There are many reasons we might want to simplify our lives. We might simplify for better health and less stress. Or simplify for freedom. Or for opportunities.
One of my favorite reasons for simplifying my life is that I might live to the good pleasure of God. I want Him to take joy in how I’m stewarding my heart, mind, life and possessions. Our Father showed great organization in the creation, and His entire universe reveals signs of incredible beauty—now marred by the fall we read about in Genesis 3. Our lives, also marred by sin, show signs of disorganization, chaos, and complications.
But we can make choices with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to simplify our lives, experience more peace and freedom, and ultimately bring glory to God.
1. Build constructive habits.
A good habit, once established, can free up our mind for other matters and get us running on the right track. Good daily habits like brushing our teeth, making our bed, or reading our Bible are a healthy routine that simplifies living. The Scriptures note Daniel’s practice of praying three times a day—a great habit!
Often our goal to build good habits is complicated and frustrated by competing inner desires. The godly Christian will want to feed healthy appetites and desires—things that build up and don’t tear down. To do this, we must learn to walk in the Spirit rather than feeding our fleshly appetites. Only the Spirit of God can change our desires and empower us. Renewing our mind helps in this process.
Godly character traits can simplify our responses and choices. A case in point: When I commit to always tell the truth, I can escape complicating my life with a spiral of lies. Honesty is not only the best policy, it also brings freedom.
2. Skip the perfectionism.
Understanding the difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence can make our lives easier. Striving for excellence is wise, but perfectionism is crippling. Excellence is God-motivated and concerned about our character, integrity, growth and hearty, faithful service. Perfectionism is a hard taskmaster; it urges us to quit if something isn’t perfect, or drives us without mercy.
Embrace limitations. Humility enables us to bend, not break. Organizing Coach Marcia Ramsland wrote in 5 Ways to Overcome Procrastination: “Recognize your perfectionist tendencies and go for ‘good enough!’” Perfectionism complicates living and adds unnecessary stress because the perfectionist strives to reach absurd or impossible goals, and works hard to do some things only the Lord can do! We’re to pursue holiness, but perfecting is God’s responsibility, not ours.
Beating ourselves up with a club of condemnation adds to stress too. One of the freeing principles I learned from a health-focused book, Thin Within, is to simply “observe and correct.” I like to say “observe and re-align”—re-align with the truth of Scripture. In Christ, we are not failures; we are a work in progress. That’s a lot healthier attitude than beating ourselves up.
3. Declare your allegiance.
Many voices call out for our loyalty and time. We need to determine what matters and then pursue it with purpose and passion. Wavering in faith and sitting on the fence only complicates our lives. Sing “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back” with conviction! Firm loyalties give us the drive we need to move forward.
Too many people are double-minded, toying with the enemy. They listen to Satan’s suggestions and consider them. We may mouth our loyalty to Christ, but live like we belong to the devil. This dissonance leads to spiritual chaos. Loyalty to Jesus isn’t just a concept; it’s meant to be a lifestyle.
Simply knowing who is in charge uncomplicates many choices. Jesus is Lord, and we are to obey Him. Once we have declared our allegiance to Him, the surrender process of saying “Yes, Lord”—even if it is sometimes challenging—gives us direction and peace. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “You are Lord and I am not.” Each time I sighed, sensing the release of complete trust.
4. Define firm boundaries.
We need to establish boundaries that are defined and based on clear instruction in God’s Word and the priorities He gives. We can’t stand with courage if we don’t know what’s important and the boundaries God gives us for our protection. Boundaries help us keep ungodly influences out of our lives.
Along with boundaries, I’m learning to guard my eyes, ears, mind, and heart. It affects many choices. For example, when I choose entertainment, I now run the selection through a grid of questions:
1. Does the Bible say anything about this?
2. Does this align with what the Lord has already told me to obey?
3. What would my pastor or wisest counselors advise?
4. Would I choose this if Jesus sat next to me? And that makes always me smile because, of course, God is ever-present.
5. Will this bring God honor and glory?
My nutritionist has told me so often, “Discern your neighborhood.” In other words, know where you don’t belong, even if the world is racing that direction. (I don’t belong at a dessert bar!) While a college student, I read a Christian tract by George Watson titled Others May, You Cannot. I suddenly realized other believers might live by different boundaries than the ones the Lord gives me. He knows me. He knows my weaknesses. And sometimes, for my good, He says “no.”
5. Calculate the cost.
The Bible gives us an example of counting the cost in Luke 14:28. Everything we’ll ever face—every new choice and opportunity—comes with a cost. It’s best we stop to ask, “Is this a price I want to pay, or is this going to pay unwelcome dividends later?” Also ask, “Do I have what’s required to pursue this?”
Where do we find wisdom for our family, finances, health, etc.? We need to seek God’s wisdom and perspective before we make choices. He may direct us in a different direction than the “voices” in the culture or even our own family. Also, we may not have what’s required to pursue an opportunity or task. Or the Lord may have ideas we’ve never considered. Ask Him. Listen.
