the world. It is not the possessions you have but rather your attitude towards them that matters. Would you hand them over right now if God asked you to? There might be a time when God asks you to give up your most valued possession. Would you?
You see, simplicity is not about how much or how little you have. Simplicity is about how much concern you have for how much you have. Living a simplistic life is far from simple. The answer is not to run away to the woods and build a cabin (for most of us, at least!); the answer is not to blow all of your paycheck on a night out.
The bottom line is that, whether rich or poor, you must seek the kingdom of God first. You must seek God before you make the decision to give away your car; you must seek him before you make the decision to buy the $60,000 car you want. You must seek God before you accept a job that pays six figures; you must seek him before you accept the volunteer job at the nonprofit. Foster says, “The person who does not seek the kingdom first does not seek it at all. Worthy as all other concerns may be, the moment they become the focus of our efforts they become idolatry.” He also says, “Simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom” and, “Nothing must come before the kingdom of God, including the desire for a simple life-style.”
Don’t make riches your God, and don’t make staying away from riches your God. Make God your God—it’s a simple as that.