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Ancient Spiritual Disciplines
We are familiar with spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting, but there are others.  Here is one that undergirds everything else we do as God’s kingdom citizens.

As I write this article the Christmas season is in full swing and the retail industry is reaping the rewards of full throttle advertising.  And as you read this article it will be springtime (or beyond) and many of you will be eagerly awaiting the income tax refund that will get you out of the “red zone” that those pesky credit cards got you into over Christmas – and wondering when the pressure will let up.  First, there was the pressure to buy, buy, buy and now there is the pressure to pay, pay, and pay.  Will it ever end?

Practicing simplicity can become a way of living that undergirds all other spiritual disciplines in our lives…

Recently my pastor completed a series of teaching classes on some ancient spiritual disciplines.  Prior to this class, I knew the well known spiritual disciplines, prayer and fasting, but was hard pressed to come up with any more than that.  The class really opened my eyes to some wonderful wisdom of the ancients.

One evening we looked at the ancient discipline of simplicity – on being single-hearted. I share some of my notes from that teaching now.

When we practice the discipline of simplicity – as a way of life – the Holy Spirit trains us to cut the excess out of our lives and spend life where it matters most – on God’s Kingdom.  The more we practice simplicity the more freedom we have.  Much like fasting, simplicity helps us to identify those areas in our lives that are out of balance- over the top and holding us in bondage.  Practicing simplicity is a discipline that requires us to say “no” to ourselves so that our mind-set shifts from being centered upon self towards others.  Practicing simplicity can become a way of living that undergirds all other spiritual disciplines in our lives; providing the seed-bed of a single-heart that is content with or without.

Simplicity does not look the same flat across the board.  It varies from person to person and cultural setting to setting.  It is not about judging one another about what the choice is; in and of themselves our individual choices mean very little to someone else.  But regardless of its expression in individual lives, it is characterized through refraining from participation in activities and owning possessions that are superfluous and do nothing to further our growing relationship with God.  It results in singleness of heart so that we are deliberate and purposeful in all our choices.

Less is more is what the discipline of simplicity is all about.  Simplicity’s opposite is indulgence.  Indulgence is about the accumulation of more – more wealth, more prestige, more prominence and position and sometimes it results in more pounds.  Indulgence is about me above everyone else.  My needs and wants first before those of others.  Whereas the discipline of simplicity trains us away from those cravings that can hurt us and others and help us trust God for all areas of our lives.

Eveylyn Underhill is credited with saying, “We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to want, to have and to do.  Craving, clutching and fussing…we are kept in perpetual unrest.”  That thought alone inspires me toward change.  But the classes on spiritual disciplines have added an important element in my approach to growing in the Lord – the idea that it is not enough to feel perpetual unrest, I need to take action and I need to practice. Richard Foster has some wonderful teaching in this area ( and I love his thinking about practice. He asks us to consider if we could run a marathon race without any training – would we finish? And that is precisely what people are doing in the spiritual life – trying without training.

This year I am endeavoring to stop trying and start training.

Jan Kupecz is the executive director of Canadian National Christian Foundation.

Originally published in Christian Advisor, Spring 2008. Christian Advisor is published quarterly in partnership with CBMC’s magazine, Business Life.




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