When Not To Be Minimalist

When not to be minimalistI enjoyed reading Joni Eareckson Tada’s Spectacle of Glory devotional book a couple of years ago. One quote from the book that came back to me many times after reading it was from the August 9 entry, which commented on Ephesians 3:8 about “the unsearchable riches of Christ”:

We can study all we want, but Jesus will always be a greater Savior than what we think He is. He is more ready to forgive than you can imagine asking Him. He is more willing to supply your wants and needs than you are to declare them. He is so much more ready to give than you are to receive. Don’t ever tolerate low thoughts of a barely adequate, minimalist Savior who might “keep you going” but not much more. Jesus has riches to bestow on you right now. He will not only give you heaven above, but heaven-hearted joy in serving Him here on earth.

Lord, my thoughts about You are too small, too lean, too sparse, too thin, too colorless. Paul writes about your unsearchable riches, but on some days, I barely even approach the treasuries. My mind is filled with too many smaller things. I’m in the trees and can’t see the mountains. Lift my gaze to your greatness and majesty today (p. 242, emphasis mine).

The phrase “minimalist Savior” especially jumped out at me, since minimalism is such a byword these days. I don’t want to comment on the current notions of minimalist lifestyles or practices, but I began to think of other ways we should not be minimalists.

In thoughts of our Savior

Joni wasn’t saying Jesus lived extravagantly while on earth. He was born into a poor earthly family. He didn’t own a home as an adult. One former pastor used to say that Jesus was “born from a borrowed womb and buried in a borrowed tomb.”

But, contrary to the “prosperity gospel,” all blessings are not material. God promises to supply our needs, but He doesn’t promise physical riches to His followers. Rather, “according to the riches of his glory” (Ephesians 3:16), He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20. The KJV says “exceedingly abundantly.”)

In prayer

Couched between Ephesians 3:16 and 18, based on those riches of Christ, this is what Paul prays for:

According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Sometimes when I find myself suggesting to God ways that He might answer, I remind myself of this: He can do far more than I can ask or even think, according to Ephesians 3:20.

In worship

In Mark 14, a woman came into the house where Jesus was a dinner guest. John 12:1-8 identifies her as Mary of Bethany, whose brother, Lazarus, Jesus had raised from the dead (Matthew 26:6-13 also records this incident). She “came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

That might seem weird to us in our time. I went on a bit of a rabbit trail trying to discover what anointing meant and why it was done in that day. The best explanation I found so far is here. Anointing was a mark of respect and also a way of setting apart a prophet, priest, or king. Christ is referred to an anointed in other passages. Perhaps Mary was showing her gratefulness for Jesus having raised her brother. Perhaps she had some of these other aspects in view. But Jesus took her actions as anointing his “body beforehand for burial.” Whether Mary did this unwittingly or whether she caught what so many of the other disciples missed when Jesus foretold His death, I don’t know. Others criticized her actions, pointing out that this expensive ointment could have been sold and given to the poor. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (verse 6). And He promised that “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (verse 9).

A similar incident occurs in Luke 7. We know this is a different situation because the event, timing, host, woman, actions, critics, criticisms, purpose, and response from Jesus are all different. The woman in this case is known as sinful. She wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with the expensive ointment. The host, a Pharisee, criticized Jesus in his heart, saying, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Jesus then told of two debtors. One owed a large amount and one owed a small amount. Both debts were forgiven. Jesus asked which of the debtors would love the lender more. The Pharisee answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt,” (verse 43). Jesus said of the woman, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (verse 47). Her actions were extravagant both because of the cost of the ointment, but also because she loved so much that she risked ridicule and shame from others to show her great love to Him.

Have we thought recently about the greatness of our sins and how much it cost Jesus to forgive them? Have we meditated on His goodness and greatness enough to be overawed?

In giving

We’ve already seen from these two women that their love and worship led to costly actions. Does that mean we need to get some expensive perfume to bring to church or pour out when we read our Bibles? No. But generosity should be part of our character. King David once said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

When Paul sought financial help for needy saints, he told the Corinthians:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

He wasn’t speaking just to the rich Corinthians. He referred earlier to the Macedonians, who first gave themselves to the Lord and then to the apostles, and who begged for the opportunity to give out of their extreme poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).

I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the rich online recently, and a lot of judgment about what they do with their wealth. But we’re not accountable for them. We’re accountable for ourselves. The Macedonians were in extreme poverty yet begged to be allowed to give to help others.Jesus commended a poor widow who only offered two small coins because that was her all (Luke 21:1-4).

Giving abundantly doesn’t necessarily mean we need to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. Jesus only told one man to do that, because he knew that man’s wealth was a problem for him. 1 Corinthians 16:2 tells us to give as God has prospered us.

Sometimes we save to be able to give. Another former pastor once advised his people to have a “benevolence” section in their budget, to put aside a little bit of money every paycheck so that when they become aware of a need, they would have some on hand to give.

