The Discipline of Simplicity

If you haven’t read my previous blog posts about my journey in discipline this year, I would recommend starting by reading my introductory blog here, as well as my other update blogs which you can find listed here.

An Update on the Discipline of Study

As you may have read in my update from last month, I wasn’t fully able to practice the discipline of study in the month of April as I had hoped I would. Thankfully I was able to take a little bit more time (though not as much as I would really want) to dig into study this month, and what I am realizing is that this is probably one of the disciplines that I need to develop personally, maybe more than the others that I’ve gone through in previous months.

In this chapter on study in Celebration of Discipline, Foster helpfully clarifies that the study of Scripture is focused more on interpretation, what the passage means, versus the devotional reading of Scripture which is more focused on the personal application, how we can apply those principles to our lives (p. 69). I believe that most of my life I have put my time and effort into the devotional reading of Scripture, which of course is wonderful and so helpful, and by no means something that I intend to stop doing. I do, however, think that this lack of depth that I sense in myself could be greatly helped by my taking more time to study Scripture first, then applying it to my life instead of just skipping to the second step.

In this chapter, Foster also points out that there’s a lot of value in looking at the Bible holistically. He states that “much of our Bible reading is fragmentary and sporadic” and “one of the great needs among Christians today is simply the reading of large portions of Scripture” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 71). I would say that I certainly see that need in my own life.

One recommendation that Foster gives is to take a major book of the Bible and read it straight through, from start to finish. As you read through, jot down thoughts and impressions, as well as areas of difficulty that you may not understand so that you can come back to them (p.71). Another recommendation he has is to choose one of the smaller books and read it through each day for a month, and keep a journal of what new things stick out to you each time you read it (p.71). I have done a little bit of this personally, and I plan to continue implementing this in my life in the future. In fact, for the month of June I plan on reading through James each day, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the book changes to me as I consistently read it and pay attention to the structure, tone, and subject matter in new ways.

In addition to the study of Scripture, Foster also shares other ways in which you can practice the discipline of study. Of course there’s the study of books other than the Bible that can help expand our understanding even further. He gives a very helpful list of the books that he recommends on page 72 that I plan on going back to when I’m ready. Foster also points out that you don’t always have to study written books; nature, relationships, cultures, and even ourselves are all valuable objects of study and can help us grow in our relationships with God as we learn about them (pp. 73-76). I hope to put more time towards those studies in the future, but for right now I feel that I need to develop this discipline of study specifically in Scripture. We all need different things in different seasons, so I’d encourage you to think about and pray about what you might need, and start to learn how to study that subject effectively. After all, “study produces joy”, as Foster states in his final paragraph in this chapter, and I would think that joy is something that we would desire more of in our lives (p. 76).

The Discipline of Simplicity

At this point in the book, we have moved out of what Foster calls The Inward Disciplines, and into The Outward Disciplines. This first discipline in the Outward Disciplines is, maybe out of all of them that I’ll be going through this year, the most difficult to practice well in the short span of a month. Sure, I could go out right now and sell all of my possessions and give the money to the church, but my main concern is that it wouldn’t be a lasting solution.

I would say that Foster most likely agrees with that as well. He states in the first few paragraphs of this chapter that this discipline of simplicity is “an inward reality that results in an outward life-style” (p. 79). If I tried to act out the outward lifestyle of simplicity before the inward reality has settled in my heart and mind, I would most likely end up falling right back into old habits, and as Foster states “deadly legalism” (p.80).

Because I want to be transformed for the rest of my life, I want to first seek that inward reality of simplicity before I make any major changes out of a desire to live simply, instead of a desire to be more like Jesus. For me at least, there is a major difference between the two. Especially these days, with “living simply” being so trendy among millennials like myself.

Of course when I think about this idea of making changes to live more simply, my typical work-based mentality comes out. I think about how there are so many things I need to do to start changing my life, and I start a to-do list in my mind. But thankfully Foster addresses this in Celebration of Discipline by telling us that the first and most important step in practicing the discipline of simplicity is finding our “divine Center”, or as I understand it, centering our lives on God (pp. 80-81). And how do we do that? Seek first the kingdom of God. “Nothing must come before the kingdom of God,” Foster points out, “including the desire for a simple life-style” (p. 86). He goes on to say that “focus upon the kingdom produces the inward reality” which is what we need to truly practice simplicity (p. 87).

I love that it’s that simple! I don’t have to make some kind of elaborate plan to simplify my life, I just need to seek first the kingdom, and after that everything else will fall naturally into place as my mind is transformed and focused on the divine Center.

There is so much more that I could talk about within this chapter, but that was the main point that stuck out for me. I would love to learn more about how to practically live out this discipline as I try to seek first the kingdom in my own life, and I believe that Foster actually wrote a whole book dedicated to this particular discipline which he mentions in this chapter. I will definitely have to look into that and read it, maybe after this year of looking at all of the different disciplines is over.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Whether you’ve been participating in this challenge yourself or not, I’d love to hear how you’ve practiced the discipline of study and the discipline of simplicity in the comment section below or on our Facebook group, which can be found here. Have a wonderful June!

Caroline Richard

Communications | First15