In search of the simple life

If you’re anything like me, most days you find yourself physically tired, relationally overextended, emotionally exhausted, and spiritually drained from doing too many things.

In an effort to grow spiritually, spend time with your spouse, help your children develop their gifts, hold down a job, serve at church, clean the house, mow the lawn, be a caring neighbor, stay in shape, coach Little League, and drive the car pool, you are personally maxed out. Weekdays start early, end late, and all too often find yourself eating fast food on the run. Your weekends are packed with sporting events, home projects, and spiritual responsibilities. But overextended, fast-paced, emotionally exhausting lifestyles are not reserved for the married with children. Singles find work to be a merciless taskmaster and weekends are crammed with social and spiritual agendas that require half of Monday to recover. There is just Too. Much. To. Do.

Simple_Life_Balance

How do we balance all that life demands?

In our frantically driven, complex world, our lives suffer immeasurably from over-commitment of responsibilities and under-connection in relationships. We end up with not enough sleep, too little rest, shallow relationships, fractured families, drifting marriages, painful loneliness, coping addictions, neglected kids, and generally hurting people.

“I’ll get to it someday…” we say of the things on our never ending to-do list; only our “someday” thinking never really works out. “I’ll do that as soon as…” is the classic line of the over-committed person. We get caught up so completely in the demands of life that we often miss what matters most in life. Our hearts long for balance of both good things and great relationships. So we work harder, try to do better, and attempt to get more organized. But the simple life will never be achieved by strategic, managerial attempts to control our lives and schedules.

How do we find balance? How can we slow down the frantic pace of life? Where is the simple life for which our hearts long?  Surely there’s an iPhone app for that.

1. The Problem of progress: In the previous millennium it was widely believed that education, affluence, time-saving devices, medical advances, and labor-saving technologies would deliver a world progressively diminished of hurry and tension. But the opposite happened, and many are still trying to understand exactly how such a sabotage could broadside an entire culture without warning. Progress is helpful but not pure. Even as progress results in many advantages, it is also accompanied by disadvantages.

Progress has given us unprecedented affluence, education, technology, and entertainment. We have comforts and conveniences other eras and other nations could only dream about. Yet somehow, we are not necessarily flourishing under the gifts of modernity, as one would expect. Progress brings blessing, but it also brings pain. Perhaps the biggest failure of cultural progress has been its inability to nurture and protect relationships with others.

Bigger, Better, Faster, More

“It’s better to be fast…”

There are four words that describe the problem of progress: bigger, better, faster, and more. These four words drive our lives, our schedules, our relationships, and even our souls. They define the American mind-set. Our competitive businesses want to do things bigger, better, faster, and in greater quantity than their rivals. Our competitive job market prompts us to put in a few more hours and then a few more on top of that, because if we don’t  .  .  .   well, anyone can be replaced. And our consumer wants and needs drive us in the same direction. Who doesn’t want a bigger home? Who doesn’t want a better computer? Who doesn’t want faster internet connection? Who, besides a cranky toddler, doesn’t want 50% more cash? We’re never quite content with the status quo, so we’re constantly looking to acquire whatever is bigger, better, faster, and more. And yet, it’s never satisfying or enough. In fact, it’s too much.

We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions.  Dr. Richard Swenson in Margin

2. The Parable of Jesus: In one of Jesus’ most famous parables, He addressed the problem of progress. In the Parable of the Sower  (Matthew 13:1-23), He tells of a farmer casting seeds onto four types of soil, each representing a different person’s response to the gospel. One of the soils was so hard that nothing could germinate. Another was so shallow that the plants sprouted quickly but couldn’t dig their roots deep enough to withstand the furnace blast of a Middle Eastern summer’s day. The third kind of soil was thorn infested, resulting in a crop that once again looked good for a while but eventually withered away.

Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)

Seed

The key issue in this parable is responsiveness or non-responsiveness to the message of the Kingdom. The response of this kind of person allows temporal, earthly concerns of life to crowd out his commitment to Jesus. He permits the competing concerns of life to take precedence over his spiritual development. The present life rather than the life to come, and present treasure rather than future treasure, capture his affections. The worries of this age are deceitful in that they can drain spiritual vitality before the person realizes what is happening to him or her.

Only the fourth type of soil, the one Jesus called the good soil, produced a harvest.

But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown. (Matthew 13:23)

The point of this parable is straightforward: A great spiritual start is no guarantee of fruitful spiritual life. The good soil represents the person who understands the message about the kingdom of God here on earth when he or she hearts it and responds to it’s truth. The parable helps us to respond to Jesus’ principle of Kingdom living.

3. The Principle of Living: In an attempt to test and trap Jesus, one of the experts in the law asked Jesus, “which commandment in the law is the greatest; which is the most important of all?” We want to know the answer to this question, too, albeit for different reasons. In a world of bigger, better, faster, more, “what responsibility is most important? What is the primary thing that should be at the top of our to-do list? L-O-V-E

He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and most important command. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. (Matthew 22:37-40)

The terms “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” are not completely distinct, watertight categories. They overlap somewhat and together cover the whole person. Taken together the meaning is that we should love God preeminently, unreservedly, completely.

LIFE_LOVE

Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that loving God and loving others is more important than “burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33). Love for God and then, for people, is more important than anything good thing we might do for God or others. When love is not our focus and our motivation, the demands of life become a blur of activity that leads to over-commitment of responsibilities and under-connection of relationships.

