The discipline of simplicity is not strictly about the stuff that we have. This is one of the main differences between understanding simplicity as a spiritual discipline, and understanding it merely as a process of de-cluttering. Most of the sites you find on the internet will deal with simplicity through this very narrowly defined dimension. Simplicity can be found, they argue, through better organizational systems and moor floor-space in the house. This may do wonders to aid one in cleaning the house, but it has little to do with a spiritual transformation.
The discipline of simplicity is not merely about our stuff. Living in a wilful attitude of single hearted focus on God and His kingdom changes our focus away from the material side of our life, and tunes us in deeper ways to the things of God. This allows us to own possessions, yet not be owned by them. Our material wealth is understood not as something inherently against our spiritual fulfilment, but as a tool through which we can express God’s kingdom in our lives.
Yet simply seeing the material side of our life as a ‘tool’ for Kingdom living is not enough. We can understand our possessions as tools, yet still feel that we ‘own’ them. To understand our possessions as belonging to us, as conveying some statement about our ability, worth and status, does little to keep us focused on God’s kingdom. We must be willing, in radical obedience to the will of God, to release our self-focused hold over our possessions. The discipline of simplicity, as it relates to the things we own, must be expressed in our willingness to give.
It was this attitude that created the dynamic community of believers that we see in the book of Acts, chapter 4. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common . . .There was not one needy person among them.” (Acts 4:32 & 34) In our modern day materialistic world we like to dismiss this reality and suggest that the early church really didn't engage in this type of kingdom living. We assume this is unrealistic, or worse yet, unhealthy. After all, don’t Ananaias and Sapphira turn their back on this reality in the very next passage? Surely this must speak to the untenable reality of this type of giving! Yet to truly believe this is to suggest that Jesus didn't understand the fullness of the Kingdom when he said “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11) God’s kingdom is a giving kingdom, and we are invited and encouraged to give. We give of ourselves, of our time, of our possessions. Jesus calls us to ‘give without expecting return’ (Luke 6:35).
Giving of what we have, for the purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God, stretches us beyond our comfortable reliance upon the stuff of this world. It breaks the habits of consumption that we may so easily fall into. In stepping away from the faulty privatized world of ‘ownership’ we enter into an active spirit of trust and reliance. In stretching ourselves to give, we open ourselves to the reality of God’s provision and the freedom of being led by His Spirit and His will. We also expose hidden thoughts and presumptions regarding the matters of self-worth, status, acceptance, and value.
So, find something to give. Avoid relying on the items stored in the back of your closet, or in your basement – items that are easy to give away because you will never miss them. This is simple de-cluttering, and not actual giving. It is to give in a manner which avoids any sense of personal cost. Yet to truly give, to give in the way that God, in Christ, gave to us, we must give of our self; our offering be as heartfelt as it is it tangible. Maybe give your favourite item of clothing, or your favourite book. Give away your second television, or a piece of furniture.
Give in a way that you will feel it and recognize the absence of what you have given. Pay attention to the emotions that surround your thoughts of giving. Why are you reluctant to give something? What does that reluctance say about a possible over-attachment to that item? Do you experience a sense of inward freedom when you give?