Simply Simplicity, Part 2

Today we continue my thoughts on Simplicity from the corresponding chapter in Richard Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline.  Simplicity “is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” Both are equally important, because the outward lifestyle without the inner reality is legalism, but the inner reality without the outward lifestyle is not simplicity either, but hypocrisy.  Last week we discussed the attitudes of the inner reality. Today I will share Foster’s “ten controlling principles for the outward expression of simplicity.” He notes that these should never be taken as laws, for that borders on legalism, but simply as an attempt to flesh out what simplicity means in our culture.


1. “First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.”

Our culture is plagued by status seeking. My question is how much should we as Christians be involved in that? As Foster says, “Stop trying to impress people with your clothes and impress them with your life.” I think he makes a good point. We could all do better to remove the seeking of status through material things from our lives.

2. “Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction to you.”

I think we all are addicted to something. Food. Shopping. Attention. Whatever it is, we need to get control of it in our lives. By definition, to be addicted to something is to not have it surrendered to God. May we all live addiction free lives.

3. “Third, develop a habit of giving things away.”

This is key. As I have said before, the only way I can continually break the grip that materialism has on me is by giving stuff away. When we think of giving, we primarily think of money, and probably rightly so. But I think we can do good by giving away possessions as well. I had a good friend in college who give me the shirt off of his back, literally (he had one underneath). May we give stuff away and show that possessions do not possess us.

4. “Fourth, refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.”

This can be a deep hole to fall into. When you start to buy the newest and best stuff, you tend to just want newer and better stuff and you are never happy. I think this relates to the usefulness point above. So you need a PDA, fine, but do you need the $600 E-Palm 3000 that rakes your leaves and speaks to you with an accent? I think you get my point.  In addition, remember that Foster is writing in the 70′s.  How much has his point about gadgetry intensified in 35 years?

5. “Fifth, learn to enjoy things without owning them.”

Foster makes a good point here encouraging the use of parks and libraries. I admit that I struggle with this, because I like to own my own books. I I like to mark up my books and then reference them later. I guess I have to find the place to draw the line.

6. “Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.”

We don’t need to all be entertained by TV, radio, and other noise. The sky, birds, smells, and other stuff in the world can give us a simpler pleasure. When we shut off the noise, we appreciate the world around us.  Mother Theresa held that this was how we would commune with God; in the silence of nature.

7. “Seventh, look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes.”

In other words, avoid debt. This is pretty strait forward. Be wise with what money you borrow. Obviously this has been a huge point in our culture the last 25 years and coming to a head in the last 5.  How can we as Christians live differently and honor God by being a prophetic voice to our generation?

8. “Eighth, obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.”

Foster says we should “avoid flattery and half-truths. Make honesty and integrity the distinguishing characteristics of your speech.” In a world where so much is fake and few people say what they mean and mean what they say, this sort of communication is refreshing. I think we would all do better to practice this more.

9. “Ninth, reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.”

This is a tough one. First, it is an “out of sight, out of mind” issue. We don’t typically think of where our stuff comes from. Secondly, oppression happens so often by so many big companies. According to Shane Claiborne’s, Coca-cola, Nestle, Disney, Nike, and Gap have all been exposed for running sweatshops overseas and being militant and abusive towards workers. Some websites to check out are www.globalexchange.org, www.sweatshopwatch.org, and www.hrw.org.

10. “Tenth, shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.”

“It is so easy,” says Foster, “to lose focus in the pursuit of legitimate, even good things.” May we keep our focus on the King and his Kingdom first and foremost, and may everything else fade into the periphery.

I will conclude with Foster’s final thought: “May God give you–and me–the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number one priority of our lives. To do so is to live in simplicity.”

  • Robert

    I have been using a book co-edited by Richard Foster titled “Devotional Classics” in my Bible Study at retirement homes around town. It has truly been inspirational in my own spiritual life. Richard Foster seems to be exceptionally gifted to reveal God’s Word to us in traditional as well as contemporary forms.

    Thanks for the good read. I so love lists and outlines!

  • Rick Janzen

    It’s been a while since I read Foster’s book; this was a good reminder. It is refreshing to hear a voice that questions the consumerism of our days. Fighting it is so hard because our culture has a lot of warm fuzzies for the upright consumer. So many peripheral messages that say it’s okay to buy anytime, anywhere. In fact I get the sense that younger generations are getting rather jaded by that message and Foster’s work may see a renaissance in this day.

  • Nick Fox

    Thanks for the comments, guys. Yes, Foster is a classic writer. Very rich and full, as well as challenging. I know he expanded his thoughts on prayer in Celebration… to a whole book on prayer, I wish he would do the same for simplicity.

  • Krissi

    Hey Nick,
    I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. I found it very relevant to the journey I am on right now and also encouraging and reaffirming. I am actually currently reading “Celebration of Discipline” for the second time in years and just finished reading Shane Claiborne and Chris Shaw’s book “Jesus for President”. It’s wild how God knows just the right time for us to pick up a book and read it… His timing is so perfect.
    May we all be encouraged to continue on our journeys towards Truth and Love and how to live them out in our lives. May we all continue to seek and learn.


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