 The key to slowing down in life is to make sure love is our #1 priority. Love redirects our focus and unravels the complex, overextended lifestyle that keeps us ever running but never arriving. Only love, God’s love, will satisfy the longings our hearts and soul and mind completely. The simple life our hearts long for will only be found when we stop trying to find our worth, value, fulfillment, acceptance with anything or anyone other than God’s and His love. The simple life is a life motivated by love.

4. The Priority of Love: In Jesus’ principle of living, we can’t miss the prioritized order of loving. The first command is the greatest and the most important. The “and” in Matthew 22:38 is explicative. The first command to love God is great because it is primary. The second command is similar to the first in character and quality (v. 39). It also deals with love. We should love others unselfishly.

There is a prioritized order of Love: (1) Resting in God’s Love, (2) Loving God, and then, (3) Loving others. John, who referred to himself as the disciple Jesus loved (John 21:7, 20), Mourners embrace while taking part in a vigil for bomb victims a day after two explosions hit the Boston Marathon in Bostonexpounds on this prioritized order of loving: We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) God tells us that our ability to love and our practice of love flow from His love for us. The only reason we can love is because God made the first move.

Jesus understood that loving other people in relationship is the central requirement of all eternity. He wasn’t in a speed race. He was in a love race. And it is hard to love people when we’re moving at the speed of light.

Our problems of over-commitment of things to do and under-connection with other people rise to the surface when we get the priorities of love out of order. When we love people, or anything else, more than or before God . When we try to give love so that we will get love (or appreciation, or value, or esteem), we never find love. Consumer-driven love looks for what it can give in order to get. So, we think, we need to work harder, have something bigger, look for something better, or try to do more. But then, we find ourselves singing with U2’s Bono, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” The biblical priority of love says that only when we rest in God’s eternal, unconditional love will we truly find life.

5. The Prescription for Life: Love More, Do Less. The simple life will only be achieved by doing less because we are loved by God infinitely more. Resting in His love and loving Him is to be such a great privilege and joy that everything else should pale in comparison. We are to love Him so much that, by comparison, we do less. We love more because doing even Rx for Lovegood things for the wrong reason ultimately results in the emptiness of over-commitment to tasks and under-connection to others.

“I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17–19)

We know of God’s love, believe in God’s love, but rarely rest in God’s love. And as a result, we clutter our lives with the worries of this age that crowd out the one thing that would simplify them: God’s Love. Instead, we find ourselves doing more and loving less. The prescription for the simple life is loving more because you are loved by God more than you’ll ever know.

“As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love.” (John 15:9)

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9–10)

“And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.” (1 John 4:16)

How do we begin to change? How do we slow down? In order to love more and do less, we must begin to regularly examine our motives for why we do what we do. A practical step might be altering some personal, internal reflective questions:

  1. Instead of asking, “How did I do?” Begin to ask, “Who am I becoming?”
  2. From “What do I have?” to “How am I using what I have?”
  3. From “What have others done?” to “How can I love others?”
  4. From “How much do I give?” to “Why do I give it?”

6. The Promises of God. In a world of great pains and temporal heartaches, nothing can calm our hearts more than the promises of our Eternal Creator, Loving Savior, and Faithful Friend. Patrick Morley says, “I have never known any man whose life changed in any significant way apart from the regular study of God’s Word.”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you.” Jeremiah 31:3
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  -Matthew 11:28
“God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses.” – Ephesians 2:4-5
“Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8Explosions At 117th Boston Marathon

7. The Power of Prayer: We cry out with the Psalmist: Lord, hear us, answer us, rescue us, heal us, guide us, help us. And we know that God hears, He answers, He rescues, He heals, He guides and He helps because God is love and He loves us.

“All humanity will come to You, the One who hears prayer. You answer us in righteousness, with awe-inspiring works, God of our salvation the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the distant seas.” -Psalm 65:2,5
“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:15-16

Something is happening in our generation that the world has never seen before. There is a ubiquitous overloading in every quadrant of personal and societal experience that threatens to overwhelm even the most stoic.  Overload distracts us from the true meaning of life. Overload distracts us from love.As overload sucks the oxygen out of our life together, our testimony becomes joyless, our devotions distracted, and our prayers blighted. We tend to be less interested in loving others or serving the needs of others when we can’t even make it through the day ourselves.

Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon Explosions

Turning Points of Pain  The tragedies of this week (the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the explosions at the fertilizer factory in West, Texas) have a way of focusing our attention like nothing else. Our relational failures and successes are suddenly magnified, and we wonder how all the distractions of busyness could have obscured what has now become so obvious.

God often uses pain to capture our attention so that we see the need for His prescription: Love is the medicine for the sickness of the world. That’s exactly what God has given us – His love (Romans 5:8). He has shown us the road to health, the path to blessing. It is the way of love and relationships. We must simplify and balance our lives so that relationships have some room to grow. We can invest ourselves in other people. When we don’t feel like it, we can still do it. Soon love will begin to flow from God, then out through us, and with the flow there will also come a flowing back.

I don’t always live a life of love, but when I rest in His love and love others like He loves me I find life. And rest. For love is the best way, God’s way to slow down and simply live (1 Corinthians 12:31). Yes, it’s that simple.

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