Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On Minimalism and Our Walk with Christ

I wrote the following words a while ago, but I have not been brave enough to publish them here. The minimalism movement has been growing strong on the internet. I feel like I've been watching the movement develop for longer than the mainstream, and a few of the philosophies that have arisen from it cause me some concern:

Today, I am writing to my fellow Christians, to those of us that desire to follow Christ in all that we do.

It seems like there is a lot of talk on the web about living a minimalist lifestyle. I confess, there is much about throwing off the chains of possessions and living free from the responsibility of stuff that sounds very attractive to me. And all those tiny houses are so stinking cute!

The ideology that "less is more" is popping up all over the place, and is even beginning to resonate in the church. I have been intrigued with simplicity and minimalism, and have spent quite a few hours reading, watching videos, and studying what exactly is meant by minimalism, and how it manifests itself in everyday life. In my study of this philosophy, I have found those that claim the Bible teaches that believers ought to live a minimalist lifestyle. But, I'm not convinced that the Bible actually promotes this.

I believe that God has a different calling for each of his followers. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." My life won't look like yours, your life won't look like mine, and that's okay. God has called me to serve him in one way, and He has called you to serve him in another.

I don't believe the Bible tells us to live with less stuff so we can do what we want, when we want to do it. If anything, it tells us to simply do what you have been called to, live for Christ, regardless of your circumstances. I think the tendency with minimalism is to cause the pursuit of less stuff and more "living" to become your new "love of money" - your new distraction from that which God has called you to do. In minimalism, there is a lot of emphasis on counting items - getting rid of so many things from your home, tracking what you've gotten rid of, counting how many items you have left. So much focus on things... I feel as though we're missing the point. We are not to pursue less stuff, we are to pursue Christ.

Recently I heard of "experientialism" - the idea that life is not about stuff, but about experiences. It sounds good. Rather than fill my life with material goods, I'm going to pursue experiences. Those that live this way have travel itineraries that will surprise you; they take their kids to zoos and museums for their birthdays, they give tickets instead of presents. It sounds fantastic, and yet, I hear the writer of Ecclesiastes shaking his head and whispering, "I tried that, too."

The Bible does have something to say about what we own and how we spend our time:
  1. We are to be content with our circumstances, whatever they might be (content and thankful!). (Philippians 4...)
  2. We are to be good stewards with that which we have been entrusted. (Matthew 25...)
  3. We are to be generous with what we have been given. (Mark 12, and others...)
If I am content with my circumstances, I will not be pursuing that which I cannot afford. If I am a good steward, I will take care of that which I have been blessed with... material possessions, health, time, and relationships. If I am generous with what I have been given, I will look at the world around me and find ways to use my possessions to bless others.

These principles, these attitudes toward our possessions and the physical blessings that God has granted us (because "every good gift is from the Lord") are not the same as the minimalist lifestyle; they can apply to those with many possessions and to those with very few. In fact, there are examples in the Bible of both very wealthy (many possessions) and very poor people (few possessions) having strong relationships and faith in God.

Moreover, Philippians 4:19 says, "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." Is my faith and trust in the Creator of the universe? Or is it in the number of items I have tossed in the "donate" box in the garage?

As I considered these three principles (be content, be a good steward, and be generous), I realized that I needed to spend some time searching my heart:
  1. Am I being content? What are my areas of weakness here?
  2. Am I a good steward? What gifts have I been given that I could care for more consistently?
  3. Am I generous? What more could I give to those in need?
  4. Am I trusting God to meet my needs? Or am I seeking to set myself up for earthly success in how I spend my time and money?
Before you jump to live with less so you can live more, be more, do more, stop and consider whether that is really in line with the good work God has prepared for you. Take a moment to clear the clutter from your heart, and take the time to cultivate attitudes of contentment, stewardship, generosity, and trust in that space. It is there, in the tidied up heart, that you will begin to find that peace that cannot be found in the bare mantle or clutter-free closet.

I can't say that I'm perfect at living these principles. But, this is what I'm pursuing: not less, not more, but contentment, stewardship, and generosity grounded in the Word of Truth, seeking God's glory above all else. Will you join me? 


  1. I truly appreciate your perspective, and I agree. Like you, I've spent many hours reading about minimalism, and have come to a similar concussion. Yet for me, what is attractive about having fewer things is that I have less to clean up and maintain, and more time to spend in my scriptures, on my knees, and with the people I love without constantly making mental to-do lists or feeling pressured to get stuff done. There's a happy medium in there somewhere, I just know it! Great post.

    1. Thanks, and thanks for the discussion!

      In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster states, “The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first… Simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom.” He cites Matthew 6:25-33.

      It seems like when we seek God’s kingdom before all else, all else fades in significance. Ultimately, our joy, fulfillment, and purpose boil down to that point. My inner peace and joy do not derive from my perfectly appointed seasonal wardrobe; they are not found in cleared counters and sparkling bathtubs. Those things are nice (and some are decidedly healthy), but if I am not seeking the kingdom of God above all these things, I am distracted from that which matters most and miss out on the promised joy and peace only found in Christ.

      Minimalism will not bring freedom from anxiety. Minimalism will not enable you to think about your “stuff” less. Minimalism is not a Biblical construct. Seek first the kingdom… and that will radically alter how you view all else in life: your money, your possessions, your time, your relationship with God, how your serve, and on and on. It is a redirection of focus that leads us to a life that brings God glory.

      (I’m not saying I have this down, just sharing some thoughts at a deeper level…)

      Will it look like minimalism? It might; it might not. I can’t really tell you what it will look like. But it will not be minimalism. It will be something much, much more than that. Thanks again, and blessings to you!

  2. Thanks for this insightful writing, Emily. I couldn't agree with you more!

  3. I know this was written a couple of years ago, but I came here for a crochet pattern and noticed you were a fellow believer. I really appreciate your perspective on this topic and agree wholeheartedly. Tomorrow I am going to try making your Mum Market Bag. Thanks for the pattern and I hope you will write more too.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! The writing thing has been on a long break with some major life changes over the past couple years. Maybe I'll be back to writing more sometime. In the meantime, thanks, and enjoy the patterns and words you find here.