We should give wisely, of course. There is a type of giving that enables people to continue on in their sin. Sometimes we have to say no. Sometimes God says no, because what we’re asking isn’t good for us or isn’t the right time.

And we don’t just give money. Our time, schedules, attention, homes, all belong to God, to be used as He directs.

We don’t give for show, as Ananias and Sapphira and the Pharisees did. But we give as God directs out of a grateful heart for what He has given us.

And we can’t outgive God. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

In love

1 Peter 1:22 tells us to “love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Other translations say “deeply” or “earnestly.” Biblical love could take another whole post (or several) to expound upon, but it’s aptly summed up in 1 Corinthians 13. Verses 4-8a say:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends . . .

My heart is full, thinking of God’s great generosity to me, inspired to be generous towards others, overflowing into even more ways to be generous rather than minimalist: thankfulness, praise, patience, and more.

How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home, Literary Musing Monday, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesdays, Let’s Have Coffee,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire,
Blogger Voices Network. Linking does not imply 100% agreement)

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few good reads recently discovered:

Studying the Bible Is Not Supposed to Be Easy, HT to True Woman. “We need to go into it expecting, not that it will be easy – that the Holy Spirit is just going to dump truth on us just because we were faithful to sit down and flip open the covers – but rather, that if we obey just some simple reading tools that we would use with any book, that the Bible will begin to yield up treasure to us.”

Minimalism Is Not the Gospel, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “Christian finds freedom not in lifestyle changes or donations at the local charity shop but in Christ. He finds relief not in what he has done but in the One who has done everything for him; not in needing less but in acknowledging his complete dependence on his Savior; not in the arrival of the recycling truck but in the beauty of the cross.

Why an unwanted pregnancy is about the baby and the father, too. “We also need a generation of women who will encourage men to take responsibility and show the sacrificial love and empathy that ought to mark men, not push them out of the conversation about abortion.”

When a Cussing, Drug-addicted Mom Shows Up at Your Church, HT to True Woman. I don’t like that multiple links to the author’s book makes this seem like a big commercial, but if you can look past that, this is a beautiful story of how God used a nursery worker to redeem a situation and draw this mom toward God’s grace instead of banishing her in shame from it.

Joining a Mob, HT to Challies. “We can’t let our emotion run away with our discernment. Hot takes should be anathema to people charged to be slow to anger and slow to speak.”

What Is the Role of the Christian Writer? “The Christian writer is not to write just to make others think. That is not enough. Making people think is easy—just challenge their ideas or shock them with controversy. That’s just noise, and Lord knows we don’t need more noise. No, the Christian writer is to fetch treasure to share with readers.”

The Dangers of Self-care, HT to True Woman. A little relaxation, taking a break, even hobbies are fine, but “When we sate ourselves on the things of this world—pleasures and comforts of whatever kind—we become spiritually sluggish. Our prayer life, our Scripture reading, and all the delights of belonging to God seem distant and dull when we prioritize our time and activities around gratifying our appetites.”

Cultivating Self-Control, HT to Challies.

The Demise of Book Collecting? No, not for avid book lovers. Good thoughts on the difference between collecting and hoarding.

And, finally:

Keeping Minimalism in Balance

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Years ago in a college Home Economics class called Home Furnishings, one thing that stood out to me was that the decorating pendulum tends to swing back and forth between extremes. For example, the Rococo era was characterized by excessiveness, playfulness, pastel colors, and curves, followed by Neoclassicism, which went back to straight lines, less color, and simple forms.

In my early married days, the “country” look was prevalent with a lot of wood and knickknacks. Then a lot of people went to a type of Victorian decorating, more sophisticated and fussy. Now the watchword is minimalism.

Decorating styles often reflect and/or influence what’s going on in society. Minimalism as a design concept actually started after World War II. But these days minimalism is a life concept.

Minimalism is not about ascetic denial, being spartan, or living with as little as you can. It’s about deciding what’s most important and getting rid of everything that distracts you from your core values. That means it will look different for different people. It’s also a reaction against consumerism, the constant pull to get more and have more and do more. With less “stuff” to store, oversee, and maintain, not only our living spaces, but also our minds are less cluttered and more free for what matters most.

And those are all good things! But like anything, it’s possible to become unbalanced one direction or another. As I have read more and more blog posts and articles about it, a few concerns have cropped up. You might be a little off-balanced in your quest for minimalism if:

1. You’re obsessed with it.

Minimalism tends to go hand in hand with simple living. I’ve seen a few people read articles or books on either minimalism or simple living and then feel driven to go through the attic, garage, every closet, every storage space, and I’ve thought, “That sure doesn’t sound simple.” Sure, we all need to sort through and get rid of things from time to time. But to turn the house upside down in a frenzy seems in conflict with the peace many minimalists are after.

I read a blog post just this morning from someone obsessing over, among other things, the fact that she had two whisks. Fine – set one aside to give away. But it’s not that big a deal. I have more than two and in different sizes, because sometimes I need more than one for one meal preparation, and different sizes work best in different containers.