As we wait upon God and commit our actions to Him, our thoughts will be “established,” and this will uncomplicate our choices. “Waiting upon God is not passive,” Dr. Charles Stanley wrote. “It is not lazy. It is not an excuse to be careless. In fact, the opposite is true. Those who pause are seeking His will.” It takes courage to pause and count the cost before we choose. “We’ve been primed to stay in a permanent state of readiness,” Stanley said. “It takes courage to be still when the world is rushing past.”
6. Keep short accounts.
Guilt feelings are not always easy to deal with, but dealing with guilt itself is simple. We take our guilt to the Lord. We repent, and He forgives us and removes our guilt from us. It’s always wise to deal with sin today rather than letting unconfessed sins pile up.
Short accounts aren’t just about dealing with sin. Keeping short tabs helps us focus on honoring God. We can plan goals long-range, but then we need to keep short tabs on our progress with practical, daily assessment, intentionally letting the Lord direct. We can make yearly budgets, but we still need to allow God to use our funds as He brings people’s needs to our attention. Remember: “from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be glory forever.” Clean and ready for God’s use—it’s simply a wonderful way to live.
Also, consider relationship accounts. Like bank accounts, relationships can feel drained if we don’t take time to regularly refill them. It’s worth our time to nurture and protect our relationships—marriage, parenting, friendships, co-workers and neighbors. “Feed” them godly love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a), and watch some of the tangles of relationships unwind.
7. Deal with baggage.
Baggage is cumbersome. Rather than ignoring or hiding baggage that keeps cropping up from our past—unresolved conflicts, debt, sinful choices, regrets—we can bring each one into God’s light and allow Him to help us overcome. As we allow the Lord to open each piece of baggage, He may give us principles of truth from His Word that we’re not currently obeying. Present obedience is a powerful tool to deal with the complicating consequences of rebellious past choices.
We might also consider baggage in our brain. Baggage in the mind is made up of lies that confuse and control our emotions, and hold us back from becoming all God desires us to be. The enemy is subtle, and he will use lies to cloud issues. For clarity and freedom, seek the truth of God’s Word and commit to obeying Him.
Part of the baggage from our past may be unresolved conflicts. Learn to forgive so you can begin to uncomplicate relationships. Bitterness or holding a grudge takes time and energy. Address offenses quickly—forgive with grace.
8. Build a network.
When we are most confused, it may help to ask others to come alongside for insight or assistance. We were not created to do life alone. We need others. We need to come out of isolation and into healthy, meaningful relationships that can help us figure out some of the puzzles in our lives. Make sure the Lord’s name is at the top of your network.
Build a variety of godly relationships and friendships to partner together for accountability, progress, and growth. Don’t expect one person to be your “everything.” That will only complicate interactions and add pressure. Only Jesus can meet all our needs. I have different categories of friends that meet different personal needs, and I serve as a catalyst in various friends’ lives too—for encouragement, challenge, growth, fun, etc.
Something else I’ve done to simplify my life is to “stock up” on go-to resources for times of stress or trial. Resources can assist us and remove a good deal of anxiety and fretting. The Bible, solid Christian books, and wise counselors can help us untie the “knots” in our life.
9. Process your clutter.
This one should be obvious. Too much “stuff” can create confusion and rob us of peace and freedom (Luke 12:15). America has become a nation of hoarders. We might not be at the level of the homes exposed on television programs, but we’re hoarding nonetheless. What we can’t store in our own space, we pay for others to store for us! To simplify our life, we need to order our living atmosphere—our home, office or work space, and garage. Processing our clutter will bring calm out of confusion.
As we weed through things, we can begin to organize. Assign each item a “home.” Create a place for everything and return everything to its place. It will save time looking for things. We need to stop buying things we don’t need. I had a closet full of half-finished craft and sewing projects, and determined not to buy more until those projects were either completed or the materials were passed along to others who wanted them.
Simplifying our lives isn’t a matter of living a minimalist lifestyle. It’s recognizing we are already wealthy beyond imagination because of God’s good gifts, and then choosing to focus on that wealth rather than always chasing “more.” Assessing our possessions honestly may require asking a friend to help if we are emotionally attached to our things. Hold possessions loosely. Let God remove things for His purposes.
10. Revive the wonder.
Sometimes we complicate our lives when we’re always trying to add something new to fill a perceived lack. We don’t think we have enough friends, enough money, enough experience, etc. One way I simplified my life was to revive the wonder of what I already enjoy. First, I reviewed what I have in Christ. When we understand who we are and what is ours simply because of our relationship with the Lord, we can begin to delight in Him and His gracious gifts.
Then I decided to practice contentment. When we boil down the necessities in life, we actually need very little—shelter, food and clothing—and we want to belong, to be loved, and to have a purpose in life greater than ourselves. We sing, “Christ is all I need.” But do we believe that? For many Christians around the world, He is all they have. Yet they find joy as they choose contentment in Him.
Recognize simple joys. Read Psalm 100! Practice gratitude. Ask God to help you see the simple joys in a beautiful sunset, a perfect bowl of fruit, a star-filled sky, a bird’s praise song, or fresh-fallen snow. Thank God for the simple but incredibly complex wonders of all His creation and become a child again; clap your hands with joy. Want to simplify your life? Focus every day on this challenge from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Live to His good pleasure.
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