Joseph Herrin (10-22-2014)
Please read this post even if the title does not immediately grab your interest. What is shared here is one of the most transformative messages of the Christian life, and one of the most universally neglected and rejected today. I came upon this foundational principle and doctrine of the Kingdom of God unintentionally, which is quite remarkable when one considers that one of the common titles given to this lifestyle today is “intentional living.” Other appellations attached to the philosophy I will share here are the terms “deliberate living,” “the simple life,” and “minimalism.”
I was recently surprised when I discovered that the very principle I had been practicing since 1999, and which I have written about in numerous books and blog posts, has a small yet growing and enthusiastic following among people quite apart from Christian belief. I was browsing through some TEDx videos on YouTube when I found one that caught my interest. It was titled “A Rich Life With Less Stuff.” The two men presenting the talk are not Christians, but they have discovered a liberating principle of the Kingdom of God. Others before me have noted that all of humanity are capable of reaping benefits when they adopt some principle of God’s Kingdom. There are a number of people worldwide who have deliberately chosen to eschew consumerism in order to obtain freedom to pursue that which is truly important in their lives.
The two men in the video have a website called The Minimalists. On the home page they provide a brief introduction to Minimalism.
Minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.
On the same page the following words are recorded.
Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff. We tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves.
These are wise words. They resonate with the message to be found in the pages of Scripture. The apostle Paul spoke of the hindrance an overly materialistic life can be to a disciple of Christ.
II Timothy 2:4
No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
I Timothy 6:7-11
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God...
This counsel of the apostle Paul is one of the most profound, yet routinely ignored, instructions of the New Testament. In an hour of apostasy where the church has wed the love of God and mammon together into a bastardized form that some refer to as “The Prosperity Gospel,” the example and testimony of Christ and His apostles are falling upon deaf ears. Consequently, when the collapse of the economic and materialistic system of this world comes, great will be the fall and resulting injury of the majority of God’s people.
Although the TEDx talk is not presented from a Christian perspective, there is value in Christians considering its message. I encourage you to watch the video below.
Although this video does not identify life’s purpose, it does rightly identify that a surfeit of material things, and the pursuit of more of them, with all the attendant consequences of more labor, more stress, more time consumed, etc., takes away from and even completely prevents people from living fulfilling, satisfied lives that contribute to the welfare of others. The early church fathers identified life’s purpose as “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is a pretty accurate summation of the purpose of our creation. Christ warned men against bringing any other purpose into their life, for it would prevent them from living wholly for God the Father. Yahshua specifically mentioned the pursuit of mammon (the material possessions of this world) as being incompatible with a pursuit of God.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
I believe the point at which the church at large has stumbled is in identifying what it means to pursue mammon and lay up treasures on earth. Believers in materially affluent Western nations have convinced themselves that the material, consumer lifestyle often referred to as “the American Dream” is the norm, the status quo. To eschew the pursuit of houses, lands, furnishings, gadgets, toys, entertainment items, closets full of clothes, etc., is viewed as extreme and to have no relevance for the typical Christian. The message of Christ and His apostles has been corrupted. Yahshua spoke to men the following words.
And Yahshua said to him, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
And looking at him, Yahshua felt a love for him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
"So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
It is not surprising that the world finds the example of Christians’ lives today to be bland, insipid, and uninspiring. Christians are doing nothing different than their lost neighbors. They are buying and selling, building and accumulating. Their focus is on the things of this world. They have rejected the Lord’s command to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.
This was not some obscure teaching of Christ. It was not a mere sideline to more important matters. Yahshua spoke on the subject of man’s attitude toward material possessions to a great degree. He recognized this to be a great stumbling block to man’s ascension to becoming a spiritual creation.
And He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions."
And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' And he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
Christians reason that they will both lay up many possessions on this earth and be rich toward God. This is an untenable position to hold. Those who attempt to reconcile the two deceive themselves. Christ declared that a man cannot serve both God and mammon. Is it not telling that those who are lost and without Christ are finding it liberating to turn aside from the pursuit of mammon? They are discovering that doing so frees them to pursue that which is truly important to them in life, whatever they identify that to be. Yet Christians are encumbered. They are entangled with the affairs of this life, having bought into the philosophy of consumerism.
I found an interesting comment in an interview an English news site conducted with the two men in the video above.
Joshua and Ryan have had some interesting responses to their ideas. “We don’t have any religious beliefs, and there’s nothing religious about this at all,” he says, “but when we were going through the south of the US, people would come up to us afterwards and say: ‘It’s great to see a couple of young men spreading the word of Jesus!’
It is worth noting that Christians who read their Bibles recognize the Scriptural affinity to the philosophy of Minimalism. Yet it is rare to find any Christian practicing the instructions of Christ in this regard. I too once was bound up in the accumulation of material things. I had a 2,000 square foot home on 3/4ths of an acre of land in town. I had a detached garage that was so filled with possessions that I could not park either of my two automobiles in it. I had things stored in the attic, and closets crammed with clothes and various possessions. This all changed for me in 1999 when the Holy Spirit spoke to me indicating that I could not advance any further with God unless I surrendered fully to go wherever He directed and agreed to do whatever He commanded. This was my moment of counting the cost of discipleship. I wrestled for six weeks with the idea of surrendering fully, for I knew God could ask anything and everything of me.
After a time of confronting my fears and much inner wrestling, I surrendered the reins of my life to the hands of God. In hindsight, I am not surprised that the first thing He did was to strip me of a lifetime’s accumulation of material goods and to establish me anew with a greatly reduced slate of possessions. I went from a 2,000 square foot home with garage, to a 28 foot motorhome for my family of four. At the end of a year the Father had emptied me of a heavy burden of consumer goods, and in the process had set me free from all debt. I have not owed a penny of debt in the ensuing 15 years.