Also, if minimalism or simplifying are near-constant subjects of thought and conversation, you might be overbalanced. The point of minimalism is to free your mind and time of stuff so you can spend it on more valuable things. You can still be obsessed with stuff even while trying to lessen your stuff.

2. You judge others for not being as minimalist as you are.

One of the tenets of minimalism is that it’s about keeping what makes you happy, so someone’s else’s home or lifestyle will not look exactly the same. But if you walk in and inwardly condemn their “clutter,” or somehow feel more self-righteous because of your minimalist stance, then you might have gotten off-balance. The whisk-worrier might see my collection of whisks and think me excessive if she didn’t understand my reasons for having them.

3. You’re constantly having to replace items you got rid of.

I knew a family with four children who sold their baby equipment after every single one and then had to get new. Maybe they didn’t have the storage space for it between pregnancies; maybe they didn’t plan on having more. I don’t know. But it seems simpler, less work, and less expensive over the long haul to store it in some way. Personally, I take a lot of time for certain big purchases, furniture in particular, to look at the options, assess the best deal and what would work best for our family, etc., so I don’t like having to go through that again any time soon.

4. You go without things you need in the name of minimalism.

This is not a tenet of minimalism – that’s one reason it’s a sign of being off-balance. My dear mother-in-law was a product of post-Depression era frugality, but even a good characteristic like frugality can go too far, if you don’t get things you really need or live in an unhealthy way just for the principal of frugality or minimalism.

5. You seek peace in minimalism.

Minimalism can definitely make for a more peaceful mind and household. But it’s not the ultimate source of peace. For one thing, it’s kind of elusive if it is a goal rather than a lifestyle. We have to evaluate our possessions again from time to time as we acquire more (sometimes through gifts) or as other items wear out or outlive their usefulness. But even more than that, we can get to a comfortably minimalist lifestyle and still miss lasting inner peace. True peace comes only through Christ.

I probably would never call myself a minimalist, but neither am I a hoarder. I like stories where kids go up in Grandma’s attic and find old treasures, but I do see the need to sort through things there before I am no longer able to so that my children aren’t burdened with it. (We’re planning on that some day when the weather is neither too hot or too cold). I have decorating stuff I don’t use in a closet because I am undecided about it. I have pulled things out of there to use, so I don’t go by the “if you haven’t used it in x years, get rid of it” mantra. Sir Walter Scott is quoted as saying, “If you keep a thing for seven years, you are sure to find a use for it.” Plus some of it is irreplaceable or would be too expensive to replace, so, since I have space, I hang onto it until I am fully ready to let it go. If we have to downsize at some point, I’d have to go through those things with a more critical eye. We saved some toys from our own kids that my grandson plays with now, but we were careful to dispose of any that were broken or unappealing. Even with that, there are a few things I wish we had kept. One year I bought a Christmas decoration that looked like a old-time Model A type car with a holly leaf on it. I don’t know why – I probably saw it on sale and thought the boys would like it. But then I don’t remember getting it out much, maybe because there was no room for it then. Now, however, it’s one of my grandson’s favorite decorations, so I am glad I kept it even though doing so went against conventional wisdom.

On the other hand, I do get rattled when my storage spaces are too full, and having less to clean and sort and tend to appeals to me. A good article on what minimalism is and isn’t is here. So while I tend to keep more than someone who is truly minimalist, I am evaluating what I have and what I consider acquiring more and more, which is a good thing.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Laudable Linkage

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It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to share some of the noteworthy items found around the Web lately. Enjoy!

Repeating My Father’s Words. Spiritual lessons from a toddler.

As We Empty Ourselves For God, He Will Fill Us. This was a helpful principle for me. I used to get discouraged when I felt depleted after extending myself for someone instead of realizing that that’s perfectly natural.

What’s Worse – Removing Scripture or Adding to It? (HT to Challies). Both are wrong, of course, but this particularly addresses that some versions of the Bible that people accuse of leaving out verses don’t, actually, and some add them in, which is just as wrong.

Being Pence-ive About Dinner With the Ladies. You’ve probably seen a number of posts about Vice-President Mike Pence’s rule of thumb about not meeting alone with women, some thoughtful and some ridiculous. I thought this was one of the best.

Should it be illegal to be a stay-at-home mom? I am astounded anyone would seriously propose this.

25 Tips for Moms of Boys. I had three, and I can agree with most of these.

Buy nice not twice. Good advice. Being frugal doesn’t always mean buying cheap. But beyond that, this was one of the most balanced posts about minimalism that I have read.

Showing vs. telling, the main principle of good writing these days, and how best to do it.

Charting the Legacy of Les Miserables. If you’re a fan of the novel, you might like this article about a book about it. I particularly liked the paragraph about the impact on French society.

And, finally, for a smile: this is adorable. A little girl sees an old water heater set out on the street for pickup and thinks it is a robot.

Happy Saturday!