During Lent we are publishing some great articles from our archives. This article was first published in the Winter 2009 edition.
Over the last three years, my wife and I have taken several steps to simplify our lives. The simplification we call retirement pushes us hard against one of the deep dreads of being a person, “Will I have enough?” Jesus takes a long, hard look at that anxiety during the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”(Matt. 6:33). God is not out to trick us or leave us short on the essentials. We need to begin with God. You know that. I know that. And we both know that knowledge is slippery in the face of worry. Jesus said, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (Matt. 16:26a). If we reduce our consumption but needlessly complicate our internal life, we bless others but burden ourselves.
Last January I sold my insurance business. My wife and I decided we would live with what we had accumulated. We have reduced our personal impact on the environment. Our grandchildren’s generation will have access to a few more resources to live well in their generation. In God’s love, we all seek to bless children yet born and people who are strangers to us. It is a privilege.
I now serve a small rural church. It is located in one of the five poorest counties of the state of New York. Many people here abuse drugs or alcohol. Abandoned emotionally and often physically, children roam the streets and sit on the church steps. What wisdom can a successful businessperson hope to share with children who have physical addresses but no one is really home for them? Are they not our neighbor? What is your gift? What does God want you to share and with whom?
All ministry is a spiritual black hole. I could replicate the complex, driven life I retired from in a heartbeat. Perhaps you are wiser than I. I hope so. But there must be somewhere between “Stay away” and “I’m drowning.”
God is active, working to sustain the cosmos from moment to moment. In the first chapter of Genesis, at the end of each day’s work God shouts to the stars, “It is good!” The Hebrew word towb means good in the sense of “delightful, excellent, or pleasant.” It is a joyous word. Our activity reflects the nature of God. Activity is the simple, straightforward expression of the vitality God places within each of us. It is towb.
Busyness, however, does not reflect the nature of God. In Genesis 3:18-19, God curses the ground so it will bring up thorns and thistles. Since well before Christ, this passage has been interpreted symbolically rather than literally. Sin steals the joy from work. People end their days exhausted and wondering why they do what they do.
I believe that busyness is exhausting because it is a struggle against God’s created order. It is an attempt to avoid the pain or sense of deadness that results from not knowing in the center of our hearts that we are loved, accepted, valued, and have a place in the family of God now and forever. Knowing God resolves the needless complexity of our avoidance.
At rest, we have the time and energy to become aware of our hunger for acceptance, understanding, a place of belonging, and the rest of the spiritual values that grow from knowing the greatest love possible. Life changes do not automatically revise our spiritual universe. Those who take time to listen for God find inner simplicity. In that is freedom from self and freedom to shout towb to the stars – how utterly delightful. In Christ we can live a life that is simple inside and out.
Jamie Tyrell sold a successful insurance business that he had been associated with for 25 years. At the time of this writing, he served as a ¼ time Stated Supply pastor in a micro-church in the upstate New York village of Atlanta.
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