It occurred to me as I read this chapter of Celebration of Discipline that there are some basic principles that apply to all the disciplines. No matter which discipline, the best way to learn it is by doing it, and you should do it even when you don’t feel like it. Emotional readiness is unimportant, even irrelevant. What matters is obedience. How you feel about it is likely to change anyway. The adage that right feelings follow right actions has universal application.
This chapter is pretty heavy, and I do not intend to delve too deeply into the theology. But what really struck me as I’ve read and pondered this chapter is how this discipline is really a component of corporate prayer. If you are not praying with other people, then the discipline of confession is probably not a part of your life. If you are meeting with one to two to three others, then I imagine that confession plays at least some role. I have two lovely women that I pray with once a month, and confession is not a formal part of what we do, but it is to some degree a natural part. I’m not saying we confess anything horrifyingly big or shocking, but in the natural course of us talking about what we might pray about, confession is implicit. There are a whole host of reasons why we should do this, but I want to focus on two.
This chapter of Celebration of Discipline almost leaves me with a sick feeling, so convincing and convicting is Foster’s argument. My husband works a lot, he is in the midst of earning an MBA, and we have three children–the youngest of whom is home every day. These were my feeble rationalizations for why I could not, presently, lead a life of service. But Foster really puts to shame my wrongheaded thinking.
Submission is a daily, often unpredictable battle. We may always have our ups and downs, but Celebration of Discipline has some great thoughts on leading an increasingly surrendered life. I liked Richard Foster’s discussion of the “cross-life” because who among us doesn’t have a lot of work to do in this area? And I especially love the end of the chapter where he talks about seven distinct acts of submission, because we can really get a hold on how we are doing by looking at these seven areas. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me once again encourage you to obtain and read the book. Click here to purchase.
As I’ve prayed and thought more about simplicity over the last few days I haven’t had any big revelations. I know there is yet a lot to chew on, and certainly there is a part of me that yearns to be simplified, organized and disciplined, but there is also a part of me that fights back. Something about aiming for simplicity just doesn’t ring true for me; it doesn’t sound joyful, and I’m not convinced that it should be the goal. I’m not saying that simplicity doesn’t have its place. It does. But the balance isn’t struck by setting out to lead simple lives. The balance comes in embracing the lavish love of Jesus and in realizing that all we have comes from Him. Material possessions are held loosely by a humble person. A humble person doesn’t derive worth from things. So isn’t humility the goal? Isn’t knowing who you are in Christ the goal? Isn’t recognizing the source of true fulfillment the antidote to “the mammon spirit”? Maybe it’s semantics, but I like humble more than simple. Simple is just not something I feel called to be. Simple sounds boring. Humble is different. Humble never diminishes the intrinsic worth; it just points to the source. A leader can (and should) be humble and great at the same time. For me simple is not about pointing to someone else–yet this is the call of a Christian. Foster claims that simplicity is freedom. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) p.79. But I’m uncomfortable with that statement. Simplicity has its place. My need for simplicity is great. But I cannot equate it with freedom. The paradoxes of this life are many. Freedom is found in submission. True identity is best found in death to self. And undoubtedly less is often more, but I cannot agree with the absolute “simplicity is freedom.”
Foster, pointing to Matthew 6, says that simplicity is an outgrowth of having a singular mindset — seeking first his kingdom and righteousness. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) p. 86. Certainly this is true, and there is great wisdom in keeping first things first. But I’m wondering if there are some different ways of looking at simplicity too. (Disclaimer: This might be entirely self-serving. I do not live a life of simplicity. I may be prone to rationalize, and as Peter Kreeft says “Complexifying is a great cop-out. Excuses are always complex.”) First, wouldn’t knowing our true identity lead to greater simplicity? And secondly, wouldn’t a daily reminder (back to the old preach the gospel to yourself everyday) of where true fulfillment comes from also naturally lead to greater simplicity?
A person who derives their identity from status and possessions is a person for whom simplicity is impossible, by definition. I am quite familiar with this status-and-possession-driven demographic. Fancy clothes and luxury cars surround me, but they don’t impress me. Neither do advanced degrees and big titles. None of these things are terribly bad in themselves. The issue is really whether these things define you. For a lot of people they seem to. There is a pervasive, unquenchable thirst for more. I love the quote from Arthur Gish that Foster used, “We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.” There really is a psychosis at work for people to labor so hard at something so futile. There is no satisfaction in a rat race. Ever. Because there is always a need for more, and Christians shouldn’t ever find themselves in such a race. Instead the identify of a Christian is based on Christ. That means we are to love Him, glorify Him, praise Him, and proclaim Him because that’s who we are. We are not stuff. We are not status. We are children of God and we have a high calling to fulfill. Oftentimes stuff gets in the way.
Blaise Pascal said this: “What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.” (Pensees 7.425) In short, the God-shaped hole in our heart aches. We try to fill it with so many things, when only God fits. Isn’t part of the struggle with simplicity trying to shove something, often with force, into that God-shaped void? I think greater simplicity would be automatic if we’d stop shoving. Letting God be all He wants to be in our lives is so simple. Not easy, mind you. But so, so simple.
So there’s a lot to work through here. And we know where we stand on this. It’s pretty easy to self-evaluate.
A couple quotes:
“All of us, deep down, know that the meaning of life is just one word, and all of us, deep down, know what word that is.” (Peter Kreeft)
“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.” (C.S. Lewis)
This week I’m going to pray for eyes to see what God has for me here, and also for a willingness and resolve to put it into practice.