From a Biblical perspective, I am not surprised this is where the Father began reordering my life. It is where the Lord directed the rich young ruler to begin as well. Many Christians in Western nations share a great similarity to the rich young ruler. They have an abundance of material goods. This young man was hindered from becoming a disciple of Christ because he was attached to his many possessions. He was unwilling to let go of them. Christ said “NO MAN” can be His disciple unless he gives up all he possesses. The account of the rich young ruler provides the following testimony.
But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.
Do not these words, “he was one who owned much property” describe a vast number of Christians today? Christian’s deceive themselves when they imagine that their lives are not comparable to this young man to whom Christ was speaking. The men in the video above had much property. They found liberty in dispossessing themselves of these things. As the one man stated, he sold or gave away 80% of what he owned. I found myself following a similar path when I yielded to do whatever my heavenly Father required of me.
Among Minimalists, the process of getting rid of unnecessary possessions is referred to as “downshifting.”
There are some Minimalists who set goals for themselves. Some try to limit the number of their possessions. Setting a goal of having no more than 100 things is the mark some strive for. I do not advocate this approach, for I believe it is better to be led of the Spirit than to be subject to a law. Nevertheless, many people have demonstrated that such a life is possible for an individual living in a Western nation. When counting possessions, consumable goods are often omitted, such as foodstuffs, cosmetics, toiletries and the like. A pair of socks would be counted as one item, as would a phone with its case and charger.
It would be an eye-opening experience for Christians to take an inventory of their possessions. No doubt, the majority of Christians would discover that, like the rich young ruler, they have an abundance of possessions. I am currently in the middle of a push to pare down my possessions. We have a tendency to fill up whatever space we occupy with material goods. I have an affinity for books, and I have a legitimate need to acquire them. When I am researching a subject, or writing a new book, I will often purchase a large number of books in the course of my labors. Yet, once I have finished the task, there is a diminished need to hold onto the books.
Living in a motorhome, space is at a premium. Weight is also a consideration. Books are quite heavy. When I am able I often purchase books in electronic format that I can read on my Kindle. In this way I can maintain a library of hundreds of books while taking up no more space or weight than a single volume. Recently I packed up an entire large storage container of books. My daughter took my collection of Watchman Nee books, and the extra Bibles I was giving away. She frequently gives Bibles to individuals who do not own one. Other books went to a local thrift store to support a battered women’s shelter. Yesterday I boxed up more books and sent them to a sister in Christ who said she would like to read some of them.
As I near the completion of my solar power project, I am seeking to pare down construction material. I have typically held onto tools, as well as various construction materials, for they often come in handy for repairs. I believe I am near the end of any improvements or renovations to my bus, and I see less of a need to keep some of the things stored in my trailer. I want to further reduce the weight and clutter. Life seems simpler and purer when we remove the clutter from our lives. My mind feels lighter, less distracted, when my possessions are few.
One of the reasons I have resisted owning a car for the past four years is that an automobile brings additional demands to a person’s life. It has to be paid for and maintained. Gasoline has to be purchased to run it, along with oil and other consumables. It has to be washed and insurance has to be paid on it. The increased expense requires an increased income. This adds stress. When our needs and expenses are small, the pressure to meet the needs is reduced.
Although I look to Yahweh to supply all my need, and I trust Him to faithfully do so, my mind is unburdened from concern when I have fewer things to maintain. I also am able to give more of my money away to meet the needs of others, and I have more time to devote to other tasks.
I realize it is not possible for all Christians to go without a car, but many Christian families could get by with one vehicle rather than two, or with less expensive vehicles than they currently have. I have found that I can do all my grocery shopping and runs to the post office on my recumbent trike. It has an electric motor on it to assist me on the 30 mile round trip through the countryside. The trike bypasses all the gas stations. It requires very little maintenance. I don’t have to carry insurance on it. It also affords me with an excellent way to get some needed exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.
Christ and His disciples walked wherever they went. The apostle Paul at times traveled by ship. Each one of our needs are unique. If we seek the mind of Christ, He will show us how we might reduce the complexity and burden of our life. Contentment is key. If we are driven to keep up with the Joneses, or have a great many personal wants, we will add unnecessary stress and overburden ourselves with commitments. We will ultimately be hindered from seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
There is a reason that Mimimalists refer to their lifestyle as “intentional living” and “deliberate living.” To deliberate means to give conscious thought to something. It infers making life choices that are born out of careful consideration and a determined purpose to meet certain priorities. If you do not choose your course in life intentionally and deliberately, having weighed the options and considered the ramifications, you will end up going along with the flow of society around you. We live in a materialistic culture that propagandizes people from their infancy with the message of consumerism. We are told to buy, buy, and buy some more. We are promised that an abundance of possessions will lead to a full and happy life. This is a lie that Christ has refuted.
I am fully persuaded that the coming days will be navigated much more easily by those who are walking unencumbered in this world. Those with the fewest goods will be the freest to travel, to adapt, to make necessary changes as situations require.
The early centuries of the church were also tumultuous times. The first church in Jerusalem was put in a good position to respond to the persecution that arose against them by emptying themselves of worldly goods and possessions.
And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
What were these first disciples of Christ doing? They were selling their property and possessions! The focus of their lives changed from consuming and accumulating to giving. They were set free.
Postscript: An interesting detail of the video above is that both men contain the names of Biblical characters within their names. The first man to speak has the last name of Nicodemus. His friend whom he went to in order to find out why he was so happy has a first name of Joshua (same as Yahshua). In this there is a parallel of Nicodemus coming to Yahshua to inquire of Him. Both the Nicodemus of the Bible, and the Nicodemus of the video, were met with a life-altering revelation they did not anticipate.
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